It Is Well

Have you ever felt completely and utterly incompetent, to the point where no matter what you do you never feel wholly satisfied? Do you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see only the things that you don’t have? Or how about the things that you have yet to accomplish? Perhaps you even wonder if you have the ability or even the chance to attain these things, whatever they may be. Maybe a well paying job, a significant other, or a debt-free life. Words we grew up wanting to have someday such as goals and aspirations seem to have all of a sudden lost their luster, and may in fact become the very things that keep you in constant dissatisfaction.

Now don’t get me wrong, having a good life is definitely a good thing…but at what cost? In college, we often find ourselves idolizing this ideal and welding it into our very own golden calf. We pay homage to it by doing all of the “right” things and misplacing all of our hope in it, sometimes even all of our happiness. Of course, while we’re still in college and don’t already have the ideal marriage or career, we often find ourselves unsatisfied and even frustrated with our current circumstance.

For the longest time my satisfaction was, and still sometimes is, completely and absolutely misplaced. It’s often not where it should be, instead drifting deeper and deeper in the midst of the cares of this world. As a result, it most often proves unfruitful (Mark 4:9). I used to constantly beat myself up for this, being absolutely clueless as to why I already felt like a failure before the “grown up” phase of my life even began. If only I had the eyes to see how beautifully simple the solution was.

Our satisfaction needs to come from Christ, and Christ alone. Of course if all you are waiting to live for is your future, you will experience nothing but unhappiness in the present. To everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1), so why not make the most of the one you’re in? Be content (1 Timothy 6:6). God’s word continually assures us that satisfaction is indeed found in Him with Scripture such as:

“The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11).

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with Your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

If you are feeling crummy, it’s honestly because you’re placing your satisfaction in something other than the Lord. It’s that plain and simple. Find joy in Him through worship by any means necessary. This could be through silent prayer as you slowly wake up or drift to sleep, it could be through enjoyment of a song or instrument, or even having one of those “God talks” in your car whenever you randomly decide to turn off your radio. Whenever you delight in the Lord in such ways, He remembers the desires of your heart that you had previously placed your satisfaction in and will give you what you need accordingly (Psalm 37:4). God is going to get you where you are needing to go, and He is going to make sure that all of the right things will be added unto you in their own due time as you continue to seek His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). When the root your satisfaction is firmly planted in Jesus and nothing else, you will be genuinely shocked one day to find that your soul has actually been made well. It is well…

My Testimony

I would like to begin by saying that the following is completely God’s story and not my own. I am merely a vessel that God has formed, repaired, and filled in His perfect timing. I was born with two churchgoing parents here in Oklahoma, yet I was not raised a Christian. My parents had met and married in their church, but ceased attending once they started having children. When I was seven my family and I moved from the Bible Belt to the Rockies to a little ski town called Crested Butte in Colorado, where my sister and I had a seemingly perfect childhood filled with skiing and other mountain adventures, but not God. The seven years I had lived there, I didn’t personally know a single person that professed to be a Christian. I felt absolutely no pressure or desire to follow a God that may or may not care about me or may or may not even exist. I remember thinking to myself, “My life is good, real good. Why would I need a God?”
Then came the recession of 2008. Most of the locals now struggled to make ends meet in our tiny town, including my family. Like many others, we ended up moving to a state with a more hospitable economy. For us, that meant moving back to Oklahoma. It was during this transition that my parents grew thirsty for God’s word again, reminding them of His provision and His promises. I was therefore enrolled in a private Christian school against my will upon our return. I had no desire to be around Christians that would make it their duty to save me, and the fact that these students would be Christian was a bit intimidating. But to my relief, all of my teachers and classmates automatically assumed that I was a believer, which again gave me no pressure to become one. It took three years of Christian friendships, Bible classes, and chapel services until I really felt convicted that there was a God out there and that I needed a Savior. One day a trip to the bathroom during class found me knocking on my principal’s office door asking her to pray with me. I immediately told my peers despite the fact that I had evaded the truth from them all throughout high school and they received me with open arms rather than the judgment that I had so desperately feared.
My parents’ dry season with God may have came once they started a family, but mine came once I started college. Being the only one of my friends to come to OU, I once again had no Christian friends or influence much like my life in Colorado. It was during my sophomore year of college that my mom passed away from cancer. I tried leaning on God through this difficult time, but I was consumed with grief trying to handle the weight of the situation on my own which resulted in months of severe anxiety attacks. It got to the point where I considered dropping out of school and I became more and more welcoming to the idea of just not waking up in the morning. My life was spent in grief, my strength failed because of my iniquity, and my bones were consumed. I would often wander out in my pasture bowed down and brought low, literally falling to my knees and crying out to God. It was during these times that I actually started to feel His sweet embrace for the first time. I knew without a doubt that He was hearing my cries. He was no longer just the God that saved me, but a God that actually desired to be close to brokenhearted like me as both a Father and a Friend. It was then that an actual relationship with God began to form, a relationship I continue to nurture to this day. I trusted God, and I was helped. I sought God, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. He rescued me when I was crushed in spirit, and what was once a broken vessel is now a cup that is constantly overflowing. God had not been trying some sort of experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality, He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. I now strive to give God all of the glory due unto His name. There is no way I could ever accomplish this in the span of a single lifetime, but an eternity spent with Him in worship might get me close.

