To My One and Only

Dear Future Husband,

I went to a concert last night. It was all about love songs and romance. As impressed as I was by the artists’ musicianship—good gracious, they had skillz—I left feeling less-than-satisfied. This was surprising because (as you will eventually learn) I am generally as sentimental as they come. I’m all about the heart. I hope that will be one of your favorite things about me. I love romantic things and swoony tales of love, so I really thought last night would’ve been right up my alley. I did eventually realize why last night didn’t stir my heart: those incredible musicians didn’t convince me they really knew what they were singing about. They could hit the high notes, but did they actually know what it was like to live the love they were singing about?

I have seen real love.

Real love sleeps on the couch and wakes up in the middle of the night to give your husband his medicine.

By the way, you’re sleeping on the couch because your husband is dying and the only place his just-delivered hospital bed will fit is in the living room. You’re sleeping on the couch because even though it’s across the room from the bed, this is the only way you can sleep near your husband of 20 years. Real love does this.

Real love sits and explains to you, No, love, you don’t have to get up to go to the bathroom anymore—the nurse put in a catheter, don’t you see it? Real love sits and explains to you, again and again because you’re dying and you don’t understand why your body doesn’t work like it always did.

I have seen real love, and she is patient, she is kind, just like St. Paul says. She really does bear all things, and it’s really true that she never fails. But here’s the thing: real love isn’t a sweet, saccharine, idyllic thing.

It is messy.

It is gross.

It is hard.

It is able to stand in the face of suffering and death and say, “Even if I come out on the other side of this alone, I’m not turning back—I will stay with you.”

Maybe I have seen too many of the sad things in life to abide by the confectionary-sweet version of love our world seems obsessed with. Maybe some will call me cynical, angry, negative, lonely, a pessimist. But I would disagree.

I think I’m actually a true optimist.

I know the cost of love—what it truly costs, not just what it says it will give. I wait for a love that is real, that acts when it’s supposed to, that stays when a more selfish heart would say run, that holds my hand even as I take my final breaths.

I know this love is rare, but I know it exists. I have seen it with my own eyes. I know it exists, I believe it will come, and I will not settle for less. I believe in you. I believe you will come.

Yes, my dear one, I can’t wait to meet you, and flirt with you, and fall in love with you, and laugh with you, and build a life with you, and travel with you, and pray with you. And while I hope this doesn’t happen for a long, long time, I can’t wait to be with you as one of us takes our very last breath and sees Jesus face to face and can say to him, “Yes, Lord, I loved the one you gave me.”

For now and forever,

Carrie

The Truth, At Last

For the last year, I have lost my voice. Not my physical voice, but my creative voice. The last year was full of new experiences, but I was powerless to share their impact, their meaning. I was powerless to see why they mattered, why they might be happening to me, what they were growing in me. I only saw that most days, it all seemed impossibly difficult. Somehow, grace by grace, I survived. I clung to Jesus more than I ever have before. I still don’t know what every fruit of the last year will be, but maybe that’s what my creative voice should’ve proclaimed all along: I don’t know.

I don’t know what the future holds or why I left missions—just that it was time.

I don’t know  what my plans or my dreams for my life are any more—Jesus dismantled them brick by brick, but I am confident he is building something new, something better than I would’ve built by myself.

I don’t know where I’m going or what I want, but I know what I don’t want, and that is more than half the battle.

As unsatisfying as it feels to constantly admit I don’t know, and as much as I really, truly do look forward to the day when I finally know, for now, this is the season that I am in. I’ve been in it for a long time, but now I finally see the joy in not knowing. I see the thousands of opportunities for adventure in finding out what I don’t know. And now, after months and months of what was, for me, real and true suffering, I don’t know is no longer something for me to run from but something to engage with.

No, I don’t know. But I finally recognize myself in spite of not knowing, and that makes all the difference.

Manifesto

I’m doing another experiment this week. This time around, it is the Blog Like a Pro 7-Day Challenge by Jeff Goins. I’m a little late to the party, but here’s my attempt at our first assignment:  My very own manifesto.

The Struggle is Real

Humans, in general, are in the midst of a very big identity crisis. Most of us don’t even know it. We are unaware of (or refuse to believe in) our greatness. We let our insecurities reign. We don’t dare to hope that things can be different–and not just different, but better. We are scared of our own desires and dreams, and scared that they might actually come true.

