Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fill 'er Up!

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14

The times during the week when I whine to God most, pretty much every week like clockwork, are Saturday night and Sunday morning before church. That's because I know I'm going to have to go to church and there are, like, people there. And while these people are all people I love, several of them are also people with whom I have very deep, emotionally intimate, and, yes, complicated relationships. Because that's what relationships are - well, real ones, anyway.

I live alone and work from home. As soul-crushingly lonely as my solitude can get sometimes (usually roundabout Friday night is when it really hits me), sometimes it would be easier to just hide away in my apartment with my poodle than put forth the effort of seeing people every Sunday morning. Because relationships take effort.

But God will just never, never, ever let me stay home. Or give up, for that matter.

One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, as I was begrudgingly getting into the shower, I was being particularly petulant:

"God, I don't want to go to church today! I don't want to see anyone! I am not feeling special! I am not feeling loved!"

"Well, that's not really the point, is it?" God shot back.

"What?"

"You want love? You've got it. Right here. I've got all the love to give you that you'll ever be able to stand. You come to Me to get your love, and then you give it to other people. That's the point." He let that sink in for a second. Then He said, "Now get moving."

I mean, He was Very Firm about this. I feared a lightning bolt from the sky if I didn't keep getting ready for church, and Heaven knows you don't want to be hit by lightning when you're in the shower.

And, truth be told, I knew that already.

If God has taught me anything this year, it's that pride is way overrated. Self-sacrifice will get you much further in relationships than being self-righteous. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. If God tells you to, don't even be afraid to look stupid. A second of teetering out on the ledge is nothing compared to the absolute joy that comes with the healing of a broken relationship and the crumbling of emotional walls.

And even if you do fall, so what? The God of the universe is there to catch you.

I can tell you, though, I can't do it by myself. I don't have enough love or patience or energy in me to give what is required to make all of my messy, complicated, deep, rich, wonderful relationships work. Often, if I had a choice, I'd stay curled up in bed with my poodle, whose only requirement for loyalty is that I pet her and don't let her starve. But then I'd miss out on oh, so very much.

The secret is just what God spoke to me that Sunday morning - and what He constantly reminds me when I'm feeling wrung out or worn out or at the end of my emotional tether - that He has all the love I'll ever need. He is love. He has to fill me up first, and only then can I give love to everyone else.

Without Him, I have nothing in me to give. With Him, I have all the love in the world to give - and there's always more where it came from.

And all the effort - the vulnerability, the self-sacrifice, the climbing out on a limb and shakily stretching out your hands - is so totally worth it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Facing Our Giants

David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands."

As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. 1 Samuel 17:45-49

We all have giants in our lives. They're mean, sniveling, mocking, huge, seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And the worst thing is, they're usually not great big, muscle-bound bullies threatening to kill us - instead, they're parasites within us, parasites of fear or doubt or insecurity, those parts about ourselves that we hate more than anything else that trap us in our own personal prisons and keep us from experiencing the fullness of life that God has for us.

Most of our giants are our very selves.

I can tell you, mine certainly is. The most insidious, loathsome, ever-present giant in my life is crippling, suffocating insecurity. Worthlessness. The feeling that I am never good enough. I feel as if I'm never going to be good enough - pretty enough, funny enough, graceful enough - for a man to really love me. I'm never going to be a good enough writer to merit anyone giving me a chance to write professionally. I'm never going to be a good enough friend to make people want to stick around when they inevitably find out that I'm not perfect in one way or another. What it all boils down to is that I feel like I am quite simply not worth the effort. And as hard as I try, I'm never going to be.

This giant spreads its venom into every area of my life, causing me to panic, to get defensive and self-protective, and, often, to ruin what could have been a really lovely experience by allowing my insecurity to take control. It's devastating for me every single time it happens, and yet I feel powerless to stop it. Probably because I am.

Oh, I've tried many times to conquer this, to just muster up some kind of self-esteem or confidence, but it never lasts, because it's all my own invention. I think I can solve it myself, can tackle this giant on my own, and set about trying to just fix it because it needs fixing and I'm ruining my own life, for crying out loud, this has to stop!

But it never works when I just try to fix it on my own, and I always end up right back in the same place, crying myself to sleep, crying out of self-inflicted loneliness, crying out to God for help.

All I have are tiny little pebbles and my giant laughs in my face, just like Goliath did to David.

Here's the thing, though: it wasn't really the rock that felled Goliath. It was God honoring David's faith.

David took that little stone in his hand and he believed that God could do it. He knew he couldn't do it by himself. He walked up to Goliath with full confidence not in himself, but in his Lord.

I think we can all learn from David's example, that the best way to face your giant is to take a deep breath, clutch your slingshot, march out there, stare that giant straight in the eye and just lob your pebble at him as hard as you can. The key is not your angle or your precision or the force of your strength or the size of your rock. It's simply that you took the first step.

God will do the rest.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In Spite of Ourselves

I'm in Applebees tonight, enjoying a half-priced appetizer and some much-needed time with my very neglected writing tablet. Sitting across from me, at the next table, is a forty-something woman in a faux-fur, leopard print vest and a short jeans skirt, her hand on the arm of her cowboy-hat-and-boot-wearing companion. They've been deep in conversation since I sat down ten minutes ago.

As I was scribbling something in my tablet, they suddenly burst out into simultaneous laughter, causing me to start and look up from my (obviously) extremely deep thoughts. Shortly thereafter, the man got up and sort of tottered on his boot-heels to the bathroom. Ms. Wild Kingdom stayed at the table, staring out into nowhere, a giddy yet completely contented smile on her face. She glanced down at her hands, then back up absently at the window, her smile deepening as she thought about what had just happened. While he was gone, she played with her drink, ran her fingers through her hair, and straightened her vest, but her smile never faded.

I know exactly how she feels.

It's fascinating to watch two people do this dance. Sharing stories. Trying out witticisms. Leaning in to understand. Nodding appreciatively. Delighting in each other's laughter. I like you, do you like me?

And hoping against hope that the answer is yes.

With these two, at least, it seems obvious.

The funny thing is, these two people probably wouldn't fit this well with anyone else in the world. The woman obviously dressed up for this evening, but I wouldn't be caught dead in a furry, leopard-print vest. Maybe she's a little bit wild, a little bit challenging, and he's just the cowboy she needs to keep up with her and reign her in. Maybe he's stubborn, bucking stereotypes and challenging rules, and she has just the right amount of firecracker in her to match him and give him a run for his money. Maybe this is the first time in their lives that they've felt this way. Maybe neither of them ever imagined they'd find someone who fit with them this perfectly.

Maybe this woman's been waiting her whole life to wear her furry, leopard-print vest and stare into her drink grinning like an idiot while her date is in the bathroom at Applebees.

I know exactly how she feels.

I know this post isn't particularly funny, nor does it offer anything really profound about God, but it was right there in front of me tonight, so I felt like I had to write about it.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

Love is like hope. And we keep on hoping in spite of ourselves. -Steve Dublanica, Waiter Rant

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Song I Didn't Expect to Make Me Cry

I went to a Rob Thomas concert last week (that's the concert I was talking about in my previous post), and my goodness, it was absolutely incredible. Rob is my favorite recording artist and hearing him peform his songs live that I know and love so much was a wonderful, moving, and emotional experience. I expected my response to be that way for the songs that I already loved, like "Cradlesong," "Someday," and "Her Diamonds."

