February 27, 2011

that first breath

i had my first real sneeze at the age of 16. you think i'm kidding, but i'm not. oh sure, i had "sneezed" before, but it was really more like a strange nose spasm. and it was the result of an illness that i never knew i had.

before i learned of the wonderful world of speech pathology, i wanted to be a professional singer. i took voice lessons in a haunted downtown studio for the good part of high school, and one day as i was practicing a piece for an upcoming recital, my teacher suddenly stopped accompanying me on the piano. she looked at me with squinted eyes and a perplexed look and after a few moments said, "charissa, you don't know how to breathe."

now at 15 i may have not known how to do many things, but i was pretty sure breathing was the one task that i could perform confidently. but after daily observation, my teacher realized that i was using my whole body to take in every breath. and sure enough, my doctor realized it, too, and i learned that for approximately 10 years my tonsils and adenoids were almost constantly swollen, significantly limiting my ability to breathe. and it was the last lesson i ever expected to learn from going to a voice lesson.

and that was the terrifying truth: i had no idea that i was sick. sure, my throat always hurt. sure, i got strep throat like 3 times a year. sure, i had a funny sneeze and never felt like i got a full night's sleep. but because i had never known what it was like to really breathe, i never knew that i wasn't really breathing.

but a few days later, right after i turned 16, i met him. my doctor. the man who would remove the infection and essentially save my life. the man who would remove what was hurting me and take away my pain. the man who would allow me to breathe for the first time.

and the day of my surgery. the day of my healing. the day of my victory finally came. i felt butterflies as i anticipated what was about to take place with the giddiness of a child on christmas morning. the healer put me under and lifted me out to an unprecedented feeling: my first breath. new air that i had never known before filled my lungs. new energy coursed through my whole self. a new spirit took over that allowed me to breathe. to speak. to sing. to sleep. to sneeze.

and every time that i reflect on this experience in my life. this time of thinking i was healthy only to learn that i was incredibly sick. this time of learning that i had never had a real breath of air, a full night's sleep, or even a legitimate sneeze reminds me of the day that i met HIM. my DOCTOR. the GOD who would remove the infection and absolutely save my life. the GOD who would remove what was hurting me and take away my pain. the GOD who would allow me to breathe for the first time.

the day of my surgery. the day of my healing. the day of my victory finally came. i felt butterflies as i anticipated what was about to take place with the giddiness of a child on christmas morning. the HEALER put me under and lifted me out to an unprecedented feeling: my first breath. new air that i had never known before filled my lungs. new energy coursed through my whole self. a new SPIRIT took over that allowed me to breathe. to speak. to sing. to sleep. to sneeze.

and may i never forget as long as i live the moment that i took that first breath.

February 17, 2011

blessed

"peace does not come from finding a lake with no storms. it comes from having JESUS in the boat." john ortberg

this past week has been a challenge in more ways than one. sometimes life presents us with situations that are simply not of our making and out of our control. sometimes the prettiest people are ugly, showing their humanity in the poor ways in which they choose to treat us. and sometimes we are left questioning GOD'S faithfulness and wondering if we are truly blessed.

but this morning i woke up to a profound thought. right as i was about to let myself become overwhelmed and upset. right as i was about to give into sadness and despair. right as i was about to question GOD'S hand and blessing in my life, i realized that for my entire life i have been misusing the word "blessed."

i use the word "blessed" at least once a day. i am quick to count my blessings and to share them with as many people as i can. but i realized today that i have been incorrectly identifying and misunderstanding blessings in my life and essentially allowing myself to define GOD'S goodness.

when i am happy, GOD is good. when my life is free of pain, i am blessed. when all of my friends and family are healthy and content, GOD is good. when my life is free of conflict, i am blessed. when GOD provides me with a job or position, HE is good. when i am happily dating a cute boy, i am blessed. when i succeed at something, GOD is good. when my life is carefree, i am blessed. when everything is going my way, GOD is good. when there are no storms, i am blessed.

and then i realized that blessings are not about me at all. that being blessed is not determined by feelings or situation. that GOD'S goodness is not dependent on my happiness. that real blessing is secondary to pain and suffering. that those who were blessed in scripture were the worst off. the despised. the rejected. the least of all.

those who are truly blessed are: the poor in spirit. those who mourn. the meek. those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. the merciful. the pure in heart. the peacemakers. the persecuted (matt. 5:3-12). those who are slandered. those who are cursed (1 cor. 4:12-14). those whose help and hope is in GOD (psalm 146:5). the hated. the excluded. the insulted. the rejected (luke 6:22).

