Paperwork, plays, and prayers.

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All student names in this post have been changed in order to protect their privacy and safety. 

 

Nina

I gave up the opportunity to watch the Superbowl to go see a play with some of the 7th and 8th grade girls I work with. And by that, I actually mean that I gave up the chance to see Justin Timberlake do his thing just to spend a few more minutes with the girls I’m seeking to build relationship with. I know what you’re thinking: who gives up a chance to watch a JT performance like that?! But when my supervisor asked me if I wanted to get paid to chaperone for a play, I didn’t consider what I could lose. I wanted to go, and that was that.

And that is what led me to driving a mini bus full of some of the girls in our after-school program to TPAC last Sunday evening. I was nervous about driving with them on the interstate, and navigating downtown too, but it turned out okay. I was worried that many of the students wouldn’t enjoy the play because of the challenge of comprehending a theatrical performance set in a different time and context. But, I prayed in the ride to the apartment complex alone, and asked God to give us a good evening together. I asked Him to keep us safe, and to give the girls the energy and focus they needed to enjoy the play.

Once we got to TPAC, we nestled into our seats. We had a huge bag (literally) of popcorn to keep us satisfied, and we were eager for the show. Finally, the lights went dim and the curtains on the stage were pulled back.

I would soon learn that the student I sat beside, Nina, was fully of many, many questions.

“Is this real?” she asked me a few minutes into the play as I shook my head no.

“Did he call that woman ‘Sir’?” she asked as I nodded yes.

“I see three shadows. Why?” she asked as I pointed to the different lights above us.

And when the slave-girl and her lover kissed, Nina jumped. “Ew! They kissed?! Really? They kissed?” I laughed, and explained that in real life they probably don’t kiss. But for the play on the stage, their characters did. Just this once. Nothing I said could erase the look of shock and disgust off her face as she simply repeated, “Nuh-uh. Really?”

Although her reaction was funny at first, I thought more later: my insensitivity to public intimacy for entertainment should probably serve as an alarm for me that something in our culture is off. But, that’s for a different discussion a different day.

At the end of the play, Nina asked, “How do they do that?” I didn’t know what she meant. I asked her about singing and dancing before I realized she meant their entire stage presence. She was asking me about the performers. She wanted to know how they landed on that stage.

“How do they do that?” she asked again amazed.

I explained how people practice and train to become actors and actresses. They work hard to memorize long sentences in English, and then they dress up to perform it to others.

“I want to do that,” she told me simply, “I want to be an actress.”

I don’t know what’s ahead of my friend, Nina, but I hope she gets to one day. I really, really do. Dreams feel like an American luxury, and I delight in teaching my students to believe in the seemingly impossible, beautiful, bold visions placed in their hearts for a different future. I love to tell them about the possibilities and choices they can make now, because for most of them, they were deprived of self-choice for most (or all) of their lives.

 

– – –

 

Kyle

I gave my middle schoolers assigned tables this week. Although they nearly revolted at first, they’ve continued sitting at the correct tables and have begun to participate in activities with their new groups. It doesn’t sound like much, but this is a huge deal. I’m eager to see how our new set-up continues to challenge them and lead them to more successes.

However, with that, the week was filled with some of the greatest victories, yet hardest difficulties with my student, Kyle. (Check out the last blog posts to hear more about his story.) There were some moments when he took the seating changes like a champ, and other times when he roamed and wandered instead.

At the end of the week, he got upset because I didn’t reward him with an extra point. I explained to him that because he hadn’t listened to me when I asked for his attention, I couldn’t reward that. I promised to give him the point if he listened later.

“We need a new teacher,” he said simply.

Honestly, I wasn’t hurt. I told him that I care about him and the class, regardless of how much he likes me or not. I’ve seen how this story ends: they say they hate you, but on the last day of class, there is sadness in goodbye. I can’t pretend that I’m qualified to speak on why that is, but I do have theories. And most of them center on the fact that middle schoolers are awkward with processing positive feelings.

It sounds crazy, but I’ve reminded myself of his comment a lot this week. I’m still not hurt. If anything, I’m sad that he feels that way right now. But, if his comment isn’t the most accurate picture of humanity and how we treat Jesus, then I don’t know what is.

We dare to look at Him and say, “No, no. Give me a new teacher. I don’t like what you’re doing here.” Whether it’s because he calls us to things that stretch our comfort zone, or maybe it’s because we can’t see Him in the ways we want to. We assume we have the authority to look at Him and tell Him that He’s not enough, and we know better. We are like traumatized, awkward middle schoolers overwhelmed by the burden of figuring it all out. And we look at the only loving, trustworthy Teacher and tell Him “no.”

Suffice to say (for now), I’m learning about the depths of unconditional love and relentless pursuit—even when the people of your heart and burden are bent on running further away into their pain.

 

– – –

 

Too Many People to Name

A few weeks ago, my supervisor at my new job approached me about picking up some extra office hours. Although filing and paperwork isn’t my dream, being faithful to learning more about refugee and immigrant advocacy is.

