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Words of Love

“Christ would still die for you. Even if you were the only one.”

Yeah, I know. I do. Your reminder is exactly what I need right now. Because sometimes, recently, I have not been able to fully believe that. So thank you. I’m glad you said that—glad you care enough to make sure I know that. But I do know. In fact, I have said those words to anyone and everyone I think needed to hear them. I’ve drilled them into the heads of my Quizzers, my Sunday small group teens, and my friends. And I can quote all of them and then some. I memorized every word Christ ever said as He walked this earth– every word He said as He died for me. I memorized every time Paul or John or whoever else reemphasized this point as they wrote to broken people—some people who, like me, may not always truly and fully believe these words. And I think that may be the problem.

“Thanks,” I replied almost silently, without even moving my mouth. (A fun party trick I learned from my 7 years of Quizzing. Because no one has time to move their mouth when they are trying to quote every word Jesus ever said in 20 seconds or less.)

You probably didn’t even notice that I said thanks. But I did. And I meant it. Because my ability to quote these words means nothing if I don’t believe them. And I don’t know how much I believe them right now. Because right now, at this moment, I’ve been struggling to believe them. Because I know them. I understand them—I always have. To me, the words of Christ, or Paul, or John, or Moses—the words of God– have never been shrouded in mystery and difficult to understand. They’ve always been easy to understand. At least on the surface. I comprehend them. What I haven’t really done, until recently, is really feel them. And that is my problem—I now feel them.

I reached out and gladly accepted the hug. Because actions speak louder than words. And hugs speak louder than, well, just about everything. And I couldn’t say anything because I was afraid that if I did, I’d start to cry. In fact, I almost did. (Which, to be fair, has been happening a lot recently. Between college, whatever feelings I’ve been trying to sort out, and my medicine that’s supposed to help me regulate my emotions but also seems to make them go all over, I have that feeling a lot.) But had that hug lingered even a millisecond longer, I probably would have.

“I don’t want to pry. I just thought you needed to hear that. Give you some encouragement.”

No, pry. Please. Make me talk about it. Because I don’t exactly know what to say. I don’t exactly know how to describe what the heck I’m thinking—what I’m feeling. I can’t put it into words. But you would know. Something tells me you’d understand. Because if there is anything you’d understand, it’s confusion. It’s overwhelming, indescribable emotion. So please pry. Because I think I need someone to. And you—you’re comfortable. You’re safe. You’re someone who’d get me. Maybe because you remind me a lot of me. Or maybe because, low key, I wish I could be like you when I grow up. You’re a friend I never thought I’d actually have, or get to call my friend. And you’d have the words because you know the Word—probably, definitely, better than I do.

“Thanks. And no, it’s ok to pry. It’s just… I…”

It’s just that I don’t know. I’m feeling so much. And it’s hard to sort out what feelings are due to college being college, what are due to my medicine messing with my head, and what’s due to the actual issue. Because the actual issue is that I’m finally feeling all the words I’ve memorized and known throughout my life. And I don’t know what to make of that. Because I don’t know how to handle the fact that “God is love,” and that “He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Because I don’t deserve that, and I don’t know how to feel about that. I don’t know how to deal with the fact that Love loved me enough to die for me despite the fact that I am a sinner who, no matter how hard I try, can never get it right. I don’t know how to cope with Love’s broken heart, with the fact that I broke it, with the fact that He’d do it again—even if I was the only one–and with the fact that He still wants to heal my broken heart. That’s a Love that I honestly can never understand. The more I study Love, the more I know and the less I understand. Which is what makes Love beautiful. But also frustrating. Love can never be fully comprehended—not by my finite human mind. And I’m not sure I know how to handle that.

“College. Life.”

“Yeah, that’s…yeah.”

Yeah. College. The part of life where I am supposed to be figuring out what I’m doing with my life but the part where no one actually knows. And the part of my life where I realize I’m graduating next year and I am further from figuring out my life than I was when I started. Because every time I think I might have an idea, I find something, some reason, I can’t. But, I also can’t because I’m realizing that nothing I could do could compare to what Love did. And Love really just wants me—my love, my life, my all. But that all still feels so inadequate. And so, I live my life in awe that Love would die for me without expecting my perfection. And I live my life in humble admiration that Love died for me just so He could have me—so I could have Love. I live my life reminded that though “for from dust you are and to dust you will return,” Love reaches out His hands that were pierced for me and picks me up from the ashes where I so rightfully belong. I live my life trying so hard to give Love my love, my fear, my reverence, my talents, and my everything. And I finally feel these words I’ve spent years memorizing. Which leaves me feeling humbled, in awe, inadequate, amazed, appreciative, Loved, fearful, and a bit confused.

“I think you’re putting on a brave face. But you’re dealing with something. And He’ll make beauty from the ashes”

Well, yeah. I’m putting on a brave face because, right now, that’s all I can do. All I can do to keep from crying, or pouring my soul and my confusion and my pain out to a random stranger in the library. I’m dealing with something because I’m dealing with something I can’t even explain. And I’m dealing with the fact that He’ll make beauty from my ashes. Because, I hear that all the time– those stories are everywhere. Heck, you want to talk about really making beauty from ashes, talk to my sister. Now that’s a real beauty from ashes story. But really, what I’m dealing with is the fact that I don’t actually know how to walk away from my ashes. Because I don’t deserve that. Which is how Love’s grace works—it can’t be earned, it isn’t ever fully deserved. But that’s how Love is. And I’ve read the Words. I know that it is a story of grace and Love. But I now feel the story. I’ve been feeling how much I am Israel. I constantly ignore Love. I reject Him. I put other things first—I make other things my god. I’m realizing we all do. And I’m suddenly overwhelmed because, despite all that, despite how often I lose faith and start to sink, Love still reaches out to save me again and again. And that’s indescribably amazing and beautiful. And I can’t understand why, so I just accept that it is—that Love is—and try my best to show Love, and to show Love that I do want Love. But some days, it’s harder to accept than others. And sometimes, more often than not, that type of Love is so indescribable that it hurts.

