A Month of Grief


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My dad died at the end of August.

I feel like I need to write these words down to help me continue to believe them, because honestly, I’m not sure if I do yet. I’ve pulled up his obituary online several times since as a reminder, to see his picture next to his death date because it all still feels like a terrible nightmare, one that I desperately want to wake up from.

The past month has been a blur. In the first moments especially, it took every ounce of strength just to breathe my next breath. I’ve sobbed uncontrollably in people’s arms and on the two hour flight to Chicago the morning after we heard, and I’ve felt deeply sad, well, a lot. In some moments, it was hard to stand, and I physically shook for days after hearing the news. But in a lot of moments, I’ve felt ok; I’ve even experienced more periods of joy and peace and normality than I expected since coming back home to our new apartment and church and jobs in DC. In fact, I’m struggling with this tension grief is bringing me– the tension between what I think I’m supposed to be feeling and what I’m actually experiencing. It’s all just so complicated, and I’m trying my best to keep up and lean in and be present. I’m learning there truly is no formula to this thing, even though I really want there to be.

Losing my dad launched me out of a strange season. For the past nine months, I’ve felt dry and uninspired and complacent. After years of such fruit and joy in learning and Bible study and writing and teaching, January 1 brought forth a lack of interest in any of it. I’d been trying to fight it, but I spent a whole lot more time scrolling and consuming rather than learning and creating. But even in the midst of not feeling like it, I still opened my Bible most mornings. I still sat in the pew every Sunday and recited the readings and sang the songs. I still muttered inconsistent, ramble-y prayers and trudged my way through some books and turned on worship music in the mornings because that’s all I knew how to do. And you know what I’m realizing? It mattered. It didn’t change my salvation, because that’s secure regardless of my efforts, but I’m realizing that the Lord grew in me even though I didn’t feel Him.

And now, even in the midst of walking through this hard thing and coming out of a strange place spiritually, I feel rooted. I feel rooted in the Lord and I’ve experienced his provision and his peace in the most real ways, even though it’s been right alongside the start of some deep anguish and extreme anger. Our people have loved us well, and we’ve been reminded through the care and words of others that pain is ok, and also temporary. That in the Lord, there’s an end date to all the sadness and that Jesus is grieving this death with us, and with all of you. Because this is all just a lot, I’m doing the thing that I know works for me, which is to come back to the page and write.

I started this blog in college, motivated by a breakup, but really because I was ready to practice writing as a craft and because I needed a place to process and discover who I was in the Lord after a lot of years trying to conform to the people around me instead. I was so afraid to start this project, especially because I didn’t know what people would think. But one of my primary champions from day one was my dad; he loved this blog and always encouraged me with each new post. So it feels fitting, both because I’m walking through a hard thing again and because he loved this space, to start writing once more.

I am incredibly passionate about sharing real stories with each other, especially the ones that aren’t neat and tidy. I’m processing in this space for a whole host of reasons, mostly because I know that writing is one of the things the Lord uses to help me heal and to practice a skill I love, but also because I truly hope, deep in my bones, that these stories and ramblings in some way resonate with you as you walk forward in your hard things, in your faith, and in your ordinary moments.

This month has been impossible and beautiful in so many ways. It’s been strange and hard as we all figure out a new normal, but I’m learning to keep putting my hope in Jesus because I’m finding a lot of life and comfort there.

 

Bible in a Year Reflections and Hopes

It’s that time again for resolutions and goals and both reflecting on the year past and dreaming about the year to come. I love this time of the year, quite possibly more than any other season, because it seems so fitting that immediately after we spend a season remembering that Jesus came to save and serve and love, we get to walk into something new and try again. I think there’s a lot of beauty and grace propelling us forward in this season, and that gets me excited and anticipatory for the coming year. 

As I’ve reflected on this past year, one of my very favorite things I did was read through the whole Bible. This is the second time I’ve done this, the first being in 2016, and I’ve decided to make it an intentional practice every year to come because of how it moves me closer to the Lord, more knowledgeable about the God I serve and love, and molds me into a better wife, friend, daughter, teacher, and sister.

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My year of reading Scripture in 2017 was so, so good. I intentionally read from one Bible all year and took notes in the margins every day, thanks to the popularity of journaling Bibles. I used the reading and note-taking skills that I teach to my students and became a student again myself, every morning, practicing interacting with the text that was in front of me. In 2016, I worked through a first reading of the Bible, and in 2017, I was able to engage with the words on the page more deeply because I already had a context of what was happening. And being married to a man in seminary means that every morning I had access to Matt across the table, who is a wealth of knowledge on all sorts of Biblical things, and also his massive commentary/resource library to draw from, which I turned to often.

