Sunshine On A Cloudy Day

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I’m so glad God created flowers.

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MyriadsOfBlessings—10/7

  • A campus with nature, secluded from the crowds of people. I walk to that hill, climb it’s rather steep slope, and sit down in a sunny spot at the top. I sit back, breathe in the fresh air, and relax my tense muscles. It’s going to be alright. I recently discovered a new spot… a little hill on the seminary grounds… flat on the top, where there are several pine trees. It might be man-made, because the fact that the top is flat and that pine trees only grow at the top and not the sides is a little odd. However, I love that spot. Sometimes I go there, climb to the top of that hill, and lie down, staring up at the trees. Occasionally I will get interrupted by a frisbee golfer, however, so if I really want to be alone, “Sem Hill”—the steeper, higher, natural hill—is better. The other day I climbed the “Flat-Top Hill”, and though the ground was slightly damp from rain, I sat underneath a pine tree and drew pictures of the trees in front of me for an assignment, while listening to Audrey Assad and Shane & Shane. So wonderful.
  • Surprise mail. A friend I recently met online sent me a care package, and I got it last monday. It really brightened my day.
  • Being reunited with old friends. What blessings these people are.
  • “I love you.” After so many years of loneliness, and after praying for some close friendships that were deep, beautiful, and Christ-centered, and not shallow and fickle, three years ago God provided for me a few close friends, going above and beyond what I had asked for—friends that I am able to share my heart with, and who trust me with theirs. Friends that genuinely care for me, even telling me so. Friends who weep with me when life is hard, and rejoice with me when good things happen. Friends that I have deep love for; they are like sisters to me. I prayed, and waited, and the LORD heard my pleas.
  • This new season. Even with all of its difficulties. I am learning the skills I’ve wanted to learn. God is so good. No more analysis papers on history and philosophy. Now I can go to school to make photo collages and typeface comparison posters and fake editorial illustrations, or draw with real ink. I’m in love.
  • God’s mercy and grace. I need Him. I am weak, but He is strong.
  • Freedom.
  • Forgiveness. I am still a sinner, but in Christ I am counted righteous before God. Hallelujah.
  • Fall weather.
  • Fall colors.
  • Rest after a long week.
  • A few new friends at my new school. Sadly, I’ve been so busy that it’s been hard to get to know them better.
  • The internet. What a blessing. Not only can I more easily communicate with friends that live far away, but I can even meet like-minded people online, blog, gain a better following as an artist, etc., etc. I still don’t understand how it works. Haha.
  • Homemade applesauce. Way better than store-bought.
  • The song “Only Jesus” by Brian and Jenn Johnson. So beautiful.
  • Sweaters. It’s getting chilly out.
  • Ginger tea with honey.
  • Black olives. I could eat a whole can. (Sometimes I do…)
  • Homemade pumpkin soup. It’s more like a bisque, so you can sip it from a mug. It’s so easy: 1 can of pumpkin, 1/2 cup of chicken broth, 3/4 cup of coconut milk, 7 cloves of garlic. Simmer for a few minutes until hot. So good.

What are some blessings in your life?

Busyness, The Weekend, and a Fall Party

It seems that every week has been hectic—constantly rushing around; going to classes; printing assignments (usually one printer is being used by someone else so I have to find another printer on another floor); sitting hunched over, staring at a screen, trying to make something beautiful in a limited amount of time (or something satisfactory, if I am running out of time); trying to do so much in one day. I’m so busy that I hardly have time to make friends, which is sad. (I am making friends, slowly but surely… I just haven’t had the time to be intentional about getting to know them better these days.) And I’ve found it necessary to prioritize my health. My heart has been causing me trouble. It’s felt weak, and sometimes, when I’m really stressed and have a lot on my plate, it feels almost tingly. All I know is that I NEED to take care of it. I need to take care of myself. What is the point of getting a degree in order to get a well-paying job, if I am slowly working myself to death in the process before I can even get the job? I’m speaking hypothetically here, don’t worry. I’m noticing my health is poor, and doing what I can to care for it. I’ve only got one life here on earth, and I want to steward it well—it is a gift from God, after all. That means every day (if possible) forcing myself to stop all homework for an hour (or two, if I really need it) and get out in nature, be silent, quiet my mind and heart from all the stress and tension in life, and just trust the LORD. He’s got me. He will provide. Even if I spend this hour doing nothing but taking in the peacefulness of the trees, the grass, the lake, and the breeze, while I could be doing homework instead… I’m going to give myself a break because my body needs it. Even though I have so much to do, I’m going trust the LORD, take a break to care for myself, and have faith that He will give me the strength to get everything done. And every week, I take a sabbath—24 hours of no school-related work—to just rest, sleep a lot, and do fun, life-giving things I can’t do during the week. This all helps me to survive.

I have this Wellbeing class. I’ve been enjoying it, it’s a really chill class—since stress is “not good for our wellbeing”, my professor tries to keep it as relaxed and calm as possible, sometimes by keeping relaxing piano music in the background, always opening and closing the session with a call-and-response sort of prayer, and doing fun activities like sitting on blankets outside, or watching videos on how food affects the brain, etc. Currently we are doing a 21-day sleep challenge, where we have to try to get 7 hours (at least… more is ideal) of sleep a night, track our hours of sleep, and write down how we feel the next day (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually). It’s been really good. I wish I could get more sleep. In my perfect world, I would go to be at 9:30 or 10, but homework keeps me up till 11 or 12, and on some days, 1 or 2. (Awful, I know.) So you can safely conclude that I am very tired all the time. But I’m trying every day to be as efficient during the day as I can, and go to bed as soon as I can.

