Vegetable Patch Life

If you know me, you know that I like things perfectly neat and tidy. Things have a place, and I like when things are in their places. This is why I like farms:  crops are planted in rows, cows are kept in stalls, and cats stay outside where they belong.

Ok.

None of that’s true.  Except the cat thing.

I’m a mess and my life is in disarray 90% of the time. The other 10% is just luck. Actually, it usually comes after one of my I Can’t Take It Anymore moments which prompt a sudden explosion of cleaning and tidying.

It’s a vicious cycle.

I’ve tried to eliminate mess for the last few years. I really have. I’ve tried to maintain the control, keep things neat, and keep it all together. But for us creative types, containing the mess is like containing the creativity. The mess is a sign that something beautiful is happening; something new is finding its voice, its life, its wings; something is growing and it needs warmth and little bit of damp soil to thrive.

I’m not talking squalor, or dank darkness that only grows mold and monsters. A little bit of healthy mess is a good thing.

My favorite thing is when I can spread out newspaper over a big table, pull out the paint and paper and glue, spread out for days, and let the ideas flow as a Brand New Thing takes shape. Sometimes it’s a scrapbook page, or a picture frame, or a card, or a gift. Sometimes it’s truly inspired, sometimes it’s Kindergarten Art as Seen by a 26-Year-Old. Either way, in the end, there is something new that wasn’t before. There is no science to it, no predicability, no exact method, just color and detail and mess. And it is good.

If this is true for me, might it also be true for the Lord?  He is the God who brings order to chaos, it’s true (Genesis 1 & 2), but he’s also the Lord who disrupts the order we create with his own divine mess, to give us the opportunity to draw near to him. (Hosea 2:16; Isaiah 43:19)

I have to remind myself of this a lot, this goodness in the midst of mess, especially in this current season. Otherwise, all I see is the chaos, the crazy, the burden. I focus on what’s hard and forget to see the mess for the sign that it is: fertile ground for a beautiful thing to grow.

Whatever that beautiful thing is, it’ll probably be something wild and wonderful and full of Divine Life, which is altogether more than my neat, tidy, controlled little vegetable patch that lasts for only a season.

Chaser

Left to my own devices, I am a wanderer, a mosey-er to the highest degree. I’m happiest when I can ease my way into something, meander through it, and finish it methodically. I don’t like to be rushed or hurried. (Although to my credit, the only time I don’t speed is in a rainstorm.) I take my time to unpack, move in, answer emails, eat breakfast, return phone calls…the list goes on. One of my biggest struggles post-missions is two-fold: missing a sense of purpose and having a tangible deadline to make me move.

At work, it’s easy. I move when the attorneys I’m assigned to have a task for me to accomplish. They ask for copies, I make copies; they ask me to file a document, I do all the prep work and send it off to court (sometimes I get to take it myself, which is super fun).

At home, it’s a little tougher. The only times I really have to move are when my alarm goes off in the morning and when it’s time to go to bed at night. This is why it took me nearly a full month to unpack, get settled, make it a home. It would’ve taken longer had it not been for the gentle prodding and encouragement of my sweet roommate.

In life generally, it’s even harder to move. Maybe it’s because this is a season of settling in and growing stronger, or what’s more likely, I just don’t want to move much past my comfort zone, at least not without some grander purpose, something bigger than myself. In missions, it was clear: for the sake of souls I moved, responded, gave my life, did the craziest things that were not only outside of my comfort zone, but usually things I wouldn’t have chosen to do, not eventually, not ever. Outside of missions, my only deadlines are marked by my own dreams, and the fact that I’d like some of them to come true before I die. As somebody who’s been pretty altruistic these last four years, I find that my dreams don’t always motivate me—it’s easy to push them aside, discount them, ignore them because they are “not important enough.”

The Lord has wrecked every Life Plan I’ve made thus far, from law school to when I thought I’d get married (October 17 of this year, in case you were wondering). In His gracious mercy, though, he has left intact my dreams, those deep desires that have echoed through my heart since the time I was born, and still serve as signposts that point me in the right direction for His will for me (or at least I hope so…I’m trying so hard over here, Lord!): write a book, see the world, get a dog (high priority, y’all), and one day, get married. He’s nourished my heart and grown in it the true things, dismantling many of the things I thought I was seeking along the way. He’s left behind Just Carrie, not a woman defined by her own plans and deadlines, or even her slow moseying ways, but simply and truly God’s own Love for her.

