Friday, November 13, 2015

This Evening's Prayer

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.” ― Anne FrankThe Diary of a Young Girl

My heart is solemn.

My thoughts run around trying to make sense of hate.

Of violence.

Of noise,

Of chaos,

Of disdain.

I wonder how and why people's mouths grow such a distaste for certain members of humanity.
A humanity that we all share.

A humanity of which we all belong
and have a membership.
A humanity that unites and does not divide.
If we are all made by the same creator,
then why do we feel the need and the place for hate?

Are our differences really so distinct that they require death to equal out a wrong?
A wrong established in our creation?
Do we really give the Fall so much credit for our hatred that we don't recognize it as the reason that we have a Savior?

Perhaps I'm wrong.
Perhaps my own biases of perceived hatred are really perceiving fear.
Mistaken loyalty.

Lord, have mercy on us all.
Deliver those who are captured.
Heal those who are harmed.
Grieve with the grieving.
Respond with the responders.
Have grace and redemption for those who are in need of such things.

Forgive us in our wrongs and our hatred.
Unite us in our humanity.

Kyrie Eleison.  Lord, have mercy.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Thorn in the Palm Leafs

The fanfare starts and a choir and children make their way into the sanctuary waving palm leafs over their heads, singing “Hosanna in the highest!”  The congregation is filled with joy as the celebration of Jesus coming into Jerusalem begins.  We are replaying what is described in the Gospels as the Triumphal Entry of Jesus. 

I love this celebration.  It also makes me feel uncomfortable.

How could a day in which we celebrate the coming of the Messiah make me uncomfortable?  In the Gospel narratives, the Triumphal entry is the marking of when Jesus finally makes his way into Jerusalem.  This is a journey that he has been on for a while.  Jesus has been performing miracles, telling parables, proving the religious authorities wrong, posing more questions than answers, and doing God’s will for him.  When he rides into Jerusalem on that day, riding on a donkey as predicted in Zechariah 9, he is recognized as the Messiah by the people who enter him in.  He enters in to palm branches, songs of joy, wonderful music, and anticipation.  He enters with joy into what he knows will be his death.

My home church has a very intentional Good Friday service.  Every year it is the same service with the same music, same readings often led by the same people, and a black out at the end that represents the tearing of the curtain when Jesus died in Luke's Gospel, and the closing of the tomb after He has been placed within it.  I have realized that having this same service every year for the past eighteen years has been has been very significant to my faith development and my understanding of Jesus’ death.  We need to remember what happens between Palm Sunday and Easter.  Without taking the time to grieve the death of Jesus, it is harder for us to truly appreciate the empty tomb a few days later. 

Responsive readings are a part of the religious tradition I was brought up in.  For these readings there would be a narrator and then others would do the voices of the characters at play in the story of Jesus’ passion.  The congregation would play the part of the crowd.  So when they are reading Luke 25:15-23, when Pilate is asking the crowd gathered outside if they would rather have Barabbas, a murder, or Jesus released to them, the congregation would say, “Crucify him! Crucify him!  Release Barabbas to us.”

Palm Sunday makes me uncomfortable because as the word, “Hosanna,” escapes my lips, I foresee myself shouting, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” 

By placing myself in the story I have empathy for those characters.  I understand.  Or at least I try to.  I see how they betrayed Jesus in those days between his entry into Jerusalem and his death on the cross.  I see how I do too.  I become more aware of my sins, my failures, and my utter need for Jesus.  When I look at Palm Sunday and rejoice with Palm branches, I see myself forsaking Christ a little later that same week right along with the twelve disciples.

When I see myself shouting, “Hosanna,” I know the end.  I know that Jesus is going to end on that cross.  I know that everyone who loves Jesus is going to betray him.  The Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus as being utterly abandoned by all his friends, followers, and even his god (“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”) in Mark 15:34.   

