Saturday, December 30, 2017

Dear 2017 // My Year in Books

2017, you were full of the unexpected.

 One of your many surprises was reading forty-five books, which was eight books over my goal.

 People that know me well would not think this surprising, but I read fewer books than people would expect. My friends on Goodreads set goals of anywhere between fifty to one hundred books and exceed them months before the year is over. In high school and especially in college, I stopped reading as much since my brain was so full and I was already reading a lot of books for my literature classes.

 Since graduating, I find my mind craves a higher volume of literature again, and I have been happily feeding it this year.

 But that is not the only reason for the volume of books. This year I read to forget. I read to immerse myself in other people's problems. I read to get away from my surroundings.

 2017, you were full of unexpected things.

 I am learning that I have lofty goals and big dreams. On the outside I am a realist and pessimist, always practical, simple, and modest to hide the inside where I am bursting with desire and dreams. I talk myself down only because I have high expectations for who I will be and what I will do. 

 I applied to one college and one college only. If I couldn't go there, I wouldn't go at all. And that is how I do most things in life, too. God was kind and I went to the only school I applied to, but other things, especially this year, just haven't worked out.

And sometimes intentionally and other times unintentionally all the books I read were about those unexpected things you brought, 2017.

The Ones I Read Because Everyone Else Was 

"All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr (5/5 stars)

"Go Set A Watchman" by Harper Lee (5/5 stars)

"Hollow City: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children #2" by Ransom Riggs (3/5 stars)

Image result for all the light we cannot seeSometimes I will read interesting books from the best seller lists just to keep track of the publishing world and new trends. It is one of the many parts of being a writer that I enjoy. I never read something I don't actually want to read. These three books excited me. But it was also a conscious decision to keep up with the current trends (even though I am a little behind in them).

2017, you brought new struggles of being obsessed with what people thought of me. I found myself in a new situation where everyone had a different opinion. And I didn't know what to do. There didn't seem to be clear answers. I was plagued with the decision and plagued with what different people would think of me.

 The situation is over, but I am still struggling with shame from some poor decisions I made, shame about the entire situation that I shouldn't be ashamed about, and shame about what certain people in my life must now think of me. 

 In that situation especially, you revealed to me, 2017, my sin. Again. You let me experience more fully that Jesus died for ME and took that sin to the cross. You showed me just how much I actually care about how other people perceive me. And you showed me this quote from Tim Keller that still makes me cry: 

"'I know God forgives me but I can't forgive 
myself means you've failed an idol, whose 
approval is more important than God's." 

The Ones from Foreign Lands

 "The Sound of Things Falling" by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (5/5 stars)  *Adult content warning

 "Seedfolks" by Paul Fleischman (5/5 stars)

 "The Bitter Side of Sweet" by Tara Sullivan (4/5 stars)

 "The Book of Unknown Americans" by Cristina Henriquez (4/5 stars) *Adult content warning

 "Tiger Moon" by Antonia Michaelis (4/5 stars)

 "Peace Child: An Unforgettable Story of Primitive Jungle Treachery in the 20th Century" by Don Richardson (4/5 stars)

 "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros (4/5 stars)

 "Pride of Baghdad" by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon (3/5 stars) *Adult content warning

 The best part of you was my trip to Medellin, Colombia. I find myself now gravitating toward books about Latin and Central Americans and read several Colombian books and novels about immigrants from those places. It is a new and exciting world I can visit in books until I get to travel again.

That trip has lit a spark for international travel and missions. I want to travel more. I am trying to find a way to live overseas for a few months. Though I haven't had success, I pray that God will open doors. Until then, I plan on reading books that take place all over the world.

The Ones I Didn't Want to Read

 "Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age" by Erik Raymond (5/5 stars)

 "Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating" by Marshall Segal (5/5 stars)

 "Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Control" by Elizabeth Elliot (read for the second time) (5/5 stars)

Image result for passion and purity These are the books I wish I didn't have to read. I wish I didn't struggle with contentment. I wish I was reading books on marriage instead of singleness. 

 I was reading Passion and Purity at work (Sub-note of honesty: I usually avoid reading books about singleness in public since it is a painful subject even in a non secular setting, but at this point in the year I so desperately needed Elliot's words that I didn't care anymore.) and one of my coworkers saw the title and slyly commented, "Oh, Allison, do you have a love life?"

 "No," I said.

 "But you most if you're reading that book," she said, looking at the title again.

 "Then the sub title should really be changed to 'Bringing you love life, or lack thereof, under control'."

 I do wish I could change it to that title. Lack thereof. Since that is my issue.

 Those are the books, 2017, that you gave me and I didn't want to read.

The Ones About Writing

 "Story Trumps Structure: How To Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules" by Steven James (4/5 stars)

 "Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams" by Heather Sellers (4/5 stars) 

 "Letters To A Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke (5/5 stars)

Image result for letters to a young poetYep, 2017, I am still writing and I am still trying to finish my novel manuscript and still trying to get published in, well, anything. I am still working full time at not writing and trying to figure out how I can fit writing into my daily life. Maybe the truth is that I am still trying to figure out how to make myself write when I am tired from my full time non writing job.

 I read more books than that. More happened this year than that.