Now is the time, I’ve come to realize, to turn to those long-silenced dreams and say, “Yes, now I will chase you.”

(Some) Things I’ve Learned

Is there such a thing as too much authenticity? I’m beginning to think so. After missions, I am very used to sharing very candidly and honestly about everything I’m feeling and going through. In fact, I often feel like, unless I’m telling you everything, in some way, I’m not being real.

Most people haven’t been missionaries, though, and haven’t experienced life in community like I have. While some may find my consistent soul-baring refreshing, I get the feeling that a lot of them are simply annoyed.

Sorry, y’all.

So, in an effort to concentrate my sharing into one fell swoop, here are things that are completely new to me after being in missions for four years right after college:

  • bills. People were incredibly generous to us as missionaries, so a lot of those daily life things were taken care of. I also had no student loans or major debt after college, and I kept other expenses to a minimum.
  • buying a car. I mean, I did it. It was terrifying. I took out my first loan, made my first downpayment, paid for my first tank of gas, bought car insurance. Some people do this in high school, college, or the age of 22. Hello, 26-year-old-first-time-car-owner.
  • schedule. As a missionary, I had very early mornings and very late nights pretty consistently. I also had some downtime each afternoon, and a lot of our behind-the-scenes work could be done from home. Grocery shopping happened on Tuesday afternoon. If we needed to go to the dentist, doctor, or get the oil changed in a mission car, we could go at (almost) any time of the day. As most people who are 26 already know, when you have a 8:00-5:00 job, you can’t just do these things when it works for you—you have to work around work. That usually means that by the time I find myself at the grocery store, I’m exhausted, all the sale items are picked clean, and all we can safely assume I’ll leave the store with each week is Oreos and beer.
  • making time for prayer instead of prayer being given to me. I’ve managed to recreate some semblance of a rhythm of prayer, but I miss those daily, quiet holy hours, time to just sit and be with Jesus.

The biggest thing I’ve learned, though, is not to stay so focused on myself so as to miss what God is doing around me. It’s easy to do, if I don’t stay committed to not only praying but also to praising Him. It’s easy to forget that God is here with me and for all the times that I definitely don’t have this down, He’s got it all under control.

Slowly but surely my new life is making sense. A huge thank you to the people who walk through this adventure with me, complete with forgetfulness, complaining, tears, and little moments of grace.

Welcome Back, Carrie Kay

I tried to write something profound about how much my life has changed in the last three months, and how good it is, even though it’s been incredibly hard. I tried to write something beautiful about how much I miss some of my favorite people (holla at Kentucky and Rome, y’all), but how certain God’s faithfulness is. I tried to write something inspiring to get us through a hard time together, and keep us hopeful in the midst of change.

Instead, I pinned myself in a sharp trap of missing and longing, blinded to the beauty, goodness, and tender love and care that God has worked in even the smallest details these last few months.  I blinded myself to gratitude and only begged for MORE, forgetting to trust that the Lord has probably given me all that I can handle right now, and that he is generous even in his one-step-at-a-time model for life.

So yes, nearly everything about my life changed this summer. As with most new things, it is hard and exhausting and exciting and wonderful and good.  I didn’t expect to miss the people I love as much as I do, but I am surrounded by other loving, wonderful people both at home (I live with seven other women…talk about adventures) and at work.

If there’s anything I’ve learned through this process—mostly in the last week, because I am a slow learner—it is to 1) be grateful, 2) stop complaining, and 3) keep moving forward, even if all you can do is unpack one box at a time and it takes you a month to settle in.

Oh.  And let the people around you love you, even if they’re not the ones you miss, or ones you planned on having.  They will change your life if you let them.

I am Ahaz

That was fast.

A few weeks ago, I asked, “How do we hold onto hope?”

I got my answer the same day.

I was praying in the chapel of one of the schools we do ministry in.  It was time for morning prayers, which are done over the intercom.  Each morning the principal offers a little reflection on the day’s gospel.  The gospel reading that day was Luke 24:13-35, the appearance of our Resurrected Lord to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus.  As the principal spoke, she said these words:  “When we are too focused on ourselves, we can miss how close Jesus is to us, and miss the hope and joy he wants to give us.”

Preach it, sister.

This is how we hold on to hope.  Move outside of ourselves and focus on others.  Take a minute to stop complaining about all the things that are hard or difficult, and notice instead where and how the Lord is walking right next to us, eager to give us hope and life.

