October 14, 2017

It is for freedom

I've been feeling burdened recently and that feeling isn't just coming from one, single place or influence. It seems as though the entire world continues to become more burdened on a daily basis. We wake up to new trauma and devastation and we go to sleep with the weight of our own decisions on our shoulders. It seems like we have just become a burdened people, as though that attribute is woven into the very fabric of our being. Maybe some believe it is. But, I don't. As I was making my coffee this morning, I felt overwhelmed. There was a sadness, a certain sorrow thinking about the state of the world and certain aspects of my life. All of a sudden, I felt as though I was being reminded of Galatians 5:1. For anyone unfamiliar with that verse, it states, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavey." In this passage, Paul is writing to the churches in southern Galatia. These were churches founded on Paul's first missionary journey and his purpose in this was to address how new believers were implementing Jewish laws. Paul was seeing that these new believers were experiencing a perversion of the gospel- they were believing that forgiveness for their sins and closeness with God was achieved through adhering to ancient laws and rules.

Paul sees this and is like, "Yeah, no guys. Rules, regulations, and law aren't where we meet God." This isn't Paul giving the Galatians a free pass. This isn't Paul telling us to go buck wild. This isn't a "get out of jail free" card. This is an encouragement that we don't receive grace through perfectly upholding the law. I can easily get distracted in my faith by wanting to do things right and well. When that distraction takes hold, showing up at church on Sunday is more important than spending time in the Bible during the week. There's a certain piety that becomes more valuable than an authentic relationship with the One who I claim sustains my very life. It becomes more important to me to appear righteous and holy versus actually having a genuine closeness to Jesus.

But, like I said earlier, this isn't then an invitation to do whatever we want. I was struck so deeply this morning by Paul's words in verse one where he states, "Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." The use of yoke is meant to show us that our freedom is not meant to lead us back to sin. Paul is showing us that our sin is a burden, it oppresses us. We are given freedom so that we may know and experience the beauty that it is to live a whole, healthy life. We weren't given freedom to walk right back into what was enslaving us. I mean, we can choose that. But why? Why would I choose being enslaved when I've been given the gift of freedom? Sometimes our sin is more comfortable, because we know it and it's familiar. We choose to be enslaved. It's like when a child doesn't know what's good for them but we do because we're adults.

When you read child, just also substitute my name in there because LORD KNOWS that I constantly do things that aren't good for me. That's not a good use of my freedom. It's like if I ate Los Betos Carne Asada Fries for dinner every single night. I know it's not good for me. I know it's going to make me sick. I know I'm going to feel like trash. So, why would I continue to pull up through that drive through and do it on a daily basis? Because it's comfortable and for a moment it feels good. I just want to clarify that I don't eat Los Betos Carne Asada Fries every day. If I did, I would surely perish.

We all have our, "I know this isn't good for me, but I do it anyways" type of thing. Is it a person? Maybe it's an unhealthy relationship that you're enslaved to. Maybe it's insecurity. Maybe it's addiction. Maybe it's anger. Whatever it is, we all have our thing that we've given the time and space in our lives and now it seems to be apart of us. In Galatians 5:9, Paul writes, "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." When I read that, I had this "Ooooh yeah I hear that" type of moment. If you asked me point blank, "Jess, do you want to be free or do you want to be enslaved to your sin?" I would look at you like you were crazy and say, "Be free, ya dingle dangus." But, does my life reflect that? Oh no. My life, a significant portion of the time, does not reflect freedom. I'm enslaved to my own insecurities, my anxiety, my fear, comparison, selfishness, and the list could go on forever. Jesus calls me to be free from this, well, He invites me in to freedom. But I look from my foxhole where I'm surrounded by burdens of my own making and say, "Cool but I'm good, thanks Jesus." Or, even worse, I look from my foxhole and think, "I could never be free from this, I've done too much, I've gone too far." Jesus wants to take our Carne Asada Fries. He wants our shame. He wants our anxiety. Our fear. Our sin. Our whatever we've clung to instead of embracing His freedom. He invites us to give it all to Him.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Jesus is inviting us to trade our burdens for His love and grace. His love and grace isn't obtained by following all of His rules, like we learn from Paul in Galatians. We are freely given His grace and love through faith and mercy. It doesn't make sense and I hope I'm never able to make sense of it. I hope I just forever live in an appreciation of it: an appreciation that helps me discern between the spirit of the law and the letter of it and an appreciation that helps me understand freedom, in it's truest and purest sense.

