What I Learned in August

I don't know about you, but August seemed like the longest month EVER. I haven't ever noticed it seeming that way before! I think it felt that way because it encompassed a lot of different lifestyles, at least for me. I spent the first part of the month at home -- that is, in my hometown, with my awesome family. The second part of the month (the largest part) consisted of me living in Lubbock (as usual) and working a lot (as opposed to being in school a lot). The third part of the month started last week, and that, of course, has been school. And I already feel that school has just been going on FOR-E-VER. Something about it makes me feel as though I've been dropped into something that was already going on, and now I have to keep up. But the beauty of Jesus is that He doesn't ask us to keep up. He doesn't ask us to hurry and hustle. He asks us to be with Him. He asks us to be quiet with Him. He asks us to be adventurous with Him. And while right now that consists of me doing work I love (Voice lessons and coachings are a gift from God) and work I'm not so enthusiastic about (my non-music classes), I don't have to measure up and rush for Him. Sometimes adventurousness just means taking your inner rest when you need it.

As part of the rest, I'm reflecting today on what I learned in the interminably long month of August. This is part of a practice that bloggers around the Internet partake in once a month, in order to commemorate what has passed before moving on to what is before us. I think that's especially important during the crazy times that many of us face now. We need to remember where we came from. We need to look up and see the sunrise every once in a while. 

So here we go: What I Learned in August. Some silly, some serious, all notable (I know because I wrote them down).

1. Up north, potato wedges are called "jojos."

My best friend and roommate has family from Wisconsin and Washington, and she talks like it (we're constantly mocking her pronunciation of "both"). A couple of weeks ago, I was making dinner and she asked me if I knew this little tidbit. I am really intrigued by local speech colloquialisms, but this one was just funny to me. Jojos? Really? 

2. How to keep track of what I'm spending.

I've always sort of kept track, but now I actually am, with pen and paper, and it's changing the way I look at money. I can't tell exactly what effect it's having on my actual spending yet; all I know is that I feel like an adult now.

3. The difference between school time and summertime is so vast it's almost fragmented.

I touched on this a little earlier. But the difference between my working, more slow-paced life in the summer and my student life that takes place at breakneck pace -- this difference feels like a huge gulf to me. It's almost like it's not the same life. I don't know how I've never noticed this before -- maybe I'm getting old.

But I'm also learning that my life is not broken up into pieces. Just as Jesus has made me whole, my life is all one. The fragmentation is just an illusion. It's still my life. I'm still me. And that is comforting to me.

4. How to be besties with my brother.

My middle brother Luke (the one who's 6'2") is a freshman at Tech this year, and he and I see each other frequently (like when he's too lazy to get his printer to work, so I print stuff for him). I have known for a while that my brothers and I tend to relate like friends, especially now that we're older -- but Luke and I seem to have become closer in the space of a couple of weeks. This is wonderful, because I think he's the bee's knees. The way to love my brothers, I'm learning, is to be a listener, to be a kind companion to them. They don't want a lecture from me, nor is that my job -- I'm not Mom. They want a sister, a fellow journeyer. And that is what I want to be to them.

5. Senior year melancholy.

You guys. It's real. If I had a dollar for every time I or one of my friends has said "I can't believe this is our last year at Tech!" I would be a wealthy woman. Watching my future come up so suddenly to meet me is both exciting and intimidating, making me excited for what's next but sad to leave this beautiful phase of my life. I've loved my undergraduate years, and I love Tech. I can't bear to think about leaving. So I'm going to enjoy this time here and really savor it. Besides, graduation isn't until May. I have some time.

6. Verdi.

I'm in the top choir at Texas Tech this year, and in October we're performing the Verdi Requiem with the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra and The Lubbock Chorale. We work on this vast piece at least twice a week, and folks, it is no joke. Super fun, but absolutely no joke. Loving it.

7. What real power feels like.

My twenty-first birthday was about three weeks ago. I don't drink, but the fact that I can if I want to is super awesome to me. It blows my mind. I can walk into a store, buy a bottle of wine, and they have to let me leave with it. This is real power.

What about you? I'd love to hear what you learned this past month! Let me know in the comment box!

Now: bring on the fall weather, scarves, and my giant sweater.