 But this is what ultimately happened. 

 I read more books than I thought I would. More negative things happened than I thought they would. I tried to do things I have always wanted to do, and most of them didn't work out. I experienced more heartache and frustration than I have before. I felt my weakness and sin more than I have before. I felt God's grace, love, and mercy more than I have before.

 And while I am so ready to forget most of what you brought, 2017, I am charging into 2018 ready to try again and confident- not confident in myself, but in my Savior's strength. Not that things will "go my way" but that Jesus will get me through whatever comes.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

When I Used to Draw

Image result for art pencils

 I haven't been writing as much of my novel as I've wanted to this past year. Life hasn't slowed down since I graduated from college. 

Full time job.
Church events.
A library full of books.
Big life decisions I need to make.
Tiredness from all of the above.

 You get it. I haven't been writing much. 

 These past few months though, I've been trying to write again. Really write, as in crank out this novel that I've been sitting on in my nest for almost six years. 

 But I feel dry and weary of life and what is in my life. Like my job that often feels meaningless and yet drains me every day. Of the same old routine. Of my student loans that weigh me down. Of dreams and opportunities that always seem to fail. Dreary from the sun that no longer seems to exist.

 How can I write feeling like that?

 I can't. Not really. Unless you want to read a novel that is dull, lifeless, and depressing.

 But I think I found a breakthrough. A breakthrough that started many years ago.

When I Used to Draw  
My writing breakthrough starts with my sister being better at drawing. I loved drawing when I was young. We both did. Books and writing were always more important to me than drawing, but I still loved the feel of the pen in my hands and choosing the colors that filled in the black lines. Until my sister was better.

 Though younger, her drawings were better. Not that I had really practiced. But her artwork shocked our parents. Their mouths in o's, the words "gift" on their lips. They would watch her move her pencil in awe and admired her work like they never admired mine. Not even my stories evoked those emotions from them.

 So I stopped drawing my shameful pictures. And I focused on writing, which had been my first love anyway.

 I don't regret focusing on writing. It is what I love most in the realm of art and always will be. I just wish I hadn't given up drawing.

 Graphic Novels
Then in college I took a graphic novels literature class. I wasn't thrilled about this class, just intrigued, curious, and needing those three easy credits.  With rare exceptions like Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes, I felt that comic books were for children and lazy adults who never tried to read a real book and had to rely on pictures of superhero drama for their so called literature. (Savage, I know). 

 I never imagined what I would discover in that class. I discovered that in some ways I was right, (which I hope to talk about in a future blog post) but I was also terribly wrong. I discovered that I loved graphic novels. 

 And I was horrified when my professor announced we would be making our own journal comics. My head again filled with the images of my sister's drawings compared to mine. But my professor insisted he didn't care if we drew stick figures, and my grades were at stake. So I drew stick figures. 

 After the initial shame and shock at my horrible drawings, I began to relax and found that I loved it. I loved writing and drawing about what I was feeling. Though I was frustrated that my pen could not even try to capture the images in my head, I still loved making comics. It was fun. It was a release. It unleashed new things in me. I promised myself that someday I would write a graphic novel, words and pictures by me.

The Breakthrough
 It's now been two years since I took that class. I still read graphic novels. I still plan on making one myself someday. But I'm trying to write again and be creative again. I remember the words flowing out of me and I want that again for my novel in progress.

 And this image appeared  in my head. An image of my main character and a vine attached to her foot. I won't reveal my secret of how that correlates with my novel, but trust me when I say it does. This image made so much sense to me. It made me rejoice. Until I had this thought: How do I turn that image into words? 

 That question turned into more questions and more thoughts, thoughts that made me realize how visual I am. How my stories often don't initially come in words, but pictures that I then translate into words. 

 What if sometimes my thoughts must first be pictures on paper before it can be translated into words?

 I tested my theory during the long car ride back home after spending Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania. I had empty, lined paper and my colored pens that only God knew I would need, and I put on that paper whatever came to me. There were words followed by pictures, and pictures followed by words. The emotion, the feeling, the desire of my character in my head became an image on my paper, and then that image turned into words that sounded like poetry. 

 My breakthrough.

 My pictures are terrible. I drew stick people. I drew the lamest bed you have ever seen. I drew the ocean, and no one but me would know it was even water. But the words that followed those silly pictures, I think, make up for it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The College Years // Counting His Faithfulness

Sometimes, when life hurts, when it doesn't feel like God 
is faithful, when the words, "God is good" have become a 
chant I repeat to myself with no heart change, I think it is 
good to go back to all the times in my life when God has 
proven Himself faithful to me.

 The College Years

  God's mercies to me during this time were abundant. I know I won't have time to highlight every way God was kind and faithful to me. But maybe that's the point.

 1. He let me go to college.

  Even in my junior year of high school I knew what school I wanted to attend and what my major I would pick. But this small, private school in Michigan was expensive. Like most students, I waited to see if I would be accepted. I waited even longer to find out if we could afford it. It wasn't until a little before I graduated from high school that I knew I was going to college.

