Lamentations 3

Lamentations 3

 I am the man who has seen affliction
    by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
    in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
    again and again, all day long.

He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
    and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
    with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
    like those long dead.

He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
    he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
    he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait,
    like a lion in hiding,
11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me
    and left me without help.
12 He drew his bow
    and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart
    with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
    they mock me in song all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
    and given me gall to drink.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
    he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
    I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
    and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
    while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence,
    for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
    and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

34 To crush underfoot
    all prisoners in the land,
35 to deny people their rights
    before the Most High,
36 to deprive them of justice—
    would not the Lord see such things?

37 Who can speak and have it happen
    if the Lord has not decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that both calamities and good things come?
39 Why should the living complain
    when punished for their sins?

40 Let us examine our ways and test them,
    and let us return to the Lord.
41 Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
    to God in heaven, and say:
42 “We have sinned and rebelled
    and you have not forgiven.

43 “You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us;
    you have slain without pity.
44 You have covered yourself with a cloud
    so that no prayer can get through.
45 You have made us scum and refuse
    among the nations.

46 “All our enemies have opened their mouths
    wide against us.
47 We have suffered terror and pitfalls,
    ruin and destruction.”
48 Streams of tears flow from my eyes
    because my people are destroyed.

49 My eyes will flow unceasingly,
    without relief,
50 until the Lord looks down
    from heaven and sees.
51 What I see brings grief to my soul
    because of all the women of my city.

52 Those who were my enemies without cause
    hunted me like a bird.
53 They tried to end my life in a pit
    and threw stones at me;
54 the waters closed over my head,
    and I thought I was about to perish.

55 I called on your name, Lord,
    from the depths of the pit.
56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
    to my cry for relief.”
57 You came near when I called you,
    and you said, “Do not fear.”

58 You, Lord, took up my case;
    you redeemed my life.
59 Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me.
    Uphold my cause!
60 You have seen the depth of their vengeance,
    all their plots against me.

61 Lord, you have heard their insults,
    all their plots against me—
62 what my enemies whisper and mutter
    against me all day long.
63 Look at them! Sitting or standing,
    they mock me in their songs.

64 Pay them back what they deserve, Lord,
    for what their hands have done.
65 Put a veil over their hearts,
    and may your curse be on them!
66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them
    from under the heavens of the Lord.

Part of me truly wanted to edit out parts of the Word up there, like verses 64-66, and just leave out the super relevant parts like verse 38, but verses 1-66 were put together as Lamentations 3 for a reason, and it would be wrong to cut out the parts that I don’t like or are unsure about. Because, Imma be honest, I’m unsure about the anger demanded of the Lord in this chapter. I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel about it or how I’m supposed to behave because of it, but I’m human. My knowledge is limited. And God is all. He’s straight up all. All-knowing, all-consuming, all-_________. And I will learn these things in time, just like you learn Shakespeare in high school instead of in second grade because you gotta know how to read before you even attempt Willy Shakes. Shoot, before you even attempt some of the difficulties of the Old Testament or Paul’s letters or Revelation, you gotta know how to read it with the lens of love that comes from the gospel.

But anyways, hello! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? For the sake of honesty, I’ve really been struggling. With words, with feelings, with people, with the Lawd (I have an issue of attempting to make jokes when I’m hurt to brush things off like it’s no big deal, and I gotta stop that because the heart is a super serious matter…). With the Lord. And it’s been really poopy. Like really poopy. Last year, my problem was anger at the Lord for putting me in a place I didn’t think I could thrive. This year, my problem has been _______. I don’t even have a word for it because I have no idea how to explain what it is to its fullest effect (or is it affect?), and I don’t think I should try to explain it via online (hit me up in person or call me maybe? *cue the music*).

But Lamentations 3. Man. Here I was, sitting here in my living room here in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, mindlessly watching Hart of Dixie (okay, so this show is funny, but I find it even funnier because the stereotypical southern people in the show are actually a part of my daily life), scrolling through Amazon, looking at things I’ll never buy because I don’t trust online shopping (I can’t even tell you how many things I added to my cart just for the heck of it and then deleted before I decided to do more spontaneous shopping…). But I’ve been shopping for something to hang in my bathroom over my shelf (I pulled off a command strip, and paint came off with it, so I’m trying to find something to cover it up). I was looking at maps of Georgia and Ireland (added to my cart), scrolling through page after page of hanging wall pot thingies to put plants or magazines in (many added to my cart), and even got sidetracked and looked at new shower curtains (none added to my cart because I find I’m a bit particular about my curtain being just as colorful as my towels…). But I found these prints that were King James Bible passages that had a verse written decoratively over it. This is the one that caught my eye.

“His mercies are new every morning.”

That’s all I read, and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t like “Ooooo that is so relatable.” If anything, I liked it because it reminded me of hiking to the top of Stone Mountain with Cdawg (whose birthday is today!!!). And then I saw that it was from Lamentations 3, and curiosity struck because (although I haven’t read it yet) I had always thought of Lamentations as the sad, lamenting book of the Bible, so I was like “huh?” when I saw the verse about new mercies every morning.

And then I read it.

I have felt grief and affliction and calamity from my own heart, from my environment, and shoot, from the whole wide world! I have forgotten that “though He brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love….” and I have forgotten that from the mouth of the Most High comes both calamities and good things… You can’t have the rose without the thorns. You can’t have fertile soil without the yucky worms.

*shameless plug coming up* I have watched the movie, The Shack, twice. And I sobbed like a baby both times because it was so GAH. There are some theological things that I disagree with, so I’m not saying it is the end all, be all (just like going to church), but it is powerful if you choose to reflect on the things it says as opposed to just accepting them as absolutes. I’m about halfway through the book, and I think I’m going to have to restart because it just hits me with “I never thought about that!” after “I never thought about that!” that I haven’t been able to really process what these new things are. I bring it up because there’s a part in both the book and the movie where Mack is getting a garden ready with the Holy Spirit, and Sarayu (aka the Holy Spirit) tells Mack some straight up TRUTH that I would butcher if I tried to say it again because I can’t find the exact quote. But she essentially says that both the good and the bad have a purpose. The bad can be good if you choose to see it with the eyes of God.

(Here’s a fun little quote that isn’t the one I was looking for, but I love it so very much that I had to share….) “Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (Please, read the book. It’s GAH.

So really, I’m not sure what the purpose of this post was. Promotion for The Shack? Update on the nothingness that I have been doing since turning in that last dreaded final that stressed me out so much that a week after turning it in, I woke up in the morning with my first thought being that part of my paper didn’t follow my thesis? I’m not really sure.

But Lamentations 3 sure is something, and I’d like for you to make of it what you will.

In these past few months, I hope you’ve been climbing, running, and seeking.

Keep on keepin on, my friend.

Song of the Day? HAPPY BIRTHDAY CDAWG

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-X+X Doesn’t = Redeemed

This semester of college hasn’t fully hit me with stress yet, so I’ve had a lot of available time to think about God, to appreciate the beautiful people in my life, to plan what I want to eat for dinner, to apply to jobs, to read the Word, to rearrange my room way too many times, and to watch quite a few movies.

One movie in particular, Armageddon, is one of my all-time favorite movies because the end just crushes what is left of my heart. AMC, bless its heart, has essentially played that movie every day I’ve been here in Tuscaloosa, and trust me, I’m not complaining. But one thing that really REALLY bothers about that amazing movie is the storyline of one of the secondary characters. So Armageddon, in so many words, is about these oil drillers who become trained to be astronauts so that they can go out into space and drill a nuclear bomb into an asteroid that is headed straight to obliterate Earth. Well, the secondary character I’m stuck on, Chick (it’s his nickname), has a child that he never gets to see because his ex-wife (or some type of relation) thinks he’s essentially good for nothing. So Chick goes out on this big, heroic adventure and *spoiler alert* saves the world, and when he returns, his ex and child are there ready to accept him with open arms because he proved that he was actually a pretty solid guy.

Another movie, Battleship, one of my mom’s favs, is one that I also am ehhh on a part or two. In this movie, these scientists send out a message to another Earth-like planet, and a few years later, some aliens show up. The first people these aliens meet are military naval dudes who fire warning shots, which convinces the aliens that the humans don’t want peace, so they try to take over the world. Yada yada. The main character is a little rough around the edges, but he’s dating a really important commander’s daughter, and the dad doesn’t like him. So the movie happens, Hopper (lol that’s his last name) saves the world, and he wants to marry Sam, so he asks her pops if he can. Pops says NOPE, and Hopper’s just like, “Bro, I’m a pretty solid guy because I just saved the world, so I think I’m entitled to your daughter.”

Or think of another movie, maybe a romantic drama or comedy, where a couple breaks up for a certain reason, one of them tries to get the other one back by doing some big act of love, and then they are reunited and live happily every after because they’re both pretty solid people.

Are you following me? Are you picking up what I’m throwing down? I love movies, but sometimes they just stink. They put it into my mind that in order to be in someone’s favor, I have to redeem myself through some daring and valiant act.

Hold the phone and shut the back door! That’s not how it works! Praise the Lord for that, right?! Imagine living as a follower of Christ and thinking that you had to constantly work to prove your own worth to him. Spoiler alert? He already knows.

