Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hosea's Wife

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”
Hosea 3:1

I recently heard a story about a man and a woman who filed for divorce after thirteen years of marriage. Digging deeper into the circumstances surrounding the divorce, my heart broke for the young man. He had endured thirteen years of a marriage in which his beloved proved to be unfaithful numerous times, and yet each time, the man re-opened his arms to his false-hearted wife and accepted her back into his home. He had endured thirteen years of a marriage in which his beloved betrayed his trust numerous times, and yet each time, the man showed her grace upon grace and granted her another chance. He had endured thirteen years of a marriage in which his beloved continuously broke his heart into a thousand tiny pieces left on the floor as she turned her face away from the remnants and chased her own desires, and yet each time, the man picked up the pieces of his paper heart and held them out to his vagrant wife as the only offering he had left to give. He had endured thirteen years of a marriage in which his patience was tried, his faith was tested, and his love was worn thin, and yet it was not he, but his wife, who filed for the divorce.

After hearing this story, I could not wrap my head around the fact that even after his wife cheated on him time and time again, this young man still took her back into his loving arms. I could not understand why this woman was so selfish that she would see her husband’s arms wide open, pleading with her to come home to him, and still deny his love. I could not grasp the idea that this woman would be so willing to cause such tremendous pain and heartbreak to a man who had been guilty of nothing but showing her unconditional love and grace.

And then it hit me…

Is this not what I do every day? Am I not guilty of the exact same sin as the young woman? Do I not abuse my Beloved’s unconditional love and grace upon grace every single day?

I am the young woman, the wife who proves to be unfaithful numerous times.
I am the young woman, the wife who betrays her Husband’s trust time and time again.
I am the young woman, the wife who continues to break her Husband’s heart into a thousand tiny pieces left on the floor.
I am the young woman, the wife who turns her face away from the remnants of her Husband’s heart and chases her own desires.

And yet, no matter how many times I prove to be unfaithful, there is One who re-opens His arms to guide me home.
No matter how many times I betray His trust, there is One who bestows grace upon grace and grants me another chance.
No matter how many times I break His heart, there is One who picks up the broken pieces and holds them back out to me in the form of an old rugged cross on a mount called Calvary.

I am the vagrant wife, and Jesus is my Husband.

I am simply a wandering soul, flirting with the world every chance I get, lusting over worldly pleasures that I have no right to. I am falling in-love with the world when a perfect kind of love is being offered to me. The heartbreaking part is that I see this perfect, unconditional love and yet I continue to abuse it. I continue to break my Husband’s heart and turn my face away from the remnants and towards my own selfish desires. I turn away from the Light and towards the Dark, thinking that the Dark will fill me with lasting joy and fulfillment; however, that is not the case. For I end up feeling utterly empty and lost, and it is then that I reach out to the One whose arms are still open in a desperate plea for my soul to return home.

And so I run. It is at rock bottom, when I am tired and burdened and broken-hearted, that I realize lasting joy and fulfillment has been in front of me all along and I run. I run to the One who is the giver of life, joy, and fulfillment.

I run to Love Himself, and He gives freely.

I am so undeserving, and yet Christ is so relentless. No matter how many times my heart strays towards the Dark, the Light will guide me home and His love will never let me go.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Season of Change

On June 3rd, my family began a sixteen hour-long journey into a new season of our lives. A season marked by change – change of address, change of lifestyle, change of heart.

Six months earlier, my dad accepted a job with an insurance company based in Neenah, Wisconsin, making in necessary for him to spend the next months living alone in a Wisconsin condo until my mom, my sister, and I were able to join him last month. I guess you can say that the season of change started in the time in between December and June. It was during those six months that my life began seriously changing. I began a dating relationship with an incredible young man in April; I committed to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated high school in May; I packed up and moved to Wisconsin in June. Little did I know at the time that this was just the beginning of the change I was going to experience…
Our first stop on the drive to Wisconsin - Coffea!
Because what's a road trip without exploring local
coffee shops?
(Brittany (left), my best friend since first grade,
joined us on this road trip)
At Lake Monroe in Bloomington, Indiana.
The setting of Karen Kingsbury's Redemption Series.

My sister, Emilee, at Cloud Gate (a.k.a. The Bean)
in Chicago.

After 16+ hours stuck in a car,
we finally arrived in Wisconsin.

I was overwhelmed.

