Give me a billboard.

“You can’t continue to pour into other people or give to other people if you can’t take care of yourself first.” HJ

(A.K.A. a lesson I need to relearn on the daily & something I need to hear all the flippin’ time)

What is life? I’m sure we all ask ourselves this question at least 25 times a day (maybe in other forms). Things have been crazy lately. I mean, phone-shattering, coffee-wired, NSYNC-dancing crazy. So many opportunities & blooming friendships & decisions to be made. And I am soaking it all in & learning how to meticulously take it as it comes.

Tonight, as I pine over different pictures to plug in with these carefully thought out words, I realize how many important things have happened over coffee. Some of the greatest friends I now have started with a cup of coffee (or two). It holds significance. Some of my strongest relationships have been cultivated over cups & cups of coffee. I have a long list of names going through my mind right now. Many of these new college relationships started over Swift & Finch coffee (is there any other way?). Conversations of truth or big decisions or big meetings or gospel-driven conversation. All of this fills up my soul. If you’re reading this & we have met over a cup of coffee & had some dang good conversation, I want to know what you remember from it. I am really curious. I think we all remember different things in the same situations, and I love that. What do you remember about our coffee conversation? E-mail me. Text me. Call me. I want to hear it.

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God loves you too much to keep you where you are. He knows the plans He has for you. Plans to prosper you. All too often, I have been the one giving these comments so easily to other people, but I have never been the one to receive them. I know though, making a hard decision, I would probably not want to hear these things. While they do hold a weight of truth, they would irritate me to no end. And I feel sort of crappy for admitting to that, but it’s so true. To these comments I would say, “Have you lost sleep over this? Have you made pros and cons lists that still haven’t ended? Will my decision alter your day-to-day life? Is people-pleasing an issue to you? No? Congratulations.”

I had a VERY dear friend give me the most incredible words of wisdom this past week & here they are:

  1. You heart goes where your mind is.
  2. Your identity is formed by the things you tell yourself. If you tell yourself truths, then they will become true. If you tell yourself lies, then that is what you will become.
  3. Sometimes God isn’t going to give you a billboard & you have to trust that you know His voice.

I’ll write that one again:

“Sometimes God isn’t going to give you a billboard & you have to trust that you know His voice.”

First off, Katie Jo, you are an incredible person & I can’t even begin to explain how blessed I am to have someone who will speak this truth into my life, day in and day out. You make my heart sing in the most unique way & everyone deserves a friend like that.

Second, I once had a friend tell me a story about how she really liked this guy, but the idea of him was starting to sort of consume her mind & she was crushing on him so hard. She was driving back to school and really praying to God to give her an answer. Should I be with him? Should I let this go? She was so focused on this prayer that she zoned out a little bit, and when she came to, she looked up and saw this billboard. It just had this boy’s name in HUGE letters. And that was the only thing on this billboard. Just his name. Huge letters. And her mind was racing a million miles an hour.

How nice would it be for God to just post His answers to your big life decisions on a billboard? Well, I hate to say it, but this rarely happens.

I want to know His voice. I want to learn His unforced rhythms of grace & make them the rhythm of my daily routine. “Sometimes the devil sounds a lot like Jesus telling me I’m not enough.” Ben Rector has been serenading me a lot lately. “If You can hear me, I could use You right about now. If You can hear me, I could use some peace. Because the devil’s walking in my soul, and all I really want to know if You can hear me.” That was playing in the background while I wrote this post. What a coincidence.

So I have these big decisions to make. I know it’s better to have more opportunities than not enough, but this is difficult. It will change the entire trajectory of these next four years for me. I have prayed & prayed about this a lot. Sought out advice. Listened. Read Scripture. God is already placing peace in my heart. I know I will not cling to both of these things, He has made that much clear. I will choose one & I will be at peace. And I think He’s making clearer which one it will be. And that makes my heart happy, but sad at the same time.

I remember asking someone this week, “Can’t I just do it all?” Wouldn’t that be nice? Doing it all without being exhausted or run down. I am game. Put me in. And if you should know one thing about me, know that I LOVE being busy. Every ounce of me wants to be active at every minute of every day, and if I’m not physically moving, I am mentally. I want to do it all.