So maybe you’ve done some messed up things in life or have strayed from your shepherd, but simply by claiming Christ’s identity as your own, you are redeemed. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone, especially him. You don’t need to go and save the world and be some hero. Our hero already died, and more importantly, our hero didn’t stay dead.

Salvation has nothing to do with us and everything to do with a man called Jesus. That should be sooo comforting because it’s untouched by our human hands, but, to me at least, it also seems distant, like something I can’t have because it isn’t mine. I can be super controlling, and sometimes I think I can control my redemption.

We live in a society that says you have to earn everything you get, and that bothers me for two reasons. First, we, as followers of Christ, should value selflessness and give because we want to, not because the government tells us to or because it looks good, but because it honors our Father. Second, the idea that everything you get you gotta earn completely contradicts the fulfilled promise that happened on the third day. My sin says that I don’t deserve heaven, you don’t deserve heaven, but we have it. Oh glorious day, we have it!! Not past tense, not future tense. Present tense. It exists, and we can claim it as our home.

Titus 3:3-8

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Furthermore, doing great and beautiful things doesn’t make you more or less entitled to salvation. No one is going to be more saved than another, you either are saved or you aren’t. No one should walk around saying, “Look at my resume of selfless things I’ve done. See this one right here? I almost died doing that, but ended up saving like this whole city.” Point blank, no matter what you do, it will never be like what Jesus did for us. I say this, not to discourage you, but to encourage you to strive to be more like him, but you cannot redeem mankind. So live like his sacrifice is the only thing that matters. Live like you are less, and he is more.

Matthew 6:2-4

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Further than furthermore, our relationship with God is not like our relationship with our human companions. It’s not like, “Look, pops, I know you were angry about me not doing what I am called to do, but to make it up to you, I gave extra in offering on Sunday and told Scarlet she looked pretty and donated some clothes to a homeless shelter and bought a ticket to visit my parents across the country. So, are we cool?”

You never need to make it up to God. All He wants and needs and craves is surrender. All He wants is a, “Look, pops, I know you were angry about me not doing what I am called to do, and I’m sorry. Help me be more like you.

Free yourself from the mindset that you must do x to cancel out y (or mathematically speaking, you gotta do +x to cancel out -x). Free yourself from thinking that the Lord wants anything from you except pure devotion. Free yourself from this idea that your friendships must prove their worth.

Be secure in knowing that even if human life and society work a certain way, we are called to rise up and know that our belonging is with our Lord. Be secure in who you are and comforted in knowing that the Lord loves every bit of you, so pretending to be something you’re not is pointless. Be secure in knowing that your story has the absolute best ending that has ever existed and will ever exist.

You deserve the world, my friend, but I hope you find satisfaction in more than the world could ever give you.

Climb. Run. Seek. [And watch movies with better endings]

Song of the Day: Come As You Are by Crowder

New Year, New Mission

Not even five minutes ago, my hopes and dreams got crushed as my precious University of Alabama Crimson Tide lost the National Championship game. Sadly, I couldn’t even watch the last nine minutes of the game because I wasn’t really in the mood to feel anxious and nervous, and my voice was beginning to hurt yelling, “Freaking Jalen!” over and over again (Jalen Hurts is the quarterback’s name). I’ve had the main menu of Tarzan playing in the background as I’ve sat at my desk and thought about how to begin my first post in a long time (lol why it’s taken me forever is a story for another day). So how did I find out that in the last ten seconds of the game, Clemson scored a game-winning touchdown? Twitter.

What a beautiful thing social media is. I think that nowadays there’s this stigma against it. (lemme turn off Tarzan now and turn on the Moana soundtrack…) And I agree that social media can be a dangerous thing. It can distract us from the now. It can distract us from living in the moment and appreciating things with the memory in our minds instead of the memory in our phones. I know, I know, this sounds very old school of me. “But Peyton, we live in the 21st century, technology is a part of our present and is leading us into the future.” And I completely agree. Technology is great, but I think the greatest danger we face in all the different social medias and ways to connect across the world is to make them solely about us.

“Peyton, you sound like a crazy person. I have an Instagram so that I can share pictures that I feel good in and pictures that I think are cool. I have Facebook to voice my opinion about anything and everything and share the deepest inner workings of my life with 600 people, half of whom I could probably never point out on the street and call by name. I have Twitter because I like all the jokes on there and enjoy connecting with celebrities. I have SnapChat because it’s freaking hilarious. Social media is supposed to be about me.”

Well, my pal, who says social media has to be about you? Society? Have I got a surprise for you! Paul writes in Romans 12 that we must not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We can’t conform to the “look at me” mentality that has become so prevalent nowadays.

Sure, claim your uniqueness, because gosh golly, you are one amazing person who deserves to be absolutely cherished and loved and appreciated in the sincerest way. You deserve to be honored, truly. You deserve knowing that you are worth more than perfection Himself. My challenge to you is to seek that validation in the one who can say it the most sincerely. Seek it in your Father.

Maybe that isn’t your issue. Maybe you know that you are fierce, fabulous, and flawless, and you just like sharing little tidbits with the world. H*ck, keep it going! Share these thoughts and ideas and pieces of yourself because I’d love to hear them! But my challenge to you is to add a way to honor someone through social media. Give them a shoutout on Twitter or Instagram or something so that they know that they are on your mind. It seems like a small thing, but I think it means more than you initially think.

Maybe you have no purpose reading this because you don’t have social media, in which case, I would challenge you to maybe choose one and use it solely to honor people without the profile having to connect to you in any way. Or maybe honor people in a different way. Send them a thoughtful letter or put a sticky note on their door telling them that you think they are the bomb.com.

But really, my challenge to everyone is to make your social media reveal your identity. And your identity is in Christ. It is in being called redeemed and loved and beautiful and strong by our awesome God. Run your social media in such a way that if a stranger was to scroll through your feed, they’d know how much you love the Lord and how much you love your brothers and sisters.

Maybe you’re not as convicted as I am. Maybe you think it’s a stupid idea and unrealistic. Maybe this entire post is inapplicable to you, or maybe this is written just for me and one other soul friend. If that’s the case, I love you, and I’m so glad you made it this far. I hope you stick around for the end! (just restarted the Moana soundtrack!)

All that to say, my mission this year is to honor people, and I hope you do the same. I’ve chosen the avenue of social media because I use it way to much for my own good (amongst other intentional ways), but I encourage you to do whatever is challenging to you. Maybe it’s praying for others more often or giving gifts or communicating more or baking or reading books of the Bible with a buddy, but challenge yourself.

Here’s a recipe for how to be awesome in life (I’m sharing all of this because all of this is relevant to honoring people and because it’s my all-time fav chapter in the Bible along with 2 Corinthians 4, but that’s for another day):

Romans 12

A Living Sacrifice

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Humble Service in the Body of Christ

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love in Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I KNOW that you can do it. Paul says that we should offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. And I think that includes social media. Honor God by honoring others. Honor God by giving every extension of your life and breath to Him. Sacrifice your rant about an injustice of the world and pray about it in surrender.

And in all of this, continue

climbing, running, and seeking after Truth Himself.

Song of the Day – (honestly, it’s the Moana soundtrack)

P.S. I’m not even a real fan of football, so don’t worry, I’m not actually upset about the National Championship.

P.P.S. I also didn’t proofread this because I’m learning that worrying about how I sound is preventing me from saying things God wants me to share. So enjoy all my mistakes and things that don’t make sense.

Cousin Clarence

Imagine. You’ve been raised on a farm for your entire life. You’ve been living with pigs and corn since the time you were born. No one ever checks to see what trouble you get into, and no one really cares. Who is there to actually track you? Who is there to give you love? Any friends you have are busy taking care of their own lives, so you’re basically in a world of your own. You can do whatever you want and think whatever you want. And life goes on. Very little happens here in the middle of isolation nation, and there’s very little civilization besides your family, your few friends, and Cousin Clarence three towns over. Life is mediocre, but it’s all you’ve ever known. It is comfortable. It is free of judgment. It is you.

And then one day, life changes. The entire life you’ve been living, the pigs, the corn, the trouble — it all becomes a thing of the past. Cousin Clarence, who has been entertaining the idea with you of entering into his world, his home, where he will be until forever, has finally convinced you to go with him. He has won you over, and you’ve never been so terrified and so excited for the journey. You’ve never felt so free. Cousin Clarence decides to take you somewhere you belong, and you welcome it with open arms. It’s the beginning of moving to the big city. You leave behind everything you’ve known. That little farm hand is not who you are anymore. You’re a member of the city. It’s a place you’ve heard of from Cousin Clarence a few times. He says it’s where there’s more happiness, more people, more joy. There’s more to do and more to learn than your life on the farm will ever give you. You accept that. But the thing is, you’re completely inexperienced in what the ways of the city are. What are cars? What are traffic lights? What are skyscrapers that reach up until they are lost in the clouds? And why are there so many people? Who are they? Even in the midst of it all, you find so much wonder in your new home. You love the smell of the bakery down 7th Street, and you love the sound of the rain on the buildings, which look almost as if they are crying as the water falls down them. You love the sun peeking through all the buildings, somehow always able to be seen. You love the freedom of walking and dancing because you are freer here than you ever were back with the pigs and the corn. But you realize that you have to reprogram your brain, your behaviors, your habits. It’s not that you can’t do something you once did, it’s just that you no longer feel the desire to do it anymore. It’s instant discouragement when you see that the other folks in the city seem to know exactly what they’re doing. There’s no hesitation, only action. And so you aim to be like that one day. You aim for their perfection.

