Saving the Last for Last

Before Jennifer Lawrence became the girl on fire, I read the Hunger Games series. And I reread the books just before the release of the first movie.

Around the same time the Hunger Games film came out, a friend lent me a book. “If you loved the Hunger Games, you will love Divergent,” she assured me.

Another young adult novel about teenagers holding the fate of a postmodern dystopia in their hands? Oh you mean a poor man’s Hunger Games, right? Got it. 

Everything in me wanted to skip ahead and get to the meat. Forget all the preliminary mumbo jumbo and setting the scene stuff,  I wanted to feel the emotions, and know the end of the story. I wanted to know the characters in the new book the way I knew Katniss and Peeta.

Recently, I moved to a new city and started a new job. I am slowly trying to create a life here.

Scratch that.

I am not slowly trying to create a life here. I am in all-out, super-speed, lightning mode to create some kind of life here in Austin.

I got a job, joined a small group, volunteered with an organization, found roommates, and located the nearest Trader Joe’s ASAP.

When I came to Austin, I had a handful of friends already living here. Since being in the city, I have made quite a bit of acquaintances, and find my schedule quickly fills with shows and groups and coffee dates and dinners.

But I am still lonely.

For awhile, I couldn’t figure it out. I have plans every night of the week, when did I have time to feel lonely? Between work and church and CASA and pure-Austin living (read: live music, coffee shops, food vendors, and the outdoors), I don’t even get enough sleep.

I began to doubt my decision. Because surely if it were God’s will it would feel better and not so lonely. At least back there I had my people. At least back there people really knew me.

And I realized I am judging this season’s beginning off another season’s end.

Like starting a new book, I didn’t care about character development or plot lines because it wan’t the Hunger Games and these aren’t my people and they haven’t had my experience. I wanted to feel at Divergent‘s beginning the way I felt at Hunger Game’s end. And it just seemed like too much effort to get through all of that again.

“I just wish I could speed this whole process along,” I lamented to a friend. “I just want to be known the way you know me.”

I want to pick up the remote of life and fast-forward to the good parts, just skip ahead a few chapters.

The community I had in Georgia was a rare, beautiful, messy, hard-fought gift. When I really think back on it, all that mess we went through together created the camaraderie we shared. We didn’t go from shaking hands to sobbing on the couch together in an instant. Life happened in between. Real, raw, messy life.

The moments when it all fell apart were the moments I had people come alongside me, and believe with and for me, and when the time came, we celebrated the heck out of each other. In feast and famine, we loved each other the best we knew how—but it was the famine that made the feast taste so good.

Some of the great friendships of history—Woody and Buzz, Milo and Otis, Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins—birthed out of a journey trekked together. Upon meeting, they shared no instant bond,  some of them even disliked each other.

To wish away the time is to skip over the cultivation process—the gestation of new life, the fermentation of good wine. I want to surrender to the process and live fully in the in-between. I don’t want to skip ahead to the end, I want to save the last for last. And live the best today and everyday.

There is something about experiencing life together, the good and the bad, that brings us closer. If you ask me, it’s vulnerability.

“A year ago that’s the last thing you wanted, to go deep,” my friend laughed at the irony of my sorrows.

“See what you people did to me!” we both laughed into the screens of our facetime call.

Experiencing the journey is what makes reaching the destination beautiful and worth it. I am not going to miss out on that.

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How Gratitude Turns Everything Into Enough

On a cool summer evening, we sipped wine and nibbled on Bianca pizza out on the terrace. As the sun set, the Frank Sinatra cover band ushered in the rising moon, leaving the sky a splash of pink and orange hues, dusted with flecks of gold and purple. I put on my cardigan and pulled my knees to my chest. A chill had begun to settle in.

These nights are my favorite. Nothing fancy, in fact, we stumbled upon this little restaurant after a trip to Trader Joe’s. We didn’t plan any of it, moseying was the only thing on our agenda that evening — and we are expert mosey-ers.

