Of Fridays Past & Future Joy

“It must have been sad when Jesus died,” I remember thinking, as I went through Good Friday services as a child. Even at a young age, I thought of Jesus’s friends and followers, of Mary Magdelene and Peter and doubting Thomas, of how Jesus told John to look after his mother, as he hung from the cross.

But Sunday always came swiftly, ever beautiful and painted with spring, making us all happy again.

I remember one Easter in particular, when I was quite young. It was the first time I’d discovered the Easter bunny and it was a glorious morning indeed. I couldn’t believe my eyes at the chocolate trail leading from my room to a pile of presents in the living room. It was a gold mine. My own gold mine. I was so excited that I picked up my sister’s chocolate, too!

And I recall these strange thoughts running through my head, as I contemplated my childish joy. I often spoke to myself aloud and I did then. I remember saying, “I’m not going to sing again,” “I’m not going to play dolls again,” and the like. I still don’t understand exactly why I said those words. But perhaps suddenly, as I was hit by that sweet five-year-old bliss, I thought I’d got it all, I thought I didn’t need to keep on trying, I thought my joy was complete at last.

That was a long, long time ago now.

Now I sit in church on Good Friday, watching a beautiful service unfold, much like the one it was last year. It’s one of five services happening around town and so various members of the church community gather in my own place of worship today. I enjoy the beauty, try to worship, and contemplate it all.

But I’m distracted, caught up in the memory of Fridays past. Of Easters gone by. My thoughts lead me far through life and back again to the present as the band starts up again and we take the communion cup.

I’m wearing black today. But I remember a Good Friday when I wore a light blue dress and greeted visitors at the door. I was just a baby then, in my faith, in my growth, in personhood. There were so many things then I had yet to do and know and learn. My immaturity, the poor decisions, the bitter disappointments of past days haunt me as I sit in the pew. Sometimes I hate to think of what and who I was. But I remember the fragrant joy with which I had towards life, and the love I was growing for God and church and people, the love that was only beginning, the love that still churns now.

“And if only I knew then…” So many things. So many words. So many problems.

Four years ago, I was fifteen, sitting perhaps in the same row, in a blue dress. I remember the older Dutch man who became a friend to me and my family that year and that day in particular, as he helped us greet folks at the door. But that was four years ago and a lot can change in time and now he’s not even here and he won’t be coming back.

“It must have been sad when Jesus died…” I think again. I’m sure it was, for his friends and followers. But then He rose again.

I remember that dear old Easter when a trail of chocolate made my little heart soar high. He came to make our joy complete.

I remember the person I was yesterday, last year, and four years ago. The pain, the mistakes, the strife. He came to change us, to set us free, to give us life.

I remember the ones who have died, the ones who will never sit in church pews again. I regret, I mourn, and I wonder. He came so that we might never die, so that we could live forever, so that we could find perfection with Him.

Good Friday reminds me of the strife of this world. It reminds me that there is something better, even than a living room full of chocolate. And with it all, I remember the joy past, and most of all, the joy that is yet to come.

Be Still

I wanted to stay home last Friday. I’ve been at school nearly every day except Sunday for the past month. I decided I’d take the day off, since I don’t have classes – well, sort of. I’d sleep in, do home work in the comfort of my own home, drink tea, and maybe even visit the store.

But then I got an email. I had to go for a costume fitting in the middle of the afternoon. I grumbled and griped and wondered why a 20 minute costume fitting an hour away had to ruin my Friday.

Yet from some place inside of me, I heard the words: Be still.

I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. I put the costume on hastily, passed people with a warm smile to avoid small talk, and walked as fast as I could. But then I remembered: be still. And I tried to breathe and remember that this day might be good in other ways I’d never expected.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at Starbucks. A Pumpkin Spice Latte, courtesy of a coupon, and my History home work in hand. And in the buzz of the afternoon coffee shop rush and my growing to-do list, I heard the voice again. And it told me to be still.

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Be still. Be still. Be still.

As you practice the songs for your voice mid-term and try to reach the high notes and act and sing from your core at the same time. While rehearsing the scene that scares you and makes you better at the same time. When you’re in rehearsal all Saturday, but painting sets instead because they’re behind on the show. In all the chaos of school, and the mess of life. As you try to live, love, and breathe. I told myself this paragraph again and again and again this week.

But its hard. Impossible, almost. To quiet yourself in the midst of the pain, angst, busyness, and pressures of life. To be still when you have to run everywhere just to keep up. To trust in the God who holds you in His hand and know that He is with you. Yet, all He asks is that we just be still in His presence.

For a second. Try it. For a minute. Not too long. Just be still.

That’s been my motto this week. In the tough times, the weak times. In the rush and the hub and the worry and fear. Be still. Be still. Be still.