So we settle. We convince ourselves that all we have is all that can ever be, and that it’s ok, really it is. We deny that we were made in the image of Goodness itself and are called to greatness beyond all imagining. We stay stuck in our own mediocrity. Which is ok, if that’s all you want. But everyone I know has thought at least once, “Surely this isn’t all there is!”

Yes, friends. There is more. Let’s go get it.

Problem Solved

In order to get there from here, we’re going to have to leave behind some pretty heavy baggage, including our pride, fear, and preconceived notions. We need to take up open hearts that are authentic and honest and willing to admit: I don’t have it all together, but I’m willing to chase greatness anyway.

Move Forward

Once we finally lay down our junk, what’s the next thing we do?

Acknowledge the fact that we have left our comfort zone behind and we are, in fact, empty-handed. Instead of staying in this empty place forever, though, or worse–running back to the safety of our pride and fear–let’s move forward. Let’s trust Jesus to fill all our empty places.

If we were to boil all this down to The Two Words That Describe Me, they would be authenticity and action. Let’s be real (authentic) about our struggles and joys, but let’s keep moving anyway (action).

Imagine what the world would look like if we all knew we had some greatness to uncover.

Imagine what the world would look like if we all went for it.

Observation Deck

I took off a week from writing last week. I didn’t write a single word; not creatively, at least. I didn’t even write letters to my favorite pen pals. I sensed I needed to become an observer of my life for a while, and create some space for my heart to rest. For weeks leading up to this experiment, I struggled with a nagging, near-constant boredom, a plague of restlessness, and paradoxically, persistent exhaustion.

Something had to change.

Since I couldn’t quit my job and move to the Bahamas, I trimmed back my life to just the barest of essentials for seven days: I stopped writing; I slept for an extra hour nearly every day; I focused more on real, authentic prayer that (tried to) deepen my relationship with Jesus; I read a book; I spent more time with my Nashville aunt and uncle; I spent more time outside.

After a week of standing on the observation deck of my life, here are some things I learned:

I am ready for more. I’ve come through—finally—the tough transition out of missions, and the transition into a new job and community, and I am ready for more on all fronts.

I am tremendously afraid of failure. Still. I’m also afraid of Failure’s close friend, The Unknown. Failure and The Unknown are good buddies, because if I don’t know something, have never been there, have never tried it, I don’t know how to master it (or so I think), and so the chances that I could fail are greater than not.

My desire for more and my fears are incompatible. One will have to die so the other can live. Fear is a mighty big contender but I’m praying he loses this one: I’m done settling for boredom and comfort because I’m scared.

I need to shake things up more often. A routine is vital to success, but not one that sucks the adventure out of life. Daily adventure is vital to success, too.

Where my body goes, my mind will follow. If I stay still too long, my creativity dries up. Along with daily adventure, I need to move. This will be easier as summer approaches, but I need to go for walks, do some yoga, go to some more barre classes—anything to get my body, and those creative juices, moving.

I love people. I am about as introverted as they come, but that doesn’t mean I am a hermit. Those deep, soul-level conversations are what get me pumped. Besides, people are the reason I do what I do….no one who really writes does it simply for themselves. They do it so people might read their words and be impacted for the better.

Sometimes hitting the reset button is exactly what’s needed to remind yourself why you do what you do, and how you can keep growing.

What might you discover from your own observation deck? Share your discoveries below.

One Inch Deeper

I turned 27 yesterday.

It was a quiet, sweet birthday: dinner with friends, flowers at work, breakfast bright and early with a sweet sister.

On Monday, for the first time in my life, I consciously thought about my last few hours as a woman of a certain age, and what I hoped the next year might bring. Here are some of my hopes for 27.

I want to be brave. I want to go new places, see new things, form new friendships, move deeper into old ones, and push myself beyond my comfort zone.

I want to be steadfast. I want to be certain, sure, and confident. I know this will mostly grow from uncertainty, mistakes, and a bold openheartedness. Guess what. That openheartedness has to include openness to failure, and just as importantly, openness to success.

I want to be silly. I want to have more belly laughs. I want to open up the vast dreams in my heart and find joy everywhere I look, even in the midst of heartbreak or suffering or both.