Although, as soon as I realize this, my mind flickers to what I know as the ultimate end.  I know that in the end he is going to rise from the dead.  I know that despite my forsaking him, he loves me anyway.  He died for me anyway.  I completely betray him and he dies for me.  He redeems me.  He loves me.

Palm Sunday makes me uncomfortable because it reminds me of my frailty and God's worthiness.  But it also means that not only is the death of my savior coming, but also his resurrection.  It gives me hope.

Maybe it is silly that Palm Sunday makes me uneasy.  Maybe it is silly that I remember all this in the shouting of one word – “Hosanna”.  But perhaps it is a good thing.  Because in this struggle I realize how fallen I am and how good and faithful God is.  I realize once again the message of the Gospel.  It is one that is transforming.  It is renewing.  It is so easy to not really think of what the story of Jesus' passion means for us.  It gives us hope that even as we wave these branches and shout, "Hosanna, blessed be the one who comes in the way of the Lord," there is something larger at work.  We are on our way to betraying our Christ, but Sunday is a-coming.  Behold the risen Lord—greater than all my failures.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Strawberry and the Fennel

I used to journal.  a lot.  Since my brain surgery I haven't for some reason.  I have felt like there is something missing.  Writers block to no end.  When I come to my blog it stunts me and the words do not come.

Last weekend, I went to a conference and we talked about creativity in ministry.  We talked about using different elements of who we are as a person to be creative.  I sat down and wrote.  I allowed myself the space to sit with my journal and a pen and to let the pen take me where I wanted me to go.  That's generally what seems to happen anyway.

I decided that I want to start writing more.  For Lent I decided to give up eating out -- with a few exceptions.... with groups of friends, for work.  Just not by myself when I don't feel like cooking.  I decided to add onto that a to start writing something, anything, everyday.

What I mean by that is that occasionally throughout the Lenten season I will be putting things that I write onto here as I see fit.  Sometimes about faith.  Sometimes not.  It's generally in loose verse poetry I guess.  I don't know much about all those terms and distinctions.  I just write and read and write so more.  Or I try to.  God willing.


I know no answers.  
I know only questions.
My uncertainty is why I come back.
My uncertainty is in part why I believe.

Because how could I know all the answers and still believe in a God that created 
the buffalo and the fly.
The wolf and the lamb.
The man and the woman.
The victim and the guilty. 
The popular and the outsider.
The strawberry and the fennel.
The rose and the ivy that is poison.

If I start putting my faith in black and white,  I'm afraid that I'll put God in a box that I'll store on my shelf.  A box that I'll creek open when I need to know that Jesus saves of God creates.  And by sliding open the corner of the box, I get concrete answers to my no so concrete questions.  
Questions about what Paul says about women.  
Questions of whether God's plan for creation could involve evolution.  
Living in fear of the almighty God that erupts when he comes out 
of my own boxes and expectations of how I want God to act.

My boxes mean that my God, 
my Jesus, 
is mine.

He is what I want him to be.
He is not who he is really.

My God is not white, 
not black,
not me.

My Jesus is a Jew is Israel.
To take him away from there makes him no longer God and puts me in his place.

So Lord, 
may you come out of the box that I put you in as a genie comes out of it's lamp.

Surround me.

Allow me to know that arriving at grey is fine.
That arriving with more questions is fine.
Because somehow in my questions I do understand.

I understand that I am smaller than I know and that you are larger.
If truly you created the entire cosmos, 
then my box, 
my walls, 
my black and my white, 
they cannot contain you.

My Lord and my God,
allow me to sit within the grey.
Allow me to sit with my questions.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dust like us

Today is Ash Wednesday.

It seems only right that as we prepare for Jesus' death on a cross we remember our own humanity.  

Our frailty.  

That to which our own humanity reminds us that Jesus was human. 
And as we well recall, he was also divine. 

That Jesus is both man, 
and to the ashes he will return, 

but also God, 
And he will live again.  
Truly rising at the end of the Lenten season.