I had the voice midterm on Tuesday. I got a B. My teacher says she rarely gives A’s on midterms. But I’m still not happy with how I sang and I know I could have done better and–be still, the Voice says.

We presented our scene — my scene partner and I. We did our very best, after weeks of working, trying, risking, failing. And at the end, I remembered to be still.

I’m dead tired tonight. I spent the evening, unmotivated, trying in vain to find sources for my History project. I should do some more homework and my room’s a mess and I should pack lunch for tomorrow, but all I want to do is curl up in bed. Be still.

This post was supposed to be published a week ago, but it just wasn’t. Be still.

There is so much I want to write and share and communicate. But the clock is ticking and I have homework to do and a bus to catch. Be still.

He says, ”Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46: 10

Fail Boldly

My first memory of failure is from Grade 9. I failed a Science test. I’ll never forget the shame I felt. Like I was stupid, unable to do anything well, an idiot. That’s how failure made me feel that first time.

I think I was always kind of afraid of being a failure. I think we all are.

I spent high school watching my step and setting unreachable goals. And hoping I’d never fail again.

Then, I started university. And they told me that I had to fail to pass.

I don’t remember when they said it — whether it was during orientation, in my first acting class, or when I went for my advising session. But I know I heard this strange and impossible quote: Fail Boldly time and time again throughout September, October, November, and December.

I didn’t get it. Failure wasn’t good. I’d spent my life striving for just the opposite and I couldn’t imagine why anyone else wouldn’t.

Maybe they meant that you just had to be able to admit your mistakes and show that you were humble. Maybe failing boldly was just being able to laugh at your self. Maybe it wasn’t really “failure.” Perhaps it was just an artsy phrase or a figure of speech, I convinced myself and continued to hope for perfection. Because I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would ever want to fail on purpose.

I didn’t get it. My first monologue mark in the beginning of second semester reflected that. And I hated my work, felt like a failure, and considered giving up. I just couldn’t really, flat on my face, fail boldly.

The rest of the semester unfolded in a weird, tearful mess of beauty and growth. And slowly, I learned. I began to undo, to understand, and to fail.

I can’t explain it completely. But I do remember when I willingly failed boldly for the first time.

It was the end of March. The day had been bright and spring like. I’d memorized and learned and cried over a monologue for weeks. And now I stood, a bit breathless, a bit tired, a bit nervous, after the group audition, in the middle of the stage. I was alone and absolutely vulnerable. Right there, I lay one of my greatest hopes out and put myself on the clothes’ line. And as I opened mouth and began the text, I lay everything I had down and just let it go.

I had that actor’s moment where you don’t feel memorized and the words just slide out of your tongue as if you’re saying it for the first time. I stopped thinking about my audience or how I looked. I let myself be, for a moment. I felt a strange peace in my soul and my stomach, instead of the butterflies that usually reside there. I think I let the Holy Spirit in and it felt like He carried me on His wings.

And I think I failed. Boldly.

And I realized that failing boldly isn’t really what I thought it was after all. Failing is allowing yourself to be human. Its giving yourself the freedom to live and breath and let yourself move. Failing boldly is finding rest and growing and trying again. Its submitting yourself to the gift of Jesus and letting him take control of your life and future. Failing boldly is about grace and peace and life.

I don’t know if this is really what my professors meant about failing boldly. But this is what I learned when I tried. And as I think about this coming year, I hope to stay in this state, to tumble a bit, and fall on my face and then get back up again.

I hope you’ll try it too — failing boldly isn’t so bad as we thought.

Is God Enough?

I grew up hearing that God was enough, that God always satisfied, and He was all we needed.

I said ‘the prayer’ at the age of four because I believed, as strongly as I could in my little heart, that God was the One and Only.

Years of Sunday school lessons and singing songs and hearing people talk about how God is enough. And God will always be all you need. There’s nothing else that could compare.

Then, the well-meaning friends who went so far as to say that God obviously wasn’t enough for someone if they did such and such. But God should be enough for you if you’re a true Christian. Again, God was supposed to be enough.

Turning from that stream of thought, I kept going in my Christian walk. God was still enough — I just didn’t want to be judgmental about it. God is enough. God is always enough for me. That’s why I prayed every night and went to church several times a week and taught little kids in Sunday school. Because God was enough for me and enough for them too and enough for us all.

And that’s why I stood up on the stage at church, wearing a white dress, next to my youth pastor who held an open book, and answered ‘I do’ to questions on faith and shared my testimony about how God had always been enough.

But what about when God isn’t enough for us?

When I’d rather read a novel than the Bible. When I lie awake, thinking of other things and loves instead of praying. When I felt so alone and thought I could never do anything in Mexico. When I plunged into relationships, school, or theatre, hoping they would fill the void. I didn’t know it then, but I’d stopped believing that God was truly enough.