Home, Part Two

Today is a weird morning. We had family stay over last night, so everything is in its normal state of company-induced disarray. Cooper, my 5'10" baby brother, is away at football camp, and both my parents are at work. And today I'm leaving to go back to my other home in Lubbock. This summer wasn't what I expected it to be. I didn't plan to spend a good chunk of it in the house where I grew up, with my four favorite people in the world. Last summer, it drove me insane to do that. This year? I couldn't get enough of it.

I'm turning 21 in eight days. I am a senior in college. I have lived away from my family for three years. I have driven away from this house more times than I can count. Why is it so hard to leave my home now?

I don't have the answer to that question. I don't know why I stayed this summer; nor do I know why I am so reluctant to leave. I've thought of crying several times already, and I may still.

I've stopped searching for the answers to those kinds of questions: why I did XYZ. The answers can't change my actions, past or future. And sometimes it's not for me to know even my own needs very clearly. The point is that God knows, and He takes care of them.

As I pack up all my stuff (Guys, how do I have so much stuff?) and load it into the car, though, I am reminded of where Home really is.

Somewhere there's a song (I don't know what it is -- I only know that it exists) that says, "Home is wherever I'm with you." This morning, with the sun shining through the blinds onto my legs, that is my song to Jesus. Home, my Lord, is wherever You are.

And Your home is wherever I am, because You have made Your home in me.

You are Immanuel. God with us. You are with me and I am with You and at home with You. Wherever I am, I take home with me.

What an inexpressible comfort. I feel like a small child tossed about by forces too big for me. But in that unrest Jesus comes to me and tells me that He is my safe place. As all the Psalms say, "The Lord is my refuge." He is Home. 

So when I leave my house today, sadness is allowed. It's wholesome and healthy. But may I remember that my Home is a Person, and I take Him with me wherever I go.

Busy

I want to stop telling people I'm busy. It's actually one of my pet peeves. You know, when you ask someone how they are, and they say, "Oh, I'm so busy!" Yeah. That's the worst. It always makes me want to scream. Everyone is busy! I think. I'm busy. You're busy. My roommates are busy. My mom is busy. Everyone is busy. 

Can we all just make a pact to stop answering questions in this way? There are several reasons that I think we should.

Saying that you're busy doesn't say anything about how you actually are. It doesn't answer the question. You asked about that other person, and how they felt today. They answered you by telling you about their schedule. This answer doesn't tell you about the state of their soul. It tells you what they have in their planner or on their plate.

Is there a reason behind this? Can it be that we tell people about our rushed rhythms because we don't want to talk about the state of our harried hearts?

Or is it that we aren't even aware of what we're feeling -- that we are so unaware that all we know is the rushed feeling in our souls? That the only way we can express the low hum of chaos in our hearts is by telling people I'm so busy?

Have we numbed ourselves to feeling? Have we buried our selves long enough so that we have no other way to describe our inner lives other than the word busy?

I catch myself doing this. I sense the low-grade buzz in my heart. It's like a gnat buzzing around my head. I know it's there, but I've got no idea where. I hear the symptom, but I cannot, for the life of me, find the cause. Or maybe I sense my own deficiency, my own lack of attention to my heart. So, when someone asks me how I am, rather than bursting into tears or vomiting all my emotions upon the poor soul or launching into a tirade of how I really am, I say, "Busy."

Just one word. More cannot be spared.

I was out on a walk tonight, and it occurred to me that I just need to get out of my own head sometimes. I have all this stuff buzzing around in the space between my ears that sometimes I just want to take my brain out and put it in a drawer until it just shuts up. There are some days I want to say to my mind, "Look, you're cool and all, and I appreciate the whole thinking thing, but I would really appreciate it if you just went over there for like two hours and just left me alone. I'll call you when I'm ready to go back to thinking."

I stew too much. I dwell on things too much. I am a chronic overthinker. But it's all inside my head. No one knows about it. And it's often on the subliminal level, so that when someone asks me how I am, I have no idea how to answer.

Or maybe there's so much happening that I haven't had time to pay attention to myself and to actually figure out how I feel or what I think or what God is trying to tell me because OH MY GOSH. So when someone asks me how I am...

I have no idea how to answer.

So, to make it sound like I kind of have it together, I say, "Busy."

God forgive me.

Granted, there are time when we probably shouldn't say how we actually are. If you feel like murdering someone who just made you spitting mad, I would not recommend giving vent to that feeling. But may we have the courage to tell someone about our hearts, not our schedules. And when we do, may we know that we fall back again and again on the grace of Jesus to bring us through the mess of our own brokenness.

