I Wish I’d Known

In most people’s eyes, I had everything a 22-year-old wanted. I had my independence, a great job, friends and accquaintances on both sides of the religious spectrum. I’d sown my oats and lived to tell about it. I needed nothing. 

I was voted “Most likely to get hitched and have 3 kids by 19” in school. At 22, I was about the only one who had never filed for a dependant on my taxes, left the country to explore or declared a pursuit of some high-falutin’ doctorate. As far as the dating thing went, let’s face facts, shall we? When your fellow 20-somethings harken back to school days and the once-popular football guys still chuckle that, “You don’t mess with Harris. She’s a piece o’ dynamite” you get friends, not dates.

With the ever increasing use of social media, I saw all my friends pass me up. Dating relationships, amazing careers, marriages, kids… Fame. They had it all it seemed, and I was stuck in the town where every time you sneezed the mayor requested a new weather report. 

I wanted to be noticed. I felt hidden. I wanted someone to want me… I felt overlooked. People said my high-end(ish) job made me successful. I felt stuck and taken for granted. This was adulthood? Would I ever see beyond the 7,500 people who could still recall in great detail what buck-teethed, awkward 9-year-old me was like?

I missed out on so much because I was constantly comparing my journey to someone else’s or knocking on Heaven’s door asking for a preview of my exciting life 15 years down the road. I wanted everything that wasn’t mine to have. Very rarely did I giggle at the silence and dance when the music stopped.

No one ever told me my desire for more would make my life have meaning if I could be content. The last words out of my mouth at night wanted to be, “Thanks, I guess, for my loneliness, my boredom, my routine, my annoying ho-hum, do nothing life. Yay air. Amen.” To be content in those things? What was the point in moment-by-moment, not fantasy-by-fantasy or expectation-by-expectation?

Doing that would require being content in the constant Person of Jesus Christ. That would require being accepting of the fact that experience builds character, and sometimes that character has nothing to do about me. Contentedness means appreciating loneliness and routine because, if I’m willing to listen, I’ll have more time to pray for people and be a part of an unseen battle.

At 22, no one saw the need to tell me my “stupid routine life” mattered. As a 26-year-old, I wish I had known then the joy of sacrificing my expectations at the feet of the Master who knew the beauty of my future.

I wish I had known the beauty of taking the time to ponder the vastness of never being bigger than the God I serve.

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Ashamed to be Seen

It was cold outside. Her little nose was bright red, her ears already white with frostbite. As I carried her down the Shelter hallway to the room she would share with her parents, I bit back angry,  uncompassionate words at her parents. I didn’t know their story. I didn’t need to know their story.

All I knew was it was cold outside. We had an open bed. The three-year-old in my arms needed sleep.

As I sat my youngest charge on the bed, her parents unpacked their daughter’s small plastic bag filled with 2 shirts and a pair of pants. Thank you, Lord, for somehow at least providing this kiddo with a coat, I thought.

I shifted the girl from my lap to the bed and stood up to find the remaining paperwork for the adults in the room.

“That’s our bed, Sweetheart. Bed.. Yeah, you like it don’t you?” I heard the dad choke back tears as he paid attention to his little girl.

I made eye contact with the mom, trying to smile but positive my 22-year-old attempts at not being offensive failed miserably. Her mom answered the unspoken question with tears in her eyes.

“The only bed she’s had was a basinet when she was a baby. She’s always slept on me or a foam pad next to me. She’s… Yeah, you wouldn’t understand. Thanks for letting us spend the Christmas season here. At least she has a bed.”

I cried then. Not because their plight overwhelmed me, in all honesty, they were in pretty good shape compared to the others we had housed in the last weeks. I cried because she was the first client to bravely point out my judgmental spirit. Is that how she sees me, Lord? I cried out silently. Isn’t my purpose here to show love no matter the circumstances? She’s scared of me. What have I done? 

“You’re right, Ma’am, I don’t understand. I don’t have a toddler, but I’m sure she’s what has kept you going this far. We’ll talk more about what got you here when you’re ready. Let’s get you guys some food first.” I learned that day what it meant to take care of the small things God allows me to provide and to let Him handle the rest… void of judgment.

I was reminded of my winter at the shelter the other day as friends and I drove through a city in Ohio. As is typical for busy Ohio, homeless men speckled the highway. One man in particular broke my heart. His sign was nothing spectacular. The scrawled words Will Accept Anything Please Help were haphazardly placed on a cardboard sign. 

What hurt my heart was the fact that he didn’t dare look up at the faces passing by in the vehicles rushing down the highway. As the cars whooshed by, I saw his jaw tighten. I had seen that look of anger a thousand times before. As a man, there was no lower place to find yourself. I knew the lies he was feeding himself as one by one, my car included, no one sought him out.

Whatever your view is on panhandlers, I challenge you to change things up this Christmas season. I am not an advocate for giving cash simply because I don’t know the temptations that loom in that 10 dollar bill. I am, however, an advocate for reminding these men and women they are still a valuable part of the human race. Make eye contact with them. 

No matter how needy people may find themselves this Christmas season, no one deserves to feel shame for being seen.