 The bottom line was that we couldn't afford college. But between both of my parents working, their sacrifices, my summer job, some financial aid, and loans, they thought it would work. I prayed for a miracle. I prayed for my school to see how much help I needed and what a good student I was and promise to give me more money. I prayed for my essay to win one of the big scholarships I entered. I prayed for God to hurl money down from the sky. None of those things happened. 

 Each year, and sometimes each semester, I didn't know if there would be enough money to go back to school. But somehow, small miracle after small miracle, there was just enough for me to go to school. Though God didn't give me my big miracle, He was faithful and provided a way for me to go to college and graduate.

2. He showed me that Christ was all I needed. 

 1,000 miles is a large distance. And I didn't realize just how large until I found myself on campus with strange people, two new roommates, a dorm full of girls, and my family quickly driving farther and farther away from me. 

  I wanted so much to belong, for my roommates to like me as much as I liked them, to do well in school, and to be an adult for the first time and not fail. But I was also scared and regretted choosing this school far from home. I didn't feel like I could do it.

 It felt like I had been stripped of everything I loved. But with that feeling came the realization that I had Jesus. In ways I had never experienced before, Jesus was my comfort, my hope, and my security. When I felt like I had nothing, God showed me I had everything in His Son. 

3. He provided me with amazing roommates and friends.

 One of my biggest prayers before and during college were that God would give me good roommates. My mom has horror stories about her freshman roommate, and I didn't want to experience what she did. Even before I met my freshman roommates, I wanted to best friends with them. And when I met them, I loved them instantly, just because they were the girls God had placed in my room. God was kind and let us all be good friends. We had our struggles, our misunderstandings, and hard times, but we got through them. I couldn't have asked for better roommates. I have funny stories; no horror stories. I may cringe when I hear a song my roommate used as an alarm she never heard, but that is all. 

 Even through all four years of college, I was blessed with the girls I lived with and the friends I made.

4. My singleness.

  This is a hard subject, one that I am reluctant to thank God for and something that is still a real struggle in my life. But I am thankful for how God used my singleness in college.

 I am one of those girls that has wanted to be married and raise children as soon as my brain was able to grasp those concepts. Except for my writing dreams, marriage and children were all I ever wanted. And I all I want now. During high school none of my friends were dating and I recognized how young I was, so I was content to wait and daydream about my future family and what I would name my kids.

 But the day I started college something changed in me. I now considered myself "officially" old enough to date and I lived on a campus full of eligible Christian young men who probably wanted to get married, too. So I figured it was only a matter of time before I met a wonderful, godly guy who liked me as much as liked him, we would start dating, and then get married in June after I graduated, just like my mom. 

 However, God had other plans. Each year of college ended with no boyfriend. Freshman. Sophomore. Junior. Senior. 19. 20. 21. 22. No boyfriend. No dates. To make things worse, the entire campus had marriage fever. Everyone around me was going on dates, new relationships popped up all around my dorm, and young freshman couples were getting married. Even my friends all seemed to have boyfriends. My roommate got engaged. It was happening to everyone but me. I graduated and sadly watched the month of June pass, though I never would have admitted to anyone what was so sad about the June I was 22.

 Enter God teaching me a lot of things during those four years of college throughout my singleness, like trusting in Him alone, surrender, joy, contentment, and how I can plan all I want, but it is God's plans that prevail. My singleness shows me my weakness, my desperate need for Jesus, and the idol I have made into marriage.

 I never wanted singleness. In fact, I ask God all the time to take it away. But until then, and even if it never happens, I can only praise my Savior for His faithfulness to me and discover how I can use my singleness. 

5. I found an amazing church.

 I would not have survived college without the church I attended in Michigan. That is no exaggeration. It was the only place I felt a little bit at home those first few weeks of school. It was a gospel centered place of worship that allowed me to escape from campus a few hours each week. It was full of people my age and older that cared about me. 

 I especially plugged more into my church my junior year. Though each year of college had it's own struggles, that year was the hardest. When I remember that year, I see a dark fog settled over and around all the things that happened, and my church was the only light. Again, I am not exaggerating. I knew the truth of the gospel that would bring me out of my circumstances, but I needed my church to remind me of those truths. Starting that year, due to many friends leaving and graduating, I had few close friends on campus. All of my friends were at my church.  

 I have much to praise God for in my past. Therefore, my present and my future are and will be no exception. Praise be! 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

My Beginning // Counting His Faithfulness Part 1

Sometimes, when life hurts, when it doesn't feel like God is faithful, when the words, "God is good" have become a chant I repeat to myself with no heart change, I think it is good to go back to all of the times in my life that God has proven Himself faithful to me. 

My beginning

 I remember being four years old and listening to a CD of children's Bible songs while my mom was on the phone. The words I heard were simple and sweet, singing, "...come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in, today. Come in to stay..." I sang along and realized that is what I wanted for my life. I wanted Jesus to come into my heart. I wanted Him in my life. So I knelt by our sofa and asked Jesus to come into my heart, and my mom cried when I told her what I had done.

 Many believers will share testimonies of how they said a prayer when they were young but did not truly become a Christian until later in their life when they truly understood the gospel. But that is not my story. I knew I was a sinner who deserved the wrath of a holy God. I knew that Jesus died on the cross for my sin. And I knew I needed and wanted Jesus. I praise God that He saved me- not through any merit of my own, but through His mercy and the blood of Jesus.

