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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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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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High School Advice

Dear sweet, innocent, beautiful girl,

High school is tough. It’s challenging- in more ways than one. But, you’re tougher. I know because I’ve seen it. But I also know the world can be a horrible place. Or it can be beautiful. So, before you take on life’s newest challenge- newest gift- here are 25 things you must remember. From me, to you. 25 things to help you make your world a little more beautiful. 25 things to make you a little tougher.

1.You’re beautiful. And I know that you hear this all the time, from everyone. And it’s written on bumper stickers and cups and tee shirts and the sides of buildings. It’s found all over the hashtags of Twitter, the selfies of Instagram, and the like buttons of Facebook. When people say it, it sounds like an auto-generated response on an answering machine. “Yes,” “hello,” “you’re beautiful,” “Please press 1.” And it’s lost all genuineness and meaning to you. But, it’s true, you are beautiful, inside and out. And you have to promise me you’ll remember this, because one day you’ll be walking down the hall and you’ll see a girl who has nicer hair than you do, or tanner skin, or greener eyes, or a prettier smile, and for a moment, you’ll doubt that you’re beautiful. And although it may last for only a moment, the next day you will wake up and realize your makeup doesn’t quite cover those things you don’t like about yourself. And suddenly, that momentary doubt has become an eternity. And you’re worth so much more than the amount of likes you get on Instagram or the amount of time you spend straightening your hair or perfecting your eyeliner. So, never forget to tell yourself that you’re beautiful every morning while you stare at yourself in the mirror, because eventually, if you say it enough, you will begin to believe it.

2.Choose your friends wisely. I know, it sounds cliché, but it is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Choose friends who encourage you, support you, love you, and care for you. And don’t be afraid to end friendships with those friends who don’t. Remember, that sometimes the best friends are not those you spend the most time with, have known the longest, or talk to the most. Sometimes the ones you rarely see and barely speak to are the ones that care the most. So be friends with someone whose love is overwhelming and whose heart is caring. And make sure you are that friend to those around you.

3.Have confidence in your abilities and challenge yourself, but know your limits. Take that AP class you’re afraid might be too difficult. Take that class that everyone says is a lot of work. Believe in yourself. Challenge yourself. Work hard. Persevere. And if you can’t do it? Don’t. Don’t push yourself so far you can’t see an end. And don’t ever do anything to prove yourself to others. The college credit you may earn or the respect you may gain are not worth your health and sanity. Trust me, I have been there and done that. And in a year from now, you won’t regret that extra two hours of sleep a night, or that time you spent with your family or friends instead of with homework, but you will regret the sleepless nights you had and the stress you caused yourself. So believe in yourself, but know when you’ve had enough.

4.That cute boy in your English class, on the school’s soccer team, at your lunch table, or in your youth group might break your heart. Or he might not. And I pray every day that he doesn’t. But if he does, it will hurt, and that’s okay for a while. So cry, get angry, rip up his picture, call your friends to complain about boys, eat a gallon of ice cream, watch that romantic movie for the 100th time; it’s okay. But, eventually you have to get over it and move on. Because if you don’t, you’re letting him hurt you all over again. And no guy should hurt you that much for that long. And no guy should ever be allowed to make you feel bad about yourself. So don’t let him. You will survive, and one day you’ll
learn to forgive him. And if he doesn’t break your heart, please make sure that he is kind, caring, gentle, loving, and that he treats you as you deserve to be treated. Make sure that he helps you grow, and that, above all, he loves Jesus with his whole heart. Because if he doesn’t, he can’t love you as you deserve to be loved.(Actually, you’ll probably break his heart. Because any guy would be heart broken if you broke up with him. But, if you do have to break his heart, let him down easy. Be kind. )

5.You will have teachers you don’t agree with, or who can’t teach, or who you just don’t like. And they will make going to class every day miserable. And you won’t want to show up, and you’ll complain about them to anyone who will listen. But please remember that teachers are people too. They make mistakes; they have bad days, and they need grace and forgiveness just as much as you do. So please treat them with respect and kindness. You will learn lessons from these teachers that are far more valuable than any math formula, French verb, or chemistry term. You will learn how to get along with and respect those you disagree with. You will learn how to acquire knowledge independently without the intervention of others.You will learn that sometimes in life you have to deal with people that you don’t like. You’ll learn forgiveness and gentleness. It may not seem like it now, but these teachers are the ones you’ll learn the most from.

