Stretched Thin, Spread Out, Worn Down

Sometimes, feelings bottle up inside and the only way to sort them out is to write them. This blog post is a result of those feelings. It may not make complete sense, and I promise that I’m not looking for your pity. Sometimes, I just need to share. Thanks for “listening.”

I should begin by saying I realize that my life is great. I am entirely aware of how blessed I am.  I’m a student at one of the top Bible colleges in the world. I have a solid group of friends who prop me up when I’m too weak to stand on my own. I have finally found a home church, and joined a Gospel Community there. I’m in classes for my major now, I have a job that I love, and my basic needs are met: food, water, shelter, etc.  If you look at my life on the surface, it’s “pretty great, actually.” In fact…

“I’m fine.”
“I’m doing great.”
“Life is good.”

These are all things I’ve told people over the last few weeks.  But they aren’t entirely accurate.

I’m balancing 17 credit hours, 15 hours a week of work, homework, Puente, 5North Min Team, PCM, some semblance of a social life, and sleep.  Actually, “balancing” is the wrong word.  It would be more accurate to say that I’m “precariously juggling” all of those things. And then there’s the fact that, as a human being,I’m required to experience a certain amount of feelings.  I lost one of my closest friends over Christmas break and I’m trying to find time to just be sad for a minute.  I sat in the hallway for over an hour, crying with another friend over her deep hurt. I’ve started counseling to deal with the hurt from our church split last spring. I’m actually homesick this semester, especially for my little brother. There is increasing tension in my group of friends that needs to be dealt with. Between my lack of sleep and the knowledge that each day will bring a lot more stress, it has become increasingly difficult to stop hitting the snooze button.

I’m stretched thin, spread out, worn down. If I could wave a magic wand to get anything I wanted, it would be a long weekend on a beach with a pillow, my Bible, my journal, and some music.  I long for sunshine and warmth, for the laughter and freedom that summer brings.  I want to spend a few days at the farm on Cole Rd, cooking for Nana and Papa, watering the steer, and rocking in the corner of the living room reading old issues of Farm and Ranch. I want to go to East Lansing with Maggie and Jocie and eat at Chipotle and go to Bubble Island and talk for hours.

None of those things are options right now. Instead, I snag a few free minutes to journal each day. I take time to breathe and relax before I fall asleep. Coffee is my new best friend, and I’ve started eating breakfast in an effort to have more energy throughout the day.  Sometimes I pause to stare at a wall for a few moments. Gospel Community is a welcome time to break out of the “Moody bubble” and share life with people outside of my daily circles. I make myself find joy in the little things. I remind myself that I am a wretched, awful sinner, but Jesus loves me in spite of myself. My roommate listens to me complain. I look at pictures of sunshine and beaches and summer. I hug people a lot. Gramma Kelci gives me frequent back massages. Sometimes, like last night, I drop everything and do something spontaneous with my friends. When none of those things work, I hide under my covers and talk to Jesus until I fall asleep.

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Faithfulness and Stars

“But when I look at the stars, I feel like myself.” -Switchfoot, Stars

On Monday night, before the craziness of this semester had officially set in (16 credit hours, 18 hours of work, PCM, homework, AND a social life. Yeah.), a few of my friends and I took a walk to the beach.  We hadn’t been off-campus together as a group since returning from Christmas break, so it was a relaxing time to catch up on life.

If you live in the Midwest or pay attention to the news, you’ll know that we’re having a frighteningly warm winter thus far.  It was nearly 50 degrees the night we walked to the beach. Yes, you read that correctly. It was “sweatshirt weather,” in Chicago, in January, after dark.  I don’t know enough about meteorology or astronomy or basic science to know if this had anything to do with the phenomena I am about to explain, but as we stepped on to the beach, I instinctively looked up…

and there were stars.

Not just the one super-bright star that I’m semi-convinced is fake.  Not just some particularly slow-moving airplanes.  No, as I began to count the stars out loud while pointing excitedly and bouncing like I was hyped up on sugar, I realized there were more than I could reasonably count!  I even managed to locate Orion’s belt.

