Get out of the boat – let me tell you.

John 21 is about another time that Peter jumped into the water, this time not in the middle of a storm, but in the middle of an unknown, which is almost scarier sometimes.  I do really well with planning ahead.  It freaks me out on a semiregular basis right now that my planner is a clean slate past June.  The latest date that’s set in stone in my life is my 22nd birthday.  After that, who knows? And that’s a little scary.

When Peter jumps into the lake, all he knows is that it’s Jesus on the shore.  Not how Jesus got there or why.  Peter doesn’t stop to ask questions – he just jumps in and starts swimming.  This is the same guy who started to sink in the middle of the storm, with Jesus strolling right towards him on the waves.  You can almost HEAR John rolling his eyes as he writes “For they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.” That Peter!

There are a lot of thoughts I have about this passage and the ways in which Jesus meets the disciples, and us, right where we’re all at.  But I keep coming back to Peter.  I like that the first time Peter encounters Jesus, Jesus renames him from Simon to “Rock.”  Actually, before he even renames him, Jesus first names him.  “You are Simon, son of John.”  He identifies the name he’s known by, and who his family is: two of the primary things that defined an individual in Jewish society, and in our world today.  Jesus always tells us who we are first.  Sometimes that’s hard to hear, because the names the world call us come with expectations and labels and responsibilities to live up to.  Sometimes the names the world identify us by bring out the sin and stresses, the fears and failures that sting and smart in old wounds.  In this case, it was just Peter’s name and his dad, but we don’t know what that brought to mind for him.  Jesus wants us to know who we are and where we started before He tells us who and how He’s making us to be, which is why he proceeds to name Simon, “Rock” with little explanation as to why.

I like the care with which John traces Peter’s transformation from Simon to Rock throughout his gospel.  It’s never the focus, but it’s consistent, a little side narrative.  It’s even the note John’s gospel ends on in chapter 21.  I appreciate that because I think John knew a lot of us would see ourselves in Peter.  When I was little, if my family could have renamed me, I’m pretty confident it would have been “bossy.”  Somehow as I grew up that lent itself to skills like teaching and babysitting and having sixteen cousins, and I slowly but surely learned to temper that spirit when it came to what came out of my mouth.  I grew to see these traits as “independent,” but if I were to identify those same traits for you today, I would call myself stubborn.

I’m a huge fan of discussion and disagreement and debate when it comes to the issues of life we differ on, so long as it’s positive.  And you can probably sway my opinion of anyone or anything with enough time and a solid argument.  But my interpretation of truth and my expectations for myself are two things you will not touch.

One of these is positive.  I took a survey last semester that told me one of my top spiritual gifts was wisdom.  I don’t really understand spiritual gifts yet so in the humblest of ways – because what I do understand is that it’s much more a gift to me from God and not something I intend on showering on the world without solicitation – I think that’s true.  I think that God makes certain pieces of truth very clear to me at particular times and other times He brings me back to the Word and the counsel of others.  But either way, I am very stubborn in keeping my interpretations of truth and my conversations with the Lord my own, because I believe that is absolutely what defines the relationship between Him and me as a relationship – something living and active – instead of a code or a creed that I follow.  Because life in Christ is a bit of both, but one is more important than the other.  The relationship is the context in which the rest unfolds.

Every now and then, or maybe every other day, I forget that while my interpretations of truth are my own and God’s, they are only His to orderI love control, friends.  Like a lot.  We’ve already discussed this with the planner issue.  The point is, I become very stubborn in my own head when I encounter some truths, or maybe most of them, that it is my responsibility to live up to them.  Wisdom falls somewhere to the wayside in these moments, I’m afraid, and I take it upon myself to paint truth across my skies.  The nice way to say this is that I am solutions-oriented; the honest way to say this is that I’m stubborn.

Let’s take teaching for example.  Some things about student teaching are just true.  There’s an established order for the classrooms I find myself in and there are certain requirements and expectations I’m obligated to meet.  There’s nothing wrong with these statements.  It’s when I start taking them as an ultimatum that I create a twisted truth and live by it.  And then I do the same thing in my relationships, and in my faith.  What’s more, these ultimatums start to cost something that’s worth more than the expectation, and I willingly sacrifice it.  I give up being genuine for the sake of appearing strong.  I give up who I am for a version of what’s expected of me.  Eventually, I give up what I need for the sake of what I should be.  A part of me knows that there is more to that truth than what I’m letting myself believe, but figuring it out feels hard and finishing the job feels easier.