From dust I came,
And to dust I shall return.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How do you measure a year in the life? (13 Things I've learned sincefrom brain surgery)

A year ago today I had brain surgery.

In June 2013 I collapsed while running around Baylor (on the Bear Trail).  I was found by a lady who said I was convulsing.  I woke up in the hospital and went to the ER.  Because of possible seizure activity and high blood pressure, over the next two months they ran what seemed like every test out there.  Everything kept coming back negative.  BUT then they found something on the MRI.  They had me do an MRA to get a closer look.  They then told me that I had an aneurysm.  I, a otherwise healthy twenty-two year old, had a brain aneurysm.

A few months later on December 19, 2013, I had surgery to clip the aneurysm.  Two days after that I had a seizure.  I think it was my body's way of saying it couldn't take anymore.  I was automatically was put on a lot of medicine, which has been the struggle for a good portion of my recovery.

It's been a hard road, but I'm doing better now and finally feel like I'm back to being myself.

Here are some things I've learned:

1. Brain surgery sucks

Surgeons cut into your head, mess with the bone and nerves in your face, and risk your life... yah, it sucks.  There's no getting around that one!

2. Seizures suck more

I have the utmost empathy with anyone who struggles with epilepsy.  Seizures are awful!  Not only can they occur at any time but you may not even really be aware you have one.  Have two or more in a certain amount of time and you are diagnosed with epilepsy.  This means you can't drive for 6 months after a seizure in most states.  It also means that you're more than likely taking heavy doses of medicines that can mess with your brain.  For me the not being able to drive was devastating.  I can't imagine.

3. Medication really can mess with you

After my seizure they put me on 1200 mg of Kepra twice a day.  That, added with the hydrocodone for pain made for a horrible experience for those around me.  Going into the the next month I was so rude, anxious, emotionally and physically unstable, and on the brink of depression.  I couldn't drive, I was super tired, not hungry, and was falling into depression and anxiety.  My poor roommate dealt with this pretty well.  The turning point came when she found me bawling my eyes out in my restroom with the water turned on to mask the sound.  I was crying about not being able to drive.  I had my first suicidal thoughts in that moment.  I knew that this was not me and that something needed to change.

That weekend I went home and got my medicine changed.  A week off of it and I was better.  However, the new medicine made me dizzy and disoriented when I walked quickly or a significant distance.  Basically the only reason I got to class was because I was so focused and because I've known the campus for years.  I'm fairly positive I don't have epilepsy, which is what the medicine is for.  I don't take the full dosage anymore.

This whole experience has made me think a lot about how medicine, especially medicines for anything neurological, really mess with you.  They mess with behavior and emotions.  They mess with so so much.  This has made me think of issues dealing with addiction (with getting off of hydrocodone after a couple weeks) and how a medicine can alter the way in which someone acts and thinks.  It's kind of scary really.  I definitely have some hands on experience with neurological medications that should help later on with social work.  It gave me new insight and empathy.

4. Recovery sucks

I think that this surprised me a lot.  Beforehand I didn't think recovery would be too bad, but I did worry about it some.  A friend of mine growing up had brain surgery.  I knew that it was hard on her emotionally.  I thought that I would be fine and immune to that.  Not quite true.  Especially with the seizure, not being able to drive, and the medications.

Recovery was a struggle everyday.  Somedays it was easier, but some days it was just really hard.  Somedays at the beginning I would feel sick and not want to do anything.  Somedays were the opposite.

Perhaps one of the largest struggles of recovery was having expectations for myself but knowing that I had to lower them.  For instance, I wanted to take 12 hours right after surgery.  Shortly before the semester began I persuaded myself that taking four classes was too much and I only took 9.  That was a good idea.

Recovery was a lot more complicated that I thought it would be.