And while my clarity might not come in the form of a billboard, it does come in Scripture & it does come in waves. Some days, I need the Lord to bind my wandering heart to His, but other days, I feel more reassured. I want to be bound to Him always though.

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Do you know what’s funny?  I don’t know about you, but whenever I get a letter, there is something inside of me that lights up more than any part of me ever will. I often tell people that letters (sort of falling into words of affirmation…take the 5 Love Languages Quiz) & coffee are my love languages. Whenever I get a letter in the mail, I will pine over that one letter for DAYS, rereading it over & over again. A person took the time to meticulously pick these words for me & I am going to suck the marrow from these hand-crafted thoughts.

Do we do this with God’s Word? Think about it. The Bible is a compilation of His love letters to us. The greatest love story to ever be written. But how often do we pine over it? We probably read a few verses or a chapter & call it fuel for the day, right? Or we hit those patches when all we want to do is soak in His Word. But how often do we completely suck the marrow from God’s Word? How often do we soak in this Living Water? Think of how He hand-crafted & spoke these words into existence. That is beautiful to me.

And since having this realization, I have started to write down verses & chapters at a time & tuck them throughout my chaotic day-to-day life. Dorm room. Notebooks. Planner. Backpack. Journal. Everywhere because I know I need these reminders of Truth more than anything in the entire world.

I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

// Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 //


And I’ll leave you with this.

What fills you up?

What makes you want to dance? What do you want to scream about from the rooftops? What make you feel like you are glowing? What makes you sing-song, narrate things that are happening around you? What makes you fall more in love with the Star-Placer, Universe-Creator, Difference-Maker? What makes you happy? What makes your soul sing? What makes your cup overflow? What fills you up?

You should go do that.

Happy late Monday night, friends.

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Be where your feet are.

My fingers might fall off while writing this blog post because I feel like I have so much to say & my heart is just about to explode. So while I sit here and try to find every version of “Hey Stephen” ever sung (for really weird reasons), I feel nothing but joy from copious amounts of coffee & words of wisdom & conversation that makes my heart beat out of my chest.

4 hours at a corner table with the bench in my favorite coffee shop to ever exist & some of my favorite people & a person whose words have been perfectly depicting the way I feel for a little over a year now.

Today is one I’m going to remember for a very long time. I hopped in the car, drove 60 miles, and met up with four girls from Berry College. I never honestly know how these coffee dates will go down. If they will be awkward. If we will be fast friends. But God knows this– I have never ever been capable of small talk. I run my whole life off the motto “go deep or go home.” And praise God for the deepness of these girls. We sat with lattes for four hours. We talked God. We talked transition. We talked about letting it go. We each shared a bundle of love stories. We gave people new names. It was like old friends who weathered some kind of storm and were finally coming back together to tell one another about it all. We were banging on the table. We were shouting “preach.” We talked broken dishes. And good views. And distance. And pottery. It was the most God-given coffee date have ever been on. I think our biggest takeaway was this: giving up control is one of the most freeing and yet hardest things to do. We say we want God to have everything and yet loosening the grip and accepting what that actually means is nearly impossible most days. But this isn’t a matter of God giving you the most perfect life possible. This is a matter of wanting the life he has for you The life and hard path that will make you the fullest version of yourself at the end of all this. It will not be perfect by any means. It will not leave you building a life that looks good to everyone on the outside. It will be way more internal than it is external. And it will hurt like hell on some days. But you can’t cling and shrink into the skins of someone you used to be. Those days are gone if you want them gone. And anyone who has ever wanted to be a different or better version than themselves should just sigh and say amen. Hallelujah for that. HB.

That was my Saturday, again perfectly put into words that perfectly depict the way I felt the entire time. I was where my feet were for those 4 hours. Completely immersed in each others words. I loved it. I took it in. I said to myself, “I’m going to remember these stories. These are going in the book.” Whether that was talking about being the salt of the world or coming up with new names to write people into books in new identities or about how someone might be 10 times better without you in their orbit, the incredible joy in my heart only continued to grow.