In the last two months of my senior year, I experienced joy like I had never known before. God had brought a special young man into my life who had pursued me despite the knowledge that I was to move come June. God had given me peace about attending UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall despite the fact that my family would be in a different state. God had carried me through my final months of my senior year, allowing me to pass AP Calculus (a miracle in and of itself) and graduate from Calvary Baptist Day School, the school that had been my home for twelve years. Despite my joy, I was overwhelmed. I felt the weight of all of this change weighing me down until I was holding on by a single thread. Beginning a relationship, committing to college, graduating from high school, and then moving sixteen hours away from everything I had ever known all within a couple of months was too much for me to carry. I was falling apart.
Jackson and me on prom night.

Receiving my diploma.

On June 3rd, my season of change only intensified. On June 3rd, it was my heart that began to undergo the change. I didn’t want to be in Wisconsin. End of story. I wanted to be home. I wanted to go to the pool parties and the movie nights, the day trips with my friends and the dates with my boyfriend. I wanted to spend this last summer with the people who I had grown up with, because the truth is this:: Once we go to college, I will never see the majority of these people – the people I call my friends, my Calvary family – ever again. But here’s the catch:: I also wanted to be with my family, and unfortunately, my family was in Wisconsin. I was torn, and I was at my breaking point.

The Calvary Baptist Day School senior class of 2015.
My friends.
My family.
My best friends::
Olivia, Brittany, and Michaela.
My small group from church -
My prayer partners.
My confidantes.
My friends.

I was miserable.

I spent the entire month of June in utter misery. Although physically I was in Wisconsin, my head and my heart were still in North Carolina. I entered into a season of loneliness. I was desperate for some sort of comfort, but I felt as if God had abandoned me. One night in particular that stands out in my mind occurred towards the end of June. I was sitting in the living room when I received a group message from those whom I had participated with in our school’s fall production of Cheaper by the Dozen and our spring production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The text was an invitation to go as a drama group (a.k.a. Drama Family) to Tropical Smoothie CafĂ© followed by seeing Inside Out at the movie theater. It was a great group getting together to go, and I wanted nothing more than to be a part of it. 
The cast of CBDS's fall production of Cheaper by the Dozen.

The cast of CBDS's spring production of Disney's
Beauty and the Beast.

I think that was the moment when I hit rock bottom. I was heartbroken. As the texts kept coming with people confirming that they would be going to the movie, the harder it became for me to breathe. Later that night, after the rest of my family had gone to bed, the texts were still coming in with further plans and expressions of excitement. My chest began to tighten to the point where I was doubled over in pain. With each text that came, the tighter my chest got, and the harder it got to breathe. It escalated quickly and before I knew it, I was in the middle of an anxiety attack. It was the third one I had experienced that month, but it was nonetheless scary. I cried myself to sleep that night, feeling more homesick and broken-hearted than ever before.

I was desperate for peace.

Meanwhile, I was preparing to go on a mission trip to New York City with my youth choir Vertical Generation (VG). While the rest of VG was making last minute preparations back home in North Carolina, I was simply trying to get through the days leading up to June 27th when I would board a plane to NYC and would be reunited with my friends if only for a week.

If I’m completely honest, I had mixed emotions about the trip. On one hand, I was beyond excited for the opportunity to see my friends again, but on the other hand, I knew that this trip would only mean another goodbye at the end of the week, and I didn’t know if my heart could handle that.
If I’m completely honest, I almost didn’t go to New York City because I hate goodbyes, and as broken as I already was, I was scared that I would completely shatter if I had to endure another goodbye.
If I’m completely honest, the only reason I went to New York with VG was because as much as I hate goodbyes, I hate disappointing people even more. I was afraid that if I didn’t go, I would run the risk of disappointing my friends who were just as anxious as I was to be reunited.

So on June 27th, I boarded a plane to New York City where I would experience a drastic change of heart.

