why i stayed.

part 1:[written december 14th, 2013]

when i first set a countdown to graduation, there were 864 days on it. this was at a hard time in my life when i just couldn’t deal with school on top of everything else going on. it seemed like an eternity away.
this is the part where normal people would say “and then i blinked and that day was today,” or maybe, “but it flew by before i ever realized it.” but i’m anything but normal.
to me, it felt like four eternities.

for real.

normal people would then say, “now i’m so sad it’s over.” again, i don’t do normal.
i wish it had ended months ago.
mentally, my semester ended on october 21st. that was the day everything that meant anything ended.

friday night after graduation, my friend came up to me at work and asked if i was sad to be done, and i said “no, i’ve been counting down for over two years.” he replied “then WHY did you stay? i mean, why was it even worth it to finish?”

that’s a valid question.

honestly, college was four years of disappointment punctuated by occasional happy surprises. that’s not me being negative; it’s just the truth.
but you know, not all good things are easy.
i stayed because God wanted me to finish.
i stayed because there was no other way for me to learn everything i learned.
i stayed because too many people had either outright claimed or just implied that i couldn’t do it, and the rebellious child in me wanted to prove them wrong.
now that it’s over, i can look at it objectively enough to realize that it’s okay that it was so hard. because even though i hated it, it was exactly what God needed it to be in order to get me where he wants me to be.
i’m really not bitter. i know college is supposed to be the best days of your life, but i got my best days early; high school was the happiest i’ve ever been. i should have known better than to expect my whole life to be as good as that.

part 2:[written today]
i honestly and truly HATED college, with every fiber in my being. i’m not being dramatic, and since i’m saying this two months later, i’m definitely not just saying that because i’m in the middle of a hard week of classes. people told me i would miss it after graduation. they said once it was all over, i’d realize it wasn’t as hard as it felt at the time.
nope. i hated it. i still have nightmares about it. it really was my hell on earth.
but i also honestly and truly believe that that’s how it was supposed to be.

i’ve always needed to learn things the hard way. nothing sticks in my brain unless it’s been ground into it with as much pain as possible.

of all the lessons God used those hellish four years to teach me, i’ve finally pinpointed the most important one.
when life is good, i forget to thank God for it. college was what he needed to break me of that.
i made it have to be that hard. he gave me chances to take the easy way out. he constantly gave me good things, put good people in my life, then i’d worship the things instead of him and depend on the people for my fulfillment instead of him.
and so he’d take the gifts away to test if i’d learned yet…and i’d fall apart. every time was worse than the last. each time when things got good again, my Jesus high would last a little longer than the one before it, but it would always go downhill eventually. i was only excited about him because he was giving me good things.

in the calm before the storm that was november 2012, i read this devotion from Jesus Calling.

Though I have brought many pleasures into your life, not one of them is essential. Receive My blessings with open hands. Enjoy My good gifts, but do not cling to them. Turn your attention to the Giver of all good things, and rest in the knowledge that you are complete in Me. The one thing you absolutely need is the one thing you can never lose: My Presence with you.

now i knew what i was supposed to be learning. the lesson was in my head; now it would take 15 months for it to settle into my heart.
from then on, i tried every time things got bad to remember that i needed to be turning to God instead of to people or grades or sports or my car. but he still kept letting things happen.
i wasn’t really trusting him; i was telling him i trusted him, saying the magic words so that he’d let me keep what i thought would really fix my life.
when all along i’d always had everything i needed.

i’m not sure when i learned it; i’ve only realized in the last week that i did.
i thought about how my post-graduate life is nothing like i expected or wanted it to be...
-i’ve only gotten two donations to my World Race fund in the past six weeks.
-it took me seven weeks to get a job, and i spent those seven weeks feeling restless and frustrated and just not happy. watching tv for 12 hours a day isn’t as satisfying when you’re only doing it because you have literally nothing better to do.
-and i don’t love my job. i don’t hate it; i actually like it a little bit. but i don’t get sad when i wake up on my day off, and that’s weird to me because i’ve never had a job that i didn’t absolutely love.
…and i found myself more fully content than i’ve ever been in any time that things happened just how i wanted them to.

so then i wrote this, which got me processing exactly how i got there…and now we’re here.

the only thing i need is the only thing i’ll never lose.
he is perfect, and he’s totally worth every bit of suffering i had to go through to get to the point where i understood that.

every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.~james 1:17

delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.~psalm 37:4

i really am thankful.

