The Causeway

This past weekend, my mom came for a visit.  My mom had already been to the typical touristy places, so I decided I would take her to some of the obscure places that I enjoy.  One of those places is Lake Pontchartrain.  I like to go to the lake and read sometimes.  The lake is beautiful and feels almost like the ocean.  This weekend, I learned why the lake feels almost like the ocean…

While driving my mom to the lake, I got a little turned around.  (I wish I could tell you I’ve mastered the NOLA streets, but lost is still my typical state…it just comes with fewer breakdowns now.) Before I knew it, I was on the Causeway.  “No big deal,” I thought, “I’ve been on the Causeway before.” What I didn’t know was that the part of the Causeway I had been on was not the more well-known part of the Causeway…it was more like the on-ramp.  Moments later I found myself on this crazy bridge with no shoulders, incredibly low guardrails, surrounded by water.  The bridge was a little nerve-racking, but I figured it would end soon and then we could go see the part of the lake I intended my mom to see.

In the midst of this, my mom calmly asked, “Does this lake have a horizon?” I really didn’t think it mattered at that moment whether we’d see the sunset, so I replied “I have no idea” and tried to move on to the matter-at-hand…getting OFF the bridge.  My mom explained that she was trying to ask if you can see the other side of the lake from the shore.  She went on to explain that she thought she remembered reading that the causeway was the longest bridge over water in the world.

Well, my mom was right.  Over six miles into the lake, we found a “crossover” and turned back around.  We later discovered that the bridge is over twenty miles long.  I’ve driven over some pretty frightening bridges, but that one set me on edge the rest of the night.  I kept thinking about what that must have been like to drive over during Katrina.  My mom very astutely observed that I would probably not be getting on that bridge any time soon.  She’s absolutely right.

The scariest part of the causeway experience was the surprise, the unknown.  I told my mom later that it wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d just known what that was going to happen.

That reminds me a lot of faith…or my groanings about it.

The past year I’ve learned a lot about faith. Faith is absolutely NOT my spiritual gift.

Moving to New Orleans was a step of faith that I can honestly say was all God. I would never have done that without Him (in fact, I hesitated with Him). But practicing faith didn’t end with quitting my job, packing my car, and driving to the bayou. That was just the beginning. Praise God I had no idea what was coming.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

From a human perspective, that’s just crazy. It makes no sense whatsoever.

But for me that’s been the past 8 months. Most of the time I’ve trembled with fear or doubted or asked God to make it easier. I haven’t had a walking on water or a parting the Red Sea moment (though I did drive over water). Mine’s more been like “look God, I didn’t have to ask to see your nail-piercings today!”

But nonetheless I’ve seen God help me step out in faith. I’ve seen the importance of being sure that God is who He says He is….even when there’s no horizon.

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You can see the Causeway at the end of the water in this picture. It’s the railroad-looking thing. (There’s also a pelican in the middle of the picture, which is the state bird of Louisiana.)

To Truly Live

Unbelievably, I have now seen a glimpse of all four seasons in New Orleans: the grueling summer, rainy fall, mild winter, and now the best season of them all…

Yes, SPRING.  It is finally here!

Ever since I can remember, spring has been my favorite season.  I love all the seasons (and summer is a close second), but I just love spring.  There’s just something about flowers blossoming, birds singing, and colorful dresses that makes my heart happy.  (That may also be because winter normally seems entirely too long.)  Spring is kind of like Friday.  Friday has always been my favorite day of the week.  Even though you still go to work or school on Friday, it means the weekend’s coming.  Spring is like that too: it means summer’s coming.  There must be something about knowing freedom is on its way.

Although the seasons in New Orleans don’t vary as much as other parts of the country, there’s more variance than I expected.  I still dreaded walking to class when that cold wind hits (in fact, I’m pretty sure I drove any day under fifty degrees…yes, I’m a wimp).  I still snuggled under a blanket with a cup of hot tea to do late-night studying.  I still wore out most of my winter clothes and I’m ready to start wearing pastels again.

I like wintery things, but it’s freeing when spring finally comes.  I have a fresh wave of motivation and excitement.  I want to go outside and live.  Truly live.

This past Sunday, my pastor preached on the resurrection.  No, you didn’t miss Easter, he was preaching on the last part of the Apostle’s Creed (yes, that’s weird for a Baptist church) and the resurrection of the body.

