Are You Ready?

It first occurred to me one evening in church. Exams and craziness had begun, and more were looming. And I was certainly not feeling ready.

I hadn’t been to church in a while. Two weeks, actually. And all semester I’d been pretty lacking, with good spurts here and there and many stagnant weeks. I don’t believe we’re penalized for the weeks we spend out of church. In fact, I wouldn’t even say that not attending church is a sin.  Yet there’s something about missing that makes me feel sad, and something about going that makes me feel right. More than right. Peaceful, a little bit joyous, and a lot more hopeful.

My soul was ready to be back.

But as we stood side by side, singing Christmas carols within the festive sanctuary, my heart began to ponder a question: Are you ready? It came suddenly, fleeting, and mostly unintelligible at first.

On the second round, the question was clear. The same words, seemingly created in my brain, inspired this time by the pastor’s message. Are you ready? Are you ready for Him? 

For Jesus? 

For once, I wasn’t defensive or quick to say yes. Because I wasn’t certain that I was ready and I knew that.

A year ago, if you’d ask me, “Are you ready for Christmas?” I would have replied with a persistent and quick “yes!” Are you ready for Jesus wouldn’t have even been a thought, however. If someone had tracked me down and held me into place over the matter, I wouldn’t have known what he meant.

Ready? Of course. I already did all that “heart asking” and “inviting” so many years ago.

But that Sunday night, after the hardest three months of my life, I suddenly had the knowledge to know that I did not really know. I have never known, and I will never know a lot of what I like to think that I do know. And one of those facts, these pieces of knowledge, which is really not a fact at all, but which goes like this–it’s a question, actually–are you ready for Jesus? 

I tell you, my friends, about this now because it had intrinsic meaning for me. December is the time for Christmas, for a hustle and bustle and a busy season. But as Christians, are you ready isn’t just a matter of having the turkey prepared and the presents wrapped. Are you ready is a spiritual question, and a deeper layer.

Are you ready for the Christ child, the spirit in human flesh, the incarnate deity? 

Are you ready for a miracle that will knock you off your feet? A child born of a virgin, and conceived by the Holy Spirit? A child that is both God and man? 

And are you ready for that child to possess a love so deep that it will save you? 

Are you ready to bow down? 

Are you ready to let God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit–the three in one–in to your entire being, your heart and soul and life and everything

Are you ready for that? I knew I wasn’t, as we sang about Angels on High, sipped coffee, and took communion.

It didn’t make me sad. Just a little thoughtful.

Christmas is overwhelming, but not just because of the elaborate turkey dinner that’s to be made or the 27 guests that are coming. The height of this overwhelmingness doesn’t have anything to do with the gift buying budget or the list of festivities to attend. It is much, much deeper than anything material. Anything we can see with our eyes.

Christmas is an invitation that began with a young girl, who was no doubt inexperienced, uncertain, and downright scared. She was invited into a very special relationship with God, unlike any other before her. It would transcend her body, her soul, heart, and mind. It was a relationship meant for everything, and an intimacy reaching to the very depths. With her acceptance, the whole world was invited into this crazy, exuberant, uncontrollable, saving love. 

Are you ready? I didn’t know why I wasn’t. I still don’t know why I’m not.

What is holding you back? I don’t pretend to know even an ounce of it all. But I know there is a fear–of knowing and of being truly known. Vulnerability is desirable, but fearsome, too. The thought of being naked sickens me, but the vision of being known and loved in spite of everything and anything, and in all the nothingness I am, is immeasurable. 

He says come in. He whispers, Let me near. I love you, and I want to be part of you. 

What is holding you back?

The 25th is coming. We remember the story and the life birthed to us for eternity. The gift to know, and be known through and through.

Will you take it?

Note: THANK YOU for all of the positive feedback to my return to the blogging world. I really appreciate all of the warmth and encouragement. I realized something from it all, and I thought I’d share it with you. Your comments are very important! I’ve actually known this for a while, but I never wanted to admit it because I thought it made me shallow. I’m seeing things in a different light now, and I’m not afraid to admit that I love hearing from you! Feedback, in any shape or form, is very welcome and actually really helpful. It keeps me going with the writing, if I know people want to read more… disagreements and queries are also welcomed as I love to go deeper with thoughts. Thank you!