“What if all you were left with today when you got up was what you thanked God for yesterday?”

that quote that everyone’s read twenty times was on my friend’s facebook status this morning. i read it and thought about it.
i’d have my car, and its radio and heater would still work, because i specifically thanked him for both those things on my way home from work.
i’d have my job, and all the same people would work there, because i thanked him for each of them by name.
i’d have all of the blankets on my bed, because last night as i was falling asleep, i didn’t thank God for the bed itself, but i did thank him that i had more blankets that i needed; so maybe by definition, he’d let me keep the bed too.
and i’d still be going on the World Race.
that isn’t much. and if we’re getting technical, i wouldn’t be able to drive my car because i didn’t thank him for my license, which means i also couldn’t get to my job. i couldn’t even have my mom drive me there because i forgot to thank God for her. really i couldn’t go anywhere because i didn’t thank him for clothes or money…so i’d just be living in my car, wrapped up in my blankets.

but as i came to the end of that thought process, i laughed at myself and realized, i don’t care what God takes from me as long as he doesn’t take himself. the only thing i’d be somewhat devastated about is not having my Bible.

all my life i’ve been afraid to lose things and terrified to lose people.
but somewhere along the line, in the last few months, he’s finally become enough. or, i’ve finally realized that he’s always been enough. if i woke up tomorrow with only him, i’d be okay.
i can finally 100% mean it with every bit of me that he means more to me than anything or anyone ever has or ever will, and that’s the most freeing feeling in the world.
and i’m thankful that he understands my ADD heart well enough to know that i AM thankful for all the other things, even if i don’t always verbalize every single one of them every single day. he’s given me too many good gifts for me to remember them all at once. =)

such a sad synecdoche.

when i took hermeneutics, this became one of my favorite words. it makes me sad that i don’t get to use it in conversation much.

a synecdoche is a form of figurative language when you refer to a part of something as if it was the whole thing.
like when you say “my car broke down,” and mean the engine fell out. it’s the engine, not the whole car, that’s broken.

or when i say “i love soccer.” or worse, when someone says about me, “she’s really good at soccer.”

i don’t love soccer. i LOVE playing goalie, and i’m okay at it. that in and of itself is my hands down favorite “sport.” but other than that, i hate soccer and i suck at it.

i had a conversation about that with someone the other day(they couldn’t wrap their minds around the concept of “no i don’t play soccer, i’m just the goalie”), and then i started thinking.

sometimes we pick and choose which parts of our lives to trust God with and which to try to take care of on our own. which disciplines we need to practice and which aren’t important for us.

so you’re going to church every sunday? that’s good. are you spending any time with God the other six days of the week? that’s a bigger issue.

it’s like we’re bragging about how well our windshield wipers work while the transmission’s been dead for a month.

just a thought.

proof that God believes in Aldrin Justice.

two things that anyone who knows me probably knows, and that anyone reading this blog needs to know in order to understand me:

1. i have a slightly obnoxious tendency to relate tv to real life.

2. How I Met Your Mother is my absolute favorite show.

if you don’t watch it, then you don’t know what i’m talking about, so let me explain Aldrin Justice before i tell you how God used it on me.

in season 2, we learn that lilly has her own personal justice system wherein when someone is mean, she takes one of their “toys” and won’t give it back until they learn to be nice(she’s a kindergarten teacher for most of the show, aside from this episode where she gets a job in ted’s office, and she started this idea with her kids but eventually found it works with everyone).

