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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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A Year of Reflecting

I hate cliches, so I’m going to skip all the “new year, new me” and resolutions list. Instead, I’m going to get straight to the point. If you read last year’s New Year’s post, you’d know how I felt going into 2017. You’d know I was heartbroken, and excited, and confused, and wondering all wrapped into one. And, you’d also know that 2017 was not my year, and I didn’t actually expect it to be. And I feel the exact same about 2018. You may also have noticed this “New Year’s Post” is a few days late, but, that’s because just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean it’s not a new me, so, procrastination is still my greatest strength. But, despite the procrastination, here is a review of my 2017 and an expectation of my 2018.

January 2017 I got my wisdom teeth out, thereby effectively losing all hope of ever being wise. I made lots of jokes, hung out with friends, and laughed a lot. I was forced to really face my heartbreak head on for the first time. I started healing– from both my wisdom teeth and my heartbreak.

February 2017 I tried a new restaurant whose servings are the size of a small child but whose breakfast is out of this world. I laughed some more, and probably cried a little. I tried forcing myself to move on from my heartbreak and talked to him again, and then stopped because, as much as I missed our incredible conversations, I missed my own happiness more. I gave a speech and informed my class about the love of my life.

March 2017 I celebrated pi day in style, and enjoyed the snow storm. I went on some dates with some wonderful friends and tried to get over my heartbreak. I went to my first hockey game (and cannot wait to go to another one I might add), and enjoyed the fights most of all (sorry not sorry?). I watched my youth pastor, a man I admired even if I was never super close to, leave to take a new job as a head pastor. I laughed more, cried some more, took some meme worthy photos. My quizzers bribed me with food, and I (started) a road trip to West Virginia.

April 2017 I finished that road trip and the Quiz tournament that caused it. I hung out with some friends, saw some plays, and wore more dresses than usual because why not? One Sunday, I heard exactly what I needed to hear to finally accept the heartbreak– not completely get over it or finish healing, but accept it. I celebrated Easter and probably ate too many cookies. I went to my church’s garage sale and only bought 4 books (instead of, you know, all of them). I stayed up too late studying and watched my favorite football team score the perfect draft picks.

May 2017 I celebrated a birthday, and shared one with my mom as always. I stayed up too late studying (again), and finished my finals, mostly successfully. I traveled back to my high school for the first time since graduating and watched my former teammates on the Synchronized Swimming team perform. I watched my cousin play his last high school soccer game, and I spent too long looking back on my favorite memories. I cried and laughed and talked too much. I finally watched The Bible t.v series on Netflix and pointed out the fact that the actors were too white and nails could not actually be placed through Jesus’ hands (it’s all in the wrists– take a Biology class people!). I introduced new friends to Quizzing, whipped my Quizzers into shape for Conference Finals, and let the social media world take a look into a night at our practice.

June 2017 I returned to one of my favorite places ever since I was a child and Quizmastered at Conference Finals. I reminisced about all the weeks I’d spent at camp there, and the weekends I’d spent at Quizzing. I remembered all the tears I had cried a year earlier as I watched it all ending and smiled at all the joy I’ve experienced as a Quizmaster and coach. I laughed a lot. I burst with pride for my Quizzers and hurt with sadness for those graduating and leaving it all behind. I video chatted my roommate as we counted down the days until Nationals and we could see each other again. I celebrated some birthdays, some graduations, and a wedding.

July 2017 I celebrated some holidays. I went to Nationals and cried, and laughed. I Quizmastered in a different division than I had been in all year and didn’t struggle as much as I thought I would– I rediscovered and reaffirmed my greatest passion in life. I felt amazing pride and sorrow. I shared part of my Quizzing story.

August 2017 I was beyond excited because football was back, and I was beyond in denial because I had to start school again. I wrested with my purpose in life and desire for my future. I laughed, and had one last family get together before my cousin went off to college. I baked– a lot. I saw the solar eclipse and managed not to go blind (or rather, more blind). I moved back into college and began my second year.