“This feels like vacation,” Ashley laughed. I smiled back, then stared off for a moment. I thought about how after a few weeks, the only chance we would have to enjoy nights like this would be on vacation. In just a month, we will pack up our apartment and head our separate ways, each into our next seasons, seasons we’ve prayed hard and waited long for.

The conversation continued, our waiter returning time and again to refill our glasses. At times, we  were so in it we didn’t even notice him there until he leaned in and asked, “Everything okay, ladies?”

“Oh yes, thank you.”

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Ashley and I exchanged fears, deep thoughts, and convictions. We declared words of truth, life, and prophecy. Conversations like this have become so natural to me in this season. Conversations that speak volumes of who God is even when we don’t understand our circumstances; ones that speak of his faithfulness whether we are lying in the desert or standing on the hill of inheritance. Conversations that speak to the greatness inside of us rather than the shame or fear we feel shackled by. Conversations of freedom and life.

And these don’t occur without recognizing the harsh realities of a fallen world, but acknowledging them and saying, “Nevertheless.”

Nevertheless God is good.

Nevertheless God is sovereign.

That early summer night, like he does so often, the Spirit spoke as if carrying sweet whispers across the breeze. And our ears tuned in.

“You’re thankful for the season you’re in — that makes you different from most.”

Something the Lord had been whispering to me since last summer: gratitude. Something I had been asking him for more and more of: thankfulness. Had I actually received the thing he’s been giving? Had I finally chosen thankfulness over resentment? And I realized in that moment how gratitude makes all the difference.

I am thankful for the birds singing outside my window and the mug of coffee steaming up my glasses right now. I am thankful for the Bethel YouTube channel and the way Skype turns coworkers into friends. I am thankful for hoodies and moleskines and fresh flowers. I am thankful for rocking chairs and twinkle lights and walks at dusk. I am thankful for the mentors and the best friends and that couch by my desk where I have had the opportunity to speak so much life over people.

I am thankful for gas station fro-yo and face time with loved ones who are states, nations, and oceans away. I am thankful for live music and rich foods and people who you can talk with for hours on end or sit with in silence together and still be okay. I am thankful for classic literature and the way my friends know me so well. I am thankful for celebrations of grand things and little things.

I am even thankful for the pain I feel when mourning because it proves just how great the people we lost really were. I am thankful for the way life always comes after death.

I am thankful for people who remind me of the warmth of the light when I all I can see is darkness. I am thankful for the way God is the same yesterday, today, and forever — yet always seems to get better.

I am thankful for each season of my life and how they have been pivotal, not wasteful, in the process of me becoming the woman I have been created to be.

In thankfulness, I will continue remembering his goodness while believing for the fulfillment of promises yet to come. That’s the best place to be.

If you have forgotten who he is or who you are, if you’ve lost sight of your purpose, grab a good friend and take a walk or sit on a patio at happy hour. Remember the good, beautiful, and lovely things, and celebrate. Revisit the hard and not-so-lovely things and choose to see the goodness and purpose God is creating out of the brokenness and ashes. If you can’t find it, ask him. He won’t keep it from you.

But whatever you do today, choose gratitude.

Here’s to gratitude and how it turns everything into enough. -Emily Loerke

How 8 Days With College Kids Brought Me Back to Life

“Breathe. You’ve cried only twice today, Carrie, that’s improvement,” so the self-pep talks go these days.

Costa Rica

Wake up. Go to work. Sit at desk. Computer screen, internet, email. Meetings. Go home. Repeat. That’s been my version of “keeping my head above water” in the last couple weeks after returning back to Georgia from two of the most emotional weeks in Texas.

I was ready to give up on just about everything.

Then I boarded another plane and things changed.

My ticket read Guatemala City, Guatemala. Everyone who had been to Antigua before could speak only of their love affairs with her and her cobblestone streets, bright-as-the-sun hues, and magnificent landscapes. If possible, I would call it, “love before first sight.”

Fall in love I did. And, in only the way love can do, I awoke from my slumber.