I want to write more and be outside more and simply live more.

Today I went to my first ever barre class. It was part of my I’m 27, Which Is Code For “Adventurous,” Not “Old”  Plan to live a fuller life. I had been looking forward to starting barre classes this week since, like, December. It was such an unexpected treat to actually get to go this morning, almost like 27 was telling me, “I agree, this year will be surprising and wonderful and victorious.”

Here’s the thing that stood out to me from barre more than anything else, sore muscles included. Our instructor encouraged us over and over with this gentle refrain: “use small movements and go just one inch deeper.” No overbearing C’MON LADIES, TEN MORE REPS. No yelling. No competition. Simply the tiny invitation: join me one inch deeper.

That’s my prayer for this 27th year of life. Yes, I hope to be brave, steadfast, and silly. I hope big, wonderful things happen, but I hope I arrive at them all with small movements, living one inch deeper every day.

Go, Fill Your Heart With Gladness

Has Jesus ever spoken to you? Not like a voice from the clouds, but maybe a line in a song or a stranger on the street—something catches your attention and you know, deep down, that it was meant for you? He may not have used his own vocal chords, but he spoke to your heart nevertheless?

It happened to me earlier this week. I’m not even sure what I was doing. Was I driving somewhere? Getting ready for work one morning? No matter the task, I was listening to iTunes Radio, my James Bay station, to be exact. A song came on (of course). I don’t know who the artist was (never heard of him), or what the song was called (I looked, but don’t remember). One of the lines grabbed my attention and resonated in my tired heart. For lack of a better way to say it, it seemed to be God’s own call in my life, for this season at least.

“Go,” the man (I imagine he’s bearded) crooned, “fill your heart with gladness.”

Go fill your heart with gladness…

That’s a mandate, an order. Like don’t just wait for life to magically become what you’ve dreamed of—go get your dreams yourself.

I’ve been praying lately to fall in love. Over and over again I cry out to Jesus, “Lord, I’m ready to fall in love!” And slowly but surely, I’ve become more openhearted, more available to the world, more willing to move outside myself. But I finally realized that I’m not praying for man to come along and sweep me off my feet (although my roommates are currently accepting applications on my behalf, fellas). When I pray let me fall in love, I’m really praying to fall in love with life.

I want to be 100% in my life. I want to love every second, even the hard parts. I want to cook good food and do fun things. I want to work hard, rest well, enjoy the people around me. I want to discover new places and return with friends in tow.

Instead of being stressed about the small stuff and letting time zoom past me, and magnifying my own misery, I want to be proactive about my happiness and everyday joy. No more waiting for life to “become” awesome—it’s time to make it awesome. Go, fill your heart with gladness.

This isn’t to say that I’m thinking of abandoning every responsibility and moving to an island to “follow my passion.” I want to live in reality, and have full heart doing it.

This is to say that, to an extent, I am responsible for my own happiness. We hear that old phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” and while I never want to sound like a chirpy church lady, I think our grandmas and anyone who ever said that to us had a point. Like my boy Peter Kreeft says, “God is active and so are we” (Back to Virtue, 34). God is the “unmoved mover” (my other boy, St. Thomas Aquinas) but being made in his image means being made with capacity to love, to reason, and to exercise free will. Ultimately, we need to rely on him, but when he provides the grace, we must be willing to respond, to act, to move with him and go where he is going. To move with God is a choice. So is standing still.

And for now, He is moving towards a season of fullness after a season of waiting. He is stirring my heart with divine restlessness, a stirring forth and a moving out. I choose to move with Him.

Go, fill your heart with gladness.

Join me?

Tough Love

I am getting old. Or maybe just growing up. Maybe they are the same thing.

I am no longer shocked by the shocking things I hear. Most scandals don’t scandalize me anymore, save the very grievous ones.

It seems none of us survives our twenties. At least five people from my graduating class are dead now: three from car accidents, a drug overdose, a suicide. Some of us actually die in our twenties. Most of us don’t make it with our hope intact. Maybe that’s a fate worse than death.

What is it that happens to us in this decade? This is when life is supposed to really begin—find a career, find ourselves, fall in love, get married, make the world better. Instead, so many of us tread water, stand still, unable to move forward and make it work. Maybe we’re so stunned that life actually takes some heart, takes some fight, and requires a little bit of stubborn, never-mind-the-consequences hope, we don’t know what to do.