Well, the weekend is here. Friday night—Saturday night is my designated sabbath every week. No, I am not Jewish or Seventh-Day Adventist, if you’re wondering why I do not choose Sunday as my day of rest. The answer is, I’m still trying to figure out what it means for someone under the New Covenant to keep the sabbath holy (one of the ten commandments), and if we’re still required to keep it at all. I know, from my understanding that specific things like only eating clean animals and not getting tattoos no longer apply to those of us living under the New Covenant, but what about the basic ten commandments? Stealing, to this day, is still wrong. So is lying. And coveting. And adultery. So what about the one about keeping the sabbath holy? Does it still apply to us, as it seems that the others might? And what does “sabbath” mean for us? Does it still mean Friday at sundown until Saturday sundown like it did for the Israelites in the Old Testament, or does it mean Sunday, since Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday? I’m still trying to figure all of this out. For now, I’ve chosen Friday evening—Saturday evening as my sabbath, though that may seem strange to some of you. This is only until I discover the answers to these questions on what “sabbath” means for a follower of Christ living under the New Covenant. All this to say, I am currently enjoying my weekly sabbath, not letting myself think or stress about school; reading my Bible, blogging, scrolling through social media, listening to calm worship music, and… (yesterday)…   going to a party!!!

 

Every year my former school has a fall party. You probably remember blog posts in the past about it. I’ve gone every year when I was a student, and was really disappointed that I would miss it this year… or so I thought. Well, a dear friend of mine invited me (THANK YOU!!!), and so we together to the party last night. It was so. much. fun. I had been hesitant about going yesterday—my health felt fragile—but I realized… I needed fellowship. And a cheerful heart is good medicine. I needed some joy in my life. So I went, hoping I was making the right decision. And I think it was. It was so great. The drive to the farm (where the party was held) was about 45 minutes long, so I got to talk to my friend all the way there about our lives. It was so good to catch up. When we got there, it was raining, and so we spent the first 30 minutes or so in the half-basement of the barn (it was built into a hill), talking with people, saying hi (“It’s been too long!”), catching up, and then soon went to the main floor of the barn to watch a few rounds of tug-of war (boys vs. girls, sophomores vs. freshmen, etc.). The barn-dance instructor was late, so we talked/played games until then (I didn’t participate in any games, because I wanted to conserve my limited energy for dancing). Finally she came, and the dancing started. A couple of my guy friends asked me to dance, so I danced with them. I danced with my friend Bailey. We did a couple line dances such as “Popcorn” and the “Cha-Cha Slide”, then continued regular barn-dances. I was going to dance with my friend Claire but my gut feeling was “sit this one out, you’re overworking yourself”, so I did. I was surprised there wasn’t any actual square dancing, but that’s okay. The last song played (while the instructor was packing up to leave) was “Footloose”, and several people knew the dance, so that was really fun to watch. After dancing, there was—now get this—Reformation Trivia. (That’s this school for ya… haha… also, Reformation Day is coming up, plus it’s the 500th anniversary, so why not, right?) We played as teams, according to grade. I got to play as an honorary junior with my former class, and we only got 2nd place, but oh well. (In my defense, our team was the only one who got the spelling of “Huldrych”, as in Huldrych Zwingli, right (and I was the one who knew how to spell it, not to brag or anything, haha). After that, we closed the evening out with some worship and prayer. That was awesome. It made me miss wednesday chapels at my former school, with these same people, and the joy that was so present during those times. (I never go to chapel at my new school—my current school hasn’t proved to be very theologically sound, so I haven’t really bothered to take time out of my already hectic schedule to go to chapel. Also, I heard something that made me sad and frustrated… about them apologizing for a guest speaker who had, from my understanding, spoken the truth… because some people got offended by it. This makes me sad, and kind of increases my disinterest in going. Is that too cynical? I’m not sure. There are probably good chapel sessions sometimes, I suppose. I don’t know, because I’ve never gone. Truth is sometimes offensive to our sinful human natures, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak the truth out of fear of offending people. I’m thankful for the times I’ve been confronted by truth and felt offended—though I’m ashamed to admit my offendedness… what a sinner I am! Praise God for his mercy and grace—that offense turned out to be a wake-up call for me to believe what is true, and to be free. That said, I believe I’ll just stick with church every sunday. Anyway, that was a long tangent. Back to the party.) Soon we went home. It was 9:45ish, and completely dark. I rode home feeling very content and happy. What a time. That was just what I needed—to see my old friends again… both the ones I never get to see anymore, and the ones I still see every sunday at church; to be able to talk and laugh with them as if we had never been apart; to enjoy myself with this family as if I had never left the school. It was so wonderful. This season at this school was a blessing. These friends are a blessing. I’m so glad I got to spend yesterday evening with them.

I’m Here.

It all could have ended for me, several years ago, when I was about eleven years old—but by God’s grace, it didn’t.

We were driving to the park, as we did nearly every Wednesday that summer. Our church would meet there every Wednesday evening to have a picnic, fellowship, hear a short message, and maybe play some volleyball or frisbee. We drove through downtown and neared the bridge. By then a lot of traffic had built up, since it was around rush hour. It wasn’t terribly congested, but there was a decent amount of traffic nonetheless. My dad took his time making it across the bridge, partially because there was construction going on, and my four-year-old brother wanted to get a good look at it. We took our time, as my brother enthused over the construction vehicles, and the loud noises of workers drilling into the concrete. At last we made it to the other side.

“Did you hear that loud noise?” my sister asked us with wide eyes, several seconds later. I certainly didn’t hear it. “Nope.” We thought nothing of it—at least I didn’t—and continued on our way to the park.

While we were at the park, we heard some devastating news—that bridge had collapsed. And we realized, to our astonishment, that we had gone over that bridge only seconds before it had fallen. 

We could have died that day.

We could have been in the middle of the bridge when that loud rumble occurred, and it caved in. We could have all drowned as our van became submerged in the river. Or at least killed by the impact of falling from such a great height. Our car could have caught fire.

