Unpredictable Grief

I hate the unpredictability of grief.

It’s hard and inconvenient, random and unannounced. I hate feeling like I’m not in control, and if anything is reminding me of the reality that I’m never really in control, it’s the ambushes of sadness and apathy and frustration hitting hard.

So far, grief has looked like tearing up while cutting a pan of brownies a friend brought over, because brownies remind me of home and how my dad always made them from the Ghirardelli box mix my mom bought from Costco.

Sometimes it looks like tears dropping on the crisp white worship guide on Sunday morning while Matt puts his arm around me and draws me in close because we’re singing “Be Thou My Vision” and the last time I heard this hymn in a corporate, church setting was at the end of my dad’s funeral.

And a lot of the times it just feels like exhaustion for no reason. Or being overwhelmed with little tasks that seem like too much, and then frustration because I could handle them before all of this happened.

In a lot of the past few months, I’ve felt like I’ve been living two lives. My external one, where I’m hustling to get all the things done– the class slides for the next day, the grading, the reflections, the emails, the parent phone calls, the trying to be intentional about relationships, and the billion other obligations that come with being an adult. And they’ve mostly been getting done.

But I’m also experiencing life in my head, where I’m randomly exhausted and frustrated and where it just feels like there’s not enough space for all the things I need to cram in it. I want to deceive myself, and convince everyone else around me, that I’m ok by checking all the things off the list because it just seems easier. But then there are moments like when my boss compassionately looks at me and tells me I’m not doing my best because I can’t, and then I drop my shoulders–and everything I’ve been trying to hold up with them– and realize she’s right.

I’m learning that grief has its way of humbling people, and it just doesn’t care about all of the new and hard and transition already happening in life; it just barrels its way through to make you realize you can’t shove down and ignore tragic things.

Friends, I really hate this. All I want is to be ok, to ignore grief because sometimes it seems too big to face, too monumental to process. And when I look back at the past two months, I notice that I’ve been masking so many moments with busy and tasks and emotionlessness until it all inevitably leaks out unannounced.

As I keep stepping forward into this thing, as aggravating as it is, I’m starting to realize that maybe the Lord is using this hard, unpredictable grief as a grace.

Because I think grief, in all its unannounced ways, is forcing me to be kinder to myself because I just have to acknowledge the reality that I’m more broken in ways I can’t hide anymore, even to myself. It’s forcing me to slow down and to Sabbath, because I’m learning I actually can’t function without the intentional breaks, and also that we were never intended to in the first place. And it’s creating this compassion in me, one that wasn’t there before, because when people share their hurt, I can resonate in ways I couldn’t before.

In the midst of all of this hard, the Lord is using these unpredictable ambushes of grief to make me look down at my wide open wounds and allow Him do the hard, painful work of healing and growth that I’ve been ignoring with perfectionism and busyness. And isn’t it beautiful that the Lord can use the most tragic of circumstances to do His good, holy, and perfect work? The work He’s been doing all along?

I hate that this thing happened, and I hate that my dad is gone, and most of the time, I hate how grief keeps humbling me in unpredictable ways. But when I take a step back and look at the work the Lord is doing through my broken and sad and pain, I can’t help but be grateful to experience grace in new ways, ways that are softening me and pointing me towards Jesus again and again. And if that gets to be the end result of this terrible thing, then I have hope as I keep leaning into these random waves of grief.

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 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

Tuesday Victories | 7.4

These Tuesday Victories are coming to ya a bit early because of the holiday tomorrow. Enjoy, friends!

Tuesdays are hard. They’re the sophomores of the week- you’re fully invested but not close to the end yet. Instead of feeling drained and irritated (ask any of my students- Tuesdays are the worst for me..whoops!), here are a few small victories- words, things, and moments- getting me through the week:

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1. Fireworks- friends, it’s [almost] the Fourth of July! I hope you enjoy your day wherever you may go-whether on a beach, in someone’s home, or on a city street watching a parade. And I hope you find somewhere perfect to watch fireworks! Matt and I live in a cute neighborhood where people take their fireworks seriously. We’ve been able to see them from our balcony the past few nights and it’s been such a treat!