The only way to not do this is to stop trying to paint my own skies with truth and start looking for the truth He’s already painted.  The only way to not do this is to weigh truth in my heart and not my head.  The only way to not do this is to speak the word “grace” over myself until I start to see it all around me.  Because when I feel like a failure from all the weighty expectations and obligations I’ve willingly tied myself to, it comes from this: I want so badly to believe truth that I being to work for it.

In this way I see a lot of myself in Peter, or maybe a lot of Peter in me.  He doesn’t crop up again by name in the book of John until 6:68, when he is the first disciple to call Jesus who He is.  The Holy One of God with the words of eternal life.  That’s truth.  That’s reaching out and claiming it, calling it true and speaking it out loud before God and others.

But goodness, is God funny!  We keep reading along and lo and behold, at the last supper, what does Peter do?  He pitches a fit when Jesus goes to wash his feet.  Yep, he’s up on this Holy One of God thing alright – that must be why he thinks he knows better than Jesus what’s good for him.  (Is the sarcasm coming through here?  *taps mic* Is this thing on?)  I can hear him now because I’ve thought it myself before.  He watches Jesus wash the feet of a few of the disciples, and thinks “No way. I can do this one on my own.  Jesus is going to be so proud of how dedicated I am to Him, that I won’t even let Him near this mess of mine.”  It’s literally contradictory as I write it, and still I have said it before.

To his surprise as well as mine, Jesus tells him, straightforward but not unkind: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  Translation: unless you are steeped in grace, the work you work so hard to do is not mine for you, because I am not in it with you.  The more you try to take care of your mess on your own, the more messy you will feel, apart from me.

Peter’s response is wholehearted, and mine is, too.  “Wash my hands and my head as well!” Fix it all at once, Lord!  Make me whole.  Quicken the process.  My cry is always focused on the immediate solution, never the ways the process solves the problem in a far deeper way.

Jesus’ response is a little weird, but reassuring.  Just your feet, he says, you’ve already had a bath.

Then why do I still feel like a wreck, smudged and spotted, head to toe?  I can feel Jesus want to laugh and console me at the same time, moved by my magnificent misunderstanding.  Remember Peter’s earlier recognition of truth, when he calls Jesus the Holy One of God?  You know the truth, Christ responds, and I have named you as my own, and you are clean.  But this is still a road we’re walking, you and I, and you have to learn to let me wash your feet.  You must be firmly steeped in grace for you to see yourself the way I have made you.  And that looks like letting Jesus in, in the most simple, mundane, and grimy of ways.  Like my roughed-up, ragged feet that have wandered down all the wrong paths.

The storms and the simple: it’s where he finds us best, or maybe where we find Him.  But what’s the why?

“Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.”

In John 13:31-38, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial.  But before that, he clarifies something for the good of the group.  All of this, this pain, this suffering – it’s for God to be glorified.

All for the glory of God.  We get to be vehicles of God’s glory, even when we’re more stubborn than the dumbest rock, like I am some days (most days?).  We get to be where the world sees Him act.  Steeped in grace.  Stepping out in storms.  That’s what gets me out of the boat, following Jesus to the shore.

Let me tell you about living loved.

When I was in high school, I had this friend from church.  We didn’t see each other very often; she was homeschooled and I was at a public high school, but we talked in Sunday School and we visited each other’s houses in the summers and we caught up on life when we could.  Somewhere in the middle of my senior year, amidst all the other stress and strain of college applications, AP exams and normal teenage angst, she started texting me every morning.  Some days it was “Have a good day!” but most days it was just “Good morning Allie!”  It was a little thing, and after a week or so I had to admit I was perplexed and a little bit flustered by the pressure to reply, day after day.  But despite my hesitation, it didn’t take long for that exchange – just that quick little “Good morning!” or “You, too!” – to become a part of my everyday routine rather than another item on my to-do list.  We’ve lost touch over the years and I’m still not really sure why she choose then and there to reach out to me, morning after morning.  All I know is that we settled into a rhythm of supporting each other in the smallest way possible, and every day, it made me feel valued.

Recently I reconnected with a boy who makes me smile and now that we’re dating, he typically texts me good morning, too.  About a month into our relationship, he was out of the country for eight days and I wondered at how quickly something and someone can become a part of the rhythm of your life.

