Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Beauty in Grief

Let me tell you about one of the most important people in my life.

But now that I’ve written that one sentence declaring my intensions, words seem to allude me. Where do I start? How do I talk about someone so dear to me in such a vulnerable, eloquent way so that the beautiful person that she is is accurately portrayed? I guess the answer is to just write and hope for the best. So, please, bear with me.

My aunt is so cool. FBI, Special Agent. Not just any agent, mind you. Special Agent. (Yeah, she’s a big deal.) Everyday for the last 20+ years she has dedicated her time, her brainpower, and her whole heart into her work, saving lives and putting criminals behind bars. In one afternoon, she could be undercover as a middle-aged man who’s bagging my groceries at the local Wal-Mart for all I know and, in the same afternoon, corner the bad guy, take him down in one foul swoop, send him to central booking, and make it home for 6:00 dinner and the usual “hi, honey, how was your day” (as if her day wasn’t straight out of Mr. and Mrs. Smith).

Granted, she has never really detailed her work with me. But I can’t imagine that a job at the FBI – no matter the area of focus – doesn’t come without risks. I’ll never actually know, but I undoubtedly believe she has, at times, risked her life to help people who may never know her name. You see, her area of focus within the Bureau is child kidnappings and sex trafficking. If that isn’t a picture perfect example of selflessness, I dare to ask, “what is?”

And every super hero has to have a day off, right? I mean, even God rested on the seventh day. With that in mind she did just that – rest. Rested in God’s presence, His goodness. In her faithful quiet times, she would record the lessons, the verses, or the quotes from biblical scholars on index cards and then she would mail them out. Out to family, out to church family members, out to co-workers, sometimes anonymously, just as a reminder that you are important and that you are loved by the Creator of the universe, loved by Almighty God Himself. How powerful is that?

And you know, they weren’t like penned on with a black ink pen in some signature half-cursive, half-print fashion. No, they were painted, printed in perfect block lettering (which, to this day, I’m still convinced she used a stencil. I mean, no one could have that neat of handwriting naturally. Nope. She did.), complete with a cute colorful doodle or drawing. I was lucky enough to have been sent one every single week while I was in college. Do you know how many that is?? It’s a lot, in case you were wondering; each one crafted uniquely beautiful and different than those sent to my three other sisters in the same week.

Oh, and did I mention that she’s quilting 25 quilts to send to orphanages in Haiti for Christmas?? Again, all beautifully unique. Yeah, let me just leave that here, too. All, of course, while raising her beautiful 13-year-old gymnast and being a boss wife without a hitch. What an inspiration.

She’s the aunt that would listen to my middle school drama intently…as if it were a matter of life or death (which, to be fair, it was a matter of life or death to an insecure middle schooler …life and death socially, that is. Y’all, middle school is rough). She’s the aunt that has helped me through heartbreak and who pokes fun at new and exciting crushes. She’s the aunt who officially named a room in her house “Sarah’s” because I was over so often. She’s the aunt who drove and hour and a half just to see my lose the Homecoming crown in high school and the aunt who gawks with me at O.U.T.R.A.G.E.O.U.S outfits that people dare to don in public. She’s just so cool.

I watched the example that she and my mom set as best friends. Some would mistake them for sisters…and I guess they were, but only officially by marriage. The two of them showed me constant love, unconditional grace, and consistent joy. My mom and my aunt are undoubtedly the strongest two womanly influences in my life. If I could be half the friend, confidant, godly servant, sister and one day wife and mother that they both are, I would be so incredibly lucky.

It goes without saying that I am so, so blessed.



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But now that I’ve rambled long enough to momentarily forget the point of this post, let’s address the title, shall we? Beauty in Grief. Did you know there’s five stages of grief? Yeah, well, I had the sick pleasure of skipping the first stage of grief (or maybe the denial was just short lived, who knows?) and going straight to the second stage: anger.

And let me tell you: I’m angry. I’m so incredibly, undeniably, uncharacteristically angry. I’m angry at God:

“God, why? WHY ?!!!!?

HOW IS THERE ANY GOOD IN THIS? ANY!!!

HOW COULD YOU EVEN CONSIDER TAKING SOMEONE SO FAITHFUL, SO LOVING, SO SELFLESS SO YOUNG?!

WHY IS SOMEONE SO INTENSIONALLY DEDICATED TO BENEFICIALLY IMPACTING THIS WORLD FOR YOUR KINGDOM SUFFERING SO MUCH?! WHY, GOD?!

