you were right about Jesus or you weren’t

Sarah Bessey’s new book Out of Sorts releases today. As a member of her launch team, I am participating in this synchroblog with the prompt “I used to believe _____ but now I believe _____.” I LOVED Sarah’s book and would highly recommend you order a copy of it. (Let’s be honest. The greatest books are always yellow!)

– – – – – – – – – –

I grew up and became a Christian when I was 12, because I was scared of hell at a fire-and-brimstone play at a Baptist church. But before that, I would have most likely identified as Christian simply because I wasn’t anything else. My family wasn’t Jewish or Muslim or anything really so I always saw myself as Christian by default.

Once I accepted Christ, I attended youth group. We met on Friday evenings in a room reserved just for the teenagers. It had a raised stage, old metal chairs, and stank of sweat and hairspray and dirty feet. In this room we worshiped together to simple songs and our youth pastor, Bobby, shared a short message every week. During the summers, we went to beaches and walked around the mall. I had friends and I liked going, mostly because I didn’t have friends at school. Friday nights were the nights where I was accepted without question. Sometimes I came to church on Sunday mornings, where we sang from hymnals and wore dresses and flats instead of jeans and running shoes.

In ninth grade, the youth pastor left, so I decided to go to a new church with a few girls I’d made friends with in high school. If I had understand what denominations were, I could not have picked a church more different than the one I just left — I moved from a quiet Baptist church to a Pentecostal church replete with prayer flags and tambourines, were people spoke in tongues freely during service and altar calls happened at the end of every sermon. I made friends here, too, but this time they were my friends in school as well.

We sat together at lunch, most days talking for a few minutes about Jesus and also about boys and dating and we whispered things about sex and smoking pot when we thought no one was listening. We learned about Him at church on Sundays and youth group on Tuesdays and during Wednesday evening service and on Thursdays we took care of the kids in the nursery during choir practice and told them about Jesus, too. But I don’t think most of really knew Jesus. We were Christians by choice then, but what we believed about Him was less by choice and more by force.

I knew a lot about Jesus when I was a teenager. I knew He was holy and I understood that my sins separated me from His holiness. So I worked hard to prove how holy I was. And when I messed up and made stupid mistakes, when I felt shame because of what others had done to me, when still worse things (that I couldn’t talk about for a long time) happened, I knew I was defiled and worthless because Jesus demanded you give up all of the crap that kept you from Him, and I just didn’t know how to give it up to Him. He required you to walk away from the comfort of licking your wounds in the corner and I couldn’t let go of the shame and I couldn’t tell people what I’d done and sometimes I wasn’t even sorry about it all, about clinging to the pain and the tears because it was safe and I knew it and even though it hurt, it didn’t scare me.

I used to think you were right about Jesus or you weren’t, and since I knew the right things about Jesus, about His holiness and how His loved work, I had to walk away from all of the garbage the church dumped on me when I told them some of the things I was going through because they made it clear that in light of what Jesus had done, I definitely wasn’t good enough. I only ever told them about the abortion at 15 because it was all I needed to tell them to treat me like a pariah. They taught me about Jesus and they made Jesus unsafe for me because they made me see Him with blinders on.

So I left. I walked away and said never again. I lived in a world where I didn’t feel right or good about things, because deep down I missed Jesus. I missed what I once had with him. As my friend Sarah Bessey writes in her new book Out of Sorts,

When I made the decision to stop going to church and to stop calling myself a Christian, it didn’t feel good. But there had been a long litany of abuses, burn-out, and exhaustion. The trail of hurt people wounded souls, and even dead bodies was too great. It weighed on my soul, and I felt tremendous grief. I couldn’t align myself with that anymore.

I just could not do it anymore. And I didn’t have to. I wasn’t living in a home that mandated that I earn Jesus’ love by my Sunday morning and Tuesday evening attendance. No one cared about my righteousness if I wasn’t at church. Finally I found a place that didn’t break me as much as the church had.

But things change. It took nine years but somehow, my heart softened and God gave me a new friend, six years ago this month in fact. When every other friend I had who knew Jesus was in a place of hardship on their own — marriage stuff and new babies and grad school — God said, “Here is someone who doesn’t know what you carry. She loves me. Ask her about me.”

