Let me tell you about finding my voice.

I lose my voice periodically.  It’s usually when the season changes – stuffy nose, sore throat, and no way to complain to the world about it.  I can’t sing, and that always makes me sad.  Every fall, without fail, I spend a week or two croaking through my classes and insist on talking even when my professors tell me to stop because I like to be a part of the conversation.

I like to be part of the conversation.  But sometimes, my host parents speak so quickly at dinner that I can’t catch all the words.  Embarrassed, I have to ask them to repeat requests, or get what I can from context.  I do all the reading for my history class, but the teaching assistant and another student have a rapid debate with their backs to me, and it’s all I can do just to keep up.  In my oral comprehension workshop, we have assignments where we listen to an audio or video clip and have to fill in the blanks in the dialogue.  If there’s a word in Spanish that I’ve never heard before, I don’t know what to do or how to spell it.  There’s a few key phrases I’ve gotten in the bad habit of sticking too when I’m in a longer conversation in Spanish with friends – because by the time it takes me to think of a response or an interjection, the moment is already gone.  And even when it’s not, we’ve only been here a month – I feel like to some degree we’re all still getting to know each other.  There are jokes I would make or stories I would tell with friends back home, who know me inside and out, that come to my mind but not out of my mouth every day.  Here in Argentina, I feel like I lose my voice periodically.

My family came to visit this last week, and as crazy as it was juggling classes, homework and spending as much time with them as I could, it was such a great time.  In all of the ways that mattered, I felt like I had my voice back.  My family knows me better than anybody – all my stories, all my quirks – there’s nothing I have to explain or excuse or evade.  My brother will always be the only person I can quote Gravity Falls with, and there’s a couple of one-liners from movies that can send all four of us into stitches of laughter at any given moment.  The day of my back-to-back classes, I was stressed and tired and frustrated and harried all morning – so not in the mood to be around people.  But when my family met up with me for lunch, they were the ones who could pull me out of that bad mood and make me laugh even when I’d been scowling for hours.  Because they know me so well, I got to share my city with them in some really fun ways, showing them where I’ve been and what I’ve done and who I’ve become in the meantime, and we got to share memories that will carry me through the next few months until I fly back home.

When they got in the cab to go back to the airport on Friday, I choked on all the goodbyes I had planned, and I felt myself losing my voice again.  I came home with my shoulders slumped and sadness settled over me like the gray blanket of clouds overhead – missing my people and missing the feeling of comfort and home and the ways I express that when I’m there, and not for any particular reason that I could verbalize other than they were here and they left and I just was sad.

I’m normally an external processor, so the most frustrating feeling in the world is feeling something – anything – without being able to come up with the words as to why.  But just the other day, my friend Kyler was talking about something that fascinated me – how words don’t have meaning, they have usage.  We use words to express what we mean – but if the person listening doesn’t speak the same language, we’re only speaking in sounds that have no significance.  On their own, words don’t carry weight.

I love to be part of the conversation.  I hate losing my voice.  But maybe words don’t mean as much as I thought they did.  Maybe it’s okay they’re not what I use in the moment to know what I mean.  And as I walk a fine line between two languages, falling into one and tripping back into the other on a moment-to-moment basis, maybe it’s okay to speak even when my voice breaks a little.

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Let me tell you about the familiar.

The hardest thing about blogging from Buenos Aires is that there is so much to say.  Every day I come home with new stories and new insights – which, right now, are scattered across the pages of my journal, the notes section of my phone, and some Word documents in my computer.  The same is true of my conversations when I catch up with friends from home. How do you fit a month of daily life in a completely new environment into a phone call or a Facebook message?  That’s why I love it that many of my friends have narrowed things down by asking the same question: “What’s the best part?”

The best part of Buenos Aires is Buenos Aires.  I wish I could tell you that I’ve been to a concert or an event or a museum or even a restaurant that blew me away, but the simple fact of the matter is that I’m most blown away when I walk down the street and it hits me that I get to live here.  I could tell you about the adventures I’ve been on with friends and the streets we’ve turned down and the foods we’ve tried, but what I really want you to know is that wherever we go and whatever we do, I never get bored.  And I could tell you how often I’ve been overwhelmed by the newness of it all and the differences between here and the United States. But the longer I’m here and the shorter the days feel, the more I’ve found myself slipping into some familiar habits and spaces, reassuring me that wherever I am, who I am and whose I am doesn’t change.

For starters, I’m spending my second afternoon this week studying at the Starbucks close to my apartment.  It’s more casual than most of the cafes I’ve found here, which makes it a good place to do homework.  At the same time, there’s a familiar undercurrent of energy and a hum of conversation underneath the typical coffeehouse music – all in English, ironically – that plays over the speakers.  I keep thinking it should feel stereotypical, being the American who comes to Starbucks on my afternoon off, but instead, I just feel comfortable.  It’s a familiar logo from the outside and a familiar atmosphere on the inside, but it’s still on the corner of a busy street in Buenos Aires, and I don’t ever forget where I am.

