Catching My Breath

Happy 2015!

I think this last week has been one of the most chaotic in a long time. I just arrived back in the country from a wonderful two-week trip spent in Ireland and the UK, only to return to my internship as a counselor a matter of hours later. (Score one for my pure stubbornness in wanting to have as much time abroad as possible. Fortunately I was so happy to be reunited with my clients that I didn’t notice the jet lag until that night…) As I sit here writing this post in-between jotting all of my assignment due dates for my final semester of grad school (?!) and typing a draft of my final research proposal for graduation, it is suddenly hitting me just how much has happened this past year.

I am still working on the long post that I briefly mentioned in my last entry. The words aren’t coming to me like I had hoped, but to be continued!

But because it is a new year, I wanted to make just a few brief lists for 2015 goal setting. Definitely encourage anyone else to make their own!

MY WORD FOR THIS YEAR:

Last month I was challenged to pray about a word that God really wanted me to focus on. Before I even finished, the word integrity came to mind, plain as day. Integrity, for me, is needing to…

  • Stop trying to cut so many corners. This is something I am especially bad about in my schoolwork. Sometimes I get so involved and focused on my internship (which I love) and actually serving in the field, that I begin to resent my graded papers and assignments, and just do the bare minimum. I need to remember that I am in school to learn- I want to appreciate what time I still have left and commit more to the entire process.
  • Be more intentional. This is a really broad goal, but specifically, I need to be more intentional about studying the Bible and engaging in conversations about it. Although I don’t want reading the Bible to become a chore, and merely check it off each day, I tend to get lazy and make excuses if I go several days on end without picking it up. I need to be more intentional about setting aside specific time and generally use the “whenever I get around to it” statement less.
  • Be more direct with people. Working as an addictions counselor has definitely toughened me up, but my tendency in day-to-day life is to want to bend over backwards to make other people happy. I need to be upfront and honest more often if I am frustrated with a situation rather than just doing nothing about it whatsoever. Raised voices tend to set me on edge, which is why I need to practice and remember that caring confrontation does not actually have to involve yelling.

Gratitude List

Even though people tend to do this during Thanksgiving, a project I want to pursue is to actively keep a gratitude list. The quickest way to kill contempt is to tell God, or another person, things that you are grateful for. For me, this most often happens when I am driving. (I don’t know if it is because I suddenly have the angry desire to issue driving tickets via hand signals that are supposed to express “What are you DOING?!?!” in the car, and therefore actually think about being grateful more often, but this is usually what happens.) The other day in my head I just started telling God how grateful I was for heat. That gas is a whopping $1.99 all of a sudden. That I have a car. And suddenly my road rage was lessened a bit.

Highlights and Lowlights

This year was a great one. By God’s grace, I published a book (see tab at top of website), joined a church plant team in Ireland for three months (and met an Irish fellow I am quite fond of while I was there…), finished my first year of graduate school, and heard some really amazing teachings and sermons that made my desire to follow Jesus multiply. I am going to be the Maid of Honor in the wedding of one of my best friends, got to see two friends get baptized, celebrated a new birth into one of my favorite families, and traveled solo across Europe for a few weeks.

It was challenging at the same time. It was difficult not having access to income anymore, and I felt guilty spending any just about any money that wasn’t a necessity as it was all coming out of my savings. Although I have some amazing relationships in Charlotte, I also spent a bit of lonely time missing friends in other cities. My sense of time management became stretched thin as I began taking night classes and electives in order to graduate on time and complete my internship. This unfortunately meant that I could no longer attend a weekly Bible Study or a leadership training I was nominated for. This has actually been one of the hardest things to deal with in recent months.

Goals for This Year

  • In some ways, not knowing where I will be living or working in five months, after graduation, has caused me anxiety. In other ways, it has led me to appreciate more of what God wants me to learn and do here in the present day. One goal of mine is to focus more on giving up control to Him whenever I am feeling overwhelmed. Personally, I think the whole “God won’t give you more than you can take” notion is mostly false- I think He gives us a great deal more than we can take sometimes so that at the end, there is no question of who should take the credit for it.
  • I have already talked about the necessity of spending more time reading my Bible, but as soon as I have a spare evening again, I am very much looking forward to joining a small group again for Bible study. I am very much missing the provided accountability and friendship!
  • Continue to invest time and love into the Urban Eagles. Last month, due to my course schedule, I had to stop volunteering in Grier Heights. This was hard for me to accept (I think I was in denial for a bit that a new elective option would be added to a morning), but am so thankful to continue to commit to the Forest Hills neighborhood. These young girls give me some of the most joy all week, and the leaders are all now some of my very best friends!
  • Create boundaries. This is one I will not expand on here, but is certainly a continuous goal, especially for a social worker.
  • Above all, develop more of a passion to know Christ more so that I may be able to know and love others more.

Any prayers for me as I continue writing, studying, learning, and working are much appreciated!

Blessings. xx

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Announcements (Life Lately)

So…a lot has happened in the last month or two!

Update 1:

I began support raising for my trip overseas this summer, and can’t believe I leave in three weeks! I am flying solo to a small town in Ireland for three months where I will be joining a host team that has planted a church. Many hats will be worn by myself during my time there: helping out with the worship music, engaging in discipleship, leading Bible studies and youth activities, and just generally being the happy American who talks to everyone. I’m almost 100 percent fully funded (just about $200 to go!) and have been extremely blessed during this process. If you are interested in giving or receiving my newsletter, feel free to shoot me a message! I am not sure if I will do blog or email updates yet, but would love to hear from you.