Our video games never taught us this. Our IMing and social media and books never taught us this. They may have been places to which we could escape, where everything worked out in the end—or at least we could pretend it had, even if it hadn’t. They never made real for us the fact that sometimes, things don’t work out, and we have to be honest about it. They never taught us to practice resiliency or resourcefulness, or commitment, or dedication, or perseverance. So now, when life does what it will do, require more from us than mediocre ambivalence, we’re not sure we can do it. We lay down somewhere in our soul and refuse to get up. We refuse to move forward, or if we do move forward, we refuse to be happy about it.

This, surely, is not what life is about. This isn’t all there is. This isn’t simply inevitable, a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. As fatalistic in their approach to life as some of my fellow twenty-somethings are, this way of letting things mow us over is a choice.

To be honest, it’s a choice I’ve made over and over these last few months. It’s a choice I never want to make again. I want to make a new choice in the opposite direction, to stand firm, step forward, and make a life worth living. I have all the tools I need. Now is simply time to do something about it.

Let me start making meals again, going to new places, meeting new people.

Let me stop working myself to death. Let me stop focusing on what’s wrong, and instead see everything that’s good. Let me acknowledge what’s hard, but lean in a little deeper anyway.

The time has come, y’all. We’re grown. Let’s finally live. At the end of the day, we only get this one life. I am convinced, now more than ever, that it is full of crazy, insane hope. Let’s encourage that hope. Let’s dig deeper. Let’s choose the growth that challenges offer, not despair that challenges are there in the first place. Challenges will come. I want to be the kind of woman who welcomes them rather than runs from them. I want to embrace them and watch them change me into a stronger, freer, more joyful, loving person.

They can do that, you know. But first we must stop admitting defeat before we’ve even raised the war cry.

New

I am watching something beautiful take place in my soul. I don’t know what it is, not yet, but I know something is shifting, yielding, growing, making room for something marvelous that only the Lord can do. I don’t know when it will be finished, or even when it started. But I know Jesus is on the move, and I know He’s doing something brand new.

I know this because there is a new quietness—a quiet confidence that wasn’t there before. But there’s also a return: a return to creativity, a return from the tired complacency of transition, to the willingness to wake up early, commit to my true self, do the hard work it all will take. But there’s also a new return, one that wasn’t here before—or at least, not in such fullness: a return to love. Not love as in: warm and fuzzy, positive feelings for the people I like and enjoy but love as in: I will sacrifice for you because that is what truly living requires sometimes, especially truly living through, with, and in Jesus. Never mind that my grandest sacrifice is most often doing the dishes. (But then, you know all about my qualms about dishes.)

That’s the funny thing about life with Jesus: he’s turning my wrinkled-nose distaste, my I-would-rather-scrub-seven-toilets-than-deal-with-these-dishes-right-now stubbornness, into opportunities to join him on the Cross, for the sake of others—for the life of others.

Life is what Jesus came for. Not just life, but life to the full (John 10:10). Perhaps fullness of life is two sides of the same coin: the willingness to be loved and the willingness to love. Both are hard. Both take work. Both need freedom. When we grow in both of them, something remarkable happens. When I accept that I am worthy of deep, abiding, crazy-for-you, real, willing love, I am changed. I am drawn up to my full stature, rescued from the low, fearful crouch of lies that tell me I am not good enough. When I accept, too, that I am worthy and capable of loving in return, I am relieved of the heights of pride and can bend low towards the sufferings of others, keep them company in the midst of it, and help draw them up to their full height.

Yes, something remarkable is happening here. Something new and old all at once. Something that was never here before, and something that was planted long ago. I am eager to sit still, watch it take shape, and when the time is right, stand up and move forward into it, living more fully and freely than ever before.

Desert Dwellers

I am from the desert. The real, bona fide, cactus-sandstorm-tumbleweed desert. It is rugged. It is harsh. It can be dangerous. But it is also beautiful. The sunsets are unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and you can see the stars more clearly there than anywhere else in the world. I suppose some people in the world think of beauty when they think of the desert, but when I unofficially polled about ten of my friends last week, here are the most common responses I got:

dirt

sand

hot

dry

barren

lonely

challenging

remote

trial

None of the friends I asked—men and women—said anything about beauty. (Interestingly, lots of them also listed sweets and yummy treats but that is another blog for another time.)  When most of us think of a desert, we think of a tough, ugly place, far away from here (unless you live in one—hi, Mom!). It’s not a place we’re familiar with, or even want to go.