 When I was in eighth grade, a friend challenged me to get baptized as I had been a professing believer for quite a while. But I was terrified. At my church, baptism also includes publicly sharing my testimony in front of the whole church-  one of my greatest fears. I told my friend no, that I could never do it. But over the next few months my pastor seemed to mention baptism in every sermon. It came up in the most random conversations. I couldn't escape the subject. Then in school I learned about Chinese believers being persecuted for their faith. Many of them were being baptized despite the threat of death that was sure to come with the simple act of being immersed in water. This wasn't something that had happened a long time ago, but a tragedy that was happening right now as I discarded the thought of baptism because of my fear of public speaking. If my brothers and sisters in Christ were risking their lives to be baptized, how could I not be baptized where I would not be killed, tortured, or imprisoned afterword? So in May of 2008, I was baptized and shared my testimony as my body ached from fear, my voice shakily whispered through the microphone, and my eyes glued to the words on my paper. My God was faithful and I did it, but only through the work of the Holy Spirit inside of me.

 This is my beginning, the first few times I can distinctly remember God's faithfulness to me. And it is only my beginning.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Robert Frost's House and the Bennington Battle Monument

 I get hungry for little adventures. I have been a long time Robert Frost fan, and have been wanting to see his house and museum since I discovered it existed a year ago. So my friend and I took the day to explore Shaftsbury and Bennington Vermont. 

 The weather was freezing and rainy, but I was so excited to see my favorite poet's dwelling and spend the day with my friend. Frost's farm is in the beautiful Southern Vermont countryside. Though all of Vermont is beautiful, I can see he didn't have to go far to find inspiration for many of his poems. 

 I seriously contemplated moving there. It was that pretty. And I may have contemplated using "Frost" as a middle name for my future son. We'll see about that one.

We weren't allowed to take any photos inside his house where they had set up a small museum-like display. The inside of the house was disappointing. There were only two rooms and a hallway that we could see. They didn't have much in them except interesting information about Robert Frost all along the walls. Though I learned a lot about him and was nerding out as they analyzed his poetry, I probably could have found almost all of that information online or in a library. 
 But just being there and seeing Robert Frost's house was worth it for me. He writes with such simplistic power that I wish I had in my words, a simplicity that does is not "dumbed down" but everyone can understand without spending half an hour with one poem. But you could spend half an hour analyzing and find such meaning and talent and beauty. He has such a technical command of his poems, the meter, style, and rhyme. He knows when to follow the rules and when to break them, and he breaks them well. 
 There was a path you could walk on through the woods on Frost's farm, a path that Robert Frost himself walked along, but we didn't venture very far. Not only was it cold, but they had several warnings of the many ticks carrying Lyme disease found here, so we decided not to risk it, despite how much we wanted to see everything. 
  Since we were right next to Bennington, I had to see the Bennington Battle Monument. My friend was sweet to let me drag her to all of these places as I satisfied my need for an adventure. The photos are of poor quality mostly due to rain and an overcast sky.

 The monument was built to remember a battle fought during the Revolutionary War in 1777. A man whose job was to tell us all about the monument and take people up and down the elevator all day said it is the tallest structure in Vermont and the 6th tallest in the U.S. We hated to disappoint him when we told him we were just from New England as the highlight of what can be a monotonous day for him is meeting people from all over the U.S, and often the world. 

 Though we couldn't get the full panoramic view, in each direction we had beautiful views of Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. 

 At the end of the day on our way back to my car, God surprised us with one more special thing. My friend took a wrong turn, and it took us to a covered bridge. 

 I am thankful for the reminder that unexpected turns can become better than what I had planned. Not unexpected for God, but me. I don't know what will happen, but God does, and it will be better than my plan simply because it is the Lord's will. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

How He Destroys the Darkness

The sun has been leaving earlier, lately. Every day the darkness pushes back a few minutes of sunlit evenings.

 It will creep up on us, slowly stealing more time from the sun until one day I will leave work in darkness, headlights on, the eight hours of daylight spent inside working, eyes on my work but my heart and skin and fingers being pulled to the little sunshine visible in our one window. 

 Darkness creeps near me, tonight, an unwanted companion. 

 I feel him hiding in a corner under my bed.

 I only have one weapon against the darkness, when even the light in my room can't possibly be bright enough.

I reach for my Bible, covered in gray fabric with a flowered pattern in white. The bookmark is in Exodus 39 and 40, and I force myself to read this holy book.

 "From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns they made finely woven garments, for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the Lord had commanded Moses (Exodus 39:1) ...They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around the hem of the robe, between the pomegranates- a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate around the hem of the robe for ministering, as the Lord had commanded Moses" (Exodus 39:25-26). 

But what do the priest's garments have to do with me? The bells and pomegranates on the hem? The colors of the clothes? What do they have to do with the darkness that is slowly consuming me, this pain I feel over life's circumstances, this feeling of hopelessness?

 This book is hope and life itself. He died for me. He gives me hope. He gives me life. But instructions for making the priest's clothes? 

Exodus chapter forty. "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and you shall screen the ark with the veil" (1-3).