She Was Her Own

When someone dies, it closely resembles a nasty breakup. You constantly think of things that you should or shouldn’t have said once it’s too late, while the presence of all of their stuff still in your house seems to be openly mocking you. The first two things I did when I came home from the hospital was clean up her dirty dishes in the sink and empty out her closet. Three fourths of her clothes were placed in white garbage bags to be taken to Goodwill, while the other fourth was kept between my sister and me. We never once argued over who got what, as sisters often do, which was a miracle. I wordlessly claimed her black down North Face while my sister reached right over it to grab her long brown trench coat. As we transplanted her clothes from her closet into our closets, making them our clothes, our dad tiredly told us to, “come on in here, we have a lot more to look through.”

My sister and me both walked into the living room to see our dad sitting in a sea of photographs, hundreds of them. A couple of them were peeping out from under the blue denim of his Levi’s that he wore, but I thought it best not to say anything. We proceeded to sit in a circle, Indian style, after my sister and I made space for what looked like two tiny islands in the middle of the photographic ocean. Funeral slideshow prep had officially set sail.

I had seen nearly all of these old pictures at least once before. I even knew the backstories to a few, going even further beyond the thousand words that a picture is worth. I held two of my favorites in my hands, looking back and forth at them with a slight smile on my face. One of them was of her posing like Vanna White to reveal her very first washing machine (men, it’s moments like these that women treasure). She wore baggy acid wash jeans circa 1990s with a head of thick brown permed hair to match; her oversized Aztec cardigan would be all the rage right now. My dad had once told me that he bought her that washer to keep all the men from hitting on her at the Laundromat. In the other hand, I held a picture of both her and my father. This time she held a plate in one hand and a teacup in the other, both covered in the same giant pink flowers. My dad and her both had their mouths open, laughing at the camera. She told me once that those dishes marked their very first fight as a married couple, she had wanted them badly but my father refused to give in. A couple days later he bought the dishes and she demanded a photo to document her victory. There was another picture of her and my dad on a beach in Tahiti, but ever since she let me in on the fact that “you were conceived on that night,” I swore that I would never touch that photo again (it still somehow made it into the slideshow).

As time went by, we were slowly but surely filling a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with pictures to take to the funeral parlor. As we kept sifting, my dad must have finally realized that he could say absolutely anything he could right now without her hearing.

“…she liked watching me smoke when I flew, she thought it was sexy…”

“…she got her ears done after her perm that hid them went out of style…”

“…she sometimes used the f-word when she got mad at me…”

These were things that never in a million years my sister and I would have ever believed about her, she would have whopped him upside the head if she ever heard him say such things. That woman preached until her dying breath that smoking was next to murder, that the way God made us was just fine, and that even darn was a bad word. In our eyes, she was always the perfect woman that we had always labeled her. But as I looked in my dad’s piercing baby blues as he said these things, at such a time as this, deep down I knew that he was telling the truth.

Which then made me wonder, why did she portray herself as perfect when she clearly wasn’t? Was everything I knew about her while she was here a lie? I didn’t know what to think anymore, I may not have ever really known this woman…she no longer fit into the mold that I had so carefully formed to fit her perfectly. When I thought long and hard on what exactly was causing me to get internally worked up in such a way, I slowly began to realize that it was over the fact that she actually had a will of her own, a willful spirit. I now realized that I had actually caught glimpses of it in those first two photos… She had a spirit that she suppressed whenever she was around my sister and I, but not when she was around my father. That spirit thrived whenever she first married my dad, but it slowly withered away once she started having children. All of my life, I never gave her a choice as to who she really was. To me, she was my mother. But to her, she was her own.

Warm Embrace

It’s fascinating to me how some people think of  Christianity as just a “crutch to get through life.” Like it is something for only fools and failures. And once those that admit this attain the status of a “good Christian,” you’ll have less problems and temptations than everyone else and you will bible beat the heck out of those that don’t believe every single thing that you do.