But the other day, as I lay in bed, I heard Him whisper in my ear that He is enough for me. And for the last quiet moments of the night He was that.

I realized then that God hasn’t always been enough. And he won’t always be enough for me or anyone. God can’t be enough for us all the time.

God wants to be enough and He is enough, but in this life at least, I believe, our sinfulness precludes us from truly loving Him in this way.

So please, let’s stop pretending and saying that God is always enough. Let’s not force friends and family members into that place when they aren’t ready. Because that just isn’t how it is.

God is enough. But we can’t always see Him that way. And that is OK.

When The Ground Falls Beneath You

We spend our lives building ourselves. Subconsciously, we add a thousand pieces of life to our identity. Who we are is rooted in countless places and people.

The family we’re from or the friends that we have.The straight A’s in school. A boyfriend or a girlfriend. A hair style, a skinny body, or a tall figure. Designer clothes, achievement in sports, or the lead role in every play. The church that we go to, the Bible verses we know or even our entire faith.

And one day, all of that can fall apart and everything is gone. The ground falls beneath you and you’re the only one left. You. Just you. You’re naked, hunted down, ravished, alone.

I say this because it has happened to me. Maybe to you, too.

Until this week, I never knew how much I put my identity in things that would fade away. Relationships, who I was in high school, even dreams that I had that I knew would never come true, school, theatre, and my faith. I built them all up. I allowed them to fulfill me in ways they never could. But recently, as the weeks have gone by, one by one, each precious jewel has been taken from me. Torn. Ripped from my soul. Until now, in which I feel as though there is nothing left but me. Naked, empty, struggling, searching me. Alone and undone without all of those things that I thought made me who I was.

I used to think that faith was a good thing to root yourself in. Turns out that I was wrong.

I used to say, ”most of all, build your identity on your faith because you can’t trust anything or anyone else completely.”

I used to know that everything would be alright as long as I just had faith.

That is, until it all fell. Until I heard things I’d never heard before from someone I didn’t think would tell me these things in a place I never expected to hear them. Until I started to question, doubt, wonder things I’d never questioned, doubted, or wondered. Until everything around me was falling but I knew that I’d be fine and safe with my faith but then that went, too. Until it was all, all gone.

When the ground fell beneath me and I wound up in the pit. Naked, empty, alone. Identity-less.

I lost everything superficial about who I was. No, those things weren’t ”bad” particularly, but I’d let them define me and that was wrong. And of course, at one point they got the better of me and fell. Even my faith.

So now I’m building again. Crawling out of the hole and back up onto my faith. Building a new identity, a new faith. Trying to leave all of those old ideas of who I was behind. Trying not to do the same thing again.

This time, I’m putting my identity in God. Not faith.

The Quest For God

I remember asking, ”Who is God?” Again and again, I’ve pondered this; tonight I ask it again.

The little girl on her knees, four-years-old, folded hands and eyes closed, reciting a prayer on the floor of the church.

The child, feeling grown up, collecting money in an Easter egg basket, filling little cans full of quarters and dimes, bringing them to Sunday school for the missionaries’ fund.

The one whose braids almost met her waist, who prayed every night for her Dad to believe  and her friends’ parents not to get a divorce.

The ten-year-old girl, feeling displaced in a big old church, missing her friends from the old one, wondering if she could really feel at home here.

The girl-turning-woman, Sunday School helper, nursery attendant, GEMS leader, greeter, friendly smile, cookie-maker, role model.

The one in the dress as white as snow, up on the stage, lacy pink shrug covering her shoulders, long brown hair down about her, reciting her testimony in front of a crowded church, saying ‘I do,’ hugging people and receiving cards over Black Forest cake.

That crazy girl with messy braids and bright pink shorts, running with children on her back, hammering and painting, fumbling out Spanish and smiling a lot, learning that God loves her, learning to trust, believe, and love.

The teenager on the verge of what she thinks is love, spending her nights on the phone gabbing out issues of God, callings, and marriage; the heartbroken one, wondering how God could not give her the first love she wanted.

The one who has lost, the one who phones a number with only an answering machine falling along empty walls, who loses passion for everything; the one who is found, the one who grows through suffering, the one whom God has breathed life back into.

The girl who graduated with a pretty purple dress and friends by her side, whose speech was about God and ‘running the good race,’ who thought she was so strong in her faith, and thought she knew what ‘good’ Christians did and didn’t and knew she would do what it took, never guessing the lies she believed.

And now she sits in the Old Testament class, the same girl who prayed a simple prayer on her knees at four, the same girl who said she knew nothing but thought she knew everything just a year ago, listening, thinking, asking questions, wondering if she really knows God as well as she thought.

The quest for God does not end — in this life or the next.