A Dance Worth Learning: Of Swing Dancing & Faith

West-Coast-Swing-Dance-2932_l_aaaafc0bcef9707d

 Photo Credit

The lights go down and the music begins, loud, quick, and perky. I stand on the side in my pretty dress, waiting, hoping for someone — anyone, mostly, though hopefully one who can lead me well and make good conversation — to ask me to dance with him.

Soon enough, he sweeps me up with his expected request, “Would you like to dance?” He reaches out one arm for me to take and we find a spot on the crowded dance floor. His hand goes to my waist, mine to his shoulder, our other hands intertwined.

“I’m Elizabeth,” I say and he introduces himself, too. We talk a bit, but mostly we just dance. He leads me beautifully, giving me grace I never knew I had.

“Ugh, sorry, I’m not very good at this,” I explain, embarrassed, when I falter.

“It’s OK. Don’t apologize.” He smiles to assure me it’s alright.

Feel don’t think. Release don’t controlGive don’t hold back.

I remember and begin again, feeling, releasing, giving, and suddenly I’m floating on musical air, moving in ways I never thought possible for any person, let alone graceless, awkward, and uncoordinated old me.

The song ends and he dips me. I let my body fall to the side he leads it, resting in the sole control of his strength. It is scary and exhilarating. That dance is finished. We thank each other and part ways, the smiles still living on both our faces as we look for new partners.

 

To tell you the truth, dancing scares me more than a lot of things. It’s something I’ve been around my whole life, and because of that, I have this built-in shame from all the memories of getting it wrong. It’s like I don’t remember a time when I ever got it right in the realm of moving my limbs to music.

And so it’s hard for me now, at twenty even, past the childhood years and teenage awkwardness. My memories haunt me in the church halls, the classrooms, and the theatre floor, as if they were happening all over again. Sometimes I can’t take it anymore. I can only move to the music for so long before I have to go relax or even cry.

I was never able to explain it till this April, when these fears really began to meet in conflict with the need to dance and the need to be. In tears, I began to explain to others and to myself. But it still felt like it was too late. The dance call had come and I’d done as poorly as ever, yet I knew it wasn’t just that. Beneath it all, there was a river of tears and I let them out, agonizing forever over the strange pain I felt. The movement I’d been forced to distribute had caused this unquenchable pain, I was sure. From then on, I vowed never to do what I couldn’t, never to move to the music and ignite this pain again.

Because this shame and pain and utter exhaustion would always be there, whether in the church halls, the classrooms, or the theatre floor. And the pain, I decided was just not worth it. 

 

I don’t remember how it started — probably with a text from my friend, Holly. She asked do you want to go swing dancing and I thought about it for a while and decided Sure, I’ll go make a fool of myself because it was sort of fun when I went before. I took a risk and gave up my vow in part. “This is different,” I decided.

I wasn’t good right away, but I found that I wasn’t entirely bad either. I still had trouble with the same old things — coordination, rhythm, remembering what to do, and getting so nervous I forgot the steps.

But I began to find comfort in the fact that I was a follow, and if I could depend on my lead, everything would be alright. Some leads swept me off my feet and I felt as if I were flying through galaxies and worlds of jeweled sunsets, and flowing waterfalls.

I began to feel more than I thought. A slow release occurred as I let go of bits and pieces of my beloved control. And I started to give openly and with courage.

 

Some days, I feel like I’m losing hard battles. My head becomes a maze, and beyond the joys and beauty of life, I feel tight and hard.

I’ve realized that I have this mountain size need for control. I don’t know where it came from, yet I’ve come to see where it is leading me and it is a place of more restlessness and battles and discomfort.

It is not worth the shame and pain, I’ve learned.

 

“You dance gracefully,” he said before bowing and departing after our song had finished.