Christianity is not a crutch. It does not merely support you. Rather, it is something that carries you (Isaiah 46:4). With a crutch, you continue to hobble along with what little strength you still manage to possess. You are free to do practically whatever you want whenever you want, but with a slow and painful gait. You depend on no one but yourself. Being carried is quite different. Much different, in fact.

Being carried is like being weightless. You are always encompassed by a pair of arms and your own are free to do as they please or take hold around the back of the others neck. During the times of laughing and dancing, we may not need to have as firm of a grip around His neck while being carried. But whenever the time to weep and mourn comes, you always have your own arms to wrap around His shoulders to keep you steadfast in times of trouble (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Being carried, you may not always have complete control of where you are going. After all, your feet are no longer touching the ground. But with lips to speak, you may tell the One who is hoisting you which way you would like to go. To many, this may be a bit uncomfortable. It was to me for the longest time. It’s hard letting go and letting God, for anybody. Period. But in Proverbs 3:5, we are called to “trust in the Lord with all of your heart, leaning not on your own understanding.” God is more than happy to steadfastly listen to all that you have to say and take it all into account for His future plans for you. Each request you make will always be answered. If not with a yes, than with a greater yes. With time, conflict of opinion will become less and less apparent as your will becomes entwined with His own.

As for having less problems and temptations to deal with, that statement is nothing but a complete and utter falsehood. Those that profess to be Christian are held much more accountable than those that do not. By committing to a serious relationship with Him, you should always take your will, desires, and actions into account before acting on them. It is the same way with a parent or a significant other, you know them intimately and you want to do your best to keep both the other person and the relationship as a whole in good spirits. If not, it leads to trouble down the road.

The presence of temptations is also very real in the lives of Christians. Satan only attacks those that appear to be a threat, and Christians are the perfect target. Unlike others, they have had a taste of what all God has to offer: peace, love, redemption. Satan knows that the longer they continue down God’s path, the more others will start to notice that strange light about them and decide to shine too. To combat this, Satan will throw every dirty temptation he can at us in order for us to turn from God or at least stop us in our tracks for a while. But the Bible ensures us that “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

As for bible beating, yes. There are unfortunately a number of those that would easily fit into this category, even by the opinion of other Christians. It pains me to say that some would rather use knowledge garnered from the bible to puff themselves up rather than to lift others up. At times, when I was first learning, I would even do this. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back I will own up to the fact. Bible beating is honestly just another form of judgement, you set yourself up on a pedestal while unexplicitly labeling others as more ignorant and lesser than you. Matthew 7:1 clearly warns us not to judge, or else we will be judged. We as Christians are called to be a light in this world (Matthew 5:14), and there is absolutely no way that we can be so while talking down to and judging others in such a way.

So, there you have it. Tired with crutches? Humble yourself to being carried. Dealing with temptation? Overcome it. Bible beating? Stop. Christianity may not be immune to all of the problems Satan and this world throw at us, but it sure has a way of swooping you into the warmest embrace of your life.

“I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4).

A Grief Observed

Below are various C.S. Lewis quotes from his book A Grief Observed that I tore apart and stitched back together in such a way that benefits me and my current circumstance. I wish that I could take credit for his beautiful words, but I can’t.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments where the house in empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all…”

Here, C.S. Lewis absolutely nails the thoughts and feelings that often tag along with grief. Unfortunately, all human relationships end in pain (namely, through death). This is the privilege of love in our fallen world. “It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.” But anything that has been made with love will never be abandoned. “Love does not create, and then annihilate…”

I never felt closer with the strength of God’s presence than I did the months following my mother’s death. But before reaching this point “I not only lived each endless day in grief, but lived each day thinking about living each day in grief.” “It (grief) gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.” If I had really cared about the sorrows of the world, I wouldn’t have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrows came.

“I had wanted her back as an ingredient in the restoration of my past. Could I have wished her anything worse? Having gone once through death, to come back and then, at some later date, have all her dying to do over again?”

“What does it matter how this grief of mine evolves or what I do with it? What does it matter how I remember her or whether I remember her at all? None of these alternatives will either ease or aggravate her past anguish…”

“But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was  complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possible inflict or permit them if they weren’t…”

Through this experience (my mother’s death), “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t…” C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

At Last a Life

I wrote this at a very, very, very low point in my life about a year ago. I am so beyond thankful that Jesus has bound these wounds with His tender touch, so thankful in fact that I take this time now to boast in my weakness. A weakness that in no way deemed me worthless, but rather had its perfect work in perfecting the power of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“When we are born into this world, those before us are likely to assume that we will live what they would call a typical life. You know, like achieving life’s typical milestones. More than likely you will experience your first day of kindergarten, somehow earn your driver’s license, graduate from high school and maybe college, dance with your dad at your wedding, cry tears of joy with your mom after having your first baby, send your kids off to college, and grow old with your spouse; all the while enjoying every minute of it. Although every individual lives with the expectation that all of these things will happen to them just like everyone else, for some it is either suddenly stripped from their future or diluted with doom, and if this occurs you can either roll with the punches and just live your life or have these things literally eat you alive.