So when you get behind the wheel of a car for the first time, you fake like you know what you’re doing and try not to ask Cousin Clarence too many questions. Who needs him, anyways? You start the car and nearly die as you and Cousin Clarence go zooming in reverse when you were supposed to go straight. As you look at Cousin Clarence with wide eyes and shyness, he simply laughs and tells you that all you have to do is listen to him, and you’ll be alright. You will be alright. So when Cousin Clarence does offer you guidance, you have to learn not to freeze up behind the wheel and actually turn left when he tells you to. But it’s hard because you don’t know where you’re headed. In this foreign place with foreign people doing foreign things, you begin to miss your farm. You begin to miss oblivion. You try to remember the things you are gaining by coming to the city. But you realize the only thing you know is how to go in reverse. All you have is negligence. And all you have is Cousin Clarence.

You go through the days, getting to know Cousin Clarence more and more, and you begin to love him more and more and more. You begin to know the people of the city, the people who claim Cousin Clarence brought them there, too, and they were just like you. They used to go in reverse all the time, and sometimes, when they’re feeling disdain and sadness or anger, they get distracted and go in reverse again. You start to feel like you’re not alone. You’re never going to be alone. You can see Cousin Clarence reflected in each of the wonderful people that you meet, and you start to feel like you belong here. You fall in love with the city. You notice that once in the city, these people are not bound in it. Sometimes they leave with Cousin Clarence and claim that they are going to go out into the world and bring more people here. But they can’t leave without Cousin Clarence. You’re told that everyone will have their turn, whether it’s going out way across the world or simply going to little towns. Everyone will go.

But then there are days when thieves sneak into the city and cause havoc. They attack the people that you love, and they steal everything good. They steal lights, they steal transportation, they steal food. And no one can seem to find Cousin Clarence. Anger fills people’s hearts, and they start to leave. They begin to leave the city and go back to where they came from. You see some people dancing with the city limit, trying to decide which way they want to go. You are one of these souls. You feel helpless and alone for the first time in such a long time, and you hate it. You hate Cousin Clarence for leaving you, even though he told you that he would be there for you every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year until the endless end. So you hop in your car. And you drive. In this state of chaos and confusion, you don’t realize that Cousin Clarence is in the seat right beside you. You can’t hear him whispering how much he loves you and wants you to trust him. And you keep driving. You reach a place you’ve never been before.

You’re at a traffic light, and you don’t know where to go. You look around you, and you finally see Cousin Clarence next to you, but you also see the thieves in the back seat, evil smiles on their faces as they tell you to go left. In the gentlest of voices, Cousin Clarence is beckoning you to go right. “Trust me. I love you. You can do this,” he says. You’re frozen at the traffic light and you don’t know where to go. “Clarence, you want me to trust my new family? What is that? What is trust? What is this thing that I’ve gone my whole life without? I don’t get it. And you, you thieves, you want me to go back where I came from? That place where I could become consumed in my mind and self-loathing day and night? That sounds familiar,” you cry out, trying so hard to make sense of the situation. Who would love a lost soul struggling day by day to listen to Cousin Clarence? You start struggling to retain and believe everything that everyone has ever told you. Are you worthy of living in the city? Are you really joyful and wise and loyal and encouraging beyond belief? Are you really good enough? Why would Cousin Clarence bring you here? You don’t belong.

The light turns green. And you drive. You go. You do. You are. And you listen to Cousin Clarence. You open your eyes and see that your hands are not on the steering wheel. Cousin Clarence has taken control. And he’s brought you home, not to the pigs and the corn, but to your home in the city. He has brought you back to where you belong. The people that you love are there. Every single person that ran to the city limits is there, and they explain that Cousin Clarence brought them back. He loved them, and they loved him. The thieves are gone and you are home, eagerly awaiting the new faces that Cousin Clarence will bring to the city. You know the thieves will attack again, and you aim to be there to guard the people you love the most. They are your family. They are your home. Cousin Clarence saved you, so you aim to spread his love.

Many of us have lived a life of being near God, but not beside Him. We’ve kept our hearts to ourselves and have simply lived. We’ve been okay with the mundane parts of life and just accepted that it was all we would know and all we would love. But then things changed. God called us, and we answered. We accepted His invitation into His kingdom, into His home, into His family. It was a whole new world. We look around us sometimes, and we see how good our other brothers and sisters are living. We see them as perfect and flawless, beautiful creations that we must strive to be like. But that’s not the case. Everyone has days when they go in reverse. Everyone has times when they forget where they are and whose they are. So why do we compare? Why do we subject ourselves into degradation and live by the world instead of living by God? Our God, our Cousin Clarence, saved us so that we could thrive. He brought us to our home. All we have is Cousin Clarence. All we have is God. He is the only thing that is permanent about the city. There is a proper time for everything, for every soul. Just because something hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean that it won’t eventually. All we have to do is listen.

There are times in every person’s faith where the devil sneaks in and attacks. He attacks our light, the thing that people see. He tries to make us dim and dark because in the darkness is where he works best. He corrupts best when no one can see him. He attacks our transportation, our way of living day to day. He tries to make us see falseness in the connection between us and God. He tries to make up lies about The Way, The Truth, and The Life. He attacks our food, our hunger for everything that is God. He tries to feed us with self-doubt and loathing. He wants us to be empty of Jesus. Some of us will run. We will try to evade the chaos and go back to the place of oblivion, where we didn’t know God, and we thought God didn’t know us. We think that He has gone missing in all the action or that He is too busy saving someone else’s life. So we run. We give in to the devil, and he robs us of our joy. He robs us of our love and laughter, and he leaves us with a scar of anger. We become angry at the world, and we become angry at God. We ignore everything we’ve learned about who He is, and we see emptiness. We see nothing. We hear nothing. Now what? What do we do when the anger makes us so tired that it turns to sadness and grief? We find ourselves in a place of stagnation and foreignness. Now what? We must listen. We listen for our shepherd’s voice. Cousin Clarence loves us. God loves us. God loves you. With Him, we will always find our way back home, the place where we are surrounded by people who love us and the person who loved us enough to give Himself over to the world.

You’re at another traffic light. Drive.

Song of the Day: Come Away by Jesus Culture

Shout-out to Piaget

This past semester has been both really exciting and really draining. I’ve become stronger in so many ways, but I’ve also become so much more aware of my weaknesses, things that I desperately need to work on. It’s been humbling, and it’s been rewarding, and crazy enough, part of me wishes it wasn’t over. Part of me wishes to be here for a few more months, away from familiarity, away from my place of comfort, away from people I’ve already learned to treasure. But another part of me realizes that even as I go home for a few months, I’ll return with even more motivation to learn and grow. So I’m ready.

This semester has also made me really excited and really scared for my future, especially recently. My first semester here, I changed my major to something that, to be completely honest, would allow me to finish college sooner than my first major (Secondary Education with an English concentration). As I began exploring and discovering the depth of my new major, which is Human Development and Family Studies, by the way, I realized that there are so many avenues to glorify God through it. And it was so comforting to feel so limitless. This semester, I’ve begun taking classes that contribute to my major, and I realized that human development is very label-based. People are labelled with certain temperaments and certain IQs and certain mannerisms in this psychology-based field, and it terrifies me. I have shaped myself to shy away and reject labels, reject expectations, reject falsehoods, and yet, I have chosen to enter into a field that relies on labels and expectations. And I freaked out for a good few days. How could I glorify God through contributing to something that limits His limitless people? I looked at other jobs and careers and yearned for the freedom involved in them. I was watching House Hunters on HGTV (bae), and there was a man who was a freelance photographer, and he just wanted a simple life living amongst the trees of the forest. And I was jealous that I couldn’t do that, that I wasn’t brave enough for that, that he chose freedom instead of following the norm. Furthermore, I’ve begun to have this super irrational fear that’s honestly kind of embarrassing that I’ll be an old dog lady. So many couples at my church are becoming engaged or tying the knot, and I became fearful that I would end up alone without human companionship in life, which would be fine if that’s how I could glorify God best, but I also yearn desperately for a family of my own. One of the absolute best feelings in the world is to feel loved, and my fear is that I will never be able to feel that. I know, stupid.

Basically, it’s been a crazy semester, and we’ll get back to the overarching theme I have learned. But first, I must introduce a psychology lesson that I treasure. In my Human Development 202 class, which looks at the development of infants and toddlers, we recently discussed the way children learn. Some psychologists believe that they learn through reinforcement (shout-out to B.F. Skinner), receiving rewards for doing the right things. Some believe that they learn through social experiences (shout-out to Vygotsky). Some others believe that they learn through adapting schemas by assimilation or accommodation (shout-out to Piaget). My favorite theory is that children learn through imitation (not-so-loud of a shout-out to Piaget again because he was kind of wrong). So let’s stick with that theme for a while so I can gush about why I absolutely love it. Children learn through imitation.