And then there was this song, "Ever the Same," from his 2005 album "Something to Be." I've heard this song so many times before (on the album, it comes right after "Lonely No More" with its amazing bridge lyrics) and until that night I'd thought it was pretty good, yet not really one of my favorites or anything. I don't know why, I can't really explain it, but when he sang this song that night last week, something about the music and the lyrics and the hush that fell over the crowd and the way he sang and standing in that ampitheatre and where I am now in my life and everything that's happened in the last weeks and months and year came together, and quite unexpectedly, I just started crying.



Thank you, Rob Thomas, for that song, and thank you, God, for giving me the opportunity to hear it. It was just what I needed.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Surprising Symphonies

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Two years ago, I never could have imagined.

Two years ago, I drove down from my hometown in Pennsylvania to visit my best friends who'd just gotten married and made their new home in Raleigh. I went to a concert at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. I drove there myself, white-knuckled but determined. I sat on the lawn, pressed up against the iron fence that separated us in the "general attendance" from the people with real seats. I spent most of the concert praying. And God spoke to me there, that night, through the humidity and the screaming fans and my paranoia that my straightened hair would be, like, totally ruined - He spoke. He said, "Move here. Now."

I thought I knew why. I thought I knew what I was getting into. More than that, I thought this was just going to be a stopping point along the way to my ultimate destination - Los Angeles and a career as a screenwriter, with my own sitcom. I'd be fulfilled, content, happy - at the pinnacle of my career. It was a plan! Raleigh was just a minor distraction - time to spend with my friends, time to write, time to prepare. It wasn't supposed to matter. It wasn't supposed to change my life.

I could never have imagined that God would use Raleigh, and, even more so, a little Southern Baptist church with no more than 60 people in it at any given time, to grow me up in ways I didn't even know I needed to grow.

But He did. It has. Unbelievably so. And oh, my goodness, did I need to grow.

When I was younger, I used to sit in church and look at the people around me and wonder how they could all bear to lead such mundane lives. My parents worked hard to provide for us, but all I could see was the structure and the schedules and the stress, the minivan and the complaints about their coworkers and the feeling that they'd given up on their dreams. I vowed that my life would never be like that, controlled by other people doing what I didn't want to do. I wouldn't be fenced in by a small town or a 9-5 job - not me! I couldn't look forward to a life where the highlight of the year would be a five-day vacation to Busch Gardens.

This is not to say my childhood or my family was perfect, but there was so much that I couldn't see.

I remember lying in bed at night listening to my parents whispering and laughing together from their bedroom through the wall. It didn't even dawn on me to notice how close they were, and how much that really mattered. I didn't realize how much my mother supported my father when he was working towards his Ph.D., or that he was, in turn, working that much to support her and me and my younger sister. I got tired of listening to them talk about their jobs - both in the same school district, my goodness, the discussions were endless - when really they were (mostly) building each other up in love. To me, their lives were dull and monotonous - I couldn't see how much of a difference they were both making in the schools, my father as a principal and my mother as a counselor. I didn't recognize that hundreds of kids' lives were changed - possibly even saved - by the work they did. I thought it was all just dreadfully boring.

I couldn't see it, but their life together was - and still is - a meaningful and exciting adventure.

When I moved to Raleigh two years ago, it was big and scary and exciting, but if I'm being honest, it wasn't for adventure. It was more of an escape from my parents’ house and from my tiny Pennsylvania town. As I said, I thought this was just a stopping point, a place to bide my time. I was in full-on waiting mode - waiting to get good enough, waiting to get to LA - waiting for my life to really start.

God led me to start a drama team in the church my friends and I happened to sort of fall into (heh, like one ever really “falls into” anything when God is involved) about a month after I moved - I thought, to simply get better at directing and writing for the stage, to prepare me for Hollywood. It was just a little church, after all - hardly anyone would even see the plays we performed. It wouldn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

I was fully prepared to bide my time - that my time here would be doing just that, and nothing else. What else was going to happen to me in Raleigh, North Carolina?

But let me tell you, I have never had to fight for anything harder in my life.

Ever since I moved, it’s been an uphill battle. I’ve fought to continue living down here, through three jobs and three apartments. I’ve fought loneliness, depression, heartbreak, and spiritual ridicule. I’ve believed for something that it seemed ridiculous to believe for – many things, actually - including something as simple as mere survival on my own, and as complicated as relationships that God just won’t let me give up on no matter how much I may beg Him on a weekly basis to let me throw up my hands and throw in the towel.

It’s been a whole lot of fighting for just a stopping point…and that’s probably because I’ve come to realize that, duh, it’s not just a stopping point.

This is life. It’s happening now, and it’s been happening the last two years that I’ve been here in Raleigh. It’s partly been a time of preparation, yes, but for an adventure far more unexpected and yet more real than anything I ever dreamed up sitting in the pew at church as a little girl. It has also been a time of intense spiritual growth, close friendships, seeing the fruit of the Spirit, watching God work, and, more than anything else, learning how to trust in more powerful and necessary ways than ever before.

All of this has made me realize that the greatest scheme of all is simply doing God’s will in my life, every single day. It’s about letting God speak through me in whatever capacity He chooses to affect the people around me and bring them closer to Him. It’s about allowing Him to use me, use what He’s put in me, to show Himself. And it’s not about where I am or even really what I’m doing, but it’s about the people that I’m close to, the people that I’m with and the relationships I have, that make life an adventure even in the most seemingly mundane of circumstances.

Even just within a little Southern Baptist church with no more than 60 people in it at a time…God can and will work. He will work through me. He will work miracles. He will heal, change, restore, and love.

I may never get to LA, and honestly, it doesn’t really matter to me anymore. I trust God. I know He has my life in His hands and He has a perfect plan for it. If I’ve learned anything this year, I’ve learned to trust Him and that He knows exactly what He is doing every step of the way.

On Monday night, I went back to the Koka Booth Amphitheatre to another concert. I went to see a different musician, and I am a totally different person than I was two years ago. The lyrics to songs I’ve heard since 2005 had new meaning. The artist's new songs from this summer had a poignancy they wouldn’t have had when I was first there. I cried at things I’d never have noticed before, and before the concert, during the sudden downpour that soaked all of us at the outdoor amphitheatre, I clung to my jacket that I held over my head to try to protect my perfectly curled hair (why does my hair always get ruined there?) and prayed in Jesus’ name that the rain would stop and that the concert would be able to continue. It did. Praise God.

And God spoke to me there, again. This time, instead of “Move. Now.” He said, “Just wait and see what I am going to do.”

Two years ago, shortly after I moved (right around this time, actually), He spoke to me during the first Homecoming service I attended at my church. He interrupted the sermon and kept repeating, “You can’t do it. I have to do it. Let me do it.” I thought I knew what He meant at the time. Turns out, He had an even greater plan for me than I thought He did.

Like I said, I’ve learned to trust God when He speaks. So I am - waiting, that is, to see what He is going to do.

Lord…it’s all Yours. Do it!!

Monday, June 29, 2009

What About Now?