It’s really beautiful to look back on the year and pinpoint major events by where I was at in my reading plan and realize how the Lord was teaching me, comforting me, and challenging me through His word during those times. I recently heard in a sermon that the purpose of spiritual disciplines is for intimacy, not mastery. And that’s how I feel about this past year, more intimate with the Lord because his words ring over every major memory I have from 2017. His character and his presence were clear because I practiced recognizing them, and friends, this certainly changed how I lived and loved.

But just as a traveler learns after every place visited just how much more there is to explore and discover, the more I read the Scriptures, the more I realize how much more there is to learn about the Lord and how much more I can grow in Him and in my relationships and in my calling.

And although this can be disheartening, I remember that the point of spiritual disciplines isn’t mastery, but rather intimacy. I’m not practicing this to become perfect at it, but rather to grow closer to the only One who is perfect.

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In the coming year, I get to read the Bible again and learn more about a really incredible God and how he wants my heart. I get to read about how he provided a way for that to happen through Jesus. I get to learn, again, about how I don’t need to do anything to be loved, but rather I serve a God who fiercely fights for his people over and over and over again. And I get to grow closer to this God who is love and be transformed more deeply to who he’s called me to be.

This is why I commit my mornings to Scripture, even when it’s hard or when I’m tired or don’t feel like it. Because growth happens in the in-between moments, right? I’ve found this to be true and I want to continue living in this way with even more intentionality this year. Here are my Scripture reading goals and resources for 2018:

-Use the M’Cheyne reading plan– four chapters a day and it goes through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice. (I used this plan the past two years)

– Use the new She Reads Truth Bible in the CSB translation (I used this journaling Bible last year and I’ve been eyeing this one to use next year)

-Take notes in the margin of my Bible

– Journal through Scripture at least twice a week

-Join Well-Watered Co’s Word before the World challenge– not getting on social media/email until I’ve spent time reading Scripture. The founder of Well-Watered Women has a great blog post explaining the challenge here.

I would love to know what your Scripture reading goals are for the year and walk with you this year! Let me know in the comments below or on social media @kelseylietzen

The Better Way

Every week, I have the joy of leading a girls small group at the public high school where I teach. Preparing for and being a part of this group is one of my very favorite things I get to do; I’m constantly grateful for the opportunity. Here is some content that I’ve prepared for them, and I hope it’s encouraging for you too.

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 9:1-15

It’s officially Christmas time! As crazy and exciting, and even hard, as this season can be, as Christians, this gets to be one of our favorite time of the year for a deeper reason than just the food and parties and presents, even in the midst of our loneliness or exemplified reminders of brokenness. This is the time where we get to collectively celebrate that Jesus came to save. And while this can be such an overused phrase, how sweet it is when we dig deep to understand– to understand what exactly we were saved from and how Jesus changed everything when He came.

People in the first century were waiting, longing for a Messiah, a Savior that God had been promising for centuries. There were 400 long, bloody, law-memorizing years in between Malachi and Matthew, the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. To these people, Jesus finally arriving was an answer to a promise of a second, better covenant that was given generations prior, a promise that had been remembered through storytelling and tradition and rituals.

Jesus came to change the game– the game of the Temple and the priests and the hundreds of sacrifices. Of the lampstand and the glory seat and the sacred, exclusive Holy Place that fulfilled the first covenant God made with His people. He came to take a law that was once written on stone and write it on our hearts instead and to become the better Priest who only had to make one sacrifice, Himself, instead of shedding the blood of many animals. He came to take the temple, a once Holy, external place, and put it in his people instead, securing the way through his death and resurrection. He came so that we could live life from what he already accomplished instead of striving to a place where he would accept us so that we could be reunited with our Creator.

And he did this because of his love and because of our sin. Because of the Father’s character and our separation from him. He provided a better way for his people, one where we are already the good and faithful servant, where we are already holy and unblemished and free the second we say “yes” to his calling. Friends, it started long before the first Christmas, but the plan was set into action the minute the angel came to Mary. Everything. Changed. And this deeply matters for us still, enough to remember and celebrate in community and to sit quietly in gratitude and awe. Jesus came to save and to make a better way to the Father, one that we have full access through today. How good and glorious of a thing this is!