“Love you”

Thank you. Seriously, thank you. For the reminder. For the encouragement. For caring. For noticing that maybe I needed the encouragement. Because I am not even sure I recognized that I needed it until you gave it. And I love you too. I am so thankful to Love that He allowed me the opportunity to meet you. Because I joke about how I want to be you when I grow up. But in all seriousness, I’d love to be like you. I’d love to have your passion, your gift for encouragement, your warm hugs, your sass. And I’d love to have your wisdom. So, thank you for the encouragement, and for being a friend, and for giving me a hug. And right now, I’m going to give you another hug because that’s all I can do. If I say anything, I’ll probably cry. And I can’t do that here, not now.

“So, when are you coming back?”

And okay, I know it’s not actually up to me. And you would if you could. But, also, when are you coming back because I miss your classes. Because they were the places where I first truly discovered the Word come to life—where I first began feeling the Words I’d memorized. They are the places where this all began. When are you coming back because I miss your passion, your smile, your sass, and your light. When are you coming back because this—this moment right here—I wish it could stay like this forever. And I need more of these. When are you coming back because we all need you—or someone like you—in our lives. And so many others’ lives have been impacted by you. Because I, we, love you. And Love loves you. You helped show me, briefly, at a glance, Love. And, I’m sure you know this, but I want to remind you anyway since you reminded me.

“God is. I don’t know what He is, but I know that He is.”

God is a lot of things. He is good (although maybe not what we think “good” is). He is just. He is the beginning, He’s the end. He’s omnipresent, omniscient, and an all-consuming fire. He is I Am. He is the bread of life, the light of the world, the Messiah. He’s indescribable and unchanging. He is life. He is Love.

There were a lot of things I wanted to say but couldn’t and a lot of things I should have said but didn’t. But sometimes, words are hard. And sometimes, the Words of Love can be even harder. And sometimes it takes words of love to help you understand what love is and who Love is. But, man, am I grateful for all kinds of words of love, and for those who love, because sometimes, that’s what I need to truly understand Love. (And sometimes, actually most of the time, the hugs help too.)

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The Christ of the Church

This was not the blog post I wanted to write. It’s not the one I had half finished and was going to post today, but I think that this is the one I had to post. I had to write this because, right now, I have to say some things. This may be risky, and it may ruffle some feathers, but I’m sorry– it’s too important (and I’m too mad about it) not to post.

Actually, you know what? I take that back– I’m not sorry and I don’t apologize. So, here I am, speaking my heart, despite the repercussions. Because we need to talk about the church for a minute.

Recently, I thought about walking away– not from church altogether, just from my church– the place I had grown up. Something was missing, and I didn’t know what it was, but I could tell it was something I wanted. I have since discovered that it was passion, vision, and most importantly, truth. My church has recently undergone changes, and now, I have seen this passion, vision, and truth more than ever.

Recently, my sister wrote a post similar to the one I’m about to write. For those who are unaware, my sister has a powerful testimony. (which you should read about by reading her other posts). It’s filled with tragedy, bumpy roads, thunderstorms, and dark tunnels, but it’s also filled with hope, light, and strength. But throughout all of this, the place she felt the least welcome was the place that she should have felt the most welcome– church. She didn’t feel at home at the place where she met Jesus for the first time.

Because this Jesus she met here, and the Jesus a lot of people meet at church, is not the real Jesus. It is not the Jesus found in the pages of the Bible that our pastors preach on. It’s not the one whose words we read (or memorize). It’s a Jesus that’s sugarcoated, misquoted, and misunderstood.

Because here’s the truth. Here is the thing I commented on my sister’s recent Facebook status about her anxiety and recent struggles and about how thankful she is that God meets her where she is– brokenness and all.

My favorite Bible stories (besides all the other ones) are the ones where Christ, once made human form to meet us, ate with tax collectors, sinners, and broken people. Because that’s who He came for. The Pharisees (or, comparatively the church), thought He was crazy and shouldn’t associate with those people because they weren’t perfect. But, Christ actually wants our brokenness and not our perfection. He doesn’t want the whitewashed walls— He wants the sinful woman pouring perfume on His feet and the criminal hanging next to Him on the cross. He wants the doubter who says “God, are you even real?” Because He wants to say, “Yeah. Here are My hands that were pierced for you,” as He stretches out His hands so you can feel His wrists. And if you still don’t believe Him, He wants to walk on the waves toward you and say “come to me”. And once you do, and you start to sink, He says “Why do you doubt?” as He reaches out His hands to save you– even if you continue to sink over and over and over and over again. Because Christ can calm the storm, but only if you ask Him. He’ll raise His hands, pierced for you, and say “Be still!” But, He never once says “heal yourself,” because those who are already perfect have no need for Him. Let’s be honest, anyone who says “I’m too good for Jesus and I don’t need Him,” is lying. And anyone who says that anyone else is “too broken” for Christ doesn’t understand the true nature of Christ.”

And so, here is my thing, the whole reason I’m even writing this post. Too often, our churches claim to be Jesus’ disciples, and yet act like the Pharisees. We claim to know it all and don’t let the outside world see our brokenness for fear that it will somehow make our Jesus less attractive. But, if we really want to be Jesus’ disciples, we would be doing exactly what Jesus Himself did and associating with the broken, sinful, “messed up” people, while admitting that we ourselves are broken, sinful, and messed up. If we want to make Jesus attractive, we would preach a Jesus who meets us where we’re at– brokenness and all. We would claim that we need Jesus as much as everyone else. Church should be a place where people can show up with their messy lives and find a place where that mess can be embraced and peace can be found.

And here is where I ruffle some feathers (if I haven’t already), and where I also share a little bit of a personal update.