5. Aneurysms are horrifying

In case you don't know what an aneurysm is, it's a little pocket on your vein that forms over time from pressure.  This is why high blood pressure is so bad.  Veins in most of the body have two linings, but in the brain they only have one.  This is why aneurysms are most commonly there.  When these pockets get big, they burst.

What is the most frightening about aneurysms is that you don't know they're there.  Most health things are at least somewhat preventative-- eat healthy, exercise, treat your body correctly, and most of your health issues will go away.  Not aneurysms, however.  They're just kind of creeping in the background.   And you don't know you have them until it's too late.  Terrifying.  I even asked my parents if both of them could have MRA's for my Christmas present.

Even through this weird series of events, I feel fortunate to have passed out because it left to the discovery of this crazy thing.  It gave me some life back that I would have lost later on.

6. Aneurysm jokes aren't funny

"It's going to give me an aneurysm (or heart attack or stroke, etc.)".  Funny in the moment.  Not when you realize that those around you have suffered from that and it may sting from hitting too close to home.

7. Dependence

Since I couldn't drive I had to learn dependence in a way that I didn't want to.  This meant that I had to rely on friends to help drive me to the store, go to extracurricular things, and in general to get around.  This was really aggravating for me.  This meant no gym time or random trips to the store or coffee shops further than two blocks away.  I was really frustrated with it.  I tend to be a fairly independent person, so knowing that I had to get people to do something as simple as go to the grocery store was really aggravating.

But I have a friend who would drive me back from the library most nights, another who would pick me up for school sometimes, several who would take me to church events, and one who took me to the Farmer's Market each week.  The friends and the trips are endless.  For that I am entirely grateful to the extent that I have trouble forming words to describe it.

8. Empathy

A lot of the time when I would tell people what was going on they would respond with, "Well, learning how to not drive will give you empathy for the people you will work with in social work".  I knew this was true, but I didn't find it helpful at the time.  Now I do more though.  It's easier to look at things clearly in the rearview mirror of life sometimes.

It's hard.  I know I take my abilities for granted.  God knows I did and do this with hearing.  But also driving, living in a house, being able to move around freely, the ability to live successfully on my own, the ability to go to school, and numerous other aspects of life.  I think sometimes about what it would be like to be an elderly person unable to drive or move around and loose my independence.  What it would be like to be in numerous situations, because the situations really are endless.  Whether that tie of dependence is money, a ride, a relationship, or material possessions of some sort.
I've had a lot of rough experiences in life, as we all do, but I'm glad 'cause they give me a way to relate to others that I may not otherwise have.  God works through our difficulties to bring glory to him.

9. A good support system is priceless

Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the friends and family that I have who have supported me through the past year.  From the rides places, to the kind words, to the listening to me vent, and just being giving and wonderful people-- I am so so thankful.  I genuinely could not have made it through the past year without my family, friends from Columbus Avenue and Calvary Baptist Churches, Grace Presbyterian Church, Truett, Baylor, The Yoga Bar, and everyone else!

I am loved.  I am prayed for.  I am supported.  There is quite possibly nothing more humbling than reading through facebook posts of people saying they love you and are praying for you, looking at notes people have sent you, comments people wrote on my CaringBridge site, realizing the friends that have sacrificed their time and money to get me places, and realizing that above and through all, Christ has been working through what has quite possibly been the hardest year I have had so far.

10. To have grace with myself

This year has had two big themes that I feel God has been throwing at me: grace and sabbath.

Last Spring the theme of grace kept coming up in books I was reading and in church.  Grace toward others different than me, with others who disapoint me, with situations out of my control, and grace with myself when I am unable to do the things I wish I could do.  Recovering from any surgery or any illness, this is important.  If I couldn't walk as much as I wanted to or be awake or learn as much as I wanted to, there was a need for grace.  Grace to be gentle with myself and love myself.  Grace to be aware of my emotional and physical limits.  Grace that is first given by God through Christ Jesus.