Since then, I’ve been working alongside the lead office guy to learn more about the ins and outs of immigration paperwork. I feel like an intern in a lot of ways, but I’m enjoying learning about the work that goes into this process. It’s practical, it’s confusing, and it’s going so well that I left my job in retail two days ago just to be able to give more time to the office work.

Everything I do is fill-in-the-blank work. And some of it is detective work. Although my supervisor, meets with the case workers of clients to get initial information from them, it’s usually messy and full of gaps. That’s where I come in. I fill in as much as I can gather. I turn field notes and scribbles into a neat, presentable green card application. Believe it or not, even the most basic information can become confusing on an 18 page application for each individual. But, I study it, make it work, and print it all out. Finally, my supervisor meets with the clients one final time to review the finished paperwork with them and get final signatures before sending it all off to the USCIS.

It’s not unusual to see 8 or 10 cases in a family. But I’ll be honest, cases this large usually come with a unique set of challenges and messiness. And the 10 cases I worked on for one family last week was exactly as predicted: challenging and messy.

Yes, I filled out ten 18-page green card applications. Yes, it took me all week. Yes, there were a ton of gaps to fill in and no, I didn’t do all of it correctly.

What I could gather, and assume, is the total case included a grandmother, 2 parents, and 7 children. Their birthdates ranged from 1949 to 2015. All of the children had been born and raised in the refugee camp before they were given the golden ticket opportunity to resettle in America in summer 2016.

The thing with these applications is they are very detailed. The application wants to know about your birthdate and alien number, it wants to know about your parents (deceased or not) and your children, and it wants to know about where you lived in the past and what your intentions are for the future.

Unfortunately, the grandmother didn’t know any of the birthdays or whereabouts of 5 of her 6 children and the family had spent 20 years in the tents at the refugee camp.

Despite its obstacles, I felt like I had completed and printed pretty accurate copies of the applications for the clients to sign. After my supervisor’s final meeting with the clients, I flipped through the pages‚ just to make one final clean-up of the files before packing them away in the priority mail package.

I came across the application for the youngest baby. The information about her parents was marked out, and in its place was the name of one of the girls I assumed was her sister. I asked my supervisor about it, and apologized for the mix up.

“Oh, yeah. The baby is a granddaughter. Her mother is one of the children. She was raped, and all they know about the father is his first name,” he told me.

“Oh,” I uttered, not really sure of what else to say. He assured me the mix-up wasn’t my fault, and the way he talked about it made me certain this wasn’t the first time he’s come across this.

But I was shocked. There was nothing to put on the line for the father, other than a name. And for the mother, I checked her birthday again. She was born in 2000. And my heart broke when I realized she was only 14 or 15 when she got pregnant, 15 or 16 when she went into labor at the same refugee camp she had been born in. I couldn’t erase the number from my mind as I thought about the tears that must have been shed. Even now, I can’t pretend to know that I understand what this family has gone through.

I’ll be honest, some cases and families I come across are more painful than others. Even just the birthdates and address histories have the power to break your heart. It’s the most black and white evidence that the world is not okay. This one was one of those times.

Reaching for the box with USCIS’s addressed written on the outside, I paper-clipped the health records, applications, and passport photos for each of the 10 people together. I know I shouldn’t because it more painful and personal, but I peeked at each of the 10 photos before sealing them away. The faces staring in each photo were straight, which is to be expected in a headshot of this nature. But even in a 2×2 inch square, I could feel a deep sadness written over each face. In the wrinkles from years of worry and the scars from years of warfare, I saw a history of a people that I’ll never be able to understand. I saw stories of heartache and terror. I saw a mourning for a peaceful, joyous world that we hope for in faith only.

It’s only paperwork, and they’re people I’ll probably never get to wrap my arms around. But, I can’t shake the thought: it’s the most black and white evidence that there is something deeply, painfully wrong in our world.

 

– – –

 

Quiet Time

I heard that Nehemiah spent 3 times longer in prayer than he did physically building the wall. As a goer and a doer, this realization hits me to the core.

It’s hard to sit still. It feels like there’s never enough time. It feels like the burdens to lift up to Him are too numerous to count.

But earlier this week, I got to my classroom early.

I chose to sit still. I chose to make enough time. I chose to take it one burden at a time, starting with the classroom of students I was about to greet.

I can’t say that anything extraordinary happened in the classroom hour to follow. However, I was so aware of the Peace and Love working to create a space of trust in our midst. I watched as my students created some of the most complex sentences they’ve ever fought to make, and my heart was full of thanks for a Father who cares about them abundantly more than even I can.

May this work never be only about English. May this work be a testament to the Love and Light that satisfies the soul in a way that no world-language or first-world country ever can.

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Storyteller.

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We were made to be storytellers.

 

There’s something woven in each and every one of us that makes humanity purposeful. We’re made for so much more than waking up, clocking in, clocking out, sending a few Tweets, using a few filters, and going to bed just to wake up and do it all again.

 

We’re made to tell a story, and we’re made to live in every line of it.