But here we were, safe, on the other side of the river; up until this point we had been oblivious to what had happened just behind us, as we had crossed safely to the other side.

This memory haunts me to this day. Rarely do I go over a bridge without thinking about it collapsing underneath me. When I think about this day in which everything could have ended—but didn’t—I get goosebumps, and gratitude overtakes my soul, surging through my veins…

I’m ALIVE.

I’m here.

My heart is beating.

God kept me. (I don’t think I was actually a believer back then, which is terrifying to think about.)

God had held up that bridge for us as we passed, and then let it fall. He didn’t have to keep me and my family alive. He could have decided that our time on earth was finished. But He had other plans.

He decided to let us stay for a little while longer.

God is so good.

5 Weeks In

It’s been about 5 weeks into the semester… I think. It still feels so surreal that I’m going to this school, learning what I’m learning. It’s been good. It’s been hard too.

It’s such a relief to finally be working with my hands, making things. Seriously, I’m going to school to make things on Photoshop and Illustrator, to draw with real ink and calligraphy pens, to edit photos… seriously? This is the most fun homework I’ve ever had, and it’s been so life-giving. But despite how easy and effortless it may sound, there is definitely a lot of hard work involved. A LOT. It seems like there’s been hardly been time to rest. But even still, I try to squeeze some time in to get out into the nature areas on campus and just forget about all the work for a few minutes. Every day has been full of constantly rushing around and getting things done, basically. There have been a lot of late nights, even one all-nighter (my very first ever of my college life). I’ve been so overtired, and therefore emotional. I wish I could sleep more, but it’s hardly an option. But I need to do so for the sake of my health… balancing self-care and school is hard.

I’m growing accustomed to the size and culture of this school. I’ve made a few acquaintances and a few new friends, which I’ve slowly been getting to know better. I have nice professors. I’ve ran into a few people I know who attend this school. Overall, though, it’s been a bit lonely. Making friends isn’t the easiest thing. But then again, I have nothing to complain about. Maybe solitude is a blessing. In fact, I’d say it is… in this solitude I’ve had more time to think, more time to pray. And solitude is helpful when my schedule is so busy, I suppose. At least I can focus on my work. I go to class, then I study for a few hours, then I take a walk around campus and explore the little wooded trails, or climb the hill. I pray as I walk, I look around me and take everything in. There won’t be many days of green and color and sunlight left, since winter is coming soon—I need to enjoy it as much as I can. Eventually I go back to the main building and study some more, then I go home when the sun sets. I then study for the rest of the evening, then go to bed. Repeat. Though it’s kind of lonely, I still see my friends at church, and every so often we get together to hang out. And I have a feeling that pretty soon I’ll feel more at home at this school—I’ll probably get to know more people and have more solid friendships there. Hopefully. The LORD knows.

I’m so thankful that this college has a campus. The last one didn’t, which was okay, but I’m glad that I have somewhere to escape to when I am overwhelmed with all the work and relax. There’s a large hill a minute’s walk away from the main building. I’ve climbed it nearly every day, and just would sit there on the top, between two oak trees, and pray, enjoy the sun on my face, calm my mind, and observe people walking by far away on the path below. Behind me, beyond that hill, is a maple tree, with bright orange-ish pink leaves, and beyond that, a little wooded path. That path… it’s so beautiful and peaceful. Once when I was walking on that path I saw a doe. It stopped for about 2 seconds, looked at me, and then ran away. Beautiful.

It’s so natural for me to focus on the negative things and not the positive. But I have to tell myself that there are so many beautiful things in this season, and that I will not have eyes to see them if I keep looking back with nostalgia and wishing I were still in that season. Yes, that last season had wonderful things, but it had its hardships too. Every season does. That’s life. But that’s not what I will focus on. May I focus on the positive things. Soul, open your eyes to everything that God has for you! All the grace He has… you finally get to pursue your dream of getting into design… you get to make things. You get to learn new skills that you’ve always wanted to learn. It’s only 5 weeks in and you can do so much already. And you’re HERE… by God’s grace; by His provision. This is such a gift. So be thankful. And don’t complain about the loneliness, or the change that is hard to adjust to. Every dream comes with its difficulties, but that’s the way things are. You can handle it, just trust the LORD, and He will be there for you in it all. There. I needed that self-exhortation. I feel so thankful now… God placed me here. And He will lead me through this season, and He will care for me and provide, according to His will. And I, by His grace, will do my best to be faithful and diligent. He’s given me this opportunity, so may I run after it wholeheartedly.

I’m so thankful the weekend is here. Praise God! Happy weekend, everyone!

M

 

With Open Hands

I cling to everything around me

With fists clenched tightly

Doing everything I can to not lose that which you’ve given me.

I obsess, I worry, I cling

To those things

which were never actually mine in the first place.

These things I did not earn; they are mine by Your grace

and You give and You take away,

Still, blessed is Your Name.

But I’m afraid

That if I let go and hold these things in the palm of my hand

Saying, “LORD, what is mine is Yours; have Your way”

That suddenly You would take them away

And leave me without these things I love so much—

These things I fear to surrender to You,

These things I fear so much to lose.

But I know that if I choose

To loose my grip on all this grace

And hold them up, say “Have Your way”,

That whether You keep or take away,

You are enough, LORD, still You remain.

And all these things You’ve given me

In this season specifically,

Are instruments through which I’d see

All the grace and love that You have for me.

And whether or not one day You say, “Enough”

And take back one of these things I love,

You know what’s best for me, not I,

And You tell me that all my needs You will supply.

And even if I were to have nothing,

You would be everything

Because You are enough.

You are sufficient.

Everything You created was made to point to You,

They never were meant to rival You

For a place in this heart that loves, that worships.

This heart, may it adore You alone.

Make this beating lump of flesh Your throne

And take Your rightful place,

The first place,

That You deserve.

So here am I, with open hands,

Everything I have, everything I love

Inside of them.