Discussion questions:

According to verses 1-7, what were the rituals the priest and high priest had to perform in order to wash away the sins of the people in God’s eyes?

According to verses 8-10, why was this system not the best way?

In what ways in our daily lives do we try and earn God’s love? Do you feel like it’s ever enough?

In verses 11-14, how is Jesus the better priest and sacrifice?

As stated in verse 15, what does this mean for us, today, as people of the second covenant?

The One About Body Image

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I spent a lot of my engagement worrying, controlling, and trying to work my body into something different– something thinner, smaller, leaner. My worries would ebb and flow, typically depending on how I ate that week or how many times I was able to get to the gym.

During my first dress fitting, I remember feeling immediately discontent after looking into the mirror because my reality of how I looked didn’t meet my expectations. And then I felt angry and sad and ashamed because my thoughts clashed with what my mom and the alteration lady were proclaiming and what I knew Matt would think- that me in the dress was perfect and beautiful and stunning.  

I wish I could say that my worries about my body only started a year ago, but they didn’t. The earliest memory I have was in middle school. I was looking around at my peers in the hallway and I realized that my body wasn’t as lean or tiny as some of the other girls and I hated it. I didn’t understand why my body was betraying me– I had always been able to measure up to the skinniest girls before.

This struggle has lasted through high school dance dress shopping and band concerts with unflattering uniforms. It was present in every sport I played, where I was never the best or most fit, and in the locker room after my personal fitness class for two years. It carried me through prom and graduations and dorm life where comparison is hard to avoid. And it followed me to my wedding– the very place I didn’t want it to show it’s face and even though I hate to admit this, when I look back on my otherwise beautiful engagement and wedding, my struggle with my body was there, looming in the background of every fitting and party and picture.

A few years back, I ran my second half marathon. Finding time to run during the week and the stamina to complete long runs on the weekend was tough. Runs that used to be seemingly effortless in college were now difficult and this defeated me. After an intended 9 mile run turned into a 4 mile run, I plopped down in front of my mirror, fuming and angry at my body and myself for not being able to push through to complete the miles I needed in order to stay on track in my training schedule. At the time, I was on the launch team for Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan’s Wild and Free. I had been praying and thinking of aspects of my life where I needed the Lord’s freedom and I remember entertaining the idea of what it would be like to be wild and free from the strict expectations I put around my body and fitness and diet. What if how I looked and having the perfectly balanced diet all the time and logging in so many hours at the gym just didn’t matter as much as I perceived it did?

I hate admitting that this is really the first time I had considered this. This is the first time I really acknowledged my negative body image as a legitimate problem and pondered the reality that the Lord is strong enough to free me from the shackles of comparison and discontentedness and control– all I need to do is accept and receive Him, every minute of every day, again and again and again. And gosh this is hard, not impossible, but hard to believe and do in a society that pushes us to be perfectly fit and healthy and thin.

I want to say that I’m done struggling, but I’m not. I fought my body image battle through the past few summers and my engagement. While this summer was so, so good as Matt and I enjoyed our newlywed-ness and our trips to different places and feasting with family and friends, once all those things were over, I took stock of how the experiences took their toll on my body and started shaming myself over not being disciplined enough at the table or the gym and found myself in the depths of comparison and control once again.

We clearly live in a society that values physical health. The benefits are proclaimed over and over– we’ll have tons of energy and can mentally process better and have an all around better attitude in life if we’re eating well and exercising often. And I’m all for this- I love eating well and exercising and I think they can be done in a worshipful, God-honoring way because we are called to steward our bodies. But when I go into a Whole30 or the gym with the wrong motivation, it stops becoming healthy. When I’m trying to control my body into something smaller in order to feel better or happier or to prove that I’m good at life, I’m just feeding myself a lie that those things can satisfy something in me when really, only God can.

Writing these things down is hard- I’ve never done this before. But after another summer of attempting to shame and control my body into something better so that I can feel good about myself, I walked into work for another school year and I heard my coworkers and students and players echoing the same comments and aggravations I had all summer. And I thought that there has to be a better way– enough of us are struggling with this and there’s got to be something better.

And friends, there is. The answer isn’t seeking flattery and reminders of our beauty or enoughness. The answer and the way is Jesus- it’s always Jesus. This may be our weakness, but the Lord is sufficient and he’s really good at using our lack to prove that He is enough to a people who desperately need it– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 promises us this. He came because of love and died because of love and now we get to play in his grace and enter into holy places all because of Him, but only when we admit our weakness and confess this hard, prideful, controlling sin. The way is learning to submit to the Lord’s purpose every single day, deeming it our own by walking in it, trusting that it’s better.