For one thing, I can just look outside.  The floor-to-ceiling windows have a gorgeous view of the sunlight filtering through the leaves of the trees that line both sides of the street. For another, just like in the States, it’s the people that create the atmosphere, and the people I watch come and go from my little nest in the corner of a squashy orange couch fascinate me.  At the cluster of chairs next to me, a bunch of bags lay discarded while a man keeps an eye on them and reads a book.  I’m puzzled, until three girls close to my age come trooping in and I realize they’re using the couches as home base for a photoshoot. They pull scarves, sweaters and skirts out of the different bags and one heads to the bathroom to change while the other two sit passing the camera back and forth between them to see how the last photos turned out.  When she returns in a drastically different outfit, her friend pulls a whole handful of statement necklaces out of another bag.  Once accessorized appropriately, they head back out.  I’d love to see how some of those photos turn out, but I don’t know that I know how to ask that in Spanish, and I’m engrossed in a video for my academic production class and don’t notice when they leave.

A while later, a street vendor comes in and walks around, carrying a plastic sack of wares like Kleenex, scissors and notebooks.  He lays his products on the couch next to me, so I’ll see what he’s selling.  But I don’t need anything, so I don’t pick them up, I just watch him do the same at every table and when he circles back to me, shake my head and say “No, gracias.”  A wide table just behind me is filled with studious types, bent over their laptops and surrounded by notes and discarded white-and-green paper cups. At some of the tables for two, friends split a snack and share conversation, while at others, individuals divide their attention between the book they’ve brought along and their coffee of choice.  The music may be the only thing in English, but feels like the perfect intersection of home and here.  Maybe because I’ll never cease to be amazed that across cultures and countries, there’s a basic human level of creativity and comfort where we all connect, coexist, and leave with a loose sense of community.

I’ve lived enough places now to know that when I leave in four months, it’s not going to be the big moments that stick in my head the longest.  It’s going to be late night life chats over ice cream, taking wrong turns, window shopping, and studying at Starbucks: the conventional, the common, the everyday, the in-between moments. And more than anything, I want to take from those the ways that familiar became fresh, and the new became known.  And who knows?  Maybe I’ll make friends with the baristas while I’m at it.

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Creyentes que creen – let me tell you.

Hey friends, it’s official – I’ve lasted over a week in Argentina!  And I’ve definitely had a week’s worth of adventures – from late night Oreo McFlurry’s and life chats to learning to tango with a rando guy from New Zealand to getting kicked out of the Recoleta Cultural Center (which should really have some more signs) to meeting an Argentine diplomat on a bench at a ritzy downtown mall who asked what we thought of Donald Trump running for president – yeah, lots of adventures. But as terrific as the last few days have been, today God completely blew me away, so let me tell you.

Those are the adventures – the good stories – the moments that stand out from this week. If you flip things over, behind those stories are also some tangled knots and messy moments.  I’m not unfamiliar with stress and anxiety, but being in a new country with all new surroundings drove anxiety to a whole new level in my life this week, and it came to a head last night.  After spending the week getting to know new people and being in large groups for a lot of the time, my introverted side was really pumped for a chill Sunday, meeting with a little group of Christian friends to talk about life, and maybe hopefully even finding a church to visit together.  But then a group of students from our program decided to take a day trip to Uruguay.  How cool is it that you can just do that?! SO cool.  Didn’t stop my brain from spazzing out about thirty different ways.  Should I go? Should I rest? Was I missing a good opportunity to do something new? What if I didn’t go and then I wanted to go later and couldn’t find anyone to go with who hadn’t already gone?  I’d really wanted Sundays to be my Sabbath days here. (hit up my friend Rachael for more on Sabbath).  So I wouldn’t go.  But what would I be doing instead? Would I still be able to find a church?  Would I go to church alone?

On top of those thought processes, I’ve been painfully aware this weekend that my dad is in Belize without me for the first time, and I am really missing being with him and the people we love there.  I’m really missing the village school and my sweet girls and the Belizean sunshine.  I’m even missing tutoring math, that’s how you know it’s real.  I’m also missing my brother acting in his first school play, and in an interesting turn of events two of my best friends are at my house right now and I’m not there with them.  I just felt a little lost last night.  I love it here, I love being in the city, but because I’m here, there’s a lot of wonderful places I’m not, and people I’m not with.  Some days that’s harder to be okay with than others.

