The writing has slowed down.
You may or may not have noticed.
My summer in Clarkston is coming to a close and I feel like my heart has somehow decided to close itself, too.
No more, God. I’m done thinking. I’m done praying. Let me just stop and breathe for a minute.
I know life is meant to be filled with growth and change and learning. When any of those stop happening, we might as well be dead. Or so I’ve heard.
But growing and changing and learning sometimes hurts. And even though we’re told that we need to press on because it’ll be so worth it, that you can’t have gain without pain… well, I just don’t want to do that right now.
I don’t WANT to press forward with all I’ve got because it’s just super, super hard.
Doesn’t that sound so pathetic? But it’s the truth.
Right now I just want to sit. Forget carpe diem. Forget Paul’s running the race with endurance. Forget YOLO.
I want to curl up in my bed and sleep. Or stare at the wall and not even think about anything in particular. And then when I get up from my bed, I want to drink coffee, sit on the couch to stare at the wall some more, and ignore everyone who tries to talk to me. And maybe I’ll write some. But maybe I won’t.
Of course, my life right now doesn’t offer that “luxury”. I have a week left in Clarkston, and with being in Clarkston comes priorities and people relying on you. I can’t afford to just lie on the floor for hours on end (although I have been giving myself at least an hour of exactly that for the past few days). I can’t just “check out” and silence the world.
Life still happens, whether I want it to or not.
But what I have a say in is (and no, I’m not going to say any of that cheesy “you can choose your attitude” Pollyanna-esque stuff) whether or not I receive what is offered to me.
I know God wants me to grow. And change. And learn. He’s offering me things, I can tell. The doors are there. And stepping through one of those doors could mean the difference between wallowing in my self-pity and finding true freedom and joy.
But if I’m going to step through that door, I’m going to need to take my time. And I think He understands that. God is patient, you know.
He knows I’m not ignoring Him. He knows I’m not giving up. He sees my heart, how much it truly longs for Him and all the gifts He’s offering to me after all this time. It may be difficult to pray, but I still say hello. It may be tough to communicate with the world, but I still let myself be a friend to others. And it’s hard to call myself “happy”, but I know how to find joy in the little moments He brings.
It takes time for babies to learn to walk.
And I’m just a baby. I’ve been carefully putting one foot in front of the other for some time, but I haven’t let go of the ottoman just yet.
It’s okay, Jessie. You can do it. I won’t let you fall.
I know, Daddy. I’m getting there. I just need a minute.
I know I’ll get there. I know it because I have within me a spirit that is yearning for far too much to stand still for very long. It looks like I’m not doing anything right now (and you may be right), but what you don’t see is that every hour I spend in solace and silence makes my soul a very restless one indeed. And when the conditions looks a bit more favorable and I am able to get out of this bed, I will charge through that very same door I’ve been staring at for years. I know this because God loves me too much and I love God too much to stand still forever.
I’m not going to feel bad for not pursuing Jesus as hard as everyone else right now. I AM pursuing him, and HE is making up for the rest (and then some). This is not hide-and-seek or tag. This doesn’t even feel like a race.
No, this is a long and challenging stroll on the beach.
And as we’re walking hand-in-hand, looking out at the horizon, I sometimes get so overwhelmed that I just stop and have to take a minute to look down at the sand. It’s too much. But after a little bit of time, he lifts up my chin, gives me that understanding smile, and helps me take that next step. In some cases, he even carries me. And when I pass by people who are also struggling to take that next step, I’d like to take their hand and walk with them, too.
Before I know it, we’ll be at that boardwalk. That little speck in the distance that I thought (and still sometimes think) I could never reach.
And in that moment, I’ll know that it didn’t matter how long it took me or how many times I had to stop to catch my breath.
All that’ll matter is that I arrived and I didn’t let go of his hand.
Clarkston, Georgia is the epitome of diversity. If you ask me, it’s comparable to being at the airport, the Olympics, or a United Nations meeting. There are people from literally all across the globe. But the thing about Clarkston is that here you find people of all ages from all different countries living in the same CITY. In the same apartment complex, even. When I step outside of my apartment, I can run into a Nepali man in a colorful wrap skirt, an Iraqi woman wearing her burqa, a Somalian family piling into a worn-down sedan, and a swarm of barefoot Eritrean kids within just a few yards. This is Clarkston life.