So I did. We’d already been friends for a year by the time I gathered up my courage to ask her about her Jesus, who seemed to be so different than the Jesus I met so many years before. I asked her a lot of questions. I talked to her a lot. Sometimes I cried. I stood by her side, with sweaty palms, the first time I walked back into a church for a regular Sunday morning service. I sang quietly and didn’t raise my hands or arms. I glanced around, looking everyone in the building with me. There were no prayer flags or speaking in tongues or tambourines. How could the Jesus here be the same Jesus when I left the There?

I didn’t know how it was possible. Even though I was in my late 20s, it seemed impossible to reconcile these Christians with those. So I kept coming back. I had to see if they were the same. And in some ways, yes, they were the same. That’s what scared me a little bit, because the words they said and the stories they told about the Bible reminded me so much of the other church, and I still felt so wounded and raw from it. But then I got to know people, one person at a time, and I saw that there were differences, too. These differences let me ask the hard questions, let me have the space to grow and change. I prayed and begged God to change me in the ways He needed to change me because I saw that I wanted Him again but I couldn’t let go of the things the world had taught me during my nine years of wandering, but I also couldn’t let go over the things about Jesus that the Baptist church at taught me. I was afraid to let it go, because how could we all be Christians if we didn’t believe the same things? Sarah says it perfectly:

I’ve had to build up a bonfire in my backyard and throw a few cherished beliefs and opinions right into the flame. There is always something so satisfying about watching an ugly lie burn away to ash.

Those lies that tried to keep me from who Jesus is burned, little by little, until they were a pile of crispy pieces that I could walk away from.

I used to think you were right about Jesus or you weren’t, but now I think that we all know Jesus in different ways, and in different seasons our relationship with Him looks different, and my relationship with Him looks different from yours, and we aren’t wrong. We just know Him differently and there’s nothing wrong with that.

And things are still changing. I am still changing and growing, and to tell you the truth sometimes it scares the hell out of me. What I believed five years ago, when I first came back to church, is not what I believe now. The more I learn about and know Jesus personally, the more what I believe looks so different. The more I pray and spend time reading the Bible, the greater my questions are, and it frightens me that for every answer I get, I have five more. But something in me reminds me that I need to live the questions now, not fear them. Then I take a deep breath and remember this:

If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention. The Spirit is often breathing in the very changes or shifts that used to terrify us. Grace waits for us in the liminal space. We can be afraid to question. We are afraid that if we let ourselves question theology or doctrines — the theology we developed or were given in our first naiveté — that we will be at risk.

I am paying attention. I am leaning into the questions, into the hard things and letting them shape me under God’s guidance. I am listening more. I am embracing the stillness and the unknown because this is the space where the shifts begin to make sense to me. This, too, is my greatest wish for you. As Sarah says, and I’ve learned by trial,

I hope we change. I hope we grow. I hope we push against the darkness and let the light in and breathe into the Kingdom come. I hope we become a refuge for the weary and the pilgrim, for the child and aged, for the ones who have been strong too long. And I hope that we live like we are loved. I hope we all become a bit more inclined to listen, to pray, to wait.

Advertisements

open your eyes and see

The first time I slipped on those glasses, I wanted to throw up.

Not for the reasons you think. I didn’t care that I had to wear them. I didn’t have friends to admire them; I had bullies to mock them and call me four-eyes, but those insults ricocheted right off of me (why, I don’t know – the taunts and teasing came often enough that I should have hated who I was). I was so ecstatic to get those plastic lenses capped in pink wire, the cheapest pair that could be purchased at Lens Crafters.

Suddenly, after a whole lifetime of squinting and sitting too close to the tv, I could see. Sitting in the car, the world twisted around me and my eyes, so used to what they couldn’t see, continued to squint and move as I tried to adjust to 20/20 vision. It was completely overwhelming as every detail came into focus and my mind tried to keep up with the noise of texture and pattern and depth I hadn’t experienced in my life.

The world was so crisp I could feel the vomit rising in the back of my throat. As we left the mall, we drove past a series of trees growing in the medium of the road – a Southern California staple. I glanced up, my eyes suddenly wide and focused.

I could see. I could see every single leaf.

I’ll never forget that feeling. For years, my life was out of focus. It makes me wonder all that I missed. If I could see every detail of something as inconsequential as a tree, the rest of the world had to be equally stunning, too.

For the rest of my life, I will wear glasses or contacts. I take them off or out when I sleep, but as soon as I wake up, they’re back. I don’t love relying on them to see, but I accept them because they give me the gift of the world around me. The fur on dogs and the crisp gold flecks in Charisse’s eyes and a perfect full moon with defined edges and roses popping against the sage green of the bush upon which they grow and the words sharp black against the relief of a white page – I’d gladly do it all over again, every yearly visit and examination, for the ability to know the world around me by sight.