We’ve all seen those commercials or TV shows where the little boy wants to be just like his father, so he slouches on the couch and calls his mom by her first name and rolls underneath his own toy car as dad works underneath the real big one. He imitates the person he admires and loves the most. How pure and lovely is that. He learns right and wrong by assessing what his father does, and he grows in knowledge and understanding of the world around him.

One interesting aspect of imitation is that a child can never do a task as flawlessly as an adult can. He can’t hold his fork the same way or formulate sentences as well or anything like that, and we should all say that he shouldn’t be able to. He doesn’t have the knowledge that his father does, and he doesn’t have the experience that his father does. But he can try his best and learn through trial and error and a heck of a lot of practice.

You see, children do a lot of imitating as early as a few weeks old, which is why if they have older siblings, they’re bound to get in more trouble. And crazy enough, children also become tired of imitating and develop a thing called self-awareness, and through that they develop a scary thing called autonomy. They learn their most favorite word: no. They learn that they don’t have to listen to everything mom and dad say, and they choose to break away from what mom and dad define as right and do whatever they want, which can be really dangerous. That’s probably why it’s called the terrible twos.

The absolute best part or idea of imitation is this thing called social referencing. What’s that, Peyton? Wow, am I glad you asked! Social referencing is what happens when a child is presented with a new experience and doesn’t know how to feel or respond, so they turn to a trusted adult, analyze their reaction, and emulate it. For example, if a little boy has never seen a puppy before, and mom and dad just brought a new puppy home, the little boy may be confused or fearful at first, but after looking to mom and dad at how to respond, the little boy becomes at ease and joyful because, I mean, who doesn’t love puppies?!

Using this idea of imitation and social referencing, let’s talk about Jesus. I think you can tell where I’m going with this, but join me for the ride anyways because it’s super exciting!

You may notice that many times in the Bible, there are a lot of phrases that loosely follow the structure, “Do _______, just as Christ did.” Just in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here are a few examples:

John 13:13-15

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

John 15:9-12

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.

1 John 2:3-6

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

The Bible calls for imitation. The Word calls for imitation. Jesus calls for imitation. By golly goodness, let it be done.

As Christians, we surrender our autonomy and our pride. We surrender our ability to reject the truth and deviate from our Father. Obviously, as sinful beings, we struggle with this surrender. But, my dear friend, you are forgiven. Just as a mom and dad do not hate a child for stealing a cookie from the cookie jar, our redeeming Father does not hate us for anything we do. On the contrary, He loves us beyond the definition of love. I’m sure He feels sadness and grief when we choose our own will above His perfect one. But He loves us through the sadness, through the grief, through everything. All because someone perfect completely gave up his autonomy in his life, and it resulted in perfect redemption. We are to emulate him. We are to mirror the movements, the words, the feelings of Jesus. We walk in his footsteps. We speak his words. We love his kind of love. We, God’s loved and redeemed children, imitate the source of love and redemption.

Do not imitate the world. Conforming to something flawed and fleeting will make you flawed and fleeting as well. Things get so dangerous for our bodies and our souls when we deviate from the truth, when we deviate from our Father. Our independence, our pride, our selfishness, they are all things that separate us from God. They are instigators for recklessness and godlessness and they, too, should be surrendered.

(I couldn’t decide on a good stopping place for this next passage, but it’s one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, so I’m just gonna put it out there for you to take what you want from it…)

Romans 12

A Living Sacrifice

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Humble Service in the Body of Christ

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love in Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

My feelings of fear with being dishonest and lonely are somewhat ridiculous because I know that I was called to do something with my major, and my love life can be empty yet still so fulfilling (I’m only 19, so I really just need to chill). Jesus was fearless, and so, too, must I be. When faced with anything new and troubling in life, I must turn to Jesus through prayer or through the Bible because he speaks truth, not me. He brings life, not me. He gives hope, not me. He shows mercy, not me. He is love, not me.

Look at Peter as he took his steps out on the water toward Jesus, his eyes set on his savior until fear and noise and distraction overcame him, and the impossible that turned possible became impossible again. His self-awareness and awareness of his place in the storm caused him to start sinking. But he was doing so well imitating the footsteps of Jesus.

A child trusts his father. We must trust our Father. Trust Him. Love Him. Imitate Him.

We will never be able to live as perfectly as Jesus. We can’t become sinless overnight. We can’t think pure thoughts every moment of every day. We can’t be infinitely self-sacrificing. But we don’t have to do any of that in order to be redeemed. We must trust, love, and imitate. And His blood becomes our blood, His thoughts become our thoughts, His victory becomes our victory.

It says in Genesis that God made man in His image, and I like to picture a mirror. God must be the object, and we must be His reflection. When He moves right, we must move right. When He opens His mouth, we must open our mouths. He can’t move His arm, and our leg shoots up. That’s crazy, guys.

So basically, all of that was to say that autonomy and fearful feelings are not the way that God wants us to live. He gave us a story, an image, a true person to emulate, and so we must.

Here’s a how-to just for you:

Ephesians 4:17-5:2

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands,that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love,as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

In order to grasp the truth we are to emulate, we must pray and read and be vulnerable.

We must climb, run, and seek.

Song of the Day: To Be Like You by Hillsong

Climb. Run. Seek.

There are less than 48 hours left in the year 2015. Some people are taking this time to reflect upon the adventures and misadventures of the year, laughing over memories they thought they never would and thanking someone up above that the year is nearly done; some people are creating lists of resolutions, planning to reform their lives as if this new naming of time dictates when they want to make their time count; some people are planning for a New Year’s Eve celebration, anticipating the countdown to the whole “new year, new me” mantra and finding that special someone to kiss as the clock strikes zero. And then there’s me. Loading up on HGTV and mama’s home cooking and laughing over those ugly guys from The Lord of the Rings, simply keeping my mind from thinking about the fact that I’ll be back at college in 2 short weeks.

So this, my friends, is a call to action about many different things that I’ve noticed in my life and the lives I treasure around me. This is a call to remind you that you don’t need the beginning of a new year or the beginning of a new week or the beginning of a new day to change your life. God does not work in our time frames of morning, noon, and night. You see, He created time, so it would only follow that He is above it. He is the Master of instruments, the Lover of souls, the Cradle of hearts. He is our beginning and end, our Alpha and Omega. 2016 is a limited amount of time to aim for greatness, so my hope is that we instead focus on our limitless God and aim for greatness through Him.

God calls us to follow Him with reckless abandon. He calls us to drop everything and pick up His cross. He calls us to learn and love and lead. The twelve disciples had to go through that madness. They had to bravely and boldly leave the lives they had known and follow Jesus. Normal, everyday lads. A tax collector, a rebel against the Romans, some fishermen, a doubter, a betrayer, a denier, but all loved. All called at the drop of a hat. Jesus wasn’t like, “Hey guys, so I’m gonna need you to come and follow me and be witnessed to all the crazy redemption that I’m gonna do, but I know you guys have your lives, too, so let’s say we meet back here on Monday and set out? Sound good to you guys? Man, this is going to be awesome!” How crazy would that be?! But it didn’t happen like that.

 Matthew 4:18-22

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Matthew 9:9-13

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

God doesn’t work on our time. He wants us by His side because it’s where we belong.  So, my loves, recklessly abandon and intentionally follow.

Let’s imagine there’s a man on trial for murder. It’s without a doubt that he committed the murder and it was no act of self defense. What’s the defendant’s best plea, then? He pleads insanity. He knows that by doing so, he will simply be thrown into a psychiatric center where he will treated for a while until he is suddenly “cured” of insanity and is free to go, knowing full well that he just got away with murder. Through all this, he simply puts up a ruse and acts in a way that does not coincide with the person that he truly is. Think of him as an actor on stage, performing a certain role, but when he’s off stage, he’s a completely different person. For me and for my reflection on 2015, especially my first semester of college, I see a lot of ruses. I see myself declaring insanity to get away with my anger and discomfort and so many things. I see pleas to God with no heart to back it up. I see cries to my friends as I struggled with where God placed me, but had no motivation to change my outlook. I was a liar who got away with pity, but still had something weighing down my heart. This isn’t much different from the way I used to act in high school as I put on a show of joy and contentment when inside I was screaming for help, not knowing how to rid myself of the madness. To put into words the first lesson I learned, we must be real. We must be vulnerable and honest and true, not only with others and with God, but also with ourselves. We must have awareness of ourselves and our hearts, or else we will deceive ourselves with the masks we wear. And trust me, mi compadres (I don’t speak Spanish, so forgive me), God sees right through our deception.

Psalm 139

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

James 1:22-25

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God cannot enter our hearts until we invite Him in. And it can be hard to hear His knock when we are consumed in madness, whether it’s madness of our own doing, as is my case, or madness of the world. You see, He has perfect sight that can see past the masks we wear and can penetrate into the deepest and darkest parts of our hearts. And He loves us just the same. We don’t need to wait until 2016 to invite Him in. We don’t need to wait until 2016 to be cured of madness. We don’t need to wait. But we can rest. We can find solitude and silence and stillness. We can find hope and peace and forgiveness. We can find joy and laughter and understanding. And we can find it all in one source. We can find it all in Him.