September 2017 I cracked open a cold one with the boys (or, rather my roommate, sister, and our friend went out to Friendly’s and couldn’t decide on an Instagram caption). I got stressed and stayed up late and had a rough time. I watched my head pastor preach his last sermon before retiring. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and was constantly questioning if I was making the right choices. I started helping in the 7th grade girls’ Sunday small group because I thought I needed more to do? (Or because 12 year olds and I are best friends– since I am actually 12).

October 2017 I had the first Quiz tournament of the new season and got to meet new friends and see all my old ones again. I officially changed my major and freaked out because I didn’t (and still don’t) have any clue what to do. I enjoyed more laughs and tried Indian desserts for the first time. I went to a theology conference and learned the names of some trees. I saw some beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I watched the Bills lose too many football games.

November 2017 I hung out with friends and wrote some papers. I studied too hard and not hard enough. I saw the first snow of the season and smiled so big. I celebrated Thanksgiving, and ate too much. I bribed my Quizzers to learn a 77 name genealogy by promising candy. I cried, and laughed, and quit one of my jobs. I set up our Christmas tree.

December 2017 I welcomed 2 new pastors to our church and tried to introduce myself without being too creepy (which probably failed, because, let’s be honest, I’ m awkward and creepy). I was attacked with hugs from a bunch of 12 year old Quizzers and I loved every moment of it. I enjoyed more snow, got into the holiday spirit, studied, and mostly succeeded at my finals. I bought and wrapped presents and I celebrated Christmas. I laughed too much. I stopped breathing for a good half hour as I watched the Bills make the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. I cried tears of joy.

And now, it’s 2018. I’m going to party like it’s 1999 (or at least until Sunday). I’m less than a week away from starting a new semester. And, in May, I am going to Brazil as part of my classes. I’m going to laugh more, and cry more. I’m going to cheer on my Bills, and my Quizzers, and I’m going to cheer on my friends. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life still, but I’m reaching out to God and begging Him to allow me to surrender it all so He can do whatever He wants. I’m reading books, and I hope to read more. I’ll celebrate another birthday, and celebrate with others’. I’ll Quizmaster and coach and encourage and receive high fives and hugs (at least I hope). I’ll start what I hope is my final year of college, and I’ll definitely still be confused about what I’m doing. I’ll laugh and cry and break and heal. I survived 2017, and I know I will survive 2018. Because it may be a “new year, new me,” or it may not be. But it will always be a new year, same God. And I gave God 2017, and on the days I didn’t feel safe I fought so hard to allow myself to surrender it to Him anyway, and I survived it. So, here’s to 2018 and all the surviving, God-giving, loving, and surrendering it brings.

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Doubtfully Trusting

When you’re driving, it’s probably a good idea to know where your destination is. If you’re going somewhere but you have no idea how to get there, you’ll probably end up lost, confused, and stressed out. So, before you leave, you put the address in your GPS and trust it to guide you to your destination.

Life is a lot like a road, and, if I’m being honest, I often make God my GPS. I say, “Okay God, I know where I want to go with my life. I want to get to this place and do this thing. I know the direction I need to travel, but sometimes I miss the turns and I need you to help me get there. Will you guide me?” So, I make a plan, have a destination, and listen to His voice, trusting that He’ll bring me to the place I intended to be all along. But, truthfully, God is not really meant to be a GPS. In fact, I know it’s super cliche to say, but God’s actually supposed to drive.

I’ve spent a lot of my life convincing myself I was allowing God to drive. I mean, I allowed Him to take me to Kenya, despite my defiance. I heard him whisper “go” so many times while I was shouting “stay,” but I eventually allowed Him to take me anyway. And I’m glad I did because it was life changing and indescribable. And, since I’ve been home, I’ve been searching for something that will fill the hole I have from leaving parts of myself behind. Because I left behind all the babies I held, children I played with, laughs I expressed, love I spread, Quizzing I taught, hugs I shared, and moments soon to fade from memory.

I let my heart get broken because I knew He had a better destination in mind for my heart. I fought it– I tried for as long as I could to maintain control and hold onto my plan for my life. I told myself that I was okay, that it hurt but I could fight it, and that in the end, it would turn out how I intended all along. But, I eventually jumped over to the passenger seat and said “Alright God, whatever. It hurts, but I’ll trust you.” So, I trusted Him to take me where He wanted me to be, but, all the way there I’ve been voicing my defiance and unwillingness to completely surrender.