I don’t have any idea what the heck I want to do with my life (as anyone who knows me or has read any of my recent posts could easily tell you). But, recently, I’ve had a lot of people tell me the same thing. I’ve had my parents, my sister, my pastors, my fellow Quiz coaches, and my friends tell me that I’m going to be a youth pastor. And, in all honesty, the idea of that has grown on me, and it is something I have seriously considered. But, the more I think about, the more I’m torn, because the more I don’t think I can do that. I can’t do that.

I’m not saying I can’t do that because I’m not able to, or because I don’t have the gifts or the passion or the desire to. I mean, there are definitely some things I could say to convince myself, and others, that those things are true. But, that’s not the real reason I can’t do it.

I can’t do it because I can’t stand up and teach a generation of people who don’t feel the church accepts, values, or wants to listen to them because they are too young, messed up, broken, confused, doubtful, or whatever. I can’t teach them how much God loves them just to see them struggling but too scared to say it because they feel they are “too broken” to accept God’s love– too broken for Christ to even want them. I can’t watch them be afraid to be honest because they feel that church is not the place for doubts and that if they don’t answer the questions with the “right” answers they are somehow failing at being a Christian. I can’t help them learn that they are not failing, nor are they “too broken” for Christ and help them accept Him and come to Him as they are, just to watch them graduate and get forgotten about. Just to watch them enter a church that is so focused on helping children and teens find Christ and helping adults continue to live like Him, that they forget that college students and young adults need Him too, but they feel too out of place to know where to go to keep finding Him. They aren’t children, but they aren’t really treated like adults, so they are forgotten about in the most critical time of their life simply because the church doesn’t know what to do with them. I can’t watch them enter that church, then walk away because they feel lost and abandoned, like everything they were taught was a lie since they no longer feel that they have a place. I can’t work for a place that acts like we have it all figured out. I can’t stand up and pretend I have my life figured out and nothing is wrong while I know that not a single person leads a life like that. I can’t work for a place that, once I do admit my life is not figured out, has the tendency to say “you can’t be a leader if you have flaws because you’re supposed to have it all together if you want to lead– especially if you want to lead our young, vulnerable members.” I can’t be a youth pastor because so often our youth pastors are not taken seriously enough. Too often, they are viewed as “Junior pastors,” people who took that job so that they could get their foot in the door and hopefully, eventually get a job as a “real,” “adult” pastor. Their ideas are brushed aside and their passions are stepped on, because we trust them to lead our youth, but only if they do it within the system that has been in place for so long but has stopped working years ago. I can’t enter a system like that– a system that, at times, can be so messed up it misses the point of the gospel it preaches. A system that embraces change until it goes against their traditions and then they resist it and allow it to cause drama and tension and awkwardness. I don’t want to continue to encourage that atmosphere and I can’t help young people who love God so much love Him more just to enter a church as an adult and have to deal with all that. Quite honestly, I don’t want to watch them get the same shock I had with all this change going on and discover that there is more tension in the church than love and acceptance. I don’t want them to grow up and find out that the Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus that is preached, is not the Jesus that is practiced.

Today in Sunday school, we asked the teens what Paul would say if he were to write a letter to our church. We were speaking specifically of our one church, but I think the answer works for the entire church body as a whole. Some of the things they said were honest and difficult, but I compiled them, and added a few words of my own:

Dear church,

Can you stop being so stubborn? Stop being so stuck in your own traditions and ideas that you neglect to recognize that not all change is bad, and sometimes, it is necessary. Stop treating kids like they are “too young” to be important, teenagers like they are “not mature enough” to make an impact, young adults and college students that they are “not old enough” or “properly educated” to have any good ideas or wisdom to impart. Don’t forget about your “young” members just because they are young. You don’t like the direction the future generations are going, and yet, you don’t let them find direction in the church. Stop being so judgmental and self-centered. Allow people to bring their brokenness, messiness, and sin inside your doors and be a place where they are free to talk about it without judgement and with love. Go back to the Word and find out what it really says and follow it– even if it doesn’t say what you want it to. You can’t change the gospel to meet your needs and justify your actions. You have to learn what it says so you can better imitate the Christ within its pages. Because the Christ you preach is not the Christ you practice.

And I’m glad that my church has people with a passion. A Pastor who isn’t afraid to share hard truths and call us all, including himself, on our crap. And I’m glad we have a pastor whose passion is for those of us who are “in between.” Who are old enough to make decisions about their own life but not old enough to have others we need to make decisions for. I’m glad we have pastors who are willing to fight for the truth regardless of the tensions or anger it may cause. I’m glad we have pastors who try their hardest to practice the Christ they preach. I’m not sure about the other churches, but I hope they do too. Because look, if you ever even want a chance of me entering into that system then the church as a whole has got to stop being hypocrites and resisting all the hard truths because they are uncomfortable. Because quite honestly, I’m tired of it, and it makes me a little angry. And if we ever want to reach those who are unreached, we have to start preaching, and most importantly, practicing, the Christ of the Bible.

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Major Life Update 

I’ve always been a stubborn person with a “fight through it” attitude and a strong intention to follow through with everything I commit to. I remember when I was little, my parents would put a baby gate in front of the staircase. And I, being the stubborn and determined child I was, would promptly push it out of the way and climb up the stairs. Then, I would sit at the top whining because I couldn’t get down. I’d wait for someone to come get me, and then proceed to do it again, all the while knowing I couldn’t get down by myself, but totally not caring because I just wanted to prove I could get up the stairs. And I was too stubborn to stop crawling up them just because I couldn’t get down them.

My life has been a lot like this. I’ve climbed mountains, gotten to the top, realized that I probably shouldn’t have climbed the mountain, but had no idea how to get down. Except now that I’m older, I’m too stubborn to ask for help getting down. Because if I climbed the mountain alone, I should be able to get down it alone. But sometimes, I know the way down, I just need someone to give me a little push. And recently, I was given a push down my newest mountain.