For a time in 2015, I struggled with confidence in who I was and even who God was, and I struggled trusting that He would safely guide me through whatever I was going through. But then crazy revelations happened during the most unexpected time (I kid you not, it was basically 3:00am the night before my first day of finals), and the madness became nonexistent. Lesson number two: expectations can be the enemy. Those who know me well know that I try my doggone hardest to avoid expecting things from people, but it’s harder to have the same conviction for my own life. I expected myself to do well in college classes, which was accomplished, and I also expected to find a good group of friends who shared my same values, but this was not accomplished. So I degraded and berated myself for failure, and I got to a really dark place. I didn’t even want to go to college, so it fueled my anger that things weren’t happening according to my plan. But we can have only one expectation in life, and that is that God will be exactly who He says He is, written out from Genesis to Revelation and evident everywhere in our lives. He says to expect things in His timing, not our own, which can be hard for us impatient humans (golly I must be like #4 on the world’s most impatient list behind people waiting for Frank Ocean, Rihanna, and Zayn Malik to release their albums). Expect growth when you open your hearts and see with His eyes because He says that’s gonna happen too.

So don’t limit yourself for the rest of 2015, leading into 2016. Don’t limit yourself to beginnings of days or weeks. Don’t limit yourself to view consistencies as expectations. Rise above because that’s where our Father is. The third lesson that I learned rather recently, in fact, is that in everything we do, we must glorify Him. We must constantly ask ourselves, “What can I do today that can bring glory to God and expand His kingdom?” Goodness do I feel like I’ve said that 39 million times within the past 3 weeks. It starts to become repetitive and routine, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with routine or habits, especially when it includes things that glorify Him. There is a balance between routine and spontaneity, so prayer must always be included in guiding decisions, in guiding our hearts and actions. But do whatever will praise His name.

Rend Collective shared this via Instagram and Twitter, and I feel the need to share it here: It can be “so tempting to make self-improvement our new year’s resolution but what we need is self-sacrifice. Don’t give up a habit – give up your heart.” Surrender your heart. Surrender your madness. Surrender your fear and anxieties. Surrender your time, your comfort, your vulnerability. Lift up your voices. Lift up your joy. Lift up your praises, your prayers, your petitions. Give everything. Pray in public. Read His Word in public. Simply speak His name in public. But don’t forget to do it in private, either. Pray in private. Read His Word in private. Speak His name in private. Surely the kingdom will expand just as your heart will. Take time to be bold. Take time to have fellowship. Take time to laugh and sing and be who God made you to be. Take time to surrender and expand and glorify.

And never, ever limit yourself.

Today, tomorrow, whenever and wherever you are:

Always climb. Always run. Always seek.

Song of the Day: Fall Afresh by Jeremy Riddle

 

 

Jars of Clay

I was walking back to my dorm super late a few nights ago with one of my friends, and I don’t remember how it came up, but she started telling me the short version of this wonderful story that she had heard about a super important topic. I’m not sure how exactly it went, so this is my version of the story featuring a ton of random, useless details, but know that the general idea is not my creation.

In a time long ago, before tractors and plumbing, there was a farmer. His hairs were as white as the clouds that seldom graced the sky, as white as white could be; his skin was tan and leathery, tougher than anything he had ever touched in his life and full of wrinkles that sunk wisdom into his body as the lines sunk into his face; his back reflected the curve of the cane he used to get from place to place, his stature not overcoming his inability to move; his muscles were strong, but age had made him weak. Even in his hard work, caring for the crops of the field as his progress declined, he still managed to find the time to pick flowers for his wife every day, though she did not know from where they came, but they were naturally beautiful and pure and full of intentional love. His wife, possessing beauty and loyalty unlike any other, had given him 3 wonderful children, 3 wonderful sons, who, during their youth, spent their days out in the field with their father, learning to plant and nurture and harvest. But with age came responsibilities, and they found themselves beautiful and loyal wives just like their mother and went away to distant lands to take up jobs that would give them more than white hair and aged skin and a curved back. All they craved was more.

So time crawled for the fatigued farmer, but the sun’s place in the sky moved in the blink of an eye. The farmer could find no help from other strong boys because they were unwilling to reap what they sowed, so he sought help in the field from his beautiful and loyal wife, who always chose to love him with everything she did. She loved escaping from her homemaker duties and being out in the sun and out in the field and out in the open air because age took no toll on her youthful quest for wonder and freedom. Side by side, husband and wife worked, planting each seed individually, one after the other, intention and love filling their hearts each time they pat the ground where the growing seed laid.

Then it came time to water. Together, husband and wife carried giant jars of clay on a rod that rested on their shoulders down to the river to collect water for the plants. The farmer set aside his crooked cane that he held so dearly in his right hand in order to carry the burden of the weighty jars so that his wife could walk freely and enjoy the sun. Along the way, the beautiful wife noticed one side of the pathway was lined with beautiful flowers. The patch of flowers was one or two flowers wide, nothing more, but the length of the patch went all the way down to the river. Though small in width, the patch boasted flowers of all different colors and sizes. Some reached high into the air, almost like fireworks of purple and white and bright orange. Some stayed near to the ground, seemingly in the shadows of the higher jewels, but their complexion of pink and red demanded to be seen all the same. Then there were some that coasted in the middle, the blues and yellows and every color imaginable, clumped and entangled and growing together, though shining all on their own. These were the flowers that the wife recognized. These were the flowers that her love brought her home every day, their unity in growth reminding her of her and her husband’s unity in marriage, and she knew this was the reason why he picked these to bring home to her. Her heart warmed and overflowed with love, and she felt so fully loved.

She turned to the other side of the path, hoping to see a reflection of the field of love, but the other side of the path wasn’t too different from the dust they walked on, empty of color and empty of life. The beauty that the beautiful wife had just beheld seemingly left her mind when she saw the barren ground before her; she no longer saw the artistry that was so near to her eyes if only she could turn and look. She chose to ignore both sights she just witnessed and continued walking with her husband.

They finally reached the river, sweat dripping down his face from carrying the giant jars of clay, sweat dripping down hers because the labor was unknown to her. To the farmer’s disappointment, the water in the river ran low, making the sweaty process even lengthier and not fun and freeing for his wife anymore. But he continued on in his work, filling one jar near its capacity, then filling the other one, the sun making quite a journey through the sky during this time. The giant jars of clay were full, and husband and wife could continue on in their day of intentional growth. So together they walked, the heavy jars becoming heavier burdens for him, though he claimed they were as light as a feather. The wife noticed that one of the jars had a crack near its bottom that was about a foot long, and it was slowly dripping a steady stream of water, becoming a waterfall suspended in the air.

“My love, you must do something about this leaking jar. It is not doing its job. It is a useless tool that is simply making your job harder! You are too old to have to walk down to the river too many times just because something is not doing its duty!” The wife declared, trying to think of a way to fix the jar or work up the money to buy a new one, but her husband made no reply.

He walked, the dripping jar continuing to leak, slowly making a river in the line of flowers that perplexed her. Each flower, purple and white and bright orange and pink and red and blue and yellow and every color imaginable, moved and buckled under the weight of the falling water before pouncing up, as if its growth was instantaneously happening before her eyes.

Back and forth the husband and wife went to the river, retrieving water for the field, still using the leaky jar of clay to the wife’s dismay. Their muscles hurt from the labor, but their minds were at ease, the task becoming routine and simple, although full of burden. The marvel that the wife once held for the grounded rainbow was soon lost to determination to work fast and quick with no time for beauty.

Night fell, their job as nurturers over for only a brief intermission before the sun rose once more. Sleep came easy to the husband, a hard day being rewarded with easy snores. But sleep was a mile away for his wife. She was beautiful and loyal and dearly loved her husband and yearned to make sure he lived a comfortable life, just as he had done when their marriage first began and as he continued to do, toiling out in the sun day after day, and she could not figure out why he made his job so much harder than it had to be. His back was crooked and curved; he had lost the height his leap once had; he desperately needed rest all the time. Yet he used broken tools. She was sure that they could unearth some spare change lying around, or they could write to their 3 wonderful sons who were out living away from where they truly belonged for a loan. They could find a way to buy a new tool, she was sure of it.

So the next day, as they went down to the river to gather more water for another field of theirs, she told him what was invading her mind. “My love, you work so hard all day and sometimes through the night to make sure our crops are safe and growing well. But you work with a broken jar, a thing that could easily be replaced.”

Her husband, a patient and loving man, smiled at his love as they reached the river. “You worry for no reason, my love. You see this jar? This jar that you think is broken and useless and without worth? I made this jar. I made it for a purpose: to water things that need growth. I didn’t give it that crack, no, but its purpose has not changed. You see that beautiful row of flowers that shouldn’t be there? When I walk, the water that leaks out from this jar nourishes the flowers. It waters things that need growth. It brings beauty, and beauty is best when unexpected. My love, I am old. My back is not what it once was. And this broken jar makes my burden lighter. It is not useless. It is not worthless. It is broken, but if we didn’t love broken things then we would not love each other.”