 

It’s easy to pass over. The cover looks plain, battered. Like it’s been read thousands of times and passed along thousands of people. But on the pages, nestled between the well-worn pages, is a story about love. Hope. Grace. Relent pursuit. Forgiveness. And more love—so much more than we can imagine.

 

So what is the story?

 

It’s about people who were created to live in a relationship centered on love—but not just any love. It was the kind of love that didn’t hurt or abandon. It didn’t run out or embarrass. It was perfect. It was everything we’ve ever desired.

 

But, the people weren’t content. They became insecure and doubted their story. In some ways, I can’t blame them. It must have felt too good to be true. In their unhappiness, they strayed far from the One who loved them most.

 

They hurt the One that gave them protection.

They left the One who gave them the love they needed.

They ran out on the One who wanted to be close.

They willingly handed over everything you and I were made to desire.

 

And then they wandered off into a cold world alone.

 

Along the way, many brave men and women spoke up. Many of them did courageous things because they missed what they had lost. They hungered for protection and love. But, many, many more spoke up in a different way; they did everything to keep their distance. I wonder if they ever thought about that initial decision to run away from Him. Like, if they blamed their parents for creating such a mess. I want to sometimes—but then I remember I’m just like them. I struggle with doubt and wondering what’s better on the other side too. And to be honest, I probably would have ended up doing the same thing. Our story is the same.

 

The problem is, we couldn’t find our way back home. As we wandered and attempted our own plans, none of it could measure up. We wrote a story where every page desperately cried out for love and grace—but it fell silent. As we rummaged for our maps and books and tools, we tried halfheartedly to find that way back home.

 

It was like being on the opposite cliff. You can hear Him. You can see Him, a little speck on the other side of the massive gorge separating you two. He feels close, but still far. As He shouts your name across the expanse, fear sets in because you realize you’re alone– but this isn’t something you can do alone. You need help. You need a miracle. You feel hopeful yet hopeless all at once. You pace back and forth, thinking, “There must be a way, there must be a way.”

 

No bridge could be built to cross. There’s not enough nails, wood, time. You’d splinter and tear your hands for naught.

 

What you didn’t realize is that He, still standing across the canyon shouting your name, is relentless. As we wrote the chapters to a story that led us to stand alone on a cliff, He was editing behind us every step of the way. He was at work in our story. He told us that too—uncountable times. We’re just too stubborn to listen. He showed His power to redeem the bad situations we found ourselves in. He used our bad decisions to pen something more beautiful.

 

“Hm. Let’s change this sentence to this. No period here, semicolon. This one is just bad altogether, let’s fix it. Oh, but this one… this is one we can use,” he muttered. Sometimes we understood what He was up to, but most times, we didn’t. But that’s okay. He was working things out and that’s where we found our hope.

 

The story was leading to the climax—the part that everything centered on. Instead of only hearing His shouting from across the valley, we would feel Him take us into His arms as he whispered, “Welcome home.” That’s what He was working too. That’s what all the editing and rewriting was about.

 

And sure enough, just as He had promised, our help came. On a night that we call silent and holy, when a star shone brighter than any other, He came. Lying in a feeding trough for animals, a newborn baby was nestled in swaddling cloths. His teenage mother and unmarried father gazed upon Him with adoration. Kings looked for Him and people hated him.

 

Something in the world changed that night. And this was the beginning of our “Welcome home.”

 

This baby grew. He grew to become a carpenter and miracle-worker. He was wise and thought-provoking. He unashamedly lived out the purpose He was sent for. And He changed everything about that story.

 

The beautiful thing is He came in grace. Love. Forgiveness. Hope. Relentless pursuit. And more love. This wasn’t a contract we’d sign, promising to never mess up again. This wasn’t a guilt-trip over the silly, embarrassing places we’d landed in. This wasn’t a pay-to-receive type of thing. He didn’t want anything from us. Because the reality is His love for us was deeper and wider and fuller than the valley that had separated us.

 

He simply wanted to welcome us home.

 

And this was what every line in the story led to: the receiving of a gift. Not broken bridges or splintered hands. We were finished with proving ourselves. In its place landed a gift, without conditions or guilt, handed to us from the hand of the One who loves us most.

 

He poured everything He had into this gift. He had been so excited to give us this gift. Actually, He had told us about this uncountable time before this. Like a kid keeping a secret, He was giddy to tell us. And He had hinted at it for centuries. But we were busy and didn’t hear it.

 

Finally, the moment came when He handed this long-awaited gift to us in plain, brown paper and told us, “It might not look like much, but I’ve waited years to give this to you. It’s the most precious thing I have, and I want you to have it because I love you. I love you so much, that it is worth giving up my entire treasure.”

 

And all he wants is for us to accept it. No payment. No rehashing of all our embarrassing stories. No explanation of why we ran. Only yes.

 

::

 

My brothers and my sisters, this is the what the songs are about. When we sing this week, and when we pass gifts, and when we exchange a smile with a stranger—this is why. We are celebrating that the plans of Love were accomplished. We are celebrating our “Welcome home!” We are praising the Author who crafts stories that change the world.