God has been doing this to me recently. in a lot more than just this situation, but it was this morning that made me realize what else he’s been doing.

i get in my car to go back to school, and the tape player(yes, my ghetto car has one of those. i love it) keeps spitting my ipod adapter back out at me. i couldn’t get it to work, but i can’t focus in silence either, so i switch it back to the radio…and it won’t come on.

i decide, ok fine. i need something to keep my mind working, so i guess i’ll just have to pray.

me and God were having a nice talk, and when i was almost to the interstate, i told him “this is the most we’ve talked in a long time…that’s really sad. i don’t wanna only talk to you when i need you to help me drive.”
but i was going down the on ramp by the end of that sentence, so i really needed his help.
after i made it on and over to the middle lane so the crazy drivers coming out of malfunction junction couldn’t squish me,  i said, “ok, thanks God. hey, if i had music right now, i wouldn’t have been thinking about you, and that little fiasco would have been way scarier. did you plan that?”
as he always does when i ask him a question i know the answer to, he didn’t say anything. but you know how sometimes you feel God instead of hearing him? well right as i said that, i got the same feeling that i do when i’m with a friend and i say something stupid and obvious like that and we laugh together. instead of answering, he let me know he was lovingly laughing at me.
i laughed out loud and said “thanks for making my car quiet today.”
and he said “you needed it.” i hadn’t known it, but that was most definitely exactly what i needed.

as soon as i parked at school, i hit the button on the radio one more time just to see if it would work. and it came right on.

in short: i was bad. God took my music. i started being good. God gave it back.

i know that this isn’t always how God works, and i’m not saying you should start trying to overspiritualize every little thing that goes wrong with your day. but for me and my experiential learning style and my love of metaphors, God does use little things like that to teach me things a lot of the time. something that isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but that i’ve let become a distraction, will go missing from my life, and instead of finding that missing thing, i find God. and when i remember that he’s more important, i usually get the small thing back, but even if i don’t, i usually find that i didn’t need it that much.

there will soon be a part 2 to this post about what God might be doing with a bigger thing in my life. i still have a lot of thoughts to get together, and i’m still waiting to hear from the doctor.

UPDATE 4/9
annnnnd part 2. =]

family reunions.

my church is my home and my youth group is my family. by that, i mean they’re everything to me that a literal family is.

they made me who i am. i’ve had the best times and the most terrible awful times with them. they’ve changed and so have i. but they love me and i love them, because they’re mine, and always will be.

over the last few years i’ve found that finding a new church doesn’t make my “old” church not my home anymore; it’s just like growing up and getting my own house. it’s normal and it’s good, and i’m still welcome back home anytime.

which is why once a year, i get what i call a reunion.

of the six times i’ve gone to ridge haven, i was only actually a student for the first two of them. but it’s still the same every year.

we laugh. we eat. we play catchphrase. we eat some more. we murder each other, we play capture the flag in the dark, make smores, slide down hills, roll in dirt, throw shaving cream on each other, wave at strangers, and sing in public bathrooms. and then we eat a little more to top it all off.

everyone gets to be who they are, and everyone gets to be loved for it. it’s the safest place in the world.

just like in a real family, the “big kids” grow up and start being all responsible someday, but in the end, the important things stay the same. it doesn’t matter if you’re 12 or 21.

it’s still home.

“yeah everything goes away…but i’m gonna be here til forever, so just call when you’re around.

it’s working!

so, i haven’t gotten much sleep the past two nights…but before you say i told you so, it’s not because the floor hurts too much. i’m just scared of the dark and slept on top bunks my entire life, so sleeping down where i can see so much of the room really sucks. just like at camp when i first move into the cabin leader room, i’ll get used to it and be fine in a few days.

well i was telling myself that thursday morning right after i woke up exhausted…then over the next few hours, the tiny cold i’d felt coming on the day before grew into one of those awful colds where your head is so stuffed up it feels like it weighs ten hundred pounds, and all you want to do is lay down. on a pillow.

all that to say, satan is really trying to get me to throw a pity party and give up.

not happening. instead, the slight misery is making me thankful.

for half a second last night i thought “okay, this is stupid. i’m sick, i should get in my bed just for tonight and then tomorrow i’ll start again. i’m not doing this to hurt myself, right?”

but then i thought, homeless people get sick too, and they don’t have the option of taking a night off from staying under a bridge.*

so i laid there and prayed myself to sleep asking God to especially be with anyone out there who’s not only sleeping on the ground in the cold but also sick. and i woke up this morning still sick, still sore and still tired, yet so happy and full.