Every talent, every gift, every blessing, every treasured possession,

Every friendship through which You’ve shown me so much grace,

Every will, every dream for my future, every hope,

My life, my health,

Everything

I give, my loving, all-knowing Father, to You.

You know what is good for me more than I do,

And so, with open hands I trust You.

O, For Grace To Trust You More.

New opportunities are wonderful things. Like being able to study graphic design. I’m so, so thankful that God has blessed me with such grace as this.

But I regret to say there’s part of me that is still stuck in the past, looking backward, refusing to embrace what is ahead for all that it’s worth. I want to embrace what is ahead, but I keep looking back at what is past, wishfully thinking I could keep living those days.

Because I’m leaving my old school. I’m leaving many of my friends there. I’m leaving the city I’ve called home for the past 3 years. I’m leaving behind many things I used to be able to do as a student there, and won’t be able to do here. I’m leaving behind the weekly chapel services there that so often blessed and encouraged me. I’m leaving behind a close-knit community of like-minded people who have built me up and blessed me in so many ways, and have taught me so many things.

I’m actually closing a chapter of my life.

A very good chapter. A hard, but beautiful chapter. A chapter I will never forget.

And I’m afraid to start a brand new one.

But I must.

 

I am beginning to realize more fully that often with new seasons come sacrifice.

While it is very, very hard for me to leave this old season of life behind, I know I must leave it behind, in faith that God has new, good things for me in this new season.

I have noticed that in my life, with nearly every gain I can remember, came a little bit of loss along with it.

But that little bit of loss doesn’t mean that the gain isn’t worth it.

I am sure that there will be more good things ahead in the future.

I am sure that, LORD willing, I will be able to keep in touch with and get together with my old friends. We don’t live THAT far away from each other, though we are a bit further apart, distance-wise, than we once had been.

I am sure that I will eventually make new friends at this school, who love the LORD as much as I do.

And for sure, I am POSITIVE that in this new season, God will be with me, carrying me through it every step of the way, being my hope, my strength, my anchor.

He has led me here, and He will sustain me. So I will follow, by His grace.

No turning back.

God, I firmly believe that it is You who led me here… You made it happen so miraculously, so quickly. And so this seems to be what You have for me. And I want what You want for me, because You know what I want better than I do—You know what is best for me. Everything You do in my life is for my good (Romans 8:28) and ultimately for Your glory. And this season is no exception. I’ve seen You lead me here, and I’ve seen You provide, and I trust that You will continue to lead and provide. And where You lead, You WILL provide—You won’t just lead me somewhere to abandon me. You are my Heavenly Father, and You care for me beyond what I can imagine. You have much grace for me in this season, I know it, but right now it’s hard to imagine what You have for me ahead. So right now, in all of the unknowns, help me to just live in this season, obediently, with an open heart, open eyes, and open hands—ready to receive what You have for me, to see You and what You are doing here in me and at this school, and to do what You have for me to do.

I trust You. “Oh, for grace to trust [You] more.”

 

Never Too Busy

I’m very thankful that it is finally the weekend. This first week of school has been very fast-paced and rather hectic, just with all the stuff regarding credits not transferring, and because of the fact that I was accepted literally a day before orientation. Which is a miracle, and I’m not complaining at all—praise God that I’m here. Seriously. I feel so blessed to be in this season. I just hope that as time goes on I get into a groove. Now that I won’t have to be meeting with faculty so much to talk through my previous education experiences and why I don’t think I need to take an “Orientation to College Studies” class, things should be more manageable, and I will have more time and energy for homework.

I believe I am finally at a steady schedule now—I’ve been adding and dropping a few classes because of the uncertainty concerning transferring and which classes are required… but at this point I have 5 classes—Christian Worldview & Culture, Intro to Wellbeing, Typography, Intro to Digital Media, and 2-Dimensional Visual Thinking (which is an art class). Although the workload is nothing like the workload at my former school, I still am busy all the time and it’s been rather stressful. Every day has been go, go, go, with maybe half and hour each day of restful activity. And every day I failed in some way to deal with the stress. Sometimes I was not the most pleasant toward my family. I stayed up past midnight most nights, trying to get every assignment done WHILE learning how to navigate the student websites, which isn’t easy. Late nights caused me to have to fight hard to keep my eyes open and maintain consciousness in class (and even in a job training session yesterday… which is highly embarrassing. Thankfully I still have the job! haha) Besides all of this, there were one or two near-nervous breakdowns. Yes, this past week was kind of a mess, and so was I.

And this past week I kept thinking, I should really take some time to read my Bible and have fellowship with God. I know I need it… and I REALLY want so badly to just sit down for an hour or two in a perfectly quiet space and talk to God. But then I would think, But I don’t have time; there are so many things I have to get done TODAY. If I don’t I will FAIL this semester.

And so for the most part, my quiet times were put aside. Time with my Maker, Father, and Lover of my soul was put on a shelf. I’ll do it later.

In hindsight, I wonder how much this decision to “do it later” (a.k.a. hardly at all) affected my attitude, my outlook, and my level of peace (or lack thereof). My guess is, probably a lot.

No matter how pressed for time I may be, I can never be so busy that I don’t have time for God. In fact, spending time with God will depend on how the rest of my day will go—if I am spending some time with Him and asking Him for help to live this life to His glory, He helps me. My faith is stronger, my outlook is more positive, I am looking to Him rather than worrying about the future, and it is easier for me to love others. Apart from Him I can do nothing. And this past week, I seemed to have forgotten this.

This next week, I plan to not repeat this mistake, but to be more intentional about spending time in His Word, in prayer, meditating on His promises, being in Christian community, and following Him.

Hopefully this next week will be better.

-M

P.S. How has school been going for you, all you students out there?

The Little Girl Inside

http://instagram.com/p/icIAmsAmzW/
original drawing

 

She had always dreamed of being a dancer.

