March 30, 2011

the 10 things i wish i had known

a year or so ago i was asked to come back and speak to an all girls' bible class at the school i went to in alabama. the lovely lady who asked me to come asked that i speak about the things that i wish i had known in middle school and high school that would have influenced and made a difference in the things i worried about, the choices i made, and ultimately my whole life. therefore, i came up with "the 10 things i wish i had known" and shared it with those beautiful girls, and i'd like to share it now with you...

the 10 things i wish i had known...

1) the only boy who doesn’t have cooties is your daddy.
• “boys are beyond the range of anybody's sure understanding, at least when they are between the ages of 18 months and 90 years.” james thurber (aka a boy)
• point: concentrate on friendships; only 1 out of 20 high school relationships lasts a lifetime; it just won't last; book: dateable.

2) act your age, not your shoe size...especially if your shoe size is 18.
• point: i wish i hadn't been in such a hurry to grow up; enjoy your freedom/the easy life while it lasts; with age comes responsibility, which is good and bad; don't wish it away.

3) you’re never too young to make a difference.
• 1 timothy 4:12 “don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
• “be the change you wish to see in the world.” ghandi
• point: be what you wish to see; because you are in an environment where you learn about GOD every day, you have the opportunity to be an example to others who haven't learned as much; be the type of girl that is modest, uses good language, and the type whom people admire; book: how to win friends and influence people for teenage girls.

4) words hurt worse than sticks.
• “the tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. it corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” james 3:6
• “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up.” ephesians 4:29
• point: words damage; “sticks and stones…” = bunch of bunk; words are lasting, whether positive or negative; if you say something about someone, expect her to find out about it; it takes 10 positive comments to override 1 negative; someone might say things in a moment of anger that you might never forget, and you could do the same.

5) make friends with your parents now or prepare to be enemies.
• colossians 3:20 “children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the LORD.”
• point: 7 years war – age 14 to 21; if you learn from your parents' mistakes you can save yourself the heartache of making those mistakes yourself; a lesson earned is much harder to learn; despite what you might think, your parents are kind of smart and actually might want the best for you.

6) you are…who you spend time with.

• 1 corinthians 15:34 “do not be misled: ‘bad company corrupts good character.’ “
• “tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” unknown
• “i am a friend to all who fear YOU, to all who follow YOUR precepts.” psalm 119:63
• point: you become whom you surround yourself with; you say the same things at the same time and like the same things; don’t expect to bring someone up, expect to be brought down; only be close friends with people who fear the LORD.

7) be still and know…yourself.
• “be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” dr. seuss
• "dance like no one is watching. sing like no one is listening. love like you've never been hurt, and live like it's heaven on earth." mark twain
• points: don't define yourself by what you do (sports, activities, etc.) but by WHOSE you are; take time to know yourself (favorite color, drink, quirks, etc.); if someone doesn't like you for who you are they don't matter; accept other people for what makes them special; everyone is "weird" in his/her own way.

8) the hardest and best thing you could ever say is “i’m sorry.”

• “my dear brothers, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” james 1:19
• “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” proverbs 15:1
• point: this is something i struggle with; we must accept responsibility for the things we have done/do instead of blame someone else; saying i'm sorry and forgiving makes healing happen faster; some people will never apologize for the wrong things they've done to us, but we must forgive them anyway.

9) decisions determine destiny.
• “shoot for the moon, and if you miss you will still be among the stars.” les brown
• “life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.” tennessee williams
• point: who you spend time with, how hard you study, what activities you participate in, etc. all determine where you go and what you do; every decision affects your direction; small decisions made in these years will determine where you go to college, whom you marry, etc.; bad decisions have bad consequences; be the best you can be and don't get discouraged book: technical virgin.

10) there is only one constant in life...GOD.
• “now listen, you who say, "today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. what is your life? you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. instead, you ought to say, "if it is the LORD'S will, we will live and do this or that." james 4:13-15
• “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. for you died, and your life is now hidden with CHRIST in GOD.” colossians 3:2-3
• “delight yourself in the LORD, and HE will give you the desires of your heart.” psalm 37:4
• point: i lost one of my best friends at 16; we are not promised tomorrow; like job, GOD will spare us nothing to draw us closer to HIM; nothing matters besides our relationship with GOD, and it doesn't matter what happens to us; when you are baptized, you die to yourself (your sinful desires) and must give it all up for the ONE you love.