What on earth do these words have to with my pain?

And the darkness doesn't go away, but it stays, abated by my question being voiced. 

I keep reading, keep searching, one eye on the words on the page, the other on the shadow the darkness makes as it moves closer to me.

"Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys" (Exodus 40: 34-38). 

 The tent of meeting was where God met with His people. This took place after they made a golden calf and worshiped it. After God had saved them from their slavery to the Egyptians. After God had parted the Red Sea. After God plagued the Egyptians with afflictions. 

 "...and the glory of the Lord filled the the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys..."

Oh darkness, it is me.     

Darkness, do you see God's holy light next to the blackness of us? 

 He loved us enough to send his son to die. He loved us enough to be particular about clothes. He loved us enough to be creative and demand bells and pomegranates of gold on the hems. He loved us enough to not abandon us even though He was and is the Almighty God who is so holy the priest's robes must be made a certain way, with gold bells and pomegranates dangling from Aaron's hems.

And the darkness recoils by my bed. In my soul. 

Darkness has no place in the tent of meeting.

This is how He destroys the darkness, a little corner each day. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Caught In-Between the Yes and the No

The dirt road underneath my shoes feels better than pavement. The birds singing and squirrels chattering sounds better than car horns.  

 How many walks will I take before I have the answers I want?

 A brook bubbles, and the water looks cool and the sun on my back is hot. I could take off my socks and shoes and dip my toes in, make them shiver in the water the sun has yet to warm. I could sit on a rock and wade my feet and no one would care if I did. Or I could keep walking.

 I could pause my walk and get my feet wet- something that requires no permission and has no consequences and would require no thought. I could just go wading or not go wading as I pleased. 

 But most decisions are not as simple as stopping by a peaceful stream.

 A familiar dirt road, a familiar brook, a familiar longing to test the temperature of the water, and familiar questions I want answered. Still. 

I never realized before how much I crave simple yes or no answers to the many decisions I have to make in life. 

 But like this road, I have been here before. Caught in-between the yes and the no, what I want and don't want, what God may do but has not promised me. 

 The waiting when you just want to know whether you should take a step forward or backward.

 In my Bible reading, I have reached Exodus again, a time where Israel was waiting for God to act. And in God's perfect timing, my church is now going through Exodus as well. 

 In the beginning of Exodus, the Israelites are all enslaved by Egypt. They fear God has forgotten them. But God calls a man named Moses to deliver his people from slavery and lead them to the land He has promised them. They have been given hope and they are beyond excited and ready to leave their oppression. So in Exodus chapter five, Moses goes to Egypt and confronts Pharaoh, telling him that God has commanded him to let His people go. 

 And instead of agreeing, instead of being scared of the signs Moses does with God's power, Pharaoh laughs, saying he does not know God. Then he makes life even harder for the people of Israel, and they grumble against Moses and this God of theirs who will not save them.

 I know what comes next. I know the plagues God will send to the Egyptians, all examples of His power. Though tragic, I know that God will show His authority to all of Egypt by causing all of their firstborn to die. I know that God will save the firstborns of His people Israel because of the blood of a lamb painted on their doors. I know that is a beautiful picture of Jesus' sacrificial death for us on the cross, something far beyond what the Israelites could have imagined or hoped. I know that God will humiliate Pharaoh and the Egyptians. I know God will part the Red Sea and lead His people to safety and eventually to the land He promised them. 

 I know all of these things. But the people of Israel did not. They were caught in-between the yes and the no, in-between what God had promised to do and what He hadn't done yet. 

 I think they were tired. I think they wanted to know whether they could hope, if God was going to deliver them from their enemies, if they could start packing, or if they should curl up and die in Egypt as slaves. 

 I think they felt like how I feel now walking this dirt road. 

 I am not enslaved. I am happy and free. But this dirt road has seen my confusion, my desire for a yes or no, how badly I handle being caught in-between the yes and the no.

 If I could go back into the time of Exodus, I would tell the Israelites, "Be patient. I know this is hard right now, but it is part of God's huge, amazing plan. Just wait until you see what He does."

 And the trees above me shake from the wind, like they are lovingly laughing and scolding me. So I tell myself, "Be patient. This is hard right now, but it is part of God's huge, amazing plan for my life. Just wait and see what He does, for He has never been unfaithful."

 It may take a long time or a short time, but eventually I will get a yes or a no. And either way, God will be good and faithful to me, the one who put my Jesus on a tree. 

"Say therefore to the people of Israel, 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for possession. I am the LORD.'"
~ Exodus 6:6-8, ESV

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

To the Night Writers

 I want to pause time, hide in a log cabin in the mountains, and write my novel. I want to spend three months there and write my novel in one intense swoop with only a mountain breeze and wild flowers for distractions. 

 I think that is what it will take to finish this novel of mine.

 I am about halfway done with my novel, and I have been floating in this halfway point for a while. 

 Forty hours a week at the chocolate factory. Summer in full swing with trails that beg to be walked and mountains I long to climb. Friends to connect with. Books to read. Church activities. A room that looks like a fourteen year old lives there. A car to find and buy.