There were stars. In Chicago.  One of the few things I hate about this city is the lack of stars.  I was incredibly excited to return this semester, but was sorely disappointed that I hadn’t seen any stars while I was home for Christmas break.  Since junior high, looking at the stars has always been one of my biggest reminders of God’s enormity and never-ending faithfulness.

No matter where I am, if I can find a familiar constellation or even see the stars spilled across in their varying levels of brightness, I instantly feel comforted.  I love knowing that I see the same stars as my friends across the globe.  The fact that God knows each of those stars by name reminds me of my sheer tininess compared to His grandeur.

Simply put, stars tug on my heartstrings on about 12 different levels.

As I said before, I don’t know anything about science.  Maybe there is a perfectly logical explanation for the sudden display of splendor over downtown Chicago.  However, I prefer my explanation: the night before, I had tossed and turned as I worried (in the way only sinful humans can) about the coming semester.  Finally, I started to pray.  As I sleepily told my Daddy about my worries and concerns, I asked him to remind me of His faithfulness.  I begged Him to allow me to live this season of my life knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that He was holding my hand.  The next night, I went for a walk…

and there were stars.

After the Fire

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is 1 Kings 19:11-12.  The verses read as follows:

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

As my screwed-up college sleep schedule kept me awake for the fourth night in a row, this verse popped into my head.  Being a student at a Bible college, the majority of my daily life is about finding the Lord in some way or another.  Whether we’re studying theology, surveying the Old Testament, or discussing life in spiritual community, our classes focus on pursuing the Lord.  With pursuit of Christ becoming a day-to-day, academic task, it’s easy for it to become impersonal.  To become stilted.  To get caught up in the noise, the friends, the grades, the papers, the chapel, the music, the conversations… and forget to listen for the gentle whisper.

Perhaps if a Moody student had been the one encountering the Lord in 1 Kings, the verses would go something like this:

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and sit in the plaza in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.  Then a large group of friends in laughing fellowship came and shared testimonies and good times, but the Lord was not in the large group of friends.  After the group of friends came there was a worship chapel, filled with emotion, swelling music, and raised hands, but the Lord was not in the worship chapel.  After the worship chapel came a series of final papers and exams about doctrine and the Bible, trying to figure out the intricacies of the Christian faith, but the Lord was not in the series of final papers and exams about doctrine and the Bible.  And after the finals papers and exams came Christmas break, solitude at long-last, and quiet bedrooms at home.  And in the quiet came a gentle whisper.”

This break has afforded me, literally, the first chance since January to think and process the events of the last year.  The thoughts are swirling through my head almost faster than I can register their existence, and I finally have time to acknowledge them as they come.  The result is a fair amount of journaling, listening to a lot of music, and sleeping at odd times.  There have been a lot of big events and changes in my life over the course of this past year… things that really deserve a day or two of processing, prayer, journaling.  And finally, finally I have a chance to process.  The fire has died down, and after the fire comes a gentle whisper.

Running, Planning and Trust

If you’ve known me for even a day or two, you know that I hate running.  I complain loudly and often if forced to run any distance, and would rather walk ten miles than run even one.  Something about that particular movement, combined with my uncoordinated limbs and general distaste for athletic activity can send me into sheer panic just thinking about it.

If you’ve known me for a while longer, let’s say a couple weeks, you have realized that I am a planner.  You can blame it on the fact that I’m a firstborn, chalk it up to the fact that my “highest scoring” spiritual gift is leadership, or just call me obnoxious, but I like to have things nailed down.  As a child, I had to know the exact order of the day’s plans.  If the plan of McDonald’s, the grocery store, then the bank changed to the bank, McDonald’s, then the grocery store; 3-year-old Alyssa would throw a tantrum and be thrown off for the rest of the day.  I’m not quite so extreme at this stage in my life, but I do still like to have life figured out.  I send out mass-texts detailing the evening’s plans, create facebook groups for my class months before arriving at college, and planned out my optimal schedule for the next four years a looong time ago.