GOD doesn't promise a life without storms. HE promises rain (matt. 5:45). HE promises waves (matt. 8:26). HE promises enemies (matt. 10:36). HE promises suffering (romans 8:17). HE promises trials (james 1:2). HE promises testing (james 1:3). and HE doesn't say "if," HE says "when" (james 1:13).

there will be times when we are tested to tell the truth in the face of opposition. when we are forced into the middle of a conflict that we didn't create. when we are forced to confront. when we are forced to stand for righteousness. when we won't be able to please another person. when we will be mocked, cursed, persecuted, and mistreated. and GOD will still be good, and we will be blessed.

real blessing comes in the struggle. in the suffering. in the trial. in the fire. in the weakness. in the pain. in the failure. in the betrayal. in frustration. in despair. in anger. in loss.

and i discovered today that i am blessed because HE is jealous for me (nahum 1:2). because HE is constantly fighting for me (exodus 14:14). because HE is constantly correcting me (job 5:17). because HE is constantly refining me (isaiah 48:10).

therefore, when i am cursed, i will bless. when i am persecuted, i will endure. when i am slandered, i will answer kindly (1 cor. 4:12-13). for CHRIST'S sake, i will delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. when i am weak, i will be strong (2 cor. 12:10). and it is then that i will say that i am blessed.

"and this is my prayer in the fire, in weakness or trial or pain. there is a faith proved of more worth than gold, so refine me LORD through the flames. and i will bring praise. i will bring praise. no weapon forged against me shall remain. i will rejoice. i will declare. GOD is my victory and HE is here." "desert song" by the zoe group

February 16, 2011

that joy

i'm currently conducting some research for the geriatrics course i'm taking which involves sitting down and testing individuals above the age of 65. we are to test their cognitive abilities, emotional health, and a host of other areas pertaining to their daily lives. i just started this task last week, and it has already become a beautiful journey of discovering wisdom and strength from an incredible and inspiring population. after each session, our professor has asked that we write a journal entry describing what we learned from that visit. and so i would like to share my first journal entry with you so that you might also get a glimpse of the daily beauty that i find in the tasks that i am blessed to perform...

his hands were shaking as he held the pen, trying to accomplish the once effortless task of writing his name. his eyes squinted as he held the page even closer to his face, trying to distinguish the lines. he asked for the question to be repeated, making sure his hearing aid was officially turned on. and i sat there silently: wishing i could give him my hands, wishing i could give him my eyes, wishing i could give him my ears.

she held her head in her hands trying to remember the day’s date. her voice quivered as she confessed that she just couldn’t recall those names. a blush momentarily covered the wrinkles as the embarrassment showed on her face. she was paralyzed in frustration and helplessness, trying to remember the knowledge that she had just years ago. and i sat there silently: wishing i could give her my memory, wishing i could share my youth, wishing i could temporarily mediate the shame.

but he had a smile, and she had a peace. it was a smile that could only form by the perfect formation of wrinkles. it was a peace that could only come from a life of leaning on and trusting in GOD. they had a contentment, only acquired by eighty years of living. they had their own distinguishable laugh that covered the anguish and grief of any tears that might come. they had a joy, only created by the addition of grandchildren. and i sat there silently: wishing i had his smile, wishing i had her peace, wishing i had the contentment, wishing i had the laugh, wishing i had that joy.

February 15, 2011

back on the rack

people are like coats.

you go into a store to buy a coat. you search and search and finally find one that you like. it's completely unique, but expensive. it's exactly what you need, but purchasing it is intimidating. you look around the store and realize that it's the only one of its kind.

so the contemplation begins. you pick up the coat off of the rack. you admire it. you might even go as far as to take it off of the hanger and try it on. you model it in the mirror. and you may even put it back on the rack only to remove it again for further evaluation.

maybe it doesn't fit or maybe it's made for a different season. maybe it's too expensive and not worth the cost. maybe it's "dry clean only" and you don't have the time or effort for such maintenance. maybe it has a few buttons missing or the sleeves are too long. maybe you just aren't sure it's the one for you and feel like when you find the one that is, you'll just know. maybe you just want to feel completely certain before making a purchase. but for whatever reason, you put it back on the hanger and place the hanger back on the rack.

and right as you place the hanger back on the rack, BOOM. you see two hands grab the coat a split second after you put it down. you weren't even aware that anyone else was watching or even around you, but now the coat is being admired by another set of eyes and another pair of hands.