These aren’t the only times I’ve done this. Countless times I’ve said, “Okay, I really want to go here and do this, but if you don’t want me to, I’ll listen to Your voice.” Then, I get out, move over, and let God drive. But, here’s the thing guys– I could still see the road. I could still see all the twists and turns, potholes and bumps. I let God drive, but I still had one hand on the wheel, and was prepared to brake if we needed to come to a sudden stop. I’ve been saying, “God, you’re doing a good job and all, and I’m going to let you finish. But, just to let you know, there’s some potholes coming up. If you could avoid those, that’d be great. And, by the way, you missed that turn, so you should probably make another turn up here and go back.” I was the world’s most annoying backseat driver.

It wasn’t because I didn’t trust God– I did. I just didn’t want to completely surrender my life to him. I wanted to have some control– some say. So, I backseat drove while God steered, thinking that meant God was actually driving, because I was terrified. Not having control of your life is terrifying. It’s stressful and scary– it’s uncomfortable. But, God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust. And trust is more than just allowing God to drive. It’s completely surrendering everything– giving up total control, and taking your hands off the wheel. And recently, I’ve been learning to do more than trust– I’ve been learning to surrender.

This past year, God has been placing road signs in my path, hinting at me that we should turn that way. And even though I was claiming to let Him drive, He passed them and went on the way I wanted, because, being blind and all, I couldn’t actually see them. He just drove– allowing me to eventually figure out for myself that the direction we were going was filled with potholes, bumps, and discomfort. He kept making the signs bigger and more obvious– probably hoping that I’d see them. But because I’m very blind, and very stubborn, I continued to ignore them. Until one day, we were driving down the road and I screamed “STOP! I can’t do this anymore.”

“I know. Now, will you listen to Me?”

And so, here I am now, trying my hardest to give God total and complete control– to surrender my life, my comfortable, and my plans. But, for me, that’s difficult. If I can see the road at all, I can’t keep quiet– I can’t watch God pass by all the turns I want to take– I think I need to take– and willingly stay silent. So, I’ve allowed God to take control in whatever way He needs to, and, you know what He said? He said, “Rebekah, you’re kind of annoying. You keep trying to backseat drive when I am the perfect driver. So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m kicking you out. You’re sitting in the trunk, with your eyes to the road behind us instead of ahead of us.”

So, that’s where I am now until I learn to surrender– sitting in the trunk, only able to see the road behind us. God buckled me up, promised me I’d be safe, and gave me His Words to hold onto if I ever felt unsure. And, quite honestly, I’m scared. I feel the ups and downs and bumps and rough patches and I so badly want to jump up and say “God! Watch out!” But, I’m not going to. Because He has told me to trust Him– to surrender to Him. So, I am.

For those who haven’t been keeping up with my life, just recently I changed my major. And it was the best thing I could have done for myself. But, it is also the most terrifying thing I’ve ever had to do. I was a Chemistry major. I love Chemistry, but I am not sure I was ever super passionate about Chemistry– or at least not as passionate as I am about other things. But, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and because I enjoyed it and was pretty good at it, and since I never found myself excelling at any specific subject, I chose to study Chemistry. And to tell you the truth, I was a little scared to go into anything else, because with something like that, your future is more sure, more secure. Not that any future is ever guaranteed, but at least it set me up to do something. But, I’d been wrestling for a while about what to do. Because I loved Chemistry. But I was passionate about so many other things– Bible Quizzing, writing, studying God’s Word. And it wasn’t until I was reminded sometime last year, by a rather surprising but wonderful source, that such pure and uncontrollable passion existed that I realized something was missing– something had to change.  I so desperately wanted to do something with all these passions of mine, but I didn’t know what, and I was terrified and completely unsure. I wanted to stay comfortable and, to be perfectly honest, I was slightly afraid of what others would think. But, eventually God told me to sit down, shut up, and stop letting my own fear control me and let Him take control. So, I changed my major.

