Here in central North Carolina, summer is taunting us. With a colder winter than most for our little state, it gives me energy to have the windows open, to listen to the birds who haven’t stopped chirping all day–they must be ecstatic–and to be able to sit in the sun outside and actually get hot. It’s March, though, and I know that this is the wild and windy, and sometimes icy, month. But it’s never too early to get started on summer plans, summer tans, and waking up from winter hibernation, eh?
I live for summer and everything that it entails: swimming, adventures, bare feet, cold watermelon, evenings spent in the pool, water fights in the backyard, endless days. And, yes, my summer planning always begins somewhere in the dreary depths of the cold months. So have a look at what I intend to be up to this summer (maybe you can keep me accountable when the insufferably hot days set in and all I want to do is sit under the air conditioner indoors all day), and tell me your plans! Are you sad to see winter go, or do you welcome being able to shed off all those layers? If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would it be? I’d love to be inspired with more ideas for this summer, so leave your thoughts in the comments.
Straight from the pages of my journal, here’s a list for spring and summer and living better. Life will never be perfect, but every day you have to decide that you can always make it better.
go to bed early, get up early, and watch sunrises
eat more fruit
go on longer walks
read through the new testament
listen to more cheap pop that makes you dance
begin writing poetry again
cook and bake
smile, be kind, try not to be too jealous
get yourself in shape for looking goooood this summer (come on, we were all thinking it)
go on many adventures
read all of the books you’ve set aside, and spend less time online
create, create, create
Struggle through or enjoy the last few weeks of winter, friends–it will be over soon enough, and summer always comes when we’re least ready!
Jesus gives us gratitude in the face of fear, and discouragement, and anxiety. Gratitude when you have so much to fear and so much to lose, when you feel like everything is falling apart and yet… He’s still holding it together. It’s amazing how life can be so complex and interwoven with problems and regrets and still be good. These past few weeks have been difficult for me mentally and spiritually, for reasons I can’t pin down. I feel like this is a pretty common feeling but lately I’ve had this rush of happiness combined with a touch of fear, trepidation, worry and a lot of other emotions. It’s like I can’t have one without the others, and while it’s stressful – I’m learning to focus on the overwhelming joy that overflows my heart. Jesus overcomes all troubles, His love completes my broken soul, making it whole and new again. This year I’ve really taken James 1:2-3 to heart, I’ve even chosen it as my verse for graduation. I’ve gone over it a dozen times until I’ve memorized it (quite the feat for me considering my problems with memorization) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”
I finally realized the other day what the prayer on my lips has been, what I’m praying for when I’m brushing my hair, or going through lists of dates for history class that are some how important to me. Perseverance. I don’t want to duck when danger comes my way in this life as a Christian. I don’t want to be a person who runs at the sight of a problem too big for me to handle. I don’t want to flee with the thought of safety held in my hands, I follow the one true God and he’s bigger than any fear or danger I could ever face. I want to have gratitude for what He has done and will do in my life. All the troubles I have are part of His plan for perfecting His people, and how beautiful is that? Broken me with problems that would fill a book – He chooses to graft into the person He needs. He’s promised that there will never be a load too heavy for me to hold, He’s supporting me and I’m running to him. I think it’s time I bless His name with gratitude on my lips, thankfulness in my heart. He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). If we walk in his footsteps, it’s not going to be easy. No one ever said that you wouldn’t feel like crying yourself to sleep at night, but there is peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and I’m thankful for that.
Today I made you guys a playlist filled with songs that breed contentment and happiness of the heart. Here’s hoping they bring you joy and ease your worries during the coming days of rest.