For me, my world was flipped upside down when my mom passed away when I was nineteen (we didn’t even know she had cancer). One day my biggest dilemma was picking a country on which to do my Spanish project, and the next was choosing which coffin my mom would have liked. There was no long battle with chemo, which I suppose I’m thankful for, but the path she had chosen was still laden with unimaginable suffering for us all. I always wondered what it would be like to lose someone you truly believe you can’t live without—a part of me even yearned to experience it one day just to see what would happen or how I would handle it. Would it be like the movies? Would it be like one of Shakespeare’s tragedies? I always thought that these actors and characters were exaggerating just to earn an Oscar or make a story more memorable (it’s just fiction, after all), but it wasn’t until I experienced loss first-hand that I finally realized that all these gut-wrenching emotions weren’t just added for flare. No, these emotions were real.

My sister and I were waiting amidst vases of flowers we had just bought for our mom in her new room at the hospital when my dad told us that she had passed away in the elevator. Without even thinking I dropped whatever was in my hands and shoved myself in the nearest corner, balling my eyes out. I had never cried like that before, my body just couldn’t stop shaking as I fought to see through my mascara-stained glasses. I had completely forgotten about the host of relatives that were gently stroking my hair from behind for who knows how long. I sometimes wonder what they were thinking in a time like that because from the outside they looked like they still had control of their sanity. I hardly remember the week leading up to her funeral, but somewhere in there I managed to type up her eulogy and buy a new black dress (she was never fond of the one that I usually wore). The funeral itself really wasn’t that bad surprisingly. But even just days after the funeral, I genuinely thought I was okay—not great, mind you, but okay. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how broken I was.

It happened a little over a month after my mom’s death. I was sitting in our local movie theater watching the world’s latest take on the story of Noah with my family when it hit me. In an instant my heart was racing at what felt like a hundred miles an hour. My lungs were fighting to expand against what felt like a tightly-cinched corset around my chest. My hands shook as if I kept touching a hot skillet over and over, my senses never learning to refrain from the heat. My eyes could no longer focus on the massive screen directly ahead of me. The urge to pass out overtook my entire body. I desperately tried to get more comfortable in my seat and nibbled on popcorn in a poor attempt to get a hold of myself, but all I really managed to do was keep myself distracted until the end of the film (thankfully we had already gone through most of it). Immediately afterwards I told my sister that I was about to pass out and needed to go home, thinking I just needed to get a little something to eat and rest for the night. After my dad drove us home I crawled in bed and morphed myself into the tightest little ball I could muster, praying that I would eventually find peace in sleep.

It wasn’t but a few days after when the struggle to breathe proved too much to cope with anymore, it had now gotten to the point where each breath felt like my last. I was now hyperventilating in a desperate attempt to get more oxygen. Although it was the last place they wanted to return to, my dad and my little sister took one look at me and didn’t think twice about rushing me to the ER. There, nurses quickly tethered me to various beeping instruments via wires and stickers after taking a quick x-ray of my chest. As we were waiting for the results of my chest x-ray, I just knew that they would find something wrong. Fluid in my lungs, a tumor, a blood clot, anything that would explain why my body acted like it was fighting for its life. But when the doctor came back with the results, all he had to show us was the ghostly gray imaging of a perfectly sound heart guarded by a set of healthy larger-than-average lungs. I remember thinking that this just couldn’t be right, that I must be looking at someone else’s x-ray instead of my own. But no, this scan was mine, I could easily read HIGGINS, ALYSSA M. typed in bold white font along the bottom of the image. What the doctor did next was something that I would have never guessed in a million years: he diagnosed me with severe anxiety. I just lay there in disbelief as the words that shot at me like daggers leisurely rolled off his tongue (apparently my father had mentioned to the doctor while I was in for my x-ray that my mom had just recently passed). Once I got my bearings back I asked him if more imaging could be done to make sure, but he told me that it was too late in the night and that they would have to call others in from home that were specifically certified for those screenings (I could tell he was writing me off). Eventually it got to the point where he insisted that nothing was wrong with me and sent me home with nothing more than a doctor’s note and a prescription for some anxiety medication that I would never consider taking. Going home that night felt like such a defeat, I had stopped hyperventilating but I didn’t feel any better. All I felt like now was like a crazy person, but far worse. A crazy person without the slightest hope.

