I used to think…

I used to think I had it all figured out. I knew exactly what it meant to have faith and believe. Everything was in a pretty, wrapped up box and made total sense. We were meant to be happy all the time and go on with our lives accepting the sadness, but quickly flipping the coin over to joy.

I used to think I needed to keep Jesus in a box too. I knew this whole Christianity thing was supposed to be about following Jesus and being a disciple of him…that it means so much more than a label or a checklist or rules of right or wrong, but I spent so much time trying to be good, trying to make sure I was doing it right, and saying and believing the right things. I was missing out on the person of Jesus and who He was and how He is.

I used to bristle at being called a Christian…too much hurt, too much misuse, too much baggage is associated with that word. It was something I was not proud to be labeled as and the day I realized that a little part of me unraveled. What was wrong with me that I recoiled at this label? And even while I took a step back from the beliefs and traditions I’ve always known and confronted these doubts and questions, I never could shake Jesus. I never could shake that name, that person, that relationship and the more and more I stepped back from my pretty, wrapped up boxes and black and white definitions, I felt like I took a step closer and closer to Jesus.

I started to really think about who he was, what he stood for and if I’m going to say I follow him, what does that mean? I used to think it meant I had all the answers, I was on the “good” path, I should be able to fix everything and make sure it all works out for good. I should be happy all the time, but that’s not how this works, at least it hasn’t for me. My pretty wrapped up boxes have been destroyed, my world has faded from black and white to all kinds of shades of gray and I embrace the wonder, the messiness and the times it just doesn’t make sense because I don’t have it all figured out.

When you’re sitting in a funeral for a student who had been shot and killed, there is no way to fix that. When you watch his mother and brother and family cry out when that casket lid shuts, there is no pretty, wrapped up box for that to fit in. When the pain and the grief was choking me and all I wanted to do was make it better for them, all I could say was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. That name over and over again. Because what else can you do? This doesn’t make sense, how does my faith explain this? I don’t know, but Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…

When I’ve been in my darkest place, feeling like the despair, the confusion and the loneliness may just overtake me, there was no pretty, wrapped up box for that to fit in. When I felt like the world swirled around me like a tornado and all I could do was hang on for dear life, I didn’t know how this fit in my black and white categories or my understanding of my faith. It didn’t make sense to me, but Jesus did and I said that name, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Sarah Bessey says, “In your heart of hearts, in your raw place of grief and suffering, in your rich center of love and redemption, who do you say God is?” God is with us. That’s who God is to me. God is with us and he is love, he is comfort, he is peace and he hates what is evil. It is not his will for a teenager to be killed or for us to suffocate in the darkness, but Jesus is on the side of those who suffer and rather than looking down on our pain, sits with us in the brokenness, in the grief and in the sadness.

I used to think we were doing it wrong if we were sad and didn’t have a quick answer or reassurance for when that terrible thing happens, but now I know that we are going to be sad, we have to feel those feelings and there are no quick answers. We have lost the practice of lament and how true healing comes from walking through the grief.

I used to think I was damned for not loving being called a Christian, but now I think I am not alone in that and now I know that a label is not who I am. I never could shake Jesus and that’s who I want to be known by. I want to be known for all Jesus stands for…for love, justice, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, goodness, life, comfort and peace.

I used to think Jesus was present in my life and was the person I pointed to when asked who I believed in, but now I think He is so much more than that. He is there with me always, holding my hand to keep me grounded when the world is in chaos around me, sitting with me in the grief, walking with me in the wilderness and celebrating my joys. Always reminding me that He is there, he is love, he is comfort, he is constant, thank you Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

{This is part of the Out of Sorts Synchroblog with Sarah Bessey answering I used to think_____ but now I think _____ …head on over here to read more!}

O Holy Night.

I’ve been working on a lot of papers these days with the semester winding down, which means I’ve been listening to a lot of Christmas music to accompany me…John Legend Holiday Radio on Pandora to be exact. I really love Christmas music…within the time frame of Thanksgiving and Christmas. 🙂 Every time I’ve been writing or working on an assignment whenever my favorite Christmas song comes on, O Holy Night, I just stop and listen to it.

I think about all that is happening in our world and in this season of Advent, this season of waiting and anticipation of what is to come and this song shines a little light into the darkness and brings a little hope to the hopeless. It’s a beautiful reminder about why this season matters so much.

My favorite part says this:

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

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Because this is what Jesus is about…to be about love and peace. Not to get caught up in legalities and arguments and I am right and you are wrong, but to love one another no matter how we differ from each other. Jesus came to show us His love so we can love each other. Jesus is also about justice and equality and about those on the margins and the oppressed experiencing freedom, justice and peace. I’m thankful for a song that reminds us of that. It also has an interesting history if you’re interested in reading about it, find it here. (a good reminder to people that just because something is not created by people labeled as “Christians” doesn’t mean it isn’t Truth)

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Justice Matters.

I’ve written and rewritten my thoughts about all of this. I’ve read more articles than I can count and had many discussions with those close to me. I wasn’t sure how to articulate everything that I’ve been thinking and feeling these last few months. Hearing the latest news though has done me in and I can’t be silent even if my words don’t make sense. Because when I saw the officer was not indicted for choking Eric Garner to death, I was furious and felt like I was going to throw up. I haven’t been able to sleep because I keep thinking about it so I decided to write.

