Dragon Skin

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Isn’t is funny how life just slips by and you kind of miss it?

It’s almost November. Meaning I’ll be home for Christmas break in a mere seven weeks. Wow.

To be honest, this semester’s been a tough one.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE college and life in Knoxville. I’ve made sweet new friendships and loved going deeper in relationships with wonderful people I met last year. The Lord has completely transformed my life since I set foot onto this campus a year and a half ago and this semester has been one full of laughter and adventure and learning (I am here to get an education after all) and amazing memories, but even in the midst of all this joy it’s been quite painful.

But it’s a sweet kind of pain. Not depression or homesickness or anything like that. It’s a growing pain, a changing pain. I’m growing, I’m changing. And with change comes a stripping away of things that once were.

One of my favorite stories of all time is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. Goodness, that man is a genius and there is never a time that I read his books that I don’t cry. I even bawled like a baby in the movie version of Dawn Treader. Like I was literally weeping in the middle of a crowded, family-filled theater. Awesome. Maybe it’s because I’m a sap but, to be truthful, I think it’s because the character of Aslan (if you don’t know who Aslan is seriously stop reading this post right now and at least go watch the movie if you aren’t up for reading the book) is the sweetest image of Jesus I’ve ever experienced. I love Aslan because he shows me what Jesus is like. So full of power yet so full of love. His eyes are burning with love. And all I can do is weep.

I promise the story will make sense in a few minutes, but I’m going to take a detour for a moment, so bear with me.

I was recently talking with a friend about what this blogging experience has been like for me and what a sweet blessing it has been to witness the kind and encouraging reactions of so many people I love. You wouldn’t believe the random phone calls, text messages and conversations I’ve had just because I decided to be brave and post my blog on facebook. It’s crazy.

But the thing I’ve learned most so far is that we’re all growing. We’re all hurting. We’re all dealing with things we shouldn’t have to deal with or that seem to hard to bear. We get frustrated, sad, discouraged and all the while there are moments when our hearts feel like they’re going to burst out of our chest with love for this wild life. We’re all trying to fight our way through and soak in life whether we’re sixteen or sixty-two. And we can all have room to grow.

And that’s something I’m really trying to learn now. I’m always going to be growing. I’m never going to reach perfection or accomplish everything only to sit around and think “what next?” And the craziest thing is, I’m never going to fully get my grasp on God. I’m never going to know every facet of his character or finally have him figured out. There’s always going to be more that I will learn about him. Like a long love story, just when I think I know him, he’ll show me something new and sweep me off my feet once again.

And the sweet thing is he’s never going to be through with me either.

Wow, just take a second and let that sink in.

The God of the universe is never going to grow bored or tired of me. He is never going to “move onto the next thing” just because I’m moving slowly or I’m not as shiny and perfect as the next person seems. And what a sweet truth that he never wants to leave me. He’s never willing to give up on me, even in the midst of my sin and my failures.

So this is where Mr. Lewis’ story comes full circle: The reason I love Dawn Treader so much is because of one scene in particular. In the story, the Pevensies’ rotten cousin Eustace (I’m sorry for those of you who have no idea who these characters are. Please to yourself a favor and look them up. You really won’t regret it!) gets dragged into the land of Narnia, gets into trouble and turns into a dragon. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but hang with me for just a minute. Eustace ultimately finds himself on an island where he encounters Aslan, the ruler of Narnia (also He’s a lion) who changes him back into a boy. Doesn’t sound like a big deal but I’m going to let Eustace’s words show you why this story rocks my world. Here we go (taken from Chapter Seven in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis- text found on readanybooks.net because I really didn’t want to type this out). It’s kind of long but keep reading- it’s so worth it:

“Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly towards me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it – if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”

“You mean it spoke?”

“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden – trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.

“I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells – like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

“But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

“Then the lion said” – but I don’t know if it spoke – “You will have to let me undress you.” I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.

“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – “

“Dressed you. With his paws?”

“Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”

Ahh I love it. Do you see it? Do you see Him?

I love this passage because I think it’s so easy for me to try to fix my sin myself, to peel off my scales and layers with my own hands, only to find they’ve just grown right back. I try to fix my sin or I try to stop myself from sinning only to fall into another sin. My sin manifests itself again and again. A continuous cycle. Because I’m trying to take care of it in my own strength. I’m trying to play God.