In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation. Psalm 5:3

Three weeks ago Tuesday, at approximately 6:15AM:

God: *poke*
Me: *sleeping*
God: Psst. Elisse!!
Me: Umpfh.
God: Elisse! Wake up!!
Me: God?? What is it??
God: Get up!!
Me: *yawns* *looks at the clock* *rolls back over*
God: ELISSE!! WAKE UP NOW!!
Me: Whyyy?
God: Because great things are about to happen! You can't keep sleeping when I have such wonderful things in store for you! I'm too excited to keep watching you sleep!!!
Me: But you've been telling me this for weeks!
God: I know!! Isn't it awesome?! So you have to get up!!
Me: When are these amazing things going to happen? Today?
God: Mayyyybe.
Me: Just tell me!
God: It's a surprise!
Me: I hate surprises!
God: I know - that's why I'm telling you that great things are going to happen!
Me: WHEN??
God: Soon!!
Me: Today?
God: Could be!
Me: Tomorrow?
God: You never know!
Me: This week?
God: If I told you, it would spoil the surprise!
Me: This isn't like that time last May when you told me something great was going to happen and I had to wait until January, is it?
God: And wasn't that totally worth it?
Me: That is SO not the point!
God: Didn't I time that perfectly and then do great and powerful things through it?
Me: Still not the point!
God: And didn't I remind you of that very thing JUST LAST MONTH so that you would believe me now when I keep saying that GREAT THINGS are going to happen?
Me: I don't see how that's relevant.
God: Didn't I know exactly what I was doing then?
Me: ...yes.
God: Don't I always know what I am doing?
Me: Well, you don't have to rub it in.
God: Well, obviously I do because you are NOT LISTENING TO ME. I'm telling you to GET UP and BE EXCITED because GREAT THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN!!
Me: WHEN??
God: Geesh, you are high maintenance!
Me: What?! I can't believe my own God just called me high maintenance!
God: Well, I'm allowed! I made you!
Me: Well, then, YOU made me this way!
God: Touché.
Me: Ha!
God: And by the way, NO, your hair does not look like a chia pet at that length when you style it curly.
Me: What?!
God: I got sick of listening to you wonder about it for 12 hours straight yesterday instead of being excited about the GREAT THINGS THAT ARE GOING TO HAPPEN!!
Me: I am excited! YAY!!
God: Good!! That's more like it!!
Me: Y'know, I'd be even MORE excited if I knew WHEN these great things were going to happen...
God: *facepalm*
God: Have I ever lied to you?? Just TRUST ME!!

No, He has never lied to me. Three weeks later, He's only just starting to show me some of these great things, and I can tell they're definitely going to be worth the wait, so I am waiting...expectantly!

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. John 1:16

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I'm Blue!

I just took the Color Code personality test while watching "Will & Grace" reruns on Lifetime and cuddling with my poodle, which I'm pretty sure makes me a total cliche, but the results were remarkably accurate, I have to say:

Definitely Blue

Congratulations, Elisse, you are a BLUE personality. The Core Motivation that drives you through life is "Intimacy". It is important to note that this does not mean sexual intimacy. BLUES need connection - the sharing of rich, deep emotions that bind people together. As a BLUE, you will often sacrifice a great deal of time, effort, and/or personal convenience to develop and maintain meaningful relationships throughout your life.

BLUES seek opportunities to genuinely connect with others, and need to be understood and appreciated, especially by their partner. Everything you do as a BLUE has to be quality-based, or you won't do it at all. You are incredibly loyal to friends, employers, employees, and above all to your significant other. Whatever or whomever you commit to is your sole (and soul) focus. As a BLUE, you love to serve and will give freely of yourself in order to nurture the lives of others.

BLUES have distinct preferences and are the most controlling of the four personalities, although they may not acknowledge (or even realize) the fact. Your code of ethics is remarkably strong and you expect others (not only your partner and those closest to you, but everyone) to live honest, committed lives as well. You enjoy sharing meaningful moments in conversation with your partner as well as remembering special life events (e.g. birthdays and anniversaries).

It's kind of creeping me out how true that all is.

Wanna take it too? You can find it here - you have to be, like, reflective and stuff, but it's fun!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stream of Consciousness Post at 2AM...don't say I didn't warn you.

I am not myself right now...and if I'm being honest, I haven't really been, at least consistently, for weeks.

Oh, sure, I have an excuse - that whole unemployment thing. It's a "difficult time." I feel like people nearly wince when they approach me to ask about it because it's as if I'm walking around visibly bleeding all over the place.

But I don't want that to be an excuse. I have promises from God! I've been given so many encouraging words from Him, firsthand and through others! I don't want my circumstances to affect me - to change me - to make me someone I don't want to be.

God has been jumping around like a divine Mexican jumping bean for weeks, more excited than I've ever felt Him, about the wonderful things that He's going to do for me and in my life. He's given me words and then fulfilled them. He's given me countless signs and confirmations. He's even spoken audibly to me, saying, "I am going to do it!!"

And yet, still, I'm blocked. I'm frustrated. I can't write - I can barely speak! My mind is a vast wasteland, dry as the Old West with tumbleweeds rolling by (and, apparently, lame metaphors like that one). On the rare occasion I do think of something to say, it usually ends up being something bitingly sarcastic, and then I seem mean and horrible to everyone within earshot. Either that, or I'm just silent, and I sit like a jealous five-year-old, brooding and pouty as I watch others get to be witty and funny and light while I am the personification of epic failure. It turns me into the worst version of myself: insecure, panicky, and generally ~emo~...and not in the cool way, either, believe me.

I won't describe the several recent events that brought me to this conclusion, or the utter stupidity going on in my brain that caused me to nearly burst into tears as I was driving home from my friends' apartment tonight. But as it happened, and those old, familiar feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness came over me again, and as I finally came to the realization that this isn't me, I'm not myself, I'm beyond this, for crying out loud!...God spoke to me:

"You can either stay upset about this and dwell on it and make it that much worse, or you can ask Me to heal and restore your spirit and vivacity and humor...and make you you again."

I mean...which one would you choose?

I just hope He realizes the magnitude of what He offered to do, cause I am totally taking Him up on it, starting, like, right now.

The joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cosmically Cream-Pied, Best Friend Edition

My best friend and I have known each other for nearly eight years now - since we were freshmen in college. Suffice it to say that we've been through a lot together and we know each other quite well. While there are many more where these came from, I thought I'd share a few of the interchanges we've had over the past year or so.

As she's mercilessly beating me at a video game:
Her: A girl being good at video games automatically adds, like, five points in a guy's opinion.
Me: So that's why you're married and I'm not?
Her: Exactly.

***

Me: I hate my life!
Her: I hate your life too!

***

Needing boy advice, I asked her about her husband:
Me: How did you first tell him you were interested in him??
Her: I walked up and Frenched him.
Me: ...*blink*
Her: Well, you asked!

***

A recent instant-message conversation:
Me: I took Lottie to walk at Lake Lynn tonight
Me: it's frickin' GORGEOUS
Me: it's amazing
Me: and there are like 10 different kinds of water fowl
Her: wow
Her: you could say ducks and stuff, but you said water fowl

***

I think we'd both be different people without each other...at least, I know I would.

Friday, June 05, 2009

From One Redhead to Another

The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord. Psalm 45:11

An open letter to my dear friend, soul-sister, and fellow fiery redhead, Kayla:

You are lovely.

I truly don't know where I would be without you, and I don't even want to think about it. Your faith has been such an inspiration to me, and your energy and vivacity and tenacity have kept me both grounded and afloat more times than I can count. You are smart and passionate and spunky and you bring light and laughter and joy into the heart of our Daddy and Lord.

He loves you so very much. He delights in you. He is absolutely captivated by you. And He can't wait to show you how much He loves you and the amazing plans He has for your life. I am so excited for you in these future days and weeks - excited for you to spend such focused, intimate, intense time with Him. I know you will experience His love in a way that will leave your heart and your life changed forever.

And at the right time - in His perfect time - I pray that He brings the man that He has for you into your life - a man who will see you the way that our Daddy and Lord sees you, a man of morals and character and integrity who knows our God in the same powerful, personal, life-directing way that you do. I pray for God to bring you a man who will be able to meet you in faith and in passion, a man who will stand up and pray over you and your family in the name of Jesus because he knows how and he knows it will work. I pray for you a man who knows who he is in Christ and who is not only deep and mature in spirit, but, even more importantly, is a man of strength who is willing and eager to pursue you and fight for you every single day for the rest of your lives together. I am confident that our Daddy has created men like this for both of us - men after His own fierce, valiant, passionate heart, instilled with His dreams and called for His purpose, that He has created us to support and sow into and love with all the feistiness and pitbull faith that He has given both of us.

