Like Waiting for a Slow Pitch and Getting Supersoaked

Coming into this season looked more like a dive than a step.

Oh and by dive I mean cannonball. Maybe even a belly flop. Either way, I closed my eyes and hurled myself into the deep ocean of unknown.

James Vaughan

In our adolescent summers, my brother and I lived at the pool. First thing each morning, we put on our suits and rode our bikes to the Afton Village Swim Club.

We swam and swam, begrudgingly getting out for those dreadful ten minutes of adult swim. The only thing that could redeem that awful land prison: ice pops for a quarter. And it meant I could flirt with the lifeguards without feeling guilty about distracting them from their jobs. But mostly the ice pops.

At lunchtime, we went home to cook up Asian-inspired cuisine of Ramen noodles, then raced back to the pool, staying until after dark. We walked home with wobbly sea legs, limp from all that paddling and diving and splashing. The street lights wore shiny halos on those summer nights due to the copious amount of chlorine in my eyes.

We played a lot of games during the long pool days of summer. One in particular always stands out to me. 

One person jumps from the diving board while the other throws the ball, a foam NERF ball—it was the nineties. The point is to catch the ball mid-air and be awesome.

Whenever my turn on the diving board arrived, my brother always happened to get exhausted, and would rest at a conveniently placed float on the northeast end of the pool.

Ready, set, ju—and along came Chris floating by, “asleep” on his float.

“Faker!!!” I screamed with heels raised and toes pressed into the board as if to project my voice and further prove my allegations.

“FAKER!” I screamed louder. “Fak—” a piercing stream of water shot me in the face.

A cackle from below proved my brother had, in fact, not been sleeping on that float, but hiding a water gun until he got just the right angle to shoot me.

Vulnerable and exposed, no weapon, no shield, he got me.

I thought I did what I supposed to. Thought I was playing the game, and boom. H2Oed in the face. In front of the cute lifeguard, no less.

Recently, I crawled up on that diving board again, only this one is less real and more metaphorical.

I thought I’d been playing the game by the rules, doing the right thing—what was expected. I took risks, but by faith. One step in front of the other. I would get to the edge, take a deep breath, jump in the air, catch the ball thrown at me, and land safely into a pool of applause and fulfilled dreams and promised land, right?

Turns out, I got to the edge of the board, took a deep breath, took another deep breath, started to take the plunge, and instead of catching the soft, cushy NERF ball, I got plastered in the face by a Supersoaker and landed in a pool of unmet expectations.

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How many times do we expect because we have done all the right things, God will toss us a nice slow pitch, and instead it feels like he fakes us out with a shot in the face?

But God is not faking.

God, in the best way (that also happens to be painful, ugly, and messy), is reminding me of my desperate need for him.

At some point, I got to thinking I had a pretty good thing going.

That’s not to say I’m perfect. But I thought I heard the voice of God, thought I followed his lead. I thought I loved well, served well, prophesied and preached well. So where is my slow pitch and pool of promised land?

I’ve realized I don’t think he ever actually promised me a soft, cushy NERF ball. But he did promise he would be there. And if I would just climb the ladder, walk down the board, and jump, he would help me swim. And that’s what risk and trust is anyway.

It’s ditching entitlement and carrying gratitude.

Sometimes it’s splashing in the baby pool, getting familiar with the water. Other times it’s getting thrown right into the deep end, in the middle of it all. No matter, I believe he is not wasting our time or withholding promises. He is not tricking us into believing he is one thing when he’s another—we’re usually the ones pretending to be something we’re not.

He is father, redeemer, hope-fulfiller. He is kingdom creator and heart-seeker.

My head is barely above water most days, but I haven’t drowned yet. And I don’t expect I will, if I keep my eyes open to what he’s doing in the now, instead of complaining about what hasn’t turned out like I expected.

I haven’t drowned yet, and I don’t think you will either.

One day, our faith will be sight.

 

 

(photo credit: James Vaughn)

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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.

Please Play This Song at My Funeral

I’m no scientist or doctor, but when you’re doing pretty much anything in life, I think it’s important to breathe.