When I look back on my time in  Guatemala and Costa Rica, I will remember more than delightful coffee.

I will remember the 25 teens and 20-somethings who reminded me of some truth I had lost sight of, some faithfulness I’d forgotten, and some hope I’d given up on.

antigua

In eight days, these college-aged Passport participants took me back to the heart of why I do what I do. Why I packed my bags, left my family, and moved across the country. Why the tears and heartaches and disappointments are all worth it.

They are just like me and yet so different. But our hearts are the same: we have all chosen to ditch the status quo for a God-adventure. We have all been wrecked by the fierce love of Jesus and want to share that love with the world. We want to bring kingdom wherever we go.

We have stood up, stomped our feet, raised our hands, and shouted from chairs that God is good, God is love, God is worth it. God has a plan.

I just needed a change of scenery and fresh voices to remind me.

When I arrived I was pale from a dark, cold winter. While here in Central America, sun-kissed by students’ zeal, color has returned to my cheeks after what seemed to be months of lifelessness.

My feet are dirty. My face is sweaty. My hair is a hot mess. I am believing God for big things and resting in his presence, finding satisfaction there.

I am living like a real missionary again.

When the Guy Wearing Ray-Bans Says Those Four Words

Less than a month after God and I decided to try out this writing thing, I met someone.

A man I had never before heard of stood on stage at a conference telling some story about asking a girl out in middle school. I think he wanted to convince us to take risks, but I really heard only four words:

I am a writer.

That’s all I needed to hear before I felt God say, “Go talk to him. You want to write, he’s a writer; talk to him.”

He wore Ray-Ban glasses and cracked himself up at his own jokes, but I was still intimidated by those four words, “I am a writer.” After his session, I made up every excuse in my head of why I shouldn’t talk to him.

What are you going to say to him? What good is telling this guy anyway, what can he do? You can’t really be a writer. He’s going to laugh at your ignorance. And (most importantly) It’s lunchtime. 

Before I could throw out another reason to not talk to him, there I was, hand extended, introducing myself. “Hi, my name is Carrie and I am supposed to talk to you.”

Spoken like a true writer.

He agreed to meet with me and asked that I send some writing samples for him to read ahead of time.

Right, let me just get you my portfolio.

The next day we met outside the training center. Sure, it was January, but January in Georgia, and the sun shone between the wooden beams of the pergola making the temperature difference between the shade and the sun about 12 degrees. The shadows danced across the ground as a breeze blew through the tree branches above us.

We talked about Spain and traveling and dreams, but more than anything we talked about writing and how it is all about deciding to do it. And right in the midst of my bouncing in that brown patio chair he said the four words I never thought I would hear:

You are a writer.

My chair was still. Even though it made no sense and no one had ever published anything I had ever written and the fear in me was so apparent as if written across my forehead, I believed him. I actually believed the guy in the Ray-Bans who laughed at his own jokes.

Because he believed in me.

Until you acknowledge this — that you are a writer — you are depriving the world of a gift it longs for. One that stands the test of time. One that could leave a legacy.

Jeff Goins, You Are a Writer

What Do You Mean Denial Can’t Stop the Calendar?

2012 ended with a bang. But not the fireworks, bubbly and confetti kind of bang, more like you and the nurses in the ER are on a first-name basis kind of bang.

Bang.

I stuck my heels in the ground of 2012 because of the change 2013 brought with it. Some change I knew of and the unpredictable I feared. Sometimes change is awesome. New places, new people, new adventures: the great unknown, the great perhaps.

Other times, change is not so great. Especially when it is happening everywhere around you, but you’re standing still. Roommates go back to the mission field, friends leave town for other jobs, people are getting married and having babies, or breaking up and moving out. You have to leave loved ones in the hospital and return to your home 1,000 miles away. And you’re thankful you have a month-to-month lease because you never know where you will be in 31 days.

I somehow tricked myself into believing that if 2013 never came, neither would the change.