Though college has taught me how to be more spontaneous and less anal, I still get a panicky feeling in my chest if my plans change at the last minute.  When I make a split-second decision to walk to the 24-hour Starbucks and join a study group, I inwardly question the decision the whole way there.  When the plans I made at lunch fall through after dinner, the same feeling rises to 18-year-old Alyssa’s brain as the one that sent 3-year-old Alyssa into a tailspin.  I have to consciously remind myself that it’s okay, life goes on, and my night is not ruined.

This desire to control extends itself quite easily into my long-term plans.  I sometimes think I have it all figured out.  I know how I want my life to go… but then God throws a wrench into my plans.  That wrench is called His plan.  He shows me a little glimpse of it, but never what I think is enough.  And the questions spring up.

Where am I going? Did I choose the right major? What am I going to do with my life? Where should I go to church? Am I going to get married, or will I glorify You better if I’m single? What should I do this summer? 

God responds by holding out His hand toward me.  He asks, “Do you trust Me?”

“Of COURSE I trust you, Lord!” I reply.  This is ridiculous. For goodness’ sake, I’m a Moody student.  I’ve been on missions trips.  I go to church, mentor other girls, encourage others via snail mail.  I’m a Christian, obviously I trust Him!  I look up at Him with my best duh expression, unprepared for His immediate response.

“Then grab on and hold on tight – we’re going for a run.”

I freeze.

He knows how I feel about THAT particular activity.  I mean, why can’t we just drive down the path of life together?  Or ride bikes?  I would be okay with a brisk walk even, but running?!  I hate running.

“Do you trust Me?” He asks again.

Well… yes, of course I trust You… it’s just… You know how I feel about running.  And, on second thought, I think I have a pretty good plan figured out for my life anyway, so maybe if it’s all the same to You, I’ll just go for a walk.  Or go to bed.  Or, You know, just not run.  Ever.  I don’t run.  You know that.  I can’t believe you would even ask me to run.  I thought You knew how I felt about running.  I can’t do it.  I won’t do it.” I mutter my response nervously, picking at my cuticles and cracking my toes inside my shoes.  When I look up, He is simply staring patiently, still holding out His hand.

“Let’s go running,” He repeats, a little more emphatically, stretching His hand closer to me.  “Trust Me.  You’re going to love it.”

Maybe it’s the patience in His eyes.  Maybe it’s the scars on the palm that’s extended so earnestly toward me, reminding me of the ultimate sacrifice He made for me.  Maybe it’s the knowledge, deep inside of me, that He will carry me when I get too tired to run on my own.  Whatever it is, I stretch out my hand with a building feeling of anticipation.

He folds it into His own, and instantly I feel His strength flood into me.

Where are we going?” I ask.

Trust me,” He replies.

And we begin to run.

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She sits in coffee shops, sipping full-strength brew with a splash of cream, reading books on theology and listening to a band she discovered yesterday.  She’s surrounded by friends, and whispers with them between homework assignments.

She hops on the Brown Line, transfers to the Red, takes the 156 to Union Station – and knows what all of those things mean.  She knows where not to go alone at night, and could take you to the beach one of three ways.

Her hair is wild and curly, loose and carefree. These days, it’s rarely pulled into the severe ponytail or bun of her past.  She puts thought into her appearance now, departing far from the girl who spent nearly every day in sweatpants and a teeshirt.  She tucks jeans into boots, flicks on mascara, and adds a necklace without even thinking about it.

She sits at the dinner table for hours, eating spinach salad and exchanging banter about occasionally awkward topics.  The end of dinner finds her roaming the tunnels with her favorite people in the world, lingering longer than necessary in random corners and doorways.