When I began this semester, I was signed up for 18 class credits, two of which were sciences, and one of which included Organic Chemistry, arguably the most difficult of all the sciences. And, somewhere along the way, I ended up committing to between 12 and 18 hours of work a week. Plus, I coach Bible Quizzing and agreed to be an assistant teacher in the 7th grade girls Sunday School class at my church. And of course, I have various clubs, social activities, chapel requirements, etc, that I must attend to as a college student. (A post about that can be read here.)

This has always been my mountain in life– my desire to do it all. I so badly want to do everything. I want to get a degree in Chemistry, coach Quizzing, work, teach Sunday School, participate in clubs, volunteer around campus, help my friends out, and sleep. But guys, the biggest thing I’m learning in life, is that I just can’t do it all. I have to say no to good things because I need to leave myself free time for the best things. But, because I’m stubborn, I decided to give this 18 credit hours piled on top of 16 hours of work mixed with hours of everything else thing a chance.

It wasn’t terrible for a while. I managed to get most of my work done and still get mostly enough sleep. But, I can only survive on 5 or less hours of sleep a night for so long before I crack. The more I got into the semester, the more miserable I got. I was sitting in the lounge of my dorm one night, alternating between my physics and organic homework, and I was miserable. Really miserable. I had never felt this miserable, and I didn’t even think I ever could feel this miserable doing something I loved. Days later, I cracked. I called my dad at 12:15 in the morning in tears. “I’m dropping out of college, just to let you know,” I said, tears streaming down my face. My dad listened, despite the fact that he himself was exhausted, and he provided support and fatherly love. After he told me not to be ridiculous for trying to drop out of college.

The internal conflict I had been having for a while mixed with all the stress finally built up to an unbearable amount. After some of my gen ed classes last semester, I discovered I had a passion for God’s Word greater than the one I already knew I had, and I knew God was calling me to do something about it. But, I wasn’t going to change my major because I still loved chemistry so much. So, I did what I thought would satisfy the passion I had and the desire I could feel God calling me to: I added a Biblical studies minor. As a result, I added an extra class, bringing me to 18 credits a semester.

And I said, “it’s fine,” everyday, while trying to convince myself it was, in fact, fine. But, in case you haven’t figured out by now, it most certainly was not fine. Which is why I called my dad in tears and told him I was dropping out of college.

One terrible day and dinner visit home later, and I felt so much better. I felt peaceful, like the largest weight in the world had been lifted off my shoulders. Which brings me to the purpose of this post– my major life update. This update is actually two-fold. First, I decided I had to give something up. I can’t do it all, as much as I want to. As much as I love it all and struggle to say no to things, especially things I’ve already committed to, something had to give.

I was talking to my parents about what could go. My dad said, “were you anyone else, I’d tell you to drop Sunday School or Quizzing…”

“NO!” I exclaimed, before he was even able to finish his thought.

He explained how he would have told me to give those up, but he can’t because I have to do those things. I belong there, I’m doing good things, God’s working through me, etc. So, I couldn’t give up on those. And my work schedule had already begun to decrease, and it would continue to decrease. Nonetheless, something else had to go. Which left a class. But here’s the thing– I didn’t want to give one of those up either. Because, first of all, why should my academics be the thing that gets pushed aside? And secondly, dropping a class at this point in the semester seemed useless. Plus, I’d always been a “smart” kid, and dropping a class kind of made me feel like I was a failure. (But guys, dropping a class does not make you a failure. You do what is necessary for your sanity.)

I finally came to the realization that the best way to solve my problem would be to drop Physics. Here’s the thing– Physics is not that difficult of a class. In fact, it may be the easiest of the sciences I’ll ever have to take. But, I don’t have time to put into it, and I was already behind and struggling, and my other classes, particularly Organic, were suffering because of it. So, I set up a meeting with my adviser to get his approval and dropped Physics.

Which leads me to part two of my major life update. While discussing my life with my parents, they asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I froze and realized I have no idea. My friend asked me the other day what I saw myself doing in the future, and I didn’t know how to respond then either. My parents brought up the fact that I like to do it all. I enjoy a lot of things. I love science, math, English, Scripture, history, and most of all, learning. My dad said “I could see you doing a lot of things. I could see you working a job, or being a Pastor (as if being a Pastor isn’t a job).” And the more I thought about it, the more I realized, there are so many things in life I could be happy doing. I’d be happy working in a lab, working at a church, travelling the world doing who knows what, or even teaching. And, to be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure that I’ll know what I want to do until I am doing it.

So, here’s the exciting part of my news– I’m seriously, seriously, considering changing my major. In fact, I’ve done everything but fill out the official paperwork. I’ve told my parents (well, actually, they told me), I’ve told my friends, I’ve mentioned it to my adviser, and now, I’m telling all of you.

Some of you will be disappointed to hear that I’m switching from Chemistry. Because those of you who’ve known me a long time know I love Chemistry. Others will be disappointed to find out that I am not switching to Biblical Studies. Because anyone who’s seen me at Quizzing or talked to me in the past year would know that I have a burning passion for that too. But, instead, I’m still trying to do it all. I’m switching to Cross Disciplinary studies.

I have not yet decided exactly what 3 areas I’ll be exploring. My main area will either be Chemistry or General Science (probably whichever one I’m closer to completing at this point), with one of my other concentrations being Biblical Studies. As far as the third area goes, I’m torn between math and English. Being my sister’s sister and grandfather’s granddaughter, I love English (and math). I love writing and reading various types of literature, but I am also only one class away from completing math (in fact, if I continued with my Chemistry degree, than I could easily get a math minor with one simple 300-level math class).

So, basically, I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no idea what I”m doing with my degree, or my life. But, it’s fine. And I mean it this time, because I’ve got God on my team, and God, being my homeboy and all, knows exactly what He’s doing.