The next few months consisted of many different ups and downs (mostly downs, to be honest). I had managed to finish off my classes for that semester, but the following summer was one that I would like to forget. Sure I went swimming with my cousins frequently and even took a much-needed family vacation to Atlanta, but during these times I still felt like my body could breakdown on itself at any given moment. At any time I could be the bedbound nut-job I once was when I had just returned from the ER. Anxiety has a way of swinging you back and forth like some plaything, once it tires of you it will seem like it has lost interest in you for a while, but it always seems to have a way of charging uninvited through your door again. I cried and prayed continuously whenever anxiety physically wreaked my body, and once the symptoms seemed to be at bay I would soak up the opportunity and pretend to live normally for as long as I could until my body decided to turn on me once again. I had hoped that my next semester at college would keep my mind off of how bad I felt inside, but this was not to be. I was able to pretend for a while and put on a happy face during class or afterwards with peers, but the month before finals I had once again become a slave to my fears.

I was once again housebound. The thought of returning to school was almost unbearable, I couldn’t even make a trip to the grocery store without bursting into tears. I was so uncoordinated that I felt like I could pass out at any given moment. My mind whirled like a top. Always analyzing, always questioning. Why me? What do these symptoms mean? Am I going to die? When will this nightmare end? I spent most of my time either crying or Googleing my new latest symptom (neither of which did absolutely nothing for me but put even more stress on my already exhausted body). However while surfing the web, I had stumbled upon a certain website that wasn’t at all like other anxiety forums that seemed to only terrify me more, this one was entitled “At Last a Life” and was written by an ex-anxiety sufferer by the name of Paul David. He too had dealt with severe anxiety, for ten years in fact, and had wandered helplessly down the road of countless prescriptions and doctor’s appointments until he finally had the realization that he alone had the ability to regain his old life back. For the first time I felt hope as I combed over the entire website with a fine-toothed comb, leaving no link unread. There was no talk of some magic pill or miracle doctor, which was quite refreshing after the countless gimmicks I had encountered that had promised such things (you would be surprised of some of the things you find on the Internet), but of how to conquer anxiety ON YOUR OWN. Without even having a chance to think about it I ordered Paul’s book, which has undoubtedly become my biggest step towards freedom thus far. That, and a whole lot of Jesus.

I now have a whole new mentality when it comes to my anxiety. I no longer fuel it further with fear, but face it head-on with what I can only call a “so what” attitude. Instead of stressing my body out even more with constant worry like I once did, I now let whatever my body wants to feel just feel it. What is the worst it can do? Sure it may not be the most comfortable thing in the world, but I have finally realized that it is in no way life-threatening. Everyone deals with bouts of adrenaline when they feel scared or anxious; my body just over exaggerates a bit due to the constant worry that has plagued my mind for so long. My anxiety is no longer being fed with fear and panic, being not of God (2 Timothy 1:7), but is slowly being starved by just not caring and living my life. I know that I am by no means cured or even close to recovery just yet, but for the very first time since I first struggled with anxiety I now know that one day I will once again be the person that I once was, but perhaps even better. For once, I am daring to hope.”

Now, I can look back on these last two sentences I had written in the past and smile. Because of the hope that I dared to have during my darkest hour, I am the person who I am today. Someone not only relieved from the crippling effects of severe anxiety, but also the lie that convinces us that we go through this life completely and utterly alone. Jesus is there for you people, He is there for you every step of the way. I thought that I had a life before my anxieties took hold of me, but looking back I realize that I really didn’t. At last, God has given me a real life. A life of humility and love, and a certain understanding that I would have never had if it weren’t for trials that proved only to strengthen my faith. Thank you, Jesus. At last, a life…

The Best

When I wrote this about a year ago, I never intended for it to be read by others. It’s rather personal and definitely not the happiest read. But with my mom’s birthday coming up tomorrow, for some reason all I can think about is sharing this short story. I don’t necessarily wish to, but it is laid on my heart to do so. Who knows, perhaps this post will help someone else out in such a way that I could never fathom.

My mother was the most selfless person I ever met; she truly turned being a mother hen into an art form. Never once as a child did I lack a peanut butter and honey sandwich in my lunch box or the perfect monopoly opponent; she was and would always be there. Her sole purpose in life was to take care of me and my little sister; and to this day I cannot fathom why, out of all things to do in the world, being a mother was her all-time favorite. It was literally all that she lived for. Not only did she personally cater to my sister and me nearly 24/7, but she always kept the house immaculate and every night had dinner simmering on the stove. When I was a little girl I would often ask why she didn’t have a real job like Daddy, and although there were plenty of times we could have used the money, she always reminded me that being a mom was a job, too—even though I never believed her. Come to find out, those years would become the most treasured times of our lives.