And because I’m silly and human, I, like Eustace, try and try again to peel my scales off on my own. Because I think maybe this time it’ll work. Maybe this time I’ll be able to change my habits, do the right thing, not screw up again. And I try and I try and guess what?

It doesn’t work.

A lot of times I want to fix my sin by getting advice from friends or starting a new eating plan or lose myself in advice from different blogs. But the only thing that is ever going to set me free is allowing Jesus to undress me, to take off my sinful skin and clothe me with a fresh flesh of righteousness.

And the other thing I love about this passage is that it’s painful. Getting free is never easy. Because it requires a death. We’re dying to what once was. We’re dying to who we used to be.

So often I’m too scared or too prideful to allow Jesus to work on me. I don’t fall on my face in desperation like my heart is screaming that I should. Instead, I sit in my chair at church or put on a smile around my friends and pretend I have it all together.

So often, but not today.

Here’s the thing, allowing Jesus to strip away my sin and my doubt is painful. Really, freaking painful. And scary. And it would be so much easier for me to just quench the voice of the Holy Spirit inside me who is saying that there’s something more. More freedom and joy to be had. More life.

It’d be easier to keep making excuses on why I never change, why I’m too busy to share the Gospel or invest my life in discipleship.

But are the excuses worth it? Is being stagnant and refusing the goodness of God really worth it?

HECK NO IT ISN’T.

Heck to the freaking no.

This morning at church when my pastor asked if anyone needed to come to the front and kneel before God and confess that they haven’t been trusting him, that they haven’t laid it all down, guess what I did?

I went and got on my knees.

In front of a bunch of people.

And I really, really didn’t want to.

So much so that I just sat there on the floor and cried.

And not a cute or pretty cry either. Just a cry of a broken girl confessing failure and a lack of trust to her Savior.

Because going to the front showed everyone in that room that I wasn’t perfect. That I wasn’t “where I should be”.

That I wasn’t enough. I couldn’t fix myself.

But that’s the thing about Jesus. That even though my pride could keep me glued to my seat, His grace for me and my thirst for freedom dragged my feet across the floor and brought me to my knees.

And I tell you these things, heck, I even write this blog because I want to get free. And I want YOU to get free. No, we’re never going to be perfect and even when we think we’ve finally got it all together, hard things are still going to happen. We’re still going to fight sin, whatever sin it may be, for the rest of our lives because we are broken and we live in a broken world.

But I don’t want to linger here in the way things are now. I want more for my life. And I really want more for you.

More freedom, more joy, more life.

We have the opportunity to say yes to freedom and life even in the midst of sin that leads to death. Jesus loved us so much that he heaped all our sin on himself so that we might get a taste of freedom and be welcomed into His Presence.

But getting this freedom and this real life comes with a price. It requires His peeling away, His fixing, not ours. It requires us being bold and confessing sin and allowing Jesus to give us a new skin, a new revelation of who He is.

And the pain is so worth it. Because as we get free, it invites others to get free. As we step boldly closer to Jesus, even if just one person took a tiny baby step towards him, the angels in heaven would rejoice. Not because of what we did, but because someone caught a glimpse of who He is.

So even in the uncomfortable and painful moments that break my pride and bring me to tears, I still come.

I still let Jesus peel away my layers again and again.

Because I am desperate for more of His Presence.

More life, more joy, more freedom.

More of who He is.

Until I am made new.

Until I look like Him.

The Waiting Game

You wanna know something I love?

Spoilers.

That’s right my friends, I’m one of those people.

Every single time I have a conversation with someone about the latest movie they’ve seen I beg them,

“Tell me what happens in the end!”

I went to see Gravity recently (which was fantastic by the way) and guess what I did before the movie?

I read the synopsis.

Because I wanted to be prepared.

And sometimes I wonder why the heck do I do this.

But you wanna know something I hate?

Waiting.

I can be a pretty patient person (especially on good days) but try to surprise me or keep me guessing about something and for some crazy reason it eats away at me.

I always want to know exactly what I can expect to happen. Every situation, every movie I see, every relationship, anything. You name it, I want to know what’s going to happen before I do it.

Because I want to be prepared and I want to be in control.

(Okay cool, so she’s just some overachieving, anxious person)

Well, maybe, but that’s not the point.

I think the truth is, I over-prepare, over-analyze, over-whatever because if I can prepare myself ahead of time, then I have control. I can brace myself for the shock or the pain or whatever is coming my way. I have control.

And I think this often overflows into my relationship with Jesus.

