Friday, March 24, 2017

Hope Was Never Meant to Be Buried

Over the past couple of years I have taught a Sunday school class to a group of Pre-K/Kindergarten students. We have revisited stories that are all more or less familiar to me and the children, the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, the story of the Israelite peoples’ redemption from slavery out of Egypt and their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. This spring we are revisiting the Book of Genesis and going through the stories of the first families God called to be a people unto Himself. As you can see we have been journeying through the Bible in somewhat of a nonlinear fashion – hehe. Whether in Genesis or in the Gospel of Matthew, the curriculum we use does an excellent job of tying in Jesus Christ and the Gospel into each and every lesson.

I have to confess, when I first started teaching Sunday school, my heart was not really in it. My heart was not in much of anything at that time. I was coming away from my brother’s death, leaving the remnants of all my ambition and the place I called home behind me, and I had arrived at what seemed to be a spiritual wilderness. I had my hope but it seemed to be buried underneath an avalanche of pain, sorrow, resentment, confusion, and shame. I had lost it somewhere in my past or so it seemed.

This season of life – this year – has already brought about remarkable change for me, my family, and my church family and there is still so much ahead. Some prospects are sad. Some are incredibly happy. All of it intimidates me. Parts of my life are about to become remnants of the past. New life is about to spring forward. Life is forever this strange paradox of pain, hope, joy, and sorrow all mixed together.

I have shared before on here about emotional regression and how the two years following my brother’s death were defined by a lot of emotional regression, a constant striving after and yearning for the past. I recently revisited the story of the Fall – Sunday School lesson again – the story of the first violation against God ever committed. I wonder how many years Adam and Eve waited for a Savior who would redeem them, for the day God would welcome back into the Garden. I wonder how many years they spent yearning for the past – for that perfect fellowship with God and the innocence, peace, beauty, and harmony they had lost in this world.

Nevertheless, I don’t believe they died believing hope was buried somewhere behind them. Because they kept telling the stories to the children, they kept passing down the story of God’s creation, the Fall, God’s covenant with his people, and the promise of salvation. They told these stories for generations until they were eventually documented by the Spirit-inspired hands of Moses and many other men that followed until they finally reached our hands. We have the whole story now and we know they were not wrong in holding onto hope.  

Here is the thing about pain. You have to walk far enough away from it and you have to keep walking for some time before you actually believe better things are ahead, before you believe that your hope is not buried in the past. We humans can be so shortsighted. We place our hope in people, money, princes, rulers, policies, and nations. But hope is the stuff of eternity. It’s untouchable, unbreakable, and embodied in the Son of God who waits for us standing at the right hand of God. 

This life is not long but it is hard and there are days when we face a stormy ocean with death at our backs, and it’s hard to believe there is anything ahead, any escape or way through this. On those days, wait for the sea to part. Wait for God to act. Search expectantly for his might and power. Keep searching, even if it takes months and years. Keep waiting expectantly. Our God does not forget His children. He will make a way.

But never, ever believe that hope is behind you. Hope was never meant to be buried.

We will sing to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
There’s a Red Sea Road
When we can’t see the way
He will part the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
Down a Red Sea Road. 
-Ellie Holcomb, "Red Sea Road"

Friday, March 17, 2017

When You Lose Someone

Grief comes with a set of expectations and I have never felt like I live up to them. I couldn’t really cry at my brother’s wake or his funeral. I couldn’t really absorb the shock of my brother’s death or be genuinely sad until about a month later when I was alone, driving away from my hometown to where I didn’t know yet. People always expect me to be really sad on the anniversaries of his death, the funeral, his birthday, but honestly I never find these anniversaries particularly riveting because I can anticipate them and prepare myself for them. If I ever share something I have written on one of these anniversaries, like this article for instance, I usually write it weeks or months in advance. Maybe it’s the anticipation that hurts more than the anniversary. It’s the realization that it will be three and then four years since he’s been gone and you never really know when this realization will hit you but it’s usually not when you expect or when others expect it will.

This next week would have been my brother's twenty-first birthday and it occurred to me recently that I’ll never be able to go to a bar with my brother. We’ll never go out for drinks. He’ll never bring home a six pack. And let me tell you that if anyone would be excited about being able to legally purchase beer and drink Scotch with his dad, it would be him. I know he’s not missing that but I am.