Who knows, eye contact could lead to a meal for a hungry person. You may become the hands and feet of Jesus.

Melodic Memories

It’s just a piano, but it represents so much. As a toddler, it signified naptime at my mama’s feet. As a child, it was my fortress in endless games of sibling tag (read: sibling torture). As an ill teen, it signified time to unravel the harsh truths of loving music but being too sick to share a God-given gift with the world.

As an adult, it was just friendship. Hours and hours of my mom playing through every chorus and hymnal we could find. I’d practice artistic liberty while my mom bit back a smile when it didn’t sound so grand. Hymns like It Is WellSoftly and Tenderly or Sweet By & By brought on “remember whens” of the days playing piano was two females’ only respite from a cruel, confusing disorder.

It’s just a piano, but every time I see one, I smile. I unexpectantly choked back a laughing sob today when I realized how much this holiday season will change my perception of my mama’s piano.

Instead of just my mama and I, God is humorously and joyously adding a male singer to that duo… Wait. What? In all my years of tickling the pages of a hymnal, I never thought three people around my mama’s piano would be a reality.

Instead of closing the hymnal and promising to come back and sing more next week, I’ll be begging God for another chance to sit and make music around the piano with my mama at least annually. Wait, what? My mama’s piano is one of the only childhood memories I can recall without assistance. Getting to giggle and sing with my music-making mama once a year doesn’t seem like enough.

My pensive laughter turned into awe when I realized why I’m so shaken over this year’s changes. Sure, I’m focusing on my mother, her piano and holiday traditions, but I still can’t believe the grace of God these transitions represent.

I never thought I’d make it to 26. I never thought I’d be able to act on my dreams and talents. I never believed I’d live long enough to have to figure out Godly relationships, let alone get to figure them out.

I never thought I’d grow out of being the little girl whose only release was at the piano.

Yet as I prepare to embark on an insanely unexpected holiday season, I can only hear God chuckle and pull me in as He whispers, “I’ve given you all of this and so much more. When will you learn your life has purpose?”

It’s just a piano, but it signifies dreams that were written and left unspoken by a 15-year-old, only to be told years later by the Master of Heaven Himself. 

Stuttered Leadership

“Your stutter disappears when you sing. It’s like Moses – so cool!”

To be quite honest, the very first thought upon hearing my acquaintance’s thoughts weren’t very nice. I handle being observed a lot better 1-on-1 than I do in a Church crowd. I wanted nothing more to deny I had a stutter at all. It only made me stutter more. 

Though I somehow got through the totally unexpected comment, I walked away with only one question on my mind:

Why? 

The man was right. When I sing, you would never know I struggle with English. When I sing, no one has time to ask questions about my authority in being on stage. I always wanted to be a singer. Up until I was 19, there was nothing I wanted more.

Why couldn’t God agree to re-writing my story so my life and career could be something I’m comfortable doing like singing?

As it stands, I’m pursuing a career in writing and secondly in ministry – two things I’m highly uncomfortable doing but have been firmly called to do. (We would include the whole bit about what God has called me to in relationship here, but that’s just not gonna happen) Every time I step into ministry, I’m nervous. Every time I write, I can hear myself questioning what the heck I’m doing. 

I feel incredibily inadequate in the shoes God has commanded me to fill. The sweet congregant’s comment about my “stutter” just made me realize it in a different light.

I started pitying Moses. I mean, he was probably a blastedly good shepherd. Exodus shares that he was a shepherd for 40 years. I betcha a million dollars that man ruled the whole sheep-thing. He was probably really comfortable with his dumb animals in the desert.

But regardless of his comfort level, God, in His infinite wisdom, put the stuttering shepherd in front of the Egyptian King and in charge of an entire nation. Poor, poor Moses. The guy just wanted to be comfortable. But… You can’t challenge a king and a nation without talking, stutter and all.

Moses really wanted God to pay attention to the fact that he stuttered. God paid attention to it and made him the leader of exiled Israel anyway. Again… Poor Moses.

Again… WHY?!

I struggled the rest of the day (okay, I’m still struggling) with the fact that, according to one man, my inadequacies are out in the open but God still has me up front in a leadership role. I would love to now leap into a long, divine monologue God gave me late at night answering every deeply seeded need in my heart. But I can’t, cuz hallelujah, He didn’t give one. I was only reminded of one very hard, incredibly gorgeous truth:

When I am seen as inadequate, people are led to look at Christ who is more than adequate. 

Not a Laughing Matter

Death really isn’t funny. I’ve tried to create pithy, truthful – yet slightly sarcastic – thoughts on death. But, I… I just can’t. I’m processing the 5th death among my friends in the last 3 weeks. My humor quota is not prepared for that.

Granted, some of these individuals I know their story and their struggle more than I know them. I was brought onto the scene when death wasn’t a “someday” but a slightly certain “soon.” In some ways, my prayers and tears touched them more than my arms ever did.

The most recent heartbreak was the father of a student I had only met recently, yet somehow, myself and several others within the church felt a responsibility toward the family. As I walked home after hearing the news last night, I had to face the terror of uncertainty.