Last weekend, I was driving home to attend the Storyline conference in Nashville (which deserves its own post on another day) and when I’m in the car for long periods of time, I kind of do this thing. I car-worship, meaning I worship in my car. Like I actually worship. Music blasting in the speakers, singing at the top of my lungs, one arm raised (because I am a safe driver who keeps her attention on the road while singing my heart out to Jesus and, yes, I always keep my eyes open). And on my way home I was just doing my normal worshiping thing when, all of the sudden, my heart started singing a different song.

Well, actually it was screaming. A mean, ugly scream that said, “I WANT CONTROL!!!”

Out of the blue, as clear as day.

I. Want. Control.

Doesn’t really fit with the whole “you can have it all Jesus” mentality does it?

And while I was driving down the interstate I started thinking about how many times I have been tired of waiting and tried to take matters into my own hands. About how many times God’s timing just didn’t seem good enough.

And it was shocking to hear the own rattle of my heart sing a song that was so entirely different from the words that were playing through my speakers and coming out of my mouth.

Now I know just about everyone who identifies themselves as a Christian would openly confess that they believe that God has a plan for their life. I would even say that a lot of us know and like the verse of Jeremiah 29:11 that says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It’s on just about every Christian graduation card you can find. And I really, deeply love that verse. I one hundred percent believe that God is a good God who delights in me and wants to bless me with good things that will glorify his name. But you wanna know what I forget sometimes?

I’m not God.

Most of the time, I like to pretend that I am God, that I have plans for God to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future that centers around my ideal job, my ideal husband, children, home with a library and a garden and a dog running around the yard. A life that is centered around my comfort and my happiness and my plans. Me, me, me.

And that is one-hundred percent not how it works.

I don’t get to play God. I don’t get to tell God what I think he should and shouldn’t do, what he should give me and what he should take away from me, or how this whole life thing is actually going to work out.

Because I’m not God. And I honestly have no heck of an idea what I’m doing.

But I so desire to be in control that I kick and scream until I am blue in the face trying to get God to realize that I’m the one who should be planning this whole thing, right?

Right?

What would happen if I actually stopped trying to take control and let go so that God could carry out his plan?

What would happen if I actually trusted God to do what he says he will do?

But instead I wrestle, I pushing back, I run away.

And it just keeps me stifled, gasping for breath because if I only just stopped and allow God to be in control, I could finally breathe.

And not just breathe some stifling, musty air. Trusting God would feel like breathing that pure air you only find on top of a mountain. Hard and challenging on the climb up, but breathtakingly beautiful and clear at the top.

And God is always offering me that beauty, I just keep running away.

I think one of my favorite things about God is that He’s so not afraid of my arrogance. He doesn’t get intimidated when I think I know what I’m doing and try to take control. He probably thinks it’s kind of funny.

It’s probably like how my parents felt when I was little (or nineteen years old) and thought (think) I knew (know) everything. Do you ever think back to a time when you were little and literally thought you knew what you were talking about? Thought you were knowledgeable and mature? I don’t know about you, but I must have thought I was the most intelligent person in the world because I have so many of those memories that I can’t even count them.

And you know what?

They’re all embarrassing and funny memories because I seriously didn’t know anything.

How foolish do I seem when I try to talk about something I truly know nothing about? Pretty foolish.

And how foolish am I when I try to act like God when I know nothing about how to do that?

Super foolish.

I think it’s so scary to actually trust Him, to trust the Someone you can’t physically see, and say “Okay God, I trust you. I lay down all my plans in order for you to carry out yours.”

It sounds great in theory, but laying down control could come with a price. What if God takes away a loved one? What if my husband isn’t who I was hoping he would be? What if God sets me on a different career path? What if my body never looks the way I want it to? What if I have to give everything away? What if He doesn’t come through?

What if?

What if God is not who He says He is?

But what if He is?

What if He’s even better than I think He is?

Most of the time I believe that it’d just be easier for me to take matters into my own hands and make things happen now. Perfect body now, love of my life now, comfort and security and nice things now. And sometimes I think it’d be better just to shut down, to give up hope and stay stagnant the rest of my life. Because if I didn’t move towards God, if I didn’t move at all, there wouldn’t be any pain. I’d have nothing to lose.

But I really love the verses that follow Jeremiah 29:11 that say, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile (v. 12-14).”

Either I spend most of my time trying to play God and shape the course of my life the way I want it to go or I sit around and wait for God to plop all the good things He promised right into my lap. But the thing is, God doesn’t say either of those things are going to bring blessing.