So, during this defining time in your life, let Him love you. Let Him prepare you for the wonderful future He has for you. Meet Him in this time, and cherish this solitude with Him. As He is preparing you, He will be preparing him too, and preparing your futures both separately and together. He will make it clear where you are to go and what you are to do next, in His will and with His blessing. The waiting may be hard, but it will be worth it.

I can't wait to hear all about what He speaks to you!

All my love,
Your big-soul-sister and friend,
Elisse

P.S. In light of our recent conversation - and speaking of heroes - I thought I'd show you why this one is right at the top of my Favorite Animated Movies list:

I KNOW, RIGHT? *grin*

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Fascinating.

Ever since my friends dragged me (and by "dragged," I mean "invited me to go along and offered to pay") to the Star Trek movie on Memorial Day, I've been entrenched in a state of what some people would call "fangirling," but because I am actually remarkably self-aware, I am choosing to call "channeling my affection," about the film itself and also about a specific character. (When this sort of, ahem, reaction happens to you roughly 116 times over a span of oh, say, a quarter of a century, you tend to get pretty good at, ahem, pinpointing the emotion.)

And which character has captured my attention, you ask? Is it the dashing, brazen hero Kirk? The gruff but ruggedly handsome "Bones" McCoy? The impish and appropriately-accented Scotty? Heh, no. Instead, I have become totally intrigued by the smart, serious, withdrawn, dutiful, emotionally repressed yet somehow still intensely mysterious...Spock. Spock, the victim and yet victor of his Vulcan heritage, softened by his human mother, passionate in his quest for excellence, with flashes of depth that most people only pretend to fake, and my gosh what I wouldn't give to see him to smile just once...Spock.

Anyone who knows me at all will be totally unsurprised by this.

The only problem I had with the film was Spock's relationship with Uhura. It just seemed competely improbable to me that it would happen that easily. I mean, how did they even meet? Spock walks up to Uhura and goes, "Hi, I'm Spock. I'm Vulcan. Vulcans repress their emotions, so I have no idea how to express anything I'm feeling, ever. WANNA MAKE OUT?"

Pft. Right. Why don't we all just hop on a spaceship and fly to...oh wait.

What are they going to do for the next movie - get married and have a bunch of Vulcan-human kids running around Kirk's chair playing lasertag with the phasers?

I know, I know, I'm poking holes in the otherwise airtight logic of the Star Trek universe, but I'm just saying.

Plus, honestly, it's just (lest I offend my die-hard Trek-loving friends)...not-quite-stellar storytelling. It's instant gratification. We never see Spock struggle with realizing his feelings for Uhura, or her struggle with his inability to return her feelings for him as soon as she'd like. We don't get the thrilling sensation of longing glances or barely-missed opportunities or gazes held a little too long but then dropped in pitiable shyness or a sudden surge of stupidly stubborn pride. We don't get to yell "WHY CAN'T YOU SEE IT?!" at the screen and wait with baited breath until the day when these two characters, after months or years of drawn-out expectation, finally have a life-changing experience either together or separately and realize they can't live without each other and go running into each other's arms - walls broken down and hearts - even Vulcan - exposed at long last.

Perhaps I should remind myself that Star Trek is science fiction and not, in fact, a romantic comedy. It was not written by Jane Austen, nor is it a sitcom set in late 1990's Manhattan where the characters all hang out at Central Perk. Also, apparently, the central theme of Star Trek does not totally revolve around Spock learning how to understand and express his emotions. I mean, it's there, but there's, like, other stuff too.

But I bet it would reach a whole new audience of 21st-century Elizabeth Bennets if it was.

Oh look, something shiny!

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

Last night, I got home from watching a movie at my friends' apartment and checked my email before I went to sleep. Sitting there in my inbox was an outright rejection from a local business where I had applied only hours before to be a grant and contract writer. I'd seen the ad late yesterday afternoon on Craigslist and promptly added it to my now more than 60 job applications, getting very excited because I seemed to fit all of the qualifications and maybe someone would pay me to write!! Apparently, they did not feel the same way, and didn't even need to mull it over for more than four hours before sending me an email in return that, to summarize, read "Um, no."

It was 1AM. It was late and I was tired and it hit harder than it probably would have at, say, 1PM, but I got very down when I read the email and immediately decided to break out the streamers and punch for an all-out pity party. I clicked compose and was preparing to type out a group email to, like, EVERYONE I KNOW saying "WOE IS ME, PLEASE PRAY BECAUSE I AM DROWNING IN JOBLESS QUICKSAND"...but then Lottie started barking shrilly that she had to pee and I got distracted.

EVERYONE I KNOW is now breathing a collective sigh of relief and thanking God for tiny poodle bladders.

Now there's a sentence I bet you never thought you'd read.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Puppy Love

One year ago today, my mom and I picked up my new, tiny, black toy poodle puppy. She was barely a pound and sat, curled up and shaking, in my arms for the whole drive home from the breeder. I named her Charlotte Elisabeth and, two weeks later, took her from Pennsylvania back with me to my apartment in Raleigh.


Since then, Lottie and I have been through quite a year. She's been with me through three apartments, unemployment, a new job, a Christmas trip back to Pennsylvania, heartbreak, and job loss. She leapt out of my friend's arms, landed on the carpeted floor at the wrong angle, and broke her left front paw at four months old. She was in a cast for six weeks. She has met new people, new dogs, new situations. Through it all, she's slept in my bed, curled up beside me, every single night. She follows me into the bathroom. She's sleeping right next to me on the couch as I type this, nestled against my leg peacefully.


Ultimately, I've watched her grow up, from an adorably cute, mischevious, curious puppy into a bright, loyal, sweet, and affectionate (and still mischevious!) dog.



She has become my family. Because of her, I am never alone. When I cry, she jumps up into my lap and licks me. When I come home from being out, she gets so excited that she runs around at breakneck speed and jumps up on me, wanting me to pet her. It might be trite, but I love her more than I ever knew it was possible. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for giving me a family in this little dog.

Cosmically Cream-Pied

One Sunday, after church, a very nice older lady was talking to me:
Her: You're so pretty! You have such beautiful eyes! And lovely hair!
Me: *blushing* Thank you!
Her: So did I tell you about my cataract surgery?

***

Last night, I was alone on Saturday evening, which is quite normal as of late. My cell phone started vibrating, and despite not recognizing the number, I got all excited that someone was calling me on Saturday night, yay!:
Me: Hello?
Girl I Don't Know: I DROPPED MY IPOD IN THE COMMODE!
Me: Excuse me?
Girl: I said, I DROPPED MY IPOD IN THE COMMODE!!!
Me: I'm sorry...who is this?
Girl: Oh...I was trying to call Melissa.
*click*

***

Stay tuned for more, because this kind of thing happens to me all the time.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's Funny Cause It's True


video


This post brought to you by Art Imitating My Life, Inc.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Great Day for America

If you know me at all, you know that I adore Craig Ferguson, the Scottish-born host of CBS' Late Late Show - and today is his birthday! Happy birthday, Craig!

To celebrate, here's one of my favorite clips, from one of his monologues:



Brilliant!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

NO WHINING FOR YOU!