I haven’t written in a long time and there’s a lot of reasons for that, but the most obvious in my mind is that there’s very little rhythm to my life right now.  Senior year is supposed to be the time when you enjoy the ride – I’m not sure what kind of ride everyone else is on, but mine is a roller coaster and I’m clinging to the handles of my seat for dear life.  Here’s the thing though: I love roller coasters.  They taught me a lot about life about a year ago and the context has changed since then, but all the important things have stayed the same.  Life is messy and complicated and I make mistakes a lot, I get scared a lot, I get in scrapes a lot.  But a lot of times the beauty happens when I’m flat on my back, because the Lord uses those moments to get my whole entire attention instead of just a bit of it.

And then those are the moments remind me to give my whole entire attention to the people in my life that are dear to me when I’m with them, instead of just a bit of it.  This coaster might have some loops that tear my sight from one spot on the horizon to another, but the position of the sun doesn’t change and that is the community in my world.  Last week I laid flat on my back under a tree and stared at the sky with my headphones in my ears and I just let my brain think until all the thoughts ran dry.  And by the end of my mental wild-goose-chase, all I had left in me was to thank God that there are sunshiney days and rainy days and that He shows me the beauty in both when I’m on my back.

This is what I’m trying to say, wrapping up all the thoughts I’ve not gotten down on this corner of the Internet in the past few months: When there’s no other routine to follow, we have to find our rhythm in loving the people around us as hard as they’ll let us, as long as we can.  And if we’re going to commit to that, we have to open ourselves up to the belief that we are loved back, and trust God to fill in the gaps going each way with a love we’ll spend this whole life chasing to comprehend more deeply and fully.

It looks like a lot of things, but right now, for me, it looks like jumping out of an airplane or daring to ride the tallest coaster.  It looks like doing instead of analyzing, speaking truth instead of sitting in fear, and writing for myself when I should be writing for school.  It looks like spur-of-the-moment Colony House concerts with brand-new friends, like matching elephant pants, like Oreo truffles, like learning how to use chopsticks, like driving down Natchez Trace with Ben Rector on the radio.  It looks like losing control for the sake of living loved.

When do I feel it?
When do I feel it in my bones?
That kind of breathing
Whispering mysteries to my soul

I think it’s when I lose control
I think it’s when I lose control
We can’t keep fighting for a steady life, so
I’ll ride the wind like a feather toward home

Lose Control // Colony House

It may be a while since I’ve written over here – but I actually had the beautiful opportunity to write a post on living loved for my friend Emily Conrad’s February series! Check it out here.

Let me tell you about Hamilton. 

Songs that made me cry seeing Hamilton Chicago last night:

Burn

Satisfied

It’s Quiet Uptown

Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story

One Last Time

It was April 2016, and I found myself with a roommate who couldn’t believe I hadn’t listened to Hamilton yet and a half hour commute by colectivo to and from class in Buenos Aires. So, begrudgingly, I jumped on board the trend train and downloaded the soundtrack. And my life has never been the same.

Think about it: music, history, and intricate writing all put together on the same stage (or in the same songs). It unites some of my strongest passions, and it quickly became my soundtrack to the city during my time in Buenos Aires. I listened to it on the busses, as I walked, as I got ready in the tiny bathroom in the morning, and at night when I couldn’t fall asleep. I lived and breathed the characters and the lyrics of Hamilton at the same time that I was living and breathing a new, truer sense of self that God was calling me to step into. My friend Dawson spent two weeks calling me Aaron Burr, Sir. The Schuyler Sisters reminded me what I loved about the city. I listened to Wait For It as I slogged home in the spitting rain one day, and it sums up that moment perfectly in my memory. Obviously, songs like Burn and Stay Alive and The World Was Wide Enough and my all-time, hands-down favorite, Satisfied, pull at the heartstrings.

Yep, the whole album is flawless. But there’s one song that stands apart in my mind. Non-Stop was my song for confidence, because of this one line-

How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?

How do you write like you need it to survive?

How do you write every second you’re alive?

The music hits its peak here, the full ensemble backs up Burr’s voice, and the words couldn’t speak more deeply to my soul. I am telling stories in my head every second that I move through the world, for better or worse. Writing is the same basic function for my brain as breathing, and I love that.