He says I have to seek Him out.

The true sweetness comes in this season. The season of seeking and calling and praying. The season of trusting and the season of waiting. These moments in between the gifts are the moments that shape us. They’re the moments that bring us closer to the Father Heart of God. That strengthen our stories because we’re getting to know Him better.

If there were not seasons of waiting, I don’t know if I would really need God.

*Gasp*

Well, it’s true. If I thought God was  a slot machine that dished out a good gift every time I put a quarter in or a sugar daddy who just gave me my every wish without me having to lift a finger, I would completely miss the point. Sure, it’d be pretty cool to have everything without any effort but I really think that’s just a lie that our culture has taught us to believe.

The problem is, I want everything now. I want the fast food, snap-and-upload, fast-track version of the Christian life. No bumps in the road, no waiting, fasting, praying, just as much good stuff as fast as I can get it.

And if that was really how it worked, I would never have to trust Him.

But thank you Jesus that that’s not the way You work and even though it’s much more painful, the waiting process is the sweetest gift because it leaves me broken and empty if I’m not looking to You.

I know it’s hard because I really hate waiting too. I’m not good at it, you’re not good at it. I’m not even really good at trusting God. I’d much rather turn to my friends for affirmation and guidance than spend hours on my face talking to Jesus. I’d rather turn my brain to mush checking facebook and instagram than reading scripture or praying. It’s just easier to tune out and hope that God just likes me enough to give me what I want. It’s easier to expect the reward without having the sacrifice.

But man, what a waste.

We have to be willing to trust Him. To actually lay everything down. Because when we partner with Jesus and say yes to what He’s doing in our lives, even the things we weren’t expecting or the things we don’t understand in the present moment, we get to see fruit burst forth as we watch Him once again show up and do something fantastic. We get to watch Jesus say, “Look Mary Cate! Look at the fruit that waiting bore! You were obedient and look at how sweet this reward is!”

I think when we really wait and really trust what He’s doing, we get a fresh perspective on just how good He really is. We get to taste the sweetness of the waiting and the sweetness of plans and promises being fulfilled.

But I know it’s not easy. I know I’m probably going to spend most of my life fighting against my flesh to lay everything down at the feet of Jesus. Because it’s really scary.

It means I’m giving up control.

But you wanna know the sweetest part?

God has so much grace on me that He will again and again give me strength to battle it out against my desire for control and will again and again love me when I keep my hands sealed shut. Even when I can’t bring myself to lay everything down, He still provides me opportunities for small “yes’s”.

Once again He will give me a taste of the joy that comes when I give up control just so my hands will unclench just the smallest amount. Just so my grip will loosen just a little bit more.

Because He loves me and He really wants not only to give me good things, but for me to experience real and full life.

I think I’ll probably be breathless every time I think about that for the rest of my life. The fact that He loves me and doesn’t get tired of setting me free blows me away.

So, Jesus, you know I’m not good at waiting. You know I’m still scared to relinquish control. But you blow me away with your endless compassion. You love me again and again and you are STILL good to me even after all the times I have said no; even after all the things I’ve done, you still would climb right back on the cross and bare all the pain again just so that I could become more free. And because of that, I will again and again let go. I will again and again say that you are good and you know what you’re doing. Even when I’m afraid I will let go and lay everything down. And when I can’t muster up the courage to let go, I will have compassion on myself because you have compassion on me. Because of what you have done for me I will wait and I will trust you. I trust that you have good plans for my life, even when I can’t see what you’re doing. I trust that you are not a man that you would lie to me, your promises are good and true. I trust that you love me and want to partner with me to do a good work in my life. So Jesus, in these seasons of waiting for your promises, teach me to lean on you. To look for you. To seek and knock. Refine me in these waiting seasons. Let there be joy in the waiting. And let there just be more and more of you Jesus. You are good to me all the days of my life and I love you.

I love you Jesus.

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“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness!” Lamentations 3:22-23

Leaning In [To Community]

In my last post, I shared with both myself and you, my friends, the importance of leaning into Jesus. It’s vital that we learn to listen to the voice of Jesus and go to Him for our ultimate security because He’s good, He loves us and He is the only one who is never going to let us down.

And although Jesus is the only place we can go to for our true identity, He has given us a gift that makes walking with Him so incredibly joyful and rewarding.

It’s this little thing called community.