Ben and I never had a lot in common by way of personality, but one of our few similarities was both of us had more ambition than we felt equipped to or capable of accomplishing. High expectations are the natural consequence of being born into a family with a PhD wielding professor for a father and a music teacher/genius for a mother. Every homeschoolers' nightmare is to wake up and realize that they are actually relatively average. Mama always told us, The test scores do not accurately represent how smart you are or what you are capable of. But neither of us ever felt very smart or especially gifted. And both of us understood how important it was just to have someone there who really believed in you. Ben always believed in me. He was convinced I was the “smart one” even though the test scores always said otherwise and even though he was the one helping me with high school Algebra. (And besides we all knew Greg was really the smart one. ;) )

We would have arguments—I kid you not, arguments—over who was smarter. I swear that kid could argue about anything. They would go something like this.

Ben would be stressed out and going off on a rant about how he was going to fail in life.

This rant would usually be inspired by a recently acquired less-than-perfect score on an assignment or exam.

I then would say something reassuring like, “It’s just one assignment! You’ll be fine.”

Then he would say something like, “Dani, I don’t think you understand—you’re smart—”

I would cut him off with, “Oh, and you’re not smart?!”

“No, I mean, a different kind of smart—you’re smart and you’re really talented—”

This remark typically inspired a large incredulous snort from me. “Ben, I am not that talented. Besides, you’re really talented too. You just have to be more confident!”

At some point Ben would start belaboring his point simply because he liked to argue just to argue and that’s when I would draw the line.

The argument would usually end with me declaring, “This is so stupid! Why are we even arguing about this?!” And then Ben would reveal his hidden stash of candied orange slices in the car or crack a joke and we would consider it a mutual unspoken truce.

I have always been an independent person. I have always hated appearing less than self-sufficient to anyone. It's a prideful insecurity of mine. However, Ben was one of the rare souls in my life I never hesitated calling if I needed help with anything because while he might criticize my flighty blondness and my space cadet stunts, he never once made me feel small for them and he never missed a beat in helping me find a solution. He always loved being the hero and maybe that's why I always went to him first, because I knew that deep down he never helped people out of resigned obligation but out of a genuine love for helping others. He would show up when you needed him. And he was always on call.

When you lose someone you love you lose a part of you. You lose a version of yourself. You lose the person your loved one drew out of you, the person they inspired. This was a part of grief I did not anticipate. It’s the part of grief that inspires emotional regression—that grasping after and striving to rediscover that person you once were, that person you were with them. But you just can’t. As soon as that person is cut from your life, that version of you is gone too. You have to move on and move forward.

Be wary of deliberately cutting people from your life because when you cut someone off from you, you are cutting off a part of yourself and you may be surprised with what you lose.

The hard part of losing someone is that you do not get a replacement. There is nothing there to fill the vacuum. And nothing ever will fill it completely. But there is space for new life to grow where your old life and old self was uprooted. In many ways I am still the same person I was when my brother died. I am the brunette girl with secret blond roots. I am the flighty, distractable, indecisive dreamer. I am the girl who has brains but little common sense. I am the girl who tends to bite off more than she can chew, the one who’s a little too ambitious for her own good. I am the girl who will never give up her red wool coat. However, the last few years have taught me to take care of myself, to deliberate before taking action, to be a little less flighty and more focused, to push through even when it's hard, to make things happen on my own, to get up, show up, and keep going even on the days when the waterworks won't stop and everything seems to trigger the painful memories.

But every now and then I still miss that old version of me. I miss him. I miss us. I miss everything we never were able to experience together. I miss the people we never got to become. I miss the uncle I never got to see him be. I miss the man I never got to see him grow into. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Favorite Things || Spring 2K17 Edition