One song that never clicked with me until last night, when I saw it live, is Hurricane. It’s the only solo song for Alexander Hamilton in the entire production, and it essentially establishes that he’s about to dig himself deeper into a hole he’s already tripped into headfirst. Yet watching it unfold live- with the lights, the pause between each note, and the ensemble’s choreography – it’s really a song about why Hamilton writes. In the face of every obstacle, throughout his whole life, he’s picked up a pen. And when there weren’t even any obstacles, he was so bent on leaving a legacy that he wrote his own problems into existence. It was an escape that only sucked him deeper into whatever was holding him captive.

Maybe that’s getting a little deep for Broadway, but in the moment I processed that, I flashed back to the climax of Non-Stop and wondered – why do I write? Why is this thing so ingrained in the who and how I am in the world?

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t ever written my own problems into existence, or written myself deeper into one, inside my head if not out loud. Yet I don’t think the reason I write is to escape, or to leave any sort of legacy.

I write to get to know my own mind. I tell stories because I believe they matter, and I want to know why and how. At worst I write for the sake of writing, but at best I write for the joy.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the musical Hamilton, has described it as a “love letter to writers” in its own way. And it is. Every moment has its worth in capturing, in putting words to, and at the end of it all, you have to know why you’re doing it for it to be worth anything at all.

And I know that I’ll see that show a thousand times more in my lifetime. To relive every moment and memory that I’ve connected with the songs – and to remind me why I write.

Huge thank you to my wonderful parents for the tickets!!! 

 

 

Let me tell you about Christmas 2016.

This is joy.  I stand on the sideline, not really sure of where the air in my lungs came from or how it got there, but holding it, harnessing it, hurling it into infinity as my shrill sound joins the cacophonous chord of the rest of the band.  The fans are on their feet, my friends are at my side, and fierce joy tears through me.  Nothing can compare to this moment, it shines sharp enough to cut the fog of time to pieces when I look back on it down the road. Too soon, but not soon enough for my lungs, the note is cutoff and we cheer.  I walk away from my last performance, and my eyes are bright, with pride and maybe, tears.

This is hope.  My eyes are bright, in the pane of the airplane window.  I squint past their dim reflection to the flash of light I caught on the horizon, my forehead pressed against the glass.  Lightening spiderwebs across the sky in the distance, illuminating mountainous clouds as we fly parallel, closer and closer.  My view improves with every moment, and I know they’re slipping by too fast: just as they get better, soon enough they’ll be gone.  I stifle a yawn, but I won’t miss this, not yet.  I watch the lightening strike again and again, watch it writhe across the sky, crack it wide open; watch it spread through the clouds, a muted, fleeting flash.  I think of flying home, to family and future, to finishing one chapter and falling fast into another without knowing much of what to expect.  I think of where I’ve been and where I’m going.  I think of how my God is big enough and bold enough to shoot lightening through the sky, and how good and gracious and giving He is to not keep it to himself, to give me a show on my way home.  I smile, and snuggle deeper into my stiff, narrow seat.

This is peace.  I’m snuggled in a high-backed armchair in my grandparents’ living room, with a book on my lap, hot tea in my hand, and a roaring fire at my back.  Football’s on the television, no one’s really watching; we’ve all taken up positions in various states of relaxed, on couches, chairs and cushions, and we pay no attention to the sound of sports on low, lost in whatever we’re reading and throwing the odd comment to another across the way.  We play Rook, four of us, and despite the fact that half the time I have a hand like a foot and not a clue what I’m doing, Grandaddy and I set them twice and win the game.  We laugh and high-five, then move the chairs back, bring some fudge in from the kitchen, and return to our previous positions, this time, with the news and a dog snoring as the backdrop for the living room to live on.  I curl up in my chair and close my eyes.

This is love.  I close my eyes, and I’m eight years old again, dressed in my best for the Christmas Eve service.  We sing from a blue hymnal, I hold my very own candle as we sing “Silent Night,” a circle of twinkling spheres throwing shadows on the sloping ceilings of the sanctuary.  The next morning, I wake up first and dart downstairs to see everyone’s presents from Santa, neatly arranged by our stockings at the foot of the brick hearth.  I smell my Granhannah’s cinnamon rolls, I take a toy from my pile and make my way upstairs, and we talk while she bakes, or lets me help her roll the sticky dough into shape. I open my eyes and give myself one more glance in the mirror on my way out the door. The same sloping wooden beams still support the sanctuary as we sing from the same blue hymnals.  Five days later, my sixteen cousins and all the aunts and uncles shepherding them will flood my Grandaddy’s house, and we’ll stack food on every available surface, with a person in every open seat.  The whole house will shake with laughter, and the only silence will come just before we eat, when we all join hands, the thirty-something, forty of us, and we pray.