Every night, she hosts a prayer group in her room.  Surrounded by four of the closest friends she’s known, she shares from the deepest place in her heart.  She listens as the others share, bows before her Father while the group intercedes for one another.  She laughs with them, cries with them, and doesn’t shy away from her feelings.

She bought a brand new journal at the beginning of the school year, and it’s already a quarter of the way full.  She sits in the stairwells with her Sharpie pen, pouring out her heart to the Lord on paper.  She asks the hard questions, begs for contentment, and gives thanks for the life she hardly recognizes.

During these times with Jesus, it hits her: she has the kind of life she used to secretly long for.  She has been blessed with real friends, true acceptance.  Most importantly, she has discovered legitimate, beautiful, profound, concrete, palpable intimacy with God.  That intimacy has overflowed into every aspect of her life.  Her heart is filled with real joy.

She’s not always “fine,” but she knows how to admit that now.  Her mask fell off a few months ago, knocked off after some long conversations with her Father and her friends.  It hit the ground and shattered into a million tiny pieces.  She didn’t even try to pick it up.  She doesn’t need it anymore.

Conflicted

It’s good to be home, but it’s also strange.  I am struck again and again by how different my life is now.  As I drove to Millington for an appointment today, I marveled at the quiet roads and open fields.  It’s all so familiar and normal, yet a completely different reality now exists for me.  Perhaps because I have yet to bring anyone home to Millington with me, my college world and my home world have not collided.  It’s as if College Alyssa is still in Chicago, living her life with her friends, while Millington Alyssa is back here – sleeping in the basement, driving the Taurus, eating real food, and doing homework at the kitchen table.

I show my mom pictures of school, pointing out people using only first names like she knows who they are.  “Oh, that’s Alyssa and James and David and Grace and Hailee,” I say, as if those names should click in her head the way they do in mine.  By the end of the last month’s worth of photos, she’s learned, “That’s the one from Kalamazoo, that’s the one from the Philippines, that’s the transfer, that’s the girl from Owosso.”  But she’ll never live with them, never know them like I do.

It’s a strange realization, that my parents don’t know all of my friends and probably never will truly know them. When I think of Alyssa, David, Grace, and James, I think of eye rolling and hours of talking, early Christmas music and incessant back-and-forth teasing, deep discussions and mocking CWC films, and shared bus and train rides back to the Mitten.  I think of late minutes, walks to the beach, spontaneous activities, movie nights, crocheting, and countless other memories.  My parents can maybe match a name and a face, might know of an activity or two that one of those people was a part of… but that’s it.

College Alyssa couldn’t be more different from Millington Alyssa, and as College Alyssa returns to Millington, there’s a strange struggle inside of me.  It’d be easy for Millington Alyssa to return and slip back into the life I’ve always known.  Yet, I love the person college is turning me into.  The problem is, people in Millington haven’t watched the transformation.  They don’t sit at the table in the SDR for hours.  They couldn’t tell you how to get to Forever Yogurt or the difference between the Target on Roosevelt and the one on Wilson.  They didn’t sit in that Women’s Min event with me, they don’t show up for Pow-Wows and Prayer every night.  They weren’t there when Trevor was rushed to the hospital or when my Molly and I had our freshman breakdowns on the exact same day.

I try to relate funny stories, share anecdotes, even describe emotions that I’ve felt.  I attempt to share bits and pieces of the person I’m becoming, but it’s hard.  I journal about how much I hate growing up, how I’m not ready to be on my own and be an adult – yet I wouldn’t trade life at Moody for the world.  When I’m away from school, I’m homesick for Chicago streets, the late nights in the library, the hours at the SDR table, and most of all the people.  Life is changing, shifting, moving faster than I can keep up with.

I’m not even sure what I’m trying to say.  It’s like my life is this paradox of loving being off and on my own and missing childhood.  It’s a conflict between embracing who I truly am and just wanting to be my parents’ kid forever and ever, never making a decision.  It’s confusing, it’s distressing, and sometimes it makes me cry.  Thank goodness I have Jesus holding my hand and reading my journal.