I almost laughed in his face. Instead, I stuffed my laughter with a smile and a gracious, “Thank you.” Another boy asked me to dance and as we did, I pondered the last leader’s words and my heart soared.

When you hear something, whether good or bad, you begin to believe at least part of it. And this was the summer I began to believe that peaceful living is a dance that I can learn, a beat that I can swing to, a rhythm that I can find. Because even though my heart filled with shame in every church hall, classroom, and theatre when the music began and the dancing started, when the lights went down in the dance hall, I could only feel a very peaceful kind of joy that held room for more.

And faith is a dance, too. One I’d like to fall more and more in step with everyday.

 

This summer, I’ve realized that I like to lead way too much. And I’m really not very good at it. Well, not at the kind of leading I try to do. The control I try to take. The unnecessary worries, and big, unneeded plans.

“If you want to lead, that’s fine but go to the other side,” a dance instructor said to the follows at the last lesson.

I’ve been trying to lead from my follow’s place, but this leader’s position is not one I can take. Life and faith are dances, too. Dances in which I must follow and surrender and most of all dance without abandon. 

 

I went swing dancing for my twentieth birthday. To most, that would merely seem fun, cool, or interesting. Only I and a few others know the true significance of choosing to do that activity on my special day. It was something I wanted to do, and chose firmly and freely. That makes me laugh and almost want to cry at the same time.

On my birthday in particular, my limbs loosened and my heart felt truly light. I began to really dance without abandon, follow without leading, and fall in love with something worth caring for.

I’ve found dance to be a great analogy for faith. God leads; we follow. He creates and we create out of His creations.

God invites; we accept. We enter in to a covenant of many, many dances. Some are tricky, messy, and odd. All are beautiful.

His hand’s at my waist, mine’s at his shoulder, and our other hands are intertwined. Locked together in an unbreakable embrace. His breath’s in the music, in the movement, in my tangled steps, my graceful ones too, in every spin and dip and jump.

The pain and the shame weren’t worth it, but the dance was one worth learning with the Father of dance to lead. 

Hello, Again

Hello…

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? So much time has passed that I almost feel afraid to write and post again. I’m not really sure if I know what to say or how to say it. I didn’t mean to take a break or disappear–it just sort of happened. So I guess today I’ll just write and not worry too much about the time passed or the words not written. Yes, I shall just write. Write and tell and share my stories.

School ends on Monday and after the ensuing finals, my first year of university will be finished. This year has simply flown by. Sometimes, if I’m home all weekend I feel like a highschool student again. It’s hard to comprehend that I’m living all of the things I was only dreaming of and hoping for last year.

But I have been living my hopes and dreams as well as my worries and nightmares. University hasn’t been everything I imagined or dreamed, I’ll admit. But then, it has also been much more than I could have hoped for, in some ways.

This year has been so full that I feel like it has been years since my highschool graduation. I’ve grown in a thousand ways that when I reflect, I barely recognize my old self anymore. I feel like I’m transformed.

I believed so many lies back when I graduated. So many untruths, so many bad, bad things. And I thought that I didn’t; I thought I was done with all that. I’ve realized we’ll never really be able to comprehend the truth, though there are pieces of hope for it on this earth. And I’ve been blessed to glimspe some of these truths this year.

I’m not the same girl in the purple dress who told people she wanted to be a teacher at her graduation.

I am not the same person who plotted a map of perfection for university–planning to wear dresses to school at least twice a week, be the friendliest person in the world, always, always care about every assignment, and go to chapel everyday.

I’m not the one who cried after the second day of classes and wanted to change her major every other day for months.

I don’t believe the lie that a Christian cannot also be an actor anymore and I do believe in God’s love for me even more.

And all that is so good.

I’m learning to open myself up to people and to God. I’m learning to be myself, as cliche as it sounds. And I’m learning, perhaps very slowly but ever so, to be more like Christ.

This is me now–after almost eight months of early mornings and late nights, exams, papers, and readings, scenes, auditions, and monologues, missing the bus and walking across campus, seeing shows and hanging lights, crying and hating theatre and then falling back in love with it again and again, meeting new people and learning to love and trusting in God and learning to fail boldly. I can only imagine what the next three years will bring.