 I hear stories of writers typing late into the night. And I would. I like writing at night. I am more creative at night. But I would fall asleep at work. And I can never be the person constantly doing and going; it is not me.

 And this novel of mine stays only half done.

 But you make time for what you love.

 So to the night writers, please share your drive. Share your motivation, your energy, the speed in which you write. Share the secrets the night whispers to you that somehow feeds you and lets you still wake up in the morning and go to work at the job that pays the bills.

 God, let me start writing again. Let me make writing into a habit. Let me not give in to my tiredness. Force me to make writing dates at the library. Let my book be written in spite of me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

When My Weakness is My Strength

 ~First written while in Medellin, 
Colombia as a dispatch to our church back home~

One thought that has continually come to my mind this week in Colombia has been my weakness.

 I feel weak walking around a foreign city with traffic and busyness. I feel weak when our leaders rightly demand that women stay in the middle of the group when on the streets so the men can surround us for protection. I feel weak watching the men skillfully build things out of wood then hoist sheets of flooring up to the mezzanine. I feel weak having to ask people what a specific tool looks like. I feel weak not being able to communicate with my brothers and sisters in Christ at the seminary and the church, staring at them blankly, not sure what they are trying to tell me. I feel weak as I try to cross the street without being run over by motorcycles in a city that doesn't seem to have or obey traffic lights.

 So this morning, when I was asked to help some of our Colombian brothers and sisters to prepare our mid-morning snack, I was excited. Finally there was something I could do that I would be good at, and I could feel strong again! They put me to work squeezing tangerines as big as our oranges back home to make the most amazing juice I have ever tasted. But even in that task I didn't know what I was doing. One man, probably after watching me struggle, showed me where to properly cut the fruit, the motions my hands should make, and even how to tell if the fruit was bad (all impressively without words). He put his hands over mine, twisting the fruit to squeeze out the juice, and in that moment I realized something very simple: from construction work, to the language barrier, and even squeezing tangerines, I am clueless and weak.

 There are many things I cannot do here because I am physically weak and unskilled, and that is exactly how I am before God. I am nothing compared to Him. But 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, "...My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."  God uses our weaknesses, my weaknesses, for His glory.

 So yes, I will sweep. Yes, I will collect bottles. Yes, I will hammer this nail thirty times into the wood despite the fact that any guy here could do it with two strikes. Maybe simply because God is seen in my weakness, and in my weakness I am forced to rely on Him.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How Uncertainty Can Be Poetry

 In order of importance, I have found these three things to be of most help when I find my circumstances too much for me to handle: My relationship with Jesus and His Word, my family and friends, poetry. 

 I have been writing a lot of poems, lately.

I wrote a lot of poetry my senior year of high school, too. I wrote more poems than I knew were in me. It was a hard year full of loneliness and uncertainty as I waited longer than most students do to find out if I could go to the one school that held all of my hopes and dreams for the future. 

 I wrote about the waiting, the fears, the desires. I wrote about how much I wanted to go to this school, but how I feared the one thousand miles that would separate me from my family. I wrote about being excited for my future and at the same time mourning the childhood that I knew was about to end. I scribbled on notebook paper many poems about the uncertainty of our finances, how to live in-between hope and reality. How to survive a year of not knowing if I would get my dream come true or if I would have to make a Plan B. 

 My poems were an outlet for my thoughts, a way to remember the end of my childhood, and mostly, each poem was a prayer of surrender to God. 

 I had forgotten about that year of uncertainty and those poems.

 Until recently when I have felt like I am again re-living that year, just in new ways.


They said
in March
I would know. 

In March
I would know
how to cry.

These tears 
are not from joy or sorrow
but from the strange winds March blows.

One day
the breeze blowing on my neck is warm,
and my faith in going to Cornerstone is strong.

The next day,
I can feel the wind relentlessly tugging me, taunting me,
"You will never have enough money."

They said 
in March
I would know.

All I know
is my confusion
with March winds.

My poetry hasn't improved much since I was eighteen, and I suddenly find myself in a similar situation. 

 So I am reading my poems I wrote during my senior year of high school. And I am learning. 

 I am learning that as hard as it was to be so uncertain about college that year, I had forgotten. Each situation will pass with time, which will then bring new challenges. The world keeps spinning. 

 I am learning that God was faithful five years ago, and he will be faithful now. 

 I am learning over and over again about how weak I am and strong my Savior is. 

 I am learning how uncertainty is a struggle that I can choose to dwell in or I can offer to God, and He turns my uncertainty into poetry. 

 I do not know yet how I will cry, if I will cry from happiness or sorrow. I know I will cry either way. But I know that this too shall pass and that I follow Jesus who has already given me far more abundantly than I could ever ask. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Questions Not For Today

 What am I doing?

 The question comes suddenly as I think of a specific situation in my life that I would describe as crazy, scary, and wonderful all with the same breath. It is a situation that like many others has the potential for something indescribably wonderful or painful. 

 And I go back and forth between thinking it will be all wonderful or all painful. 

 So what am I doing? 

 For this new year I chose Surrender as my word. Last year it was Joy. Joy in all circumstances. Joy because God has blessed me richly and far more abundantly than I could have imagined simply because Jesus died for me. This year I want to focus on surrendering my life to God. Surrendering all of my hopes and desires and fears to Him. Surrendering what I thought my life should look like. 