2 nights down, 38 to go. it’s flying by already, isn’t it? =]

*i did finally end up putting a balled up blanket under my head like an almost-pillow…but i figured, that isn’t cheating because if i lived on the street and needed my sinuses to unclog themselves, i’d lay on a hill or find extra newspapers to put under my head or something.

upside down.

continuing my thoughts from my last-minute-before-lent post.

just a reminder, i did completely steal this idea from a random site that google gave me when i searched “creative ideas for lent.”

when i first saw “give up sleeping in your bed,” i thought it was crazy. what in the world would be the point?

well. i see this whole idea like turning a familiar picture upside down; it gives you a whole new perspective and forces you to notice different things about it.

so for fun, i made a list of all the different people i could think of that go without this simple luxury that probably none of us, me included, ever stop to imagine not having.

1. homeless people all over america(plenty of them within a mile or two of my school), sleeping under bridges, in dumpsters, on piles of newspapers in alleyways…the list goes on.
2. orphans on the street in third world countries.
3. slaves in india who are kept in cages until someone buys them.
4. plenty of people who have homes but hardly much else; i’ve heard of a camper or two whose bunk at la vida was the first bed they’d gotten to sleep on in months.
5. kids with evil parents who have plenty of money but still treat them like crap.
6. missionaries in some countries. actually, i’m pretty sure the world race team we met in costa rica was sleeping in tents.
7. Jesus. seriously; look up luke 9:58.

i’m sure i could think of more. but really. that right there is the most i’ve ever thought about that.

yes, we all know there are lots of “poor people” out there. but have you ever thought specifically about each individual need that they go without each day?

turn it upside down.

forty days without a bed.

i love my bed. i spend as much time in it as possible. i do my homework there, i watch tv there, half the time i eat there. oh, and every once in a while when i decide to sleep, i use it for that too.

because i like mine so much, it makes me really sad to think about people who don’t get to sleep in one every night.

so. since i’ve always wanted to do something for lent(but never pick something in time, or always pick something really lame and decide after a few days that it wouldn’t teach me anything[like chewing gum{cuz that’s just the biggest wedge between me and God, you know}, or wearing makeup{for me that would be like a vegetarian giving up meat}]),

and since i’ve had everything i need every day my entire life and have no clue what it is to suffer,

i’m giving up my bed. starting tomorrow i’ll be sleeping on my floor(or when it gets warmer outside, in my eno) for the next forty nights.

why?

because i’m such an experiential learner that the best way for me to really understand someone’s pain is to go through it.

because i complain way too much about this beautiful life i have and could use some perspective.

because the best way for me to get into the habit of praying for these people who have nothing is to get out of my comfort zone.

because i’m so much more aware of my blessings when i’m without them for a while. after forty days, i’ll never forget to thank God for giving me a comfy place to sleep/do homework/basically live ever again.

things worth noting:
-the whole purpose of lent in general is to either go without something, or do something every day, that will bring you closer to God during the easter season. it doesn’t necessarily have to be something lots of other people are doing, it doesn’t have to make you miserable, but it does need to challenge you. so after thinking about it a lot(and, i’ll admit, googling “ideas for lent”) and landing on all the reasons above, i decided that for me, this works.
-i’m not trying to hurt myself, or realistically put me in the exact situation of someone who doesn’t have a bed; honestly, my floor with its fluffy rug is more comfortable than a dumpster or a cage. i’ll be fine.
-i don’t think that there being hundreds of thousands of people in the world without a bed makes it wrong for me to sleep in one.
-just like vegetarians don’t save any animals by not eating meat, i know my not sleeping in my bed won’t in and of itself help anyone who doesn’t have a bed. that isn’t the point.

