Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why I weep (while sitting by the Light)

Once upon a time, there lived a little girl who was afraid of dark things. She would lay in bed at night and imagine the shadows cast by giant trees outside her window to be monsters or knife-wielding robbers intent on kidnapping her. She continually flipped on as many lights in the house as her parents would let her, and she never went into a dark room alone. The shadows terrified her.

Then she grew up, no longer afraid of dark things around her, but terribly afraid of the dark things inside of her, inside of other human beings. After all, that's where the real darkness lives, isn't it? She watched terrorist-driven attacks flash across her television screen and read about children dying alone, in desperation and starvation. She experienced betrayals of the fiercest kind from those she loved the most, and she withered when the only human protector she had ever know breathed his last shaky, gasping breath. She shuddered when she caught glimpses of her own pride and choking shame, of harmful thoughts and desires she wouldn't dare name. The dark things inside felt powerful enough to destroy her, to shatter her tender and innocent soul in a thousand pieces. 

But, the Light. 

The Light would not, will not be consumed. The Light "shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). The little girl learned to look for the Light when the darkness was around her, and later she learned to look for the Light when the darkness was inside. The Light came into the world, but the world didn't see it. Even so, the Light penetrated the darkness and the darkness scurried away like a cockroach into the shadows. The darkness could not stand the Light. 
That Light, on my darkest of days, on days when I don't understand...that Light brightens my path. When I listen to people speak of giving up chocolate and Facebook while brothers give up their heads and their lives for the sake of the Light, my heart cries and my soul shudders. I cry for the ways in which I, we, have chosen the shadows over the brilliant Light. I shudder when I remember my own darkness, a darkness that I despise but I revel in from time to time anyway. For I "do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do" (Romans 7:15). Even so, the Light shines on. In the midst of evil and darkness and heinous crimes wrought by bloodied human hands, the brilliant Light is steady, constant, unchanging. And that Light will not be overcome.

Today, I remember the Light who came into this dark world and heaped all of that darkness up onto himself, crucifying it on the cross. Today, I remember those around the world who are looking the darkness in its face, not backing down, because they are so familiar with the Light that lives inside of them that they could not possibly extinguish it when the darkness demands they do so. Today, I repent of living with one foot in the dark and one foot in the Light. Today, I pray for more faith, that I would be so confident in the victory this Light has already won over darkness that I would have no fear of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Matthew 10:28). Today, I sit by the Light and yet still weep over the darkness, because Jesus did the same (John 11:1-44). Today, that girl who was so afraid of the shadows prays for more courage to stare those shadows down as she gains strength from the Light beaming inside of her. 

Today, that girl (not so little anymore) wants you to know that whatever darkness is on your coattails right now...that darkness cannot overcome the Light. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

5 ways to better love the single people in your life

1. Stop asking dumb questions and start asking good questions. You don't need to ask if I have a boyfriend every time you see me. (Because I would likely tell you if I did). But you do need to ask me what I'm struggling with, or what God is teaching me, or what adventures I've been on lately. Ask about my life, not my love life. Because I need to remember that my life is more than my love life, and my value is not in my relationship status. 

2. Include single people in your community. I want to be part of your life. I want to know what is hard and what is good about being married, or being a parent, or being a girlfriend/boyfriend. I want to experience life with you, whatever that looks like. I want to sit at your dinner table, hold your sick baby, and play games with you and your spouse. I want to learn about how to love when it's hard and make sacrifices when every bone in my body just wants to be selfish. I want to watch you struggle to live out parenthood and marriage. I want to know you, and I want to be known by you. 

3. Be aware, and be intentional. Be aware of the singles around you, and how your words and actions may uniquely affect them. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to change the way in which you are living or doing something (although maybe you do?). But it does require that you look out for them and be sensitive to how they might react to the things you do or say, or the way in which you are interacting with your significant other in front of them. Be intentional in the way that you love and honor your single friends. Celebrate their achievements...don't wait until the rehearsal dinner or baby shower to celebrate who they are and the ways in which God has uniquely prepared them to impact the world. Be honest about your own struggles in times of waiting or loneliness. Send your single friend a card "just because" you appreciate his place in your life, or buy her a Valentine (because you don't have to be attached to appreciate a good box of chocolate or beautiful bouquet of flowers). Your single friends will notice and appreciate your awareness and your intentionality. 

4. Don't assume you have nothing to learn from each other. Singles have a unique view on the world, and though they may not have experienced the joys and difficulties you have faced in marriage and parenthood, they still have lessons to teach you. And they have lessons to learn from you. Engage them in relationship and conversation, and learn from each other. Don't assume they don't want to know about your parenting struggles or that fight you had with your spouse the other night. They do. They need your perspective on life and faith and relationships, and you need theirs. In order to have healthy and thriving community, we need each other. 