Our purpose is not our bodies. It’s not how we look or how we feel and while we should pursue health, we can’t forget to pursue Christ first. We can’t forget that our purpose is to love Jesus and to love the people around us well. I’m preaching all of this to myself first– stumbling into submitting to the Lord every day. My steps are shaky and I fail often, but repentance and grace are helping me move forward anyway. If you’re here too, walking this hard, broken path with me, please know that you’re not alone and that Jesus is always, always better.

 

So many of my ideas were derived from Jess Connolly’s new book Dance Stand Run. I’m on her launch team and this book is WRECKING ME. Such great stuff. Preorder it here

Also- from this sermon by Scott Sauls. He’s currently doing a series on Romans 8. AMAZING. Go listen now. You’ll find that here

How I’m Finding Meaning

Over Christmas break, Matt and I soaked up a rare morning together as we sat on the sofa at his brother’s house. I leaned my head on his shoulder and we talked about our Bible readings that morning. He told me about John 15, explaining how it was a passage describing vines and branches, death and flourishing, and how Jesus is who we grow and multiply from, that apart from him we can do nothing.

That apart from Christ, we can do nothing.

These words have been rattling around my head ever since, coming to the surface as I teach high schoolers and drive home from church and am engaged in conversations. I’ve heard them before. I’ve read through John’s account of the Gospel for classes and in She Reads Truth studies and John 15 was even the central text of a Youth Conference I helped plan in college. But as only powerful, life-giving texts can provide, I found new meaning in these particular words on this cloudy December morning in Kansas.

I’m reading through the Bible this year and as I spend my time working through my allocated chapters for the day, I find myself sneaking away to John 15 even though I’m not quite there yet in my reading schedule. I’ve spent a lot of time in this chapter, circling and underlining and coming away consistently refreshed, renewed and reminded to seek Jesus. I’m revived knowing that I don’t have to grow and multiply and influence and live well all on my own.

John 15 likens our relationship with Christ to vines and branches, that he is the vine and we are the branches. As branches, we are connected to the vine, abiding and growing and soaking in life and energy from our source. And our source here, as Christians, is Jesus and his love. The first part of this passage establishes that we cannot function well without Christ- that no good thing can come from us unless we are rooted in Jesus. The second part teaches us that when we abide in our source, we will find strength to follow what he says is best and as a result, live in the fullness of joy.

In the past few years, and really in the past several months, I’ve felt this push towards meaning. I want to create it, live in it and engage with it. I want my life to matter and I want this meaningfulness to seep into my relationships and classroom and writings and online spaces. I want to pack as much in as possible in every moment, trying hard to make sense of the things around me. I feel the pressure to do something with this meaning, and there are just so many things I want to write about and read about and so many people I want to sit down and learn from and share with.

Sometimes this pressure can feel so overwhelming, so daunting that I find myself doing nothing. That instead of writing or reading or planning coffee dates, I spend another half-hour scrolling social media because it’s easier. And then another day angry at myself. And another moment feeling jealous of the woman who is doing the thing I wish I was doing. And another minute believing that I’m not enough because I’m not trying hard enough. It’s a nasty cycle.

I’m slowly learning that instead of trying harder and living in my inadequacies, to turn to John 15 and to remember. I’m finding out that what I think is a craving for meaning is really a craving for Jesus. That my desire for influence is really a desire to abide in the Lord, to know him as my source and home and to trust that he can do more through me than I could ever imagine. The most important thing I’ve learned is that Jesus is better. He is better than my plans and dreams and good intentions and John 15 tells me one reason why- because he is my source. Because I wasn’t created to thrive on my own, to share this Good News on my own, to find meaning on my own.

John 15 talks about fruit, that when we abide in Jesus and let him into our spaces, into all of our lives, he allows himself to be known through us by how we live. Our fruit is compassion and love for others and patience. It’s our ability to connect with the people around us and to encourage, to uplift and walk alongside the hurting and to make good choices. And it’s this fruit that leads us to meaningfulness, but if we just keep trying hard to get this fruit we will be trying in vain, because it’s only accessible through Jesus.