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

I was having a "hope deferred" afternoon yesterday. I was worn out, wrung out, exhausted. I had absolutely no energy to believe anymore. Unemployment and a dwindling bank account and a non-ringing phone and the fact that I'm still in this situation got to me, and I wanted to just give up and resign myself to living in my parents' basement and working for minimum wage for the rest of my life in the tiny town where I grew up. Honestly, it would be a fate worse than death, but I didn't have the strength to care anymore. I felt completely and utterly defeated.

I was supposed to go to my best friend's choir concert that night, but yesterday afternoon, all I wanted to do for the rest of the evening was sit with my poodle in my lap and think about how awful my life had turned out to be. Sounds fun, right? I didn't want to see my best friend or her husband or any of the other people at the concert. Not even their promise of getting Chili's molten chocolate cake (aka, the Best Cake Ever Created) after the concert could tempt me out of my defeatist slump. I wanted to just be miserable.

So, naturally, I looked for people with whom I could possibly share the woe. I texted. I IMed. I called my sister. I called my best friend and asked her if she really cared if I went to the concert. Generally, I whined to anyone and everyone I could find.

But when I tried that, something very interesting happened - it was as if God was whine-blocking me at every turn! My sister tuned out my entire 20-minute sobfest and responded to it by asking me what to do about her own job situation. Neither of my two soul-sisters, Kayla and Kimberley, were even around for me to wail to, which left me in severe consternation. I texted a friend from church and she texted me back with an equally woeful complaint, which pretty much just stole my thunder. And when I called my best friend and was about to launch into a detailed rant about how bad everything is and why that was going to keep me from going to her concert...my phone beeped and it was the vocational rehabilitation agency calling to update me about their progress with my case.

By the time I hung up the phone, I was tired of whining. It was exhausting! Misery takes work, apparently. And if I'm going to put that much work into something...shouldn't it be to improve my life and keep me here, where I know God wants me?

When that thought popped into my head, I could feel God nodding emphatically. Finally, she gets it!

I know He is going to provide for me and come through for me and that I am going to see miracles very, very soon. I know He wants me here and He's going to keep me here. He's already shown me all of that many, many times over.

And so, it appears, there will be no more whining for me.

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold on to the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:14-18

Oh, and also, Chili's molten chocolate cake is still the best cake ever created. Mmmm.

Friday, May 15, 2009

If Not For Your Grace

It's no exaggeration to say that this song has been a lifeline for me over the past few months. This version is calmer and more prayerful than the exhuberant, live, full-band worship version on the album, but it's still absolutely gorgeous - in fact, something about this version is even more moving than the one I normally listen to.

May it bless you as it has so richly blessed me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Elementary, My Dear

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

Picture it: London, April 2004. Late morning. My best friend and I hopped off the underground at Baker Street on our way to Madame Tussaud's.

It was my junior year of college. I was an English and writing major, really because I couldn't be anything else, but with very little idea what God wanted me to do with my life. He had made it abundantly clear the year before that He wanted me to go to England. Oh, I whined and wailed and hemmed and hawed and petulantly exhorted Him to let me stay in my tiny college town in Pennsylvania, knowing all along that He'd never let me. He just kept pointing at England. Still, I waited as long as I could, staring at the study abroad application for hours. I knew what would happen if I went. I knew it would be the hardest thing I'd ever done. "Are you SURE??" I'd ask God over and over, then ten minutes later, get stuck in traffic behind a truck that had ENGLAND emblazoned on the back. He was sure. So I went.

By April 2004, I had spent the previous nine months in the picturesque northern English city of Lancaster, studying abroad at Lancaster University. My best friend had spent a similar amount of time in France for the same purpose. Finally, she was visiting me, and I met her in London for barely 48 hours of catching up on each other's lives and exploring all of London we could in the time we had.

It had, indeed, been the most challenging, most rigorous, most emotionally-wrenching, most faith-enforcing year I had ever experienced. I had felt loneliness I never imagined possible. Culture shock turned me into someone I didn't recognize. I was in love with a man who didn't know God and couldn't fully return my unconditional affection, but the overwhelming nature of my love for him caused me to make stupid mistakes. The roller-coaster my emotions were strapped onto as a result made me frantic and volatile, and many times I'd burst into tears without any real idea as to why.

But then again...God was there. I heard His very voice one morning, more clearly than I had ever heard Him before, as I woke up on my ex's couch and squinted into the December sunlight. He met me there, in the tumult and the anxiety and the wondering what on Earth I was doing there, on that couch and in life in general. He said, "I have created you to entertain. That's what you were made to do."

Over the next few months, God impressed upon me that it was screenwriting, specifically, that He wanted me to pursue, and that I should do so within a Master's program for which I would return to England after graduating from my university in Pennsylvania. Grateful for some direction at last, I began to pour my energy into searching out where He wanted me to go for my Master's degree. I felt like it was meant to be London. One evening, sitting in my little dorm room in Lancaster combing through university websites, I found the University of Westminster and their brand-new Master's program for Screenwriting and Producing for Film and Television. From the description, it looked perfect. I made a mental note of the school's name and thought "I'll have to figure out where it is in London and visit before I go back to the States." That was as far as I had gotten by the time my best friend and I stepped out onto Baker Street on that drizzly April day.

We turned left out of the tube station and started down the street in search of Madame Tussaud's. On the way, my friend excitedly dragged me into a souvenir shop to look at Sherlock Holmes merchandise. While she was absorbed in picking out a present for her dad, I wandered around the shop aimlessly, and suddenly, out of nowhere...it all caught up with me.

The room started spinning. I felt like I couldn't move. If I did move, all I wanted to do was walk outside and lie down in front of a bus. It was a hopelessness and despair like I had never known before. It was crushing, enveloping, strangling. My eyes blurred. I started shaking. The enemy started whispering to me fervently, things like you're worthless. Nothing will ever change. Look at what happened this year. You deserved it. You're nothing.

I remember the flashes of the crystal knick-knacks blinding me as I kind of staggered in circles around the display, helpless. Somehow, I realized I couldn't conquer this alone. I started crying out to God silently, just calling again and again on the name of Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Lord. Help me. Please, help me. I can't do this. I need You. Only You can do this. You have to help me!

The crushing feeling started to lift. My eyes cleared a little. Even so, I kept crying out. Lord, why?? Why did You have me come here? Why did You let all this happen? Show me. Show me what You want me to do now. Give me a sign, Lord. Please. Give me a sign.

My friend finished her shopping just at the time I felt strong enough to leave the store. She didn't know anything had happened. We kept walking down the street toward Madame Tussaud's and found it three minutes later, but when we got to the door, we balked at the prices - £20.00 per person! That was $40.00 each - entirely too expensive for us.

So, disappointed, we turned around to go back to the tube.

And there, across the street, was the University of Westminster.

If I remember correctly, I literally shrieked. I jumped up and down and hugged my best friend ecstatically. She had no idea what was going on and thought I was crazy. (She still does, actually, but for oh, so many more reasons!)

A little over a year later, I received an acceptance email two hours after my phone interview with the course director of the MA program in Screenwriting and Producing for Film and Television at the University of Westminster. There were only 12 of us. I was the second-youngest. And I spent another life-changing year in England in 2006, fulfilling what God had shown me when I asked.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:7-8

So, if you ever find yourself wondering what to do, it's really very easy to find out: just ask! He will tell you. Somehow. Every time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Turn, Turn, Turn

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1

My puppy and I have been taking long walks in a nearby state park for the last several months. When we first started walking there, it was a serene and tranquil place but, honestly, it wasn't very pretty. I mean, it was nice enough, I suppose, but it definitely left something to be desired. The trees were bare and everything was brown and gray and stark and boring. I longed for springtime, for the full experience of the bright, beautiful forest in bloom, but it was mid-March, and it just wasn't the right time yet. It wasn't the right season.