We live in a time where we've allowed ourselves to give so much of our mind, body, and soul to things that enslave us. I just can't do that anymore. I'm tired. I'm weary. I won't live in a way where I voluntarily enslave myself to something or someone that will just leave me more tired, more weary, and more burdened. I know that sometimes it can be tempting to think of freedom as just a pipe dream. It's something that we talk about, sing in worship songs, or read about, but the beauty of freedom in Jesus is that it's already been gifted to us. We just have to allow ourselves to receive it.  I hope you join me in living in that freedom, because I know it is be better than what the world offers us or what the world would like us to believe that freedom is.

March 26, 2017

the intersection of stillness and the sacred

This weekend I did a solo retreat at the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho. I had been feeling so exhausted (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) that I needed to fully immerse myself in rest. The following is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote on Saturday evening. It explains everything.
I'm sitting here in the quiet of the chapel, the only consistent sound is the ticking of an old grandfather clock. The room is comfortable and calm. It seems that every spot on this property could be described as such. My stomach is full of soup and strawberries. I'm early to Vigil but I wanted to prepare my heart to be in the presence of the Lord. What a sacred place this is. As dusk falls, everything seems to slow down even more. It's as if everyone here begins to prepare their bodies and hearts for evening. After Vigil, I'm sure sleep will follow for most. It's a sacred rhythm really- to rise with the sun and sleep with the moon. I will stay awake a little longer and have a glass of wine with my new Buddhist friend Deggy. She's also here on a solo retreat. She is looking for centering and calm, just like I am. She was received with open arms. This place and the sisters welcome all. The spaces are respectful to all faiths while still being unapologetically Catholic.
There's an air of reverence here that beckons me to lean in. It calls me back to the days of First Holy Communion and CCD. I wouldn't believe myself if I could travel back all those years and tell myself I'd opt in to a Catholic retreat as an adult, where the entire purpose was to slow down and sit in stillness. I would cringe at the quiet, I would fear the stillness. I would probably have had the same reaction even ten or fifteen years ago. It's now, as an almost thirty year old woman, that I crave the sacred, the tradition, the quiet. There's such beauty in this experience and it's showing me the heart of God.
I've been more calm and quiet this weekend than I have in a long time. I don't just mean the type of quiet where I'm speaking less, I mean the type of quiet that is truly the absence of noise. There's no background purpose, words are spoken with purpose which means that are fewer, and rarely does a car pass by. Instead, the sounds are bells and birds, wind and rain. They're holy sounds connecting me with myself in a holistic way.
My fear with this weekend (and still is) that I wouldn't full soak it in, that I'd miss something. I think that's exactly my problem. I'm hoping to always soak everything in but that causes me to be distracted. I'm desperately hoping to be present and that is exactly what ends up taking me out of the moment. It's as if the Lord is telling me to be still. That seems to be a reoccurring narrative for me. He beckons me to the stillness, so I run. He beckons me to the silence, so I scream. He beckons me to just be and I try to do anything but that.
I've sought after busyness like there is some sort of prize waiting for me on the other side of exhaustion only to realize that the "prize" is fear, loneliness, and more exhaustion. I've idolized independence and become completely hypocritical as a counselor. I've told my clients how much value is in community. I've begged them to lean on others, to invite someone in to their mess and say, "Here I am." I, on the other hand, have told myself that to need others means I'm incomplete and that if I'm incomplete, there's something deeply wrong with me. I've encouraged my clients to be gracious and gentle with themselves only to tell myself, "Suck it up cupcake."
Needs have become this luxury that another person gets, but not me. How foolish am I?
This weekend has been a beautiful and gentle reminder to pause and lean on others. There is no honor in doing everything alone.
As I met with Sister Lillian earlier for Spiritual Direction, she challenged me to slow down. Instead of reading multiple chapters of the Bible a day (in what felt like some sad competition with myself to prove I love Jesus... to myself), she suggested reading a few verses and truly soaking in the Word. What a novel concept! Reading for retention and learning versus reading to a check a box off to prove that I'm a Christian. She reminded me to slow down and let God's love surround me. She asked me, with the most gentle and caring expression on her face, "Can you let God love you?" I sat for a second and then the lump in my throat grew stronger. Warm tears started streaming down my face. I responded honestly to her and said, "I want to, I really want to."
It's peculiar how someone such as myself can grow up in a healthy home with faithful parents who taught me so much about a good, loving God can grow up still forcing a division from that love. God doesn't ask that I do or accomplish. He just asks that I be. What a gentle and terrifying invitation. Sister Lillian encouraged me that through spending intentional time praying, reading and listening, I would come to know God more. Then, I would trust in His goodness and love. She told me to be vulnerable with God, just as I would be vulnerable in a relationship. I confessed my hopes and fears to her, fears that I was too stubborn and independent to let anyone ever take care of me or love me. She reminded me that it starts with God. It starts with leaning whole heartedly into His love. I also told her I was afraid of going home and not taking any of the weekend with me. She told me about the monastery of the heart and how I could take it with me through making space and time.
When we neared the end of Spiritual Direction, she said, "Shall we see if the Lord has a word for us?" She asked me to pick out a stone heart from the bowl next to my chair. I reached in and grabbed the first I touched. I pulled the heart out and read the word aloud. Balance.
She smiled and put her hands together while exclaiming, "Oh thank you Lord!" She reminded me that life is all about balance and that I must make time for the Lord, slow, steady, intentional time. What a gift it is to be reminded that I am just a human who needs balance.
It's now almost time for Vigil. The sisters are beginning to fill this space. We will worship and pray, thanking God for His grace. I will say a prayer for my new friends, for gentle reminders, and for the intersection of stillness and the sacred that I've experienced this weekend.