May we pay attention to what is happening within us. May we know that we are safe in Jesus, and may this safety spur us to be able to talk about what's going on inside our souls.

May we brave the adventure of sharing the mess inside of us with our people, with our community -- because that's how community is built. 

It won't always be pretty. But it will be honest. And it will be brave.

And at the end of ourselves, in the middle of our mess, Jesus opens wide His everlasting arms and says that it's okay.

Let's not be busy. 

Let's be grace-filled. 

Let's be vulnerable. 

Let's be free.

What I Learned in July

It's that time of the month again: when I recap some of the standout things I learned over the last 28-31 days. I started doing this in (or after) April 2015, partnering with Emily P. Freeman and other bloggers around the crazy world of the Internet to engage in the practice of looking back and appreciating what lies behind before I move forward. And since August is the month of the restart of school, and with it, the flurry of activity that comes with Life, this month's recap is full of my little discoveries that graced my days of Texas heat. Here's what I learned in July:

1. The Narnia soundtracks still got it.

Confession: I used to be obsessed with the Narnia movies (the most recent ones). One of my favorite things about them were their beautiful scores, composed by Harry Gregson-Williams. When my family was on vacation, my mom played one of the pieces from the soundtrack to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for us. It all came back to me: the purity, the adventurousness, the enchantment of that music. It reminds me of royalty and something older and grander than myself. The majestic theme music always gives me goosebumps. Something about it speaks to my soul -- I can't really explain how. I couldn't believe I had forgotten how good this music is. I found the CDs at our house and put them on my phone, and I haven't stopped listening since.

2. How to listen.

Granted, I'm still learning this. I think it's a lifelong journey. But this month I've read some excellent things about how to be a better listener. One of them was Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman (click here to discover what that's all about); the other was a blog post Emily wrote called So You Want To Be A Better Listener (I kept it in my email inbox -- that's how good it was). In this new book, Emily writes about learning to quiet our need for validation and simply listen to other people. We don't have to speak up or try to relate by providing an example of when the same thing happened to us. In fact, I find that when I do that, I'm only seeking to validate myself, to lay claim to things, to say "Me too!" I want to tout my own importance. But that isn't what listening is about. I'm learning to simply ask questions, to be a kind companion, to simply be there. I don't have to talk -- and as a chronic fixer, this is incredibly difficult. But I'm learning to sit back, relax, and free myself from my own pressure to push into my friends. Instead, I can rest in Christ and be their companion. And I think that's what people need most.

3. Having your pupils dilated is no joke.

I hadn't had an eye exam in a LONG time. The last time I had one was probably in high school, and early in high school. I don't correct my vision in any way, but I figured it was as good a time as any to get my eyes checked, just to see. The people at the eye clinic needed to dilate my pupils in order to see to the back of my eye. They warned me that I wouldn't be able to see anything up close for a few hours, and that I would be super sensitive to brightness. Okay. Cool. Whatever. NO. NOT COOL. They gave me these tacky sunglass lenses that I could unroll (Let's talk about THAT for a second) and put on my face because otherwise I would have been blind. I also couldn't read. I made the excellent decision to go to the bookstore after this. I had to hold things at arm's length to even see them a little. This must be what old age feels like.

4. It's okay to be at home.

After I came home from family vacation, I planned to go back to Lubbock and work. But my workplace forgot to put me on the schedule, so I had nothing to do. I was missing my family a ton, and my mom invited me to come back home for the rest of the summer and work for her. I gladly accepted, but was instantly seized by a sudden fear. Is it cowardly to go running home to your family when you're twenty years old? Is it wrong to go back to your childhood home when you feel lonely and have nothing to do? Was I being childish? The answer to all of these questions was a clear and resounding NO, in my mother's voice. It's okay to go home and be with family. Sometimes you need them. We all need our people. It's okay to feel the need.

5. Imperfections make us approachable!

WHAT, says my inner perfectionist. It's true! Myquillyn Smith (aka The Nester) writes about this in her book The Nesting Place. She says that when she goes into a perfect home, she feels less comfortable. If we don't allow others to see our imperfections, they don't know they can trust us with their own imperfections. I love community. I crave it. I want others to trust me with their mess; I want to be that companion to them. But this means I have to let down my guard and trust them with my mess. This is difficult for me, because I care about looking perfect to other people. But I think this is a question of holy courage: do I trust God enough to allow myself to be imperfect -- to be who I am in front of other people? That's really the question at hand. May my answer be a resounding yes.