Immersed In The Spirit

Recently, I found one of my many, old journals. Like most of my notebooks, it was unfinished with plenty of pages left for more words and ideas. Oh yes, I love to write, but the problem is, I often start things that I don’t finish. A lack of inspiration, I guess you could call it. Anyway, this notebook had verses in it. I think I was trying to memorize them at some point. I tore the filled pages out so that I could use the journal for something else, but they got me to thinking about my life and things I’ve done or tried to do. And all the sudden I thought to myself, remember when you used to read the Bible, Elizabeth?

So, a year of Christian education and I don’t read my Bible anymore? Is that it? No, not exactly. I do read my Bible. But to be honest, I’m not as religious about it as I used to be. The notebook I found was from a by-gone era of memory verses, Bible reading binges, and notebooks about how to be a good Christian woman. From a time when I was just a girl trying to be the best follower of Jesus that I could be. Honestly, I wasn’t immersed in the Spirit much at all. Oh yes, I tried to be. But that way of doing it just didn’t work too well.

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One of my new memory verses — in Spanish.

After about fifteen years of being a Christian, I’ve tried lots of things, swinging from rebel to saint, conservative to liberal as I’ve done so. The funny truth is that I never really find my place in either direction. I think I find it for a little while, but I never really do. And then I’m just stuck again, drifting back and forth. I feel like I’m constantly at a place where being a Christian just doesn’t make sense except for the fact that I’ve been one my whole life.

Changing directions this year (as in, going to school) has honestly changed my life. I’ve been forced to think about myself, the world, other people, my life, and God differently. I’ve learned to re-evaluate good and evil, faith and religion, life and love, and countless other things. But at the end of the day, I’m still asking the same question. What does it mean to live a life immersed in the Spirit of the living God?

Let’s be honest — even as the great Christians that we are, we don’t always “feel” God in us and through us or even in the distance somewhere kind of looking out for us. Yeah, He’s there, but sometimes He does feel pretty far away. How are we supposed to be immersed in that?

I don’t have the answers — I just have my experiences and the knowledge that I can gain from that. Praying is important. And I know that from not praying because I forgot and then from praying again and realizing how much I needed it. And I also know that from having people pray for me and from friends telling me that they were praying for me–even when I didn’t ask them, too. Reading is good, too. I’ve been reading little bits at a time — when I remember and when I feel the urge. I don’t like to say, “I know I should do this everyday” anymore because honestly, that takes the joy out of it. Letting the Holy Spirit live through and in you is very, very good. And I’ve learned that can come in a thousand different ways–they key is inviting Him in.

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I’m reading two Bibles now — in Spanish and in English!

I don’t know it all yet and I’m not there the whole way. But these are my observations and my beginning for living a Spirit immersed life.

Curves In The Road

Road blocked by landslide

Road blocked by landslide (Photo credit: wiesmann)

Everyday, I have a thousand worries. Will I actually have enough time for these scenes and papers and all all of this studying? What kind of marks will I end up with? Are my courses going to work out for the next four years if I’m already having trouble scheduling next semester? And how on earth am I going to pay for all of this? Oh, and it would be nice to have a good job after, too. What in the world is that going to be since I am obviously too impractical and stubborn to change to a more reasonable major? Sometimes it feels like there are a million curves in the road and I’m speeding way too fast.

So, yesterday I prayed that God would show me His will in this. Why am I here? I know, I know…this is right for me right now, but could you please just show me how this is going to WORK out financially and practically? Even though I wasn’t exactly made that way, I should probably start thinking along those lines at some point.

I didn’t exactly get an answer carved in stone or shouted from the mountain tops. But when do we ever get those? Very rarely, I’d say. The answers I got were in the gentle flow of the day. In the sun that came out after a long stretch of rain. When I went to a prof’s office, dreading what he was going to say about my project idea, and hearing affirmation and guidance instead. The way that my scene rehearsal made me feel alive again even though I still have the same stresses as before. With the surprise ride we received from a friend. Suddenly, the curves were there, but they didn’t seem so difficult.

Later, I was having a driving lesson and it all became clear. We were driving eighty for the first time; it was dark and I was blinded by the lights of a thousand other cars and the road seemed way too curvy for this speed.

“This is scary,” I remember saying. “I think the road is too curvy for this.”

“Yes, but the road was specifically built for this speed,” my mom said. “So you can drive 80 because it was made for it.”

It took me a bit of courage to go from 60 to 70 and then to 80. But I did it. And when I did it, I felt the curves flow smoothly. In fact, it was even smoother than before because I was driving in just the right way for the road. I didn’t crash or lose control because the skillful engineer had built this road to perfection for the exact speed I was now going. Suddenly, the curves were simply part of the road.

And I realized, that God is just like that skillful engineer. In fact, He is an even better creator. Although the road may seem difficult, He has constructed it with my life in mind. Therefore, I have nothing to fear for He is in ultimate control of the journey home, no matter how many curves there may be in the road.