God doesn’t give us other people and expect us to do life alone, though.  I’ve been blessed to have a lot of incredible friends stand in the stress with me, both here and at home. As always, my roommate 100% had my back last night, and my sweet friend Stephanie made time for a Skype call this morning to encourage me.  And best of all, my friend Missy decided not to go on the trip today either, so we met for a late lunch this afternoon, and I got to hear her story and know her so much better than before!  We’re from the same university, but haven’t gotten to spend that much time together at school, so it was really awesome to get share with each other about where we’ve been and what God’s done in our lives up to this point, and how we’re feeling about being here.  Plus, after lunch, we caught the bus together and headed across town to Hillsong Buenos Aires.  Here’s where the story gets really good.

Okay first of all, yes, there is a HILLSONG BRANCH in Buenos Aires.  If you have ever participated in worship at any college ministry, youth group, or contemporary service across the country, you have sang a song by Hillsong.  I guarantee it.  They’re based in Australia, but they write fantastic worship music and have branches all over the world.  And one is right here in Buenos Aires!

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We walked in and heard “Bienvenido a casa!” more times than I could count.  They have an incredible team of volunteers who greeted us with hugs and besos, and found us seats closer to the front.  The worship started, and I have to tell you, while I’m usually not a such a huge fan of worship being presented like a concert, with smoke and lights and the bass turned up so you can feel in your bones, I LOVED the way Hillsong did worship. The band was having fun, the congregation was having fun, everyone was dancing and throwing their arms up in praise.  It was absolutely the most energy I’ve ever felt in any church ever, and it was so laser focused on the words and the music and the message, it was obvious that no one was there for a good time, they were there to give glory to God. The first two songs were new to me, and I had fun dancing and singing with the rest of the congregation.  But when the third song started, and I recognized the first notes of “Man of Sorrows,” a song we sing a lot at Midtown, the tears started pouring down.   It just blew my mind that I could travel to an entirely different continent and God would put one of my favorite songs in my life, in my new language.

 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  

Mark 9:21-24

The worship was incredible, but that was nothing compared to the message the pastor delivered (entirely in Spanish, and I understood!).  The title of his sermon was “Creyentes que creen” – “Believers who believe.”  He talked about how there’s nothing wrong with having doubts in our lives – but when we allow those doubts to define the parameters of what we believe God can and cannot do, we are no longer believers who believe, and we are limiting the work God can do in our life.  We allow our circumstances to govern our faith instead of the Word – and then we miss where He is moving because we are so busy watching where we think He will move.

Did you catch that?  We miss where He moving because we are letting our circumstances define where we think He should move.  When I let anxiety take over, I’m choosing to let my circumstances tell me where He should move rather than paying attention to the places He is moving.  When I worry about what will happen next, I’m not trusting that He already has a plan laid out for me.  When I think about how frazzled and panicked I was last night, it amazes me how beautifully and gently God reminded me, through getting to spend the afternoon with Missy and hearing this message and the truth in these verses, that His plan is always more than I can ask or imagine.  When I live in this truth – when I choose to be a believer who believes – there’s nothing to be anxious about any longer.

I’m pretty confident I’m never going to be able to pull that one off perfectly.  But that means all the more that every morning I’m alive on this earth, my knees should hit the floor the second I roll out of bed to surrender whatever circumstances lie ahead of me that day to the One who has them all under control.  Because I’m with Pastor Chris – venga lo que venga, quiero ser una creyente que cree.  Come what may, I want to be a believer who believes.

Guess what, the story doesn’t end there!  We couldn’t figure out which way to take the bus back home, so we asked some girls about our age to be sure we were at the right stop going the right direction.  One of them was taking it to the same street we were, so she got on with us and we talked for awhile in Spanish about what we were studying in Buenos Aires, and what she’s studying in school, and what her home in Colombia is like.  Pretty soon though, the bus started to go over some cobblestones and take some sharp turns, and we were getting a little dizzy, so we hopped off at the next stop with a quick goodbye.  As we tried to figure out what direction to go next to find a subway station (holler at Google Maps for being stellar) and began walking, we were completely floored to find our friend from the bus walking towards us!! She had been worried when we got off so quickly that we wouldn’t know how to get home, so we all three walked together to the nearby subte station.  Her name is Clara and she’s studying to be an elementary school teacher.  She was so sweet to come with us and it was just more of God’s provision visible in so many ways – plus it was a fun chance to get to know someone local who lives in Buenos Aires and to practice our conversational Spanish!

The story doesn’t actually even end there, the story ends with me attempting to retell what had just happened to my host mom in my awkward Spanish punctuated with questions (“I knew a lot of the songs – wait. Conocer o saber?”) over some stellar Chinese food for dinner.  Classes start tomorrow, which means today couldn’t have come with better timing.  I joked in my last post about putting the new in new romantic, but the truth is, it’s hard for me to love new circumstances right away.  Thank God for His grace in them all – new stress or old fears, I’m constantly being remade to be a believer who believes and I could not be more excited for whatever comes next.