6. How to change the time zone on the blog.

Guys. I've been writing on this platform for over a year. It has bothered me for a year that the time zone of my blog has been Greenwich Mean Time, but for the love of God, I could not figure out how to change it! I am almost 21! I have lived most of my life in the twenty-first century! Why is technology defeating me?! Answer: because I'm actually a grandma. I did some Googling and discovered the very easy way to change the time sone. It involved clicking on an option I had already clicked at least five times. I felt ridiculous. Technology: 1. Sara: 0.

What did y'all learn this month? Comment below! I would love to hear about it.

Epic

Of all the authors I've ever read, I think I talk about Tolkien the most. Anyone who reads this blog knows of my love for his work, which borders on obsession. I remember the day I told my friends that I loved Lord of the Rings. I had never mentioned it before, and they were shocked to hear that I loved it so much. I was surprised I had never talked about it before! So much of what goes on in my head has been influenced by Tolkien's beautiful words. True, it doesn't come up a lot in the course of being an opera singer: we just don't talk about hobbits that much. But all the same, it was strange to me that I had never spoken of my deep love of all things Tolkien. I realize that Lord of the Rings is well-beloved all around the world, but I had never encountered them before I was twelve. Before I entered seventh grade, I had to read The Hobbit for summer reading. At first glance at the cover, I didn't think I would like it very much. To my surprise and delight, I loved it. And thus the love affair was born.

Since The Hobbit was so good, I knew I had to get my hands on the next books. I can't remember when I read them for the first time -- I think I was in eighth grade. I'm sorry to have to say that I don't even remember my initial reaction to them, other than the fact that I LOVED THEM. I saw the movies (never as good as the books, but in this case, still awesome), and I put the books down for a while. It wasn't for several more years that I began my now-custom of rereading the trilogy every summer (For this summer, I'm currently on The Two Towers).

I don't think I noticed the impact that those books had on me for a while after that. I remember ideas slowly taking shape, but they were not at the forefront of my mind. They were my favorite books, sure, but I never knew the impact they were having on me until around Christmas of 2013.

I had just been through a rocky patch of life and a hard semester, so I went to see a counselor, just to talk (I'm a firm believer in the power of seeing a licensed professional just to help you sort things out). This woman, Sally, is a friend of my mom's, so I knew I could trust her. I talked at length about the difficulties of that semester, and I don't know how it happened, but somehow, some way, in the course of that conversation, I found myself talking about my Favorite Books of All Time. I spoke of how much I loved them, and she asked me why.

At first I didn't know how to answer, but then I felt something swelling within me, like a light and a strong wind and mountains in the north. I clutched at the pillow I was holding in my lap and started to talk about how beautiful the books were. They were full of nature and trees and tall mountains and bright stars and the kind of world I yearn for. But then my words shifted focus, and I began to speak of the way they made me feel: adventurous.

The best part of the books, in my opinion, is Tolkien's own invention: the hobbits. When the stories begin, we find both of them, Bilbo and Frodo, in pretty much the same kind of place: comfortable and safe and very contented. One point Tolkien makes is that hobbits are very sensible creatures and don't like to have adventures. He uses that word: adventure. Both of these hobbits have adventure-spirit within them. They come from a family of more adventurous individuals -- distantly so, but it's in their blood. Both of them feel the slight tug, the pull of something greater than themselves and the lives they lead in comfort and safety. But they allow it to be drowned out in the humdrum activity of Life As They Know It.

And then.

Something comes along -- usually Gandalf -- or something happens, and they find it impossible to stay where they are. Frodo knows he cannot stay: it is unsafe. Bilbo is pulled by some driving force that comes from he knows not where. He doesn't understand it; indeed, he hardly knows what is happening, but somehow he finds himself out the door and on the Road. And then they are off, through darkness and hunger and thirst and war and disunity and terror and more fear than they ever thought their little selves could handle. They constantly ask themselves why they ever left, and they never fail to wish themselves back at home in front of a cozy fireplace. But somehow they trek on, and in addition to the darkness and fear, they encounter light and beauty so great it makes them physically ache.