Because Christmas is the coming of our Lord, of my Jesus.  Christmas is about the hope, joy, peace, and love He brought to the table when He was laid in the manger.  But Christmas is also the hundreds of memories that surround the day itself, and they are what immortalize that thrill of hope, that weary world rejoicing, that law of love and gospel of peace.

I hope your heart was full of gladness, and the peace that covered sadness.  I hope your joy was overflowing, and your many blessings growing.  I hope you had the time you’ve longed for, with the people that you love.  And I hope you know that even if you felt none of that this Christmas, you are loved, and this holiday marks the day He came for you.  I hope you had a merry Christmas.

Let me tell you about being full.

Hey, God.

We’ve done a lot of talking lately, but it’s mostly been inside my head.  I was thinking it was time to get some of these words down, because when I let them rattle around in my brain for too long, it’s easy for me to think the same thoughts over and over again.  And it’s easy for me to do a lot of the talking, but none of the listening.

“The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert
the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know,
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Isaiah 41:17-20

My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Jeremiah 2:13

Yesterday me and my sweet friend Katie hung out and studied this passage in Isaiah that You revealed a lot of truth to me in last year, at Phi Lamb retreat.  We talked about our lives as the desert that your river of mercy is transforming, how You are growing things in us that don’t necessarily come naturally, that wouldn’t be there without You stepping in and planting them.  And we talked a little about that verse from Jeremiah, that talks about how easily we seek to dig our own sources of life in the things of this world.

It’s a really wonderful metaphor, one that helps me sift through and categorize some of the different aspects and nuances of the life I’m living.  I think that I love this activity so much too because when I did it last year, it really allowed the truth I was learning then about identity to take root in me in new ways.  And the hardest thing since then, by far, has been to keep my eyes on that river, on Your source of life.

It was easy to see in Buenos Aires, in a situation designed for growth, where trees shot out of the dry ground and spread their leaves across my entire sky, and so many of the cisterns I’d gotten used to building got removed for me and left here.

It’s harder to see now that I’m back.  Obligations masquerade as an oasis, and trick me into believing cisterns might be springs.  I may have left them behind while I was abroad, but coming back onto campus, I picked them right back up again.  I go to them expecting to be filled and then act surprised when I don’t grow.  My vision grows hazy, I squint through the waves of heat rising from the ground, and I lose sight of Your river and my true source in the middle of the mirage.

You know that it is hard for me to live loved, Lord.  I think sometimes a better way to think of feeling loved – or feeling loveable – is to think of being full.  Love is so conditional in our culture.  It’s all too often based in what we can do and be instead of what we already are.  When I’m living out of that definition of love, it’s no wonder I have trouble seeing the river of Your mercy, let alone the ways it’s changing the landscape of my life.  But when I’m living out an unconditional, unshakable conviction that I am already filled – that the fullness of my God is already poured into my heart and soul, and actively spilling over the brim – the love of others doesn’t feel quite so conditional and contingent anymore.  I can stride into situations confident in who I am and who I am being made to be, because I am already full.  Doubt is covered in certainty and grace seeps in the cracks to seal up old wounds when they want to cause new fears, because I am already full.

If we become enamored with something in this world we think offers better fullness than God, we will make room for it.  We leak out His fullness to make room for something else we want to chase.

It will happen if you, like me, chase perfect order from an imperfect world, thinking it will make you more full.

With God, there is fullness.  There is no lack . . . with the fullness of God, we are free to let humans be humans – fickle and fragile and forgetful.

Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited

Thank you for that reality, Jesus.  I don’t let it sink in the way I’d like to every day, but I know that You are patient, You are kind, and You are the only love and only source that fills me up, and You will keep teaching me every day until it settles into the core of my being.  And I can’t wait to know what that looks like.  I love you as I live, Lord.