Friends, I know I’m not the only one who craves meaning and I know I’m not the only one who has ever felt stuck trying to find it and express it. I figured you might need this reminder just as much as I do– that we cannot do anything good, beautiful, or meaningful without abiding in Christ, without creating a home in him and allowing him to abide in every moment of our lives. And so, as you go about your day, remember Jesus. Remember that he is better, that he is worth investing in and that he can create meaning through your life because he is the very meaning you desire.

Morning Commutes and Trusting the Lord

I moved to a downtown neighborhood this past summer into a cute, two-story historic house nestled closely within the surrounding homes. I live with roommates and travel a little bit longer to school and to church and to Matt, but it’s a lively neighborhood packed with people and hospitality and social events every month.

If you talked to me at all this past fall, you know how much I hated the drive to work in the dark, early mornings and during rush hour through downtown after soccer practice. I hated having to get up earlier to get to school obnoxiously early because I was afraid to leave and arrive to work too close to the time we started because it didn’t leave much room for error. What if there was a crash and too much traffic? Or if the weather was terrible or some part of my route was closed down? What if I arrived to school late when I had more to prepare for the day? I didn’t ever want to risk it, so I got up early in attempt to minimize any problem before it could happen. 

As much as I dreaded this new commute, when I think back to the fall, one of the most consistent memories I have was in my car in the mornings. It was always dark and the roads were empty and it was quiet. And around October, in a strained effort to up the game in my prayer life, I started to pray aloud for at least half of my drive. At first it felt weird to talk to someone who couldn’t audibly respond, but as all habits do, it became normal and needed and a necessary part of my morning routine.

Through these prayers every morning, I started to practice remembering what the Lord has done. Because on days when I walked into the classroom exhausted after emotionally draining late-night games, He gave me energy and the ability to connect with my students. And in the moments when I’ve been overwhelmed with wedding details, Matt has been there to calm me down and my mom has been there to take the reins on whatever needed to get done. And in the moments when I’ve needed rest, He’s worked through the people around me to allow me a break, even when it came in the middle of 2nd period. Through this practice of remembering, I’ve realized that even though the Lord has provided every single thing I have ever needed to keep moving forward and to thrive, actually trusting that the Lord is in control has always come as an afterthought; something I realized once the struggle was done.

Trusting in the Lord is something I’ve always tiptoed around, something I’ve tested before believing that He’s someone I can always and consistently count on. Because when I look back on this past year, in so many situations I only trusted when it was the last resort, when it was the only option I had left. When I had finally held up my white surrender flag after realizing that I couldn’t do it all– all the driving, coaching, teaching, loving, communicating, planning, and organizing– without Jesus.

I hate this reality even more than I disliked my morning commute at first. Because I’ve been a Christian my whole life, I don’t remember a time where I didn’t know Jesus. But I get stuck in the rules and the expectations and the ridiculous notion that I am in control, even though that’s failed over and over again. But the Lord is gracious and he provides well and I want this year to be a year where I trust more in these truths than in the unnecessary expectations I put on myself that only lead me to exhaustion and dissatisfaction.

And so, I want this year to be a year of remembrance, of always knowing that the Lord provides abundantly what I need. I’ve tiptoed around this reality for too long, testing God first only to look up at him in awe, wondering how he could do such a good thing. I want this year to be a shift from sheepishly wondering whether the Lord will provide to completely trusting that He will. I want to trust that he is enough for my mistakes and insecurities and anxieties before they get to be too overwhelming. I want to fully trust that he is a God who answers prayers and who fulfills callings, that he is a God who restores his people to himself, even in the midst of complete and utter mess and brokenness and especially during times of prosperity, joy, and excitement. 

This year, I’ll keep getting up too early and start to say my prayers once I pass the Keystone exit. I’ll continue to practice remembering who our God is with the hope that I learn to trust him more, before the overwhelming moments come. But even when I forget, even when I’m stuck in my anxieties and control, I’ll remember that my Lord has restored me before and will graciously do it again because that’s who he is and what he does. Today I’m grateful for this new year and this time to be reminded to start over, to inch my way forward in learning how to trust a God who has always been in control.

How to Stop Trying So Hard

She came into my room when the lunch bell rang, looking up at me with hopeless, confused eyes before she broke down crying, repeating,

“I’m stupid. This is stupid. Why am I crying? I don’t cry.”

I gave her a hug, sat her down in one of my desks, and asked her what was going on. Her significant other broke up with her last period over a text, she said, and now she didn’t know why she was crying.