I switched to cross disciplinary studies. Which means I can study Chemistry, religion and philosophy, math, and English all at the same time. I can become a jack of all trades without becoming an expert in anything. And I am so happy I did that, but it also means my future has become so much more uncertain and terrifying– it’s not sure. It’s open to so much possibility, and simultaneously so little. And like, I’m trying so hard to hold onto God and His promises, but guys, that’s not easy. I know that I am the type of person who won’t know what I want to do until I’m doing it, because there are so many things I’d be happy doing. Maybe I’ll end up being a pastor, or teaching, or travelling. Maybe I’ll take some more trips to Kenya, and elsewhere, to find that missing piece of me and spread my uncontrollable love for Quizzing. (There is so much desire and passion for Quizzing in Kenya, but they lack the resources and leadership to spread it). Maybe I’ll get a Ph. D in Chemistry or Literature. Maybe I’ll get my M. Div. Maybe I’ll end up unemployed and living in my parent’s house for the rest of my life.  Who knows? All I know now is that I am trying my hardest to surrender the hardest part of me to surrender– my life and my future– to the One who makes my future. And it takes a lot of faith. It takes faith that sometimes I”m not sure I have. But, if Joshua can believe walls can crumble simply by walking around them, Abraham can say “Here I am”, and Peter can step out onto the waves, surely I can allow myself to surrender my future.. And I know that I’ll doubt– I do doubt. I’ll struggle and fight and try to regain control of the vehicle of life. But God is helping me to be still. To know that He is God. To surrender my life and plans to Him. And, although it’s a difficult and scary time, it’s also the most peaceful and beautiful feeling ever.

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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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It Is Well

Boppa Guy, as you were known, in order keep our two grandfathers straight, it’s been 11 years to the day. 11 years since you last smiled, and, although I wasn’t there, I know you were smiling, even as you were dying, because that’s who you were. It’s been 11 years since you went home- a place that you never felt was here on earth. And while I can’t believe it’s been 11 years, it’s even harder for me to believe why today it hurts more than it has in years. Why it hurts not nearly as much as 11 years ago, but at least as much as it has since.

I still remember the day it happened. Or, at least I remember the moment I found out. It was a Wednesday night. I remember my dad calling my sisters and me into his room. He had gone to visit you earlier that evening and had returned about the same time we had returned from church. We sat on his bed, knowing what he was going to say, yet hoping he wouldn’t say it. Because, although we were young, the oldest of us just 11, we understood what his silence meant. We knew you were sick. We saw you just a few days earlier when they brought you home from the hospital because you no longer wanted to be there. You just wanted to be at home, surrounded by those you love, comfortable and at peace. And, although you had come home, we knew that it didn’t mean you were better, but that it meant you wanted to be home when you went home. We knew. So, when my dad said the words I still remember to this day, the words I sometimes still play back in my mind over and over again, none of us were shocked.

What I don’t really remember is how it felt. I don’t remember if I cried right away. I don’t remember if I ever got mad at God for taking you. Or at you for leaving us. I don’t remember if I told any of my friends the next day at school. I don’t remember if I ever tried to deny it. I don’t remember if I actually completely understood what was happening. I remember I cried at your funeral. But, I wasn’t entirely sure if I was crying because I was sad or because everyone else was. I remember asking my mom why she was crying. You weren’t her father, and I thought that meant she shouldn’t be sad. I remember people sharing stories about your life. I remember seeing you in the casket. I even remember thinking you would sit up any minute and yell “Got you!” or something. I remember tears, and someone handing my grandmother a flag. But, I also remember there was laughter. And family. And food. And I remember thinking that is exactly what you would have wanted.

Mostly, I remember the music. I remember my dad quoting “Big House”- one of my all time favorite songs that I have grown to love even more since that day. I know that now, every time I listen to that song, I want to get up and dance- which is what you would want. But I also want to sit in a corner and think about you- which is something you would want as long as I wasn’t sad. I remember my oldest sister and cousins singing “It Is Well.” And I know that now, every time I hear that, I want to cry- which you would not want me to do. But, I also want to sing it with a beautiful passion as I bask in God’s amazing beauty- which is definitely what you would want me to do.