Let me tell you about grace.

grace: God’s free and unmerited favor for sinful humanity

I’m sitting in Buenos Aires on my bed in my little room that is about the size of a Vandy-Barnard single back at school which means it’s just right for me and the stuff I brought with me.  I’m taking some time to digest everything that I’ve heard and seen and done and said and been and heard and seen the last three days.  And I’m starting to think it’s high time I give my own story a little grace.

One of the things that’s hard for me to overcome when I meet new people, especially a lot at once, is not knowing their story, and them not knowing mine.  There’s a lot I could tell you about where I’ve been and the choices I’ve made and the things I’ve experienced that make me exactly who I am today (I kind of started this blog as a place to put those).  But because I know how much my story influences who I am, I also want to know those pieces of everyone else I become friends with – I want to know where they’ve been and who they are and how those two things are tied together.

So when I showed up at the hotel Thursday with 40 other people in it and realized theirs would be the only faces I recognized in the city – it messed with my head a little bit that I don’t actually know anyone super well.  I have some friends from my own school (praise!) but we’re still kind of getting to know each other better as well.  It’s kind of like the first month of freshman year, we all keep joking.

And it’s kind of like the last two months I’ve had at home, where I know a lot of people but I’m not around them all the time so they know my story in really interesting and sometimes not very complete ways.  Which is why when I got the chance to grab lunch with my friend Bekah, I really really loved it when we just sat down together at Panera and she said, “I want to hear your story.”

So I told her about my life the past couple of years that I’ve been in college. How doing eTraining with the Navigators had radically changed my understanding of how to live everyday life walking with God and make Christ the center of my life.  I told her about how this last year of my life I’ve really struggled to know what love is and how relationships fit into God’s plan for my life.  I told her all the pieces that have added up to make me the person I am today.

And you know what? The longer I talked, the harder it felt to share. This is mostly because I kept picking up on some bad habits.  Some pieces were hard to tell because I was still carrying a lot of guilt and shame and scars from them.  But some came spilling out, heavy on the details that shouldn’t matter after so much time, heavy on the details of ways I thought I’d been wronged.  And a little lighter on the ways that God had moved in those things.  Maybe a lot lighter.

Being a stellar friend, mentor and person, Bekah really saw all the guilt and the shame that I’ve been carrying with me.  She saw it on my face and heard it in the way I told this story, and I think she felt the need to preach the gospel of grace over me.

She said to me, “If you believe that God is good and his plan for you is the best, than you can accept whatever circumstances you’re in.” And I was like, shoot.  I don’t believe that right now.  I believe the Gospel, but I don’t think that this plan and the way this ended was what was best for me.

I was wrestling through all of this in my head afterwards and I kept thinking, over and over – God, I do believe your gospel of grace, but it’s just not clicking with this circumstance right now.  I believe that I am a sinful human and that the favor you show me is free, because there’s no way I can pay it back, and unmerited, because nothing I can do or have done deserves it.  I just don’t believe that in this situation, you showed me any favor.

Yikes yikes yikes.  That was uncomfortable to put into words.  Who am I to call out the Almighty God and say that I know better than him what my life should be, or what His favor is?  How do I reconcile pain and anxiety with the Gospel I know to be true, the one that has proved itself over and over in my life and circumstances?  How do I get back in control?

Maybe, I thought, maybe instead of having everything in control, instead of knowing all the right answers, I need to get angry and let it all out.  Maybe I do need to fight with God and tell him how much I don’t understand this situation and what’s happened. And maybe when I fight with God, it’s not because I want to be right, but because I want to know why I’m wrong. 

And that’s not a fight anymore, you know? That’s when grace replaces guilt.

One of the things Bekah really impressed on me with her words and with the ways we talked about the Gospel taking root and action in our life is that my identity has to be, HAS to be rooted in the Gospel of grace.  The world likes to trick us into believing that we aren’t full, that we aren’t given enough, and that’s why we simply cannot accept that the circumstances we find ourselves in are God’s will for us.  When the reality of the situation is that in Christ, we are constantly and continually being poured into and loved deeply by God.  Not just the truth – the reality, if we’d just choose to see it.

We feel pressure from the expectations our identities in the world’s eyes have for us. I know my story is full of examples, and I’m guilty of putting too much stock in those when in reality, we’re free in Christ from the bondage this world and people in it try to put on us.  They may be logical and fair and right in many ways, but they do not define who are the way the Gospel does.