As I probed to get some details, I learned she just started dating this person a month ago and all seemed fine last night. And then this. But more than being upset about the broken relationship, she seemed more upset over letting herself feel. She was angry at herself for crying, for breaking down and for letting hurt crack through her hardness to places she tries to hide by distracting herself with relationships and grades and accomplishments- places that confront her worth.

I had two other students come to me that Friday, crying and frustrated because they couldn’t meet their own high standards or the standards they felt the world calling them to meet. They were frustrated because they felt their worth dwindling after not being able to check every box on their expectation list. I hugged them and reminded them that their worth is not in what they do or who they’re attached to or what they can or cannot accomplish.

It’s incredibly humbling to give this advice when it’s the very thing I’ve been struggling with the past several months.

I thought second year teaching would be easier- that was my expectation. But as my expectations have been shattered in the hardest ways, I’ve found myself stuck in the whirlwind of a longer commute and practices and games and makeup games and three preps and creating a new curriculum and grading and planning a wedding and learning about marriage and trying to invest and invest and invest to learn that I can’t.

I can’t. I cannot invest in everything, I cannot take on everything. Not on my own. And as the weeks have flown by and I’ve accomplished a majority of the things on my checklist, I still feel behind. I still analyze and overanalyze every conversation that could have been more others-focused, I want to fix every problem people have had with me, I want to be more productive with my minutes and I simply want to feel like I’m doing a good job in my classroom and conversations and relationships and alone time.

And when I take a step back, I find myself taking good things, holy things even, like the desires to invest and be compassionate and love others and slow down, and twisting them into my control, deceiving myself that I’m the one in charge of making all of these desires gone wrong, go right.

When I find some quiet, when I finally surrender to not being in control and when I sink into my bed early on a Friday night with a candle crackling next to me and a week of mistakes and ramblings and papers piled up, I’m reminded to seek first my God.

Because when all I keep doing is seeking my own desires to change and to fix and to control, the Lord says to stop and to seek Him instead.

In Him I will find my rest and my worth. I will find grace and love and meaning and space. I will find the strength to stop kicking myself for every mistake I make and every unchecked obligation on my list and instead, I’ll be restored in the Lord’s grace and hope and deep, unchanging, unending love. In this place, I’ll find the strength to slow down and to rest and to consider others before myself, the very things I’ve been trying to do on my own because I know they are the best ways.

When those girls walked into my room that Friday weeks ago, I saw myself in their mess because I’m there too. I wanted to talk about why they were struggling so deeply with their emotions and their unmet expectations and their mistakes. I knew where they were at and since I couldn’t specifically tell them about Jesus and grace and rest because public school, I want to take the time here to remind you dear reader, about the Lord and seeking him first, because I bet you’ve stood in those girls’ places too.

So friends, we can desire good things. We can want to be productive and loving and compassionate and whole, but we can’t do these things on our own because we will twist them into stress and dissatisfaction and frustration. The Lord calls us to seek Him first, that in Him we will find our worth, we will find our desires fully met because he is enough and in him, we are enough too. The reminder you and I need is to seek Christ, even before our desires, because in him, we’ll find the very things we’re trying to do on our own.

How to Grieve a Good Thing Gone

Anna got married to Ben last week in a chapel where people were sharing seats to make room and the homemade wreaths hung on the doors and Kiersten and I handed out programs with smiles on our faces even though our extremities were frozen from the abnormally chilly May wind.

The Brick House was reunited, but everything was different this time. Kiersten is in grad school and taking summer classes and Kayleigh is in Colorado, doing what she does best– adventure and hospitality. Audrey is also in Colorado, but doing the hard work of teaching young minds to care about words and each other and not running in front of cars during a field trip. I sat in the tent in a much different place than I expected, confident in my job and community and with a man who loves me and whom I love deeply and who filled in for the ushers even though he didn’t know the bride or groom and who took care of me when I felt my worst that day. And Anna, beautiful Anna, is married to her person– to gentle, kind, loving Ben. She filled each space with calm and grace and poise and beauty because it was so evident she had found rest in where the Lord brought her this year and it ended with this celebration.

For one of the first times this year, it hit me that we’re never going to get the Brick House life back. I knew that last year- in the months and weeks leading up to graduation and as I sat in the Von Maur parking lot ugly crying the day after because that beautiful, restorative, safe year was over. And so was the season of living with the most incredible women I ever had the privilege of doing life with. Gone was my safe bubble of dancing to Beyonce while doing dishes and singing the Doxology as a prayer before dinner. Gone was walking out of my room to a living room full of women graciously willing to let me externally process the hardest year of my life-who let me lay my head on their laps as I cried in frustration and sadness while I unraveled the past two years and waited as God created a new thing in me. Gone was doing life with my people, all under one roof in a safe place.