You know why I liked this sermon? Because it’s like spring or Friday on a much grander scale.  I know without-a-doubt that freedom is on its way because my eternity is secured in a relationship with Jesus.  Spring sometimes disappoints me when it rains all summer or I never get to take a much-anticipated vacation.  Friday sometimes disappoints me when I get called into work or discover I forgot to do a research paper due on Monday.  But God’s promises never disappoint me.  I may not understand what He’s doing.  I may not understand how we’re going to get where He’s promised.  I may not understand why the road has to be so bumpy.  But God’s promises still never disappoint me.

So then why don’t I have that same feeling of anticipated freedom now? Why don’t I wake up with a fresh wave of motivation and excitement each day? Why don’t I want to go outside and live? Truly live.

A New Question

Seeing people suffer often causes me to thank God for my blessings. I think it should. As a sinner, it will always be a hard balance between haughty and humble motives, but I think seeing a praise in the midst of a storm is normally a sign of humility.

It’s comparison, not praise, that tends to get me in trouble.

Like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14, I tend to “thank God that I am not like other people” rather than begging God to “turn [His] wrath from me–a sinner.” Jesus was clear that it was not the Pharisee that was justified in this parable, it was the tax collector. He was the one “standing far off [that] would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but kept striking his chest.” Never have I displayed the humility of the tax collector.

Yet, I think I’m beginning to encounter people that regularly display this kind of humility.

The poor.
The broken.
The sick.

The more time I spend in counseling classes, the more I realize that the Lord is allowing me to truly serve “the least of these.” He’s allowing me to serve the poor, the broken, and the sick.

Today I listened to a counseling professor describe a client with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).  Despite the challenges she faced in counseling this client that jumped between several identities (including an animal that growled), my professor spoke with the utmost compassion and respect for this client.  Apart from Christ, I think my reaction to something as frightening as DID would be avoidance, judgment, or laughter.  With Christ, I have often still struggled wondering “what is wrong with that person?” However, listening to my professor today made me realize that the Lord’s bringing me to a place where I’m now wondering “how must that feel?

How must it feel to have 13 identities? Lonely? Ashamed? Scared?

I imagine there are more feelings than I can fathom.

My professor said that everyone she’s encountered with DID asks “do all of my identities have to be saved for me to go to heaven?” How heartbreaking a question to ask! But how must that feel?  When your saved identity is only present ten percent of the time, it would feel scary considering eternity!

I think the Pharisee in Luke would probably meet such questions with haughtiness, fearful of facing deep hurt.  Too proud to admit that there are things he can’t answer.  I am so grateful that Jesus, the only righteous judge, still meets us with compassion.  He cares about our hurts.  He empathizes with us. (And He knows how to answer the tough questions.)

I am also grateful that the Lord is calling me to help hurting people…people that I truly can’t help on my own.  I pray that in this work the Lord will help me strike my chest in humility rather than puff up my chest in pride.

Top 10 Ways to Do Homework in Seminary

As I’m close to completing my third (ish) year of seminary, I’m realizing I’ve had a lot of “creative” homeworking-doing experiences…

Here are the top ten I remember:

1. Submitting assignments at 4:00 AM while monitoring a camp out in a Chick-fil-A parking lot (very similar things have happened while babysitting, youth-sponsoring, etc.)

2. Frantically turning in an assignment while counseling a youth at midnight (sadly, this was not an over-the-phone counseling situation…)

3. An all-nighter the night before youth camp…. (Or a dnow, retreat, lockin, vbs…I’ve heard it all from fellow seminarians) We’re supposed to be serving and studying, right?

4. Typing an entire 4 page, single-spaced paper on my phone while working.

5. Listening to an audio version of a textbook on the way to a wedding, half marathon, workshop, etc.

6. Helping a friend put together a slideshow from a mission trip the night before it’s presented while doing homework…resulting in another all-nighter (and a super creative seminary presentation).

7. Posting assignments in the parking lot of a restaurant with free Wi-Fi while dogsitting for people without internet.

8. Lugging an enormous stack of books through the airport to complete a research paper during a vacation. (My traveling companions are normally a little frustrated with me during these adventures.)

9. While staying with my grandmother, realizing that she no longer has a computer that works the night before a research paper is due (which I, of course, was nowhere near completing). This resulted in another all-nighter…on the couch in my dad’s bachelor pad.

10. Reading textbooks at the beach. Although a textbook tends to kill the mood of the beach, I always enjoy finding sand and sunscreen residue in my textbooks later. 🙂

I am not proud of most of these stories (though I’m continuously impressed that I’ve made it as far in school….totally the grace of God), but I do hope these stories give you a good laugh. They certainly made me smile as I celebrate the end of another round of midterms!