“Trust is not something that is earned.  Confidence can be earned, but trust has to be given freely.  Trust is the human form of God’s grace.” – my dad, Judson Chapel

I love this quote.  It takes some trust to share a piece of my story with someone.  But in the end, it also takes trusting God to leave a piece of my own story in the past.  Since I’ve been here, there have been several times so far that I got really worried about how poor my Spanish must sound and how little I know.  But today when this worry hit, I heard it clear as day, straight from the Holy Spirit: “Who told you that you weren’t good enough?”

The answer is me.  I can blame my story and other people and stuff that has happened as much as I want, but at the end of the day, the only person telling me that is me.  I’m the one dragging the past into the present and boasting of my scars instead of boasting in my Savior.

So here is my goal for studying abroad: give my story some grace.  What happened before won’t happen again, because nothing is ever the same way twice (have you read Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life? No? You should).  But more than that, I want to live in the present and I want to live out of that Gospel of grace.  The one that says no matter what I’ve done or where I’ve been, He has made me enough – that no matter what my circumstances are, they are for my good and His glory.

I have a slight suspicion that when I give my story some grace, it’ll become easier to share. Because it’s no longer simply the things that have happened to make me who I am, it’s the things God designed to make me exactly who He’s called me to be.  And that’s a pretty cool way to experience the new in new romantic.

Bonus prize for making it to the end.  Photos from exploring today, my room, and lunch!

 

Let me tell you about solitude.

My junior year of high school, I was sitting in AP US history when my ankle started to hurt.  It was the third time that week it had happened, just a sharp, searing pain in my leg.  I remember thinking, “This never happens during the marching season because I’m on my feet, I’m moving so much.  Maybe I should move more.”  So, when I got home, I bundled up for Indiana in April and went for a walk around the neighborhood.  I did the same thing the next day.  And the day after that.  And just about every day I didn’t have some kind of practice or meeting immediately after school.  Pretty soon, the stiffness in my ankle was gone.  But what I quickly found is that what started out as a pretty lame way to get some exercise had an unexpected benefit.  In a short time, my walks around the neighborhood became the most precious half hour of my day.  I didn’t text, I didn’t worry about the work I had to do when I got home, I just put in my headphones and listened to a song I loved, and I went and spent time alone.

When I got to Vandy, I remembered how that felt, and it didn’t take me very long to trace a favorite path across campus. When hard things happened, I went for a walk.  It’s always been my way to recharge, as I’ve learned more in college how to invite God into my everyday life, it’s also become the place I heard Him best.  Walking with God – literally – gave a whole new meaning to my understanding of being alone.

Yesterday, my friend Ian spoke on the beauty in solitude at Poplar Creek.  This was definitely a message for me to hear, seeing as in the last month, all of my friends have gone back to school at Vandy and my family has started up their normal lives and schedules.  I’m just kind of hanging out.  I don’t have any set schedule, I don’t have a whole lot I need to accomplish between now and leaving for Argentina at the end of February.  That’s a lot of time alone.

And what I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks is that it can either be a lot of time of loneliness or a lot of time of solitude.  There are some critical differences between the two.  One is Biblical.  One is healthy for spiritual growth, and it’s got some intentionality behind it.  One is that feeling I found going on walks in high school.  The other is, well, basically a pity party.

There is an underlying theory in our culture that being alone makes us less.

This is where loneliness comes from – this theory so prevalent in this world that if you’re alone, if you’re sitting alone, if you’re spending a Friday night alone, it’s because you lack something.  You’re not enough.  Nobody wants to spend time with you.  When I get to thinking like this, pretty soon, I don’t want to spend time with me, either.

Maybe we run from solitude because we don’t even like who we are.

Man, do I feel that one.  When I have free time – and I’ve talked with sisters about this in Bible studies before – it is so easy to get caught in this guilt and shame spiral of watching TV but wishing I had spent that time in the Word, reading a fluff fiction book instead of studying my Spanish – the list goes on and on.  Or, I do spend intentional time sitting and thinking, and I focus entirely on the hard things, the things I did wrong, the wrong I perceived was done to me.

There’s a short indie film I watched a couple weeks ago called The Butterfly Circus.  If you’ve never seen it, it’s 22 minutes long and worth every second.  Afterwards, my parents put on the bonus content, which had some interviews of the cast and crew.  That’s when something one of the actors said caught my attention.  There’s a scene where Mendez, the showman of the Butterfly Circus, visits a sideshow at another carnival.  There, he sees a man with no arms and no legs.  After everyone has laughed, and pointed, and left, Mendez walks up to Will and says, “You are magnificent.”  Doug Jones put it like this: “That moment is the whole film to me.  God looks at us and says, ‘Just the way I created you – you are magnificent.'”  The rest of the film tells the story of how Will learned to see himself that way, too.

What does your pace of life say about what you believe to be true of God?