2. Sharon Hodde Miller’s Twitter feed– I first read Miller’s writing in a Christianity Today article when Matt and I were coming back from his parents’ house after Christmastime. I was hooked! She loves Jesus, is incredibly well-educated and crafts beautiful and truthful pieces of writing. Her Twitter feed is legit and either always challenges me or refers me to some fantastic resources. Her first book comes out this fall and I cannot wait to read more from her!

3. Chipotle Burrito Bowls- because Chipotle is actually the best. It’s been a crazy few weeks for Matt and I, including a week in Maine with 18 of my family members and then a week in Ohio leading 35 middle school students on a church trip. Needless to say, we haven’t eaten too many crazy-healthy meals but at least Chipotle isn’t the worst! And it’s delicious. And guac. So it was a solid option the past few weeks!

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4. The US Postal Service’s generosity- My Army-brother was just deployed overseas and needless to say it’s been a bit difficult. But, the USPS offers the “Military Care Kit” where they will send loved ones free supplies to send care packages overseas. I just ordered ours and if you’re interested in this, check out more information here. Having my brother deployed is difficult enough, but I’m grateful USPS has lessened the steps to support and encourage him while he is gone!

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5. The list at the end of this blog post– I don’t quite remember how I stumbled upon this blog, but at some point I subscribed to it and goodness I’m thankful I read this post this morning. Placing our identity in the Lord can be so, so difficult at times. Aliza Latta, a guest writer, wrote out a list of reminders that she recites/prays every morning to help her focus back on Jesus and her identity in him. I love this practice and wrote the list in my journal this morning and I plan to use it at a catalyst for prayer/journaling times this summer.

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6. Fresh flowers- I just love fresh flowers. Love them! Trader Joe’s had peonies in stock and we had some friends over for dinner Saturday night, thus the perfect excuse to buy them. They make our apartment pretty and fresh-looking and they make me happy everytime I look at them. It’s been so fun figuring out ways to make our apartment look more home-y looking and fresh flowers are just the best addition!

I hope you’re having a great holiday! We’re spending the day with some friends and using up the rest of the sparklers from our wedding. What are some of your favorites today?

Also- if you know my brother and want to get in on the care-package sending action, let me know and I can get you all the information you need!

Tuesday Victories | 6.6

Tuesdays are hard. They’re the sophomores of the week- you’re fully invested but not close to the end yet. Instead of feeling drained and irritated (ask any of my students- Tuesdays are the worst for me..whoops!), here are a few small victories– words, things, and moments– getting me through the week:

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1. The new She Reads Truth Romans study– I love everything She Reads Truth produces. Each plan is simply scripture with a short devotion and this summer we’re walking through Romans- one of my favorite books of the Bible, especially after having to do an intensive study over it for a Bible class in college. I’m so, so excited to be digging into this book once again! We just started yesterday, so it’s not too late to join! Check it out here

2. Fresh squeezed orange juice- we have a local market here in Indy that sells fresh squeezed orange juice (with just oranges! No sugar! Praises.) and it’s my current summer favorite. Yes please!

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3. This pun book– because it’s adorable and it’s sitting on my coffee table which is in front of the sofa I’m always sitting on now because summer as a teacher. Right on Thyme? Find Your Porpoise? Honey Bee Yourself? And those illustrations?! Goodness I love puns. The best. Thanks to my friend Katy for this gem!

4. Amazon family accounts- because this means I have access to my husband’s massive Kindle library and this was the best discovery. Nerdy kid in a candy store right here.

5. Struck by Russ Ramsey– A quick, but impactful read of a man’s reflections on life as he closely encountered death through a random virus in his heart. I sat at the pool late last week tearing up behind my sunglasses as I inhaled Ramsey’s words. Beautiful and brutally honest reflections about Jesus, marriage, relationships, and death. And as a newlywed, the tears kept coming until the last page with this one.

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6. These running shoes- I just started routinely running again because I realized I need the therapeutic qualities pounding my feet on pavement over and over quickly provides me. And without good shoes, this would be an even more painful endeavor than running (and working through all the things in my head) already is. And also, this is probably the fifth pair of these shoes that I’ve owned. They’ve been my loyal road companions for the last six years and it’s been nice to be reacquainted with them recently.