I realize that it *technically* is not quite spring yet. However, the weather feels like spring, the trees are blossoming, the flowers blooming, the honey bees buzzing (you get the picture) and by the time I get around to writing another one of these posts it will probably be summer. So spring it is. I can't believe it. I can't believe I am already halfway through this semester. The time really has flown. But I digress. Without further ado, here are a few of my favorite things these last few months:  
  • Hearing my little students on Sunday morning say, “I can’t wait to find out what we learn about today!”
  • Hugs, kisses, giggles, hide-and-seek, and candid conversations with my contemplative nephew and my spunky sassy niece
  • Sunday afternoons with family and friends. These are the good days. 
  • weather like spring in FEBRUARY. Give me more, please. (yes, i know this means the summer will be miserable)
  • evening runs in the pink sunset glow (they don't happen often enough these days)
  • stretching and getting significantly more flexible (the splits are going to happen this year...or maybe more like in the next five years, but they are going to happen)
  • new music from Michael Bublé, Allman Brown, Colony House, Ellie Holcolmb, and Allison Krauss
  • seeing Newsies Live! in theaters - if you missed this you missed out big time
  • chai spice and matcha lattes (fuel for life my friends)
  • reliving high school in my General Biology college class (the nostalgia is real, folks)
  • learning to use my new Instant Pot - it's been an uphill battle since apparently i have a phobia of steam
  • writing news articles and (fake) obituaries for my Journalism class! 
  • catching up with good friends over coffee
  • making wedding plans with my sister and getting oh-so excited for the future!
  • seeing plans become reality one step at a time
  • witnessing God's providence every day in the big and little things! 
And there you have it! What are some of your favorite things this spring season? Please share!  

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Lies We Believe About Love

I have a lot of ideals when it comes to relationships. I always have. My completely reasonable high expectations probably have something to do with the fact that I am twenty-two going on twenty-three and single. During the last few years I have come to learn that some of my expectations were less-than-realistic and I have to thank my older sisters mainly for this and for the example they have set in their marriages and relationships. We all have preconceived misconceptions when we walk into relationships and it usually takes a while before we are truly disillusioned. But it’s only when we can be honest and realistic about ourselves, relationships, and marriage that we can successfully navigate relationships and find satisfaction in them. So, what are some of the lies about relationships we tend to believe?

“When it’s right, it will be easy.

I was always taught that true love was difficult and required work, commitment, and sacrifice—and yet I never really believed this. I didn’t want to. I always presumed that when the right person came along everything would be easy. This is simply not true. Maybe it is easy to fall in love with the right person but feeling warm fuzzy feelings for someone does not make a relationship easy or marriage less work. It does not make commitment any less intimidating or sacrifice less painful. All of these other factors that play into a successful relationship are still very real, very necessary, and often times very hard. However, when it is the right person, the sacrifice will be worthwhile. And when both parties are relying on Jesus and following him, the sacrifice is ultimately rewarding.

“I won’t have to change.”

Wrong. You will inevitably change. I hope you change. And I hope you change for the better. Any good relationship requires acceptance for one another, but the best relationships are when both parties have a mutual desire to see the other fulfill his or her potential and there is mutual encouragement and accountability for growth. Jesus Christ exemplifies this by beckoning us to come to Him as we are and yet He does not simply leave us as we are in our estate of sin and misery. The Christian life is about change.  It is about repentance, sanctification, and perpetually putting off our old selves. Don’t find the person who will never change you. Find the person who you know will change you for the better, the person who is following Christ above all else and seeking His Kingdom first. Find the one who seeks your good—your eternal good—and loves you the way Jesus loves you. Because the love of Christ transforms us. His love was designed to change us, so our love for others ought to reflect this kind of love.

“Shared beliefs and values are not important. All that matters is that we love each other.”

We have all been sold the lie that love trumps everything, even your loyalty to Jesus Christ. I believe there will always be conflict and disagreements in any relationship. Maneuvering through conflict and learning to compromise is key to a peaceful healthy marriage. However, there are some things we should never compromise on and faith is one of those non-negotiables in my book. I know a lot of people disagree with me, but God clearly states in His Word “Do not be unequally yoked”(2 Corinthians 6:14). As Christians our loyalty to and love for Jesus Christ must take precedence over anything or anyone else we love. I would contend that if you are willing to compromise on the deepest issues of religion, belief, conviction, and values, then maybe you need to reevaluate how important your faith really is to you. Our faith can never be “just me and Jesus” because God designed his people and his church to live as a community in fellowship with one another and with Him. This brings me to my last point...  

“Community doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we can be together!”

As long as you love each other, you don’t need anyone else, right? Well, not really. Have you ever heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”? I would argue this applies to healthy marriages as well. Having a community that is supportive of your relationship and marriage is essential for a successful godly relationship. Hollywood likes to sell us this “nobody but you and me” version of romance and this is simply not realistic. You need people in your life to hold you both accountable. You need people who are friends of your marriage and the sanctity of your marriage. You need mentors to lead and counsel you. This is so, so important. It doesn’t matter if you find the “perfect man”. If the two of you do not have a supportive shared community of believers or if one party seeks to draw the other away from a healthy community of fellow believers, the relationship is inherently deficient.