Unfortunately, being unable to go back in time to the 70’s and 80’s, there is no way I can give a firsthand account my mother’s childhood, but I can however share what I’ve been told both by her and by others. My mom grew up in the Lone Star State with three brothers and practically no parents. Don’t get me wrong, she had a mom and dad, but both were workaholics and constantly let her know that she wasn’t wanted. Meals were often skipped or “forgotten,” her mother never learning how to cook, and when they were actually prepared they consisted of canned salmon and boxed mashed potatoes. Because her parents divorced shortly after she graduated from Seagoville High, she was on her own working day and night as a waitress to pay for her apartment and tuition at a neighboring community college. Toiling over all-night waitress shifts on top of her studies for nearly three years, my mom ended up marrying my father after two months of on-and-off dating and soon had both me and my little sister.

Seven years later, we all moved from Norman, Oklahoma to Crested Butte, Colorado; it was one of the best things that happened to both my mom and the rest of the family. You know when you see those snow globes of a small town in a souvenir shop somewhere or maybe even your grandparents’ house? Well, that’s basically where we lived; it was a place where it was always the same person bagging your groceries and snowflakes were the main accessory to everyone’s outfit. Not knowing how to ski was like not knowing how to breathe; the locals made sure that their children mastered the black slopes before they started middle school (thankfully my sister and I learned rather quickly by skiing with our teachers and classmates on Fridays rather than going to school like most kids). As for my parents, my dad loved to ice fish on Lake Powell and zoom us around on his snowmobile while mom enjoyed snowshoeing and cross-country skiing solo in some neighboring field or forest. And yes, at times we all thought of trading in our nine feet of snow for a stretch of white sand in any place warm, but when I look back I can see that my parents raised my sister and me in pure paradise.

Even the move from Crested Butte back to Norman seven years later didn’t weaken Mom’s devotion to us. She always seemed to be just as nurturing and loving as ever to her “babies,” even when times were tough. Apparently her being a part-time realtor and my dad a real estate developer didn’t mix well with the recession of 2008, the year my mom told us that it was time for our family to “try something new.” And I admit at first this “new adventure” wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Coming to Oklahoma and not knowing a soul at school, but coming home to Mom everyday made everything just the same as it always was: different house but just as sparkling, the same dinner simmering on the stove. The house was no longer a fine cabin tucked next to one of the nation’s greatest ski resorts, but mom made it home nevertheless. The way my mom carried on made me feel like she’d always be there, even if I didn’t want her to be, but life has a way of destroying the constant at the very moment when you feel like nothing is ever going to change.

The first time I noticed that something was different was the day before I started my classes as a freshman at the University of Oklahoma. At her insistence, we were walking my classes together in an attempt to memorize the slight differences between each of the identical brick buildings. To be honest, to this day I still get a little confused. As we were walking up a flight of stairs that I was praying would lead me to my Spanish class, I couldn’t help but notice that I had made it up to the top of the stairs alone. Casually turning back, assuming she was probably tying her vibrant Nike tennis shoes again, I was surprised to see her standing there, hunkered over and nearly panting. I had to do a double take. This couldn’t be the same woman that was one of Colorado’s most avid joggers and skiers, but nevertheless, there she was. I quickly asked if she was alright, and she, being too good of a mother, told me not to worry and that she was just catching her breath. But if she could have seen how she looked as she said it, she would have instantly recognized how hollow her excuse sounded. I was shocked, and the moment was lodged somewhere in my memory, but I repressed it. I didn’t realize until much later what I had witnessed.

As time went by, my mom slowly grew weaker and weaker. Mom had known since one of her prenatal checkups with me that she dealt with anemia, or a lack of iron in her blood, so she just figured that her iron levels had gotten really low because she rarely ate any meat. But with the extra meat in her diet, the daily iron supplements, and the fresh vegetable juice that I prepared for her every morning it still wasn’t enough. The last thing Mom wanted to do was go to the doctor, but eventually she went and ended up having an emergency transfusion because her blood count was so low. Once we brought her home she felt better than she had in ages. She even had the energy the next morning to cook our family favorite, biscuits and gravy with deer sausage (I can never get mine to taste as good as hers). It all seemed too good to be true.