Something that I did that I am proud of is getting a membership at the Yoga Bar in Waco that opened in February.  I had to start going in June once I could drive again, but it has been so great!  I have been able to stretch myself, heal myself, and gain strength-- all emotionally, mentally, and physically.  I have improved my balance, done headstands, forearm stands, and handstands, and gained a lot of upper body strength.  I am so thankful!

This fall semester the theme of sabbath has been screaming at me.  It was the main message of my covenant group, of church services, of my lifegroup, and the topic of random conversations that friends would bring up.  I think the biggest thing I learned is that sabbath is grace.  Sabbath is God giving us grace and a time to rest.  God knows that we need a time to escape from the craziness of the world, so he gives us rest within creation and the commandments.  It's beautiful, but something that I don't naturally do.  This semester I tried to implement this several weeks, but it was hard with my crazy school schedule.  I'm going to again.  The good thing is that I know God has grace with me.

11. It takes a long time to feel like yourself again...

"I'm finally starting to feel like myself again".  I've uttered these words.  I've struggled, but this summer I finally got to the point where I felt like I could say that.  It's been increasing since.  Gaining back self-confidence, self-worth, my mental state.  But I kind of struggle with this.  What is it what makes me feel like me?  Or rather, what is it that makes me not feel like me?  Or why am I not satisfied?

Being where I am mentally has been something that I have realized is important.  I need to dwell where I am.  I need to live where I am in the midst of the pain and hardship.  I need to accept myself for who I am.  I need to be okay with not being where I want to be for the time-- that I am two months out of having surgery and not feeling completely like who I know myself to be.  I have grace with myself and let myself be who I am.  Healing happens.  I can work towards it, but I need to love myself where I am.

It's kind of similar to what I've told a couple friends going through breakups recently.  It's okay to be sad.  It's okay to grieve.  It's okay to not be where you want to be.  You'll get there.  You'll be okay.  Just let yourself be where you need to be in this moment.  Recovery happens.  Time does wonders if you let it.

12.  Life is precious

There's something that happens once you have a traumatic experience.  You begin to look at life a little differently.  Slowly life becomes even more valuable, but at the same time you may not hold onto as tightly.  You begin to accept that things are not entirely under your control.  That if God is to have you die at that time, then that's fine.  But you rejoice with the life and the day that you do have.

At a reception my home church had over winter break last year, a man came up to me who had commented on my CaringBridge site.  I didn't know him, but he shared his story with me.  He shared his story of having a ruptured aneurysm and having life altering surgery.  His story was one of survival.  It was relatable to mine except that thankfully my aneurysm had not ruptured.  His joy though.  His utmost joy and passion for God who gives life.  His joy for family and his thankfulness for God giving him more life.  I was amazed.  I realized I have a great story and a reason to be thankful.

I feel very lucky.  I feel guilty.  I think it's unfair that I knew about my aneurysm in enough time to have something done about it before it ruptured when this is not the case for many, many people who die of strokes or have life shifted after them.  There are statistics that say that 1 in 50 people have an aneurysm.

Life is precious.  From a Christian standpoint this is clear.  We see this addressed in Scripture.  We see this through creation.  We see this through the incarnation.  We see this through the crucifixion and resurrection.  Life is a gift from God.  I'm thankful for mine and the lives of others.

13. God is good

This idea was one that helped me through a lot, especially working up to the surgery.  No matter what crazy stuff is going on health wise, God is good.

Some people talk about how God is testing your faith in hard times (I wrote a blog post about this during that time).  But my faith is not dependent upon my wellness.  My faith is not dependent upon the circumstances.  My faith is dependent upon Jesus Christ who I know through Scripture.  Not on my health or anything of the like.  To be so would be a faith that was shallow and not truly rooted in Christ.  God's not abandoning me or testing my faith.  Life happens, but God is good.