You would want me to jump up and shout “Come and go with me, to my Father’s house. It’s a big big house, with lots and lots of room.” You’d want me to pretend to eat food and throw a football as I exclaim “A big big table with lots and lots of food. A big big yard where we can play football.” And, I do it. Because I know you’d want me to. And, I know you’re doing it with me.

You’d want me to remember God’s faithfulness as I sing “When peace like a river attendeth my way. When sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.” You’d want me to raise my voice and sing with a passion as I echo “Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord oh my soul. It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul) it is well, it is well with my soul.” And I do. Because it is well with my soul.

And Boppa Guy, maybe that’s why today was so difficult. You see, I woke up with a painful twinge in my stomach and ache in my head. I thought maybe it was because I needed more sleep, or maybe it was a result of my current emotional state due to my recent heartbreak. But, then I remembered what day it was. January 18. And, then I knew. I knew the twinge was a reminder of the sadness of life but also that there’s “a big big table, with lots and lots of food.” I knew the ache was a reminder that pain exists, but that “whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.” And suddenly, I felt a sense of peace. You were reminding me that God’s present and that He, and you, love me. Because whatever my lot, you, Boppa, have taught me to say, “it is well with my soul.”

They played “It Is Well” at the end of a beautiful chapel service this afternoon. A service devoted to prayer. A service that I needed. A service that spoke to me so much at this point in my life. And, as I was walking out, I was already thinking of you, because you would have loved the service. And when they started playing “It Is Well,” I thought of you more. I thought about the fact that you have been gone for 11 years. Which means I have lived longer on this earth without you than I have with you. Which means I have few memories to remember you by, and each day my memory fades more and more. I thought about how I didn’t see you as I often as I would have liked, and I didn’t really spend time with you even when I was with you. I thought of all the memories we didn’t make. I thought about how I lost, or destroyed, or both, the rose I had gotten at your funeral. I thought about how there are few pictures of you and I together, but how I have a photo of you holding my doll- which at the time, was my most loved possession. The only thing I have of yours is a Bible that was given to me because you, like me, were hard of seeing. I thought about how you weren’t there to see me get baptized, or perform at my first Synchronized Swimming show, or compete at my first Bible Quizzing tournament, or graduate from high school. Or how you won’t be there to see me go on my first date, graduate from college,  or get married. You won’t be able to meet your great grandchildren or watch your children and grandchildren grow up.

But, I guess in a way, you were there, and you will always be there. Because I see you everywhere. I see you in grandma, who misses you so much, and in the artwork she does that would make you so happy and so proud. How each stroke of her brush or line of her pen somehow reflects you and your love for her. I see you in your children. In my uncle who shares your name. My aunt who was always daddy’s little girl and who never stops talking about you. My dad, who acts more like you everyday, with each made up song lyric and ridiculous story. How he insists that every time something is wrong it’s “because we don’t drink enough water.” I see you in my cousin, who never got to meet you, but who looks so much like you. I see you in your great granddaughter, who may have been born into unfortunate circumstances, but who shares your joy for life. Who is so sweet and innocent- you’d love her so much. I see you in my older sister, who acts so much like you. Whose photo we have, sitting next to you on the couch, both of you crossing your arms, copying each other’s face. I see you in my oldest sister who looks exactly like your daughter and who makes jokes exactly like you would. I even see you in the flowers, trees, wind, and rain. Because you’re always here.

And so, Boppa Guy, I am still not sure exactly why today hurts more than it has in any of the past 11 years. Maybe it’s because we talked about the death of loved ones in one of my classes yesterday. Maybe it’s because I heard that song in chapel. Maybe it’s because I was so young when it happened that I’m just now realizing how painful it is. Maybe my sadness doesn’t just come from missing you. But, whatever the reason is, I know that today, I missed you. Bur, I also know that you loved- love- me, and would be proud of me. Although, to be fair, you were always proud of all your grandchildren. But, you’d be proud of who I am, and who I am becoming. You’d be proud that I have 19 books of the Bible memorized- some of which I memorized using your Bible- because you always loved to share your love of the Bible. You’d be proud to know that I have that same hunger and love for God’s Word you had. You’d be proud to know that I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, where I’m going, how I’ll get there, or what will happen along the way, but I know the One who does. And so, I know I missed you. I know that I am struggling through life right now, my heart is broken, and I don’t know if it’ll ever be whole again. But I also know that you have taught me to say “it is well.”