That moment is what I thought of during today’s message.  If I actually believe that God sees me that way – as beautiful, as loved, as known, as magnificent – then how does my view of myself reflect that truth?  And from there, how does the way I perceive time alone reflect that?  Because if the answer is loneliness, something is very, very wrong.  And I’ll be honest, for a week or so there, the answer was most definitely loneliness.  I wasn’t taking solitude from being alone, I was letting being alone take hold of me.

Our refusal to take solitude points to the fact that we don’t believe God loves us just as we are.

Here’s the thing – I do believe that I am loved, and known, just as I am.  Sometimes, it’s just hard to put into practice.  I need a reminder.  I need to refocus.

 At the end of the service today, my friend Branden led us in something called a centering prayer.  It’s pretty simple:  you clear your mind, and you listen to God.  Which actually sounded insane and impossible when I first heard him say it.  But then he instructed us to do this – every time a thought floated across my brain, of what I have to do later or what I’m ashamed of doing last week or what have you – every time I was tempted to follow one flitting thought down the rabbit hole of worry, fear and distraction – I said, “God, you are good and I trust you.” I refocused.

So when it comes to spending time alone, I need to refocus.  I believe that God loves me just the way I am – and if I preach that, if I preach the Gospel of grace over myself, my actions will take that on.  Solitude will replace loneliness.  And solitude is a beautiful place of rest and restarting.  Solitude is exactly what I need in this in-between time.

Don’t ever be afraid to be alone.  Just the way you are, close your eyes and let God say it over you: you are magnificent.

Catch & Release by Matt Simons

My dad introduced me to this song, and even though it’s not written to be a song about God, it is written to be a song about solitude, and I think it speaks a lot to the way that intentional solitude – seeking time alone with ourselves and with God – can change our world completely.

. . . Could’ve posted the lyric video, but I’ve been investing some of my time in solitude lately in my music and it was a lot more fun to learn the chords and do my own version.

There’s a place I go to / Where no one knows me / It’s not lonely / It’s a necessary thing / It’s a place I made up / Find out what I’m made of / The nights I’ve stayed up / Counting stars and fighting sleep / Let it wash over me / I’m ready to lose my feet / Take me off to the place where one reveals life’s mystery / Steady on down the line / Lose every sense of time / Take it all in and wake up that small part of me / Day to day I’m blind to see / And find how far to go

Let me tell you about stories.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a history major.  Loving stories is a part of what I do.  Studying stories is my work and my career, not just a hobby.  But there’s a reason I got swept away by history in the first place, and that’s because stories – telling them, creating them, remembering them, hearing them – are my lifeblood.

I love reading stories.  In elementary and middle school, that was my thing – I couldn’t play a sport to save my life, but I read fast, and I read a LOT.  I still do, but it’s changed a little over the years.  I used to read books as an escape, a distraction when the world got hard – now I read to know how better to live, what lens to look through, when those hard things come like I know they will.  The older I get, the more I love to find books that challenge me, that surprise me.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, The Likeness by Tana French, Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner. At school, I adore the libraries.  When I had to write a history thesis for the first time, I checked out so many books on the settlement movement that the library staff asked if I was a graduate student (goals).  You’re much more likely to find me with my nose in a book when I’m at home – or when I have the time – than anywhere else.  I’ve always been that way.  I hope I always am.

As much as I wish my imaginings could measure up to the books I’ve read, when I say I love creating stories, I don’t mean writing ones out of my head.  I mean living them.  This summer, my friend Chelsea had a bunch of the interns from the ALPLM over to her apartment on a Friday after work for euchre night.  We played cards for maybe an hour, and then on a whim, Chelsea picked up her guitar.  It started out as her messing around with some chords, showing us some songs she’d written.  We were crowded around her little kitchen table, five or six of us, eating Skittles.  And before you knew it, Chelsea pulled out some chord sheets, Olivia and I picked up on some harmonies and we were recording “Let Her Go” by Passenger, and singing “Before He Cheats” at the top of our lungs.  It was the kind of comfortable that comes from being real with each other – we missed some notes and some words, we tried our best, we laughed a lot – and it was one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had.  And even telling it now doesn’t really do that night justice.  When people say, “You just had to be there” – they lived a story.  I love that.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a good story is all about the telling.  I want to make people laugh – this one time, remember, it was the day it rained, and ten or so of us freshmen had tried to run out the storm, so we were sprinting across campus, late to marching band rehearsal.  There was a farmer’s market on Thursdays at the medical center next to Au Bon Pain & Langford Auditorium, we came skidding around a corner and this guy at a Provence Cafe truck asks Dan & Brendan if they want baguettes.  The next thing you knew, we each have a baguette and we’re running through the VA Hospital parking lot screeching “FREE BREAD” and posing for pics.  We had to have been late, but I can’t even remember getting in any trouble – we passed around the bread in our sections and nobody said a word.  That’s what I do on this blog – I want to capture the moments that make me laugh, that make me think, that I’ve lived and breathed, and share them.  There may be some kind of truth in them, or they may just literally be about free bread. Either way, to walk this earth involves conversation, and telling stories is my favorite.