Thanks for the support, the love, the car rides, the listening, and the prayers.  Thanks for bringing light and hope into a crazy, crazy year.  I am thankful!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lord, hear my prayer

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an every-flowing stream," Amos 5:24 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Last spring we learned this prayer in my covenant group.  These are small groups that Truett creates for us to grow spiritually in, keep accountable in, and to learn new disciplines of faith.  Last semester we learned the Jesus Prayer, the prayer listed above.

This prayer has helped me a lot when I am at a loss for words.  When the words I want to say sound more like shouts forming in my lungs, but I feel the Lord calling me to have a spirit of peace.  A spirit of prayer.

Tonight the Grand Jury came forward with a lack of inditement to the officer in Ferguson, MO who shot Michael Brown.  My heart is pumping diligently faster than usual, yet feels like it's falling into the hollow beneath it at the same time.

On one hand, I'm enraged that our country would let someone, an officer of the law, get away with shooting someone and leaving their body in the street for over four hours.  I would hope that in America we could see that a human life is worth more dignity than that.

But on the other hand, my Christian faith is one of redemption.  I am struggling to be thankful that Officer Wilson got a second chance.  I pray that he sees his wrong and lives rightly now.  I pray for his safety.

But more than anything, I am struck by the fact that this war, this cultural war that growing up I thought was for the history books, is now ours.  It's ours to fight for the oppressed.  For those who are  oppressed because of their gender, their orientation, their race, their economic status, their mental state, their physical state, their religion, and the list goes on.  Because while I know my facts are not all straight and I know that there are two sides to every story, especially in this case, I also know what the statistics tell me about many times people of racial minorities being targeted.

But it's a war to fight in peace. love. hope.

But I am also struck by the hate that has generated hate.  How the oppressed are becoming the oppressors.  A violent response is no better than the violence that began it, regardless of the reasons.

I am struck by the lack of compassion we have toward others.  I'm struck by the hatred we feel for others.  I'm struck by the questions that fill my head.

My thoughts are like circles that hamsters are spinning in.  Like the waves on a windy morning along the coast.  All I can do... all I can say....

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.  All sinners.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Circle Tables

I read somewhere that Starbucks purposefully designed there to be little circle tables so that people who were sitting alone wouldn't feel lonely.  I like this.

My senior year of college, I sat at those circle tables a lot.  I had recently begun studying in the library more and realizing how wonderful it is.  I sat at one of those little circle tables.  I was probably filling in my agenda, working on final reviews, or looking at the checklist of things I had to do for graduate school and job applications for the next year.

On Youtube I stubbled across a song called, "Blessed are the Ones," by Audrey Assad.  She talks about being a servant to others and how they are blessed while having little (I think this is rather ironic when Christianity today speaks of being blessed by having material things and good health... but that's another post).  I was blown away by her music and words that spoke to what had been on my heart.  A developing need to serve others and to find a way to do this with my life.

Seminary is often referred to as a place where faith dies.  Where students become so bogged down with the doubts that others have struggled with before them, with the inconsistencies with Scripture, and with the day to day study of Scripture that isn't always as soul grasping like one hopes.

Not gonna lie, I struggle with this.  I think all of us do.  The overwhelming longing to not deal with these things anymore and to go back to the innocent faith that was before.  Asking ourselves why we're where we are in the first place.

Why am I in seminary?  Why am I in graduate school?  Why am I not working and getting money and saving for a house and hypothetical future children?

Lord.... why?

Tonight, after having dinner with a good friend and remembering what I tell myself is the reason why I'm doing this, I got in my car.  I turned it on and that song started playing.  As I drove back to the library where I filled out those applications two years ago, I allowed for myself to get intwined in the lyrics.  I allowed myself to get immersed in the greatness of wondering what it would be like to pour all of me out to serve others.

I remembered why I'm doing this in the first place.  I remembered that I'm using my blessing of having an education to make a difference for those who do not.  I'm doing what I'm doing for others.  For God.  Not for myself.

Those circle tables.  Those memories.  I didn't feel lonely.