6.Respect your parents, and be kind to your brothers. Give your mom a hug. Tell your dad you love him. You’re their little girl, and you’re growing up faster than they could imagine. I know it may seem like they are unfair, or embarrassing, or that they never want you to have any fun, but they love you, and they just want what’s best for you. You’re growing up before their eyes, and they are afraid that one day you won’t need them at all. So let them embarrass you, and hug you, and tell you what to do. Because one day they won’t need to, or they won’t be able to, and you’ll want nothing more than for your mom to tell you what to do or for your dad to give you a hug. And be kind to your brothers. Because they love you. And your younger brothers are afraid you’ll leave and won’t want to talk to them again. And your older brother cares for you and wants to make sure you’re okay. So play that childish game with them, watch that stupid Youtube video they wanted to show you, help them with their homework, listen to them talking about the latest game or app, and at least pretend to care. Because one day, you’ll miss all that time with them.

7.Popularity isn’t everything. I know, at the age of 14, the most important thing is how many friends you have or if that super popular girl likes you. But in a few years, none of that will matter. As soon as you graduate, people will remember the way you treated others, and not the number of people you knew. So treat everyone kindly and with respect, and don’t worry about who likes you and who doesn’t. Because if you are kind, people will love you, and those who don’t will be missing out on an opportunity to know an amazing person. So you may not be liked by everyone, but you’ll be loved by those that are important, and the number of friends you have does not determine your worth.

8.Don’t form your opinions based on the beliefs of those around you. Don’t choose your favorite subject because of what your friends like. Don’t choose your favorite football team based on who your family cheers for. Don’t form an opinion on that book because of what your English teacher or classmates think. Don’t ever feel a certain way about anything simply because your family, pastor, friend, teacher, or coach told you you should. Explore things for yourself, absorb information, listen to others’ thoughts, become informed, and make your own decisions. And don’t be afraid to change it later. You’ll gain more knowledge and experience more things, and those will shape your thoughts and opinions, and that’s okay. And don’t worry if it is different than everyone else’s, but keep in mind that others have opinions too, and theirs’ is just as valid and as important to them as yours’ is to you.

9.You will have bad days. You will have days when you will want to shut yourself off from the world and just forget about your life for a while. And you know what? That’s okay. Go home, shut yourself in your room, cry, blast your music, read a book, take a nap, drink some tea, and ignore the world for a while. But wake up tomorrow and remember that it’s a new day.

10.You will get a bad grade, or two, or twenty. Don’t let some bad grades get you down. You’re smart and talented and one bad grade doesn’t change that. Yeah, it may hurt, at least the first time, and it may make you feel like a failure. But, don’t dwell on it. Forget about it and move on. However you need to do it, do it. Cry, get upset, hide it from your parents. Whatever. Just get over it, and the second time it won’t hurt as much. And remember that your worth is not measured by a number on a page.

11.Don’t bother your brother too much. When you see him in the hallway, smile and say hi. But don’t run up to him with all your friends. Don’t bother him when he is with his friends. Don’t give him a hard time about that girl, or that friend, or that whatever. Don’t annoy his friends when you pass by them. He needs his space, just like you do, and guys are weird, and they don’t seem to like their younger sisters hanging around. But don’t ever doubt that he loves you, because, despite what he may say, he does. And he will always be there for you to help you or protect you. So ask him about how to deal with that teacher. Tell him about that mean kid. Talk to him when you need help. Because he will help you and protect you, just as you would protect your younger brothers. You’re his younger sister, and whether you need his help or not, he will help you because he loves you.

12.Always have snacks. Keep some in your purse, your locker, your backpack, your soccer bag, wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just have some. Because one day you will forget your lunch, you won’t have time to pack it, you won’t like whatever the school is serving, you’ll forget you have practice after school, or you’ll have to stay after for a last minute study session. And you will be hungry. And always have a bottle of water.