WHY HER AND NOT ME?!

Why is my aunt dying of cancer? Can you riddle me that, God?”


These are the questions I asked God everyday for the three weeks leading up to her passing.  These are the questions I would quietly ask in my heart while I struggled to put on a strong fa├žade for my younger cousin. These are the questions that I would scream at the top of my lungs when I was finally alone in my car. These are the questions I would weep with a broken heart to God every single night for those three weeks. Why, God? Why?

I tried to find comfort in the words of others that were passed along to me, but found some snarky reply that countered them all:

“I don’t know why this is happening, but Jesus does. Take heart, dear friend.”
“Well wouldn’t it just be peachy if He cared to share it with the class…”

“I’ll pray for you.”
“Won’t do any good. I’ve tried.”

“I’m here for you.”
“More than I can say about God.”

“Don’t be angry with God. Just talk to Him.”
“Too late. I’ve tried that and lookie where we are anyway…”


And with every passing snarky reply and bitter thought, my heart was further hardened and God’s voice became that much more muffled.

Finally anger turned to despair.

“No one understands the depth of my hurt.”
I do.

“This searing pain of loss is so real, so tangible.”
Now you know how I felt.

“But she’s doing so much good; she’s still so young.”
So was my Son.

“I’m not ready for this.”
 I am.


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You see, friends, the anger and bitterness that resided in my heart prevented me from hearing God’s voice at all; my heart was so intensely hardened by the circumstances surrounding the eventual loss of my aunt that I was entirely incapable of seeing any resemblance of goodness.

But the truth of the matter is that “God works all things for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).

And so let’s just be honest for a second: I don’t understand. I didn’t understand then and I still don’t understand now, five months later. In fact, I don’t know that I’ll ever understand the why’s, the how’s, the when’s. I have zero confidence that I’ll be able to truly find the good that He has promised in this. But here’s the thing:

God is almighty, all-powerful, all-controlling. He tells the moon when to shine and when to hide; He gives the dragonflies flight and the warm summer glow of the sun light; He commands the mountains to move and they do, and the air to become crisp and it cools. He commands it all! He is beginning, the middle, and the end - unestablished. He has always been and always will be! We can’t even begin to comprehend it because we can’t yet grasp the intensity and the unimaginable glory that is God. We weren’t meant to understand God fully - we couldn’t handle it! That’s where faith comes in; faith that the goodness is there, despite what our minds perceive.

That’s the only thing I’m holding onto in these stages of grief: that it’s okay not to understand but to simply have faith that God has not turned His ears to my cries.

Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promises.” If God keeps His promises, then let us take heart that Jesus has overcome the world (John16:33) – including cancer! – and He will give you that much needed rest (Matthew 11:28).

May God fill you with courage, dear friend, and bring healing to your ailing heart. Let us wait, knowing the days of sorrow will soon pass. In the meantime, rest assured that Jesus will wipe away your tears, replace your sorrowful sigh with laughter, and turn your grief into joy.


Take heart in the beauty and the peace that God grants through grief. You are not alone, friend.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Dream Come True



I remember that day like it was yesterday.

“No later than 5 o’clock,” they said. So I open my email at 5:01 exactly and see an email with a single word in the subject line that would change my future as I knew it: “Congratulations.”

As of March 28, 2013, I am a University of Florida, College of Journalism and Communications, telecommunications student, with a concentration in news broadcasting. It truly has been one of the best experiences of my life. (That’s a pretty melodramatic statement, but it’s entirely true).



Living the life of a journalism student at UF has completely redefined the characteristic of being passionate. I mean, these students are so dedicated to their work that they put their social life on hold weekend after weekend for success. Every story and every student project gets better and better, as every student slowly learns the trade of being 21st century journalists.

Faculty

Student success is made possible with the assistance of faculty who continually push each student to their limit, accepting nothing but the best. Expectations in the J-school mirror those found in the real world; not a single moment is wasted or taken for granted. The faculty therefore expects nothing but greatness upon graduation.

INR and CMIR



But truly no student success would be possible without access to top-notch university facilities! Students work half or full-day broadcast shifts in the Integrated News Room and the Center for Media Innovation and Research to become more familiar with 21st century broadcast technologies and to develop new communication strategies in which to broadcast news. 

“There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos…”  -Genie from Aladdin

I recognize that I sound like a tour guide to UF’s J-School, so let me add a disclaimer: living the life of a UF journalism student has its many rewards, but those rewards haven’t come easily. There were times when I lacked any sort of confidence, when my work was labeled as simply “useable,” and when I counted down the minutes to my 5 o’clock shift end.

