Quietness in control

My white-haired professor sets up a meeting with me. “Why don’t you talk more?” he asks.

My response is to go home to my roommates and complain about the guy at the front of my English class who puts his hand up to ask a question every five to seven minutes.

At least I’m not like him.

At least I’m not like the fool in Proverbs who has no control of his tongue.

Or am I the same kind of different?

I know my criticism is a mask for my fear when my professor assigns me to give a presentation. I’m quiet because I’m afraid. Afraid to be exposed. The more you talk, the more you set yourself up for error.

I was six years old when I dropped a note in her mailbox. She must have wondered why a little kid bothered to write. It’s because I was intrigued by the way she paused when she talked. Before giving advice, asking a question, she paused.

I’m sure people thought she was too quiet. I thought she was wise.

It’s where I learned quietness is a crutch unless you let the Lord control the pauses.

I remember the night she told me what meekness means. Strength controlled.

I find myself praying to live up to the definition.

Is strength really strong if it’s clumsy?

Is quietness really wisdom if it’s just a fearful reaction?

Moses, whose faltering speech was the excuse he brought before God, was later called the meekest man on earth.

When his siblings spoke against him, God defended him. “With [Moses] I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord” (Number 12:8).

So, I surrender silence. Sign up for Toastmasters. Speak up in small group.

And sometimes I don’t.

Mostly, I read what He Says. I find out what matters to say and what doesn’t. Like Moses, I speak to the One who can show me.

Lord of personality.

Lord of speech and the spaces between.

“Then the LORD said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?’” (Exodus 4:11)

 

Joy is not a soft word

“That’s what did it for me,” he turns the car north toward the mountains.

His words marinate. The fact that you want to change shows the Lord is working in you.

Repent-sin-repent-sin-repent-sin. The cycle defines my Christian life.

It’s March and I’m at the point where I can barely come up for air before temptation grabs me by the hair and shoves me underwater again.

It feels like years since I’ve felt the joy of a gentler Master.

Sin is a tyrant.

“I needed to hear that,” I say. “Because I was beginning to wonder…”

When was the last time I got on my knees without shame?

“I was beginning to wonder if, you know, sometimes I wasn’t even sure that I am saved.”

And I know there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but how could I go to God with joy and pretend I hadn’t done anything to offend Him.

“I wish you were happier,” she had told me earlier.

But I’d let my joy die. Like penance. Offend God, yes. But at least I will not allow myself to enjoy Him.

Because it’s easier to feel nothing than to feel conviction.

We talk about it one evening in late December, how joy is gospel delight.

Then isn’t it ironic how I thought I could conquer sin without joy?

Without delighting in the Truth of deliverance? Of victory?

My best defense against sin was perseverance.

But there’s a stronger strategy. The way of warriors.

Joy.

Bold, fierce, storm-the-gates, decisive joy.

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

How to have a truly happy new year

For the first time in years, I don’t remember my New Year’s resolution from January. Usually, I write it down in my journal or on a note I stick to my mirror.

There’s been many of those dog-eared sticky notes from years past.

The year of contentment. Speaking life.

We passed pancakes across the breakfast table on January 1st this year. “What do you want from 2018?”

I can’t remember my answer.

I know what I didn’t want though.

I didn’t want to walk into her office and share the parts of my life I’m inclined to hide. I didn’t want to Facetime her the day after she delivered her baby that never breathed. I didn’t want to spend four months wondering how I’d walk into her house on Christmas day and see her empty chair. I didn’t want to go on another first date that led nowhere.

We sit across from each other in a little coffee shop in Colorado, picking at a charcuterie board.

“When I think about all of the things I have left to go through,” her voice cracks.

We lock eyes. Years upon years of unknown.

But if I had to go back to January 1st with them cutting pancake diagonals and waiting for my answer, I know what I’d say.

The year of Christ.

Because if there’s anything I learned this year, it’s that the best resolution is to not do anything without Him.

He’s the author of the story. He sharpened my heart with conviction, prepared it for grief.

He writes the character development.

And He’s already shown me the script for the happy ending.

I make plans to ring in the new year with them. And I realize I’m already ready to say it.

“Happy new year.”

Not because it’s a chance for a fresh start, a re-do.

But because every new year is written by the same Author.

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” Is. 54:10

 


Influence is not Instagram followers

Seven years. That’s how long it’s been since I first opened a blank blogger post, knowing that whatever I typed on that naked page would go onto the World Wide Web for whoever cared to see it.

Or whoever didn’t care.

I write for a living. I have two blogs. I’ve gotten used to sitting in a room full of strangers reading what I’ve written and then verbally tearing it up in front of me.

But there has been no writing project more terrifying than goldenclay.blogspot.com.

I remember sitting across from her in the living room. “Do you know you’ve actually played a significant role in my story?”

“No.” I’m surprised. We’ve hung out only a few times.

She explains how meeting me in a class at church was an answer to her parent’s prayer. How signing up for a small group wouldn’t have happened without me signing up beside her. How she wouldn’t have met her small group leader. The one who might be the one.

Seven years and I often find myself checking the number of views on my blog.

Wondering about posts I’ve wept over, argued with God about. Posts that less than ten people have given a like. Wondering if it’s worth it.

Because, as much as I hate math, I often judge my life’s worth based on numbers. The higher the number of views, followers, best friends, the more worthwhile I am to God.

What we often forget is that we add value to people’s stories just based on being in them in the first place–and often through no choice of our own. We add value in ways we could never plan or preconceive.