 

And to those who carry this plain, brown paper gift daily: our songs are being sung. Our stars and angels are being placed on the tops of trees. Generous, kind gifts are being given, but none can compare to the endless love of the baby in the manger that would grow into the man who would walk to His death in order to restore humanity back to the One who loved us most.

 

This is our week.

 

This is the week of our Savior, church.

 

This is the week, more than any other week in the year, when a lost nation utters the name of Jesus while singing about joy and peace.

 

I’m not sure that I can rightfully say that this week centers on us. But, I can say it centers on Christ. And if He is all that we claim Him to be, then it is an honor to tell His story of relentless, unstopping love this week. After all, we were made to be storytellers.

::

 

“Light of Life dispel my darkness

let Your frailty strengthen me

let Your meekness give me boldness

let Your burden set me free

oh, Immanuel, my Savior

let Your death be life for me”

Kneeling in the presence of a toddler.

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The last time I wrote to you, I told you about the first time I attempted an airport pick-up for new refugees. I told you about how the the family didn’t show up, but how much it lifted and broke me when they did show up the next day.

This time, I want to tell you a story about the second time I did an airport pick-up. It’s a story of how I relished every second of it because I knew it would most likely be my last. Weeks in hindsight, I can assure you: it was my last

:: :: ::

It was a Wednesday evening, and we prepared nearly all day for a Congolese family of 8 who had travelled through Tanzania to come to us. We went through the arrival routine— purchased culturally appropriate food, checked the apartment to make sure it’s clean, safe, and decent, etc. and yada yada. And then, we sat at the airport to wait. Part of me wished I had brought a book to read, but the other part of me enjoyed the sitting and people-watching. We had planned for a 30 minute wait— but remember, the greatest lesson to learn in this line of work is plans. Change. Often. We realized that the flight was running over an hour behind, so we set up camp beside the Starbucks and watched through the glass window at the gate as people from all different places, skin tones, luggage colors, and accents walked by us.

These moments of waiting were precious. You see, this was only days after the travel ban had been put in place. It was honestly of God’s grace that we even had this opportunity. Every day I’d ask my supervisor when arrivals were going to be finished, and she’d just say, “Just one more. Just one more.” These moments were precious because they were coming to a quick close, and I didn’t know where I’d be lost in it. Although I kept checking my watch, my mind wandered back to the same thought: what an honor it is to be here. What an honor it is to welcome them.

Finally, we saw them. Because again: you don’t sit in the heart of the heart of the Bible-reading and country-music-playing South and miss a foreign African family of 8 very easily.

“Eden, they’re here,” I said and jumped up. I ran to the opening at the gate, just before the “Do Not Enter” signs. I started waving frantically at them, and they nearly walked right past us. Thank God for our Swahili translator though— otherwise they would have no way to hear us say hello and welcome. And I think I said it to each member of the family at least twice. They had no clue what I was saying, I think my heart was just glad to voice those words. I grinned from ear to ear, as I shook their hand in sweet, sweet Congolese fashion.

We walked to the baggage claim, and grabbed just the three bags they had for the entire family of 8. As they sat, I realized how tired they looked. Their faces sat still and their eyes blinked slowly. I thought back to my summer traveling across the country, and then the ocean. My oh my, were those days wonderful and exhausting all in one. I just wanted to hug them, and tuck them into a bed. Honestly, it’d probably be the first one they’ve slept in for some time.

As we stood to make our way to the van, and then to their new home, I grabbed a little one to carry. “Hi, baby,” I smiled at her. Honestly, she smelled. She smelled of a long travel, too-few bathroom stops, and of countries much less clean than the high standard of the States. I didn’t care though. I walked and baby-talked to her in a language she doesn’t know yet. I watched her tired eyes blink, and I could tell that she felt awkward in the large puffer coat she wore. She watched the faces that walked past us, and I thought for a minute that I could count her eyelashes. “No, I cannot. But God can. He did,” I thought, blinking away tears. In my heart, I begged for every face I pass to look at the face of the baby I held and to have compassion.

As we walked to the van— a baby in my arms, her 5 brothers and sisters trailing behind, her parents carrying bags, my Ethiopian supervisor, and our recently resettled refugee translator— my heart filled with pride. So much pride for this family’s journey, and for the opportunity coming ahead of them too. I dared anyone who walked past to give a look or to say a word, because I was ready to defend this family and their story I had yet to hear.

And just as planned, we took them home, showed them how to use their dishwasher, lock the door, open the curtains, and all the other little things you and I take for granted. We gave them the first little bit of pocket money from their funding, and promised them someone would come by tomorrow to visit. We left, and just as I always do when we leave client homes, I wondered when I’d see them again and hoped this wasn’t a hello / goodbye.

:: :: ::

As it turns out, I’m the one who came to visit them later. I brought another resettled refugee, teenage client with me to watch the kids while I brought the parents to sign the lease at their apartment office. Something about my teenage friend is different, and I’m so eager for the day when she and I can converse. But for today, we talked about her favorite color, food, and animals in her small and broken English. It was enough. 