So what is community? Well, it’s really just living life with people who love you and love Jesus. In Acts 2:42-47, the early church teaches us how to live in community saying,

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Community is people-oriented. It’s messy and it’s funny and it’s life-giving. It’s the sweetest thing I’ve experienced besides a one-on-one relationship with the Living God.

While leaning into Jesus is most important, we cannot diminish the fact that we need to lean into community too.  The fact is, we’re not going to make it through this life as well if we don’t allow ourselves to be a part of the body of Christ. Jesus never asked us to do this alone. Even though he went off by himself to spend time with the Father (see Luke 5:16, Mark 1:35), He never shied away from community. Jesus spent his entire ministry pouring himself into his twelve disciples as well as anyone who came his way. Jesus was relational, first with God and then with people; therefore, we should be relational, with God and then with his people.

I live a life in community ultimately because I want to do what I see my Father doing.

I just want to look more like Him.

And so I have to allow myself to enter into community. Which can be tricky. Because community requires something I’m really not good at: vulnerability.

For so long I have wanted nothing more than to be perfect, to have it all together, to be the girl everyone admires and respects. But the truth is, I’m never going to be perfect. Because I struggle with this little thing called sin. And it’s ugly and messy and when I live in community with people I love, it’s very difficult to hide.

But here’s what I’ve learned: They still love me in spite of my sin.

WHAT?!

My. Friends. Still. Love. Me. In. Spite. Of. The. Fact. That. I’m. Not. Perfect.

Even if I’m dealing with some really hard stuff? Even when I get bitter or jealous or when I say something that hurts they’re feelings (because surprise! I’m not always super nice)?

Even then.

And sometimes it leaves me breathless because how could these people ever love me if they knew that I wasn’t as great or nice or fun or as whatever as the image I project?

But then I remember: They love me because they see Jesus in me. They see the potential. They see who I am becoming.

And they call that out of me.

I’ve always had really sweet friends. But before college, I felt like I was just trying to keep up. Trying to people please, trying to do all the right things and all the “good” things because all my friends were. I was trying to be as holy and nice and smart as my friends, which just left me feeling spent and resenting them because for some silly reason I actually thought they were perfect. And it killed me.

Seriously, I felt so much less alive before I let that go. Before I just let me friends actually love me and started loving them instead of trying to compete with them.

And you wanna know what changed that for me?

Jesus and community.

When I got to college I knew I wanted to find a church to be involved in, a place that I would be able to look back in four years and say, “Wow, God, you really did something in my life. I’m not who I was four years ago.”

And it took me a little while, but eventually the Lord blessed me with the sweetest family I could ever have the honor of walking with here in Knoxville.

I found a place that loved me, that encouraged me, that really saw me.

And it changed everything.

I’m not at all saying my community is the end-all-be-all. We’re just a group of imperfect people trying to follow Jesus and navigate this crazy life together. But man, it is SWEET. And people’s lives are being transformed. People are meeting the real Jesus. Getting free. Becoming alive.

All because we choose to press in to the hard places.

We choose to share our sin with one another, to ask for forgiveness and repent when it is needed. We allow ourselves to be teachable. We encourage one another to get in the Presence of God and see what He has to say before we seek the opinions of our friends for advice on a difficult situation. We share the good things we see in one another, we laugh and have fun and go on crazy adventures and celebrate birthdays and speak truth into each other’s lives.

And we also go out and meet the lost. The hurting. The broken.

I think so many of us are just waiting. Waiting for someone to notice us. To actually see us.

And so many of us don’t really know who we are. We’re lost and we’re looking in a lot of places that seem like they’re fulfilling, but are leaving us thirsty and alone when we lay our head on our pillow at night. And that’s miserable.

That’s not life.

Life is knowing who we are (not having it all figured out, but knowing we belong to the family of God and that we are created and loved by Jesus. That we are free from the bondage of sin and our lives have purpose). And I can attest to the fact that life is a lot easier when there are people walking beside you, reminding you of who you are and where you are going when you start to forget and always pointing you to Jesus, on really good days and really hard ones too.

This past year and a half of living in true community with my lifegroup (my small group/college ministry/family group) and even other friends who just really love Jesus has radically changed my life. It’s taught me how to love people and how to actually let others love me too. It’s taught me how to listen to God about my season and who I am and also to listen to what God is saying about other people. I’ve been challenged, I’ve laughed and cried, served and been served, encouraged and been encouraged, the list goes on. And the sweetest thing is that it’s just beginning. This community will grow and change, seasons will come and go, but Jesus will always be the focus. And even when it’s my season to go, I know there will be more community waiting in the next place. Because it’s always around us. We just have to be brave and seek it out.