The Stroke of a Pen: the Discipline of Journaling

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One of my favorite spiritual disciplines is journaling.  There is something about writing out prayers, defeats, milestones, and improvements that draws my heart closer to His.  Therapeutically, there is research that shows writing by hand is good for long-term memory and helps us deal with our “stuff” better.  I think writing is also just something God designed me to enjoy.

When I was a little girl I used to write little books constantly.  Each semester, my mom brought extra blue books home that her students used to write their finals.  I was always thrilled to have these little pre-made books in which I could write stories.  (Not to worry though, in between finals I still managed to find ways to make my own booklets.  As I got a little older, I even remember dictating stories to my very patient mom and having her type them…Not surprisingly, I was forced to learn to type on my own pretty quickly.)

Currently, most of my writing is consumed by counseling and theology papers, but journaling is still a discipline I enjoy and try to do each day.  Most of my journaling is prayers written out (which transformed my prayer life), but I’ve discovered a few new journaling techniques while being in New Orleans.  I’ll share with you the ones I like that I’ve seen here and in Oklahoma:

1. Journaling for a disciple: a PhD student here recently shared her journey of discipling a young lady from the time she was ten until she graduated high school. This amazing woman kept a journal for her disciple for eight years and gave it to her as a graduation gift. She journaled spiritual milestones and interactions with this sweet girl.  I cannot imagine how meaningful this gift was for both parties.  What an awesome addition to discipleship that I wish I’d implemented for several girls I’ve discipled!  This idea also made me think that it might be fun to journal with a disciple or have her write a journal for you as you write one for her.

2. Journaling BIG dreams: The same PhD student that put everyone to shame with her discipleship journal also keeps a journal of BIG dreams. You know, those dreams that seem unattainable that we all have. I suppose it could also be somewhat like a bucket list.  (One of the things I love most about journaling is there are no rules!) I wouldn’t necessarily want to encourage fantasizing, but I think there’s a benefit to writing dreams down.  The dreams that are accomplished could be written about in the journal and the dreams that aren’t could be released in the journal.  I also can’t help but think of Tangled when Repunzel tells Flynn Rider that he’s her new dream.  I think there’s a benefit to acknowledging God’s bigger plans for us when our dreams don’t turn out how we expect or they change.

3. Journaling BIG ideas: I think the notes on my phone have mostly replaced this type of middle-of-the night, big idea journaling that nightstand notepads used to fulfill. Yet, wouldn’t it be awesome if these ideas were actually kept or organized? Not only could it serve as a good laugh when the ideas are utterly ridiculous, but it could show patterns of different passions throughout a person’s life. I wish my grandparents had kept journals like this.  I would love to know their ideas and see the creative working of their minds, not just the basic facts that are kept in family records and scrapbooks.

4. Journaling prayer needs: I tend to just cram each aspect of journaling into one journal, but the times I’ve tried to actually keep a separate journal for prayer needs has been so enlightening. I love seeing a list of prayer needs and the column that shows how the prayers are answered. It’s such a neat visual to see how God uses us in this way.  I’ve also met with a prayer partner before and kept a journal of our prayer requests.  After about a year, I went back and wrote the answers to those prayers.  It gave me goosebumps to see God’s hand on each of those needs.

5. Journaling praises: Ann Voskamp is the author that really drove this point home for me. Her book, 1000 gifts, showed me how transforming literal praise reports can be. I also had a friend in college that journaled before bed each night all the good things the Lord had done that day, making sure she at least came up with some sort of list.  The morning person in me struggles deeply with any nighttime discipline, but I think this type of journaling would help me fall asleep reminded of God’s love.  I also think this type of journaling could be used to help my attitude after a long day of work or school when I come home to a hall filled with girls or a house filled with family.

Some of these ideas can seem daunting, especially when you’re not a writer or you’re just getting started.  A tip I’ve heard over and over again is to just write something each day.  Even a sentence or a paragraph can be a great discipline to reflect on God’s goodness.  I also like to write notes by verses in my Bible and on the notecards where I have written verses to memorize.  Each of these activities reminds me of how intimate our relationship with the Lord can be.  Our journeys are personal and unique.  I think journaling helps me remember that, and causes me to “be still and know that [He] is God” (Psalm 46:10).

I’m sure there are hundreds of other journaling ideas and I’d love to hear some of your’s!