When I arrived in NYC, I settled in for the longest wait of my life. The bus that carried those whom I was so anxious to see and hold was stuck in traffic and wouldn’t arrive at the hotel for several more hours. It was torturous! Five hours later, the hotel doors opened, and one-by-one my friends filed in and raced to my open arms. Brittany and Mandy, Allison and Sarah Beth. Jamie, Will, AnnaLise, and Jenna. Maleah, Elise, and Mallory. Patterson, Lily, Madeline, and the list goes on. Finally, the last one through the door was the one my heart longed for the most. Jackson approached, dropped his bag, and I was pulled into the embrace that I had longed for everyday since June 3rd. It was in that moment, surrounded by the people I love, healing began. It was in that moment, with a smile on my face and tears of joy sneaking down my cheeks, Jesus began to change my heart.
Patterson, Jackson, Mandy, Sarah Beth, Brittany, and me
before a concert in Gantry Park, Long Island City.

Jackson, Mandy, Jenna, AnnaLise, Sarah Beth, and me
before a concert in Union Square, Manhattan.

That week in New York, spreading the love of Jesus through cleaning parks, playing basketball with kids, painting fences and park benches, and leading worship in public places throughout the city, I learned something about God that I had forgotten. Through listening to people’s life stories, spending time with my friends in VG, and singing songs of praise to the One who holds my heart in His hands, I could no longer deny one simple truth that is seen over and over and over again throughout the Scriptures. Spending one single week in New York, fully relying on the Lord to carry me through the exhaustion that comes with mission work, the spiritual warfare that we experienced on a level never before seen on a VG mission trip, and the fear of goodbye that loomed at the end of the week, proved to change my heart and my life in ways I never could have hoped for. And all of this because of one simple truth that I had foolishly refused to believe::

God is good.

Even when I cannot see it and I don’t understand His plan, God is still good.
My ministry team in our super cool highlighter vests
getting ready to clean MacDonald Park in Forest Hills.

Three young boys who made us laugh as we
attempted to play basketball.

Worshipping Jesus in Union Square.

Luke, Avery, and me engaging in conversation
with this gentleman on the New York subway.
One of our devotions during the week was focused on trusting God’s timing. The student quoted Isaiah 55:9, which tells us that His ways are higher than our ways and that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. She then went on to state that perhaps we could add “His timing is better than our timing,” quoting Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 where we find that there is a time for “every season under Heaven.” She closed the devotion with this::

“Dear brothers and sisters, let us not forget that He holds all time and He holds us. As you go into this day, remember His promises and ask Him to reveal Himself and His timing to you. Ask God to prepare your heart for Himself and to help you to trust Him in all situations and times.”

This devotion hit me hard. I felt as if it was written directly to me. It was a beautiful moment of conviction and realization that despite my circumstances, God was still good and He had not abandoned me. He has a plan for me, a reason for me spending my summer in a place that is not my home. I simply have to trust that Jesus will bring something good and beautiful from this broken heart of mine. This realization was only strengthened by subsequent devotions.

One of the other devotions expressed that “His ways are so much better for us than we can ever imagine or have planned for our lives… It’s all such a comforting thought to know that He is in control and He is sovereign even when we choose not to see it. It is mind blowing for me to see how great His faithfulness and how great His love is for us if we simply trust Him.” (Wait for it…conviction time!) “The moment we let go, when we let go of our selfish longings and our selfish yearnings for our lives, the moment we actually take a leap of faith, is the moment He catches us, how He welcomes us into His loving arms of mercy and love and grace and goodness. Just trust in HIM. He isn’t asking us to figure out our whole future. He already has it planned out perfectly in ways that we can never imagine. Trust that in His sovereignty and power and greatness that He is in control. That in His loving kindness, He has insanely wonderful, immense plans for your life… He only asks that you simply trust in HIM.”

That’s what I had done – I was guilty of choosing to blind myself to God’s sovereignty, His faithfulness, His love, and His goodness. I had clung so tightly to my “selfish longings and [my] selfish yearnings” for my life that I had chosen to push God’s open arms away in a foolish attempt to control my own life.

Finally, in the last devotion, the student reminded us of God’s encouragement to Paul in II Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

I was weak. I was utterly weak. I had tried so hard to fix myself, to carry my burdens on my own shoulders, that I had pushed myself to the breaking point. I needed peace, but not just any peace. I needed the peace that only my Jesus can offer.

I needed Jesus.

On July 4th, at 12:30 A.M., I waved goodbye to my friends – my family – as they drove back home to North Carolina. With tears streaming down my face, I walked back into my hotel room, fully expecting to break down and sob for all I was saying goodbye to again until I fell asleep. But that didn’t happen. I didn’t cry myself to sleep that night. Instead, I was filled with an unexpected and unearthly peace. God was good. Even though I had struggled to see it, God was still good and He always would be.
Vertical Generation, you have forever changed my life.
Thank you.
Now I am back in Wisconsin. But since New York, I have begun to see God’s goodness expressed in each day. 
I see it in the beautiful Wisconsin sunsets that paint the sky an array of breathtaking colors each night. 