A smile graced his beautiful wife’s face as understanding graced her heart. “But why do you only water one side of the pathway?”

He laughed lightly and slowly started to fill up the jars. “I suppose I’m just not done with it over here.”

And then they go off and live happily ever after as old people must do! That was a long-winded story that could have been a lot shorter (sorry bout that) and could be about so many things, so I don’t want to say too much because I want y’all to take what you want from it, but I also want to pay attention to the broken tool. Let’s talk about us, broken jars of clay. We are broken tools, yes. But we are so precious to our Maker.

God didn’t just create us and then call it a day (haha…I mean technically, He did: “God saw that all that he had made [including man], and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day” Genesis 1:31). He didn’t toss us aside as if we were specks of dust in His hands (I mean…”God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” Genesis 2:7). He didn’t make us without a purpose or without worth because a good God creates good things. And more than the fish in the sea or the birds in the air, we were made like Him (I mean, He says it 3 times…”Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” Gen. 1:26; “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them” Gen. 1:27).

From the very beginning of time and life itself, we were made for something greater than breathing. We were made for Someone great.

Just as the broken jar of clay in the story provided nourishment for growth and incomparable beauty, we do the same. Unexpected growth, in my opinion, is the best kind of growth there is because it isn’t marred by human anticipation and human standards. You see, if that broken jar of clay didn’t have that crack in it, it wouldn’t be able to water the flowers, it wouldn’t be able to make the burden lighter on the farmer, it wouldn’t be able to provide good things. There’s beauty in our brokenness.

There are a lot of people, Christians and otherwise, in the world who act so whole, like their lives are perfect and couldn’t be any better. There are some whose incompleteness is visible but unacknowledged, and there are others who turn their brokenness out of sight and out of mind, somehow turning themselves so that the only thing visible is a uniform, put-together being. But we are all broken. And if we acknowledge our brokenness, if we allow others to see where we are incomplete, imagine how much of a community we could build. Imagine how big of a field of flowers we could grow. Because you see, even as us jars of clay are whole with our cracks and fissures, we are incomplete. And we will remain incomplete until we realize we are completely loved, until we realize the holes in us can also be used for greatness. The water that flowed from the cracked jar and nourished the plants made that jar complete. The farmer didn’t get rid of the jar; God didn’t get rid of you.

Even with our broken cracks, God is using us. God is using our broken cracks to do more. We are used for much more than we could even dream of. Right now, as I’m sitting in my dorm room in the dark, munching on vanilla wafers, still in my pajamas even though it’s after 4pm, and listening to the sound of the cars driving by outside, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the things God has in store for me. I’m in my own little world; I’m an idle jar. I can’t allow God to do anything with me unless I get up and get out, though I may change my clothes first.

We don’t overcome our brokenness; God does. He does. He did. He will do. When Jesus shed His perfect blood on the cross, we were made complete. We are complete with God in our lives. I, for sure, am so much more with Him.

We are going to face really really really tough things in life. We are going to want to shatter and give up and sit and be a waiting jar. There are going to be things that break us and make us feel useless. But no matter how many cracks we have, God will use us. Like for real, Jesus overcame sin and death and the devil. With Him on our side, filling us up and intentionally using us and loving us, goodness and beauty will follow.

Just think, in the end, we have no end. We have heaven and eternity and life with God and jubilation and perfection and so much more than my human mind can comprehend. So when you’re feel knocked down, like you’re lower than the floor, and you feel like you just can’t anymore, God may be using you to water a grounded rainbow. Maybe He’s not doing it now or next week or any time soon. But He will use you. He will fill you up and use you.

2 Corinthians 4:1;5-12;16-18

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.

……..

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

……..

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Do not lose heart.

Keep climbing. Keep running. Keep seeking.

Song of the Day: Broken Vessels by Hillsong Worship

September to November

This post is going to be a mixture of topics not 100% developed to their full potential, but I am itching to post what’s been on my heart.

This is something that I wrote on the 25th of September, when I last possessed the Journey Journal that my best friend and I are exchanging in order to tell all about our college experiences. I was rereading every entry, trying to determine where I stood months ago and where I stand now.

Because as I first told my pearl of a Chlo-Jo, growth is so difficult to see day to day, like when you plant a flower. One day it’s in the ground, the next, it’s still in the ground, the next, no change. Then one day, there’s sign of life, a sign of green, of growth. And it continues to grow, in such a minuscule fashion, and before you know it, the sprout of nothing is now about to bloom. And when it opens its petals and we open our hearts, giving our beauty back to the one who made it, to the one who nurtured it and loved it and loves us, joy is inevitable.

Which leads me to what I wrote in the Journey Journal. I’m going to transcribe it word for word because it would basically be cheating if I didn’t. So here’s what the Peyton of September 25th, 2015 was thinking:

So this is a super random thought, but way back to when I was like… in second grade or so (maybe a bit older), there was a country song by Sugarland called “Something More” that was a hit in the country world, and it has this line that goes, “Some believe in destiny and some believe in fate, but I believe that happiness is something we create.” And I remember sitting on the couch in my living room as that song came on CMT and that line was said, and I remember my dad asking me, “Is happiness something we create?” And me, being naive little Peyton said, “Yes?” And my dad was like, “No, happiness comes from God.” And I actually think about that a lot. That conversation. And I’m reminded of it now because I told Michelle last night that I am losing my joy. I am losing my laughter and smile. But joy is not to be found. It’s not something that can go and be contained in a Lost and Found box. Joy is given to us. It’s a gift. And I think I’ve been naive Peyton whenever I hear the compliment of how joyful I am. I think that it is something I can conjure up from myself, from the innermost depths of my soul. I seem to forget that God is the creator of all things and all things includes joy. It includes happiness and laughter and smiles. I can’t even name how many times I’ve sung, “You give my joy down deep in my soul,” but the true depth and meaning of that hasn’t sung in. I’m not losing my joy, I realize. I’m not experiencing the gift of joy because I haven’t actively been seeking God. I haven’t actively been seeking the source of joy and laughter and smiles. Like…I think about Him. Like all the time. But what good is thinking about a glass of water when you’re dying of thirst, a gigantic tub of water right in front of you?

What good is thinking about a glass of water when you’re dying of thirst, a gigantic tub of water right in front of you?

Now this is what Peyton of November 17th, 2015 is saying:

For far too long lately, I’ve been avoiding anything and everything that makes me feel or can help me grow. For a while now, I’ve been avoiding working on words and sounding articulate and being creative. I’ve been avoiding thinking and praying and reading. I’ve been avoiding listening to God and loving people well and having to care. I’ve been avoiding the soil; I’ve been avoiding the water; I’ve been avoiding the nutrients. But most importantly, I’ve been avoiding the sun. Or rather, I’ve been avoiding the Son.

And wow has life suddenly gotten so dark.

I have a severe case of fear, I suppose. And I guess I’m fearful of many things. I’m fearful of sounding stupid. I’m fearful of caring too much. I’m fearful of failure. Part of me wants to write about how I’ve learned that avoidance never solved anything because if Jesus avoided the cross, the greatest gift in the world wouldn’t have been given, but I’m just so overwhelmed by how much God is present.

God is so available. By so available, I mean always available. He is without fail. He is without fault. He is without flaw.

Apart from fear, it’s such an issue of pride to call on His name. Something that I do a lot as I’m driving is wait until I see another car with their wipers on before I turn mine on. Or I see how fast other people have theirs going and adjust my wipers’ speed accordingly. I get way too comparative and way too prideful like, “If other people can see in the rain, then so can I.” But my ability to drive in the rain is not a group effort; faith is not a group effort.

I forget that in the English language, “you” is both plural and singular, so when I hear, “Jesus died and rose for you,” it is both a message for the hearts of the crowd and also a message directly for me, a message directly for you.

Something I’ve been noticing about my time here in this crazy world of college is that I’ve been waiting for things to fall into place. I’ve been waiting for everything to work itself out so that I’ll be overwhelmingly happy and not have to worry about having yet another breakdown (it’s getting embarrassing how often I’ve had severe crying sessions). I’ve been waiting for my own miracle, I suppose.

But miracles are not my creation, just as joy is not my creation. As my favorite book (Peace Like a River) says, “A miracle contradicts the will of earth.” And joy contradicts the human nature. Because miracles, joy, grace, hope, love, redemption…They are not of this world.

But they are for you, plural and singular. They are for you. God is for you.

Just think of Oprah as she gives away cars to her audience. You get a car! And you get a car! And you get a car!

Exodus 17:1-7

17 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

I feel what the Israelites felt. To hunger. To thirst. To be in such a state of discomfort. To be mad and angry and demanding. To lack complete faith.

Something that I tend to do is contain God into something itty bitty, like a glass of water or a tub. But nothing can contain Him. Nothing can limit our limitless Father. God is more. He is omniscient. He is omnipresent. He is omnipotent. To degrade Him, to degrade His creations, to degrade His will doesn’t make you any less; it simply makes you thirstier.