– – – – –

At 30, it breaks my heart to think I spent the first part of my life struggling to see. Homework assignments, books, the tv shows I watched. If you placed me next to a first-year optometry student’s checklist of signs of near-sightedness, I would score 100%. Squinting to see things more clearly – yeah. Sitting close to the tv – that was me. Headaches and tired eyes – yep and yep. Holding books close to the face – absolutely. My life is measured by the books I’ve read, and I’ve held many close to my eyes.

No one noticed until I was eleven, though. I knew, but I struggled against saying anything. Why, I’ll never understand. I remember wishing so deeply that I could see the board from where I sat in the back of the room. Maybe I didn’t think anything was wrong, even though it was hard to see. Maybe I thought all kids struggled like that and they just put their big kid pants on and dealt with it. But it wasn’t until sixth grade that my teacher, Mrs. Pritchard, suggested that I have my eyes examined. Somehow we worked up the money and when the glasses finally arrive, so did the world.

– – – – –

The first time I put on God, I was 12 years old, sitting in the pew of a Baptist church in the coastal city where I spent my childhood. But everything about Him was wrong. He didn’t fit right, like a pair of glasses that pinched the bridge of my nose too tight, arms of the frames rubbing sore spots against my ears. The  lenses didn’t help my eyes focus the right way, and so I decided after a few years of trying Him on that I’d rather just deal with life without because my vision was still blurry and it was still hard to focus.

The pain came during these years where I walked away from finding frames that fit. I encroached upon and then stepped into the things that were bad, downright evil. I let men change my life. I let the world tell me what to believe. I let my voice speak angry words lacking in compassion. Without the focus I needed, I could not see straight. And it took me an absurdly long time to realize that the solution wasn’t to discard the glasses entirely because this pair wasn’t a good fit… it was to search until I found what helped me see clearly.

Jesus is good and He is faithful. His word is true and never fails and I have seen that time and time again, including the time a little over four years ago where He built a bridge between me and a stranger and helped me find what it took to truly see clearly again.

I sat in the church chairs those first few Sundays I attended that new and unknown church and I remembered as we sang the songs want it felt like to see the detailed edges of those big leaves on the trees, so high up.

– – – – – – – – – –

Life. It’s happening, and it’s changing, and it’s staying the same, and it’s all just so crazy and hectic sometimes.

I am in a season of transition — in lots of way. With work, with friendship, with my heart. I feel God calling me to dig deeper, and grasp on tightly because the things He’s shown me and promised me will eventually come true. I don’t know the time, and I don’t know the details, and I don’t know how everything fits together, and to be honest that both scares and annoys me.

Hello, my name is Krista, and I suffer from Type A personality. As soon as I get an idea, I want to plan out all of the details in detail. I was to make checklists and phone calls and secure all of the pieces of the plot so I can feel like I am in control.

And God reminds me over and over and over again that it doesn’t work like that. Sometimes people don’t live up to the expectations you have for them. Sometimes your plans take alternative paths. Sometimes the path just gets so freaking blurry that you stop and cry it out. And then God adjusts your vision if you allow Him and you remember: you see what He shows you.

Your job is to make sure you’re looking.

IMG_4971.JPG

dear sweet girl

Dear sweet girl,

Today you are 18 years old. Today you are a high school graduate. Today you’re packing boxes of the last years, filling them with the memories and mementos of this last summer of your childhood. Today you are moving into a college dorm room high at the top of a hill in a town seven hours far from home. You have no car, no job, no money, no friends, and your hope is running desperately low. You are scared. You’re young and every fiber of your being is pulled taut, telling you to run from this strange place. Resist it. What you believe, the things you keep repeating to yourself – they are all lies. “I’m not smart enough. “I can’t afford it.” “I hate it here.” “I’m too different to ever fit in.” All of them – they are all lies from the devil. Do not, under any circumstances, allow them to become truths in your life. Because the truth is believing them will force you to deal with consequences for the rest of your life.

Because the truth is: You are smart enough. You’re here. You’ll get a job. You’ll get loans. You’ll work as hard as you have to. You can’t hate it. You haven’t given it a chance. You’ll fit in. You’ll find your people You just need to give it time. Everyone here has left behind their home and their comfort and their friends. More importantly, Jesus is incomprehensibly larger than every single emotion you’re feeling right now.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you can’t control much, but you can control the fact that you don’t want to be here anymore. You’ll figure out a way out instead of figuring out a way to make it work. You can’t control it, but let me tell you — you cannot manipulate it, either. You think that you don’t belong here and you won’t fit in, but girl, you don’t know the things God has planned for you if you remain obedient and stay the course that God has ordained for your life.