I see it in the variety of flowers that adorn the landscapes around this new city I am in. 
(P.S. Daisies are my favorite)

(Am I artsy yet??)

I see His goodness in the faces of those who worship the Lord through songs of praise each Sunday morning.
I see it in the handwritten letters from the people I am so homesick for.
And I see God’s goodness in the quiet moments spent with Him each night.

On June 3rd, my family began a sixteen hour-long journey into a new season of our lives. A season marked by change – change of address, change of lifestyle, change of heart. I am well aware that I am far from the end of this season, but I now believe that God has a plan that is way more beautiful than any plan I could ever create for myself. And if it takes this season of change to get me there – to get me to the center of His will for me – then I will gladly face it, because I know that God is carrying me, and He has no intention of letting me go.

Because I know that God is good.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Even Now

10:55. Busy airport. New York City. Blue shorts. Gray shirt. Oversized jacket. As I sit here and watch the hundreds of people walk by, I can’t help but think about what you’re doing. Where you are. Who you are. I can’t help but think that some day soon, 10:55 will be so much more than a number. So much more than an hour on the clock. I can’t help but think that some day soon, 10:55 will be spent with you::

10:55. Sleepy eyes. Freshly washed sheets. Rolling over to find you there beside me. Whispered good mornings. Forehead kisses. Morning coffee. Shared devotions. Sweet seconds of prayer.

You and me.

Welcome to my brain.

Where are you at 10:55 this July day? What makes you tick? What are your biggest fears? Worries? Dreams? Desires? Who are you? Have we met? Am I writing to the young man I am currently so blessed to call mine? The young man whose jacket I am currently wearing? And if not, I hope you have some weird thing for awkward girls and messy buns who live on mint chocolate chip ice cream and sappy Hallmark channel movies.

I desperately wish I could close my eyes and wish you by my side. But I’m waiting. And I’m praying.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t always waited well. I haven’t always waited patiently for love. I used to pray…no, beg God to let certain boys ask me out, and when they did not, I would shake my fist at the sky and scream at God “Why? Why? Why?” as a little piece of my heart cracked open, leaving an ever-growing hole. A hole that I did not realize only God could fill if only I would learn to fall in-love with Him. If only I would let Him pursue me and woo me. If only I would learn to make Him the Lover of my soul.

This is only a part of my testimony, my story. A part that makes me who I am today. I have scars from those years, but these scars only remind me of God’s faithfulness – His unconditional, unchangeable, chain-breaking, burden-freeing love. I pray that you will be given the grace and the understanding to love me for all that I am and the love and patience to encourage me in this journey called life, pointing me away from my past and towards Jesus.

I am praying for you, my dear. Everyday I am praying. I am praying that even in this very moment, 10:55 A.M., you are being shaped and molded into the man that God has designed you to be. A man who will pursue the will of the Lord with every breath you have. A man who will not forget to be awed by the beauty of each day, each blessing the Lord sends your way. I pray that even in this very moment, 10:55 A.M., you are surrendering yourself to the will of God, making yourself the clay and Him the Potter. I pray that in the face of trial – when the babies are sick, when the money just isn’t there, when work gets hard and our marriage gets harder, when you cannot feel the presence of the Lord – you will be on your knees, hands lifted to the sky, Bible wide open in front of you, fighting hell for our family. I pray that in times of joy – when we’re celebrating birthdays and holidays, when our children succeed, when we are reminded of the Lord’s faithfulness and our marriage is strong, full of the love that I pray will define us – you will be on your knees, hands lifted to the sky, Bible wide open in front of you, singing praises to God from whom all blessings flow. And I pray that He will do the same for me so that my heart will be ready to love and encourage and stand by you no matter the season.

I hope that by the time I can call you mine, you are already in-love. I hope you have found the same unconditional, unchangeable, chain-breaking, burden-freeing love I have found, and am still discovering daily, in my Jesus. I hope you have uncovered grace upon grace, and that it is that same love and that same grace that leads you to me.

I love you dear.

Even now.

(Inspired by Lauren Black from