13.Be helpful, but don’t let people use you. Help your friends with homework if they need it. Offer to proof read that essay for them. But don’t let them take advantage of your helpfulness. Don’t do their work for them, and know when you need to say no. And most importantly, know that it’s okay to say no.

14.Don’t ever offer to do all of the work for a group project. Even if you think it is the only way it will get done right, or done at all. Your sanity is more important than a good grade on a project. And teachers are smarter than you think; they notice when one person is doing all the work. And if they don’t notice, then don’t be afraid to tell them.

15.You don’t always have to work in groups with your friends. In fact, sometimes it is better not to work with your friends. It’s less distracting, and you are more likely to get things done and less likely to talk about that cute guy in your Biology class.

16.Find out what you’re good at and what you enjoy. Explore your interests. Discover your talents. Find your passions. And don’t do or not do something just because your friends are. Take that science class, even if all your friends are taking music. Don’t stop taking French just because all your friends did. Be your own person, explore all the possibilities, find out what you love and what you’re good at, and pour your heart into it.

17.You will never want to do your homework. Some days even less than others. You’ll always want to take a nap, or read a book, or play a game, or watch Netflix, or go to the mall. And there will be days when you would rather read the dictionary than do your homework. But don’t put it off. Just get it done so you can relax, watch Netflix, sleep, or hang out with your friends. Also, please don’t ever read the dictionary.

18.Sometimes you will need to get away. Get away from your homework, your stress, your parents, your brothers, your house, your friends. Pick up your phone and text one of us. We’ll come get you and buy you some coffee, or ice cream, or milkshakes. We’ll even let you just come over and hang out for a while. Or call grandma. You know she is always up for seeing her grand kids, and plus, she has food, lots of food.

19.High school is nothing like the movies. People don’t suddenly burst out into song and dance in the middle of class or while walking down the hallway. The social strata in your school and the barriers that separate the classes of people are not easily broken. Teachers are not stupid, and hardly any are that lenient. The perfect makeover won’t suddenly make you popular. The dress code is enforced. And being different is, unfortunately, not celebrated. It’s difficult and scary and at times it can feel like the worse thing in the world. But, just like in the movies, you’ll survive it.

20.Prom is not all it’s cracked up to be. Your junior year will come and you’ll want to go to prom. Your senior year will come and you’ll dream of going to ball. But you’ll worry that you’ll be the only one without a date. You’ll wonder if that boy you like will ask you. And someone might ask you, and then you’ll constantly call, text, and send photos of your hair, makeup, and dress to him just to make sure his shirt color perfectly matches your dress. Which you spent hours picking out. You’ll spend money on your ticket, your dress, your accessories, and your hair and makeup. And then you’ll show up to prom. Where you’ll spend hours standing against the wall talking to your friends, waiting for the moment you feel comfortable enough to dance. You’ll want it to be the best night of your life, but it won’t be. It will be fun, but to say it’s the best night of your life would be lying. So don’t worry about having the perfect date, because boys have cooties, and it’s much better to spend the night with your friends anyway. And don’t stress over finding the perfect dress, because you’ll wear it once and then put it in your closet and never touch it again, except to move it out of the way. In fact, you don’t have to go to prom at all. You could stay home and have a Harry Potter movie marathon instead.

21.Eventually, people will start to ask you what you want to do with your life. And it’s okay if you don’t know the answer. It’s okay if you have no idea where you want to go college or what you want to study or what you want to do with the rest of your life. You’re not the only one. You’ll figure it out. Consider what you like to do, explore your interests, investigate the possibilities, and devote yourself to praying about your future. Lean on God and trust Him. And if you do know what you want to do, don’t be too surprised if He suddenly changes your plans. It just means He has something better in mind for you.