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Let me tell you about the right now (Day 10: Unknown)

Tonight at Phi Lamb chapter, we talked all about making decisions.  I’m a senior in college. These days, it feels like the rest of the world sort of assumes those two things are going together in my head.  But here’s the low down: if grad school works out financially, I’ll do that.  If I get a job offer teaching in the Nashville area, I’ll do that.  And if neither of those things happen, well, I’ve been a nanny before, and maybe that’ll be my shot at writing for a living.  The long and short of it is: there are several options on the table, and none of them make me nervous when I think of walking into them in the future.

What does make me nervous is the right now.

There’s not a lot of unknowns about the future, in all honesty: it’s all about landmarks.  I’ve got good career options.  I will  graduate from Vanderbilt University in May of 2017.  Starting in January, I’ll be a student teacher.  I’ll march my last game after Thanksgiving.  I’m taking my licensure exams in November.

What’s unknown is the day-to-day debris of life, the getting from one of these markers to the next, the in-between.  How to get all the work done, how to make the little decisions to keep myself moving forward.  And what to do when circumstances come out of left field, hit me in the head, and refuse to be ignored.

I came home Saturday night to find out from my dear, thrilled-to-pieces roommate that Bob Goff – one of our favorite humans/author of Love Does – was speaking at a church in Nashville the next morning, so we loaded up at 8:20am and headed to Crosspoint.  Not only did we get to meet Bob before the service and confirm that he is, indeed, an absolutely incredible person, but his message just hit me right where I’ve been at and settled deep in my heart, my lungs, my soul.  He talked about a lot of things, but here is the most important thing:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, and you will do everything right.

That’s a tough one for me to wrap my perfectionist, performance-driven, people-pleasing mind around.  There has always been a difference for me between getting things done and doing things right.  Sometimes that’s a good thing, because quality will get you places.  But sometimes, I don’t even know what right is or how to get myself there.  Right becomes my responsibility, and I spend my life trying to get myself there.  I spend my life trying to make it easy.  Keep your eyes on Jesus. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. 

There’s a lot of unknown in the right now, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  Not every decision needs me to think five or six steps ahead of myself.  Not every outcome has to be known.  So this week, I’m remembering that it’s okay to see where something goes until it runs out of room, or doesn’t.  It’s okay to be where you are and feel what you feel, without fear or focus on the future.  It’s okay to not know.  Because if I’m keeping my eyes on Jesus, He tells me I’m doing it right.

And bonus, so does Bob.

This month, I’m challenging myself to participate in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes – composing a post in five minutes flat based on the one-word prompts the lovely Christina atCreative & Free has designed.  While I won’t be posting every day, I hope this will motivate me to share small snapshots of my walk and wanderings more often in this space.  To see all of my posts from this series, click here.

Symphoneo: let me tell you about the conductor.

One month, two papers, three projects and two home games into the school year.  That’s how long it took for me to throw up my hands and hit rock bottom.

So far, this year is not what I expected it to be.  Taking 13 credit hours was supposed to be easier, not more difficult.  My classes were supposed to be constructive and critical, not draining and daunting.  I knew that I was stepping into what Peabody College calls our “professional” year: I just didn’t realize that role and responsibility was going to threaten my last true semester as a student, not a student teacher.

While walking this fine line between educator and educated, there are lessons learned and truths taught that began writing themselves on my heart in Buenos Aires and are still telling their story.  Our very first day of class, our literature professor, Gaby, described the city as a broken mirror: the store window, the water in the street reflect a piece of you, but never the whole picture.  The rhythms and rhymes of urban life show you who you are, but break you apart first.  That’s exactly how I felt as I walked through Buenos Aires: those streets shattered everything I knew about myself, but everywhere I looked,  I caught sight of another piece of my self.  I picked them up one by one and God began revealing deep things to my heart about where I’ve come from and where I’m going.  And I wrapped those shards up carefully, stowed them in my carry-on and shared them on this blog, and I brought them home with me and took them back out.  Lately, it’s feeling like when all I want to do is press into the truth of who I am and bring that comfort in my own skin with me into my world at Vanderbilt, the pieces of who I am that I pick up grow jagged edges, leaving scratches on my hands.  I know how important it is to me to find time to go deep into the Word, to get a good night’s sleep, and to spend time in community with other believers, to invest in the time I spend with my friends and my family, and to sit down day after day and put words to paper.  I know that the time I spend on these things is valuable.  Crucial, even, to being the person God made me to be.  What I don’t know is why, when life picks up and schoolwork becomes the first priority, those things are the first to fall to the bottom of my to-do list – somewhere they don’t belong in the first place.  What I don’t know is why it feels impossible to be the me that I felt like I found in another continent in the place that I call home.