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Hands

Recently, my grandfather had carpal tunnel surgery. Which, as an aspiring scientist and amateur writer, got me thinking a lot about hands. So, naturally, I did two things– I looked up how the procedure was done, and I began writing this post. Once I figured out how the surgery was done and reassured myself that it was a relatively minor procedure, I began to figure out how to write this. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t completely sure where I wanted this post to go. I could use my fingers to count a million different words I could write. I could use my hand to draw a map of all the different places this post could go, tracing out each path on the veins and creases on my hand. I needed a direct path from my heart to my fingers. (Fun fact, wedding rings are worn on the left ring finger because it was believed to be the only finger with a vein leading directly to the heart.) So, I fiddled with my ring I wear on my left ring finger that’s definitely not a wedding ring, and tried to find a direct path from my heart to the tips of my fingers. But, that proved more difficult than carpal tunnel surgery. My heart was telling me to write about how this surgery was just another example, this time physical, of my grandparents getting older. I wanted to write about how watching Boppa’s body grow weaker hurts, but watching his mind grow weaker has hurt more. For grandma the nurse, her hands are so important, but for Boppa, the college professor and ordained Free Methodist pastor, with two masters’ degrees and a doctorate, his mind is so important. Both of them served with their hands, one literally and one metaphorically, and I wanted to write about how much it hurts to see both of them becoming weaker. But, I decided that story is, mostly, best saved for another post. Instead, I decided, as I reflected on how important hands are, that I would write something else. Somewhere along the path from my heart to my fingertips, I decided to save the pain of that story for another time and instead write a more beautiful story. So, here it is– a different story, written with my own hands, about my own hands.

My hands have been through a lot in my short 19 year life. Throwback to when I was a baby with tiny hands yet undiscovered by me. I flailed my arms, fists clenched, and paid no attention to what, or who, I might hit. After I discovered them, I grabbed things– other people’s fingers mostly. I put them in my mouth, or other people’s mouths, or whatever was nearby. I touched things, simply because I liked how they felt. I used them to pull the baby gate out of my way, then used them for support as I crawled up the mountain-like stairs I was too afraid to crawl back down. They held my blanket and my doll as I ran my fingers across them because I loved the way it made my hand tingle and the sensation I felt in my fingertips. My hands became part of the reason my parents suspected my visual impairment. I used them to hold objects centimeters away from my face because I couldn’t see them any other way. I reached out and touched things just to see how far away they were or what they felt like because I couldn’t use visual cues to interpret the way they might feel. I’d reach down to feel just how big of a jump it was from my grandparent’s garage to their driveway, because my hands were saying it was a centimeter difference, but my eyes were saying it was a canyon. I used them to navigate a world I couldn’t see. And, later, once I had my (adorable) glasses, when I was learning to walk, I held them out in front of me again as I navigated, trying to feel my way around a world I had never seen so clearly before. Once I got used to my new perspective of the world, I used them to point at things I had never noticed before– just to make sure everyone else saw them too.

As I grew, my hands grew with me. With them, I learned to write, carefully copying each stroke and hand position. They traced the words on pages as I learned to read, my finger precisely following each shape as my mouth sounded out the forms. I held the hands of my parents as I crossed roads and parking lots– thinking that staying safe forever was as simple as never letting go. In them was placed my first Bible– a gift whose impact wouldn’t be realized until years later when those same hands held those same Words as I memorized them. They colored outside the lines, cut themselves in an attempt to cut paper, and glued parts of themselves together. They reached up to grab the monkey bars or to hold my baby cousins. I let them be used by my friends to scrawl phone numbers or flowers on. I held them out to shake hands or give high fives. They learned to tickle both the ivories and my dad’s feet. I used them to wipe my nose, put band-aids on my skinned knees, and wash my body. They held my favorite books as I went on adventures with my best friends, and they supported me when I fell down. Sometimes, they were the reason I fell.

As I grew older, my hands did too. They started writing full sentences and typing full essays, carefully drawing each shape as I saw it in my mind. Instead of tracing the words on pages, I often find them tracing the path my blood takes from the tips of my fingers, through my hand, to my wrist, up through my arm, until they arrive at my heart– feeling each beat and reminding me that I am alive. Somewhere along the road, they let go of my parents’ hands, as I reassured myself I’d be okay on my own. And now, they sometimes long to hold another hand– to be reminded that I’ll be safe as long as I don’t let go. With them, I hold my Bible– reaching out to God– knowing that they’re holding my greatest joy and my entire life. They’re still not one for staying in the lines. And I’ve cut them countless times with knives or paper or pins or scissors. They’ve super-glued themselves together more times than I’d care to admit. They reached out to accept my high school diploma, and they reach out to hold the babies and pet the puppies that cross my path. They’ve been my go to notebook as I used them to jot down that homework assignment or date. They’ve clapped and cheered for my competitors, and greatest friends, as they held in their own hands– hands I had shaken so many times– an award mine had longed for so long to hold. With them, I spread encouragement and congratulations to my friends whose hands held Words as they memorized them. They’ve had an itch to tickle the ivories for far too long, and they’ve been reminded that playing the piano is nothing like riding a bike– it can be forgotten. They’ve wiped tears from my eyes, bandaged my wounds, and washed my face.  They’ve gone to Kenya where they clapped and danced with new friends, held babies, and pet elephants. And, they’ve been longing ever since to reach back out and take the hands of the friends I met there, as they search for the piece of my heart I left behind, all the while knowing they’ll never find it– and not wanting to. They’ve supported me when I fell, and were the things that picked me back up. They pieced my broken heart back together as they fought the urge to fight the thing that broke it. 