If you don’t have people in your life that encourage you and point you to Jesus, my prayer for you is that you would first press into God and then go and seek it out. I feel like a lot of times I just want God to plop all these great gifts into my lap without having to work for them. But if we’re ever going to do this community thing, it requires getting to know people who are sometimes incredibly different from you, people who may be nothing like the friends you already have. And it requires being vulnerable, allowing people to actually know who you are and where you’ve been in life.

While I can’t promise it’ll be easy, or even really fun at first, or that your community will look anything at all like mine, I can promise that God is good. And He LOVES you. A lot. And the Bible says that God is a good Father who gives good gifts to his children (you and me). The Bible also says that if we ask for anything in Jesus’ Name we will get it (but don’t take that as God is going to give you billions of dollars and a perfect body- that’s not who He is).

So what you can do if you’re lacking community is you can pray. Start praying that God would bring people into your life who love Him and love you. Pray that God would give you chances to engage in a group of believers who do what the Bible says and who love people well.

And then you have to risk. Life isn’t going to happen as you sit alone in your room. Get plugged into a church. If you’re a student, find a college ministry you enjoy, or find an older believer to disciple you (meet with you and walk through life and faith together). Choose to surround yourself with people who are loving and forgiving, but who are also willing to challenge you and point you back to Jesus. I know it’s scary and uncomfortable and it won’t feel good for a while but consistency brings blessing. If you church hop or don’t even try to invest in one place, community is never going to form because you aren’t allowing yourself to really get known. Staying and investing in one group is going to bring blessing. So listen to God, let yourself risk and then grown and help others grow.

I know living life closely with people is never easy. I’m still pushed and challenged to go deeper all the time. And it feels a little like walking out in front of people without clothes on. Which no one ever wants. But what I really, really want is to be seen. To be known. I want growth, and therefore I press in. I allow myself to be uncomfortable to the sake of knowing Jesus deeper. It’s hard, but it is so so good.

So I challenge you to go and try this community thing. Be brave, press and watch your life get radically impacted by what Jesus does.

Love you guys.

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I could literally post photos for days, but here’s just a taste. These photos are of community in all different areas: my lifegroup, my adpi/byx friends, sweet friendships I’ve had for years, friendships that cross the borders of both states and continents, old friendships, new friendships. But here’s the sweetest thing: each friendship is centered on Jesus. And that, my friends is community.

Also, two of these photos belong to my friend Jeff Jones who does a way better job of capturing really sweet moments than I could ever do with my iphone camera. If you ever need someone to capture your special days and moments, he’s your guy. Check out his stuff at http://jeffjonesphoto.com/

Leaning In

I’m going to shoot you straight for a minute. Because I think we all need a little bit more honesty in our lives and, personally, I think it’s pretty refreshing to be told some truth (take my truth if you wish, this is just something I’m learning in this season).

Here’s the deal: Life is hard. Like really hard sometimes. Bone crushing, breathtakingly, painstakingly hard sometimes.

And it hits me from out of no where.

I’m a pretty joyful person. I can find something to be happy about almost ninety-nine percent of the time.

And then there are days like today. Moments like this one.

The funny thing is that nothing is wrong. My life is richly blessed. The sun is shining, I have a wonderful family, precious friends, etc. You catch my drift.

Then, out of nowhere, that evil monster of inadequacy attacks and I wasn’t prepared.

I just didn’t see it coming.

A glance at social media, a conversation that was taken the wrong way, small, insignificant things, and I’m blind-sighted by heart-gripping inadequacy.

And it sends me spiraling out of control.

I start to believe I’m not good enough, fun enough, beautiful enough, skinny enough, well-rounded enough, that my friends don’t really like me, no one will ever love me, all those happy thoughts I know you’ve though before too.

It’s crippling, isn’t it?

What the heck are we supposed to do when this happens?

When these feelings well up, when I start to believe the same lies I wage war against again and again, the only thing I know to do is to lean into Jesus.

Let me say it again: Lean. Into. Jesus.

That’s kind of hard right? Because Jesus isn’t exactly tangible. I can’t actually lean into his physical body, feel his arms embrace me in a hug, see him with my eyes.