But in reality, she worked a stressful office job on the 45th floor of a skyscraper.

 

She wondered what it would be like to live in a fancy apartment somewhere in Europe, with a terrace, or at least, window boxes with flowers in them…

But instead she lived in a tiny, noisy apartment, in a not-so-nice part of the city.

 

Inwardly, she wanted to run through that meadow of wildflowers.

But she knew that as an adult, in the setting she was in, it would be an immature thing to do.

 

She wanted to buy those colorful office supplies.

But wouldn’t her co-workers roll their eyes at seeing such bright, “childish” colors?

 

And she tried so hard to justify buying that deliciously pouffy, long, twirly skirt she had found on Amazon.

But when would she wear it, except in the secrecy of her own home?

 

She was 23.

But inside of her was a little girl, wanting to be set free; calling to be let out; reaching through the bars of the cage that was her heart.

“Set me free!”

“But I can’t,” she told herself. “I’m too old. I’m an adult now; I have to act like one.”

 

…But over time, she started to give the little girl inside of her a breath of air every so often.

She drove with her best friend out to that meadow of wildflowers, and they ran through it together, made enormous flower crowns, did a little photo shoot, and had a picnic. (Her best friend had not lost her little girl, either.)

She always kept a cupboard stocked full of tea, and her grandma’s old collection of teacups were frequently put to good use.

She read books that made her feel young again—books that took her to faraway places and different eras; books in which she was an orphan living in an attic, or was walking through Pemberley, or was the oldest of the March sisters.

She had a sleepover one night with her friends, during which they watched their favorite childhood Disney movies, made homemade toffee, did karaoke, and wore their fuzziest slippers.

And at last she finally caved and bought that skirt, and wore it around her house when she was alone… and when her best friend was around (she didn’t judge her for it).

 

She figured, why not be young at heart? Why not listen to the desires of the little girl inside? Why not be who I want to be? Who ever said that adulthood has to be boring, monotone, and lifeless?

And so, by and by, the little girl inside was set free.

Fling Wide These Doors—a poem

I was dancing in my room to worship music (“Lover of My Soul” by Kari Jobe, and “Psalm 46” by Shane & Shane, to be exact) this morning. I was so overwhelmed by joy in Christ I just couldn’t help myself. I then realized how, being kind of shy, I tend to hide my true feelings sometimes around other people—I tend to stifle my joy, or keep it contained. I should feel free to let it out! Why not? Anyway, I’ve been praying that God would help me to overcome any self-consciousness over letting my joy be shown. This moment and thought process brought about this poem. :)

songs from the refinery

Notes surge; I feel my soul arise

As if carried by butterflies;

A thousand prayers to God my King—

“Oh, thanks for all You’ve done for me!”

I can’t contain this joy inside.

But sometimes, still, I tend to hide

Behind closed doors to dance this dance.

This secret heavenly romance

Must not be secret anymore.

I must fling wide this bolted door,

These walls that hide my praise, destroy;

And, though no singer, sing for joy.

Oh, Father, please, enable me

To not be shy, but set me free

To sing and dance and laugh aloud

And tell of all Your mercies, how

You’ve changed my life and given me

A new dance for these hands and feet

A new song in my mouth, to sing

The glories of You, LORD, my King,

And of all that You’ve done for me.

Unhindered, may I dance, freely.

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Inexpressible Joy at 1:00 AM

Rain falls outside the window of my new bedroom, complementing the silence of the night. I am restless, I can’t sleep. But this is a good kind of restless. Though my body can’t fall asleep, my soul is so perfectly at peace. I’ve been praying and have been absolutely IN AWE of how beautiful God is. These past few days have been so joy-filled, and the LORD has really blessed me in so many ways, that looking back on this past weekend and today, I am amazed at this God that I serve and that I get to call my Father. I am so overwhelmed by His goodness, and I must recount some of the many, many things He has shown me and that He has done or given me these past few days:

  • A new home in a new town. It’s quieter. It’s safer. It’s more peaceful. I go to sleep and hear crickets, not people yelling at each other. I wake up and hear birds twittering peacefully, as I look out the window and see the golden glow of the morning sunlight. After years of not feeling very safe, I now can rest.
  • Friendship, fellowship, and community. The other day I was able to hang out with a dear friend of mine. We bought art supplies at a craft store and then painted together, while listening to worship music and talking about what God has been doing in our lives. The next day I got to attend my small group for the first time in forever (I had been out of town over the summer) and spend time in prayer with the people in my group, and then discuss Revelation 1 and what it says about Christ. Then yesterday I was able to meet a friend in person who I had met online, and spend some time with her and her family after church. Fellowship and community are such beautiful things. I am so, so blessed.
  • I have seen the power and reality of the gospel more clearly these past few days. That though there is so much darkness in this world, Christ is stronger. So much stronger. That since I am in Christ, no weapon formed against me shall prosper. That persistence in faith in the promises of God makes the enemy flee. That Jesus is victorious and that all authority has been given to Him. I have seen struggles with fear and with sin, I have seen heavy battles over the course of my life, and I have seen God’s grace in giving me firm faith and His peace even in the midst of those battles, and persistence to keep on looking to Christ… until at last satan gives up even trying to discourage me and all I know is God’s peace. I have also seen other people’s lives completely changed—I have seen one girl, who had once been in spiritual bondage and recently was set free, get baptized yesterday. I was weeping tears of joy—people, the gospel changes lives! Jesus Christ changes lives, and the powers of hell cannot stand a chance against Him! The reality of the gospel has been so real to me these past couple days—Christ has conquered my sin, the fullness of it, and I bear it no more! In Him I am a child of God, free from condemnation and counted righteous, although I had deserved the complete opposite. Friends, trust in Jesus Christ! In Him is real, lasting Peace (the peace I feel so much right now); in Him is inexpressible and overflowing Joy! In Him is fulfillment and satisfaction and contentment! He is everything I need!
  • It’s so good to be back at my home church again. Today my former youth pastor visited our church and preached, and it was one of the best sermons I have heard.
  • And then right now, as I was lying here in bed, I was just thinking about God’s goodness to me, about all that He has done for me, and of what Jesus went through for me, because He loves me, and was overcome by the fact that He is very real (which I always have known and believed, but now I could really feel it), and that He loves me… and, more than I ever have probably felt before, I longed to just be in heaven with Him—worshiping Him, learning from Him, seeing the wounds in His hands with my own eyes—the wounds that He took for MY sake—I cannot wait for that day when I will be with Him forever.