And now, I’m sitting here, in a coffee shop, examining my hands. As I flex them and study them, all the while feeling completely crazy, I see all the things they’ve done in my life. I see my senior year AP Bio class, where I dissected eyes, brains, frogs, and worms, and where I used them to taxidermy a rat, all without wearing gloves. Because, I’ve always been fascinated with how things feel, and I can’t get the whole experience if I can’t feel. I see my junior year AP Chem class where I spilled silver nitrate on them, because, again, why wear gloves if you don’t have to. I see the incalculable amount of times I washed them, trying to get it off, but having to finally resign myself to just being patient. I see the way they served in Kenya and how I’m still using them to serve in Kenya and elsewhere. I see that time they held a young rookie as she cried, pouring her heart out, and the time they were linked with others in prayer as we cried for each other. The times they were raised in worship and surrender to the One who made them. I see my fingernails that are dirty and sometimes broken. I see the calluses I have from working. I see all the chemicals I’ve spilled on them and the times my professors forced me to wear gloves, even though I prefer the experience without. I see the way they cramp up when I spend four hours a day deleting phone numbers and emails from records, and how, with 4000 records, I still have more to do the next time. I see how I use them to bake and cook. (Seriously though, my scones and my homemade pizza are truly culinary masterpieces.) They are currently dry and a little red, because, no matter how many times I wash them and put lotion on them, the constant exposure to chemicals, from my job and from my Chemistry training, has left them a little rough around the edges.

So, here’s the thing. Here’s the point of all this talk about my hands. I believe that if eyes are the window to the soul, then hands are the mirror to the heart– reflecting the innermost parts of who you are.

I don’t believe all those people who say you can tell your future by looking at the creases on your palm. But, I do believe you can see your past, and your present, by looking at your hands. Hands say a lot about what has happened to you, and they reflect so much of who you are. They show all the experiences you’ve had and they tell a lot about who you are as a person. When I see my dad’s hands, a little rough and probably permanently stained with grease or newsprint or both, I don’t see just that. I see all the hard work he’s done over the years to support us– his three jobs, his late nights and early mornings, and the things he’d sacrifice, including time with us, to give us all he could. When I looked at the brace on my grandfather’s hands as he was waiting for this surgery, and still waits for his other hand’s, I don’t just see a hand that sometimes goes numb. As a scientist, I see a carpal ligament that needs to be cut to relieve pressure on the underlying nerve. But, as a writer, I see his past and present. I see all the people he’s served– the sermons he’s preached, the hearts he’s touched, the Word he’s spread. I see all the papers he’s graded and the students he’s inspired and encouraged. I see in my grandmother’s hands the patients she’s healed, the families she’s reassured, the friends she’s cooked delicious meals for, and the family she’s held so close. I see my sister’s love of piano playing, word writing, and book holding, and the way she used them to try to give up, but how she uses them now to list all the reasons she shouldn’t. I could go on and on about all the stories I see when I look at my family members hands.

And when I look at my own, I see it all too. I see me as a baby, discovering my hands for the first time. I see me as a child of no more than two, using my hands as a navigator for this new clear world. I see them learning to hold a pen and play the piano. I see how they no longer move the baby gate out of my way, but how they now work to move any obstacle out of my way as I face conquerable mountains I am no longer afraid to fall down. I see the bumps and bruises I’ve gotten along the way and the sores and marks they have now. And, admittedly, right now, my hands are exhausted. They’ve worked hard. This year, this life, and this summer, and they’ll work even harder as I grow up. But, I also see the way they reflect my heart. My heart of service and hard work. The way they reflect my personality based on what they do. I see the way they exemplify Colossians 3:23 without the words being scrawled on them in day old faded ink. So, look at your hands. Because they can’t predict your future, but they can reflect your past and explain your present. And they are the true reflection of who you are.

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Finding The Love of my Life

This is not another post about how being a Quizzer impacted my life, (or at least not exactly). However, if you would like to read some of those posts, (and/or posts about my Kenya trip and its impact on my life) those can be found here. This is a reflection on my first year not being a Quizzer. Because it was more wonderful than I ever could have imagined.

Honestly, I was a bit doubtful about coaching after I graduated, but I had promised the Quizzers– two in particular– that I would come back and help them get to the next level. The more I thought about it, however, the more I thought I couldn’t do it. How could I help these Quizzers compete well and reach their dreams of winning the Alpha and Omega when I couldn’t even do it myself? I mean, my study strategies included memorizing all 4 chapters the night before a tournament and not prejumping questions because, quite honestly, I was terrified of taking chances. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was a good Quizzer. I may have even been great– I was consistently top 15 in the nation for my division all 7 years I quizzed– but, I was never an Alpha and Omega winner or a national individual finalist, and give these kids a year or two and they could easily out Quiz me.  So, I doubted that I’d ever be able to help them reach their goals. And, I didn’t think I’d make a good Quizmaster. I thought I’d be too harsh, or too nice, or that I wouldn’t be comfortable enough or confident enough in myself to do a good job. I didn’t think I’d be an effective, or even a good, Quizmaster. I wasn’t sure where my place in this family I had found 7 years ago would be, and I was terrified I wouldn’t have one. But, I never imagined I’d feel even more at home as a Quizmaster and coach than I did as a Quizzer.

The things I love the most about Quizmastering and coaching are the same ones I loved as a Quizzer, but they are so much more beautiful viewing them from the other side of the table. I love watching the joy on the Quizzers’ faces when they win a Quiz. The excitement mixed with disbelief when they answer a question correctly for the first time or quiz out for the first, or even the 50th, time. When they’re excited, my heart is filled with joy. When they’re sad, I break inside. And, as much as I love my church and our Quizzers, I view every single Quizzer I have ever Quizmastered or coached as my Quizzer. My friend. My little brother and sister. And I love them all so much. My heart fills with love and joy when I see them come into my room excited and smiling. “Hi, fun Quizmaster!” they say with bright smiles, as they reach for a piece of candy, a high five, or a hug. The sadness on their faces when they find out I won’t be Quizmastering them that day, or when they realize they won’t be in my division the next year, breaks my heart. I love being able to watch them grow up over the years, and even over the course of a year.  I am so incredibly proud of them– every time they answer a question, get a prejump, win an award, or have a fun time. When New Hope won the Alpha and Omega, I felt that I had won it myself. When other Genesis Conference Quizzers succeeded in finals, or their teams won, I was beyond joyful. When the Pearce teams did well, I felt their joy and their heartbreak in their losses. And, when the ones I’ve Quizmastered all year, or even all week, accomplished something, I couldn’t wait to give them a high five and tell them how proud of them I was, even after they eliminated Pearce from the tournament. And I am filled with joy because I know that they are committing themselves to learning the Word, and they will become servants of God, thoroughly equipped for every good work. And that is what Quizzing is really all about.