If we think He doesn’t hear us sometimes, it’s because we are so driven by discord that we don’t hear him.

Beth Moore, Living Proof Live

Did you catch that?

How often do I feel driven by discord, like I am living out of a desperate mission to create harmony from notes that were never meant to be played together.  As a musician, you would think that dissonance would set my hair on end and grind my teeth together.  But instead, there is something in me that drives me towards discord because I think can find the solution.

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This past weekend, I had the chance to fly home for the weekend and get together with some of my favorite, favorite ladies – my mom, my three aunts, my basically-aunt, and my cousin.  We all trekked up to Chicago and met up to hear Beth Moore, one of our favorite Christian writers, speak at Living Proof Live, her ministry simulcast event.  I left that weekend feeling so filled – from the worship, from the fellowship, but especially from Beth’s sessions and the musical metaphor she described to us.

In the New Testament, there is a Greek word frequently to talk about agreement in the body of believers.  It means to be in accord, to be in unison.  This word is symphoneo.  Its English cognate is symphony.  From the beginning of the conference, she made it clear that this was the fundamental point on which she would build the rest of her teaching: we all have a seat in a divine symphony.  There are so many nuances to this metaphor that Beth fleshed out for us through Scripture, but I want to go deep with one at a time with you in this space.

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Nugget number one: we must keep our eyes on our conductor.

When you think about a symphony, what comes to mind is a glorious setup of instruments and musicians, each with their own part to play, coming together to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  There are solos and there are features, but at the height of a powerful chord, no one individual is more important than the others.  There is one individual, however, who is most important.  He has the most responsibility as well as the most stake in the success of his symphony.  I can say this, because for two years, I stood in front of my high school marching band and played his same role.  A symphony succeeds when every person is seated so that they can see the conductor.

But what if I can’t see Him from where I am?

What if the deadlines and disruptions are piled high around me?  What if my obligations and organizations are tugging at me from all directions?  If I crane my neck, will I see him? Will I catch a glimpse as these commitments whirl me in dizzying circles?

These are the questions that come to mind for me. I am so, so quick to blame a lack of control over my circumstances, context and conditions for my failure, my fear, and my flailing.  This is the definition of discord, and you would think I would run – but instead, in response, I fixate.  I do everything in my power to acquire a control that I was never meant to have.  And in doing so, I take my eyes off of my conductor.  As Beth put it, my gaze determines that the very thing I did not want to have control now does.  The thing that is in the way of me and my conductor has become my conductor.

For me, it feels like this is what school does.  It sucks my time and my energy dry – I am convinced – because my professors are unfair, because I had another commitment, or because my schedule was busy.  At the end of the day, this breaks down to reveal a failure on my part to maintain good control – of my schedule, of my commitments, and of my life.  Control not only assumes that have power to change my circumstance, it implies responsibility. So I make my class work more of a priority, frightened by the possibility of failure – because failure now represents so much more than a grade.  It has become the determination of my worth – how well my instrument is playing, if you’ll indulge the metaphor.  I give my work priority above my needs, my community, and my walk with God – and in doing so, I give up those pieces of truth I brought home with me from Argentina and settle for letting half-truths and lies tell me who I am.  I forget that who I am is who God is making me to be. I give the very thing I never wanted to have power over me complete control of the tempo, the rhythm, and the melody of my life.  

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:11-14 (NIV)

God wants to be our conductor because He has so much more in store for us than this cycle of control.  The narrative, the song of our lives is not about us.  He has already given me value, worth and purpose, inside and outside of my success in school, by calling me to a seat in His symphony, to join in the song He is writing across all time and space – to the praise of His glory.  There is this whole movement taking place, for which the world was created – to the praise of His glory.   And until we take our seat, we have no idea.

So park your rear in chair, pick up what you have, and sit up straight.  When your gaze is on Him, Conductor of our divine symphony, you will never have to worry about being in the wrong measure, missing a beat, or what to play next.  Something big is in store for us on this stage – I can feel it in my bones.  Dive into the calling of who He is calling you to be, as we move into the next movement of the divine symphony.