Happy Friday! - Jess
Remembering the day I devoted myself to the pool gave me a growing motivation. “Well, looks like you’re here just in time to finish a full warm up” said Coach as I came to the end of the crowded deck where the edge of the pool began. “Here get in lane three over there next to the blue caped team. Just do a standard warm up.” I nodded but did my best not to look at him in order to keep my thoughts from him. I couldn’t help but feel as if my thoughts were justified by my motivation. After all, being motivated was the only way to win. However, though I felt my thoughts justified, motivation itself was a painful thing to me. It hurt because it was a constant reminder of what I was trying to leave and overcome. So, as soon as I could, I began making my way toward the lane already sensing my emotions beginning to surface. Every step I took closer to the lane became faster than the last. I did not want my pain to manifest itself here. I broke into a sprint pushing people out of my way while trying my best to control myself. I could already feel the tears coming to my eyes and I needed to get in the pool. I didn’t know where my lane was anymore and I didn’t care. I heard a whistle blow in the distance telling me to stop so I shut my eyes and jumped in.
There was complete silence when I opened my eyes at the bottom of the pool. It was the most peaceful place on earth though just above me were at least a hundred swimmers intensely focused on the competitions to come. The light came through to my eyes in constant random patterns obscuring what happened to the rest of the world. I ceased existing to the world and all I could possibly be conscious of was the silent being of water. The water around me held me loosely, dissolving my entire being into its great mass. I felt nothing nor thought anything that did not pertain to the water. The water and I were one. It did not feel pain nor pity but stayed constant with its motion of silence. Here a moment felt like an eternity, but I did not belong. I belonged between worlds where pain and solace balanced and pushed me toward my goal. Remembering this I leaped up from the pools smooth bottom to begin.
Reaching the surface enveloped me in the sounds of turmoil. The silence of the water and the chaos of the world was louder than either on its own. The other swimmers wanted me out of their way fighting me and pushed me aside in vain. Acknowledging the water as my ally while disregarding everyone else was what gave me a place here. I passed every swimmer before me as I put forth my greatest efforts. My surfacing motivation was shadowed by the pain introduced by these efforts. Reaching for what lay beyond my arm’s length I held my peace to stay the water in my hands. Slowly my mask of focus was placed upon me as the reality of what lay all around me outshone all else. The sound, the lights, the life I ran from all faded into the recesses of my mind as the count of each stroke, kick and lap became the only measures of time.
I finished my warm up with less people in the pool than I had started with. I looked around and remembered that my only event would be the first of the day. There were only a few minutes left before the first heat was to start and I would have little time after that before I had my race. Already I could see those in the first heat stretching behind the blocks focusing on what they had trained for. I could see Jason Lezak the Olympian still warming up a few lanes over forcing me to realize this could be my biggest race yet. I had to see Coach as soon as possible to talk about my race and what I needed to focus on. So, I made my way to the edge of the pool when the sun began to shine through the clouds. I pulled myself up by a silver bar on the side of the pool and felt that jab of pain that was in my left arm every time I used it. I looked down and could see the two scars running across my arm in the sunlight. A constant reminder of what I had done against what I believed.
The day I broke my arm and needed surgery was supposed to be a day of celebration. My family and I were seated around a table looking on as others danced to the music taking place at my older friends’ wedding. I was having a good time for the most part but I knew my mother had something on her mind.
“Are you sure you want to go compete next weekend?” my mother asked, who to my surprise was serving me a plate of dessert.
“I know the funeral next week is important but this weekend could qualify me to faster competitions.” I said as I tried to figure out why she had brought me a dessert. “Besides,” I said, “I already have a ride and have everything ready to go.” My mother was not in any way pleased with my response and the dessert now made sense. Giving me things and doing me favors only to remind me I owed her was the only way she knew to try and convince me.
“My son,” She began, trying to be as profound as possible. “I do not want you at this competition. You know the Word tells us we must honor the dead.”
To which I quickly replied with a short “yes” knowing full well what was about to come my way since she did not get the original response she wanted.
“Then am I worth nothing to you?” she snapped. How was I to understand a question like that? “If I were to die now would you not come to my funeral for one of your fun activities?”
“No” I said trying to think of anything I could say proving I loved her.