Yet if we are honest with ourselves, I think each of us must admit there is a desert place in every human heart. There is a desert place in my heart, certainly, which I know because a recent gospel reading (Matthew 15:29-37) was all about Jesus healing and feeding and caring for the thousands that had followed him, yet the thing that stood out to me was the disciples’ one question. Jesus, seeing how hungry the crowd was, tells the disciples that he intends to feed them. The disciples ask, “Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?” (Mt. 15:33)

I’ve noticed something remarkable about deserts over the years, having lived most of my life in various ones.

Mountains.

Every desert I’ve been to is bordered by mountains. When those same friends told me what words they associated with mountains, here’s what I got:

beautiful

majestic

grace

challenging

redeeming

hope

joy

powerful

snow

quiet

Those words are altogether more hopeful and positive. The strength and grandeur of mountains seems to be entirely opposite from the isolation of deserts. In our minds, at least, they don’t have much in common—the snow and beauty of high peaks has little to do with the low-lying, sweltering aridity of a desert. Even scripture seems to show us a similar picture:  compare the desert of Jesus’ temptation with the mountain of Isaiah’s promises. The mountain is the place of God’s providence (Is 25:6), his comfort (Is 25:8), and his faithfulness (Is 25:9).

But sometimes, the desert and the mountain are the same place.  Matthew 15:29-37 shows us this. (Read it!) It’s on the mountain that Jesus healed the thousands. It’s there the disciples say is a “deserted place.” It’s there that Jesus feeds the crowd, including the disciples.

Advent is the dreamiest of all Church seasons for a reason, my friends. It is a time of preparation and penance, yes—a time to face these heart-deserts and admit that sometimes, they reign in my life instead of Jesus—but it is also a time of great hope and joy.  We get to ask Jesus how he could ever satisfy such longing. We get to wait for his reply, and not only hear him speak—which he will—but also watch him do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves:  quench our deepest deserts of need. The best part of Advent is that we don’t just sit in a desert and wait (two of the hardest things in my opinion, but then I sunburn easily and I’m not very patient). We are invited to rejoice in the midst of it.

Rejoice in the longing that seems impossible to fill.

Rejoice in the deserted places that feel hopeless.

Rejoice  in waiting for God’s promises to come true.

To thee shall come Emmanuel…

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O come, o come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

Who mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice! 

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel…

Sometimes I find myself disheartened by a world where hearts are filled with fear instead of mercy, pride instead of sincere openness, a thirst to prove instead of a thirst for righteousness.

This is what Advent is for: to bring scared, proud, thirsting hearts to Him whom we await; to approach the Throne of Mercy, and let the simple truth that each of us is “known and loved and […] awaited” (Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, paragraph 3) sink deep into every crack in our heart.

Advent is a season for quiet. Not that it is quiet, but because we need the quiet. Amid the lights and music, busy search to buy gifts, make gifts, and wrap them in prettiest paper, we need to find a still place to unlock our deepest depths so that our prayer isn’t a hollow one but a changing one. Our cry to rejoice isn’t the fruit of things going well (although praises if they are), but a proclamation that declares He is coming. He is coming, and the Lord loves to be among us, especially in our poverty.

Perhaps this is the harshest reality of the season:  although we surround ourselves with busy activities and gleaming lights, beautiful songs and perfect gifts, we are still poor. We still lack. We still have a longing that aches to be filled. As we buzz about, preparing external things for others, we are reminded that we must also prepare internal things for the King of Kings. The best way to do this is not to root out our poverty, because it is in our poverty that we are able to receive. May we sit still in it awhile, know it’s there, see its depths, and rejoice that it is here, in this poor place, that Jesus will come.

May the plea to Rejoice, for He is coming resound in our hearts, not because it makes a pretty song, but because it is true. May this be a season when we sink into our deepest places—our deepest desires, deepest joys, deepest worries—not the ones on the surface but those that are central to our spirit. Let us sink in and wade around, and from those places, let us take up the cry Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.