That year was sacred because the Lord was so evidently there. We all knew it. We felt Him in the quiet moments following a prayer or a Scripture reading at dinner. We felt Him when we gathered with each other for movie nights and house breakfasts and lunches and dinners and porch times. We felt Him when we ran and biked and then sat on the dock one last time, knowing that the sacred year, our year of safety and rest and restoration, was over.

I think it’s natural for humans to want to hold on to these sacred moments. I remember struggling knowing there was a defined end to this good thing- how were we ever going to find anything like it again? How do we cope with a looming new season of hard and danger and lonely and inexperience?

How do we grieve a good thing gone? A thing that always had an end date?

As I sat in church last Sunday, in my exhaustion, I worshipped Jesus in my new place that the Lord so abundantly provided. It was one of those rare moments where I felt completely raw, without the strength to bury the things that hurt, like the reality that although I was with my best friends last night, it just wasn’t the same because we’ve all changed in the past year and because we aren’t all sharing the same space anymore. We’ve moved on to where the Lord needed us to go.

I stood next to Matt and looked around at my new community and up at him and felt a small twinge of guilt- guilt for enjoying this new thing that is so different than my Brick House community last year. But even more so I felt sad because my best friends, the ones who walked me through some of the hardest, ugliest moments, weren’t here to share with me in this good new thing and I wasn’t there to share with them in their new things like we had done so well in the Brick House.

As I sang the words on the screen on the verge of tears, I realized that we grieve a good thing gone by believing and knowing and trusting that Jesus is always better than even the best season. That the sacred moments are just glimpses of His glory, pockets of heaven that He allows us to experience now, moments that hold eternal weight and hope because we’re promised a forever of these heavenly moments when we leave our last season here on this Earth.

Even when the season ends, even when that good thing is gone, our Father promises us an eternity of good things. What a beautiful hope to cling on to.

So, my dear Brick House friends, I feel so honored to have lived life with you and experienced glimpses of heaven with you, and even though we won’t ever share that Brick House on First street again, I’m excited to share in new moments with you in new spaces when life allows. I think it’s taken me this past year to process through our safe haven year, and I don’t entirely think I’m done yet, but thank you for that year. Thank you for exemplifying Christ’s love and servant-heartedness and helping create one of the safest places I’ve ever known. Thank you for sharing your beautiful lives and hearts with me, and thank you for becoming my forever friends. I miss you deeply and love you even more and am rooting for you as you flourish in your new pockets of the world.

 

Becoming Wild and Free

“If Christ is in you, the wild nature of God is ready for you to access and practice and live out…This means, simply put, that you don’t live subject to any constraints or categories. You can defy expectation and throw off all assumptions because that is the nature of God in you.” Jess Connolly//Wild and Free

I am not much of a risk taker. I like to play it safe, to weigh all my options, and to plan out my days down to the hour. My planner has become one of my favorite personal objects and there’s a small part of me that is overly satisfied every time I get to write something in the little boxes.

But lately I’ve started to question and wonder why being organized and safe delights me as much as it does. With as much joy I put in this planned life, there is also extreme dissatisfaction when plans go awry. I’m not sure I’m ok with that kind of life.

Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan released a book today- Wild and Free– that, among many other things, confronts this struggle and more importantly, the joy found in living the kind of life Christ calls us to. I had the privilege of being on their launch team and I’ve spent the past month reading and processing and praying through the idea of being completely free in Christ. The more I soak in this idea, the more I realize that so much of my life is bound by my perceived expectations of those around me and the more I am growing in my desire to step outside the lines I put around myself and fully participate in a wild and free life with Christ.

Up until recently, wild and free were simply not words in my vocabulary. In college, I found myself bound by the expectations of my Christian community: wear the Chacos, go to Chapel, work at camp, and create the pretty Instagrams by the brick wall. Find the boy, and if not, then be content in singleness because hey, Paul was single and he was pretty great. Create the façade of wild and free, but stay confined by the trends and expectations even though it’s impossible to perfectly create the picture as aesthetically pleasing as that person over there.

For my first three years of college, I crumbled under this pressure when my experience looked differently than I thought it would, finding myself in zero on-campus leadership positions, in an unhealthy, stagnant relationship, and severely insecure in my major all because I couldn’t match the perceived expectations I thought others were holding me to. My world felt small and it was hard to experience God working in the midst of all of this disappointment and failure.