 So surrender has been my theme, and going into this year I knew exactly what I would be surrendering to Him. I wasn't happy about it, but at least it was familiar, like the same chore you hate doing but at least you know what has to be done. 

 But this strange situation I find myself in has taken me by surprise, something I wasn't prepared to deal with, let alone surrender. I don't know how to do this. 

 So I take a walk down a dirt road and hide myself as far away from people as I can. And I pace up and down that dirt road asking God so many questions:

 What if...?
 What happens when...?
 How can I...?
 Should I...?

 But as I am praying and voicing my fears to God, I have this thought: these are not questions for today. Tomorrow, maybe. Definitely for the future. But not today. They are questions and fears I must surrender. Both the "what if it works?" and the "what if it doesn't?" Only God knows the answers, and right now they are not answers He is giving. So right now they are not questions I should be asking. 

 I don't want to live my life in fear. I want to live my life in the present, while sometimes looking back at the faithfulness of God and sometimes looking forward to how God will be faithful in the future. Because sometimes I get so caught up in the questions that can't be answered today that I forget these things:

1. He will hold me fast. 

 I will make mistakes. But I am God's child and no one will be able to snatch me out of my Father's hands. 

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
John 10:27-30, ESV

2. I can't know everything right now.

 I like plans. I like knowing what is going to happen in the end, whether it is the book I am currently reading or my life. But my life is not a book where I can skip pages. So I must take everything one day at a time and not fear the future. 

3. God knows everything right now. 

 When I pray and ask God my hard and painful questions, I like to imagine them floating up into His hands. God is holding my questions, so to speak. I can trust God with my fears and questions. My fears He will dissolve and my questions He will hold until the right time when He will give me the answers. 

 So my fears about my unanswered questions and situation are useless. I must surrender them to Him, because they are not questions for today. And I will wait to see what happens. Even if it just a painful lesson or experience, He is using my strange situation, many fears, and unanswered questions to draw me closer to Him. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Passover Musings

There is a mountain that is my life. It twists and turns, goes up and down. Sometimes I reach a flat area and can see the path far ahead of me. Usually I can only see the next rock where my foot must go, each step God telling me to just trust Him.

 As I've been pondering the first Passover these last two weeks, I think the Israelites felt the same way.

 They had just watched God hurl down on Egypt many plagues of gnats, frogs, boils, and darkness. They must have been in awe of what God was doing to their enemies and maybe the deliverance they felt was coming. 

 But Pharaoh still wouldn't let them go. And there was this last terrible plague that they would not necessarily escape from. The eldest son of each house was going to die. Unless. Unless for four days each house brought a spotless male lamb into their house, then killed it, ate it, and painted its blood across their doorways. 

 Why would God kill innocent children? Why was their only hope an innocent lamb?

 They didn't know. They couldn't know. They only had their instructions. So they took the lambs into their homes. Precious, sweet lambs that they fed and cared for and the children carried in their arms. The same lamb their father slaughtered and the children were required to eat. 

 Those children could not see the good in the death of that lamb.

 I cannot see the good in many things in my life- hills that turn into mountains, bends that turn into long detours with no sunshine.

 I feel their pain. I feel the knife of God bringing people into my life who I love to just take them away from me. What good is there in that? What good is there in a slaughtered lamb that was brought into their house as a pet to be killed a few days later?

 But the oldest son did not die. Suddenly the slaughtering of the lamb was necessary and good. Their son, their brother, lived. They understood the reason for their previous pain.

 And unlike those children, unlike the Israelites, I can see God's overarching plan. I can see how the innocent lamb who died in the place of the oldest son was a picture of Jesus who would many years later die an innocent death for our sins. For my sins. 

 I do not know what God is doing with my pain and my life right now. I wonder how it can be good. But I am faithful that He is working for my good. I know that someday in heaven I will see everything as good and necessary. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

7 Things People with Food Allergies and Intolerances Want You to Know

 I was five and my sister was two. We were in the car eating snacks. I had a bag of trail mix and I was feeding my sister Cheerios. At some point my sister started coughing and rubbing her face and eyes. From her mirror, my mom could see hives on her face, and knowing my family's history with allergies, quickly pulled into our doctor's office that happened to be nearby. 

 I don't remember that day, but I remember the days after. 

We discovered my sister had an anaphylactic peanut allergy, meaning she could die if she ate peanuts. She was also at the time severely allergic to eggs and dairy. I remember not being able to put my sister in the church nursery because they refused to change the snack they provided. I remember the time she accidentally drank from my cup of milk instead of her cup of rice milk, and we all watched her. I remember people teasing my sister and telling her she should eat peanuts to see what would happen. I remember how sad she was for several years when as a teenager she couldn't go to camp with her friends just because they would insist on eating peanut butter and not making meals safe for her.

 Growing up, my mom has also been lactose intolerant for a long time. In recent years, she has had to limit almost all fat and sugar from her diet for reasons no one understands.