But as the months went by, Mom started to grow weak again, and I was at a loss for what to do. I would talk with her privately about her going to the doctor again, at least for some more blood, but she wouldn’t have it. She had told me that “once was enough,” and that it was the last place she would want to go back to. But eventually it got to the point where we couldn’t take no for an answer. It started off like any other day. My sister and I were video chatting with a cousin of ours that had just recently joined the U.S. Navy in Maryland. I remember it was quite amusing watching my cousin try to talk to us while devouring a giant chocolate-covered strawberry. Suddenly, my dad threw open my sister’s bedroom door and abruptly told my sister and I to end our video chat. After a quick goodbye, my dad told us that Mom had become incoherent. We rushed her to the emergency room where they immediately gave her more blood and scheduled her for an MRI, which she would have never agreed to if she knew what was going on. I felt so helpless. The same mother that was there for me my entire life could now hardly even recognize me. When the doctor told us the next day that her body was riddled with what they thought to be cancer and that it was too late to operate, all I could manage to do after crying was hold her hand.

My mom passed away a couple hours after the diagnosis. The doctor asked us if they should do a biopsy to confirm if it was cancer or not, but my dad decided that if she never knew then we shouldn’t know either. To be honest, that was fine with me. When Dad mentioned to the doctor that she would have never agreed to undergo radiation if she learned she had cancer, the doctor slowly nodded his head and said something that you wouldn’t think someone from his medical background would say: “Perhaps it was for the best.” At first I didn’t think I heard him correctly. How was my mother leaving me for the best? But as he continued, he explained that Mom’s choice to stay at home instead of spending the last year in chemo had most likely given her both a longer and less painful life. As the doctor explained this to both my family and my mom’s (they drove up from Texas just moments before she passed) I realized that he was right.

I can hardly remember the week that followed Mom’s death, but I know somewhere in there I managed to type up my mom’s funeral program and buy myself a new black dress (Mom was never that fond of the old one I wore to funerals). I felt like I was in some sort of dream-like state where the world was spinning in slow motion, but this quickly changed once the funeral started. Suddenly everything was real. The only time I had found solace during the service was during the slideshow that concluded the funeral. As pictures of my mom doting on me and my little sister flashed by, I suddenly realized why my mother had dealt with her failing health the way that she did: it was because of her daughters. For our sakes, she held on to being “same old Mom” as long as she physically could; doctors would have easily crushed this fragile fantasy like breaking a toothpick with the first MRI. Being a mother for my sister and me was what she held most dear in her heart, and for the majority of her life that was enough to keep her going. My mom was and will always be the strongest, bravest, and most loving person I will ever know. As I watched the video clip of my mother waving goodbye at the end of the slideshow, every fiber in my being was quaking with the realization that I had truly had the best mother in the world.

Fear? I Can Live with It.

Technically, tonight, I am still a junior. I have never taken a single college course or talked with a single person my senior year. This fact brings feelings of both excitement and fear. Initially, it was mostly fear to be honest. It kinda still is. But when you invite this feeling in and harbor it for a while, it can very well consume all that is pure and lovely in your innermost being.

Having suffered from severe anxiety in the past (more on that in a later post, pinky promise), I feel that my instincts towards sensing fear may be more heightened and sensitive than others. At first, I faced this fact with fear and trembling. By doing so, making matters much much worse than they actually were. I thought that God was punishing me with a curse of some kind, crippling me both emotionally and physically for being so fearful all the time. But now, I don’t see my sensitivity towards fear as a harsh reprimand of any kind. In fact, I see it as a gift. Even more so, a blessing.

Some people, for whatever reasons, go through absolutely horrific things in order to learn from their experiences and become better people. Actually, all people have to learn lessons from bad experiences. But with different people suffering from different temptations and tendencies, there are different trials that God allows into our lives. And these trials are not meant to deprive us of all hope and joy, but rather to build up our faith, allowing patience to have its perfect work (James 1:4).

With all of the pain and pressure my fearful tendencies have brought me over the course of my life, my faith has been made as resilient and radiant as a diamond. I find myself relating heavily to 1 Peter 1:6-7:

“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”

Whenever I feel fearful, I turn to the scriptures that pertain to this feeling. There are hundreds of verses in the Bible that tell us not to be afraid. These particular few, however, have provided me with far more comfort than I had ever dared hope to receive:

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” 1 John 4:18

“Do not tremble; do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago? You are my witnesses—is there any other God? No! There is no other Rock—not one!” Isaiah 44:8