and suddenly, the coat looks good. suddenly you see beauty and potential in the coat that you never saw before. and your internal sound system starts playing in your head, "don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got till it's gone? they paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

and then the jealously and anger come. what is that person doing touching your coat? what gives him or her the right to what was clearly in your possession just moments ago? and the conversation happens, "um, yeah, hi. i saw that coat first, and i wasn't done looking at it just yet." followed by, "oh, really? because i just saw you put it back on the rack, and i'm pretty sure you didn't want it."
and the arguing continues, but no matter how much you argue about it, you know deep down that you let the coat go. that you decided it wasn't for you. that you didn't care enough at the time to keep it. that you set it free to any potential outcome. that it now belongs to someone else.

when you put the coat back on the rack, you didn't think about another person snatching it up. you didn't think about having to watch someone else wear your coat. you didn't think another person would bring out the beauty in the coat that you just couldn't see. you didn't think about that coat being the only one of its kind, unique and irreplaceable. and you're left to wait and see if the current evaluator will put the coat back down, providing you a chance to reclaim it.

and so is life. that guy you dumped suddenly looks really good when he's dating that other cute, little girl who happens to be your friend. that girl you never gave a chance looks much more appealing as a beautiful wife and mother of 3. that friend who annoyed you doesn't seem quite as annoying when surrounded by a group of laughing and smiling friends. that employee that you fired looks much more promising as the vice president of your rival company. and no matter how hard you try, you can't seem to avoid the what-ifs and the what-might-have-beens.

but there don't have to be what-ifs or what-might-have-beens when we realize that every person wants a chance and when we're willing to give that chance. the chance to be chosen. to be admired. to be modeled with in the mirror. to be different. to be special. to be given attention. to be given consideration. to be the one-of-a-kind coat on the rack.

and every person looks better when given faith. when believed in. when respected. when loved. people start shining. they light up. they glow. they become the most beautiful versions of themselves and more beautiful than we could have ever imagined. and if we don't give them that faith and belief, someone else eventually will, potentially to our regret and remorse.

our mistake is made when we carelessly put people back on the rack.

February 10, 2011

the fence

not up, and not down. not in, and not out. not right, and not left. not here, and not there. not right, and not wrong. not yes, and not no. in the gray. in the land of maybe. in the middle. riding the fence.

we humans dwell in indecision. in uncertainty. in no promises. in no commitments. in no definition. in gray area. we want our potential to be full. our possibility to be endless. our sky to be limitless, where anything can happen.

so we ride the fence. for as long as we possibly can. we make no promises. no commitments. no certainties. there is no yes or no. no definition. no decision. there is only the gray area of potentials and possibilities, with all options being left open.

we like our freedom, which is why we ride the fence instead of choosing a side. if we step into the area enclosed by the fence, we risk our freedom and our possibility of escape. but if we step into the area surrounding the fence, we risk the chance that the encircled ground was the eden of which we always dreamed, a different type of prison. so we stay on the fence unable to decide.

and we teeter totter horizontally on the fence. we over-analyze and complicate every little detail of our decision. one day we lean to one side almost sure that it is the right choice to make. but the very next day our opinion completely changes, and we find ourselves on the other side of the fence.

we fear imprisonment. that once we make a decision there's no going back. that once we choose a side, the fence will be too high to climb and to get back over. some fences truly are bad and bind us to something of which we long to be set free. but we are misled into thinking that all fences are bad. that all fences are prisons. that the grass will always be greener on the other side. that there is nothing worth staying with inside the fence.

but no matter how long we try to ride the fence, there comes a time when we have to fall off and to choose a side. with every fence in our lives, we have only one choice: to give in to it or to get over it. we can either choose to stay inside the gated area or to pursue the unfenced side. either way, there is no gray area. there is no land of maybe. there is no middle. there is giving in or getting over.

if we find that we are becoming a certain type of person, we can either give in to it or get over it. if we start feeling negative pressure from other people, we can give in to it or get over it. if we are plagued with addiction, we can give in to it or get over it. if we find we have feelings for another person, we can either give in to them or get over them. if we are paralyzed with fear, we can give in to it or get over it. if we have pasts that haunt us, we can either give in to them or get over them. if we start a relationship with JESUS CHRIST, we can either give in to it or get over it.

but ultimately, there is no fence to ride. there is no middle ground. there is no in-between. there is no gray area. there are only sides. and eventually our only choice is to actually make a choice.