How often, though, in an attempt to prevent disappointment, do we choose hopelessness?  We hear it all the time: “Don’t get your hopes up.”  That’s really code for “Don’t dare to hope that things can be different.”  We are like Ahaz, the ancient king of Judah, who, in the face of the huge Assyrian army is told to ask the Lord for a sign.  Not just any sign, y’all, but one “deep as Sheol, or high as the sky” (Is 7:11).  God wants Ahaz to hope, to pray big, to give Him a chance to show off His might and power and love.

Ahaz responds with the ancient equivalent of “Thanks, but no thanks.  I won’t get my hopes up.”  He says, “‘I will not ask!  I will not tempt the Lord!’” (Is 7:12)  The handy footnotes in my bible say “Ahaz prefers to depend upon the might of Assyria rather than the might of God.”  In other words, he prefers to depend on the power of what he can see, the impending invasion of the mighty Assyrian army, vastly stronger than Judah, than on the might of God.  He prefers to remain in a sad trap of hopelessness rather than give life to even the smallest seed of hope that God can do anything.

Let me claim it for a second.  I am Ahaz.

I prefer to trust the things I can see; the circumstances in my life I wish would change, but don’t believe will; the things I lack rather than the things that could be; what God isn’t doing rather than ask him to do big things and trust that he will.

I do not advocate for senseless hopefulness.  I’m not telling you to ignore reality or live in a dream world where all your hopes and dreams come true.  Sometimes they don’t.  And false hope is the hope we place in ourselves, our circumstances, or the other broken humans that inhabit this planet with us.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I do support real hope, which is found in God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God can do anything.  We just have to look up long enough to see him offer us new life.

Honest Questions

The Easter season is marked with hope.  For Christians, this time is the reason for any of our hope, period.  Two thousand years ago, God became man in the person of Jesus, and he grew up and taught us how to live, and healed our infirmities and our relationships, and then he died for us.  Most importantly, he lived again for us, to give us hope and a future, to prove his love and fidelity.  He lives and loves still, mightily and powerfully, yet gently.

I would even say this season is not only marked with hope, but it dares us to have hope, and to rejoice, because Jesus, who died, who should have been dead forever, rose to new life and promised to give us the same future if we love him, love each other, and teach others to be his disciples.

Easter dares us to hope, in the midst of any circumstance, good or bad.

But what if the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord feels more like a remote historical event than the source and reason for my hope?  How do I hold onto hope in the midst of daily life, two thousand years after Jesus’ time on earth, when no matter how much or little I pray, certain things seem to never change?

(Keep in mind, as I write this, pretty much everything is going right in my life.  These questions are not based on my circumstances, but on a deep knowledge that no matter how “right” things are, there are still parts of my heart that are on the verge of losing hope.  I would venture to bet the same is true for you, no matter your age, circumstances, vocation, or state in life.)

Some may say, “Know Jesus better.”  And I would say, “Yes!”  We can never know Jesus too much; we can never be too intimate with the Lord.  We can always pray more—true, authentic, from-the-heart prayer, not just a flood of mindless words.  We can always contemplate Scripture more, invite the Holy Spirit into our lives more.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my relationship with Jesus and the rest of the Trinity feels more like a theory than an actual, concrete experience.  So even though an answer to the how-do-I-hold-onto-hope question certainly is “Know Jesus better!,” some of us feel like we know him pretty well.  We’ve seen and experienced his faithfulness.  We certainly love him very much, and are confident his love is greater still.

And yet.

The need to move from theoretical, stuck-in-the-pages-of-my-Bible Jesus to real life, actual, physical, moving, acting, realer-than-real, love-of-my-life Jesus is legitimate.  Otherwise my hope, just like my heart, will stay stagnant, canned, sterile.  It will do me no good when life gets messy.  It will do me no good even when things are just right and questions linger.

How do we hold onto hope?

Sacred

We are entering into a sacred time, one of the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promises to us.

Yes, it is the long-awaited fulfillment, the satisfaction of our deepest desires, but more than that, it is just the beginning.  As sweet as what lies before us is (which we see as in a foggy mirror, indistinctly), there will still be more and more and more.

God is One of fertile abundance; He brings full and faithful life.  He can never be outdone, and we can never out-give God.  He has promised, and he will do it.

This is a sacred time.  Stay awake, stay vigilant, but even if you fall asleep, if the wait is harder and longer than you thought, stay in love.  The Lord will sustain you, but you must stay in love.

This is the beginning, my friend, and it is sacred, so let us keep watch.