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To The Girl Given More Than She Deserves

Dear sweet, beautiful, innocent, wonderful human,

Life has dealt you a terrible hand. It has given you too many sour lemons. And right now, I bet you wish life had a return policy on its cards or would offer you some sugar for your lemonade. Unfortunately, life isn’t always nice. Fortunately, sometimes people are.

Fortunately, people were. You have been taken in and given things you need by people who love you.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t change your situation. It doesn’t make it better, or more bearable.

But, I hope you find some encouragement during this time anyway. I hope I can give you some.

We used to be good friends, in elementary school. When everything was right. Everything was perfect. Our worlds’ never shattered. Life was beautiful. It was sunshine, teddy bears, chocolate, and laughter. But since then, we have grown apart. We’ve found new best friends. But, we’ve still managed to remain acquaintances. However, both of our worlds have shattered since then. They have become wrong in so many ways. And life has turned a dull shade of grey. It has become rainy days, thorns, bitterness, and tears.

But, dear, sweet, beautiful friend, I hope you can still find the joy. The beauty. The sunshine. Because, I know you can survive. No, thrive. I know you can thrive.

You can come out stronger on the other side. You can prove that you are more. You can prove you’re worth more. You can prove you can do more with less.

And, I don’t know how much it’s worth, because I’m sure so many people have told you all this before. And you’ve said it to yourself, too, I’m sure. But, I wanted to say it again. Hopefully, you’ll believe it. Because I do.

For now, until you get your wings to soar back, we’ll walk with you. We’ll stand by you. We’ll hold your hands until you regain your footing. Because you may feel that you’ve been given more than you can handle alone. But, you haven’t, and you’re not alone.

Until you begin to thrive, I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray hard. I’ll pray a lot. Because, I know you have a relationship with God. Or you did. I don’t know if you still do. And I wouldn’t totally blame you if you don’t. I wouldn’t blame you if you hated Him or were mad at Him, or blamed Him. But, I don’t. I still have a strong relationship with Him. And I believe He has so much planned for you and your wonderful self. So much more than this. So, I’ll talk to Him. For you. And for me.

But, dear, sweet, beautiful, innocent, wonderful friend, keep your head up. Find the joy again. The laughter. The beauty. The sunshine. Be brave. Be strong. Be amazing.

But know that being strong doesn’t mean you can’t cry. Or get mad. Or blame someone. Or do what you need to do to get what you deserve. Because what you deserve is not this.

So, go on with your life. Go to college and face the challenges it brings with a smile and an open heart. Don’t let this change you. Don’t let the past 18, or however many, years bring you down. Continue to be your awesome self. Tell your hilarious puns. (Because seriously, I’ll miss those in college. You better hope Houghton has someone who loves quality puns as much as I do. And I better hope Roberts has someone who tells as many quality puns as you do.)  Write your beautiful stories. Quote Disney movies unapologetically. Explore your wonderful passions more. Experience the beautiful world.

And remember that this doesn’t define you. Remember that you didn’t deserve this. Remember that you are beautiful. And amazing. Don’t let your experiences from the past haunt you. Or scare you. Or keep you from being who you want to be and doing what you want to do. Remember that not everyone will treat you the way you’ve been treated in the past. So, open your heart. And remember to just keep swimming. Because you are braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Beautiful, wonderful friend, keep your head up. And soar.

 

 

 

*Recently, I heard about a terrible situation one of my friends was in. And I was heartbroken. She is one of the sweetest, kindest, most generous, most loving people I know. So, I wrote this for her, and for anyone else who may need it. And I am linking a website here, where more can be read about her, and thoughts and prayers, as well as donations, can be sent.

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