Every time I saw another article posted about it, every time I saw someone write #blacklivesmatter, every time I heard someone say “people are over reacting” or “we don’t have a race issue”, I want to throw up.  I’m not going to claim I even know all the details about these particular cases or argue the particulars because this is SO MUCH MORE than that. This is about something bigger. This is about a system of injustice and oppression that has roots so deep people can live in ignorance to the issues because it’s what they’ve always known. This is about the fact that there even needs to be a hashtag that says black lives matter. No one should have to campaign for that because everyone should know their lives matter. But in our society that’s not the case.

I know this post won’t do much in the grand scheme of things, but I cannot be silent about this. America does have a race issue. It’s rooted in years of oppression that created unjust systems that are still in practice today. Systems that benefit those in power, those with the same skin color as me. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that I’ve never been pulled over for no reason at all while my black friends have been too often to even keep track of. It’s not fair that my parents never had to talk to my brother about how to be polite and act around police officers for his own personal safety, but those are conversations every black man I know received from their parents. It’s not justice that five times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites. It’s not justice that there are countless examples of how white people get away with the same crimes that people of color get put away for, just look up the hashtags #crimingwhilewhite and #alivewhileblack.  It’s not justice that someone can be killed on video and they’re treated like their life doesn’t matter and that it does not even deserve a trial.

You better believe we still have a race issue. It’s just getting exposed and national attention recently and for people who can’t acknowledge that, live in ignorance. Ignorance to the fact that the color of your skin still does matter and injustice abounds in our world today. The fact that white people can ignore this issue or have the choice to tune it out attests to the privilege we have.

I believe that the world is not supposed to be this way and that there’s hope for a better story, although it’s hard to envision that better story these days it seems. But we know to hope for a story of justice and equality…that we can be a society where justice rolls down and every single human being’s value and worth is known. But it starts with change…deep change.

For those of us that claim to follow Jesus, this matters. This matters because our brothers and sisters are hurting, mourning and have injustices laid upon them day after day. This matters because every person was made in the image of God and every single person’s life matters. This matters because we are called to love each other and to enter into the pain of our neighbors. This matters because peace, justice and equality is not present and that is what we are supposed to be about. I pray that justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream because something has got to change.

I’m not saying anything new…so many others say things way better than I do, but with my little fraction of the interwebs I had to get it out there. Here are some others who say it better:

I highly recommend this video.

Here are some other articles to read:

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/current/nation/justice-black-lives-must-begin-us-part-1
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/current/nation/justice-black-lives-must-begin-us-part-2

http://www.upworthy.com/chris-rocks-epic-truth-bomb-about-how-its-white-people-that-have-progressed-not-black-people

http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/2014/12/stages-injustice-against-black-people.html
http://qz.com/251570/now-you-know-what-i-always-have-america-does-not-value-black-lives/

And for one final thought.

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Coffee Shops.

I’m currently sitting in a new coffee shop not far from my house, it’s quickly becoming my favorite. Not only do they serve great coffee (I may be a little biased, but Humphreys Street Coffee is pretty good!) 🙂 But the atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable and I love it. It’s never too busy in the mornings, which I guess I should hope isn’t the case for long, so they stay in business, but their scones are delicious, this coming from someone who doesn’t really love scones (I just inhaled their chocolate, raspberry one) and everyone is very friendly. Anyway…this isn’t an endorsement for Woodbine Coffee Co, but if you live in Nashville, you should check it out.

I love the atmosphere of coffee shops and the built in expectation that community will happen here. I love people watching and observing people and coffee shops are an excellent place to do that. I love randomly running into someone I know, observing friends hug and exclaim how happy they are to see each other, seeing a group of people hunched over intently having a meeting, watching the contentment  of someone working alone at their computer, noticing the tension of another person studying for their MCAT, seeing another wiping tears from her eyes as her friend looks at her with a face that says, everything’s not okay, but you are not alone.

I love coffee shops because I’ve seen community deepen there, I’ve seen ideas be born, I’ve seen both burdens and celebrations shared, I’ve seen productivity achieved, I’ve seen a shared space become a place where there’s room for everyone and it all happens over a delicious cup of coffee (or tea if that’s what you prefer). I know for me it’s a place where I feel peace, where I feel productive and where my creativity can thrive and that is a beautiful thing, my friends.

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Today I had a choice.

Life has been overwhelming lately. I don’t always know what to do when it gets this way because it’s overwhelmed with so many good things. I love what I’m learning in grad school, I enjoy doing my job, and it’s so life giving to spend time with people, but it’s reached a point where it’s a lot. I have felt paralyzed with it all lately. So anxious about all there is to do, I feel like I can’t do anything. This morning I realized I had a choice in how to deal with all this so I wrote a letter to myself (weird? Maybe…but it worked)

Abby, you can choose to let anxiety and fear run your day or you can chose to let peace and wisdom run your day today. Stop being paralyzed by the anxiety you’re allowing to creep into your life. Take a deep breath, remember you can’t do this by yourself, choose to make this a productive day and take one thing at a time. Be flexible, be mindful, work hard, take deep breaths, and remember God has got you and wants to be the source you tap into for your strength. 

So after this little self-talk I decided to choose peace, to choose wisdom and to choose productivity and by the grace of God I made it through today. Everything there is to be done is still there, nothing has changed with my workload, but today I choose peace, wisdom and productivity and a peace that surpasses understanding is currently covering my life.

So be encouraged today friends, be encouraged that you’re not alone. Be encouraged that you can choose peace. Be encouraged that a peace that surpasses understanding can cover your life too.