5. Be a truth-teller. My singleness will not kill me. Marriage and parenthood is not the be-all, end-all. I am complete in Christ, not in relationships with other human beings. I need to be reminded of these truths, because the culture is constantly feeding single people the opposite message, and sometimes that message seeps into the church. Don't get me wrong, I love family. God's design for relationships in a family unit is brilliant and incredibly beautiful. I would love to create my own family someday. But Jesus reminded us that family is not the most important thing (Matthew 12:46-50, Matthew 19:29, Luke 9:57-62). I'm gonna put my neck on the proverbial chopping block and say that sometimes we mix up our priorities and worship the family unit. Not only is this message contrary to what Jesus taught, it can be a message of exclusion. What of the single man, the widow, the divorcee, the infertile couple? We all need to remember that, in Christ, we have a new family...a family formed not by blood or by marriage, but by adoption. I don't need a spouse or kids to belong. You and me, we're family. 

My family is diverse. It is made up of single and dating men and women, babies I help feed and soothe, single moms I encourage, married couples I play games with, and dear sisters I run alongside. I love my family, and I love that we are diverse. I learn from you--each of you--every day. I see joy and courage and love in my family, and I am better for it. I am single, which can be a hard and lonely road to walk. But when my family invites me into their lives and homes and marriages, intentionally loving me, learning from me, speaking truth into my soul...I am changed for the better. And I hope you are too. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Day I Let Go

I was throwing a tantrum that would put the terriblest of two year olds to shame. I kid you not. There are those who could testify. Earlier in the day, I literally texted my sister this: "I hate my life. And I'm eating ice cream for lunch." Wah wah wah. With a side of ice cream. I was frustrated, mad, deeply hurt, and looking everywhere but straight ahead. 

I begrudgingly drove to the local IF gathering I had signed up to attend, honestly because it would have taken more effort to explain to people why I was absent than it did to just put on my big girl panties and go. So I went. And Jesus met me there in a way I have only experienced a few times in my life. He grabbed my puffy, tear stained, pouty face and said, "GET UP. Get up off the ground. STOP with the whining." Then God met me in the middle of my pity party and infused me with the exact message of vision and hope my heart needed to hear. I have struggled since then to put it all into words. There is so much I still need to process, and honestly, most of what God spoke over me will probably remain treasured up in my heart. I long to share my journey authentically with others, though, because I believe in the power of story to change lives. And perhaps you need to hear the same words? So today I'm going to share what I feel like God has released me to share with you. 

For too long, I have had my hands clenched around a dream. Like, CLENCHED. I have threatened, begged, and pleaded with God: Don't make me give it up! Honestly, I have been terrified that I would be asked to lay it on the altar. And though in the past I have told God I would give it up if asked, it was all really just lip service. I have continued to do everything in my human will and power to make that dream a reality. I have pushed and fought and still come up empty. 

Joshua 1:7 says, "Be strong and courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go." Don't turn to the right or to the left. Friends, that is all I have been doing. Looking around. Noticing what everyone else is doing. Wishing my life looked like so-and-so's, or that I had what so-and-so had, or that my calling was the same as that of so-and-so. I have not kept my attention and focus on God's voice. 

It's so like us to veer off course, isn't it?! We live in a world of entitlement and distraction, and we are like kids in a candy shop. I think of how the Israelites begged and begged God for a king, and rather than waiting on his timing and his way, they pressed on, relentlessly discontent, until he gave them over to their misguided longing. I have been the whining Israelite. I have only halfheartedly sought his counsel and guidance, and instead searched for and pursued the fulfillment of my weak dream. 

The thing is, my dream, my vision for me life...it is so small. When you are looking to the right and to the left, when you are stumbling around and allowing yourself to be distracted by what everyone else is doing, it is impossible to walk the path God lays before you. And THAT path? It's so much better than any detours I could ever choose. God's vision for my life is so much better than my own, not because it is more grandiose or inspired (though I suppose it could be), but because He knows the whole story. He owns the pen to the eternal story, and it is only where my story intersects his that I find my true purpose. 

The Israelites, they got their earthly king. They also got heartache and disastrous problems they never bargained for. God wanted to give them himself, but they traded in intimate guidance from the King of the universe for limited and often unwise advice from an earthly ruler. I could exert my will and force my dream into reality, sure. But what I'm learning is that the risk is too great, and in the meantime, I would miss out on deepening intimacy with my God. 

So Friday night, with tears pouring down my cheeks, I opened up my fists and let go. I'm not naive enough to think that the letting go will be a one time event. No, it's going to be a daily giving over. And I don't know what is going to happen. Someday, my dream might coincide with God's eternal story. But it may not, and I may never see that dream brought to fruition. I am resting, though, in His promise to me that "I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Psalm 27:13). My dream may never come true, but God's dream for me will, and that story is going to be so much better. And honestly? I'm learning that it is not about the destination anyway. It's about the journey I will take with God. It's about knowing Him on that path. 