If you’ll notice, it’s February and it’s the first time I’ve blogged this year. That goes against everything I’ve ever learned about writing, blogging, and building any kind of platform.

I broke the rules because I somehow thought I could get around this whole 2013 thing.

Wrong.

I broke the rules because I have been so caught up in my own swirl that I couldn’t bring myself to sit still long enough to write.

Write.

My dream, my passion, my outlet.

My radio silence came from a place I can compare only to having too much coffee and not enough food. All caffeine and no sustenance. And a place where I let resistance win because I was too tired of fighting.

After a tearful phone call and a trip to Nashville, God reminded me of a conversation we had a little over a year ago. Sitting on my bed at my parents house having returned from one pretty epic journey ’round the world, the weight of life in the first world hit me in the face.

Me: God, really, what do I do now?

God: Remember my promises, I will give you the desires of your heart.

Me: Yeah sure, ok. But right NOW. What do I do?

God: What have I put inside you? What is a gift you have that you can give away? What do you love, but are too scared to do?

Me: (eyes rolling) Write.

God: So write.

Me: Okay, God, if you want me to write, you had better figure out a way for that to happen because all I’m seeing are dead ends!

God: Trust me, Child.

Georgia Night

Surprise! 2013 came and, in fact, we’re already over a month into it. Some changes came and some have yet to happen.

So here’s me getting vulnerable in front of you again. Saying I am sorry for the dead space since last December. Hoping that I have just enough faith in God, just enough people who care about me, and just enough passion for the thing to take the time to do what I love. To beat resistance and give what I have to anyone willing to receive.

Because when everything is swirling, you don’t give up on your dream.

moving day

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”                                          -On the Road, Jack Kerouac

I hate moving.

My life has been marked by transition. change. motion.

In April of this year, I moved into a new apartment.

In March, I packed up my car, drove fifteen hours across five states and moved into a new house and a new desk at a new job.

In 2011, I moved to a different country every month for eleven months.

In 2010, I moved out of my college house and into a cabin in the San Juans.

In 2009, I packed my maletas and spent a semester taking siestas, drinking sangria, and enjoying the Mediterranean coast, oh and studying too.

In the years leading up to these, I moved from the home of my parents, to a dorm, to a townhouse, to a house, with a many a camp cabin in the summers.

If you haven’t gotten it yet, I move around a lot. And I’m not even a military brat.

Some moves are better than others. Some easier, some harder.

The thing about moving is there’s always change.

Sometimes I welcome change with open arms; like the hot summer sun warming your skin when you step out of a chilly movie theater. I love that feeling. Sure, it may be 95 degrees out, but for those few moments you don’t even care because you just spent the past two hours freezing your ba donk off, stuffing your face with popcorn and pulling your knees into your chest.

Other times I dread it. Not so much because of where I’m headed, but what I am leaving behind. People, places, memories.

But I love and hate altogether the way moving opens your eyes to things, new opportunities, old ideas, and it invites the new eyes of others to look upon you, seeing you differently than before.

For some, this is exactly what you need. You were the nerd in high school. The loner, the loser. Or maybe just went unnoticed. College is a new stage and life’s giving you the chance to write your own script from scratch. You can be anyone you want to be. Sorority girl. Student gov. Coffee shop barista  hippie.

For others, a life change is much harder to grasp. You were the team leader, organizational president, known for this or that and respected for it- people knew your name even when you didn’t know theirs. You step into a new community and you’re back at square one.

Typically, we’ve found ourselves at one of these places in some ways.

The beauty in transition is the newness, the chance to start over in even the littlest things improving our lives, our character, our faith. New obstacles arise and challenge us in new ways, while others are laid to rest if even for a season.

I’m learning a lot about change, mostly by firsthand experience. I accept it, learn from it. Seek out feedback from those around me.

Over the past couple months, Change has continued to strike…but I’m not talking about that—yet. Until then, chew on this:

  • What has changed in your life this month? This year? The last five years?
  • How did you handle that change?
  • What would you do differently next time?