Almost as sweet as the telling is the hearing.  For every good story I’ve told or I’ve lived or I’ve read, I’ve heard a hundred more.  Tonight, I was sitting in the living room talking to my dad about something completely random.  He quoted a joke from one of his friends from high school, I asked him a question, and the stories began.  If you want to know how someone sees the world, ask them to tell you their stories.  You know what’s even better? My mom joined in when he started talking about college – they didn’t date in college, but they went to the same university at the same time, so their stories overlap, and it makes me laugh like no other.  That’s how I know as much as I feel like I do about who and how my parents are in the world – I listen to them talk about who they used to be, and I think about how that jives with who they’ve become, and I love that juxtaposition that bridges time and exposes experiences.  My life is the same way, so are the lives of all the people in my world.  I love that we have that in common, that we have stories to bring us together.

Stories are my favorite metaphor.  The last couple of blog posts have touched on the Word of God as a Big Story made up of little stories, and my life as a little story in God’s Big Story.  I love songs because they tell stories.  I love history because it’s a collection of stories.  I love education because I get to interact and be woven into people’s stories.

And I love writing, because I get to decide how stories are told.  Some of them are instances of my own, some of them I’ve heard from others, some of them I might’ve made up to prove a point.  But at the end, each of these little stories I spin on this corner of the Internet tells a bigger story.  This is what God’s done, will do and is doing.  This is who I am, this is where I’ve been, this is where I’m going.  This is my story.

Looking for a place to share your story? Hop on over to Throwing Pinecones and get involved with the Rubies Project, ladies.  Your story is worth telling and here is a place for it to be heard.

 

Let me tell you about love.

I don’t necessarily know what love is yet.  And when I ask around, it seems like everyone has a different opinion.  My mom has told me many times that “When you meet the one, you just know.”  And when I told my teenage brother about this blog post, his words of wisdom to me were, “If he brings you tacos, he’s a keeper.”  So, really, it could be just about anything.  But what I do know about love is that it’s worth trying to understand, and what I’m coming to understand is that there is only one source you can turn to for that – which brings us to this past Wednesday.

I don’t go to Judson University, but my father has been the president of this American Baptist liberal arts college since spring 2013, around the same time as my graduation from high school.  Immediately afterwards, our family picked up and moved from small-town Indiana to the Chicago suburbs, and about a month later, I moved down to Nashville to go to Vanderbilt.  All that to say, I’ve never spent a lot of time at Judson outside of big events – but since I’m home for a little extra time before studying abroad, and our friend from Belize is staying with us and taking classes there this semester, I’m finding myself with a lot more opportunities to be part of the daily life on campus.  Wednesday was the first day of spring semester, and I went along with Ana to the first chapel of 2016.

Stephen Miller, a worship pastor and author from Texas, was visiting today for chapel, and the crowd was full to bursting.  He led us in song after song of praise for almost 45 minutes.  I haven’t worshipped like that in I couldn’t tell you how long – it was incredible.  But what was even more challenging and insightful than the melodies and the lyrics was Stephen’s voice ringing out between bridges and choruses.  Worship leaders have a much bigger job than just singing – Stephen spoke truth into the silent spaces where our minds might wander elsewhere.

In death, In life, I’m confident and
covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
separate my heart from Your great love

“One Thing Remains” is one of my favorite worship songs.  Partway through, Stephen cut off singing and asked us if we really believed this, that nothing could separate us from the love of God.  He talked about how hard that was for us to believe, how foreign a concept that was – when here on earth, it seems love can so easily come and go.  It fails us.  He said that was okay – it just made it all the more important that we continue to know the height, the depth, the width, the breadth of the love of God.  And I thought about that, and I thought about my experience with love.

2015 was a rough year for love in my life – the romantic kind, at least.  don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of incredible new friends, and the relationships I already had with friends and family grew exponentially.  But here’s where I get real.  Last winter found me struggling to move on from the end of a three-year relationship that had been a huge part of my story, my time and my life.  I was lonely a lot.  When spring found me meeting someone new, I was thrilled.  We tried to take things slow, but timing didn’t have it that way and we started dating as school ended.  Summer found me head over heels with my freedom in Springfield, and that streak of independence put strain on our relationship when we got back to school.  We had different expectations for what our relationship would be and we broke up.  I felt responsible.  Fall found me falling hard for someone I couldn’t be with.  I still hoped.  I prayed and prayed for clear direction of what and how to tell him, but before I had my answer, he met someone else. I felt defeated.