That’s why I continue to help with Quizzing and can’t imagine walking away. It’s watching the Quizzers discover who they are. It’s giving back to a ministry that has given me so much– a ministry that has impacted, and in some cases even saved, so many lives. It’s watching these incredible young people learn and memorize the Word, knowing that will lead them to amazing places. It’s hanging out with them and writing ridiculous stories that make no sense, three words at a time. It’s reading the longest joke in the world every time we go on a long road trip. It’s listening to the testimony of a shy, quiet young rookie who said she was so glad her mom made her do Quizzing because she was so excited and impacted by it. It’s hugging the young Quizzer who’s sitting behind you, whom you’ve coached, Quizmastered, and quizzed with, when he breaks down in tears. It’s kneeling at the altar with your teammates, friends, and Quizzers. Hugging them all as you leave. Talking to a Quizzer who knows your name and your story, even if you didn’t think anyone knew who you were or remembered your story. Finding a group of girls, from all different churches, praying for each other, and going over to pray with and for them, as a coach, Quizmaster, former fellow Quizzer, and most importantly a friend. Feeling incredibly honored when young Quizzers ask for your autograph and do a cool handshake with you. Offering the Quizzers a high five, a “great try,” and a piece of candy. It’s about finding your best friends, who live next door, or who live hundreds of miles away– whether they’re 12, 22, or 52.  It’s about igniting a passion for God and His Word that you didn’t even know you were capable of having.

It wasn’t until I went to Kenya and experienced Quizzing there that I realized just how important Quizzing really is. It wasn’t until the charge given to us at the coaches’ meeting to expand Quizzing to our neighboring churches, whether Free Methodist or not, and I almost stood up and said “Send me anywhere and everywhere. I’ll do it.” that I realized how huge my passion was. And, now, here I am, hoping to spread that passion to others. In fact, I am seriously considering and praying about going back to Kenya next summer, and all your prayers for me in this process would be greatly appreciated too. But, honestly, I’m just hoping to spread my passion to anyone who’s willing to catch it.

And that is what I have learned the most this year about being a Quizmaster and coach. I may have been terrified of messing up, I may not have been confident enough in my abilities, I may have thought I wouldn’t be good enough, or I may have thought I’m too much of an introvert to be a good Quizmaster. But, I have learned that anyone can be a good Quizmaster. Anyone can read questions in a loud, clear voice, look up the passages in the portion, and make a wise and fair decision about whether or not an answer is correct and worthy of 2o points. Anyone can know the rules– when to re-read, when to throw the question out, and how to handle appeals. Anyone can say “that’s correct,” or, “I’m sorry I cannot accept that.” But, not everyone is an effective Quizmaster. Not everyone can make the Quizzers feel comfortable. Not everyone can make Quizzing fun, keep the quizzes moving, be encouraging, and take control but also not be intimidating. And that’s what makes an effective Quizmaster. I don’t know if I am an effective Quizmaster or not– I’d like to think I am. I mean, I’ve been told I’m the fun Quizmaster. Coaches and Quizzers have told me that I have done a good job and have made Quizzing fun. The top Quizmaster for Senior Teen Vet A, and the former question writer, has told me that her kids enjoyed my Quizmastering. So, maybe that’s evidence enough to prove I’m both good and effective. I don’t know. But, what I do know is that I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Because maybe it’s the candy. Or maybe it’s the fact that I have an uncontainable passion for Quizzing and a seemingly mundane yet incredibly inspirational and impactful Quizzing testimony which puts me in a unique position to share and encourage. Maybe it’s my constant attempts to make all the Quizzers feel encouraged and loved by my “good tries, ” “nice jobs,” candy, and high fives. I don’t know. But, I know that I love it so much that my heart feels like it’s going to burst out of my chest. I love it more than I loved it when I was competing. Which I never thought was possible. 

I received a message from a parent and coach earlier today. She wanted to thank me for giving up my time this past week to be at Nationals (which, to be fair, is the furthest thing from a sacrifice– there is no better way to spend my time) and for talking to her team and expressing interest in them– especially her daughter, who had never had that before. She was excited and happy that I had shown interest in her. As I read the message, my heart broke a little. I hadn’t done anything special. I simply talked to her, offered her high fives, and made sure I acknowledged her, even when she wasn’t in my room. And to think that made her happy filled me with joy, but it also made me a little sad to think no other Quizmaster or person had done that before. But, it reminded me that, just like how in Quizzing there is more than winning, in Quizmastering there is more than just asking questions and keeping the rounds running smoothly and timely. There’s encouraging, high fiving, loving, and laughing. And again, I don’t know if this makes me an effective Quizmaster, but I know I impacted at least one life, even if it was just in a small way, and that is why I do what I do.

Quizzing has taken me to Kenya. It has taken me, and three of my friends, to local churches in order to put on a skills clinic for other Quizzers. It has taken me to four different and beautiful places for Nationals. It’s taken me to different churches and led me to volunteer at two different church’s practices. It has taken me across oceans, under bridges, over highways, and into people’s hearts. It’s led me to go on a missions’ trip, help plan service projects, and help start a fund for growing international Bible Quizzing. But, it’s also led me to learn more about myself and about God. I learn more about my passions, my gifts, my talents, and most importantly, God and His Word. And I could go on for hours about the impact it’s had on me in my own life, both as a Quizzer and as a Quizmaster, but until you experience it yourself, you won’t understand. You won’t understand my passion or my love. So, if you have no idea what Quizzing is, go out and discover it. If you have experienced it, go out and share your passion, your light, your joy, and your love for it and for God. Because if it were up to me, every person in the world would have the chance, and the desire, to experience Quizzing.