Uncertainty changes your emotions in a heartbeat. In view of this father’s death especially, there are a drastic amount of unknowns on the table. Instead of glorying in the certainty of Heaven, we’re left with a question mark. Instead of knowing we can still love on the family left here for a time, we have no idea what God has planned. 

Like many other times in the past, I could barely hear God’s Truth in the midst of my processing. I wanted answers… The question was, could I shut my mouth long enough to hear them?

Remember My Truth, Beloved. I’ve already told you, but I can tell you again. I (the Lord) will wipe every tear from your eyes. (In God’s time) there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain… (Revelation 21:4)

Oh, Death, where is your victory? Oh, Death where is your sting? … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

Often, my heart is only focused on the here and now. Right now, my heart is mourning the loss of 5 people. But God is bigger than Death. God is bigger than sorrow. God is bigger than my uncertainties.

In that, I can laugh… Death has not won.

Silencing the Parents

I was always that kid who moved mountains to keep things level.

I’d love to say my fear of disrupting the peace was something I sculpted into my pint-size personality over time, but that’d probably be a lie. As a 6 or 7-year-old, I heard my parents discussing finances (not arguing, fighting or crying… discussing) after they’d sent me to bed. I heard the phrase “we can’t do that right now” and took matters into my own hands.

From then on, I struggled to tell my parents what I wanted (Suzy Home Bake, anyone?) or what I needed ($15 for band supplies or fail the class…?). Now that I’ve been ‘adulting’ for a few years, I understand what my parents were doing that night. Their hesitation over the checkbook didn’t mean I was a burden as another mouth to feed. It didn’t mean I wasn’t wanted. It just meant budgeting would be a good idea for the next 15 days.

Sidenote: For all I know, they could have been talking about putting money towards a road trip, not some desperate necessity.

It didn’t matter what the scenario was, though. I wasn’t going to be a burden on my parents… 

Anytime I talk to my mom about my annoying people-pleaser skills (I mean ‘tendencies’) as a child, the reaction is always the same — utter frustration, heartbreak and an explanation of reality. It’s all stuff I’m completely aware of now, but the underlying question is still there: Why was letting your dad and I provide for you so hard for you to do?

I, unfortunately, don’t have an answer for her. All I know is I was fairly positive I understood life and could help my parents survive it by knowing more than they did. It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. Honestly, the idea of my future child doing that makes my blood boil.

But the reality is, no matter how much logic I can pour into that misconception to make it disappear, I’m still in danger of doing it. Only now, I’m the adult-child kneeling before my Heavenly Father uttering the words, “I don’t think I should bother you with this heartache…” 

Without hesitation, I hear Him chuckle as He replies, “You know better than to think that, but since you do, come sit with Me anyway. I just want time with you.

And, just like my earthly parents, as I sit with my Father God, I start to understand He understands me better than I understand myself. He knows what I need and, though it feels life-threateningly large to me, He handles it because He can.

Wait, what was I worried about, again?

             

More Than a Pharisee

Knowledge has never been wisdom. We just live in a culture that doesn’t want to admit that.

I have always been attracted to studying theology. Seriously. I was the 9-year-old (Yeah, you read that right) who smiled like an idiot when the pastor was confusing because it meant I got to ask more questions. I was also the 5-year-old that was jealous of the 8-year-old sister because I thought she was the only one allowed to learn the Greek alphabet. I loved geeking out on theology.

If I’m honest, I still do.

God put me on the path to a Christian College 3 years ago. All that basically means is even the Accounting Majors have moments where they geek out about the Greek jargon in the 7th chapter of Mark. Its really fun. It’s even quirkier.. It’s totally safe ground for a Christian.

But it’s also incredibly easy to only gain knowledge and never allow knowledge to turn into wisdom. It’s that constant self-editing moment of asking whether what I’m voicing about my Theological passions and views is actually seen in my character. 

There isn’t an accredited class on that, though, and I would be nervous to use that language with my accountability partner… So, we just ignore it altogether. We’ll get there. Sanctification (being made holy) is all a process. God’ll get to it in me eventually, right? 

Whether you’ve got your feet up Spiritually or not (I love my temporary bubble… I’m just not used to my bubble), let me remind us where the break between knowledge and wisdom leads us.

If we stick with the wisdomless knowledge, we are the modern day Pharisees. I know Jesus called them Vipers and that makes it easy to paint them as some horrible monster within the Church. But let me point out they were the respected, loved and honored teachers of the day. Everyone wanted to be as respected as the Pharisees.

That respect came because of their knowledge. But their knowledge wasn’t enough in the eyes of the Ultimate Master, Jesus Christ.

Instead, God used people like Peter and John to build the Church. People who had the firsthand Scriptural knowledge but also the humility to admit when they fell short and needed help gaining wisdom.

There wasn’t much difference between the characteristics of the Pharisees as teachers and the Disciples as teachers. Outside of cultural norms, they had the same minimal foundation. But the most important difference was there: 

The Disciples didn’t stop with Scriptural knowledge. They let the Master teach them wisdom in order to change their character. By doing that, they became more like the Yahweh they worshiped.