7. McAlisters– I meet with women from my church- women who have become some of my dearest friends in Indy- here every Tuesday to talk about Jesus and life and all the random things in-between. I order a grilled chicken salad and grilled chicken spud every time and now we get to sit outside because it’s warm and I just love it.

Happy Tuesday, friends! Enjoy the sunshine and the fact that it’s summer YAY!

Crooked Roads and Doubting Faith

I worked in Montana for a summer at a camp in the mountains. My high school band director used to tell stories about his time working there and I was intrigued by his tales of camping and backpacking and working with students, so during my freshman year of college, I learned more about the camp, applied, and was accepted to work there that summer.

My struggles began on the drive out west. My brother and his best friend were my travel companions for the two day trek. I was scared and put great effort in trying not to cry during random hours in the car and in the hotel that first night because I didn’t want them to know I was struggling. I tried to rationalize my fears by reminding myself that I was going to work at a Christian camp and although I had every expectation of this community looking like the ones I had always been a part of, I couldn’t shake the impulse to cry at random moments.

That summer was hard. My initial feelings of fear and anxiety never let go of me as I entered into this unfamiliar space and culture. Although this camp was a Christian community, it operated differently than any place I had been a part of before. I was closely surrounded by people who viewed faith much differently than I did. They let themselves doubt and question and do things I didn’t think Christians were supposed to do. My 19-year-old self didn’t quite know how to handle this, so I spent a majority of my time arguing and fighting for what I had always known to be true about Christian faith and community. But, in the midst of my fight against unfamiliar practices, I found myself sitting and listening and wondering about the doubts and questions my co-workers expressed.

If you’ve grown up in the church, I’m sure you have one of these places. A place that made you redefine your faith, that made you question and doubt and wonder about what you grew up with. Is it stable? Can it be challenged? Are people who view faith and Jesus and doctrine differently than I do still Christians? Montana was my place of discovery and wonder, a place that has had me asking questions ever since the moment I left, even five years later.

I was brought back to my moments of difficulty and doubt and rediscovery as I dove into Andrea Lucado’s new book English Lessons: The Crooked Little Grace-Filled Path of Growing Up. Lucado reflects on her time studying for her Masters degree in English Literature at Oxford-Brookes where she encountered people who lived and viewed faith much differently than those she grew up with, most not believing in Jesus at all. She found herself envying their supposed free spirits, wondering how they could seem so at peace if they had never been touched by true grace, and asking important questions about people who had once experienced Jesus and later rejected him.

What I loved most about this book was Lucado’s raw honesty about her struggle living and interacting closely with people who did not share her same beliefs and consequently, her own struggle with faith. As a well-known pastor’s daughter and as someone who grew up in the arguably-sheltered American church, she realized how difficult and confusing it can be to learn that Christianity is much more resilient to doubts and questions than her upbringing led her to believe. And she also learned how freeing and beautiful it can be to live with this kind of faith- a faith that is strong enough for our questions and crooked paths and insecurities. Her honesty creates space for a needed kind of courage in the church today, the courage to wonder and ask and be open to receiving unexpected answers from the Lord. The courage to interact with people who look and act and believe differently than we do, to take risks and to learn over and over and over again what it looks like follow Jesus, especially in the midst of uncertainty.

Lucado’s ringing message to her reader is a beautiful reminder that when we inevitably encounter places of doubt and we allow ourselves to lean into our questions and into our searching, we find more of Jesus. We grow in Him, we allow our worlds and lives to be expanded by Him, and we experience His faithfulness. I needed a place like Montana to break the mold of what I always knew, to find a fuller Jesus, one who can be experienced through many denominations and cultures. I needed Montana to push me to ask questions, to search for truth, and to find it in His word and in unexpected places and paths.

I hope you read Lucado’s story too, allowing yourself to remember the place where you started to question and grow or to receive permission and grace to find that place to wonder and doubt and come to know Jesus more fully.

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.