Throughout these past two years of finishing college and my first year post-grad, I’ve started to loosen the ropes tying me to the expectations of my communities by believing and living in the reality that the Lord offers something better. Through this process, I have experienced more freedom than I thought possible and have made some wild choices that have led to some of the most life-giving experiences and relationships I couldn’t have imagined on my own. I’m just beginning this wild and free journey, just getting a taste of the goodness the Lord offers by slowly scrapping my life of meticulous plans and living fully for his glory- wild and free in this beautiful, unpredictable, get-to life with Christ.

Friend, if you find yourself living a small life constrained by the expectations of the culture around you and are craving something more, I urge you to pick up a copy of Jess and Hayley’s book Wild and Free (you can order it here). This book is rooted in Scripture and breathes Gospel. It consistently points to God’s glory and proclaims truth with every word. It has pushed me to places of reflection and wild dreams, of prayer and gratitude and grace. This book is an invitation to the wild and free life, a beautiful place that is fully ours without having to meet any standard or expectation. So, friend, I invite you through Hayley and Jess’ words to come join in this life, to join the women discovering that we don’t have to live such constrained, small lives, that we can truly live freely in Christ.

Feature Picture: Hayley Morgan and Jess Connolly

Good Friday and Staring into Fog

This time last year, I trekked up a steep trail with my missions team on a mountain in Bolivia.  My calves burning and my lungs out of breath, the promise of a beautiful view propelled me forward. But as we reached the top, we stared into a foggy abyss, blocking the waterfalls and rivers and colors we expected. Disappointment filled me as I sank into the side of the mountain, my arms wrapped around my knees, exhausted and angry.

The year prior to this moment carried the most pain I had experienced up to that point. It started with a breakup and from there progressed into a process of recognizing all the things I had been hiding and manufacturing and controlling in order to look like I had it all together. I cried a lot. I experienced more anger and resentment than I thought possible. I allowed myself to experience God’s brutal truth, giving Him free reign to mold and shape and refine me. It hurt.

I experienced a lot of life that year. In the midst of being refined and learning what I wanted, I faced great fear. I was graduating soon and had no clue where I was going to be even though I knew where I wanted to go. I remember reading Donald Miller’s Scary Close for the first time, resonating with the concepts of finding authentic community and being real with the people around me in order to experience some of the best of life. I knew that was what I wanted wherever I ended up.

But what I remember more vividly was laying on the bottom bunk of my bed staring at the mattress above me with the book open upside down on my stomach while fear consumed me because I didn’t believe the Lord would provide that community or those people for me to be real with once I left my safe college bubble.

Fear stuck with me that year, always creeping around in the back of my mind, clinging itself to any hope or thought about what I desired. It was especially sticking to every hope I could imagine as I sank into the steep hill and wet grass in Bolivia, staring into the fog.

The day I sat on that mountain was Good Friday. How perfectly metaphorical was it that, on the most hopeless day in history, I stared into fog from a mountain slope, unable to experience the wonders ahead because they were blocked by darkness.

As I fumed in my anger about not being able to see the beauty below me or the future in front of me, I wondered if this was how the disciples felt once they learned Jesus had died. I wondered if they felt they had climbed and worked and endured what they thought would reap eternal benefit only to be left alone in their despair at the top. I wondered if they felt as if their future was full of whisp-y fog because the Man who had promised them life was now dead.

Last year, sitting on that mountain, I hated the fog. I wanted it to be lifted, to see the grand wonders underneath and experience every drop of the beauty right then, as I imagine the disciples desired for their fog to be lifted on this day thousands of years ago; to be assured that the life Jesus promised, the life they believed in, could carry eternal weight.
But as I kept staring into that fog, I remembered Easter. I remembered that Lord promises us life and that we can cling to that promise because Jesus defeated death permanently. I remembered that the disciples, and all of humaity who chooses to believe, had been freed from their hopelessness because Jesus did what he promised by not allowing the Cross to be the end but rather the beginning of something eternally life-giving and freeing.
Good Friday reminds me of the death that our expectations and perceived futures and need to control will inevitably face. Sometimes we need the fog to push us to Jesus, to remember how desperately we need Him. The best part of Good Friday is that Easter always comes soon after and the promise of the Resurrection allows us to cling onto the hope that the Lord has something better, that He gives abundant life.