Once we arrived to the large family’s home, my friend stayed with the 6 little ones while the parents and I made our way to the apartment office. Honestly, you never realize how much passion you can put into such a simple thing like signing an apartment lease until you are the mediator between refugee clients and the apartment office–

I never thought I’d have to call a Swahili interpreter three times before realizing my iPhone speaker wouldn’t work for the first time in forever.

I never thought we’d get him on a speaker phone in an office, so the entire building would hear our signing process.

I also never thought the fat office cat would step right on the phone cord in the middle of the call, and disconnect the interpreter. Again, we called him back. And after 45 or so minutes, he asked how much longer it would take. I chuckled and said we were almost done, hoping that I was right.

Afterwards, I showed the parents the mailbox and drove them back to the apartment where they told me they needed baby soap. So I ran to Kroger. Bought a bottle of Johnson’s. And came back just to pick up my friend, and leave.

On our way back to my friend’s apartment on the other side of town, I gave her a chocolate bar I picked up with the baby shampoo. Her face lit up, and in her little English she said, “Oh, very good! I like chocolate!”

I tell you. You don’t go through things that like for a person you don’t love, or at least like little bit.

:: :: ::

Three weeks later, and things have slowed down significantly at the office. I’m sent on an assignment for another case worker that leads me back to that apartment with the family of 8. Eager to see them, I load up in the large World Relief van and turn the key. Heading to the other side of town, I walk to that door I stood at just a few weeks ago and knock.

The dad answers, and I’m grinning from ear to ear. I reach out my hand, and he invites me inside as the kids like to stare at me– like they usually do. I step in as the whole family is still scrambling to get ready. “We must hurry, hurry,” I tell them waving my arms— again, as usual. Half of this job is motivation, honestly.

While I wait just inside the doorway, I play with the kids who are ready. They keep grinning at me, and I do too as I watch them. I watched as one rolled his socks up to his knees over his pants legs, and then chuckled when his dad responded in their language and (I assume) told him to put his socks under his pants. I helped a big sister dress the baby I held that night we left the airport, as she attempted to put the pants on backwards. You think getting kids ready is difficult— imagine doing it in a place where you’re still learning how to live.

At some point, I knelt down to shake the hands of the little ones. The toddler wearing floral shoes, a denim skirt, and a boy polo, came over to me grinning from ear to ear. She just stood in front of me smiling, and I thought back to that night at the airport. Oh, how good it was to see her rested and closer to being restored.

She moved closer to me, and we were eye to eye. Her arms wrapped around my neck and I giggled as she hugged me. As she moved away, she reached her hand to the necklace that sat on my neck. Her fingers grabbed the gold, world-map donned on a chain that I almost forgot I was wearing. She gazed at it, and touched it. She pulled at it, as most toddlers would, and I wrapped my hands around hers so that she wouldn’t pull it off my neck.

As we sat like this for a few minutes— her playing with the gold, shiny world map on my neck, and me just watching her— I wondered what she was thinking. My thoughts ran poetically, as they usually do in these precious, precious moments when reality feels so vulnerable and unexplainable–

How wonderful to kneel in the presence of a toddler, and hand in hand gaze at a world map. What an act of grace that even as our stories began in different places and have taken different paths, we could still both meet in this living room in Hermitage, Tennessee on an ordinary day in February– even as innumerable others would say she belonged on the other side of the world. What a moment to live in.

Even as my legs began to feel the weight of kneeling for so long, I didn’t stand. It was a moment of victory and love that I don’t quite understand. And I knew that’s what this line of work is about: kneeling in the presence of the weak, and speaking the truth to them that these moments are no accident. I wanted to show her–

“My friend, you are from here and I am from here. We look different, we talk different, we have a different story. But we are the same. We are both made and loved by a God who cares about us so much. You’re not here by accident, little one. You are a gift and a treasure. This world is not so big and far away as we make it out to be— after all, look, you’re here.”

I watched her blink and fiddle with that map for just a few moments. And then, just like that, it was time to go and make it to Nolensville Pike for our appointment that we were already late for. We loaded up in the van– the entire family of 8 and me– and the youngest baby screamed the entire drive there. But I didn’t mind, because just sharing this presence with this family was worth it.

Oh, what an honor it is to welcome them. What an honor.

Every plan I made in autumn came to life in the spring.

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I always knew I’d fall in love during autumn.

Something about watching the trees turn extravagantly, clutching warm coffee a little closer, and breathing in days that grow shorter makes me want to fall like those vibrant leaves. I’m smitten during autumn, and I never would have guessed that he would fall too.

The truth is, though, I didn’t know that that falling in love in autumn would change my spring. The wonderful, terrifying, beautiful truth is that I didn’t know falling in love in autumn would change my spring, and the way I see growth and beauty. In all those daydreams set in front of a red and orange backdrop, I never thought that falling in love would extend far past one season and I would get the chance to watch the broken leaves come to life over and over again.

I guess when I think of spring, I should think of flowers, hammocks under trees, and grass beneath our bare feet. And I do.