basically, i’m not protesting or making any kind of political statement; i’m just challenging myself.

so, that’s that. if you go to ciu and you’re up for an eno party one night in a few weeks, i am absolutely game. =]

dream jobs.

the best thing about being a senior: taking only 13 credits. i’ve never enjoyed school more than i do now that i have time to enjoy it.
the worst thing about being a senior: being asked eight times a day “what are you doing after you graduate?”
well, i don’t know yet. but for the sake of giving an answer, here’s what i’d like to do. in a perfect world, i would…

1. be a full-time cabin leader. recruit campers and staff from august to may, then spend the summers at camp.
2. live in a house full of teenage girls that no one else loves. listen to their stories and tell them mine. help them fix up all their scars that everyone else has either not cared enough to notice, or seen and run away from.
in short, laugh together. cry together. live together.
3. travel the world with IJM and set all the slaves free. then those girls can come live with me too.

by now you’ve probably noticed the same themes that i have: i like helping people, and i really like living with people.
ever since we talked about it in costa rica, i’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of God’s plan for us including all of our passions. so i’ve started listing new combinations of them anytime i think of them.
and i’ve decided that writing is my favorite thing in the world to do. no matter what i’m doing, i have to write about it. it’s how i process things, and being the ridiculous extrovert that i am, i always feel like any experience is wasted if i don’t share it with people. when i learn something new and cool, the first thing i want to do is tell someone about it. when i find a good quote on pinterest, i share it on facebook. and the only reason i wish i had a smartphone is because i see so many things a day that i would instagram.
basically i don’t like to keep anything to myself. obviously i don’t tell everything to everyone, but i do tell everything to someone.
recently i’ve been realizing just how badly God wants me to use that for him. writing in general, but mostly my love of sharing things by writing.
so i thought of one more possibility.

4. go around the world and learn about every possible culture and ministry that i can, then write about everything i learn so that people can read about them, get excited about them, and want to get in on some of them. because another one of my passions is helping other people find theirs, and who knows, someday someone could read about theirs from me.

but no matter which one pans out, i have to finish school first; i’ve made peace with the fact that even though God will never tell me why i’m here(at least not while i’m still here) he most definitely does want me here.
which i still have my complaints about…but now that i know they won’t change God’s mind, i’m working on trying to change mine.

one last thing before i stop writing about life and start writing about Love Wins*: i’ve discovered that writing is the only thing that i like to do alone. everything else in life is always better with company, but i hate to write when there are people in the room, simply because i love people too much to not talk or listen to them if i have the chance. so it frustrates me, as much as i love them, to be around people when i’m seriously trying to put an idea on a page.

*for my theology class. when i finish the book and have my thoughts together i’m sure i’ll have a lot to say here too.

three days of surprises from God.

to really appreciate my story, you need to hear the story it reminds me of.
one sunday when i was in high school, my friend julia’s birthday was coming up. someone asked her what she was doing for it. she said she was going out to lunch with her mom. and all of us girls listening looked at each other and tried not to laugh, because we knew she was getting even more than that.
little did julia know, that yes her mom was taking her out…but then she’d come home to the surprise party we’d planned for her. she got the good thing she expected, and even more good that she’d had no idea was coming.