22.Read that book for English. Don’t spark note it or ask a friend what happened, or completely skip over it altogether. I know, sometimes they are long and boring and dull. I am an avid reader and have never read a book I didn’t enjoy, or at least appreciate. But, I have seen many great books ruined by countless essays and over analysis. I have read books that I never would have picked up on my own. I have questioned my English teachers’ decisions and opinions about certain books. But, I have never regretted reading them. And it may be because I have an uncontrollable love for literature and a passion for words, but I think it’s more than that. Those books are classics for a reason. And the ones that haven’t been around that long, your teacher chose for a reason. Even if you don’t enjoy the book, you’ll never regret reading it. Because it may be the only book you read that year. Or you may be able to connect to someone or something on a whole different level because of it. Or you may fall in love with the main character, or find your new favorite book. You may be changed as a person or your may be transformed in your way of thinking. And if all else fails, you might be able to use it on your Regents exam or SAT.

23.Always have your headphones and a phone charger. Riding the bus without headphones and some great tunes is like eating an ice cream sundae without sprinkles. It’s possible, sure, but it’s just not right. People will try to talk to you, and you just don’t feel like talking at 6:30 in the morning, and you certainly don’t want to talk at 2:15 in the afternoon after talking to people all day. And how do you expect to do your math homework in study hall without your Pandora stations and Spotify playlists? And nothing is worse than picking up your phone to Snapchat your friends before practice or to call your parents after and realizing your phone is dead. So, headphones and a phone charger. And, of course, some Taylor Swift.

24.Don’t ask your friends how they did on an assignment. In fact, don’t ask anyone. Don’t ask your neighbor, or your friend, or that kid you don’t really like, or that really smart kid, or your brother who did that exact same assignment years ago. Because one of you did better than the other one. And you’re only asking because you want to feel validated. You want to be sure everyone else did as bad as you did, or you need to make sure that you did better than everyone else. And it might work for a short time, but eventually you will find someone who did better than you. And you’ll be left with a feeling of failure or anger or sadness or disappointment. So don’t ask, because in a week from now you won’t remember, and it won’t matter even if you did. If you ever get asked how you did, you can tell them no. And if they won’t take no for an answer, tell them
your grade is equal to the number you got right divided by the total number of questions. Then they’ll leave you alone because you’re annoying, and you totally just told a dad joke.

25.High school is not going to be the best four years of your life. People always say it is, but the truth is, it’s not. And the sooner you realize this, the better these four years will be. Because, the truth is, they will be filled with stress, emotions, lack of sleep, drama, hormones, tests, obligations, pressure, and so many other scary things. But they will also be filled with love, happiness, beauty, laughter, joy, and so many other wonderful things. They will certainly not be the best four years of your life. Sure, there will be unforgettable moments, but there will also be ones you will pray every day you can forget. By the time you graduate, you will have lived on this planet for 18 years, and to claim that these four are the best you will ever have is to say that the next 40, 50, 60, 70, years will be uneventful and boring. And that’s just not true. Because one day you’ll graduate, go to college, get your dream job, marry your best friend, start a family, live in your favorite place on earth, travel the world, reach your dreams, and be unbelievably happy. And you will forget most of what happened to you in these four short years. And that’s okay, because you will have moved on to bigger and better things, and you’ll look back and wonder where the time went. Someday you will have to leave, and you will be happy, sad, and scared all at once. You’ll want to stop time and recede back into the comfort and familiarity of it all. But you can’t. So, live every day with happiness, enjoy every moment, and embrace every new opportunity and adventure with the curiosity and wonder of a child. Chase your dreams, discover who you are, be yourself, make mistakes, take risks, explore, create, and live.

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On Things High School Never Teaches You

For those who don’t know, there was a school shooting in Colorado earlier today. For a news article, go to http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/13/us/colorado-school-shooting/
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This news inspired this post. I was originally going to write about Christmas, but this is more appropriate for the time.

High school may or may not be the best time of your life. Your days are filled with education and socialization. You are taught, and in turn you teach others. It’s an important time of your life, you may or may not meet your future family, and you may or may not have your heart broken, but regardless of what happens to you and what you do, or do not, learn, there are things you will never learn. By the time you leave its old, cracked walls, you will know that the sin of a 30 degree angle is 1/2, that one mole is equal to 6.02×10^23 molecules, that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is not a story driven by love, but rather lust, hatred, and spite, You will know how to conjugate verbs in more than one language, and how failed reform attempts was a partial cause of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. You learn all these facts about math, science, English, history, and foreign languages, which may or may not be useful in the future. However, high school never teaches you everything, and it neglects to teach you what is important for life.