What has happened to you over these last few months?

The Leaves Are Swirling

I’m really behind on blogging. Really, really, super behind. I feel bad because I’m just replying to lovely comments from last week and I know there are still more to reply to from before I went to university. And my emails tell me that there have been some awesome blog posts lately, but I haven’t had time to read them because the leaves are swirling.

But in my “behindness,” I’ve been thinking a lot. Yes, I have time to think even though I don’t have time to relax except when I sleep. My classes make me think. My profs inspire thinking. The people I see on the bus and the friends I’ve made put new ideas into my brain. Leaves are swirling and its hard to catch up.

I liked university very much on the first day. But the second day was hard, bordering even on awful. On Wednesday, I came down with a terrible cold while reading Flannery O’Conner’s “The Enduring Chill” for English homework (great story, by the way… just not when you feel like you have an enduring chill, too). That cold kept me up for most of the night. Traffic made me arrive just in time for the Spanish class I was already nervous about. The class, which is second year, was very difficult or the girl who skipped Spanish 12. The prof spoke in Spanish pretty much the whole time and we had to speak in Spanish a lot, too. I didn’t know if I could do it. My Acting class was just exhausting with my cold and then when all I wanted to do was go home and cry, the bus was too full. The leaves were swirling in too many heaps and falling all over me.

From that paragraph, one might gather that I hate university now. Well, I’m pretty sure that was true last Thursday. And sometimes when my group has to go first for the Art History presentations or my Spanish prof tells us we have a test on Tuesday, I really do feel like running away and never coming back. I wonder if I’m really cut out for university. “God, why did you ask me to come here? Because it doesn’t really seem to be going that well.” The leaves are swirling too fast.

But the leaves of grace fall quickly down and cover my tears. Because there are blessings indeed. I really like all of my profs. I’ve made many friends. My English prof assigns the best stories and leads awesome discussions! When I don’t have a cold, Acting class is amazing because I can just relax and explore. And my Spanish prof is very nice and encouraging. The leaves of grace tell me that I can do it, that I am good enough, that God is greater than all my fears.

So I’m trying to pray and pray and pray. About everything. About everyone. On the bus, in my classes, while walking around, and in bed at night. I pray for strength, courage, love, joy, peace, and leaves of grace to surround me. And I know that since the Lord has called me here, there is a better plan that my worries could not imagine.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and peitition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

True Love Waits

For as long as I can remember, I’ve known this simple phrase. It’s become quite cliché. But I used to think it meant something very different. I was so absorbed in the day that I would meet my “true love” that I thought of it as “True love awaits.” I was so focused on the part about a soul mate at the end of waiting that I missed the most important part: True love waits.

I’ve never been married and I’m only seventeen so I’m not an expert on true love in anyway. I’m actually not very knowledgable on this subject at all. But even so, God has been showing me what true love is.

Photo Credit

Sometimes girls like to dream of a “whirlwind courtship” in which the relationship goes swiftly from A to B to C. Others go through life with the mentality that “if you like someone, you date them” and quickly go from one to the other without waiting. But true love… it waits for the right time to appear. God has a specific time for everything and if you listen He will show you the time and place for everything. And the waiting will only make your love grow stronger if it is true.

Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

Song of Songs 2:7

Sometimes love isn’t fun. Often, the person one loves the most is also the one who hurts and disappoints him in the greatest ways. But true love waits for that hurt to heal and the person they love to change. True love patiently forgives, time and time again. It does not demand change, but waits and grows and learns and waits some more.

Love is patient

1 Corinthians 13:4

True love is not conditional or only there when it is fun. It stands through the storms of life and works out the problems. True love lasts in sickness, poverty, and the worst. It loves, honours, and cherishes through the tougher days. It is not based on shallow, changeable traits like looks or personality, but on character. True love lasts through the starving college days and early mornings with little ones, and the walkers and doctor’s visits later in life. It is the husband who can’t stop smiling at his wife after a child is born. It is the wife who looks at her husband with love and confidence when he loses his job. True love waits through poopy diapers, and broken cars, broken legs and infertility, gray hairs and memory loss.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us

Romans 5:3-5

Most of all, true love waits and waits and waits forever. I’ve learned that the waiting that secures love is not just a few days or weeks or months. It’s not even a few years. True love does not cease, it never fails or gives up. It waits until death does two people part.