I know that the most logical thing seems to be to drive down that hill, down that freeway, through the sunshine and fields of wine country, right back into the home you’ve always knows, but I promise you, my sweet friend, that it isn’t. If you leave, life will go on. You will cry but you will laugh. You’ll keep in touch with old friends and you’ll make new ones, and eventually you’ll finish school, and the years will pass by so quickly: they will be a vapor in your life. But so much will happen between where you are when you leave that high hill and where you’ll be years later. There will be some self-inflicted injures that will scar you, literally scar you, and some mental and spiritual injuries that will scar you no less than the scars that your arms will bear witness to as you turn into an adult. You will lose your faith and find the world, walking far from what you know the truth is. God will redeem it and turn it all into something beautiful – He will restore the years the locusts ate, and something mighty and holy and sacred will come. You will find your words and you will come back to the place where you know you’re deeply loved by a mighty, holy, passionate, forgiving God. What the world wanted to hold against you, God will use for His glory, and He will direct your path into something powerful for His name. All of your suffering won’t be for naught.

But my sweet girl, this is all the result of your disobedience. This is all a result of the gut reaction you had in the face of change and newness of adult life. Years later, you will find yourself in the car with a woman twenty years older than you, and you’ll listen raptly as she tells you the story of a horse who backs up in fear right down an embankment, dropping its rider. You’ll listen, trembling in her cool truck, as you wait to hear if the rider died, and when you find out she escaped with only a severely battered body, spending weeks in a wheelchair before she miraculously got on her horse again, you will deflate as you let out the breath that bound you tensely to your seat. You will listen because you know in your heart that you are that horse and your life is that rider. You will see your own face as you imagine the terror of the horse, its wild legs flailing as it tries to gain its composure and grounding again, but the truth is that if you allow yourself to go to that extreme, the only way to right yourself is to do it after you’re done falling. And my darling girl, if you reach the subtle beginning of that embankment, I guarantee that you will not be able to right yourself before the slope becomes too drastic to fight against.

A scared horse, you reared up without understanding the damage that would come. You didn’t count the cost and look to the One who held your hand and your heart, the One who you would be surprised to find still holding on years later, when the fog was gone and you could see clearly again. God redeems us all if we submit, but first and foremost – doesn’t He deserve to use our obedience for His glory instead of the mess we create when we disobey? Isn’t it much better for Him, and for us, if we sacrificially give him our firstfruits of obedience and trust instead of the leftovers that come when we put fear and distrust and disobedience first? God already knows what you will choose. Choose well, my love. Because years from now, the advice you give to other young women will be shaped by how you honored Him. You will advise them and it will be good, from God, but it will be shaped by one path or the other. You’ll fall down the embankment or you will hold steady on in the field and over the mountains. Steady on, my love. Hold steady.

Now is the time you can choose.

The woman you will become in the years to come will be loved so thoroughly by God, regardless of what your life looks like today. Be comforted to know that once you believe and accept Him, nothing can separate you, but I beg you to drawn near now and not wait. The blessings God has for you deserve your attention now, not later. Trust that His plan is better than anything you could ever conceive of on your own. Don’t manipulate these days, this college, these people, this time. They are all a part of God’s plan for you. Let them lift you up and encourage you and your heart.

I love you, now and then,

Krista

finding great

One year ago today was my last day working at Ventura College. It was a Thursday afternoon. Friday was supposed to be my last day, but I needed that day for me so I made the impromptu decision to call in sick.

Leaving work that Thursday was surreal. After all, I had left the campus every weekend for four years and returned the following week to do the same thing over and over again. Students, staff, websites. Emails, phone calls, trainings. For four years, my weeks looked the same. This day, this last day, felt both anticlimactic and breath-taking. It was a gorgeous, sunny evening, the kind of evening that bridges the gap between summer and fall. I walked the short distance from my office to my car, clicked my seat belt… and I was done. I thought I would cry as I am basically the most sentimental human being on the planet, but instead of tears filling my eyes, butterflies filled my stomach.

I was tired. So, so tired. I needed to rest. I had the giddy hope of something greater coming, some shift in my life that I couldn’t explain but could only feel deeply inside of my. The feeling was fleeting and when I tried to name or explain it, the words refused to come, but always, always the feeling came back.