God did the same thing to me this weekend.

part 1: what i thought would happen.
my last year as a camper when i was in tenth grade, i heard about this thing called Converge, and i’ve wanted to go ever since then.

but freshman year i didn’t have any friends to go with, then sophomore and junior year i couldn’t go because ciu doesn’t have BCM.

so when cindy asked me on wednesday if i’d want to come with her, for free, to help her promote camp, i jumped at the chance. convincing people why they should apply for the best job in the world, hanging out with hope and other camp friends in between, all at the beach? i’m there!

but oh, the laugh God was having as he watched me pack and tell people i was just going to recruit new staffers and play in the ocean this weekend…he knew he had way bigger plans.

part 2: what actually happened.
the best way to show me you love me is to surprise me. God knows this all too well, and he’s too good at it.

hope and i stepped in the doors and walked down the hallway to set up our booth, and as i looked around at all the other tables that were already there, i realized i had no idea what Converge was.

as it turns out, you hear about missions, a LOT. and God pulls your heart into shapes you didn’t know it could go.

the theme for the weekend was “compassion revolution.” all of the speakers talked about what compassion looks like, and all the different missions organizations there showed us ways to put it into action.
i’ve been calling this a sequel to costa rica. like, “God Turns Linda’s Life Inside Out Part 2.” because between this and costa rica, i am absolutely, completely, irreversibly different than i was even a month ago.

-i understand what missions is.
-i’ve found passions that God has had sitting in my heart for years waiting to be discovered. it isn’t that i never knew i had them; i’ve just been misinterpreting them and chasing them in other directions.
-i’ve seen a sneak preview of God’s plan, and i’m more excited about this than i was in tenth grade when i first saw the trailer for pirates 3.
-i’m far enough down the path of learning to trust God that i can say i’m done turning around and running back to doing things my way.

and of course in addition to all the big life lessons, there was some talking up camp in there.
my condition from the very beginning was “i’ll go, but only if you promise i won’t have to make any kind of speech in front of any number of people.”
if you took all the people i met and “advertised to” over the weekend, put them in a room and told me to get up and tell all of them about camp, i wouldn’t even be able to tell them my name.

i may hate being in front of people, but i love being beside people. on their level, having a conversation about things we love.

so i made up for my refusal to share with a crowd by telling everyone i met instead. waiting in the line for breakfast, riding in an elevator, sitting and waiting for a breakout session to start, walking through the halls on our way to places, hanging out in the lobby late at night…i found people everywhere i went.

and there were SO MANY PEOPLE.

i’m totally using the following story as an example next time anyone tries to call me an introvert.

there were roughly a thousand people at this thing, all in the same hotel. translation: a thousand potential friends, within my reach at any time i felt like it!

imagine: you’re squished in an elevator with 14 people, all of which you’ve never seen or met before. you can’t move two inches. some people would find the situation really awkward, and most people, no matter how they felt about it, would just sit quietly and wait for everyone to get out.

but me? i’ll never pass up an opportunity to make 13 new friends(because one of the 14 was hope), so i break the tension by loudly introducing myself from my back corner behind two tall girls. “hi! i’m linda!” 13 voices reply “hi linda!” a few called out their names, but most just sort of awkwardly laughed like they weren’t sure what to think of me. both reactions made me smile.

and since i’m so good at meeting people, and also good at selling things, it was easy to recruit people: i’d just go places, find random groups to sit with, ask what school they were with, and then they’d ask me the same. which opened the door for me to say, “well i’m actually here with this camp i work at…wanna hear about it?” if, after listening to my excited rant, they were interested rather than scared, i’d bring them to our booth. either way, i’d stay and talk about school and God and what we’d learned in the session we’d just come out of.

i was blessed, encouraged, stretched, and so happily surprised this weekend. not just because of all the big things God taught me, but the little things too. i loved getting to take a break from school and be myself for a few days. i loved having fun conversations about missing costa rica with a girl who i met because she saw the sticker on my water bottle and asked if i’d been there. i loved meeting so many cool people, whether i spent five minutes or half the day with them. i loved getting to be a blessing to our waitress at steak ‘n shake. i loved throwing popcorn for seagulls on the beach, then getting chased all over creation by them. i loved seeing so many of my camp friends, and even one of my campers.
i loved being reminded that God has far bigger plans for me than i ever imagined…and i’ll share more about that later.

he is SO GOOD. =)