Like how we spent a total of six hours together before I never saw him again. And how he sent me a text saying he admired my intelligence. And how I never knew that someone would think that about me. And how now I’m less afraid to speak up and be a leader.

Or how I reached out to her for accountability with shame I’d kept secret for fifteen years and she never batted an eyelash when I told her the gruesome details. She just thanked me. She’ll never know how God used her to open a prison door.

Seven years. Seven years of pushing the ‘Post’ button and realizing that my biggest role as a Christian writer, as with everything, is to die to myself.

For me: to be vulnerable, honest about my brokenness and my Hope (both of which can be equally difficult).

To be obedient.

Even with zero views and zero followers.

Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Who am I to say how God is working? Or that He needs an audience to do it.

“Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?” Proverbs 20:24

Beneath the waters

She’s just a little girl. Eleven maybe. She steps cautiously into the baptismal tank.

“I gave my life to Christ when I was three,” her voice shakes as she looks down at the notes in her hands.

I was three too.

I blink hard as her tiny figure blurs. I was eleven too when I stood waist deep in that pond behind our country church. “Do you believe Jesus died for you, Kate?” Mr. Weber had asked, seriously. “Do you believe he rose again and that, by His grace, you’ll spend eternity with him?”

I remember looking around at the people standing on the bridge, at the twins standing on the shore, at the four blond kids sitting on the dock. “Yes.”

I knew nothing then. But I knew everything I needed to know.

The little girl at the front of the church continues reading. Her voice quickens at the paragraph where her mom leaves them. She looks up from the paper and takes a deep breath and recites that familiar passage. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want (Ps. 23:1).” The comfort that was with her when her mom wasn’t.

I wipe my eyes. It’s the same verse I texted my friend that morning.

And just last week, I told her that I’m excited about my 25thbirthday in four days. How this year has been the best yet.

Not because I did things better or different.

Because I lived repentance.

How I got off a return flight from Iceland and looked in my bathroom mirror and said goodbye to that bit of myself that’s been lingering for twenty years.

I stopped hugging the cross with one hand and holding my desires with the other.

I watch the little girl fall beneath the waters.

I know that, through the confusion of high school and the pressures of university and the lure of success, she’ll be just fine.

And maybe she too will sit in the middle row of church on the eve of her 25th birthday and feel as if she’s being plunged beneath the waters of grace.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Is. 43:19

He takes my breath away

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”

While she reads the words that Job affirmed thousands of years ago, I’m back in student housing with boxes of textbooks and dishes piled around me, wiping my eyes furiously.

The future is as daunting as the boxes I have to move.

Where will I find friendships as deep as the three I have across the hallway?

The Lord takes away.

I’m back in the hospice, reading her poetry aloud and swapping memories.

Where will I find another confidante who loves me as unconditionally as her?

He takes her breath away.

But it’s like she says to me, a few weeks before they unplug her oxygen tanks. “Kate, this year has been filled with the greatest blessings in my life.”

It takes my breath away.

The way the Lord gives. Six months later, we’re all in Kentucky together. “It’s funny,” she says. “I think our friendship has grown even deeper since we’ve lived apart.”

And three years later, we all stand in peach bridesmaid dresses, and share a speech about late-night prayer messages and WhatsApp texts and phone calls that come from thousands of miles away. Distance has deepened our love.

The Lord gives.

And I call him late on a Wednesday night, because he knows what it feels like to live without her too. “I love you,” he says. And I remember how we used to never say that to each other.

With her gone, we see the things we have.

And every passing year, with its passing sorrows, keeps bringing greater blessings.

Loss is always present.

But so is the grace He keeps giving back.

“And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10).”

There’s something about that name

“Let’s see what Kate has playing here,” he reaches to turn on the CD player in my car.

I laugh. “Wait no.” I turn it off. “I forget what I have in there.”

But it’s coming back to me. On the drive to work this morning, I slipped a CD in the drive, a dramatic recording of Ephesians. An audio book of the Bible.

How the heck would I explain to a car full of boys, of co-workers, that I listen to super cheesy recordings of the Bible in my spare time?

“C’mon Kate,” he says from the back seat. “We won’t judge, even if it’s Taylor Swift.”

“No!” I say it more sharply. “I’m embarrassed.”

“Okay, okay, just focus on driving,” he lets it go.

But it’s all I can think about for the next week.

Ashamed of the One I love most.

It’s like that time the businessman leaned across the table and asked him what I do for a living.

“Oh, Kate? She’s just a writer.” Like he was ashamed of me.

But shame is not the shelter a Christian builds. Neither shame of sin, nor shame of Saviour.

It’s on my mind when I slip in the back row of the church.

And the pastor speaks about that time the authorities told Peter and John to keep their lips sealed when it came to Jesus of Nazareth.

They refused. Instead, they went and prayed with the church. “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness (Acts 4:29).”

And the Holy Spirit filled them.

The man in the seat beside me leans over. “Can I pray for you?”

I nod.

“Oh, Senor,” he prays in a mixture of Spanish and English. “Help her boldly speak the name of Jesus.”

The name of Jesus.

A name that I’ve neglected lately, even alone.

But this where it starts, Ernesto whispering the name passionately. Me agreeing.

It starts with agreement from my soul.

Like I agree with what the apostles said to the authorities.

Unapologetically.

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).”

The result? Peter’s body hanging naked on a tree, like the One whose name he wouldn’t hide.

And Peter waking in Glory to the voice of His Saviour saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”