Update 2:

I am finishing up my first year of graduate school, and have my last day of class tomorrow. Next week is my last few days working over at Byers before finals kick in. Next year, I am really excited to begin interning part-time at Dove’s Nest. I will be doing individual and group treatment for women in recovery from substance abuse. This was a placement that I really, really wanted. Definitely looking forward to learning from these women and having the opportunity to serve them the best that I can.

Update 3:

I have admittedly been a bit reluctant to talk about this subject up until this point publicly, just because I am still unsure of exactly what to say about it! Probably just being silly. But, here goes the announcement that isn’t exactly a secret anymore:

I wrote a book! It’s called The Good News Diaries (conveniently the same name as my blog), now available in print and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Good-News-Diaries-Encouraging/dp/1495399834/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398282847&sr=8-1&keywords=the+good+news+diaries

I began writing this in college, and picked it up every now and then for the next few years. About a year ago though, I basically changed everything I already had compiled, and powered through it at the end of 2013. When the book was first released last month, I was mostly excited and grateful, but also felt a little…odd, to say the least! It was literally like I was putting something out in writing for the world to see that made me feel extremely exposed and vulnerable. Even though I have similar conversations to the text and this blog, this felt a lot more official. It was as if the most important thoughts and beliefs in my mind and heart were suddenly made extremely public for critique and evaluation. But, it was definitely something I had been thinking and praying about for a long time, and am thankful that it finally happened! The day it was released, all I could think was “I don’t actually care if five or 500 people read this. Whatever happens will be sufficient!”

 

So, those are three pretty big things going on right now…so excited to see what all is ahead!

12 Years a Slave and the Bible

Last night I went with a group to go see the movie 12 Years a Slave. I had seen the previews a few months back, and was very excited to see what the whole product was. I had heard it was difficult to watch, and was prepared to see some horrific things on the screen.

But what I felt both during and leaving were much more powerful than I think I was expecting.

This isn’t meant to be a review of the movie at all, even though I think it was wonderfully done- I truly hope it gets the credit and awards it deserves. But there were several themes in the movie, one in particular, that I just can’t get out of my head. I remember when the movie version of Les Miserables came out last December, it was stated on the radio that there was one line of the whole movie that was stuck in everyone’s head (and out of 2.5 hours of singing that is saying something): “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Ironically, this was the quote that I posted right after seeing the movie myself. But anyway, similar to this experience, there was one scene in particular that really, really impacted me.

No spoilers or anything, but for those who don’t know, the film is based on the true story of a free Black male, Solomon Northup, in the mid-1800’s who was tricked, kidnapped, and sold into slavery down South. As the title says, he was a slave for 12 years. The very first scene after his kidnapping, it shows him chained up and bewildered. He hadn’t done anything wrong, anything illegal, nothing of the sort, and was desperately trying to tell the men who he was. They didn’t believe him, or rather, they didn’t care. There was then a very extended scene where it just shows them mercilessly hitting his back with a paddle over and over and over again. It seems like they are never going to stop, even when the paddles break from the force. Solomon is crouched over on the ground, crying out in agony.

During this scene though I had one really, really strong visual that came to mind. It was basically the same thing happening: this angry, hateful man representing the bad that exists in all of mankind beating a man, but this time that man was God. And instead of being crouched on the floor alone, He was laying over me saying “No, no no. This one’s mine. You can hurt me but you won’t take her. I’m not going to let anything happen to her.”

That’s when my eyes really started welling up. I think before that I was experiencing a lot of emotional pain thinking of how many people really did endure this kind of treatment not all that long ago, and how many still endure it today. But suddenly when I thought about how there are things in all of us, certainly myself included, that place attacks on love, grace, and purity, it sickened me. I had a sense of disgust with all the times when while maybe I haven’t hit another person or screamed obscenities at them, I have held on to anger towards them or acted out of my own pride and well-being. But just as I had these feelings of disgust, I had a sense of overwhelming gratitude that in spite of all my flaws and past mistakes, that I (and everyone) am so loved by the God who created the whole universe that He was willing to undergo public humiliation, unspeakable pain, feel the weight of every single person’s sin on His shoulders, die, and then overcome death. He overcame death so that not one person would have to ever experience it if they call on His name.

It was also difficult to see how the Bible was taken so far out of context during that time in order to justify slavery and treating other people like dirt. The word “property” was thrown around a lot in reference to the men and women who were slaves- aka, “less than animals”. But at the same time it gave me so much joy to see how even though the angry men were practically beating people over the head with the Bible screaming about superiority, punishment and abuse, those in slavery were singing songs of praise and hope from the gospel and what they were hearing preached. They sang of their souls receiving redemption, and the promises of freedom. They were able to listen to words of the Bible and look past the tone and image that man was giving it, and instead see God’s actual purpose. It made me think about how this is often still the case today: how some use the Bible as an excuse to be hateful, vindictive, or lazy. There are others who use it as a book that tells the greatest love story ever told. I pray that the second group remains faithful to that message. I pray that despite my failures I can be a faithful, loyal member of that second group. It can be so easy to look and see the people who claim that God is unhappy with this population, or this phenomenon, or whatever, when they are taking one line out of context of an entire book, message, theme, you name it, that is actually centered around love. When you know that God loves you no matter what, and that you can be guaranteed to go to heaven through no actions of your own, you can’t help but love others. But instead, so often we hate the sinner, instead of the sin.

That’s my prayer for the future, and for every day- that even just one more person today will come to know the love of Christ, and not what people so often make Christianity out to be.