This is the part of the story that everyone is interested in. In the dark parts, we feel fear with them. In the beautiful places, we rejoice with them, while we know they will have to go on. I know what happens, but I promise you that I still am afraid for Frodo and Sam when they travel with Gollum. I still get angry at my books when Denethor is acting like an idiot (which is often, if you've never read the books). I still admire the beauty of the tower cities that I've never seen.

The point is this: no one is interested in a comfortable life. We don't think that makes good story. We wouldn't read a book like that. It wouldn't grab our attention. To us, it would be a book in which Nothing Happened.

We are created as part of a Story, with a capital S. Sure, we may feel that our lives are ordinary. I don't think that doing the dishes or writing my personal statement for graduate school applications is exciting. It's nothing like the darkness and the fear that we see in our favorite books.

Or is it?

Every day, we encounter darkness. Every day, we are afraid. Every day, we receive beauty we could never fathom -- but sometimes we don't notice it because it comes in small packages that look like dispatches wrapped in brown paper, not jewels cased in velvet. I have never had a day where I didn't struggle through some kind of wickedness or darkness that was assailing me, or wander through an impenetrable fog. I've never had a day that felt comfortable, and I'm willing to bet that you haven't, either.

Our lives are adventures. We don't always recognize it because it's us. It doesn't look like the kind we read about in old books (with old book smell). It looks like regular life. But regular life is the Adventure.

There are dark parts and light parts and parts filled with the gray of ordinary. There is brightness of dawn and pitch black of deep night and the fog of What The Heck Is Going On. But if that isn't adventure, I don't know what is.

At the end of Tolkien's amazing books, the hobbits return to their homeland. They go back to their lives -- where else would they go? -- but they are never, ever the same.

The rollicking up and down of our lives never ceases, so I wouldn't say that we ever get a break from the adventure, though we sometimes want it. I can't tell you the number of times I've called my mom and told her that I wanted everything to please, just stop. Maybe you feel that way, too. But the truth of the matter is this: our adventures leave us changed. We may come out of a dark place into one that faces the light of the sun, but we are never the same.

Adventure changes you. And it changed the hobbits. After they came home, they never had the same lookout on life. They kept craving something more, something beyond what they knew, something adventurous. They had that adventure-call in them before, beckoning them beyond the woods and the mountains. They had just never paid attention to it. But now that they had tasted it, they could not avoid it anymore.

The same thing happens to us. Once we have heeded the call of something bigger and greater than ourselves, we can never ignore it again. We may try, but we cannot resist.

That's what I want for my life, y'all. That's the entire premise of this blog. I want to live that way: bigger than myself, on some great adventure beyond the horizon. Sometimes I feel so small and little, like I'm constricted. But the secret that I'm learning is that smallness is adventurous, because sometimes it feels dark. When you're in a place that feels tight and claustrophobic, it's dark and dim. But in those moments, you're walking through adventure. Adventure happens in the small, too.

That's why I write here: to remind myself of that. To remind myself that life is an adventure, big or small.

To tell the truth, I feel the adventure-joy rising up in my heart all the time. Sometimes real life drowns it out, and I don't notice it as much. But when I spend a lot of time reading or thinking, as I have this summer, the call to something greater starts to rise in me again, and it aches. I'm reminded of the experience C.S. Lewis referred to as Joy: a heartache of longing and yearning for the greatness of Something Else (for him it was associated with Northernness and Norse-ness). His autobiography Surprised By Joy deals with this very phenomenon. At the end of the book, he tells the reader that he realized that the experience of Joy, the longing for something great and beautiful outside yourself, is meant to point us back to God.

God is so far beyond and high above and deep around us. If we feel the Joy-ache, the Adventure-ache, shouldn't we assume that that desire is for Him? After all, He made it.

He is the only One Who can satisfy a longing that seems to pierce my entire being, that shakes me to my core and makes me ache for the kind of adventures I read about in Lord of the Rings. He made that desire for Himself. So, really, when I yearn for adventure, I am yearning for God. And He is the Adventure.

And now that I have encountered Jesus -- now that I have met and experienced The Adventure Himself -- oh, I will never be the same.