“You say this my dear son but you know full well that the Word says it is better to be in the house of mourning is better than to be in the house of feasting.” I knew she was right and I loved her but I didn’t know what to do. “I work so hard to raise you and you find no respect in your heart for me and what I do for you.” My heart broke for her with the edges cutting at my chest. “Life would be full of blessings if you just honored your father and I, why don’t you?” She asked. All I wanted was for her to understand me. Looking at her I shrugged, looked down and shook my head. I just wanted her to be happy and the mere thought of wanting this brought tears to my eyes.
I left the table needing something to distract myself. Maybe the air outside could help me understand. I opened the door going out the side of the building. The sun was bright and the dance music faded as the door closed. I wanted to go to swim practice now but there was no practice for the rest of the weekend. I saw my brother outside with some friends and needed his help.
“Yo bro!” I called out “I’ll race you to the top of that building over there.” He never passed up a chance to compete so responded with a loud excited ‘Sure!’
We took our places. “On your mark,” I began “get set,” I had to beat him to get my mind off myself, “go!”
The race didn’t even get properly under way when I jumped, fell and broke my arm. I was rushed to the hospital and needed to have surgery. The break was bad and needed metal plates screwed in to heal properly. The race the following weekend came and went without me and I ended up attending the funeral. God has his ways of using truth of a moment to guide me even when I run from it out of fear. He still allowed me to return to swimming and I was back in the water as soon as I could after the surgery filled with more intensity than ever. However, I still swam for the protection it gave me. It was the only place my motives would not be constantly questioned, where I could do something to prove my worth. This fear was still my motivator; falling short of what others thought of me.
My fears brought a cold shiver down my spine that made the cool air seem warm as I climbed out of the pool. The morning sun did its best to warm what it touched but the air was still out of its reach. I began making my way over to the blue tarp beside the pool marked with my team name in gold lettering. I knew my coach was sure to be there. The deck was much less crowded now and there was more of a silence as everyone waited for the first heat to be called up to race.
“Good, you’re finished.” Said Coach as I lowered my head to stand beneath the tarp. Coach was a man of precision and had every part of his life perfectly calculated. The two stop watches hanging out of his pockets were a strong reminder of this as he looked through me with his dark shades. “We need to talk about a few things before the race to better prepare you.” I of course thought we would be going over the usual aspects of the race and what my mental attitude should be toward each part. “How are you doing?” he asked.
In no way expecting such a personal question my mind was sent spinning trying to come up with an answer. I had to say something that had nothing to do with what had been on my mind so I simply responded with “Working hard and doing great.” He turned and looked toward the pool that was now void of swimmers where the water stood calm.
“I’ll take your word for it. I really just want you to be focused on the right thing.” A whistle blew in the distance as swimmers in the first heat took their places behind the starting blocks. “I know you push yourself very hard in practice” he continued, “but it seems you do it so you can forget something.” I couldn’t help but admire his intuitive abilities but I wasn’t ready to tell him what I didn’t understand. “The most basic part of your focus, will determine the majority of the race.” He said. Then with more intensity in his voice and out of nowhere he asked, “Why do you swim?” As he stated this question he looked away as of to give me room to think. The swimmers were now stepping onto the starting blocks and I could feel the tension increase as they anticipated the buzzer to go off. I felt like I couldn’t speak and only the buzzer could allow me to release the truth.
“I’m afraid.” The answer left my lips as the tension was released the moment the buzzer sent the swimmers across the pool.
Coach turned to me with the same blank look he always had and responded after a pause “And do you know why you are afraid?”
It was now my turn to look away and see the swimmers pushing every ounce of their energy into the turn at the far wall. Their pain I saw was all too familiar to me, but familiarity did not yield me an answer to the most basic question. I looked to the ground in shame and utter just loud enough for Coach to hear, “I don’t know.”