The LORD is so good.

 

One thing have I asked of the LORD,

that will I seek after:

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD

all the days of my life,

to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD

and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 27:4, ESV

 

Forward

I wrote this poem a few months ago, and just today published it on my poetry blog (which is now called “songs from the refinery”).

songs from the refinery

As I look back on my mistakes

And feel remorse, please give me grace

To turn from these sins and repent

And not repeat such base events

But leave them all behind, and see

That life is better when I’m free

From thoughts and deeds that slow me down

Since rather quickly I must run.

To win this race, I must move toward

Christ, my Savior—ever forward.

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Untitled Novel—Chapter 1

(From the story I am working on)

______________________________________________________________________________

ONE — A Party

“God… I just can’t do this anymore.  Help.  Please.”

I lifted my tear-stained face from my dampened pillow. I must have laid on my bed for hours; through the closed curtains I could tell that the light outside was now just beginning to fade, and that it would soon be night. And that evening I and my three roommates would be hosting a party, and I knew I needed to get up and start getting the house ready for the guests. But I lacked the slightest speck of motivation to get up. I didn’t feel like getting the house ready. I didn’t feel like hosting a multitude.  I didn’t feel like being among a whole bunch of people. I felt exhausted, confused and overwhelmed with grief.

Let me explain why.

A lot was going on in my life. For the past few years, I had been dealing with a sort of depression. That depression climaxed when my sister Monica, who had been battling cancer for two years, died a few months back. Thankfully back then I was home from school for the summer, and could be with her the day she left us. Monica and I had been the best of friends growing up; we were only two years apart. And although I knew that Monica was with the Lord and happier than ever before, I missed her terribly. I wanted her back. Her illness and then death had caused a lot of stress among our family—we still loved one another, and there was still peace among us, but for so long we had felt such an absence of joy in our home. So much so that I, in a way, was happy when summer break was over, and I could leave my home and go back to college, where I had hoped the environment would be just a little bit more joyful. While it was a little more joyful at school, the stress of school on top of family situations and my sister’s death was overwhelming. My grades were not doing well at all, and this was a constant source of much agony. Last but not least, I was sick and tired of my perfectionistic conscience. The bar was set at an unattainable height; everything I did, and thought, and desired, had to be just right. I wanted to glorify God in everything I did. But I am human. I tended to set standards for myself that were not realistic. I was forgetting to give myself grace, and to put my hope in God for help to overcome my sins. I was forgetting about His mercy and grace; I was forgetting to go to Him for help and trying to overcome these sins on my own strength. And, oh, the sin I was struggling with—fear of man, which often caused me not to do what I felt I should do, or to say what I should say—overwhelmed me. I knew I needed to look to Christ and trust that in Him I was forgiven; I knew that God’s word is truth and I needed to believe it… and I was trying. But why were the doubts so hard to shake off? And why did I still struggle with guilt?

Back onto the pillow my head rested. I lay there, gazing absent-mindedly at the crack in the wall, as I mulled over these unsettling thoughts for what seemed like the millionth time. “Lord,” I whispered between quiet sobs, “I just don’t feel at peace. Everything’s just too much. And I’m trying to hold onto You, but I’m so weak. Just help me not to let go. And don’t let ME go. I need You, God. I need You.”

 

My prayer was interrupted by a knock on her door. “Come in,” I said, attempting to steady my voice.

The door opened, and in walked my roommate, Lucy. “Willow?”

I had closed my eyes, trying to give the impression that I had been napping.

“I’m sorry, did I wake you up?” apologized Lucy.

“No, you’re fine,” I answered quietly.

“Were you sleeping?”

“No…”

Lucy looked a little concerned, and sat down on the edge of my bed. “Are you doing alright? Have you been just laying on your bed in this dark room this whole time?”

I sat up and wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my sweater. “It’s just unexplainably hard right now. School is just too much. And I miss my sister. And I’m constantly plagued by doubts. I’m trying to hang onto the truth, but–” I could not say a word more…and I didn’t have to. Lucy was well familiar with what I had been going through.

Lucy put both arms around me and hugged me tightly, and I hugged her back. We sat there for a good while, saying nothing.

At last Lucy spoke. “I’m really, really sorry, Willow. Truly. And I don’t know what to say or how to comfort you. I wish I knew how to make you feel better. But I don’t. But God does. So don’t give up crying out to Him. He will help you.”

I nodded in agreement. This was only a season; things would get better eventually.

Lucy stopped hugging me, stood up, and looked at me sympathetically. “Love you, girl.”

I smiled a little. “Love you too. Thanks.”

Lucy smiled back. “I think what you need right now is some fellowship. And there’s a fix for that, as people are coming in an hour and a half. Are you able to help us get ready?”

I nodded and got up.

 

We made our way into the kitchen.

“I need to check on my banana bread,” said Lucy, opening the oven, then slamming it shut. “Nope. 20 more minutes,” she said, adjusting the oven timer.

“What needs to be done?” I asked, trying to cheer up.

“Do you want to get those cookies out and put them on a plate? And then while I make lemonade, do you want to make sure the back porch looks presentable? Maybe turn on the Christmas lights?”