I know that there are many who would say that I was being absurd for complaining about my job. If you ask anyone with a rational mind, they’d say that what I did was exceptionally stupid. Who leaves a job with a salary that was ridiculously huge for a single woman with no real responsibility? Who leaves a job with benefits that made others envious? Who leaves a job with a supportive boss and opportunities for creativity and growth? Who leaves a job with great coworkers, a job related to the very expensive masters degree he or she earned?

A 29-year-old woman bowing under the weight of job that was breaking her.

I know I left a lot of good behind, but my heart longed and ached for something better than just good. It longed for the great, and I knew, I just knew, that my job was the one thing that was holding me back from the great.

I know. I know how absurd that sounds. But I also knew that I was only ever going to be where I was if I never got brave enough to risk it all and walk away.

I didn’t walk. I ran.

It’s crazy how the doors to things opened the moment I left. As I drove off that campus, I didn’t feel dread. I left pumped. I felt like anything was possible, because literally for the first time since I started working there, anything was possible.

Something that I didn’t tell many people before I left the college was that for a while, I had felt the call to go into full-time vocational ministry. I didn’t really understand what that meant. All of those words alone made sense but together they were a jumble of something too big for me to decipher. And to be completely honest, I was baffled by the pull I felt because aside from serving in kid’s ministry and a few other small things at the church, I wasn’t involved in ministry, really.

The rest is history, as one might say. I found a ministry. In five days, I went from hesitant to volunteering and later helping to coordinate things. I job hopped. I moved around work so much that I quit telling people what I was doing because I didn’t want unsolicited criticism thinly disguised as advice. I felt lost. I was search for a firm place to land, to rest after those four exhausting years at the college. When I began working as a temp at a tax firm, I found a light-heartedness to my work that I missed the entire time I was at the college. Oh, don’t get me wrong. We were professional. We were respectful and we took our work seriously. But when it was just us, there were jokes and goofing and maybe some Russian accents. My days were filled with laughter and a joy in working that I’d never known in a professional, post-graduate field.

And then it ended. Two days after my 30th birthday, I was unemployed. I knew it was coming. After all, tax season has an end date that doesn’t change as the years move forward. It was then that I felt, for the first time, panic. I began applying for jobs in crazy numbers. Multiple copies of my resume and cover letters filled up folders on my computer. I applied for jobs in Portland, thinking I could move there because I have friends who are planting a church up there. I have never once felt like God was preparing me to plant a church, but I was desperate. I had money, but not endless buckets of it. I had time, empty hours reminding me that I was running out of cash. I had bills that didn’t understand I was unemployed.

The day after I applied for two jobs in Portland (and said a quick “If it’s Your will, God” prayer), I received a call for an interview for a job I had applied for months before. And the next day, completely unsolicited, I woke up to a call from the lead pastor of my church, asking if I’d be interested in the open administrative assistant job. Over the next five days, I was interviewed and I prayed. I was interviewed and I prayed. I was interviewed and I prayed, and I said yes.

Those few days are more surreal to me than leaving the Ventura College campus for the last time was. Because here it is, one year since I walked away from security, and here is is, four months since I said yes to full-time vocational ministry. I feel more secure than I ever have before. Saying no to something allowed me to say yes to something else: yes to the great I was longing for. In the world’s eyes, what I have is not greater. I left all of the great behind according to their standards. But I’m here to tell you this:

I’m resting on great.

God is good.

My heart is firm.

No regrets.

Recollections: Four Parts

Part of this was written yesterday, the 27th, and I decided not to update the dates to make it seem like it was written today.

I remember dates and details and milestones like crazy. I love this (I rarely forget birthdays and anniversaries; I will be that girlfriend and wife who remembers absurd things like the first time we held hands and where we were when he said I love you and the mom who details every first and then every important second and third and fiftieth after that) and I hate it (growing up, I always knew the day I last saw my birth father and when I fought with a friend and what I was wearing when I found out bad news). I celebrate life by defining these moments on the calendar, and as this time of year comes, I can’t help but let my mind be drawn to July 2012.

– – – – – – – – – –

At 3:00 a.m. last Tuesday morning I woke up, the skin of my belly burning. I was so disoriented and nothing made sense. Why did I feel so hot and why did my belly ache so much when the fans were burning? Why was I in bed in a bed that wasn’t my own? Why were there no people with me when I was just with a good friend, telling her that I was six months pregnant?

Where was my baby?