March 19, 2017

thoughts on home

As I get older, the concept of home becomes more fluid. I guess that home will always be Oceanside, California but since moving there as a baby, I've called so many other places home. 

There's also Camp Cherith, the little old summer camp that raised me. I started going there as a little girl, bags packed meticulously by my mother who would also sew us a unique pillow case for each summer camp experience. I fell in love with that little space occupying 3191 Radford Road. Jenks Lake taught me how to be brave, morning watch taught me that silence is good, and the meadow taught me about sisterhood. Camp isn't held there any longer, in fact, it isn't even named that anymore. It's different, but it's still home. There's familiarity in that dirt road leading up to the wooden sign welcoming you to a time and space that it seems like the rest of the world may have forgotten.

There's San Felipe, the sleepy little Mexican beach town that I've been making a pilgrimage to each fall since 1999. As I see the "Bienvenidos a San Felipe" sign in the distance, I know home is close. I know exactly where we'll stop before going through a security stop. I know my dad will buy a beer at the little market and drink it alongside his chosen brothers, each one breathing in a sigh of relief as they know they too are almost home. When I see the sign for our camp, I know I'm about to be in my place, with my people. We'll pull into our spots, as far right as possible please, and begin to set up camp. Those tents are home. The sand, the tide, the makeshift dining table where we gather for supper, and the truck that some over zealous doofus has inevitably gotten stuck in the mud that now belongs to the sea are the signs that I'm home. It may only be for five days a year, but that's home. 

There's Korea, the country that welcomed me as a twelve year old that I'd have no idea I'd move to eleven years later. The streets of Cheonan were intimidating and confusing at first, but quickly became familiar as I walked them to school every day. I was alone there but quickly gained a family. We weren't blood, but we chose each other and lived alongside one another for the better part of a year. We explored our little "country" town of more than 500,000 people and learned what markets we could find fresh spinach at, which galbi place was best, and how to navigate a foreign country. 

There's Idaho, the state that I knew nothing of, other than my aunt lived here, that has been my place of residence for over eight years. I was 21 when I moved here and had no idea who I was or what I wanted to become. I've learned so much of that here. Home has become the community that loves me well while constantly calling me to be better, to realize the fullness of who I am in Jesus. Home has become the coffee shop where I don't even have to say my order because it's known (large americano with almond syrup with room please and thank you). Idaho is just that, it's where I'm known. Known not just in the sense of being recognized, but known in the sense of people knowing you to the depths of your core. Idaho is where I learned that it's okay to be a work in progress, that we're never truly finished discovering ourselves and there's beauty in that- so much beauty. 

But Oceanside, there's something about that coastal city that will forever have my heart. It doesn't matter how old I get or how many other places I call "home," that place will always be home too. Maybe it's a blessing to have loved and lived in different places, but it might be a curse too. Sometimes my heart aches for home, but it's a home across the Pacific Ocean like South Korea or it's a home that doesn't exist anymore in the way I knew it like Camp Cherith.

Home might turn out to be so many more different spaces that I'm not even aware of yet, or maybe it'll forever be the little green door cottage I just purchased. The one thing I've realized about home is that you can't force it to be a certain place- it happens naturally through time spent, friends hosted, laughs shared, and tears shed. And maybe it isn't just one space, maybe it's a culmination of all the different places where we've loved and been loved. 
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