And we talked about worshiping a place called elsewhere. You always tell yourself, “When I get here…” or “When I do this…” and that’s seeing yourself satisfied with being elsewhere, but you can’t even imagine about feeling satisfied with the place you’re in right now. You would rather be elsewhere. And that was one of the most brilliant things I had ever been told. I don’t think I have ever felt as poured into as I did sitting at that table with these 4 girls. HB rocked my world & just kept sharing wisdom.

We talked love stories. We talked some mad mad mad love stories. Smashing plates in a basement. Coffee crawls through Atlanta. Long distance. Being pursued. Renaming people to put them in a book. We told it all. We understood each other, or as Hannah described it, “It was like old friends who weathered some kind of storm and were finally coming back together to tell one another about it all,” and I haven’t heard truer words.

Life has been one hell of a storm lately. I will say that. I have no clue who I am anymore. People are changing and I’m changing and people are leaving and I’m staying and I don’t like it. I don’t like that things aren’t in my control. I hate it, actually. It hurts so much. But I know God is writing some sort of redemption story & I know His mystery is the beauty of this all, but right now, I am too stubborn to surrender to that. I hate that I recognize that & I still haven’t been able to do it, but it’s happening.

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And then I found myself doing all of these crazy things this weekend that definitely weren’t planned out. The only plans I had made were coffee with HB and homework. A long, intimate date with Spanish and Women’s Studies. That was all. And somehow, by the grace of God, I ended up at a birthday dinner for a friend, hot chocolate with a huge group of friends, Guardians of the Galaxy (fell in love with 80’s music all over again) at an old theater on Broad Street, venting to a friend in a town house, and last, but definitely not least, 80’s skate night. I actually decided I was going to this about 5 minutes before everyone left. I threw on some weirdly patterned pants in the back seat of a friend’s car and put on a neon yellow hat (worn backwards, of course). And it was incredibl(y embarrassing), especially because I haven’t skated since I was probably 8 years old. It was beautiful. I only ate it twice, and I laughed so hard both times. Belly-deep laughter. These moments. I will be able to remember skating to “Shake It Off” for a very very long time. Needless to say, this weekend was one for the books.

And I started the book. Like officially typed out words, not just scribbling notes in a journal. The book started on the notepad on my phone. It came out like word vomit, but all of it made sense. It was one of the best feelings I’ve felt in a long time.

The greatest lesson I learned this weekend:

“People won’t choose you if you can’t choose yourself.”

Just let that settle in for a second. Let that truth kind of echo inside of you. Bounce from side to side inside of your brain. I think it kind of goes along with one of the greatest commandments: loving your neighbor as yourself. Well, if we aren’t loving ourselves, then how in the world are we supposed to be loving our neighbor? Just think about that. Think about the way you see your self-worth and think about the way that reflects into every single relationship you have. Are your words hollow? Do they hold weight? How often do you use your words to lift others up? If you’re feeling convicted right about now or those words shook something inside of you, it might be time to start acting. Turn pity into gratitude. That is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given in a long time. We always complain about wanting feelings of pity or depression to go away, but they won’t go away if you can’t replace them with something else. And if you try to replace them with something superficial (an idol, a person, a relationship), then you will keep going in the same cycle. Until your eyes are solely fixed on the Maker of the universe, you will continue to go through this constant cycle of “Get rid of this & replace it with this” until you are completely drained. It’s exhausting. And if you keep searching for mountaintops, you will also end up dry & frustrated, and that is a terrifying realization to come to. But Jenna, I want to be excited and lively and exhilarated all the time. Good. Luck. You will be empty, believe me, I’ve tried. Let God in. Let Him teach you how to live in the valley. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Open your heart & He will enter. I think we’re so terrified to do this because we’re afraid we won’t recognize Him. Like Mary Magdalene, who thought He was a gardener. Or Thomas, who said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” And Jesus appeared to him saying, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” I hate that He seems so unrecognizable to us until something huge happens, and we think, Wow, of course Jesus is in the center of this. But He is in the center of it all the time & He should be. That is where He belongs.