By the beginning of April, I admit, I began to get impatient. I was ready for spring! But still, everything was brown and still, and we plodded along the dirt path every day without the sight of a single leaf. Everything felt stifled and sometimes I wondered if spring would ever come.

Then one day, right around Easter, it seemed to happen all at once - leaves burst out on the branches, decorating the forest in a thousand shades of green. Flowers popped up and opened, basking in the sun. Butterflies flitted around, dancing in front of my nose. The forest came alive, and that resurgence of life culminated in a beautiful display of vitality that seemed to draw us in as we walked. The season had changed.

It might have seemed to me like it happened overnight, but it didn't really. For weeks, buds had been forming and the ground had been warming and the forest had been preparing itself. It took baby steps, steps I couldn't see, but that were absolutely necessary in order for the brilliance that I now witness every day. If I'd been impatient - if I had decided during the first week in April that I was tired of waiting and that was it - and I had stopped walking my puppy in the park, I'd have missed it all.

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Revelation 21:5

God didn't rip up all the trees and plant new ones. He didn't make me find somewhere else to walk. He didn't tell me to just stay home because the forest was always going to be dead and I should give up. Nope. I just had to be patient and trust Him, trust that He knew what He was doing - and, even more so, that He was doing it - and that I could believe what He said.

This is what the LORD says: "I will restore the fortunes of Jacob's tents and have compassion on his dwellings; the city will be rebuilt on her ruins, and the palace will stand in its proper place." Jeremiah 30:18

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. Psalm 71:20

That's what God does - He restores. He renews. He changes seasons. He brings things back to life. He is a God of second chances, of healing, of newness...of springtime.

Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. Zechariah 9:12

Believe Him. Let Him do it His way - the right way - and trust that He is doing it, even now.

The butterflies will be worth it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Permanently Heart-Shaped Sleeve

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

Don't be afraid to let yourself be vulnerable.

I nearly slammed my foot on the brake and swerved my car into a U-turn at the moment, nearly two weeks ago, that God said that to me on my way to meet someone whom I was very nervous about meeting. It was my first - my self-protecting human - instinct, because I know that when God says something like that, He's usually going to make me do it whether I want to or not. To top it off, of all things, I wasn't expecting Him to say that. "Don't be afraid to say more than two words," maybe, or "Don't be afraid to actually, y'know, show up." That would have been appropriate. Maybe something comforting like "I am with you," or "It'll be okay" - you'd expect that from God, right? But don't be afraid to let yourself be vulnerable?? God...seriously?? God...why?!

When I (instantly) implored Him thusly, He simply raised an eyebrow and looked at me pointedly as if to say, you heard Me.

Dangit. I put my foot on the gas pedal and drove through when the light turned green. I knew I had to keep going.

And yes, He did make me do it. And yes, I'm still here to tell the tale. Shocking, I know.

The thing is, I'm pretty much an open book. One of my best friends recently exclaimed to me, after I'd detailed a conversation for her that I'd had with God earlier that day which ended in God with His usual *facepalm* expression, "You're so real - I love that!"* I guess that's because, well...I don't really know any other way to be. I can't be anyone other than myself...can I? Apparently not. Believe me, I've tried.

And who I am is...well...very open. I've struggled many times over to be more subdued, more restrained, more Jane Bennet than Lizzy Bennet, and, often much to my chagrin, it just doesn't work. The fact that I'm even writing this should prove that point. Every once in awhile, I'll get the wildly ridiculous idea that my life would go more smoothly if I were more demure and quiet, and I'll put forth a valiant effort to that end...which lasts for a total of five seconds, until someone says or does something that I could possibly make a joke about**, and then BAM!...all my self-imposed gentleness is shattered in a sarcastic quip that I can't help but share and I'm left brushing the dust off me in consternation as my benign facade scampers off into relieved hiding. But, hopefully, I have the appreciative laughter of anyone standing within earshot to appease my forlornness. Thankfully, it usually happens that way.

I can't put up walls. I hate holding myself back. It's forced and repressive and it makes me miserable. I hate keeping quiet or keeping calm or keeping my emails short or keeping myself reigned in in any way at all, really. I want to be able to be me...to ramble on about the funny thing I heard or thought of that day or the day before or maybe even last week!...or that thing I thought about while walking my puppy or that song lyric that inspired me or...okay, you get the idea.

Maybe it's because I come from a very open family. We talk about everything. We're not afraid to share our emotions - our every and our constantly changing emotions, truth be told. If my mother is having a bad day, I hear about it. If my sister is feeling nervous or unsteady or stressed, I know it. If we don't talk for a day, I get a voicemail asking where I've been and if I'm okay. Our entire family - all four people and three dogs - can fit into the bathroom at my parents' house to get ready for the Christmas Eve church service. (Do not ask me how I know this...mainly because it should be obvious.)

So, yeah, maybe that's it. It's my family.

You know what? I think it might be even more simple than that, actually.

I think that maybe the reason I'm able to be so open - the reason I can't really be anything or anyone else, can't put up walls and can't, sometimes maddeningly and despite how hard I try, stop just being me - is that I know who I am, I know Whose I am, and I know I am loved and that really does just make everything okay.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. [...] What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:28, 31

To be very honest with you...I know my Daddy loves me. I know He made me the way I am and I know He loves me this way. I spent years fighting it, trying to be someone else, and it just didn't work. So now, it's come to this: I am me, and who you see is who you get. He wants me to be me, because that's who He created me to be.

I know I'm loved just the way I am by the very Creator of the universe. I know He delights in me and He laughs with me and His eyes sparkle when He sees me...the real me. With no walls, no restrictions, and no reigning myself in.

I know what perfect love is, and because of it, I know there is no wound He cannot mend, no rejection He cannot heal, and nothing that can take away His unconditional and unstoppable love for me.

So I can just be me. He loves me. That's really all that matters.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mere man do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:15-16

And honestly, it's a wonderful feeling.

*I love you too, Kayla!

**So, like, did you know that Emily Dickinson was really good at putting poetry together??

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Tick that Broke the Camel's Back

The LORD will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. Psalm 85:12-13

I've been through some things in the last few months that would cause most people to fling themselves under the nearest oncoming Mack truck. Thankfully, God has been working in me in huge, powerful ways and He enabled me to handle them with a grace that I can barely even comprehend, much less even dream of mustering up myself. He is amazing, and, coming from a volatile, sarcastic, easily-embittered girl who is far quicker with a biting one-liner than a word of peace and forgiveness, I am so, so grateful that when I begged Him to take my human tendencies away and please let the Holy Spirit shine out through me instead (because, like, I know how I am!), He absolutely has...when I let Him. I'm constantly working on that. But praise God, He shows up when you ask. Wow, does He ever.

Still, though, it's me...and sometimes my humanness takes over.

I thought I had been doing pretty well the last couple of weeks. I mean, I'd been walking in faith (pretty much), perservering (when I had the energy), believing (when I saw a little progress), listening for God (when I felt like it)...all of that wonderful stuff. I'd been praying (well, not like I had in weeks before, but still!) and spending time with God (kind of) and had been living in sort of a plateau of waiting on Him. I kept holding the rope (limply) and seeing the vision (when I squinted) and trusting Him (mostly) and that was fine. I was fine. Or so I thought.

On Monday, I let a conversation I'd had with my best friend the day before eat at me and dig into me all day instead of giving it up to God. It was dumb, and didn't really matter anyway - I see that now. But even so, I allowed myself to get all in a fit over it. It's so silly what I let myself get upset about sometimes.