Spring defines more than just the changing of the weather. Her roots extend deeper than the sunlight giving life to the flowers and trees, and inviting all of us to come out of our rooms and out into warmth again—

Those things are noble, but oh, she is so much more than that. Spring is the soundtrack to the change woven within the story of my heart, and the transformation of becoming who I was carefully created to be.

Spring continues the stories that began in the autumn. And honestly, I have to admire her for rising to the task of jumping mid-sentence into my messy, indecisive, scatter-brained stories.

:: :: ::

If I’m going to tell you about spring, I have to tell you about the time I wore a school jersey, and ran around a track that made me feel like a speck. I ran in the last half of the pack, but finished in the first ten because my coach ran alongside me and I hustled to push. It was probably the only time I ever ran with such determination. But, I also have to tell you that I quit that task just days later because I didn’t think I could finish. That was 6 years ago.

I have to tell you that spring is the time when he broke my heart, and the next one did too. Tunes of sadness were my anthems. 6 and 5 years ago.

I have to tell you about the night my best friend and I drove beneath the stars and speculated, “There has to be more to life than what I’m doing now.” He heard me, and just months later, He began to break my heart in a way that was unlike the rest. Whereas the others demolished and burnt, this One tore down so He could rebuild. There marked 5 and 4 years ago.

That led to the first spring of freedom, marked by longing to pen my entire story in beautiful cursive on paper. 3 years ago.

If I’m going to tell you about spring, I have to tell you about the voicemail I listened to a dozen times just to make sure I heart it correctly, and repeated it even more in my head: you got the job. You got your dream camp job–

I battled hard in the spring, believing I had to be perfect before I could be used. 2 years ago.

And I have to tell you that somewhere in the middle of all that, I spent too much time in a hammock, and innumerable times I looking toward the sky and giving myself away over and over—

I have to tell you about the conversations, dreams, heart breaks, victories, and divine moments that filled my springs with hope, excitement, and building; years and years of building.

But there’s one more thing. If I’m going to tell you about spring, I have to tell you about one of the last days of winter. It was the day he asked if he could take me to dinner and hugged me for the first time. It was cloudy, we wore hoodies, and my head spun.

And I have to tell you that he followed up with that promise.

It was the night that I stopped at Gap, just at the top of the escalator, and bought a striped tee shirt dress after work, made it to my dorm room in record time, and saw one of my best friends sitting on my bed with a flat iron. The curls she put in my hair stayed even as I paced around the room, saying, “This is happening. I have a date tonight. This is really happening. Why am I just now freaking out about this?”

I’ll tell you that we walked downstairs to meet him, his eyes passed over the friends that had walked me to the front door like mothers. His eyes immediately found mine, and he just smiled. When we were finally out of ear shot, he said, “You look beautiful.” I heard my heels tap on the sidewalk and I smiled as he opened the car door for me. I caught a glimpse of my best friends looking out from the window just at the end of the sidewalk, and I wondered if the happiness in my heart was the thing they talk about in books and songs.

If I’m going to tell you about spring, I have to tell you about the restaurant we ate at and the way I giggled when he later told me that he could barely eat because he was so nervous.

I have to tell you about the moment we walked beneath the Nashville sky, and he slowed down just so he could call me his girl.

1 year ago.

And if I’m going to tell you about spring, I have to tell you that every story she has ushered in has taught my heart to boldly blossom emerge from the cold, cold winters. Spring has become a symbol of the growth of my being and reconciliation of my desires to its Creator as it meets the fullness of life by seeking wisdom, dreaming bigger, and moving unapologetically.

Now.

:: :: ::

Throughout the seasons, spring became an illustration of flourishing. As I broke my heart, ran hard, and sought Love even harder, my soul became restored. He reached out for me and beckoned me to grow, grow, grow.

Because when I think of the boy I fell in love with in autumn, I think of the way things changed in the spring— the way we grow with the blooming trees, and the way we do things completely beyond ourselves in the moments we choose to not be guided by ourselves.

I think of spring, and I think of the way he loves me when I feel unlovable. The ways that he has moved toward me and with me relentlessly. It’s like even when I want to fall in darkness and short days, he waits for me to come back. He meets me to show me the bright colors, the soft grass, the sun, and the life that is blossoming.

Our story is more than one season. In all my daydreams, I never could have penned that story before he changed my plans last spring.

I’ll still fall in love every autumn, but he’ll never leave me there because every dreamed I dreamed and prayer I prayed in the autumn blossomed in the spring. 

She is a place that has woven herself into my story so that I could grow, rebuild, and become transformed closer to who I’m meant to be. Let me nurture that season fearlessly and relentlessly as I fight to be the girl I was made to be. All my autumn plans and daydreams, let them flourish in the spring.

All the doubts, heartbreaks, victories— let them become real.

Remind me always: every plan I made in autumn came to life in the spring.

:: :: ::

Inspired by the friends who make me wanna love spring more, one year spent with a boy that loves me unconditionally, and the Father cares for me wonderfully so that I might grow, grow, grow.

Do you believe me when I say I believe in you?