We are afraid to give up control for fear that we won’t like the outcome. But the outcome is a mystery & that mystery is beautiful & that beauty is Jesus.

I hope you have a wonderful Monday & if you get a chance, listen to this spoken word. Wow. Wow. Wow. Her words will hit something in you that you didn’t even realize was there. Trust me on this one.

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom,” she’s gonna call me “Point B,” because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I’m going to paint solar systems on the backs of her hands so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.” And she’s going to learn that this life will hit you hard in the face,wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry. So the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn’t coming,I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal.Believe me, I’ve tried. “And, baby,” I’ll tell her, don’t keep your nose up in the air like that. I know that trick; I’ve done it a million times. You’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him.” But I know she will anyway,so instead I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boots nearby, because there is no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix. Okay, there’s a few heartbreaks that chocolate can’t fix. But that’s what the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away everything, if you let it. I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass-bottom boat, to look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind, because that’s the way my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this. ♫ There’ll be days like this, my momma said. ♫ When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises; when you step out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape; when your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment. And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say thank you. Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline,no matter how many times it’s sent away. You will put the wind in winsome, lose some. You will put the star in starting over, and over. And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life. And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily,but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it. “Baby,” I’ll tell her, “remember, your momma is a worrier, and your poppa is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more.” Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things. And always apologize when you’ve done something wrong, but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining. Your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street-corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother. Sarah Kay.

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Because you exist.

My idea of who I should be is at war with who I am. I want to be perfect in every situation. I just do. I want to know what to do. I want to know how to do it right. And I want to do it. All. By. My. Big. Self. Not only do I want to do everything perfectly, I want to look perfect while I do it. I want to act perfect and sing perfect and have perfect teeth. I want to parent perfectly, to wife perfectly, and to have a clean house. All the time.

My solution to the disconnect between my perfect, imaginary self and my real-life self is to force life to look the way I want. Somehow. Anyhow. And so I work and I labor and I do the right thing. I stay strong when I feel weak and I fake happy when I want to cry because my ideal image has everything to do with put together and nothing to do with falling apart. 

Because I care so much what you think, my hiding has everything to do with you. I desperately want to manage your opinion of me. Nearly everything I do is to convince you I am good. If I sense any hint of disbelief on your part that I am good, if it seems your opinion is other than what I wish it to be, it becomes my job to change your mind.

If you wonder what gives you the authority to define me, I will say it is because you exist. I must have worth, and it is up to you to give it to me. It doesn’t matter who you are; I want you to like me and I will hide my real self–with all of my real problems and issues and fears–so you can see what I consider to be my best. 

When you mix this disorder of mine with the fact that I am a believer in Jesus, things can get very confusing. We tend to call the unbelievers lost. But this Jesus believer is in hiding. Is my experience of life any better than theirs? Freedom and victory are tossed-around concepts that I say I believe. And in front of you I know how to renounce the fear. But when I’m alone, I drink it down in gulps and gasps, like a hopeless addict returning to her vice.

If my story were a planet, then your rejection of me would be my nuclear holocaust. This fear of rejection drives me hard, eating away at my courage. And so I am cautious in my love. I am timid in my faith. My life tells a small story. I long to be seen, but I feel safe when I’m invisible.

So I stay a good girl. 

And I hide.

I hide behind my smile and my laid-back personality. I hide behind fine and good. I hide behind strong and responsible. I hide behind busy and comfortable and working hard toward your expectations. And if I do not meet your expectations, I hide behind indifferent. And though the purpose of my mask is to fool you, don’t be fooled.

The energy it takes for me to live for you is killing me–to see me through your eyes, to search for myself in your face, to be sure you are pleased as it regards me. I want you to always regard me.

Please, by all means, regard me. I beg you to see me, to notice my goodness, to ignore my failure, to be inspired by my beauty, to be captivated by my essence. I want my loveliness to overwhelm you such that you cannot catch your breath.

// Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman

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(Mary Claire Photography)

I read these words & wept. I have never found such perfect words to describe the way I move every single day of my life, even my own words. I felt it pressing into my heart how much these words described me & how devastated I was that these were the words to describe me, not God’s Word. I couldn’t picture my identity being found in the Book dripping with Truth. Instead, I identify with these words more. And that stings. More than I thought it would. At first, it felt good to finally have the words to describe the feeling. And then the hurt set in.

Unfortunately, I know I’m among many to feel this way. To identify with this way of life. This hiding and good girl type of life. And maybe you do feel this way, and maybe you didn’t understand why reading this made you cry or stung or hurt your heart in the deepest parts, but that’s my theory: it’s because we find our identity in those words and people’s stamps of approval, not God. Not the One who created you to be the person you’re destined to be. Ouch.

Perfect love drives out fear.

And I still feel this way. I know all of these things about what an incredible God we serve, and I preach it constantly, but I still struggle with this feeling. This feeling of not being worthy enough. I strive for that stamp of approval & when I get it, I wonder what more I can do. What else can I do to please you? Please, tell me, and I will do it. How exhausting is that? How horrible is it to live a life of pleasing person to person and draining yourself and yearning to meet your Maker but never actually living a life striving to please Him? Something that I’m passionate about & believe with every ounce of my being is that 99.9999999% of His children are worthy of love from the God of the universe. However, many times, I place myself in that 0.0000001% of people who are not worthy, when actually that number should read 100%. I don’t know why I do it. I can wake up and look in the mirror and say, “Jenna, you are worthy of love.” Or I can be down on myself during the day and stop to remind myself, “Jenna, you are worthy of love.” Or I can say a prayer when I lie down at night and I can tell myself, no matter how many times I screwed up that day, “Jenna, you are worthy of love.” And I still don’t believe it.

Sometimes I like to distract myself & tell myself I don’t feel this way, but when I evaluate my heart on a daily basis, I know this is what I feel deep down. That’s why I still make the same mistakes or form habits or make bad decisions. Because, deep down, I think I’m not worthy enough. Many times, the thoughts are, “So much of this love could go towards someone else, so don’t waste it on me. I will only disappoint.” These words sting to write. I never thought I could write something this honest & heartbreaking, but here it is.

This way of thinking is awful & debilitating & draining, but it’s a constant cycle. Like a hamster wheel you’re not sure how to get off of. That’s how I feel.

But usually I’m able to quiet that voice with coffee dates and to-do lists and constantly go go going and other people’s voices. That is the only nice thing.

And I’m sitting here trying to think of how to wrap this post up because I know that none of these things are good. I get that, and I think because I’m still in it, I don’t know how to think outside of it. That is the honest truth.

But for now, I will continue to take this one breath at a time because that’s all I know how to do. I’ve spent some time talking to some dear friends about this, and I think I’m not the only one to ever feel this way. And for some reason, it is extremely comforting to know that you can be lost with other people. It is horrible to be lost, but that means that you have the ability to be found, and that is good news. That is His promise.

“For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” // Luke 15:24

So let’s figure this out. Together. You and me. We’re going to figure out why we’re the people pleasers. The striving to be difference makers. The pain of falling short. We’re going to figure out why we try so badly to place our identity in earthly things & still wonder why we hurt so much. We’re going to figure out why why why we always do what people want us to do & still wonder why we’re unhappy. We’re going to begin to place our hope (every single bit of it) in Christ. We’re going to find ourselves in Christ. You can’t do this halfheartedly. We have to go all in. If you want to know what a life with Christ is like, you have to start living it. There is no planning or prep work. There is no to-do list. There is no rear-view-mirror glancing. There is no cleaning ourselves up. None of that. He loves us dirty & heartbroken & disheveled. You can’t dip your toes in the water & “try out” trusting Jesus. Maybe we don’t word it like that, but admittedly, that is exactly what we do. We expect & test & lean into promises we have created ourselves. We’ve done it all wrong. It’s time to take our eyes off of the idols. There is only fixing our eyes on the One who created us to be. So let’s do it. Let’s figure this out together.

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