“Sure.” I took a spatula and removed the freshly-baked, just-cooled sugar cookies from the two pans on the counter, and neatly arranged them on a plate.

“Alrighty, these just go on the table then?”

“Yes. Wow, that’s quite the artsy arrangement there!” said Lucy, evidently impressed by the neat little mountain of cookies I had made. I, however, thought nothing of it. “Well, thanks!” I laughed, placing my cookie-tower on the table, then went to see that the back porch looked worthy of company.

 

“Anything else?” I asked, as I returned to the kitchen.

“Not that I can think of,” said Lucy. “I think we got everything we need to do done… Sarah and Lindsey are coming home in a few minutes, and they offered to make popcorn and a couple other snacks.”

“Sweet,” I said. “I’m going to go change and get ready.”

 

I walked into my room, which was now much darker than it had been when I was in it last. I turned on the light and looked in my closet through my dresses. I took out a red one, put it on, and looked in the mirror.

“Am I feeling this?” I wondered to myself. “Is it even long enough? Nah… not really. I think I need to retire this one.” I flipped through all my other options, and found my grayish-blue dress, with thin, vertical stripes and buttons down the front. I put it on and looked at myself again. “Hmm.. yes, much better. Yup, I’m going with this one.” My gaze went up from my dress to my head, and noticed that my hair was a mess. I grabbed her hairbrush, brushed it, and twisted it into a top knot. Then I put on my oxfords, and spritzed a little perfume on myself to finish it off. I then stepped back and looked at my reflection once more, to make sure everything looked just right. It did. I was satisfied with how I looked… I looked good. I hoped it wasn’t too vain to think that about myself. Then my heart, having momentarily forgotten its sorrow, sank again as I gazed into my own eyes and sighed. My outward appearance portrayed the exact opposite of what was going on inside my head. From the outside, I looked confident and cheerful; as if I had it all together. However, I didn’t have it all together; everything seemed to be falling apart. “I can’t be with people tonight”, I thought. “I’m a wreck. I don’t want to fake being happy. I want to actually be happy.” A tear rolled down my cheek, and I turned away from the mirror. “No. Stop,” I told myself. “Why am I so gloomy all the time? Life is hard, but God is still good, and I have a choice to choose joy right now. So, tonight I am going to be happy, and enjoy myself tonight. At least I will try my best. I will set my mind on pleasant, happy things. I will trust God with my failures and my sadness, and forget them for a while, and enjoy Him through some fellowship with other people.” I felt better after this self-exhortation. “Help me with this, God,” I prayed as I left my room. “Now what grace do you have for me tonight? Help me to have eyes to see it.”

 

“Wow, you look cute, Willow!” said Lucy, when I came back. “Is that a new dress?”

“It is,” I said.

“Really cute.”

I nervously laughed a little. “Thanks.”

 

Just then, the door had opened, and Sarah and Lindsey walked in with a few grocery bags.

“Welcome home!” said Lucy.

“Thanks!” said Sarah, as she and Lindsey set their grocery bags on the counter.

“What did you get?” I asked.

“I got some candy, some nuts, some crackers, some fancy cheese, and this huge summer sausage,” Sarah said.

After washing her hands of any grocery store germs, Sarah went to knife drawer and pulled out a knife, got a cutting board, and started slicing the cheese and sausage, and arranging it on a plate, along with the crackers. Then she set it on the table along with the rest of the snacks.

“Okay, so, we’ve got candy, nuts, a cheese-and-cracker plate, cookies, lemonade, water… and the banana bread is coming…” Lucy said. “That’s good, right? Are we missing anything?”

“I don’t think so,” said Lindsey.

“Okay, awesome.”

Everything was ready, and it was only a matter of waiting until the guests came.

 

About half an hour later, the doorbell started to ring every five minutes, and the house started filling up with people.

“Willow, would you mind getting that?”  Lucy asked, as the doorbell rang just as she was taking her just-cooled banana bread out of the pans.

“Absolutely,” I said, as I hurried to the front door.

I opened it, and saw that it was my good friend Nathan.

“Oh, hi, Nathan!” I said. “Welcome!”

“Thank you!” said Nathan. “How are you doing?”

“Ehhh… better than I deserve… how about you?”

“I’m doing alright myself.” said Nathan. “That paper, though, has been a real pain in the neck. I don’t know what my thesis is yet.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, sympathizing with him, but not quite knowing how best to reply.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” said Nathan, “So you’re better than you deserve? That’s quite true (for everyone), but what did you mean by that? …Unless you’d rather not say–”

At that moment, the doorbell rang again. I hurried again to the door, and as I unlocked it, I looked back and said, “We’ll talk.”

“Sounds good.”

I opened the door. “Hey, Quinn, Nick, Justin! Welcome.”

The three guys walked in, and I closed the door and locked it after them.

 

The the guys, along with Nathan, went to the living room and found a seat, as did I. “How are your papers coming along?” I said, trying to start a conversation.

“Quite swimmingly…” said Nathan sarcastically.

“And how about the rest of you?”

“Ehhh…” was all Justin said.

I and the others chuckled.

“I take it that it’s not going too well?” said Nathan.

“Not really.” replied Justin.

“I’ve got one page so far,” said Nick, “and no thesis.”

“Not bad,” I said. “How about you, Quinn?”

“Two pages of word-vomit.”

“Hey, that’s better than I have!” I said. “I’ve got only a couple of paragraphs. I think I have a thesis, but I hope it will work.”

 

Pretty soon, everyone had come—about 24 people in all, all of them students from my school. The house had become rather noisy, and the noise exhausted me. Don’t get me wrong, I love people and I love having them over, but 24… that is a large group of people. After a couple hours of being in the presence of a large multitude, I can become very tired and want to retreat to the solitude of my room. That, however, was not an option, as I was one of the hostesses of this party. I would have to persevere until the end.