Clarkston is this way because it was chosen a while ago to be the relocation center for millions of refugees coming into America. These refugees come from lives of chaos, danger, persecution, and rough conditions in countries such as Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Uganda. And they’re squeezed together into this one square mile south of Atlanta.
A lot of the refugees here aren’t fluent in English or even know the alphabet. They struggle to find jobs and pay rent. Homesickness is the least of their worries. They come here with nothing and are expected to thrive when the most they can do under this pressure and in their situation is simply SURVIVE.
I’m spending my summer in Clarkston (for the second time) because 1) these refugees need love, and 2) these refugees need Jesus. I’m working with an organization that strives to provide those two things in the form of ESL classes, summer camps for kids, gardening, prayer, and day-to-day conversations.
But not until today did it occur to me that they have something to offer me, as well.
This morning, my roommate Hannah and I stumbled across a scene we had never seen: an Iraqi woman with her young daughter, an Eritrean woman with her special needs son, and a Nepali woman with her infant… sitting on the same bench and conversing. We approached the three women and joined in on their conversation to the best of our ability. Do you know what they were talking about? How much our apartment complex stinks. They’re unhappy with the complex manager and how they’re treated. With kids in lap, through broken English and thick accents, they were engaging in a dialogue about these irritating and discouraging experiences.
And there was something beautiful about the way these three very different women were taking turns shaking their heads in disbelief, nodding in agreement, and sharing these burdens. Never mind the fact they come from various war-torn countries and different faiths and backgrounds. They just wanted to sit together and bond as next-door neighbors, as mothers.
In that moment I felt like I knew nothing.
I’m a not-even-twenty-year-old who has much to learn about independence, financial burdens, marriage, and raising a family. If I were to sit with two women of my choosing, it’d be women my own age who have no children, no real responsibility. Our greatest burdens would be choosing a major or dealing with our protective parents. And I don’t say that to talk down those burdens. I say that to show how much I have left to experience and learn.
Who am I to think that I’m here in Clarkston to solely teach and to change lives? No. I’m also here to have MY life changed by these refugees.
I don’t want to let my pride prevent real friendships from forming while I’m in Clarkston.
I want what those three women had: common ground forged in even the mundane trials of life.
I want to knock on that Iraqi woman’s door and ask her to show me the way of motherhood. How do you raise three children? How do you carve time for your marriage? When you’re a stay-at-home mom, do you struggle to find purpose?
I want to sit down with that Eritrean mom and hear her experience of having a special needs son. Were you scared? Are you still? How does it change you?
And then I want to spend time with the Nepali woman and her infant son and see how a love for a newborn grows from the start. What was it like when you first took him home from the hospital? What are your dreams for his life?
And then I’d ask them all about living. Not just living as a refugee, but day-to-day living. Is it hard to pray and pursue God in the busyness of life? Do you have unrealized dreams and how do you cope with that? How do you get stains out of clothing?
I know nothing. And these women know something. Instead of trying to teach, I think it’s time to learn.
And while doing that, perhaps I’ll be opening up doors for giving them the two things I still want to offer: love and Jesus.
I’ll keep you updated on how this goes. I’m nervous, but excited. Maybe I’m on the right track here.
I want to be blessed. I desire God’s favor upon my life. I don’t think that is a shameful desire in any way, and I believe God planted that desire in me.
But I have the hardest time figuring out how to get that blessing. A lot of the time I feel like I can earn it. Like maybe if I just do enough good things, God will grant me happiness and blessings. If I honor Him enough with my relationships, then maybe He’ll bless my relationships. If I do enough in my ministry, then maybe He’ll bless my ministry. If I seek him more and more, then maybe He’ll favor me.
Then there’s this passage in the book of Psalms that I can’t overlook.
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn. Indeed our shield belongs to the Lord, our king to the Holy One of Israel. (Psalm 89:15-18)
God, I want that to be me.
How do you learn to acclaim God? How do you walk in the light of His presence?