Reality came back to me quickly, but in broken, chunky pieces after I placed my hand on my stomach. No, not pregnant. No belly full of baby. House sitting. Not my bed. Alone. Waking up. All a dream.

It was just a dream, Krista. But, like almost all of my dreams, even the ones that seem to make little sense logically, this one was so real and so vivid that I could feel the baby-that-wasn’t-there kicking. The joy I felt as I told my friend she was going to be an auntie was real and palpable – racing hearts and nervous excitement filling my body. And then I woke up.

Alone in a bed with empty skin and empty arms and a heart that burned with the feeling of something missing.

Does it surprise you that I closed my eyes and tried to pick up where I left off?

– – – – – – – – – –

The last year has been an amazing journey. Some day, I will sit down and write it out in more detail. I will give words to the path that God has taken me on, the healing and the hurt and the breaking down and building up – the parts in between the start and the end (if it ever really ends). But tonight, I’m sitting here, reflecting on the last 365 days as a whole and what it’s meant, and I can’t help but remember this exact day last year.

It was the first and only time in my life I have felt anguish, the burning, bitter bite of screams that you hold back and sobs you choke into whimpers. All I could do that day was curl up in bed under the covers in my dark bedroom, ignoring the blue July sky outside. I could not fathom being joyful when I wanted to rip my body apart and hit someone until they felt as horrible as I did.

I know now that God was using that as a breaking point. Two days before, I had cried hard and ugly for the first time. I said the words out loud, words that I’d never uttered and rarely thought in an attempt to make it less real:

“Friday would be my baby’s birthday. Her 13th birthday.”

The fear and the shame I felt at saying those words, and the sadness and grief that filled me as my friend prayed. The heartache that consumed me for the remainder of that year and only began to leave very recently. I have felt in the last 12 months more than I have felt in my first 29 years combined. Every consequence for my bad decisions, every problem I thought I’d solved but really made worse – it all came crawling out of me until I felt like I was gasping for air, choked by the thick and heavy weight of sin that had taken me over.

In some ways during those days, I wished I could have taken all of the words back and lived in a land of pretending it never happened.

– – – – – – – – – –

This week has been hard. I have cried so many times – when a friend texted me a picture of an ultrasound, when I thought about the baby shower I attended today (a day that should have been filled with a celebration of my own child), during the baby shower as a newborn baby cried in the background, when I woke up with the aching sensation in my belly and my arms so light and empty. But if I’ve learned anything, it is that I get to grieve. It is normal and healthy to grieve. I have gone before God and asked for forgiveness and in His grace, He allowed me the right to grieve my loss as real as any other woman who has last a child.

I recently finished a Bible study for women who have had abortions and it was an incredible class with an amazing group of women. We focused on the act of abortion, what the Bible says about human life, the consequences of our sin, and lots and lots of time was spent on the cross and forgiveness and Jesus’ sacrifice. After we finished our last meeting, I was ready and prepared to be done with the feelings of sadness and loss. I gave it all to God and I said, “Boom. I. Am. Done.”

Or so I thought.

This week has reminded me that isn’t true and that you can’t put a time frame on grief. At every teary moment, I’ve thought, “Why the heck I am crying? It’s done! It’s finished! I’m done! Why can’t I get it together?”

Every time. I’m so sick of being sad about it, and then in the midst of my frustration of just wanting to get a hold of myself, I realized something that I cannot get out of my head:

There is a distinct different between being consumed by sin and self-pity and simply grieving a loss.

In my mind, I have linked my emotions with the sin I had allowed to control my life with simply feeling sad and admitting I did, indeed, lose something. I told myself, once I began to grieve on that July night last year, that once I dealt with the root, the emotions would go away.

I was right and I was wrong.

The horrible emotions of shame and anguish and bitterness have gone. I really did leave those behind that night and when I took the Bible study I wrote about earlier. But the feelings of loss and bereavement and sorrow? Those are here, fading gently. I can’t box them up and ship them off. I can’t expect myself to wake up and be fine. I wouldn’t expect a mom who’s lost a child another way to be done with her grief in a set amount of time.

I’ve really had to think about this a lot the last few days and it’s made me realize that God is always bigger than my emotions and my feelings. First of all, in too many moments to mention during the last week, I have had to ask Him to get me through the day, the hour, the moment. Literally the moment, when the tears are right there and I felt like I could not control them. Even when feeling the pain of loss, I’ve had to tell myself that I must turn to the One higher than me and stronger than me instead of being capsized by the pain in my heart.