Ladies, if he is simply coming to church with you because that’s what you want, that’s not enough. It may be a start, but if he never engages the community and church of believers for himself and if he fails to take initiative in his own personal relationship with God, then all I can say is...drop him like a hot potato. It's not going to work. It doesn’t matter how much you love him or how much he loves you. Your spiritual maturity can never compensate for his lack of maturity.

This is a heavy topic and like most heavy topics, I have really only started to scratch the surface. I would love to hear your input on this subject! What are some standards you have for relationships? Would you add anything to this list? Is there any point I made that you disagree with? Please share!

Related Articles: 
What He Must Be
What's the Issue, Dear? || Why I'm Single
Three Men Who Stole My Heart and What They Taught Me
A Relationship With Jesus Means Commitment to His Church
4 Reasons to Reconsider Praying for Your Future Husband

Friday, February 24, 2017

Roll My Windows Down and Find Myself a Good Song || road trip mix tape

I have something special for you today—a playlist I use mainly for driving, road trips, and the occasional hour at work when I need a little extra motivation to get things done.

These are some of my all-time favorite songs, not all my favorite songs, but a lot of my recent favorites with a few good oldies sprinkled in here and there. You will find an odd assortment of folk, folk rock, rock, pop, and folk pop, and that indescribable orchestral amazingness that is Future of Forestry’s latest album. This past year has been a year of discovering a lot of new artists and music and I have to thank many of my friends, mainly my barista-coffee-wizard friends, because we all know they know where it’s at when it comes to the best vibes and the best music.

In order to listen to the playlist, you need to download Spotify onto your computer. If you do not have Spotify on your computer you can listen on the web player. I promise this is not a sponsored blog post (if only I had sponsors!) 

Last winter my parents took a post-Christmas vacation to Gulf Shores, AL. My sister’s in-laws happen to live in the area so we got to spend some time with my sister and her husband as well as their extended family. Their family has deep roots in Alabama to the land itself. I often think this is something we miss in the rapid-paced and ever-transient lifestyles of our world today. We miss that connection to the land itself. I remember an Irish pastor telling me this very thing years ago during a youth conference in Pittsburgh, PA but I had little idea what he was talking about until I saw my brother-in-law’s grandfather and realized what it means to love the land you were born in, to own the land and belong to it at the same time. My brother-in-law’s grandfather, who we all know affectionately as Papaw, showed us around his old farm house and property. I could sense the history there but could only imagine all of the memories stored up in those hundred acres. He also gave us a tour of the airport where he has worked for many years now, which also happens to be the airport where he says his grandson “caught the fever just like his father” and by fever he meant “the impulse and desire to fly airplanes”.

The majority of our vacation was spent with just the five of us, me, my parents, and my two youngest siblings. It was refreshing because while I see my entire family on a weekly basis, it has been a while since I was able to go travel with them and have these particular family members exclusively to myself. These days my two youngest siblings are growing up extremely fast. We had a lot of conversations and adventures during this week and it seemed every other moment I was remarking to myself—wow, they are so grown up. We explored the old Fort Morgan at Fort Morgan Beach and absorbed a lot of Civil War history. My father has been a Civil War buff since his high school days. It is a miserable point in our history, to be sure, but there is also something very romantic and beautiful about the era that was lost.

We took a day trip to Mobile, AL during our stay in Gulf Shores and explored the USS Alabama Memorial. World War II is another war set against the backdrop of a romanticized era. The music. The fashion. The movies. The hairstyles. My brother Calvin and I set about to reach the highest point of the ship and the lowest. We explored the ship for more than four hours and we made it to the top or as far as they would let us go but we still were not able to see every corner of it. Ultimately we did not make it down to the engine rooms. All the while I was thinking of 2500 men aboard this ship and how much it had to stink when they were out at sea.

While driving the sixteen-some hours to Alabama and back to Oklahoma we listened to David McCollough’s Truman with music interludes provided by my Spotify playlists. The crowd favorite was my Disney playlist and I have to say Disney music was made for long car rides. Show tunes are the best kinds of tunes to sing along with and everybody always loves them. We also played this playlist quite a bit, the one I shared up above. Now this music will forever be associated with winding roads, tall pine forests, the Mississippi river, golden misty mornings, and the anticipation of adventure!

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