 Almost my whole life I have watched my mom and my sister, and some friends struggle through their food allergies, and this is what they wish you knew:

1. They aren't making it up.

  Many people brush off those who claim they can't eat certain foods, saying they're lying. This is common sense, but if someone says they have a food allergy or intolerance, believe them. If they carry EpiPens, doctors have confirmed the allergy.
  Yes, we have all heard of that random person making up an intolerance to food so they can feel special or important. I recently heard of a woman who made up her child's life threatening allergy. Sadly it happens. But those people are exceptions. What happened to people being assumed innocent until they are proven guilty? Please just assume these people are telling the truth, unless you want to find that out the hard way.

 2. Some people do not understand the meaning of a life threatening allergy, and that makes life difficult for the ones that live with the allergy.

 My sister and parents have been the brunt of rude comments from people who think we are taking my sister's allergy too seriously. We have heard many things from, "You can't live in fear", to "Her allergy can't be that serious." 

 Well, it is that serious. If my sister eats peanuts (including peanut butter or peanut oil) she could die. Though doctors are unsure, it is possible she could also react to the smell of peanuts in the air. 

  And we do not live afraid. We serve a great God who created my sister and gave her this allergy. We trust Him to keep her alive or take her away as He sees fit, as we do with each of our own lives every day.    
 So we do not live in fear; we live with our brains turned on. If a package of cookies says, "May contain traces of peanuts" she does not eat them. That is common sense, not fear. That is looking both ways before crossing the busy intersection.

 But people often still do not seem to grasp the concept that if my sister eats peanuts she could DIE. 

3. They often feel left out because of their food allergy.

  How would you feel if you went to a birthday party as a child and you couldn't eat the cake? My sister did that many times. How would you feel if at a bridal shower you couldn't eat anything but the veggies? My mom and my sister still do that.

 They often can't eat. Can't taste. Can't do what everyone else is doing. They just watch others eat the good food. Or they eat their own snack they brought, sometimes getting awkward stares. You don't realize how important it is to be included at meal time or dessert until you are not. Often, the hard part for them isn't not being able to eat certain foods, but not being able to eat along with everyone else.

4. One of the greatest kindnesses you can do is let a food allergy person read a label. 

  Some food allergies and intolerances are harder to deal with than others, but by just reading labels, they can know if they can eat something or not. So save the packaging and offer to let people read the labels. 

5. Don't be offended if they won't just take your word for it that your food is safe.

  People who have Celiac will get very sick if they eat gluten. People with anaphylactic food allergies could die. They are not going to take a chance and eat the food unless they trust you and your knowledge of their food issues. It is nothing personal. 

6. Just try.

   Food allergies can be tricky. There are things no one thinks about like cross contamination (using the same utensils for different foods, possible contaminating all of the food where before only one food was unsafe). It can be scary to assume the responsibility of cooking for someone with food allergies or intolerances. What if you are wrong? What if you don't fully understand?

 Mostly, people with food issues just want you to try. Listen to their struggles with food. Ask them to teach you how to read labels. Ask them to show you what they do, what they can and can't eat. Learn how to properly use an EpiPen. Cook with them. Ultimately, just love them, especially in trying to understand where they are coming from and making things they can eat. 

7. The greatest kindness you can give someone with a food allergy, intolerance, or dietary issues and preferences is the gift of food they know is safe for them to eat and is also delicious. 

   I once sat next to two college girls at a wedding who had Celiac. There was a special cake for those with a gluten intolerance, and they were so excited they could eat cake with everyone else. It was the same excitement I have seen on my mom and sister's faces when there is food they can eat at an event where they often have to  avoid the snack table. 

 Consider this a challenge: How can you bless someone with a food allergy or a food intolerance today? 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I Will Love

I'm thinking about many things. Things difficult to name and describe.

 I'm thinking of love as I read Ann Voskamp's The Broken Way. How it is when we are broken that we can fully experience God's love for us and also fully loves others.

 Dirty trays pile up at work when I've already done more than my fair share. How much do I give? Do I wash their trays to love my co-workers, or do I love them by not letting them get away with laziness? What if washing their trays is the only act of kindness they will receive, today? 

 I am more aware of my brokenness these days than I have been in a while. I can feel my dreams fleeing, desires dying. There are things that I wanted but now only half want. There are things I desire that I can't have. What do you do when your life suddenly feels drained of purpose?

 I guess that's when God begins to pour His purpose in your soul.

 Ann Voskamp says we don't truly love something until we give it up. The Bible says that. It is in that most famous and cliche verse John 3:16: "For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life."

 It is the good kind of cliche. The cliche that says we must never forget. 

 I'm still thinking of love. Thinking of the love I have for all of my friends miles away. Thinking of a love I hope to have for a special man someday. Thinking of the love I have for all of the children I have looked after. Thinking of the love I have for my family near and far. But mostly I'm thinking of Jesus' love for His people- a love so strong, so pure, that He was willing to die. God made flesh, made to struggle with us on earth, and then made to die a horrible death. For unrequited, undeserved love. 

 So I've decided to keep washing trays, and not just my own.

 I've decided to sing along even to country music, even if my heart does not feel like singing.

 I've decided to love others even when I feel unloved. 

 I've decided to love my uncertain future full of dead dreams.

 I've decided to love because He loves me.