But I’ve learned again and again, I sell myself short when I do not lean into Jesus, when I choose to lean into other things or other people.

I’m going to stop for a second and make sure it’s clear that I’m NOT saying things or people are bad: they’re great, but they’re not Jesus. I LOVE people. I have wonderful wonderful friends and I one hundred percent believe that we are called to live in community with others as we navigate this crazy life.

But most times I find myself running to my friends instead of Jesus, desperate for approval, internally pleading: affirm me, affirm me, affirm me.

And I’m crushed when they don’t acknowledge me like I want them to (which how would they know to anyways because I’m not mentioning the fact that I’m hurting, I’m just waiting for them to stop doing what they’re doing, turn to me and say, “Wow, Mary Cate, you are just so great. [insert more affirmation here]” Because their world should revolve around me feeling good about myself, right? Right?

Egocentrism at its finest.

Most of the time it’s easier for me to turn to my friends for approval than turn to the only person who approves of me every. single. time.

I then find myself in these situations, hurting and seeking affirmation from those around me, only to be hurt because they don’t notice me pain, affirm me, etc.

But guess what? That’s not their job.

I’m looking in the wrong place.

My real identity and affirmation comes from Jesus.

The truth is that I’m never going to be satisfied if I’m not going to Jesus first to hear what He has to say about me, my situation, my life, future, dreams.

And that’s scary.

But here’s what I know: Jesus LOVES me. He loves me, He loves me, He loves me. And He’s good. He’s really REALLY good.

So in these moments when life hurts, when we’re struggling to feel loved, important, noticed, I challenge you: Let’s lean into Jesus together. Let’s see what He has to say about us. It’s hard at first but once we take the time to quiet our hearts and really listen, we’re going to find that what He has to say is the sweetest and the most whole truth we can find. Our friends can’t provide it, the world certainly can’t provide it. It’s only going to come from Jesus.

This isn’t a magic formula or a chance to get the warm fuzzies from a fluffy god. Jesus doesn’t work like that. Yes, He is the kindest person that has ever walked this earth, but more importantly he is True. He even says about himself that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We can go to him looking for warm and feel-good things to make us feel better about ourselves, but He offers something better: He offers truth. REAL truth. About you, about me. And He already has a lot of that truth written down in the Bible. But what’s even sweeter is the fact that He offers individual truth if we’re really willing to lean in hard and listen.

In moments when I feel out of control because I’m believing a lie about myself, the only thing I know to do is get in a quiet place and ask the simple question: Jesus what do you think about me? And then I just have to listen and accept the truths He’s telling me. Even in moments when I can’t quiet my heart or go off to a secluded place to be with Jesus I can bring to mind things I know to be true about Jesus and things I know to be true about myself. I KNOW Jesus is a good God, He loves me and created me, He has a plan for my life, all of His plans are perfect (even when I don’t understand), and He knows my heart better than anyone else in this world. Sometimes I can’t even articulate my pain but I know that I can cry out to Jesus, saying “Jesus, I don’t even know what is going on but I need you! I need you Jesus!” And He comes. Because He’s good and He loves me. He always comes back for me. He’s never afraid of my mess. He is never afraid or ill prepared. He will always bend down and meet me in whatever situation I’m in.

Because He’s good and He loves me.

I also know some things about myself: I am fearfully and wonderfully made, The Lord’s works are wonderful, I know that full well (Psalm 118:24), Though I have seen trials, many and bitter, Jesus will restore my life one again (Psalm 71). I know I am a daughter of a King, I know my life has purpose and I am destined to live a life according to the Gospel. I know I am loved not only my the Creator God but by those He has placed in my life. I am secure in the love of Jesus. I don’t have to strive to be anything other than myself because God sees me as perfect and unblemished because of the blood of Jesus. I know I am saved because of what Jesus did. I know the hope that one day the world will be restored, that I get to spend all of eternity worshiping the one who is worthy of every ounce of honor and glory that ever was.

I am secure and loved in Jesus.

He sees me, He knows me, He loves me.

And He sees you and He knows you and He loves you.

He’s so good and so loving.

So in moments when we are seeking affirmation from the world, let’s stop. Let’s stop and turn our gaze back to Jesus and as that simple question:

Jesus, what do you have to say about me?

Be blessed my friends.

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A quiet moment just today when I had to stop and ask Jesus to remind me once again what he thinks about me. I’m so thankful for these sweet and painful moments that allow me to lean into Jesus. (Reading Psalm 57)

The Tension of Narrowing

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“I’m just so busy.”