John 7:37-38

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

So drink. Climb. Run. Seek. Trust.

This is what the Peyton on November 18th, 2015 is thinking:

Redemption is alive. Redemption is not a one and done thing that happened. We are constantly being redeemed because we are human. We are human, we make mistakes, we sometimes make mistakes on purpose. But repentance brings us back to the cross. Repentance brings us back to the lifesaving redemption.

No matter where you are, I ask that you read this following passage aloud. Read it slowly and deliberately. Read it with inflection and with intention. Read it with joy.

Isaiah 35

35 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

You are more. You are saved. You are loved.

Set yourself free, dear songbird.

“Here I stand out on the water, ready to run into His open arms. The chaos in my heart has left me and found its home amidst the waves of the storm. The trembling of my heart has silenced in the empty sound of the wind.

Here I climb. Here I run. Here I seek.”

Song of the Day: I’m A Lover of Your Presence by Bryan and Katie Torwalt

500+ Pages of Charred and Changed Words

I love books. I love the feel of the pages between my fingers. I love the smell of new books, their bindings fresh with glue. I love the process of turning the page and seeing the storyline continue with each flick of the wrist. I love the plots of romance, of adventure, of self-discovery. I love the static characters and the dynamic characters. I love reading the endings first and getting all confused so that I just have to read the rest of the story. I love books.

In the best ways and the worst ways, I feel like a book. My pages are filled with crazy thoughts and words that are somehow strung together by commas and conjunctions. My pages are filled with my story, from birth to this very moment. The book is every detail of me and everything I’ve ever felt, everything I’ve ever discovered and learned, everything I’ve ever witnessed. I take pride in my story because it was artfully crafted by the one who knows me best, an author who’s written so many beautiful and inspiring stories that I read day in and day out. So when it comes to my book, there are countless times when I just want everyone to read it. I just want everyone to read me. I want everyone to understand my thoughts and feelings and read my words and just know. Know the things I’ve been through. Know my hopes and dreams. Know my fears. Just know. So I give them my book. I give them me. I excitedly open the cover for them, beyond thrilled for them to encounter me, and I allow them to read it. I allow them to read me. I get vulnerable. I cry. I laugh. I am. I am literally an open book.

Psalm 139

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

Time goes by with myself as an open book, and then I see my reader’s face, boredom nearly consuming them as they try not to close my story. They try to stay attentive and aware of who I am and what my crazy words are, but they grow weary. It takes so much effort to invest in a story, to invest in 500 pages, to invest in a person, and who has the time or the energy? So I do them a favor and yank the book away. I close myself off so that no one has to read me again. So that no one has to get bored with me. It can be so hard to get into a book, and it sits on your shelf, simply collecting dust and empty promises of, “I’ll finish it tomorrow.” I’m safer on their shelves. No one can hurt me or touch me there. No one has to make promises and give me false hope in how good my story is going. No one gets uncomfortable.

Deuteronomy 31:6

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

In the meantime, I change some things around within the covers; I snatch the pen away from my author and edit myself so that I’m a bit more interesting. “Maybe I can move this paragraph here.” “It sounds better if I just remove this chapter; it interrupts the flow.” “This event in my life is too awful, let me just change the wording to make it sound a bit brighter.” I loathe the story I’ve written and must change myself. I refine my words. And then I give myself back. I think I’ve finally got my story straight, so I open the pages and am free again. And low and behold, the same thing happens. I assume fatigue in my reader and snatch myself away. I am again closed off. I go back to the drawing board and decide to limit myself to 100 pages instead of 500 because maybe if I cut out 80% of who I am, the story will go quicker and THEN I’ll be interesting! I am back at it again, trying and TRYING to make myself enjoyable, to make my words something people want to read and hear and see.

Song of Solomon 4:7

You are altogether beautiful, my love;
    there is no flaw in you.

I contain myself from front to back, cover to cover. And I can’t breathe. I suffocate in my words, the words I’ve edited time and time again, the words I’ve sung, the words I’ve laughed at, the words I’ve cried at, the words I’ve given, the words I’ve defined myself as. The pages rub up against each other, fighting for control of the story, for control of my life. And the friction causes the pages to get hotter and hotter and hotter, and before I know it, the book is ablaze. I am on fire. I’ve ruined myself, and now I must start again on charred paper. I try to encourage myself, saying that now I can write a better plot and a better storyline that people won’t get fatigued at.

Ephesians 2:8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

And the bitter cycle of inadequacy starts again.

But then there are times when my pages, my words, my story, get changed by someone without my permission. They corrupt the masterless masterpiece between the covers, and the damage is beyond repair. These people that I trust with my story, that I trust with me, they rip pages from my binding. They tear out parts of my story. They grab a pen and graffiti all over the hard work that I slaved over. With each rip, with each line, with each mark, a scar is left on me. I am ruined. Their marks and bruises inflicted upon me tell me that I am not good enough, not interesting enough, not impressive enough, so much so that not even a yawn would suffice to show their extreme discomfort. Discomfort that fell from their mouths into their hands and turned to betrayal.

Matthew 10:28-31

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[a] 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

My time on the shelf is even longer now.  I collect dust and old book smell. I am squeezed between other forgotten books. The Yellow Pages. Amelia Bedelia. The Bible. Something about the history of the world in six glasses. I am again suffocated by other stories. By better stories. So I do what I do best. I wallow. I begin to hate my author because they just can’t get it right even though the stolen pen is in my hand. I’m running out of plot lines and story arcs. What’s next? What can I do that hasn’t been done before? How can I stand out?

And I continue the vicious cycle of self-loathing.

But, you see, everything that I am, everything I define myself as is nowhere near how the true author and perfector of everything would classify me. He would never put me in a box. He would never limit me to 500 pages between two covers because I come from Him. A limitless God creates limitless things. My entire problem stems from the fact that the pen is in the wrong hand. This story, this book, this life, it is not my own. They are all possessions of the one who knows me best. Every breath that I give, every word that I speak, it belongs to God. Everything in life glorifies Him.

It all comes down to surrendering the pen back to Him. Our lives, or at least my life, tend to lose control when we take control. We say, “I give it all to You, God!” when we never should have had possession of it in the first place, in regards to troubles or praises or anything in between.

But really, I wanna talk about worth and save surrender for another day (my soulmate has the BEST analogy ever and I don’t wanna butcher it).

In my time here at college, I find myself trying to be myself, but there just aren’t a lot of takers. In fact, there are more people trying to change my story than trying to accept it. And I can feel myself beginning to shut down and close my story off from the world. I’ve already done it completely with my roommates, but that’s, again, a story for another day. And I’m starting to edit my story. I’m starting to change parts of me so that I can fit in here and be interesting and find someone to invest in me. I’m shutting myself off from the world more-so than I EVER did back home, and it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying striving for unattainable perfection.

So I start to think that my words don’t have worth, that my actions don’t have worth, that I don’t have worth. I start to think that I have absolutely no business or purpose being here when I can’t even appreciate my own story. I feel myself turning from Passionate Peyton to Pathetic Peyton, to Plagued Peyton, to Pained Peyton. I’m adding words to my story that never had a place there to begin with.

I’ve forgotten that my story cannot glorify God when God is not the one motivating it.

Your words have worth. Your actions have worth. Your life has worth. Like…I just imagine us handing our books to someone, the pages full of smudges and fresh ink as we recently finished editing. And I see our readers getting so excited about something in the book over and over again, and so we ask them what they like so much, and they point to all their favorite parts in the book. And none of those parts are our doing. The words that gave them such joy came from the original author.

When we filter ourselves and get rid of the words of God, it’s an injustice to Him. It’s not living the life we were meant to live with the utmost joy and freedom. I know it’s hard, and I’m constantly working on it, but we should accept that the stories God is continuously writing of each of our lives are absolutely perfect simply because He wrote them. And a perfect God creates perfect things.

And sometimes these things have to be made perfect again. So just as Jesus came and died and rose so that we may live eternally, our 500+ pages of charred and changed words somehow become whole again when we give the pen back to Him.

So we must not let the world deter us, nor deter ourselves.

We must keep climbing. We must keep running. We must keep seeking.

Song of the Day: Have Your Way by Highlands Worship

911 Calls and Windshield Wipers

This particular topic has been on my mind basically ever since I got to college about two and a half weeks ago, and I’ve felt a huge desire in me to write a blog about it because that’s what this thing is for, Peyton. Goodness. Gotta be so difficult. But I think what’s been holding me back is the Sunday school vibe that this story gets and the fact that I basically never shut up about it because it’s just suuuuch a gooooooood story, so I fear the repetitiveness of me. But as one lovely man this summer put it, sometimes the Sunday school answers or stories aren’t tacky or cheesy; they resemble the childlike faith we strive for. And also, YOLO, as the kids say nowadays.

Before diving on in to the big reveal of crazy Jesus story awesomeness, I want to introduce a few metaphors for us to soak in because this story has so many intricate parts and pieces that I don’t want anything to get lost.