By Monday evening, after whining about it to several other people and letting them talk me back into my senses, I thought I had calmed down...calmed down enough, at least, to take a shower, collect myself, and start praying for the following day. But when I went into the bathroom and got ready to get in the shower, I looked down at my stomach and saw, from walking my puppy in the park earlier, that a tick had attached itself to me.

I screamed. I yanked the tick off of me and drowned it in the sink.

And then I totally lost it.

I threw on my bathrobe, dragged myself out to the living room, collapsed onto the couch, and burst into tears. "That. Is. IT!!" I yelled at God. I pounded my fists on the futon cushion under me. "I can't do this anymore!! I can't wait anymore!! I can't be jobless anymore!! I can't be broke anymore!! I can't be alone anymore!!"

At that moment, as if on cue, my toy poodle puppy, who had been watching me with quite a bit of concern, jumped up onto the couch beside me, climbed into my lap, put her paws on my chest, stuck her nose in my face, and started licking me. I was startled out of my pity party. Once she saw that she shut me up, she curled up in my lap, rested her head on my knee, and sighed contentedly.

It was kind of hard to keep wailing after that.

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Joshua 1:5

Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD's renown, for an everlasting sign which will not be destroyed. Isaiah 55:13

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

My Tower of Refuge and Strength

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

Two weeks ago yesterday, I lost my job.

Before that, I had so many other things to write about, but for the last two weeks, all I've been able to think about is strength...and how much I need it.

I've gone through pretty much every stage of grief imaginable over my now-former job. For the first couple of days, I was completely numb. I began sending out resumes and applications for other positions like a robot. I called and registered with employment agencies. I reactivated my accounts on job-seeker websites...websites I'd been checking daily just four months ago. I called to see how much longer I'd get to keep my health insurance and calculated the amount of the daily inhalers I need that I'd be able to get before it ran out. (I have severely diminished lung capacity as a result of premature birth and I must use inhalers every day just to survive. My very existence is a miracle in and of itself, but that's another story for another time.)

By the time Sunday came around, I had been through grief, anguish, anger, indignance, and self-pity. I had whined pathetically ad infinitum to my mother (and anyone else who'd listen). I sat in silent shock for hours as I looked for other jobs. I got selfish and I felt raw and needy and exposed. I felt worthless, like a leper, but also self-righteous. If anyone else tried to tell me about what was not going exactly right in their lives, it felt as if they were rubbing salt in my obviously gaping wound and ignoring my cries of pain. I don't have anything left in me to care about your problems! Look at MY problems! They are so much worse than yours! Don't you see that?! Stop whining and be grateful you're not in my shoes! I'd smile and nod and try to look understanding, but inside I was being ripped apart.

By Sunday evening, I had worn myself out with my roller-coaster-like emotions. I was empty. I was exhausted. More than anything else, I was just plainly, profoundly, and desperately lonely.

My loneliness made no logical sense, because I spent the entire day with my best friend. But after church and lunch with her and her husband and playing with my puppy at their apartment and then dinner at her parents' house, I was walking to my car to leave and the heaviness in my heart made my legs turn to jelly and my body feel like dead weight. When I finally dropped into the front seat, I barely had the energy to start the ignition.

I felt so very empty and so very lonely. I had absolutely no strength at all. I couldn't cry. I couldn't even pray.

At that moment, I envied my best friend her husband. Maybe this would be easier if I was married, I thought. It had to be. I've never (yet) been in a relationship with a strong man of God, but right then, more than any other time in my life, I wished I was. I wanted someone with strength - strength of spirit and character and faith - someone who would love me and reassure me and, most of all, pray over me with authority and confidence. Because, right then, I needed it desperately, and I just couldn't do it myself.

And maybe I was right - maybe it would have been just a little easier if I was married. But I finally mustered up the strength to turn the key in the ignition and start the drive home. I turned on my praise songs, and in the middle of "Shout to the Lord" (which Jesus and I call Our Song, by the way), my Lord spoke to me and said, "My precious daughter, I am all the strength you need."

Then He said, gently but firmly, "You know what to do."

He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40: 29-32

My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

In February, God told me to pray over a certain person every day for two weeks - actually, to labor in prayer over this person. He opened up His heart to me regarding this person and led me to pull out specific verses and use them in my prayers. It was the first time (unbelievably) I'd ever really prayed the word of God over someone in such a diligent, consistent, focused way, and my goodness, it was powerful. God met me in my prayers and absolutely anointed them in a way I had never known before. I discovered firsthand what a huge difference it makes to use the word of God in my prayers, and I was astounded. It was really exciting! It was also incredibly draining. When God first told me to pray every day for two weeks, I said "Two weeks? That's nothing!" By the third day, I was whining, "Goooooood, I'm EXHAUSTED!" to which God simply gave me the thumbs-up sign and quipped, "Eleven more days!"

Little did I know, that was practice.

So now, I am praying again - praying and believing for God's miraculous provision. The best part is, the Bible assures me over and over that God will provide - He will provide not only all the strength I need to make it through, but also everything I physically need as well. He will provide the money. He will provide the job and the insurance and the ability to keep going in His will. I know it, because that's what it says.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:25-35

And I believe it.

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. Psalm 119:28
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD! Psalm 27:13-14

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Best One-Liner Ever

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

OK, so, here it is: the deepest and most desperate longing of my heart is for inspiration. I get inspiration most strongly by making other people happy...by making them laugh.

Praise God, He has created me in such a way that all I ever want to do, all I most deeply yearn for, is to make other people happy. Sounds great, right?

Oh, would that it were so simple.

I could copy and paste countless portions of my personal journal where I write about the euphoria of making someone laugh - I describe it as the kind of high I'd imagine I would get from a drug. One of the best nights of my college career was when my friends and I went to a couple's house from church for dinner and for some reason I was particularly witty and kept thinking of one-liners and the husband of the couple saw my friend on campus two weeks later and raved about how funny I was. One of the best days in my Master's program was when we were working in small groups on a project and I kept coming up with (apparently) hilarious ideas. It was five years ago, but I remember like it was yesterday the moment my ex-boyfriend told me I should be a stand-up comedienne. It was the nicest thing he ever said to me - at least, to me it was. (To that I say...HAHAHA. Now that's a good one!)

My heart yearns for and feeds off of people's laughter like it is my life's blood. But see...it's not.

My problem was that the deepest desire of my heart is so obviously anointed and so obviously from God that I couldn't see that I had put it in place of God. I had put the inspiration I only sporadically got from people in place of the inspiration I could always have if I would just look to my Lord.

Of course, God knew it, too. For years and years now, God has constantly been telling me "I have to come first." I was constantly saying, "I know!!"

But I didn't, really. Here's a quick word - if God keeps telling you something over and over, and you keep saying "I know!" back to Him, but He continues to tell you that same thing over and over...you probably don't actually, like, have it. I'm just saying.

Cause I certainly didn't.

If the (ahem, repeated, and also ahem, frequent) conversations God and I had about this were instant messages, they would have looked something like this:

Me: Hi God!!!

God: Hi!!!!! <3 <3 <3

God: How are you??

Me: Good!

God: <3

God: I missed you yesterday! :( I was online all day hoping to talk to you. *sniff*

Me: I'm sorry! I just got so busy. Forgive me?

God: No probs. I already have. *hugs*

Me: So guess what?? I have to tell you something!

God: ??

Me: I am so excited to do Your will in my life!

God: Awww. You are totes presh. :)

Me: I mean it!! I want to go out and use everything You have given me to show everyone Your love and bring You glory! <3

God: Really?

Me: OMG YES!! It's going to be so great!!

God: *pout*

Me: Ahh, sorry! That was fail!