I find myself repeating this phrase over and over again lately. Between tests and papers, spending time with friends, trying (key word trying) to exercise, staying involved in my church community and everything else in between I just find myself spread thin and exhausted as my head hits the pillow every night. And somehow in all my busyness, I never get everything done on my list. So where is my time going? What am I doing to make myself so worn out and stressed?

Striving, that’s what I’m doing.

Yesterday, as I was walking to the Starbucks library for my second cup of coffee (yes my second cup at 10:30 am because only one cup barely keeps my eyes open), I looked around and noted how tired everyone looked. Like really tired. We looked like a bunch of walking zombies. Some were sprawled out on the uncomfortable couches lining the hallways, others were propped up on their hand in a chair, still others were staring blankly at a computer screen or their text book. And I was alarmed.

What the heck is going on?

Trust me, I get the college thing. I’m living it. Staying up past midnight to cram in the homework that’s due or the test that is a few hours away, rising early to finish said homework, doing everything possible to stay awake during lecture, downing cup after cup of coffee (I’m on a role of three or four a day. Don’t worry Mom and Dad, I’m not addicted…), you know the drill.

All thing said, I just feel like I’m striving, and it’s not working.

I’m still not good enough.

Hmm… who told me that I wasn’t good enough? When did I start buying the lie that says what I’m doing isn’t enough; that I should always be doing more?

This is what I’m learning: that it’s alright to not do everything. I really don’t have to do everything.

But what about my resume? How am I going to get a job if I’m not involved?

As much as I hate it, this is the question that plays over and over in my mind. Here’s the crazy thing, I am involved. I’m a leader in both my sorority and my college ministry and am heavily invested in both. And still there is tension. It doesn’t feel like enough.

Every time I get asked about what I’m involved in at school, I cringe. Why? Because I’m always waiting for the person I’m chatting with to say “That’s it? That’s all you do?”

I’m afraid that it’s never going to be enough. I’m scared of the rejection from employers, friends, parents of friends, my future spouse, teachers, advisers, anyone. Because who could ever love me if I’m not doing everything I can, filling every day with activity, being the super woman my society has told me I have to be?

Perfect body, perfect resume, perfect time management, perfect attitude.

Striving, striving, striving.

And it’s getting to be too much.

If you’re in college, I know you feel it too. If you’re not, I know you probably still feel the same way as a mother, as an employee, as a human being.

But here’s the good news: I am enough. You are enough.

Whew. Say that a couple times: I. Am. Enough.

Since the world will not tell you, let me take a minute to encourage both you and myself.

Here’s the deal, doing everything comes with a price: there’s no way I can truly invest in something if I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to leave one meeting early to get to the next and trying to fill every second of every day. That’s not what we were created for. We were created for community and we were created for rest. So we can all just cut ourselves some slack and stop striving now.

Oh how I wish it was that easy.

As much as I wish I could tell you I have it all figured out in my wise, nineteen years of age, I don’t (shocker right?!). But what I do know is I can keep reminding myself that Jesus isn’t looking at how much I’m doing, he’s looking at my heart. Cheesy, whatever. But it’s true. He’s not looking at my resume. He’s really not going to care if I made an A in astronomy or was involved in fifteen different clubs and organizations, no matter how great they actually are.

Here’s what He’s going to want to know:

Did you love me? Did you love my people?

And I really don’t want to get to Heaven and say, “Well I tried Jesus, but I was just so busy...”

That thought literally stops me in my tracks.

I’m not telling you to stop doing what you’re doing. I don’t know your obligations as a student, a parent, a worker, but what I do know is that we can deeply invest in a few things so that we’re not so busy that we miss Jesus.

I don’t know about you but I really don’t want to miss Him.

So here’s what I’m doing in this season of life: I’m saying no. I’m learning to get things done ahead of time and making sure I rest. I’m choosing to invest in people who I really love and believe in. And I’m setting aside time to do things I really love, like write. Because if you didn’t know, writing is one thing that gets my blood pumping. It makes me feel alive.
It’s uncomfortable because it goes against everything I’ve been conditioned to believe. But it’s worth it. Narrowing my life will be worth it. Because as I slow down, I’ll have more opportunities to catch a glimpse of Jesus.It’s going to be good.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

This passage keeps popping up in my mind every time I find myself striving to do more. Oh Jesus, that being with you would just be enough. I love you, I love you, I love you.