And second, I’ve had to check myself this week – am I allowing myself to feel condemned and shamed by something God has already forgiven me for? I don’t want to be the kind of person whose life revolves around a critical moment of sin, a person whose life takes on meaning only because of something that she needs to let go of. Keeping myself near to God has made me check this part of me and I know that no, I’m not feeling shame and condemnation.

Just a little sad that this is a moment in time where I am missing the sweaty, happy head of a girl who just celebrated her birthday. And tonight, where I am (close to God and removed from Satan’s lies that I’ll never be good enough because I was bad enough one time), I know that I am okay.

When I think about the cool of Tuesday morning, of shutting my eyes and letting myself drift back to sleep under the fans, I know that I longed for my girl. I know that there will be things in the future that remind me of her and my desire to know her, and a part of me will always long for her. This year, though, is easier than last year, and I know next year will be easier than this year – and the years ahead will continue to come, filled with new things to grieve and more joy that I know to celebrate. I am so thankful to God to know that I know our separation isn’t eternal, just earthly, and in it all, the grief will not be forever, or for long.

For now, she is a ruby kept just above my heart.

Passion & Purity

Every Sunday of high school  Sunday School it seemed like we talked about purity. It’s not lost on me that I had an abortion on Saturday and the very next day, we began another series on saving ourselves until marriage. It was a cold January day, and instead of paying attention, I tried to ignore the cramps in my stomach and instead stared out the window at the gloomy gray clouds. Because there was no point in me listening. I was no longer saving that part of myself — that was done and gone. And we only ever had sermons on being a virgin when you got married. We didn’t talk about what happened when you made a mistake and had sex with someone long before you were even old enough to get married. You either waited or you didn’t, and if you didn’t… well, if you didn’t, then shame on you.

I’ve seen a lot of blog posts in the recent months dealing with the topic of purity written from the female perspective. I find these blogs mostly heart-breaking. They’ve all been written from the perspective of women who chose not to wait until their wedding nights, whether they were Christians or not. My heart breaks for them because I also know what it’s like to sit in the pew on Sunday morning, shame burning my insides as the words coming from the pastor’s mouth single me out, even if no one else knows. My heart breaks for them because I know what it’s like to be the girl everyone smugly talks about, the girl who didn’t wait, the girl without the ring her parents gave her and the pledge to guide her. I’ve been the church gossip and I’ve been the lost cause. When I read words like this, written by Sarah Bessey in a gut-wrenching post called “In which I am damaged goods,” I literally feel like I want to hit a bunch of people:

He passed around a cup of water and asked us all to spit into it. Some boys horked and honked their worst into that cup while everyone laughed. Then he held up that cup of cloudy saliva from the crowd and asked, “Who wants to drink this?!”

And every one in the crowd made barfing noises, no way, gross!

“This is what you are like if you have sex before marriage,” he said seriously, “you are asking your future husband or wife to drink this cup.”

I feel angry and I feel the seeping shame begin to wash over me again and it takes me a few minutes to remind myself, “I am washed by the blood of Jesus and no man or woman or pastor gets to tell me I am unworthy because I stand on the promises of God, not the shame of people.”

But honey, I just want to say I know. I know. I know. I want to repeat it over and over again until the words don’t feel real. Because I totally know the feeling. Even if no one spit in a cup and told me to drink it. I didn’t go to a church that did that, but I didn’t go to a church that talked about how I was redeemed even though I made the mistake to have sex — and to have an abortion in an attempt to cover up my sin — when I was just 15 years old. No one told me that God still loved me and that His grace was enough for me. If they did, it got lost in the message that was exactly the same as the message Sarah Bessey heard, minus the gross-out factor:

You are unworthy. You are defiled. You are damaged goods. You are baggage. No man will want to marry you now that you have given a piece of your heart away.

I went to a church that emphasized the sanctity of the before but never the grace of the after.

I wish I had felt loved then. It makes my heart burst with joy when I say without a moment of hesitation that I feel that love and grace now. The mixture of these two very polar emotions — the shame at 15 and the holy love of God at 30 — makes it hard for me to write this post and to make these words come out in a way that makes sense.

But it’s harder for me to read all of these posts on purity whose main message of grace gets lost in the message of abuse of grace.