So what does today look like, where the rubber meets the road and now is reality? Today I'm going to pour myself into God's Word. I'm going to devote myself to listening to the voice of Jesus, not the thousands of other voices all around me. I'm going to focus straight ahead, not allowing myself to be distracted by those to my right and my left. Friends, I don't know much, but I do know that God's going to meet me on this path, MY path. IF God holds the pen to the eternal story, his story for me will be so much better than anything I could ever write. And in the meantime, everything is mine in Him. 

"Everything is Mine in You"**
Everything is mine in you, even when my heart is breaking, 
Everything is mine in you, even when my hands are empty. 

Everything is mine in you, 
and I can trust you with my longing. 
Everything is mine in you,
even when the road is lonely. 

'Cause you are Master over all and you say, you are my inheritance and in you, I have everything I need. 'Cause you are seated in the heavenlies and you say, forever you're my Hiding Place and in you I have everything I need. 

Everything is mine you, and I know my future's bright. Everything is mine in you, past or present, death and life. Everything is mine in you. 

Against all hope, help me to hope. 
Against all fear, draw me near. 

**Lyrics from a song written by Christy Nockels and Ellie Holcomb, coming out on Christy's new album in April. She sang it during the conference and of course it was exactly what God needed me to hear.**


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I want you to meet someone

I want to introduce you to someone.

She and I, we met in a classroom, that space that can either be magical or miserable, depending on the occupants attending within its walls. When I entered her classroom, I didn't realize that place would become so sacred to my journey. Nor did I realize the integral role my then-teacher would have in my life. 

If the seed of passion for writing had been planted in me, she watered it and nurtured it until it bloomed. She brought a room full of unique, socially segregated and somewhat disinterested individuals together and somehow--magically--created a family. That room became a safe place to share stories, poems, deep wounds, and seemingly unreasonable passions. Looking back, she gave me one of the most precious gifts I have ever received, and little did I know just how valuable that gift would be to me just a few years later. She birthed in me a love of writing. 

She also reached out and offered me the sweetest of friendships. I don't even really understand how that next part of the story unfolded, but I do know that I was changed for the better. The workouts and post-workout coffee chats, the warm summer days spent licking ice cream off of spoons and soaking up each other's lives and stories, the bantering email messages back and forth...she became so much more than a teacher. She was a dear sister...a soul-deep friend...but always the teacher I first met too. Because life was about to get topsy turvy, and she had walked that road before in her own way. She still had lots to teach me. 

I remember talking to her on the phone after I had moved to Chicago, in those tenuous days between suspicion and diagnosis. I remember telling her the dreaded news, and her immediately scrambling to help me find a way home to my daddy. She knew I needed to be home. I remember sitting with her in my crushing sadness and pain, and her cradling it so gently. Yes, she taught me how to grieve and be brave in my grief. She taught me how to love scared. And I did...for 10 months, I loved fiercely and with everything I had inside. I poured my love out, knowing he might be gone in the end. And when he did slip away in the night, she was the first one I called. She whispered her acknowledgement and again held my heart so gently as it cracked and broke. 

In the days soon after my dad's death, the gift she had grown in me became crucial to my healing. I wrote my pain, the pages bleeding from my heart. What she had watered and nurtured to full maturity now offered the only shade I could find from the harsh rays of grief's relentless pounding. 

Since that night of devastating loss, she has taught me how to live in the broken place. How to get up and keep running...blistered feet and all. I hurt, yes. But I am stronger. I miss my dad, yes. But I am blessed. I live in the in-between, in that place where hard is reality, but so is grace and goodness and God's ever present faithfulness. She took me to that place. She opened up her own wounds and exposed them, then showed me what it looks like to be a wounded warrior. 

I want you to meet someone. She is strong but gently compassionate. She is incredibly gifted but equally humble. She is fiercely loyal and one of the most genuine, authentic people I have ever met. I met her as my teacher, became her friend, and find myself learning from her once again. 

Tonight, I had tears in my eyes as I listened to educators and politicians and university deans point out the very attributes and qualities I have not only witnessed in a teacher but experienced as her friend since I first met her 10 years ago. I am overwhelmed by the great privilege it is to not just know her, but to count her as my dear friend and sister. I want you to have the privilege of knowing her too. 

She is a high school English teacher. 

She is a pianist. 

She is a collector of perfume scents and an avid gymnastics fan. 

She is a published author, and an eloquent speaker. 

She is mom to Elias, her guide dog. 

And she is the Indiana State Teacher of the Year, and a top 4 finalist for the National Teacher of the Year. 

I want you to meet Kathy Nimmer, my forever teacher, friend, and heart sister. A beautiful woman with an incredible story, one God is not nearly finished writing. 

Kathy, I am so thankful God allowed our stories to intersect. You bless my life. 

***Read more about Kathy and her latest achievement HERE***

***photo credit to Lauren Koleff Photography: http://laurenkoleffphotography.com***