For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.

Songs of Songs 8:6-7

That’s not to say it is wrong to be in a relationship that is not true love. It takes a while to find such a love. And there will be mistakes in every relationship, including the love that is true. We are flawed people only capable of loving sinfully.

But one characteristic of true love that I do know is that it waits. So look for the love that waits patiently. The kind of love that lasts forever and never fails.

Has God shown you your true love yet? Please share your story! I’d love to read it!

Say Hello Not Good-Bye

A couple of months ago, church was just hard. I had to say good-bye to dreams and learn how to welcome reality.

I walked to church that morning because we had car troubles. The sun shone brightly for the first time in weeks and it felt good to stretch my legs. My family had gone other ways since the car broke down so I was alone. I contemplated the morning ahead of me: helping out in Sunday school and running away from the question that was sure to come. The question that I would have to say no to. The question that hurt me so much. Are you going to Mexico?

~~~

Before I turned into the parking lot, I saw a little girl dash out of her door dressed in pajamas. She began to unravel the Christmas lights from a little tree in the yard. I don’t know why, but this caught my eye.

~~~

For some reason, I stuck around after church. I don’t know why I did it. I’d already made my decision not to go to Mexico so there was really no point.

“Are you coming to the meeting today?” my youth pastor asked as I finally went to the foyer to leave.

“No,” I replied. “I-I’m not going to Mexico.”

He looked disappointed. “Why not?”

“I just don’t really feel called to go. I don’t think God wants me to go this year. I’m not needed and I don’t need it, as much as I want to go.” I said. “And believe me — I want to go to Mexico more than anything. But I really just don’t think He wants me to go.”

“Well, that sounds like a good reason. We’ll miss you though,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said through tears. I watched the others enter the activity room where the meeting was to be held. Some of them had gone before, some of them were new. I envied my friends and asked God why. “Why can’t I go back? I’ve dreamed of it for so long? Why can’t you call me back? Please God! Why do I have to say good-bye again?”

But the Good defeated the bad and I heard His voice loudly and clearly…

“Don’t say good-bye. This is not the end. New things are coming. Good things. Say hello, not good-bye.”

I smiled. It was true. Yes, He was right. I put on my coat with a happy heart. Just because I wasn’t going to Mexico didn’t mean that God had forgotten about me. He was calling me somewhere else. Somewhere better for me. And who knows? Maybe I’ll go back to Mexico someday. It doesn’t matter though. Saying good-bye is irrelevant. Hello is the word to use for the future He has planned out.

~~~

As I walked back, I saw the girl who had been unfastening Christmas lights earlier. Now she was drawing a chalk house in the drive way. I was reminded of my younger days of chalk castles and neighbour friends and I felt the nostalgia and sadness come back. But only for a moment.

“Hello,” I said, smiling at the girl as I went.

“Hi,” she replied, looking up from her chalk.

I grinned. I’d said hello not good-bye. I can do this. I really can.

~~~

I wrote this post back in February, but over these last few months, these feelings have become even truer as I prepare to graduate and start a new life at university in the fall. While I am very excited to begin this new life, I am also apprehensive. I don’t want to say good-bye to everything I’ve known and loved.

But God is showing me once more that life is about saying hello, not good bye. Today, I was officially accepted into university after months of second guessing and debating. With enthusiasm, I said Hello and Thank you, God!

God has a wonderful future planned out for you, too! Don’t ever forget that He has your very best in mind. He loves you. So say Hello and not Good-bye.

The Journey Back

It has been exactly three weeks since my last post. Three weeks! That’s never happened in the history of my blog ever. Not that I’ve been blogging for a dozen years or anything, but still my absence came as a shock to me. I didn’t intend to stop. It just sort of happened. I had ideas, but I guess there wasn’t much motivation to write them.