Permission

"Permission and freedom." That was what our acting teacher at CASI said to me. I was in the middle of a coaching on a particularly challenging piece. I've always had pretty good dramatic instincts, but I'm learning that I cannot simply walk onto a stage, with the idea for my character in my mind, and wing it. I am learning to ask myself questions about the music and the character, questions that are not easy to answer. What does the music say to you? What do you think this prelude means? How would your character do this? That day in my coaching, I was frustrated. As usual, the idea for the character was front and center in my mind, but I was not communicating it. "You have all these ideas in your head," our coach said. "It's all there. You just need to give yourself permission and freedom to release."

Permission. Freedom. Release. These are my trigger words. What he said was no surprise to me. I've known for some time that I do not, as a rule, give myself the freedom to create that I so deeply crave. It just isn't my natural way. Actually, let's amend that sentence. It's totally my natural way. My body and mind and voice demand a performance that holds nothing back. But sometimes, self-inflicted limits hinder me from portraying the character in a full, true way.

It's getting better. I'm getting better. The more I sing, the less I realize it matters what other people think.

But, of course, it isn't just in singing that this pops up (sidebar: singing is a metaphor for life in just about all the ways). I find myself afraid to be the person I most fully am in the presence of others. One day I feel ready to take on the world, and who cares what anyone thinks of me and my offering? The next day, the next moment, I am convinced that what I have to offer is not enough for people to like me. I am sure that I am not enough for anyone to accept me.

Yesterday I was on the phone with my mom, and we were talking about this strange foggy feeling that has enveloped me since I came back from CASI. I told her, "Mama, I feel like I have all this stuff in my head, but no one knows it's there."

It's like the coaching I had: it's all there. Everything is there. But I am not releasing it.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you feel that who you are is not what people are looking for. They don't want that, you think. They want something else, something that you don't have.

I'm learning to give myself permission to release what I have in my head. This blog is one vehicle for that. Another is my singing: I'm learning to focus in on character and situation and objective. When I do that, it all works. But I'm also learning that in my day to day life. The person that you are has been designed by God. Give yourself permission to release what you have within you. You voice, your words, your mind, your ideas, your very personality, your very personhood -- you were not meant to keep it all inside. Who benefits from it then?

You were meant to share yourself with the world. God has made you. Do not hide the art that He has given you to release.

Yes, it's terrifying. And why wouldn't it be? When you put something out there that belongs to you, that is such a deep part of you that it feels like putting your entire self on the line, you face the possibility, the nerve-tearing possibility that you will be rejected. Why on earth would you do that?

Because, my fellow adventurers, you are safe.

You are safe and loved and treasured in the arms of Christ, the One Who made you and died for you. You could be rejected by all of humankind and you would still be adored by your Creator.

He longs to know us and to see us use what He has given us. Why wouldn't we give ourselves permission to release it? We're the only ones standing in our own way. Why wouldn't we get out of the way and trust Him? He loves it when we give our gifts away.

This is something I'm struggling with a lot myself, so it isn't easy to write this. It means I'm holding myself accountable and calling myself out. I'm pointing my finger back at myself and refusing to allow myself to live in fear. For what is fear to we who are safe? And what is dread to those who have nothing to dread? What is the darkness if we are in light? Who can separate us from God, Who has made us?

He has made us. When we hide, what are we saying to Him? We are saying that we do not trust Him to take care of us, that we do not trust that we are safe, that we do not believe in the value of what He has given us to release.

But He stands beside us and makes His home within us and calls us valued, treasured, beloved, darling. We are His song and His portion and His composition and His creation.

He made us.

May we give ourselves permission to be who He has made us to be. May we get out of our own way and release our gifts and our personhood. May we refuse to live in fear. May we give away all we have within us until we have nothing left to hide in the dark corners of our hearts. May we instead live fully in the light, hiding nothing, releasing everything.

Release. The word itself implies that we are holding something back. It's like water behind a dam. When it is released, it bursts forth in sprays of foam and flashes of white and blue, first overwhelming the land with its power, but then nourishing it, bringing life.

Let us bring life and flowers to the land. Let us give ourselves permission to be the people we most fully are, the people we are made to be.

For He has made us.

Gifting

I read an excellent blog post this morning by none other than one of my favorite authors, Emily P. Freeman (one of the three authors I can't stop talking about). She wrote about our incessant, persistent, ridiculously annoying need to know if we will be okay. She didn't put it exactly like that, but that's what it is. All of us have a desire to know if we will have what we need in order to get through the day. Except most of us aren't super concerned about just today. We're concerned about our lives.