To my surprise I felt Coaches hand on my left shoulder and looked up to him to see he had his shades off. “It’s alright,” he said. It was such a rare thing to see his eyes. To see them so full of sadness in understanding me, was something like a mirror. “God has his reasons for placing the path we have before us.” I knew what he said true but I knew he would not stop there without giving me what I needed. “The Word has different ways of manifesting itself to each of us. To some it’s beautiful to some it’s painful. To others it reveals darkness but to others it brings healing.” His words were filled with truth.
I, however, needed an answer to the question he had asked me. “But why does it have to be this way for me?”
He looked at me pondering the question knowing this answer is what I needed. “Some of us never know why,” he said pulling his hand from my shoulder and looked down the shades in his hand. “However, one thing we must never do is fear what is good. We are given what we need for who we are meant to become and to fear the Word is to fear who we are meant to become.” Neither of us had noticed the first heat finish and the second was almost to the finishing wall. “You should get up to the blocks now. Your race is coming up but I want you to think about what you should focus on.”
I had no time to argue with him. I had to go to the blocks now to get to my race in time. I stepped out from under the tarp and made my way to the starting blocks. The entire deck was now void of people as they had all either taken their places behind the blocks or were seated in the stands. I made it to the tarp behind the blocks where I stood as I struggled to come to terms with what Coach had said. He said I didn’t need to know why things were the way they were for me but I still wanted to know. Why did I swim? I wasn’t afraid to swim. I swam because I was afraid. I was afraid of the path I was given. The Word I was given, I strayed from. As I strayed I could only grow in pain. Suddenly it all made sense.
I found myself standing behind the blocks as the long whistle blew telling me I was where I needed to be. The pain in my life was there because I had rejected what had been given to me. The short whistle blew when I stepped up onto the starting blocks ready to begin. I had rejected the Word given to me because I was afraid of the pain it most certainly would bring me. The “Take your mark” came over the speaker and I reached for the edge of the block. I had been running from the Word and the path I was given. The pain was not guaranteed to stop but I had to stop running in order to overcome it. I was no longer afraid of anything. I lifted my head anticipating the buzzer to go off. I could see the end of the pool and the water that lay in between. I no longer needed the water to feel its peace. I no longer needed the pools end to find acceptance. I was completely free, and this race now served me a purpose no longer.
Seeds can be planted wherever they fall…. some fall on soft and rich soil and some on rough and rocky soil. Yesterday the team from my church that went with me to Uganda this past January did a presentation on our trip. Going into it, I hadn’t thought through fully how people would respond to our presentation. We were going to share experiences and stories of our time in Uganda… some heartbreaking and some funny. I know my trip was one of the most powerful, impactful experiences of my life, but I wasn’t sure how impactful my trip could be for someone else. We started off with a prayer and then sat down for a potluck meal before our presentation… (Let me tell you, we can make some pretty darn good Ugandan food!) Everyone sat down with their food, fellowshipping with one another. Towards the end of the meal we shared a video. As I was watching the video I couldn’t help but to turn around and stare into the crowd and pick out each face… The sad… The touched… The “I didn’t know that was even happening somewhere.” Each face had a different expression all it’s own but, at the same time so similar! The video ended and everyone came out of this “wow” trance! Everyone’s eyes turned on us, up at the front of the room! Kim (a lady from the team) started off the talk. Everyone fell silent as she started to talk about the child sacrifice that occurs in Uganda and the awful impact it can have on the children. The room grew so still and quiet, it was almost kind of eerie. Many were shedding tears while Kim was shedding her own as she shared the beautiful, but gut wrenching story of Michael. We ended the presentation with a Q&A time. I was blown away to see the interest these people had in the work that we had done over there! To see seeds being cast out on fertile soil and to watch God move in the hearts of people was wonderful. There were even people who expressed interest in wanting to go serve Ugandans themselves. Who knows, God, through our team, might have planted the seed in someone’s heart That Day that could grow into something AMAZING!
Never be afraid to follow God! Never be afraid to let the seeds grow! I can’t promise it will be an easy road but it is the best road! -LH