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I tore him apart. As we drove on the dark asphalt winding through Nashville, I tore him apart at the name of my own insecurities — not only in and for my own life, but his as well. I had a list of things to say, and as I spoke each one and mentally checked it off, a lingering voice asked me if this is what grace and love look like.

I didn’t answer.

For miles, I voiced my own fears and pretended like they fit his convictions too— Do more. Don’t waste anything. Stop being still. Go somewhere. I told him how to live his life and be the person he’s been created to be. Do something. Do something.

The response was mostly silent, but he never let my hand go.

When we got to Richland Avenue, he walked me to the door and hugged me. He promised he loved me for at least the fifth time in our 25 mile trek, and my heart shattered. I thought back on the graceless words I said. I bit my lip and blinked away tears because he is so good even when I am not.

Sleep was easier to come by than I had anticipated, but when the sun finally arose the following morning, I didn’t know what to expect. I submitted to a cup of coffee and a brush of mascara as my mind ran wild with the possibilities the day would bring once I walked outside. I put on my floor length skirt, slid into my striped backpack, and I went.

:: :: ::

I didn’t say much to my roommate that afternoon. I came to my bed and put my nose in a book. Part of it was a reason to get my homework done. An even greater portion was an excuse to be in the quiet. Reading about Christian ethics that afternoon was a wall I built to keep from saying anything else that I’d regret later.

After she left, I set my alarm and stared at the green eyes on the taped picture beside my bed. I stayed there. Restless. Unsettled. Far from content. It was one of those moments where you just want to be with someone—to hear them and watch the way their eyes move when they’re searching for the thing to say.

I reached for my phone and typed. Let’s go on a coffee date. Like, a real one. Without textbook, a backpack, or a Mac. Just us.

I held my breath waiting for a response. How could he want to hang out with me after such a long drive the night before?

But he responded with 6 yeses, telling me he was ready right then to go.

I had to smile to myself as I turned off my alarm, tossed on my blue jeans, and reached for my car keys.

How could he want to hang out with me after such a long drive the night before?

:: :: ::

We stepped inside a simple, woodsy themed coffee shop— somewhere new we had never visited before. But, as usual, we went through our routine: he told me he’d buy my drink, I told him I could get it, he repeated himself, I asked if he was sure, and then he won. He’s the same, I thought. And soon enough, I followed him to a brown, leather couch tucked away in an alcove were he drank his coffee black, and I drank my salted caramel, feathered latte.

I don’t know how it happened. At some point— as our fingers traced maps and our eyes gazed at the art hanging on the walls— something came together in my heart. The words I have been mulling over all day made sense.

You are indispensable. You are valuable. You are exactly who God created you to be for a reason. Everything about you — from the color you want on the ties at your wedding, to the way you drink your coffee — has been given to specifically make you you. Your favorite song to play with guitar, your favorite person to talk to, your favorite thing to talk about. Every piece of you has been created in special, special places. 

You have been molded and crafted by this all-knowing Father, who knew that one day you would need to hear these words: you have a purpose.

I realized that the entire time I was telling him to use his gifts, he was. Even in the same moment those words ran through my mind, he already was. 

He loved me unconditionally. He thought intently before speaking. He didn’t raise his voice. His hand didn’t leave my side. He loved me in all my flaw and nastiness, void of judgement. He bought my coffee. He laughed at my stupid jokes. He guided me the parking lot we needed to be at. He looked around at this new coffee shop, and soaking it all in. He noticed the details.

“It looks like they burnt chains onto these tables. I thought that was just part of the wood, but it’s actually a burn mark. That’s pretty cool,” he said as we sipped from our mugs.

I didn’t even notice that, I admitted.

“Or those chairs— I bet I could make that. I would love to learn how to weld,” he said. He starting talking about welding and machines and I just watched him. Honestly, I can’t tell you anymore about welding now than I could then. But, I can tell you about how his face lit up. How I could see the thoughts of doing something new flash behind his eyes. I could hear in his voice the hope and curiosity. It was so good to hear.

But, he watched me too. He finished talking about welding chairs, and patted my knee. “It’s okay, I know that probably flew over you. It’s okay,” he smiled.

His eyes moved to the table outside our little alcove — the large one surrounded by 4 chairs. He stared at it for a moment before he said, “I want to make that table.”

I didn’t have to hesitate. “You could make that. I have complete, total confidence that you could make that table if you wanted to,” I promised him.

He looked at me, and I told him it would make a pretty sweet kitchen table and I’m sure we could find some wood at my parent’s house. I don’t think he expected me to say that. To my shame, I don’t know if he expected me to believe in him like that. That’s when it changed in my heart though. That’s when I realized I can’t tell him to be the person he isn’t designed to be. It’s also when I realized I can encourage him to completely, recklessly, relentlessly pursue the dreams the Father has placed on his heart, but I can’t decide what those dreams are. I can’t shape him like a plastic Ken doll. He was never mine in that way. And at some point — this day — I had to leave that idea, and I had to come face to face with the knowledge that he has so much more to offer than I can ever tell him. And even when it doesn’t make sense to me, he’s already living that out.