Me: * -OMG

God: :D

Me: So anyway, let's get started!! I want to do and experience and receive everything you have for me!

God: Awesome! But remember...I have to come first.

Me: I know!

God: Are you sure?

Me: Of course! You've been telling me that for years!

God: I am your source of love, of joy, of hope, of life, of everything.

Me: Yeah, like, I know! We're good!

God: You can't look to other people to inspire you. I have to be your first source of inspiration.

Me: OK, I got it! Really! :D

God: Great!!

Me: Now, please to be bringing a bunch of people into my life who think I'm funny? And could you maybe make one of them a cute boy?? Cause, I would, like, REALLY appreciate it. K THANKS!

Me: GTG. Love you! Bye! <3

God: *facepalm*

...yeah.

Now, please don't mistake me - all of the things that I was asking God for were Biblical, and they are all things He very much wants to give me. He has placed the desires of my heart within me, and He can and has and will continue to bless me by fulfilling them. He wants to surround me and put me in relationships with people who will inspire me and who I can sow into with humor and laughter and love every single day. Absolutely.

But God did not give me the desires of my heart for me to be an inspiration junkie - euphoric for fleeting moments and desperately longing and miserable and unfulfilled the rest of the time. Unfortunately, that's the way I've lived for years, up until just a few weeks ago. Oh, there were times I'd feel particularly spiritual and I'd sort of temporarily get it - during times of training or healing or restoration by God when I was in constant communion with Him, but I would always sort of let it drop and lose it, convinced that now, surely I was ready and God would now, surely bless me with constant inspiration from people and I'd finally be happy all the time! But invariably, I'd fall back into despair when the people around me couldn't satisfy the deepest longings of my soul. I didn't understand that God had been trying to give me inspiration all along - from Himself.

So how did He finally get to me, you ask?

He allowed my heart to be broken.

Well, first, He isolated me (again). He had me move into my own apartment at the beginning of February after three months of living with my best friends. I knew the apartment was a blessing straight from God - it is closer to work and closer to church and is pretty much perfect for my puppy and me in every way at this time in our lives. Oh, also, He told me it was straight from Him. So, naturally, I moved.

And then, right after I moved, He cut me off from everyone. All my closest friends became either sick or busy or...unwilling to spend time with me anymore. The last of those three shattered my heart in a way that it hasn't been broken in years...possibly ever. And when that happened, He had arranged it so that I had no one else to turn to but Him.

But He allowed it to happen because He knew that this time, I would come running to Him not just for comfort and healing and His divine wisdom to make sense of it all (all of which He provided, of course, praise God!), but also, at long last, for my life's blood. For sustenance. For inspiration.

At the moment when my heart was most raw and vulnerable and needy, He pushed through my stubbornness and blindness and after a lifetime of self-deception, I finally understood what He has been so desperately trying to tell me all along - the vital lesson that I had to learn before He could continue to further His plan and pour out His blessings in my life. For some inexplicable reason that only He knows, praise God, this time, I finally got it.

He is my inspiration. He is a well of light and love and joy that will never run dry.

And so, four weeks ago tonight, I found myself jumping around my apartment singing praise songs (a wonderful benefit of living alone!), and God and I had a much different - much improved - instant message conversation:

Me: God!!! I love you!!! You are my everything!! I finally understand!!

God: YAY!!!!!! This is wonderful!!!! I LOVE YOU TOO!!! :D :D :D

I finally opened my heart and allowed Him to fill me up with the constant inspiration that can only come from Him, and I have been walking around euphoric with it ever since.

And let me tell you, His is, without doubt, the most brilliant smile I have ever seen. ;)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gripped by Stupidity

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalms 27:1

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7


Fear is stupid.

I am positively convinced that stupidest thing you or I can ever do is let ourselves get caught up in fear and let it dictate our decisions. It is utter madness. But we do it so often, because we don't even realize we're doing it. We do things under the guise of protecting ourselves when really what we're doing is saying no to the callings and the blessings and the wonderful things God has for us, if we'd only step out on the limb and take a chance on them.

So often, we're just stupid. And it is such a shame.

Have you ever stopped to think about what it is you're afraid of? What is it that has you so paralyzed with fear? And why?

Insecurity? I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

Failure? Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Revelation 21:5

Rejection? He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

In the summer of 2007, God made it clear to me that He wanted me to move from my hometown of Bedford, Pennsylvania to Raleigh, North Carolina. I visited my newly-married best friends there in August, and it was as if I had stepped into the very center of the Holy Spirit. God pointed and said "GO," and not just "GO," but "GO NOW!" There was absolutely no question in my mind: He wanted me there. He had a future for me there. He had blessing and anointing and purpose for me there and nothing else significant was going to happen in my life until I went.

So, by September, I had an apartment waiting for me in Raleigh. I was finishing up my part-time job at the local art gallery and framing shop in my hometown, while packing and making plans to move.

To a casual observer, the move itself seemed crazy. I didn't have a job in Raleigh. I didn't even have enough furniture to furnish the apartment. Plus, Raleigh is, like, a city. I come from a tiny farming town - just driving in more than two lanes of traffic turned me into a nervous wreck. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was scared. (Yes, I followed God to England by myself twice, but North Carolina terrified me. I know - stupid!)

I'd been working in the framing shop for about two months. It was the nicest job I'd ever found in my town. Several local artists would bring their work in to be framed and sold, and they would talk to me about literature and theatre and traveling abroad. My hometown was safe. Almost unbearably boring most of the time, but still, safe.

And so, one night as I was driving home from work, I found myself thinking about just staying in Bedford. "I could work in the framing shop and keep talking to the artists," I thought. "Maybe that would be ok. Maybe that would be enough."

God immediately interrupted my thoughts with something He has never said to me before: "It's your choice."

I started. I hadn't even realized how deliberate my thoughts had been. Also, I didn't realize that God was, like, listening. (Again with the stupid!) It was startling. Up until that point, God had never given me an option. Usually, He pointed and I went and that was it, no questions asked.

But God said again, "It's your choice. It's up to you. But you know what I have for you in Raleigh. If you stay here, can you honestly say that in 20 years you won't look back and wonder what could have been?"

Dangit. He knew I couldn't.

And now, a year and a half later, three apartments and debt and unemployment and fights with my friends and my second-ever heartbreak and finally, a job and a wonderfully supportive church family and my own poodle puppy and more inspiration than I could ever have dreamed of later...I truly wouldn't change a thing. Because God has worked, mightily and palpably and sometimes shockingly, through absolutely everything, and I am closer to Him now than I ever knew I could possibly be.

It would have been so stupid of me to stay in safe little Bedford. I would have missed out on so much.

(Side note: I'm sitting in Applebees with a mango martini and spinach dip in front of me as I write this. The manager just walked by and asked, "How's all that working out for you?" I replied, "Very well, thank you!" If only he knew.)

The bottom line is that anything we are unfamiliar with, anything new God calls us to do, is going to seem scary at first. It's unknown. So many things could happen. It could blow up in your face. You could get hurt. God never promised us a life without trials. When I was growing up, my dad always said, "Anything that's worth doing, you're going to want to quit at least once." I've found that to be maddeningly accurate.

But, happily, God did promise us that He knows what He's doing and there is absolutely no reason for fear.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10

What is it that is making you afraid? A new job? A new calling? A new...risk? Think about it - if you turn it down, can you honestly say that in 20 years you won't look back and wonder what could have been?

It's up to you. But please, I implore you, don't let yourself be gripped by stupidity. Don't say no to all the glorious blessings God has for you because of stupid, irrelevant, pointless fear.

Believe me, it would be such a shame.