“He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you.” Psalm 91:4-8

I can in no way try to deny the existence of my fears, that would be like trying to deny the existence of the devil himself, but I can and will refuse to be a slave to them. God may be allowing Satan to test my spirit, but the spirit that has and will always be there is a spirit of love given to me by my good, good Father. My battle with fearful feelings has easily become one of the greatest blessings of my life. For it not only has me constantly running into the arms of my loving Savior, but it also opens my eyes to the void in my heart that only Jesus can fill. It can easily be filled with other things that bring us pleasure, but only the Holy Spirit can sustain you in such a way that keeps on giving, and giving, and giving. And guess what? He expects absolutely nothing in return, only that our arms remain open to receive limitless amounts of faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

The Great Sin

Technically I wrote this about a month ago, but I just really love C.S. Lewis and thought I’d share it via blog post:

Having recently read C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity, I would have thought that my favorite chapter would have been over something like forgiveness, charity, hope, or faith. Turns out the one that struck me the most was entitled “The Great Sin.” Sounds kinda scary, right? In it, pride was explained in thorough detail from the inside out, never beating around the bush.

Pride was explained as “the complete anti-God state of mind,” and even going further to say that, “as long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” Rather than being triggered by our animal nature like anger and greed, pride is purely spiritual, making it all the more dangerous. As a spiritual cancer, it “eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” With vanity you aren’t content with your own admiration, seeking it instead from others. But with pride, “you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you.”

At the end of the chapter, it provided the key to attaining humility: to recognize and own up to your own prideful nature. For “if you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” I was never one to think of myself as a prideful person, but after reading this brief eight page chapter I realized rather quickly that I grapple with this vice constantly. Whether it be through social media, the clothing I wear, or any other outlet of my life.

Having a humble heart was never something I particularly prayed for in the past. But having recognized my own shortcomings in this particular area, I now see having a humble heart as an absolutely vital component to my Christian identity. The other chapters were amazingly wonderful, but this one seemed to have a brilliance all its own.

Weak and Weary? Perfect.

This brief study on weakness was triggered by the only two verses in my Bible that are not only underlined and highlighted, but also circled and bookmarked:

“And He said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Now, what is it exactly about these two verses that caused me to set them apart from the others in such a way? A way all their own? In short, they uphold the weak. The weak. The ones that are always picked last whenever dodge ball was the game of choice during P.E. The ones that are attacked and mugged/raped in seemingly stagnant street corners and back-alleys. The ones that are deemed worthless and deadweight on a long journey and left for dead. The ones that lose a friend or loved one and fuel their gut-wrenching sobs with the strength that was formerly keeping them upright. The ones that studied all night and use whatever strength they can muster just to make it to the coffeepot.

In a way, the diversity of the weak and weary populace is a beautiful thing. Millions of scenarios could be used in millions of different places concerning millions of different people, in fact, all of mankind. At one point or another, everyone experiences a moment of weakness, whether they would like to admit it or not. In a weird way, this unifies us all, one with another. With the art of social media and simply just holding our tongues, no one ever need know about our particular struggles that sap us of our strength, but are they really something that we should be ashamed of and pretend to be invincible against?

Perfection is my enemy. That is, the imaginary kind which is based off of one’s own merit. Having the perfect job and living in the perfect house may portray the appearance of perfection to most, but what does all of that even amount to? Today, probably a mountain of student loans and a rather hefty mortgage. But even if both were paid for free and clear, would we then be made perfect? No.

For it is Christ who can make one perfect, Christ. The definition of perfection is stated asthe condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defect.” When we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, doesn’t He free us from all flaws or defect? Our sins will be made white as snow and cast into the depths of the sea. Without our faith in Him, we could never even get a glimpse at what real perfection even looks like.

Credit to attaining perfection is also given to the very trials that initiate weakness. James 1:2-4 says,

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

In other words, weakness comes in full circle. It may seem completely unnecessary and unbearable, but God still has the power to either utilize it or overcome it, either way using it for His greater purpose and for your own benefit. Although it may not always be apparent, this fact is undeniably true. In order to utilize it, God chooses the weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27) and tells others to go out of their way to help them, exemplifying Christ’s love (Romans 15:1).

As for overcoming weakness, Isaiah 40:29-31 provides the perfect example of Christ accomplishing such a feat,

“He gives strength to the weak, and to him that lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength: they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

To sum up, weakness is a necessary state of being. Each and every one of us is a slave to it, yet it also fuels our loving relationship with our good, good Father, causing His strength to be made perfect. Without weakness, we would also never look to Him for help or guidance. Why would we? Without the steadfastness produced by the testing of our faith, we wouldn’t be made perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Feeling weak and weary is in no way enjoyable, but God will not allow pain without something new to be born. Perhaps you may one day be born with a pair of wings atop your shoulders much like an eagle.