If this is what makes His children blessed, then I feel like these questions are worth finding an answer to.
I’ll just say here and now, though, that I don’t have the full answers.
What I know right now is this:
- Acclaiming God means to praise God
- Walking into the light implies walking out of darkness
Somehow we have to learn to praise God. Somehow we have to walk out of darkness and into His light.
Here’s what else I know:
- I have learned to praise God most through my difficulties and pain. I have learned to praise God in joyous times, as well. But it’s the dark times in my life and the overcoming of that darkness that has taught me what truly worshiping God and surrendering to God means.
- I have walked into the light most when I have finally bared my soul and let the darkness go. Not just to God, but to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I can walk in His light by releasing my innermost secrets and desires to God. But I have experienced many moments of shame-lifting, freeing intimacy with people, too. I have found light by first going through the darkest tunnels, whether hand-in-hand with a friend or alone with just the Spirit in my heart.
What I’m thinking is that perhaps blessings must come through difficulties and pain, through the hard stuff of life.
It takes trials to remind you of how powerful He is. It takes rock bottom to remind you that He is what you really need. Through our difficulties and pain we learn to acclaim and praise God.
It takes darkness to remind you that you need light. It takes painful soul-baring moments and conversations to assure you that you are not alone and living in light is a very real, freeing possibility. Through our difficulties and pain we learn to walk in His light.
First comes pain. Then comes gain.
Isn’t that a major concept of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? The Beatitudes, anyone?
Amidst the hard stuff of life, we receive blessing.
And what is this blessing we receive?
Maybe it’s the next part of that passage. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn. Indeed our shield belongs to the Lord…
The blessings are:
- joy in His name
- celebration for His righteousness
- glory and strength of God
- our horn (our power and strength)
- our shield (our protection)
It all just sounds so wonderful. I can’t even comprehend what fully receiving those blessings would look like because here on earth everything just seems so pitiful compared to the beauty and glory in heaven.
The joy we feel now is not even close to the joy in heaven. The celebrations we have here are nothing like the celebrations in His kingdom. The glory and strength of God can only be glimpsed so much through our tiny human eyes and brains. And the horn and shield, Him being our power and protection, is a whole other concept I think we are far from fully comprehending.
These blessings of God are being unlocked here. I do know this to be true.
But there’s so much more we have yet to uncover. There’s still more praising and walking in light to be done.
And hard stuff must come.
So let’s get ready. Expect the suffering and the blessing because they’re both coming.
I’m sure some of you wouldn’t be too surprised upon hearing that I love to journal. Just about every day for the past four years, I’ve been writing down my thoughts, feelings, prayers, and accounts of my life in journals of all shapes and sizes. These are my sacred writings; I don’t dare show anyone what I dutifully write. But every now and then I find myself writing things that seem like they ought to be shared. Today is one of those days. I hope you are encouraged as I was just a moment ago when I found these words my hands and heart collectively turned into a declaration of hope.
May 6, 2014
“Therefore we do not lost heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)
Lord, I want to live with faith in this verse. I want to believe that my momentary troubles are achieving an eternal glory for me. It’s hard because I can’t see that glory in whole, but maybe I am being shown glimpses. Maybe part of the eternal glory is the tears and smiles of friendship bonded by wounds and struggles. Maybe it’s also found in the relief and rest that comes from being beautifully flawed and wonderfully accepted by another. Maybe that glory is also found in the cry of my heart to fix the pain of this world. Maybe it’s in the daily renewal of my heart and the way I’m still hungry for you each morning after all this time. The beautiful things of this world scream of you and of your grace. Would I have or appreciate any of these things without the momentary troubles or grievances?
And the best part is that these things don’t even come close to the true eternal glory only found in heaven. We’ve only just peeked at the surface of it all. If I can make it through today and the next day and then the day after that, then perhaps I really can make it to that eternal glory. Day by day you renew me and give me just the right ounce of strength to press on in this fight and messy life. I’m looking forward to the eternal glory, but the stuff that leads up to it is not a waste. There’s no need to lose heart when you’re gently leading me there. You are achieving that glory for me. You are truly a good, loving Father.