When I left, I was feeling a lack of faith. I was starting to write a bit about renewal, but I am afraid that a lot of my posts were kind of dismal. I was going through some difficult things. In fact, I’ve been going through difficult times since January. For some reason, the words just flowed from me then. I guess I just got tired. I realized that there wasn’t much more I could say about faith and a lack of it until I knew that I had mine back.

Little did I know that these last three months have been the journey back to faith. Yes, every bit of these last three months. Even the lack of faith and the difficult times. Everything.

I’d been reaching for God since the end of summer. It’s funny because life was awesome back then yet I couldn’t feel His presence in the way that I wanted. So I’d pray that He would come to me in “that crazy way” at church and every worship event. I even prayed for tears a couple of times. But I always went home with dry cheeks and a discouraged heart.

And then January hit with more emotion than I expected. There was deep joy and deep sorrow at the same time. Maybe one day I shall write about what made me incredibly happy and extremely sad. I wish that I could now, but the matters are all too personal. All I can say now is that the joy and sorrow alike were just what I needed.

On Easter, I realized that I am alive in the Spirit again. It puzzled me because not that long ago I would have told you otherwise. Now, I realize that I was on that journey all along. I just didn’t realize it. Now, I see the fullness and beauty of that journey. Every step, every stone, every path has molded me into the person that I am today. I have taken another journey and my heart has been restored.

I apologize for my absence on your blogs lately. I’ll try and catch up over the next couple of days. Hopefully, my “writer’s mind” has returned to me because I really have missed blogging and I have so many great ideas that I cannot wait to put into words!

Faith Like A Child

Oh, you of little faith.

This phrase could and should be said to me about ten hundred times everyday. I’m a worrier. A constant worrier. Yet I proudly declare to be a Christian with a faith that is unshakable. But some days, that faith is pretty hard to find.

Today was one of those days. Actually, almost every day in the last little while has been “one of those days.” For some reason, faith and me haven’t been going as well as they used to.

Feeling discouraged and restless, I decided to go for a walk. I needed a diversion and a chance to sort my feelings out.

I left my house and started onto the road. I haven’t done this in a while, I thought.

I went past houses I knew and others I didn’t. I walked swiftly, trying to get rid of the pain in my heart.

I turned corners and pondered my week and all the things I did or didn’t do. I have so much on my shoulders right now, I moaned inside.

I quickened my pace more than once, as if the faster I walked, the better I’d feel.

Somehow, I ended up at the park. It wasn’t a mistake or intentional — it just happened. I ran to the swings and sat down. The seat felt small at first. I guess I’m not a child anymore, I thought. Eventually, I eased into the swing and pushed back and forth like I did in those days of cherry picking and side walk chalk.

I leaned back and closed my eyes. The dogs barking and their child owners playing nearby reminded me of days of old. Days when worry went as deep as cleaning my room so I could go to my friend’s house or getting the doll that I wanted for Christmas. Days when I could laugh freely and wipe away my tears quickly. Days when trips like this to the park were frequent and a good friend lived across the street and life was a gentle, summer song. Days when I prayed tirelessly each night for every unsaved family member, sick person, and simple want by name and believed that God would deliver. Days when I had faith like a child.

Suddenly, I remembered my old self. I felt her again. I let go of the worries, stress, and sorrow. For ten or fifteen minutes I was free. Free of anxiety and hurt. Free of exhaustion, confusion, and strong emotions. Free of everything bad, distracting, and annoying. Free to live, love, and laugh. Free to believe and have the faith that I need.

Unfortunately, that moment didn’t last forever. My legs got tired of pumping and I walked home. My spirits soon faded again and my faith was lost. I closed my lips through the songs at church and tried not to cry. I even left before the last song was through. My faith left me as quickly as it had come.

Now I’m sitting at home after a long, useless day. I remember the faith that I had once before. I want it back. The faith that loved life and God and did not worry about anything. The faith that believed and persisted and trusted. The faith of a child.