A lot of the same kinds questions tend to pop up in our lives. We ask ourselves the same things day in and day out. For me, the exact. same. questions rehash themselves again and again in all manner of circumstances. Regardless of what is happening, the same questions can rise up and seize me. Questions like:

Will I get into graduate school?

Will I even get a job singing?

Will I be able to feed myself?

And then there's one that, honestly, is the silliest of all. Like, it's really silly, guys. But it keeps coming back to me like some sort of weird Medusa: once you chop off one of its heads, three more grow back in its place. The question that my brain often tortures itself with is Will I be able to sing today?

Oh my gosh.

I know that about 95% of you are rolling your eyes right now. But I promise you it's a real question that my real brain asks its real self. Somewhere in myself, I know I can sing. But the rest of me doubts that I'll be able to pull it off today. I've never really had any bad experiences performing. In fact, I've never ever ever had an occasion where I forgot how to sing. My voice has never gone out on me, technique-wise. Why, then, do I keep asking this question?

It's because I don't trust the gifting.

For my whole life, I've learned that I should give glory to God for my abilities, that I can do nothing without Him. And that's true. But somehow, some way, that has fostered in my mind the erroneous idea that I have no skill that I can depend on. I can do nothing on my own has become I have nothing I can count on, and that's simply not true.

It almost feels arrogant to trust the gift to be there always. It feels wrong to know that I can open my mouth and sound the same every single time. It feels like presumption and pride to believe that I have this ability within me. Because I don't.

But then again, I do.

All over the Bible, God gives gifts. In Luke 12:32, Jesus tells His disciples to "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." And elsewhere, He tells His followers this:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

Matthew 7:7-11

He gives graciously to all! He loves to do it! He takes pleasure in giving to people! I can't get over that. We are so selfish, and He is so full of love and overflowing generosity.

But His giving is only one side of the coin. In a video series I'm watching right now, Emily Freeman (yep, same lady. She rocks) says that our souls are made to receive the presence of God. We are made to receive what He has to give us. He is the giver. We are the receivers. It's a beautiful relationship by design, a back and forth that recycles itself as we give our thanks to Him for what we have received from His hand.

So what does this mean?

If I am made to receive from God, I can receive my gifting with open arms and tons of joy -- and no fear. He has chosen to give me my voice, and I have chosen to receive it. God is not in the business of snatching His gifts back from His children. He loves to give gifts to us, like an indulgent father. What kind of father snatches back a gift from His child?

To tell the truth, my fear is that I will love the gift too much and that God will take it away. I fear that my love to sing will become an idol, and that God will remove my voice from me in order to bring me back to Himself.

To that, I say this: There have been many times that I have loved my voice more than I ought. There have been many times that I was obsessed with myself and my ability and I didn't love God the way that I should. In those times, God has reproved me, admonished me, and loved me. He has never taken my voice from me. This is not to say that He couldn't, because He 100% could. But He isn't in the business of snatching back the gifts from His children just because they love them too much or in the wrong way. Instead, He reminds me of Who He is and how much more worthy He is of my love than these two thin membranes inside my throat.

Yes, trusting the gifting seems arrogant. But I think what's really necessary is trusting God.

Trust that He had a plan when He gave you this gift.

Trust that He is gracious and kind and loves to give gifts to His children.

Trust that He will not take the gift away from you. In fact, He is incredibly good at shaping the gifts He's given us so that they become better.

He's also good at shaping us so that we use the gifts to serve Him.

Because, you see, that's what it's all about. I heard a song lyric once in the animated movie Joseph, King of Dreams that said, "Your gifts are meant to give away." We are given our gifts not only so that we can enjoy them, but so that we can use them to offer glory back to God.

Because we can't do anything on our own.

Trust the gifting. It's there. It's yours. He gave it to you. But remember who gave it. I know how to sing. But I have been given the ability. It did not come from me. It came from the One Who made Heaven and earth and the entire universe and also these two thin membranes in my throat in order to glorify Him in the same way that the stars do: by pointing back to Him and saying You are my Creator, and I exist because of You.

May that always be our cry. May it be our reminder in the morning when the sun rises and in the evening when it sets and in between when we use our gifts. May we be reminded of His goodness and grace to us every time we write or dance or paint or cook... or sing. May we trust the gifting because we can trust Him.