I listened to what Stephen Miller was saying, and I thought about the way love had played out in the past year of my life.  I realized, as he spoke, just how often I was buying into that lie that I could be separated from the love of God.  Not that the love of God could fail me – the way I know the love of another human can and does – but that by my own doing, God’s love might turn away from me.  It hit me like a bolt of lightening, that lie, and all the ways it had showed itself in those times I felt so tired and empty, and far away from Him.

What if, because I had failed and been failed by love in a relationship, I believed I could be likewise be separated from the love of God?

That’s a pretty scary thought.

But it was also liberating.  It was the moment God broke through my sinful state, my doubt and my fear – it was the moment I put words to the battle raging in my heart and my head these past few months.

The enemy LOVES to keep us in our heads with the lies, fears and doubts that he speaks.

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. // John 8:44

BUT when we are able to name those things that he likes to keep hidden in darkness, God can speak His freeing Truth to them and they lose their power!

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. // 1 John 1:5-7

In His perfect grace and timing, God had already been introducing a new framework to begin rebuilding my understanding of love on as the longest semester of my life wound to a close.  My wonderful and wise mentor Stephanie planned a workshop for us to study godly truth in dating and relationships that utterly shook the way I understood God’s plan and purposes for love in my life.  Yesterday after chapel, these verses from our material were what I thought of first.

I had told Stephanie what an incredible conflict I was experiencing this semester between fear of a relationship and desire for one.  Her response, as above, impressed on me the value of naming those fears in order to fight them with truth.  The truth of the song “One Thing Remains” is the same as 1 John 1:5 – there is no darkness in God, and when all else falls apart and fades away, His love – the light – will be what stands, what cannot be denied or defeated.  Once this question was out in the open, I understood the disconnect between the way I’d been viewing God and the way I’d been singing about Him.  I could believe in the truth Stephen was preaching to us. I could be confident and covered by the power of His great love.

And let me tell you, that was one of those moments that cuts through the distractions of life like a knife, one of those moments I could feel the Holy Spirit in my bones, one of those moments where I wanted to hold onto that feeling forever and never let it go.

There’s good news on that front – God’s love is not a fleeting feeling, because God is sovereign.  Like I mentioned earlier, once I’ve countered my fear of relationships with truth, I’m still conflicted by desire to be in one when I’m not.  When it seems like I can’t find love down here, how do I continue to believe that truth that I will always be able to find God’s love?

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.  I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.  I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ What I have said, that I will bring about;  what I have planned, that I will do. // Isaiah 46:9-11

One of the most spiritually rich conversations I’ve ever had took place in 15 minutes at a table in Rand on Homecoming with my friend Emmie.  We talked about how challenging we’ve found it to trust God in his sovereignty – which, I’ve come to find, has a lot to do with my faith in His love as well.   She used a metaphor I adore – as hard as it is to give up my grip on the pen, we have to trust God to write our love story. 

That’s not just a beautiful metaphor – it’s truth.  Check out the last verse of Isaiah above – “What I have planned, I will do.”  Then read on.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? // Romans 8:28,31-32,35

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  // Romans 8:37-39

What God has planned, He will do, and in all things, His plan is working for the good of us who love Him, who He has called.  When I think about what it means that God called me – Allie Kay Crume, five foot four inches, has fallen down a lot of stairs – I can’t help but have full confidence in what the Word says next: nothing can separate me from the love of God. Whether I’m single or dating, the circumstances of my relationships – and the way I experience love – here on earth can’t change the goodness of His plan a bit.

Last thing, and this is important.  Emmie was so, so wise to remind me that God is the one writing my love story.  But in reading Ephesians, I learned that God has a purpose for my life as a little story in the Big Story of His rule and reign.  In closing out our time together studying dating and relationships, Stephanie reminded me of some powerful truth about love and the Big Story.

All of this is about a Greater Love Story that is at work within us.  Let us never lose sight of that in our fears, struggles, desires and hopes.  The God of the Universe is writing a love story to draw you to Himself.  It will end in an eternity in which you are FINALLY in perfect union with Him FOREVER!

Whatever else happens with the love story He is writing me here in my time on earth, I can be content.  My little life is so full from knowing it is being woven into the Greater Love Story not because I did anything to deserve it – quite the opposite, in fact – but simply because from the very beginning, that was God’s plan.

And that is love.

When you can look at a man and know that he can’t give you what you most long for – worth, love and a sense of identity – then you are free to be loved by him.  The most he can ever do (which in itself, is no small thing) is to give witness to the worth God already invests in you.  But you must claim it first for yourself.

Paula Rinehart