In high school, my friend Holly and I cheered together. I’ll never forget the day she moved from flier (the one on top of the pyramid) to base (the one holding the flier in the air). She is a tiny person — her heart is the only big thing about her — so the day she decided to be the muscles of the group shocked us all. I remember helping her, coaching her through the process. Bend at the knees, don’t arch your back. 

After every dismount Holly would let out the biggest gush of air from her mouth. Guuuuuuhhh. I couldn’t figure out how  such a loud noise could come from such a small person.

Then came time to add the cheers to the stunts. Yelling for our football team and throwing human bodies into the air — at the same time.

No words came from Holly’s mouth. Her grand exhales came after holding her breath for the entire stunt sequence. Ready, one, two, inhale… no exhale. No breath until the stunt ended and her flier landed safely on the floor.

“Don’t forget to breathe, Holly!” our coach would remind her during practice. “You have to keep breathing!”

Today, I need someone reminding me of the same thing.

A couple weekends ago, two of my best friends became one in marriage — and I couldn’t be happier. On the drive home from Austin, I spent time reflecting, praying, and thanking God for the people in my life.

Then Gungor’s This Is Not The End came on my car stereo. At the words, “This is not our last, this is not our last breath,” the tears began streaming down my cheeks.

Why that song? Why those words? I had heard them a dozen times before. What was it about the reassurance of breath — a job I typically leave up to my lungs and brain to work out — that broke me?

2013 has been one tough year. In desperation, I had gasped for air, taking in all my lungs could hold. I became lightheaded and dizzy, and lost sight of all truth. Instead, I started believing lies of inadequacy and disappointment. I have been holding my breath for jobs, for relationships, for provision, for heartaches, for health, for the way it should be 

Stale air continued to cycle and recycle. I couldn’t exhale because what if those last breaths were all I had.

Eventually, my face turned purple and I could not even see the life right in front of me.

I never let that last breath go to invite the fresh breath in.

There on Highway 290, I sat puffy-eyed and splotchy while this song reminded me of something I had forgotten along the way: there is another breath after this one. There is always one more breath.

Even in death there is never a last breath; life continues in the heavenly realm. Life started when Adam first drew in the breath of God, the inhale, and it continued when he exhaled the kingdom breath out into the garden.

There will be another inhale, but we have to let go of the breath we’re holding onto first.

There is always one more breath. 

       photo

This is not the end, this is not the end of this. We will open our eyes wide, wider.

This is not our last, this is not our breath. We will open our mouths wide, wider.

This is not the end, this is not the end of us. We will shine like the stars: bright, brighter.

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 Last Piece is Pulled From Your Jenga Tower

Remember the game Jenga?

The game’s objective is to remove as many wooden blocks from a tower without letting it fall. You take turns with your opponent and if the tower falls at your play, you lose.

You remove each block with steady hands and give a big exhale when you realize the tower is still standing. You didn’t even know you were holding your breath until all the air comes rushing through your mouth and nostrils with a sigh of relief. As sweat falls from your brow  you think to yourself, “Really, pull yourself together, fool! It’s a game.” (Or is that just me?)

The past few weeks, months maybe, my life has been a Jenga tower.

One by one, blocks have been pulled from different parts of me. A struggle here, a heart string there. Family members are sick, friends are hurting, and the goodbyes never seem to stop.

Some of the blocks needed to go. Blocks marked with indifference, defense mechanisms, and lies. Nonetheless, these blocks were once a part of me, leaving me a little wobbly without them.

Leaving me vulnerable. Raw. Exposed.

Last week, someone removed the final block, the linchpin piece from my tower and it all came crashing down.

And I want to tell you I am writing this from the other side, from a place of recovery and reflection. But I am not. I write this from the thick of the apocalypse and pain. And tears.

But I realize in the thick of it is exactly where I need to be. I’ve spent my life getting over it and moving on without ever dealing with anything. Being the strong one, the stable one, the one who has it all together so everyone else can be a mess.

Today, the blocks are scattered across the floor. Jumbled, messy, disheveled. I’ll rescue the ones worth holding onto and throw out the ones that are not part of who I want to be.

I will build my tower again. But not today and not tomorrow either.