I never thought I could love something so much it physically hurts. Yet, I constantly feel a pain inside me when I’m Quizzing or when I’m talking about it. But, it’s not from sadness. It’s from unimaginable, inexpressible joy and love and passion. It’s from a desire to encourage every teen to try it, every adult to watch it, and every person to fall in love with it. I never thought I could love something so much that I’d rather die than be separated from it. Because making me give it up would be like ripping my heart out of my chest. In fact, that would probably hurt less. Because I love Quizzing more than anything, and I don’t think I will ever love any person, place, or thing more.*

*obviously this excludes the One who makes Quizzing possible and who gave me the ability and opportunity to participate, and who is the reason I Quiz. 

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Kenya Post? After Kenya. 

Last week, I came back from Kenya. I have written posts about what my group did while we were there, but now that I have returned and had a few days to recover, reflect, and regroup, I want to talk about how it all affected me. Because it did affect me, a lot. And it affected me in ways I never could have imagined.

Going into the trip, I had no expectations. We were told by our leaders, and by others who had gone on missions trips before us, not to have any. So, I didn’t. Not really. I mean, I expected it to be a little difficult at times. I expected it to be outside my comfort zone sometimes. I expected God to work somehow in someone, or someones. But, I didn’t expect Him to work in me the way He did.

I knew that God wanted me on this trip. There was never any question that He wanted me there. I just didn’t know why. But, I knew that after the trip, I would know why. So, I waited. I went on the trip, did all the stuff, and waited.

However, about halfway into the week of Quizzing, I began to become a little discouraged, and I began to wonder if God really did want me on this trip. I had listened to stories of others’ experiences so far, and I was realizing that I didn’t have an experience like that. I didn’t have any moment, or even group of moments, that answered the question for me of why God wanted me on this trip. So, I began to wonder if He really did want me on this trip, or if I had gone for my own selfish reasons.

However, as the week came to a close, I began to realize my purpose for going on this trip. The reason God called me to do it. The ways it had impacted me, even if they were less obvious than others’.

God wanted me on this trip, I believe, for two main reasons. One, He wanted me to share my incredible passion for Quizzing and love for others and for Him. And two, He wanted to teach me while I was busy teaching others.

He wanted to teach me more about His purpose and plan for my life. He wanted to show me things about myself I didn’t know. Passions I didn’t know I had. Strengths and talents I never would have discovered alone.

You see, I have always known some of my passions. I have always known about my passion for science, for Quizzing, for learning,  for words, for people, and for serving. But, I never knew how much of a passion I had. Because, although I like people enough, I am not a “people person.” Social situations are sometimes awkward for me, and I am uncomfortable around large groups of people and with people I don’t know well. And I like children, but I don’t have a personality that naturally attracts children. It takes a little more effort on my part to interact with them than it might take others. But, God showed me that, despite that, I can be an inspiration, a teacher, and a friend to others. He showed me how passionate I could be about others, and for others. By the end of the week, I wanted to adopt every single child from the ICCM school we were working in. I fell in love with them all, even those whose names I didn’t know, or couldn’t remember, and the ones who I never actually talked to or met.

While I was teaching the kids Quizzing, I couldn’t help but be incredibly excited. I have always loved helping the Rookies at my church improve their Quizzing, giving them suggestions, and coaching and encouraging them. And that’s exactly what I was doing all week. Except I was doing it in another country- half a world away. And that awoke in me a passion I didn’t know I had. A passion not only for Quizzing and seeing that ministry succeed, but a passion for seeing it spread. Everywhere. Kenya, Togo, the Philippines, and anywhere and everywhere else possible. Because it is an amazing ministry that every young teenager in any part of the world deserves to have an opportunity to take part in.  I have a passion to see others succeed in Quizzing. I want the young Pearce quizzers to do what I tried but never could do and bring back an Alpha and Omega and individual awards. I want to see the Genesis Conference win more Nationals competitions and continue to put New York on the map. I want to see Quizzing grow so much in the US that there are too many Quizzers and coaches to hold at one place for Nationals. I want to see Quizzing spread to so many other places, both near and far, so that we will have an Internationals Finals with dozens of states and multiple countries. I want to clone myself so that I can start a quiz program in another country, spread the quiz program in Kenya, and stay here to help my church succeed.

God showed me that, by giving up my own will, I can do His. I gave up my time, my finances, and my energy to serve Him. He showed me that I may have a plan for my life, but His plan is even better.

He left me with a lot of questions. I am stuck with questions of what He wants me to do with my life and where He wants me to go. I am left wondering if my current plan for my life is also His plan, or if He has something much better in mind. I am left wondering, if He does have something else in mind, if I will be willing to abandon my plans and my interests to pursue His will. He left me with questions of whether my passion for science is what He wants me to pursue, or if He wants me to follow my newfound love for far off people and places. I am left thinking about all of the kids I met, the people I talked to, and the Quizzers I taught, and I am wondering if God wants me to do something with that newfound passion for spreading Quizzing, and His word, across the world.

I am left with joy. A feeling of excitement for all that God is doing in the lives of the children we interacted with. A feeling of assurance that I definitely want to go on another trip. Whether it’s another trip to Kenya, or somewhere else. Whether it’s for Quizzing, or ICCM, or with Roberts, or with Pearce, or none of the above. I am left with a sense of hope for the future. I have an open mind, and an open heart. God opened my heart for Kenya, and I left a major piece of it there when I left. 

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