My school just finished Health week, with a day dedicated to suicide prevention, but we never asked why it occurs. We never addressed the reasons. We never discussed those who have attempted. or succeeded, to end their lives.

We had a hug day, but we never talked about why every day should be hug day.

We have had compliment days, but never talked about why every day isn’t compliment day.

We learn that depression exists and that it is a horrible, consuming ocean, but we never learn how to help those who we know who have been affected by it.

Within its walls, we learn how to survive, but we never learn how to handle the outside, how to live away from the comforting confines of the dirt covered, cracking walls.

We learn about psychology and how the human mind works, but we hardly ever question why.

We try to justify everyone’s actions and attitudes, but never ask them why they did what they did.

We learn the signs of pain, but ignore them when they arise and never ask anyone why they hurt.

Those walls have had thousands of people pass through them and tell them their secrets but they never say a word.

Your teachers will tell you to use your words, but they will never show you how to use them.

Everyone will tell you that words get you further than violence, but they never teach you what to say.

You know that in Dickens’ Great Expectations Pip is trained to be a gentleman, but how do you recognize a true gentleman?

You read books about life and death, but you never learn how to handle death.

You learn about the melting and boiling points of substances and why it takes more energy to vaporize something than to melt it, but did you know that sometimes you won’t have enough energy to get out of bed?

You see the couples in the hallway who claim to be in love, but no one will ever tell you how to love yourself, and how important that is.

You learn about the rain and why it falls, but you never learn that sometimes, enough rain falls from your eyes to fill an ocean.

In high school, you learn that in order for a triangle to be a triangle, the sum of the two smaller sides must be greater than the larger side, but you never learn what makes a person a person.

You study stories of life, but did you know that life is never like the books?

You know that allergies are just your body attacking things that it thinks are harmful but actually aren’t, but do you know why people attack others?

You may learn that the decline of Ottoman Empire was partially due to the spread of revolutions and nationalism, but have you ever learned what causes a decline in a human’s soul and mind?

You may even learn that people are annoying and that you hate them all, but did anyone ever teach you how to love them regardless?

At school, you are taught to be skinny and perfect and that is true beauty, but you are never taught that true beauty is internal, and no one who is internally beautiful can be ugly, and everyone is beautiful in their own way.

I have learned a lot of things in my short year and a half in high school and more than 10 years of attending school, but a few things still perplex me. For instance, why do school shooters shoot? Do they feel the need to extract revenge on someone or something so violently? Why do people feel like they are alone and have nobody? Why do those that feel this way never let you know they do? Why do those who claim to know Jesus not act like they do?

Your school may teach you things about the world religions, but they never help you discover one.

They tell you that Jesus was crucified, but they never ask why.

Teachers speak about their high school days, but they rarely help you survive yours.

High school so far has taught me facts that I will need to pass the Trig test on Tuesday, and to get a job in the science field when I am older. Other students teach me how to be competitive, but nobody told me competition and grades aren’t everything, in the long run they aren’t even that important. It taught me that I should always try to be a good person, but they never told me that good deeds don’t give me eternal life. Within its walls, I read about love, but never about unfailing and unconditional love.

By the time I leave high school, I will know mounds of useless facts, but I won’t know anything about life and what it means to live it.

You never learn in school what is truly important to your life and how to truly live. School is important, but not as important as life, it doesn’t teach you everything. I have never learned about Christ and His love in school, but I have learned that we aren’t supposed to talk about it in class. In French, I am learning that verbs make up a huge part of everyone’s life, but never about how our actions and choices affect others. I have learned how to write a coherent essay, but never how each part of my story correlates, or even what I want mine to say.

The things taught in school are important, but more important are the things never taught in the building, but in the world outside of it.

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