The Year I Gave Up Nothing for Lent

Y’all, I have utterly failed at Lent this year.

This is a new experience for me.  I don’t know if it’s just that I usually choose easier challenges or what, but about a week into Lent, all of my sacrifices had fallen down around me, despite my best efforts and intentions.

Even as I failed miserably, something grand has happened in my spirit.

Instead of focusing on the exterior—i.e., what I was doing or not doing for Lent—I had to focus on the interior:  Did I really believe I was good enough, just as I was, or did I use those sacrifices as a crutch to prove my worth?  Did I really believe the Lord when he told me I was good enough, without doing all these extreme things for Lent? (Spoiler alert:  NO!)

What I found was that all of my plans had really been about me:  how efficient I was, how capable I was, how holy I was, and not about knowing and loving Jesus better at all.  In the end, my plans were centered around where I wanted to be at Easter, not where Jesus wanted me to be.  I didn’t even pray about my Lenten things, I just decided.  They weren’t even about making me stronger; they were about hiding my weakness.

At first, I cringed on the inside every time someone asked what I was giving up for Lent and I had to respond, “Nothing.”  I covered it up with a hasty explanation, but mostly ended up sounding crazier than I needed to.  I cringed because I saw my lack of sacrifice as a reflection of myself—what a lazy Christian I must be, to not give anything up for Lent.

There are great segments of our Church (of which, unfortunately, I am part) that sometimes see Lent as a self-help season, a season to get trim, get fit, and somehow make our self-centeredness a prayer.  There are also great segments of our Church who think Lent is only about depriving themselves of chocolate, or makeup, or meat, or whatever, and they fail to see the depths and richness this season offers us (which has been me pretty much every year up til now).

But this year, I gave up nothing for Lent.  Surprisingly, it has been one of the harder Lents I’ve had, not because of any great suffering or lack I’ve experienced, but because my self-reliance has finally been laid bare.  In the midst of some of the loneliest days (not bad, y’all, just lonely), my prayer has been more authentic and real than ever before, and my heart has cried to the Lord how much I truly need him.  (This was triggered by an unfortunate kitchen flood, but that’s a story for another time.)  I’ve surrendered my self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and independence. I’ve finally come to a place where my heart whispers, “Lord, I need you and I need others,” and means it.

Little Heart

God is on the move, Little Heart.  I see it as clearly as I see my hands type these words.  He is on the move, stirring up and calling forth, remaking and renewing, bringing light and wholeness to every dark, broken place.

He knows the hearts he has created.  He knows your heart.  He stirs forth to draw you close to himself.  He desires to be near to us, not distant or far off, so he comes close to us, even when we are unaware, even when we turn away.

He loves us to the deepest depths, even the ones we refuse to see.  He hears our soul’s deepest cries.  He fills its deepest longings.  Though physics says all things move toward chaos, God’s action goes against the grain and builds up, restores, makes new.  God’s law is one of true love—love that is kind and patient, yes, but love that is strong, love that endures, even to the end.  His is a love that is deep, and abides in the deepest part of the heart; a love that stands in courage, does not flee, does not run, is not dissuaded from its holy purpose.

God’s love is free but it requires everything.  He does not desire lip service while the heart remains far away.  He does not desire idle praise, nor actions—no matter how good—if they do not flow from a heart that trusts his ways.

He wants your trust.  Put God’s love to the test.  If you doubt, tell him why and let him show up for you.  If you are uncertain of his fidelity, give him your worries and watch him come through.  He will move.  He will act, but sometimes in ways you’d least expect.

God is good, Little Heart.  Let him show you the ways.

Bookie

I am writing a book.

I tell you that not so much because you need to know or because you care, but because if I don’t say it out loud, I will never do it.

I believe in this book.  I believe it is meant for a time such as this (or whenever it gets published, God willing).  I believe God is stirring my heart to make now the acceptable time.

It isn’t a novel or a memoir or a self-help book.  It’s not a treatise on theology or a literary critique.  It is just a telling of my story—a piece of my story—and the way God has moved in my heart.

The biggest risk I take in writing it is not in baring my soul to countless people, although I hope to share authentically and deeply about life as a faithful woman.  The biggest risk I take is that I will not finish it.  I can spend all my time thinking about it and telling you about it, and hoping it becomes what I want it to become, without ever getting any closer to actually finishing it.

Pray for this book and pray for me.  At some point, the rubber has to meet the road, and I have to do what I believe God is asking me to do, not just hope it all works out in the end.