  1. A crazy little thing called trust. So everyone is familiar with the trust fall, right? Someone stands behind you, and you fall back into their arms, hoping (and silently praying) that your head won’t touch the ground. Well let’s imagine that you and God are gonna do the trust fall. You have such confidence that you can catch God. “Don’t worry, God, I gotchu. I can contain you in my arms, and you can trust me. Go on, fall back,” you say as you stretch out your arms. But God just laughs. “My child, you cannot contain me. You cannot save me. I made you. I made the ground you walk on. I made the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. I made the stars and the moon. I made the world and everything in it and everything beyond it. I can save you.” So you switch rolls. Now, you are going to fall back into His arms. But now you’ve lost the confidence, not in yourself, but in Him. You’re not sure He can catch you or protect you from the fall. “Um, God, so I think I’m gonna sit this one out. I’m not really feeling the whole falling to my doom kinda thing, you know? In fact, I just ate, so I’m feeling kinda heavy, and I think I should go take a nap. Maybe we can do this another time, fam.” So you turn away from Him. But He ain’t having none of that. He says your name ever so gently and beckons, “Come to me. I love you. You can do this.” You don’t entirely surrender your fear, so you grab your phone out of your pocket and dial the numbers 9-1-1, just so you can hit call in case something crazy happens. You’ll let someone else do the saving. But now’s the time. Now is when you close your eyes and fall. God moves to stand behind you, and you can see His arms already outstretched. So you YOLO it and fall, wind sweeping past you and fear growing the longer you are in free fall. But then. You feel it. You feel Him, His arms wrapping around you, keeping you safe from the ground. Laughter consumes you as you realize that you had nothing to be fearful of. God was there for you. So you fall back into His arms over and over again, and you notice that He never grows weary of saving you. He never asks you to stop trusting Him. It gets easier and easier to simply let go and fall back, and before you know it, it’s as simple as blinking. You assume that’s all you need to know and learn, and you feel fabulous, like you could take over the world. Aha. God turns to you and says, “My dear one, I love you so much. I told you that you could trust me. It’s easy doing it from where you are now, isn’t it? It’s easy to let go and fall into my arms. Child, my arms are always open for you to fall into. Always. Trust me. But now, I’m going to stand here in front of you, facing you, eye to eye. And I want you to fall backwards.” Disbelief enters your face. “Are you crazy? There’s no one there to catch me! I’ll fall and break my skull open, and then I’m gonna have to go to the hospital and maybe even bleed out on the table.” You always were a bit dramatic. But God remains patient. “You will never grow and learn unless new challenges are presented to you. I’m simply asking you to trust me, my love. Trust that my arms are always open for you to fall into. And then fall. Surrender. Thrive. Be. Believe.” So, my beloved reader, what would you do?
  2. A crazy little thing called awareness. One of the most absolute goofiest guys I know is also insanely wise beyond his years and simply won’t believe it, the loon. This will be really awful if he didn’t actually say this, but I’m going to vaguely credit him anyways (I’m a fan of vague crediting, in case you haven’t noticed) because it sounds like something he would say. Anyways, one night at house church many months ago (man do I miss my HC family), we were talking, as we usually do. And somehow, someway, the topic of taking advantage of God came up. This is what flowed (I’m paraphrasing) from the wise man’s lips: God is like windshield wipers. When it’s raining, He is always there to clear the way so we can see the road ahead of us. But when the sun is out and the pathway clear, we forget that He exists. BOOM. Drop the mic kinda moment right there, lemme tell ya. For me, when I’m driving and it starts to rain or sprinkle, I don’t turn on the windshield wipers right away. I delay it for a while. I wait to see how bad the weather really is before I invest in the wipers. We pray to Him and love Him ardently when the going gets tough, but when we are riding high, our praises become shallow and our hearts become dismissive, so when the going gets tough again, we think that we don’t need Him as much as we think we do. We avoid Him. Awareness of God in your life changes everything, not just a few aspects, because life becomes not your own, but God’s. When we are aware of who God is and His place in our lives, we find a lot more, dare I say, “God moments” because we are actually looking for them. So to kinda summarize wise man’s brilliance, I wanna quote another wise guy from college house church. Awareness involves both a natural reaction and a learned response. A natural reaction is, for instance, drinking when you’re thirsty; you do it because it is a need. A learned response is like brushing your teeth every morning; you do it because you trained yourself to. Awareness involves both a natural reaction, being overwhelmed by the wonder of God, and a learned response, constant continuation. We must seek for constant wonder.

Now for the crazy Jesus thing that puts trust and awareness together that is also the passage that inspired this whole entire Peyton-as-a-blogger kinda thing:

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,”they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,”he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Ye of little faith. Ye who lets fear consume your steps. Ye who turns away from My face. Oh, ye.

Come to me. I love you. You can do this.

So many people look at Peter in this story and chastise him because he started sinking, but I refuse to do that. Jesus wasn’t like, “Hey, PETER and only PETER, come on out to me!” and He didn’t even ask anyone to step out of the boat. He was simply doing His amazing Jesus thing and walking on water. No big deal (please note the sarcasm, which is actually a lot harder to get through via internet than through person). Peter listened to the Lord. He took courage. Sticking with the trust fall metaphor, Peter fell back into His open arms when he took that step out on the water. That, mes petits tulipes, is faith in action. How many disciples stayed in that boat? How many disciples allowed the wind and the overwhelming waves steer their movements? How many disciples refused to fall back, even when they could see the eyes of the Lord?

So often, we stay in that boat. We get tossed around by the madness of the storm of the world around us and find unfulfilled comfort in the state we put ourselves. Why do we do this? Why do we allow the world to dictate where we go and how we feel? Why do we plead to God to help us and take our yokes when we refuse to give it all to Him?

My hope for you and I is that we can remember that it takes a lot of courage to surrender to the Lord. It takes a lot of courage to approach the throne of God. It takes a lot of courage to lay down our lives and give it to Him. This is what makes the beauty of Jesus’ sacrifice even more perfect – He laid down His life…and gave us ours. Courage.

Something that I think is really cool and that should probably be mentioned because it is often over looked whenever you hear this story is that the storm wasn’t simply happening around Jesus. He didn’t walk on flat, still water. He walked amid the storm. He walked among the chaos and confusion of the world. He walked among us. So don’t discredit Peter, either. Peter, too, walked among the wicked waves and the whirling wind. And so can we.

But you see, Peter’s fault comes not in his sinking, it comes from taking his eyes off of the Savior. Peter loses awareness. Peter mastered falling back into the arms of God when He knew God was behind Him, but when he and God stood face to face, fear consumed Him again. Peter turned those windshield wipers on as he stepped out on the water, it got “sunny” outside, he turned em off, and then it started raining. And he couldn’t see.

It’s super important to remember that Jesus did not let Peter drown. Peter called on Him, and He answered with an outstretched arm. You see, God’s all about that intentional surrender, that constant state of wonder, that flick of the finger as you turn the windshield wipers on.

I was actually going to include Psalm 66, but as I was flipping the pages of my Bible, I actually came across Psalm 69, and I had to do a double take because of how much it connects to Matthew 14.

Psalm 69:1-18, 29-33

Save me, O God,
    for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
    where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
    the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
    my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
    looking for my God.
Those who hate me without reason
    outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
    those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
    what I did not steal.

You, God, know my folly;
    my guilt is not hidden from you.

Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    may those who hope in you
    not be disgraced because of me;
God of Israel,
    may those who seek you
    not be put to shame because of me.
For I endure scorn for your sake,
    and shame covers my face.
I am a foreigner to my own family,
    a stranger to my own mother’s children;
for zeal for your house consumes me,
    and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
10 When I weep and fast,
    I must endure scorn;
11 when I put on sackcloth,
    people make sport of me.
12 Those who sit at the gate mock me,
    and I am the song of the drunkards.

13 But I pray to you, Lord,
    in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God,
    answer me with your sure salvation.
14 Rescue me from the mire,
    do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me,
    from the deep waters.
15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
    or the depths swallow me up
    or the pit close its mouth over me.

16 Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love;
    in your great mercy turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant;
    answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
18 Come near and rescue me;
    deliver me because of my foes.

29 But as for me, afflicted and in pain—
    may your salvation, God, protect me.

30 I will praise God’s name in song
    and glorify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the Lord more than an ox,
    more than a bull with its horns and hooves.
32 The poor will see and be glad—
    you who seek God, may your hearts live!
33 The Lord hears the needy
    and does not despise his captive people.

Whatever your storm in life is, whether it’s the pressure of school or the tension in a relationship or the stress of a job or the fear of looming college debt that will follow you until the day you die (*cough* me *cough*) or whatever, my hope is that we can step out of the boat and keep our eyes on Jesus. Keep our eyes on Him as we fall backwards. Keep our eyes on Him as we become more and more aware of His wonder. Keep our eyes on Him.

But have comfort, my friends, in knowing that if you do turn away, if your eyes find the waves and the wind, if you start sinking, both of Jesus’ arms were once outstretched. From east to west. While nails pierced His hands. For you.

For you.

These times are gifts from God to climb out of the boat, to run on top of the water to Him, to seek His face in the middle of the storm.

So. Keep climbing. Keep running. Keep seeking.

Song of the Day: Part the Waters / I Need Thee Every Hour by Selah