I forgot about the mug woven through my fingers as I glanced at the table, looked at the boy I shared this couch with, and repeated: seriously. You can do it.

And I believed it.

More than the waters.

 



We walked upstream, splashing over 100 rocks with every step. I watched as we stirred the clear water, causing clouds of dirt to rise to the surface. As we continued in the creek, stopping at a deeper hole for a dunk under water and dodging cow patty after cow patty, I had a place in mind that I wanted to go. I would ask them occasionally, “Are we going or stopping?” and each time they’d reply, “Keep going.”

After we passed the bend in the creek and kept left at the fork, I knew we were nearing the memory I envisioned. I remembered the way awe had felt in my heart and on my lips that day a year ago, and I knew I had to get these girls there. This time, I didn’t ask. I just decided we were going to keep walking.

We continued, and I worried we had missed it. “Surely not. Surely it’s impossible to miss something so beautiful, right?” I thought to myself, as if I hadn’t already passed at least 100 beautiful things during our walk. Finally, we neared a fallen log in the creek. I recognized the way the sun broke the shade and onto the water just on the other side, and I said to the girls, “We need to climb.”

Jumping onto dry rocks and pushing leafy limbs to the side, we passed the log. “Keep looking to the left. It has to be on the left.” Finally, as our eyes moved from the creek bed we walked on to the trees above us, we came to it. We met the clearing of the trees that revealed a bright green, towering pasture. The sun gave a shimmer to the waters around us, and we looked up towards the hill on our left. Through a narrow clearing in the trees, we could see the rolling pasture just beside us, and the blue sky that loomed over it. Living in a world of blues and greens, I immediately heard the girls bring a voice to the awe I been hiding in my heart.

As we stood watching the motionless, unchanging hill, one of the girls said, “I don’t think anyone could look at this and not believe that God made it.” And when the mother cow just up ahead continued moo-ing, and we squealed and giggled as the baby calf galloped across the pasture, I knew then that my previous memory of this place was not enough. I knew this was the kind of moment that deserved to be remembered. On the lines of a page stacked on the shelves of my library-heart, this moment rested.

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The next day I came to the bank of the same creek. As I read page after page about the promises of a God who loves me as much as the people in the book, I stopped. Closing the cover, I looked up at the gray sky overhead. I listened to the moving spring on my left and the trickling creek on my right. I sat and listened. And every ounce of pride I had– the same pride that claimed relentlessly the quiet doesn’t bother me– was broken. Shattering in the grass all around me, I thought, “How can You do this?

How can a God– the same one who mightily led His people to a place of restoration and security in the pages beside me– bring me here? He could throw fire on every tree and piece of dirt lining the bank. He could part every cloud in the sky and make the sun relentlessly beam down on me. He could stop the very movement of the waters, and move the same pasture I had seen only the day before. He could do anything with all He had created–

but instead, he called me here.

He called me to a place of peace when the very fibers of my heart began to strain under pressure. He called me to a place of silence after I had joked about hearing the sound of my own voice. He called me to be still after a week of pouring this big life He had given me into 60 junior high students. This God who could do anything or nothing at all had wanted me in this place.

Would you believe me if I told you this was hard for me? It’s hard for me to even reach my dirt-ridden hands out to this idea of being cared for out of choice. Passion-filled, desire-driven choice. Because here’s the thing: the spring doesn’t argue with Him. The spring doesn’t stop giving life to those who meet it. And the creek? She doesn’t stop moving. She doesn’t come to a place of complacency, but instead fearlessly moves. With the rippling of a gentle current, she does everything she was created to do without a doubt. She’s confident, she’s graceful, and she’s nothing less than what God told her to be when He spoke movement into her.

He could love this creek and spring more than me. He could look on these obeying, serving waters with more pride and awe than He looks on me. As I thought about this– I mean, as I downright arm wrestled this thought in my heart– I remembered the lilies of the field clothed in all their splendor and the birds of the air, and that resounding question, “Are you not much more valuable than they?” With all the dirt under my fingernails, the sweat on my brow, and the stubbornness in my heart, I let him win. I looked at those pieces of pride all around me, and I said over and over: He still loves me more than the graceful waters. He loves me more than the waters.

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The camp director I work for gave the staff a mid-week / mid-summer pep talk the other day. He told us to not get so caught up in sweeping that we forget to look up in awe at the fireworks just overhead. I went back to cabin and made bold the words in my journal, “Make a memory every day.” I started writing down all the big and small things I didn’t want to leave forgotten during the week. When it came to the part about meeting with God at the creek, I paused–

I left those shattered pieces of my pride beside the creek that day. I’m sure I’ll try and go back for a piece or two at some point, but for that day, it was enough to see them shimmer on the ground and know I did not need them. For that day, it was enough to know His promises. To know of His mighty strength and His infinite, unsurpassable love for my broken bones and me. It was enough to want to know that more and more everyday–

And underneath the bold words “Things I don’t want to forget,” I scribbled on the next empty line in my notebook: “The moment God promised He loves me more than the waters.