He is so good.

P.S. Want to check out that awesome blog post I mentioned at the beginning? Click here!

Competition

I hesitate to begin this post. I like to write encouragement, both for you and for myself. But the beginning of this post feels more like a confession than anything else. There's some ugly in my soul. And while I don't believe in unnecessarily airing my dirty laundry, I think this turns into hope, because of the work Jesus is doing in me. And maybe you can relate to what I'm about to say. Plus, writing things like this is adventurous, right? Right.

So let's get to it.

As many of you know, I'm reading Emily Freeman's book Simply Tuesday (it's on sale on Amazon right now! Go buy it!). I just finished the section on what she calls "Tuesday People" -- those people that are with us in the day-to-day smallness, what she calls "a safe place to feel insecure." In one of the chapters, she writes about connection and competition.

I went into this chapter a little forewarned. Someone in our launch team Facebook group had posted a quote from that chapter. I knew what was coming to me.

Except I didn't. At all.

I did not expect to see in myself the kind of ugliness and sneakiness that I discovered. I thought competitiveness was loud and abrasive. My brother Cooper is competitive. He likes to win, and makes no secret of it. I? I am not competitive, I thought.

Current Me is laughing at Past Me. Ruefully.

Competitiveness has another side. It isn't always noisy and trash-talking. It can be subversive and silent, like a snake in the garden.

Here's what it looks like for me. I struggle to write this, but I appreciate you bearing with me in my honesty.

I am desperate to be the best at everything. I take pride in my abilities, the things I am good at, even my hobbies, like running. I not only enjoy those things, but I often feel as though they distinguish me. And I am so selfish that I want to be the only one who does those hobbies, or I want to be the best at what I do. I want this to the exclusion of others. I don't want them to have what I feel that I've got.

So, when I perceive myself to be threatened, I start trying to validate myself. I tell myself that I'm still better than her, that I do more than he does, that I have run for longer -- see how this works? I'm competing with people in my own head in order to validate myself and feed my insecurity. 

I am desperately afraid of feeling less, of feeling small.

Recently, it's come to light how detrimental this is to my soul. In some cases, I find myself unable to be truly happy for people. It makes congratulations harder. It's as if when I acknowledge the work and achievements and blessings of others, my own are diminished.

When I write that, I realize how silly it is. When I write it, I see it clearly. But I know that's not  how it feels. It feels legitimate to me. I have to get some of my own, I think. I have to assert my own claim and abilities and accomplishments -- even if it's only in my own head.

And this prevents me from being a good companion. How can I be a friend if I'm constantly double- and triple-checking to see if I'm validated? I can hardly even have a conversation without injecting my own point of view. Often this is done out of love and a genuine desire to help, but when I look closer, I find that I cannot be silent, because to remain silent means I have no role. I have no place. I cannot fix or advise or do any of those things I want to do. My role is diminished, I feel. I am small.

But God.

The two most wonderful words in all the Bible.

What if smallness is the place I'm supposed to live? What if that's the place God has designed for me? What if the lines that have fallen in pleasant places enclose a very narrow space, by divine design (Sidebar: there used to be a show on HGTV called Divine Design. It was my favorite show. Moving on)?

What if, when I am in a conversation, my role is to be silent and listen -- to embrace my smallness in that moment and simply be a companion?

What if, instead of competing in my head with incredible standards, I welcomed the smallness I feel in the face of others' accomplishments? What if I turned to Jesus in my less-than feelings to discover that, whether or not I made up those feelings, He is holding me in all of them? If He helps me to really see people, then I can rejoice with them. And the great thing, y'all, is that He does help me to see them.

What if I embraced smallness as my natural place and learned to see that I'm not in control, and that's a good thing?

Following Jesus involves so much balance. My soul is so full of dark -- but, praise be to God, the Maker of Heaven and earth, there's grace for that. He has already declared me righteous in the blood of His Son. Though that's true, I know I am nowhere near the person I want to be, the Sara that God is making. The good news is that He's forming me into that, day by day, moment by moment.

And this is part of that.

May I embrace my smallness today, both in the dim light of feeling less and in the sunshine of the blessings I experience for myself. May I learn to listen in smallness and be a true companion for my friends (who I hope are still friends with me after reading this). May I dive right into the fear of less, because it is in those icy waters where Jesus and His glorious grace are fully seen.