February 7, 2011

the call

you're in the middle of a texting conversation with someone. you guys have consistently been talking for awhile. you're enjoying your conversation and grinning like a fool. you think of the wittiest phrase you can respond with and hit send. and then...silence. you wait. and you wait. and after minutes that feel like hours and hours that feel like days, you finally get a response.

you go to the doctor's office for your annual checkup, but in that ordinary visit the doctor finds something troubling. and he tells you that he will call you as soon as he possibly can. and you wait. a day passes. you keep waiting. a week passes. it might just be another routine to him, but it means everything to you. and he finally calls you just to say that everything is fine.

you've been in a relationship for a few months. the infatuation stage is fading, and things are becoming mundane. you still really like that person, but he or she seems to be losing his or her interest in you. and then the dates get fewer. and the calls get shorter. and the texts lose their punctuation. and soon the relationship you once had becomes nonexistent.

you've had the same best friend for the past couple of years. you know him or her better than anyone else does. you do everything together. he or she is your walking buddy. your tennis partner. the one with whom you share your secrets. the one whom you always listen to and who always listens to you. the one who promised you that you'd be friends forever, never to be parted. but one day that friend finds a new group of friends. new ways to take up time. new priorities. new hobbies. a new way of life. and you're left alone, waiting.

just like HIM. you promised you'd call HIM as soon as you possibly could, but HE'S left waiting. at one time you were in a constant conversation, but at some point you stopped responding and left HIM waiting. in silence. and the minutes feel like hours, and the hours feel like minutes even though with HIM there is no time. and the fire you once felt in your heart seems to have fled, but HIS fire never ceases to burn for you. and while it might just be another routine to you, it means everything to HIM. but the dates get fewer, the calls get shorter, and the relationship that you once had becomes nonexistent. HE was once your best friend, the ONE who will always know you better than anyone else. the ONE who knows all of your secrets. but you found a new group of friends. new ways to take up time. new priorities. a new way of life. even though you promised HIM forever.

but you promised you'd call HIM as soon as you possibly could, and HE'LL never stop waiting by the phone for the call.

February 6, 2011

jumping & falling

"to love is to risk not being loved in return. to hope is to risk pain. to try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing." bill bixby

jumping and falling into a pile of leaves is delightful. jumping and falling off of a diving board and into a pool is wonderful. jumping and falling off of a 40 foot cliff into a lake is thrilling. jumping and falling off of a bridge with a bungee cord is terrifying. jumping and falling out of a plane to dive through the sky is mortifying. and when it comes to jumping and falling in love, well, there are just no words that adequately capture the feeling.

i realized today that everyone i know shares the same fear: jumping and falling. sure we might love the thrill of cliff-diving, but we're not so thrilled when major changes dive into our lives. we might feel excited to go skydiving or bungee jumping, but it's not so exciting when we feel like we're hanging on to all of the things that we hold dear by solitary cords.

jumping and falling. completely letting go. trusting fully in the LORD. accepting vulnerability. embracing weakness. opening our hearts to another person. committing our lives to a grand purpose. starting a career. starting a relationship. starting a family. allowing change. realizing fragility. releasing control. not knowing. continually wondering. always relying. all render fear.

so we postpone the fear. we wait until we're ready to handle it. instead of jumping and falling today, we decide we'll wait for a more opportune time. until we finish college. until we meet that right person. until we have an adventure overseas. until we find the ideal career. until that right person becomes a spouse. until we become parents. until we're finally old enough. only to find that even after all of those things are in place, so is the fear, right where we left it, and that the birthday where we finally reach the age of readiness is never going to come.

today during the LORD'S supper i was thinking about my own personal fears and how every aspect of my life requires faith. i turned to hebrews 11 and was instantly fascinated, not by the names of the people that i saw but by the verbs. all of the actions. all of the things that people were capable of doing because they let go of their fear and decided to fall. by faith, abel offered. enoch was taken. noah built. abraham went. isaac blessed. jacob worshiped. joseph spoke. moses was hidden. the walls of jericho fell. rahab welcomed. and all of these people were still living by faith when they died.

and they were all afraid. they all wanted to hang on. to maintain control. to keep it together. to protect their hearts. to protect their lives. to live the lives that they had always imagined. but they all had to let go. to not know. to wonder. to trust. to move. to leave. to change. to hurt. to grow. to suffer. to worry. to risk. to jump. to fall.

and it was in that moment that i realized that a life without risk. a life without thrill. a life without wonder. a life without not knowing. a life without discomfort. a life without worry. a life without suffering. a life without growing. a life without change. a life without love. a life without fear. a life without faith. a life without jumping. a life without falling...is not a life. the risk in life that we take by never risking...is never living.

i want to jump. i want to fall. i may crash. but i also might fly.

"but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." isaiah 40:31