So much of what I have read lately that deals with the issues of purity and sex before marriage emphasizes grace but almost grace to an extreme, to the extreme where it becomes about grace abused. I have to say this loud and clear: I will never, ever judge or condem or shame someone, anyone, who tells me they have struggled with purity. Are you kidding me? I have made the decision to wait for the man I marry before I have sex again, but there are still aspects of purity I struggle with every.single.day. I will never look at a hurting person and shame them for sinning. Never, ever, as long as I live. If someone came to me and said, “Krista. I caved. I didn’t wait,” I would look that girl in her eye and I would tell her what my friend Megan told me the night I broke down crying in the dark of my bedroom as I shared with her the shame and anguish of my own sin. I would hug her and look at her and I would say: “I’m so sorry. Do you know how much God loves you? His love is without end, without fail, even in this moment where you can barely stand to say the words out loud.”

But at the same time, I have to say in the same clear, steady voice: purity matters. Don’t take it for granted. Fight to protect it. Do not think “If I mess up, it’s okay; I’ve got grace to cover me.” Don’t abuse God’s grace! You’re right — if you do mess up, grace will cover you. It covers me every day. But whatever you do, do not abuse the privilege of God’s grace! It is a struggle to rise against temptation and be holy as we are called

It bothers me to my very core that there are women all over this whole wide world whose hearts are aching because the price placed on their virginities was so high that they felt like it could never be paid and so they sold out and let others make them feel awful for doing such.

But at the same time, it makes me feel just as angry that there are women all over this whole wide world who are being told their virginity doesn’t matter at all. Yes. It matters.

Its value doesn’t come from how worthy your husband sees you. Its value doesn’t come from God looking at you and seeing a perfect human (because that will never happen as long as you live — sin will happen for us as long as we are alive!). Its value doesn’t come from a pastor getting up behind a pulpit at a youth conference making you feel like you are unworthy to sit in the hallowed walls of a church.

Its value matters because we are children of God, given these bodies and these lives and these minds to bring honor and glory to Him. By choosing purity over the world, we are choosing His glory.

Does God love me even one teensy, tiny bit less than He did that day in October of the year I was 15 when I decided I didn’t want to wait? No. Not even a smidge less. But because my love for Him has grown in amounts I cannot express, I will wait and I will, with love oozing out of me, gently remind others to wait, too.

Fifteenth summer vacation

Most people know that I studied English in college with an emphasis — really, it was more like a minor — in creative writing. My focus was writing tortured stories of teenage girls and women, still the audience I feel most compelled to write for. But today, as I was cleaning out our storage shed to actually make everything fit (which was its own special game of moving Tetris), I came across a bunch of poems that I’d written while I was in college.

I hated my poetry class. I mean, I truly hated it. Once, in fact, I walked out of the class in full-on tears because I was frustrated with the teacher. So needless to say, it put a major damper on my love of poetry. And then the following semester, after I’d had a few of my poems published in our school’s lit journal, my fiction writing teacher told me that I was a very good poet.

I shrugged it off because a) it was a college lit journal, not some national journal or magazine and b) I hated poetry. Seriously hated it. And c) of course they were decent poems — it wasn’t like I was submitting my crappy stuff.

But today, while I was cleaning out my shed, I came across a handful of poems that I’d written, which made me look through bunch of poems I have saved on my computer. All I can say is:

Man. I hated that class, but I love writing poetry.

I wanted to share a piece but decided not to pick some of my favorites because they’re the ones I would share any time. So this is one that I wrote while in college.

– – – – – – – – – –

Fifteenth Summer Vacation

You are my ocean,
seaweed tangling around my ankles,
wet and bubbly,
sand exfoliating my skin, the
smell of hot, dry summer days, and the
rush
of water rising through my spine as my
board makes its way to the shore.

You are the cloudy haze, the
islands I distantly swim to in dreams,
a chilled Corona angled in
the sand at high
noon, the salt sticking to my sunglasses,
water rinsing cool my legs
as I crack back the green pinstripped
lawn chair and sip in the day.

You are a sand dollar, its belly a cat’s tongue,
a seastar, five ways at once,
a season, the fluid
lines of sand
that wave to me, a
jetty, a pier, a picture on a postcard
and the fairgrounds
when the fireworks explode on the 4th of July.

You are a red tide, phosphorescent,
the way green divies to yellow-meets-blue at the horizon,
the smell of wet sand going down the drain,
crab shacks and sunsets in a beach house,

a sunburn that glows like a red tide
spanning my shoudlers,
peeling away to reveal something soft,
the squwak of a chased-away seagull,
rocks tumbling against the bones in
my legs, my shins
becoming sand,
a sand castle built from a red
bucket washing back.