 

I was in the kitchen, making more lemonade. The guests had finished the pitcher that was on the table, and I had heard some disappointed laments of “The lemonade’s all gone!”, and figured that I should make more. Anything to have a few precious moments of time away from the crowd.

Nathan suddenly poked his head in the doorway, like a gopher suddenly popping up from his burrow. It made me laugh.

“Hey!” he said, “Anything I can help with?”

“Well… is anything on the table running out?”

“Let me check,” he said, his head disappearing from sight as quickly as it had appeared.

He came back with a nearly empty plate of cookies. “Do you have any more cookies, or was that it?”

“Oh, we’ve got more. Do you want to put some more on the plate for me?”

“Sure!” said Nathan.

I continued squeezing lemons, as he replenished the cookies, piling them rather haphazardly on the plate, not really caring about aesthetics.

“So was the conversation boring out there?” I asked.

“No, it wasn’t,” he said. “I just thought you might need some help.”

“Well, thanks.” I said. “That’s nice of you.”

“…Also, I’m dying to finish our conversation.” he added.

“Oh.” Right now?

“So…” he said, “Let me ask again, that is, if you don’t mind my asking… how are you doing?” It wasn’t creepy of him to ask; we were good friends, and talked about all sorts of things together. I was okay with being somewhat honest with him.

“Well…” I sighed. “It’s been rather difficult lately.”

His face grew serious, and showed a hint of concern. “How so?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, “School’s been going a bit roughly for me, and then on top of that, I miss my sister—you know, the one who died—I told you about her, right?”

“No, actually not,” he said. “I didn’t know your sister died. Wow, that’s really hard.”

“I know.” I said. “I miss her a lot.” I fought back the tears. I did not want to start crying in front of him.  That would be embarrassing.

“When did this happen?” he wondered.

“Oh, it was a while ago. Two years,” I said. “But she was my best friend growing up.” Despite my endeavors to hold tears back, they did come. I was silent as they came—no awkward sobbing—but in order to successfully avoid awkwardly sobbing, I was unable to speak for a good minute or so.

At last I was able to speak. “Anyway,” I continued, when I could steady my voice, “That, and school, and struggling with doubts about assurance of salvation, and just not feeling at peace. Yeah.” I nervously laughed, wiping my eyes again. “A lot’s going on.”

“Wow,” said Nathan. “That is a lot… I had no idea… I’m really sorry.” I could tell he felt sorry for me, but didn’t know how to properly express it.

“It’s okay…” I said, even I thought in my heart I felt the exact opposite. No. Everything was not okay. But I had given him an idea of what I was going through, and would stop there, even if I hadn’t even scratched the surface. He didn’t need to know everything.

“I wish there was something I could say,” he said after a moment’s silence, “but at least I’ll definitely be praying for you, that God would comfort you and give you peace.”

“Thanks,” I said, a little comforted.

“What are friends for?” he smiled.

Nathan by then had finished with the cookies, but stayed and kept me company as I finished making the lemonade. I changed the subject, asking him how many siblings he had, and he told me he had 10 siblings—six sisters, four brothers—and that he was the youngest of them all. Then he proceeded to tell me stories about some of the ridiculous things he and his siblings had done growing up. I laughed until I could hardly breathe. It wasn’t so much the events that took place in the stories that made them so funny, but rather the animated way in which he told them. At last I had finished the lemonade, and he and I brought it and the cookies to the table.

 

Eventually, the party wrapped up as people gradually looked at the time and realized that it would be good to go home, and left.  Soon the only guests remaining were Nathan, Justin, and Bella, another one of my good friends. We were reminiscing about our freshman year, and all the fun things we did, and lamented over how things were so much different now than they had been then.

During an awkward silence, Nathan casually checked his phone. “Oh, wow, is it really one in the morning?”

We all were a bit surprised. Time does seem short when one is having a good time.

“I should probably go…” he said, putting his phone back into his pocket.

Bella and Justin both agreed, and, as much as I love my friends, I agreed as well. I longed for the coziness of my bed. Hosting and being with people all evening had worn me out.

Lucy, Sarah, Lindsey and I followed our guests to the door. They thanked us, and left. As soon as we had the house to ourselves, I got myself to bed right away.

 

“How did you like the party?” Lucy asked, when we were in our room.

“I thought it was fun,” I said. “I’m really exhausted now.”

“Are you doing any better than earlier this evening?”

“Yes, a little.” I said.

“Good,” said Lucy.  “I’m glad.”

The lights went off. She got in her bed. The two of us lay silently in the dark. I stared up at the ceiling, pondering the events of the day. It was good to have some fellowship; it took my mind off of my sorrows and gave me some happiness.  I actually got to enjoy myself for the first time in a long time.

“Goodnight, Willow,” said Lucy.

“Goodnight.”

“I love you.” she said. “So much.”

I smiled, though she couldn’t see it. “I love you too,” I said.

I turned over on my side and closed my eyes. But my endeavors to sleep were temporarily thwarted by the vibration of my phone. I picked it up and saw I had gotten a text, from Nathan.

“Thank you for telling me about what’s been going on in your life. I’m really sorry it’s been so hard. I really hope things get better for you. Trust the LORD. He is for you, no matter what happens. Praying for you.”

I smiled.

“Thank you, Nathan.” I typed in reply. “Goodnight. See you tomorrow.”

I hit “Send”, put my phone down under my bed, and snuggled back under the covers.

Pondering the events of the day, I smiled. I realized that no matter how painful, difficult, and excruciatingly almost-unbearable life can be sometimes, God always provides reasons to smile; reasons to be thankful. Parties. Hilarious stories. Lemonade. Good friends who encourage you and point you to the truth, such as Lucy and Nathan. I sighed with contentment.

“God, You are good.”

©MadelineH. 2016, 2017. Enjoy, and please do not steal. Thanks for your cooperation.