Working so closely with professors in the news facilities completely broke me down. But within one semester’s time, it built me back up as a stronger and more confident journalist - something in which I'm forever grateful. 

So what's it like to be a journalism student at UF, you ask? 

It's a learning experience,

            a media workplace opportunity,

                        a dream come true.



“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man.”

-Colossians 3:23

Monday, March 24, 2014

Beauty in Healing

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
-Matthew 11:28

Different people find healing in many different ways, although the most common thought would be through prescriptions. I mean, it’s sort of common sense to know that if you can get medicine, you will find healing. And I, by no means, am discrediting that notion.

But what do you do about emotional pain or spiritual hurt? Can I just ask for a dose of happiness or a worry-free serum?

I wish.

But among the copious healing solutions available, such as exercise, venting to loved ones, and the ever promising indulgence of chocolate, there is one that will work every time and provide a sense of healing like nothing else could ever match: time with the Lord.

“My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.”
-Proverbs 4:20-22

The Lord makes it clear that time spent in His Word (as in just simply reading the Bible) and in His presence through prayer will give you healing spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.


There is beauty in time spent with the Lord; beauty in healing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Home: a take on my autobiography

Home.

There is such comfort in that one word.

Home is a place of security,
a place of serenity,
a place of sanctuary.

Born in Gainesville, but raised in a little town just North of this lively college city, I always thought my home would be found in the coziness of small town life.

My hometown provided for a typical southern upbringing: growing up in the church, learning to respect my elders, and, of course, my absolute love for corn nuggets and fried chicken.

In elementary school, I won my first speech contest and my passion for public speaking took root. Soon after, the thought of finding my home in a big city in order to become the next Megyn Kelly became my aspiration. And despite my comfort and love of being a small town girl, I started to imagine my life, and maybe one day my home, in a big city.

In middle school and high school, I signed up for organizations, took leadership positions, and volunteered in ways that I knew would help me reach my big city reporter goals. I was told more than once that I had the gift of capturing the attention of those around me, that I had “that radio voice.” And with each passing compliment, my ego only grew.

In high school, my life was radically changed: I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. The love of Jesus Christ changed every aspect of my life in one single moment, including all my hopes, dreams, and future aspirations.

I turned to the Lord to guide me in all my plans for the future, that they would no longer glorify me by showing off my gifts and talents, but rather glorify God!

My parents have always emphasized the importance of education. And being born and raised a “Gator,” I prayed for the opportunity to officially join the “Gator Nation” at the University of Florida. When I was accepted (Glory to God!) I didn’t hesitate to join the J-School as a Telecommunication major. And since my freshman year, I was given incredible opportunities to further my experience in this field, including reporting for WUFT-fm and UF’s Radio Reading Service for the visually impaired. I am truly thankful!

The University of Florida also gave me countless other opportunities and experiences, through organizations like the Pride of the Sunshine Marching Band and the Signing Gators club. When I look at my time at the University of Florida and see all I’ve been able to accomplish and how I have grown, I’m truly humbled! It was the Lord who made all of it happen!

As of right now, I have no idea what exactly my future holds except the fact that I have been called to the field of American Sign Language interpreting. I don’t know how to further that calling or where to start; I don’t know what I’m going to do once I graduate. Let’s be honest:

I am a simple college student and I don’t have it all figured out!
But I do have Jesus Christ as the Lord of my life and that’s all I need.


They say, “Home is where the heart is.”

That being said, my home is not a big city like I’d always envisioned; it is not a small town like I’ve always known; it is not even Gainesville where I have lived for the last 3 years. My home is where my heart is. And since my heart belongs to Jesus Christ, my home is in Heaven with my Savior.

“All I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong.
Take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.”

-“Where I belong” by Building 429

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spring Break Rest

7 days. 168 hours. Paradise.

Every student anxiously awaits this precious week knowing, for some, their semester’s academic success depends on it. Students all over the country pack their bikinis instead of their books and head to the pool instead of their professor’s office:

SPRING. BREAK. 

Beyond the spring break parties and the pool time, beyond the sun and the sand, beyond the drinking and the dancing, the anticipation for spring break is the deep desire simply for relaxation, a brain break, if you will.

With weekly assignments and papers, not to mention various tests and quizzes every other week, it can oftentimes feel impossible to keep up with school demands. Then when you add a social life and personal time to this workload, it only becomes more chaotic.

It’s hard to simply catch a break and take a breather. It’s overwhelming.

So we count down the days to spring break, highly anticipating this much needed vacation for some much needed rest.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28

If we simply take the time to feed our souls with the love of Jesus Christ through the comfort of His word, we will be at rest even in the midst of a crazy exam week.


There’s beauty in the desire for a vacation, for a spring break. And there's beauty in rest. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Beauty in the Unknown

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.”
-Jeremiah 29:11

Surely one of the most overly quoted verses in the Bible. Even my eleven-year-old cousin can recite that verse! Unfortunately, it becomes all too easy to lose sight of its significance.

I mean, think about it:

The Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Creator of the universe, the Savior of the world has given each of us a beautifully unique future, designed just. for. us. We each have a purpose on this Earth that only we can accomplish. We are each an integral part of a bigger plan, like a small insignificant tile used to create a captivating wall mosaic. And yet, if one piece went missing, the mosaic would simply be incomplete. Our lives and futures are equally important, equally valuable, equally worthy, to God’s plan.

But what if something doesn’t go the way you’ve always planned? What if God has something greater planned for you? Something you’re not even aware of yet?

Conversely, what if you are absolutely positive what the Lord has called you to do but have absolutely no idea how to get there or where to start?

I’ve experienced both.

You see, my passion since I won the 4-H State Tropicana Speech Contest in fourth grade was public speaking:
the adrenaline rush,
the quick thinking,
the ability to capture someone’s attention-

Nothing made me feel more important.

I knew I wanted to be a broadcaster when I grew up, no questions asked. It was all mapped out: be admitted to the University of Florida. Graduate with a telecommunication degree. Work for the JoyFM

…But the Lord had other plans.

In my past three undergraduate years, I have absolutely fallen in love with American Sign Language and the Deaf community. Never in a million years could I have guessed that the Lord would call me into the field of interpreting.

But where do I even begin? UF doesn’t offer anything in that field and my pride prevents me from transferring.

Lord, what the heck am I doing here? How is this part of my calling if I don’t even know what direction to take my first step?

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
                                                            -Psalm 119:105

Another overly quoted verse. I mean, what does that even mean??

Let me paint a picture: if you’re immersed in a sea of pitch black with the exception of a single lamp, you will only be able to see a small circumference around that light: just enough to see in order to take one single step.

And if the Lord is our lamp that illuminates just enough area for us to take that one single step, all we need is Him to guide us in the right direction that that one single step should be taken. And how do we get that guidance?

“Give us today our daily bread.”
-Matthew 6:11

The Lord’s Prayer - or rather a portion of it; Matthew 6:11 is rarely quoted without the whole prayer. Regardless, I stopped to consider what it even meant. Obviously it’s not referring to a real piece of bread. So what then?

The Lord will give us just enough daily wisdom and understanding-our daily bread-in order to take that one single step. We need only trust in Him and ask Him through prayer for that wisdom.

The Lord does that on purpose: what would be the point of illuminating our whole future? Where’s the fun in that? But really, where would trust come in? How could we lean on our God if He gave us all the answers straight up?

There’s beauty in the unknown. And there’s beauty in how the unknown becomes the known.

When I take a look at the crazy opportunities and experiences that the Lord has given me, I’m truly humbled. But beyond a humility check, I finally understand why I was given these opportunities and experiences: because they played a much bigger role in defining my future than I could realize at the time.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

-Romans 8:28

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Valentine's Day Love

A dozen, long-stemmed red roses; heart-shaped chocolates; sweet “I love you” gestures like breaking out of jail to see your valentine: a normal Valentine’s Day, right?

Ha!

For most of us, Valentine’s Day consists of a night curled up on the couch watching the latest Nicholas Sparks movie while enjoying the box of chocolates we bought for ourselves earlier that day.

But why?

Because we are wallowing in our non-existent love life?

Because we’re afraid of heartbreak again?

Because we think we’re not beautiful enough for someone to love us?

But the reality is we have the best love story of all time! Jesus loves us and He is our perfect valentine! He thinks you are beautiful, no matter what society says. He loves each of us so much that he took on all our sins and, despite His absolute perfection, died so that we could have eternal life with Him in Heaven-the perfect gift.


1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” God’s love is the source of all human love. Once we understand His love, we will understand that Jesus Christ is our perfect valentine. And there’s beauty in that.