March 29, 2011

a moment like this

"life is too short. grudges are a waste of perfect happiness. laugh when you can. apologize when you should. and let go of what you can’t change. kiss slowly. love deeply. and forgive quickly. take chances. give everything. and have no regrets. life is too short to be unhappy. you have to take the good with the bad. smile when you're sad. love what you got. and always remember what you had. always forgive but never forget. learn from your mistakes. but never regret. people change and things go wrong. but always remember: life goes on!" unknown

this past monday night was just a normal night like any other. i had been busy scoring tests and writing reports over at school and decided to call my parents when i got home. they were driving around dallas on a trip to visit my brother and started telling me all about their day. i was sitting at my kitchen table finishing some work, and we were laughing hysterically as we exchanged funny stories of the children in our lives. and that's when it happened...
that's when i heard every detail of the crash. the screeching of tires. the sound of another car slamming into theirs. the sound of my mom crying, "oh, we've been hit!"

and a thousand thoughts began racing in my mind. i felt completely helpless, not having any clue of the extent of what had just happened. but i stayed on the phone, praying, until i heard my mom repeating some letters and numbers over and over again. what were these numbers? why was she repeating them? and that's when i realized that the man who had just slammed into my parents' car...was driving away.
and then a new emotion took over: sheer anger. i would later learn that this man rear-ended my parent's car with his truck, going 50 miles an hour, and then drove away not caring whether they lived or died. and in that moment of helplessness, being 6 hours away. in that moment of madness, not knowing what had just happened. and in that moment of anger, wanting to do something to defend my parents against this criminal, i used the only tool that i had to use: my memory.

my mom and i kept repeating his license plate number over and over again together until we had it firmly in our brains. we both wrote it down, and she gave it to the police who were able to learn where the man lives. and he'll have his jail time to think about whether driving away was his best decision.

my parents ended up walking away from the crash with nothing more than whiplash and soreness. their car was totaled with the trunk of the car completely being crushed. and when the tow truck got there, the man driving it said that it was a wonder they were alive.

and this moment. these few seconds. this normal monday. it was a literal wake-up call that totally changed my life. suddenly nothing mattered to me except that everyone i loved and cared about was safe. suddenly any arguments or previous conflicts were meaningless. suddenly school work or bills or weekend plans or any other issues simply didn't matter.

it's amazing how we live, so unaware of the days passing by. weeks go by in the blink of an eye, but suddenly when confronted with tragedy, every second becomes critically important. our fast-paced lives turn into slow-motion moments, and we wait on pins and needles not knowing the outcome. suddenly we pray. suddenly we regret. suddenly we apologize. suddenly we forgive. suddenly we love.

and our lives are defined and determined by these moments. the almost or complete tragedies that we encounter in life completely change our perspective of it. these moments teach us to apologize when we need to and to not allow any unnecessary arguments. they teach us to forgive quickly and to realize that at any moment we might never be able to say "i'm sorry" or "i love you" or "you're wonderful" ever again. and they teach us to love deeply and unconditionally and to do whatever we can for the ones we love.

today i hugged my parents, and i'm not sure i've ever appreciated the opportunity more. i now understand the importance of a day. the importance of an hour. the importance of a moment that can totally change lives. and it is my new ambition to live every day as if i might experience a moment like this.
"let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." james 1:19

March 18, 2011

breakable

"and we are so fragile, and our cracking bones make noise. and we are just breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys." ingrid michaelson

"be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." plato

recently, i witnessed 2 opposite events that really gave me an interesting perspective on people. my first story takes place in a room filled with individuals who see each other on a daily basis. they are all christians. they all know each others' families. they all have been friends for years. yet one side of the room was not speaking to the other. they were scattered in little clusters of 3 or 4 people, ignoring those who might be beneath them or those who had ever done anything with which they might not agree. some only spoke to others when forced by the tight space of the room. others intentionally placed themselves in the room so that their backs would be faced to certain people. and i walked into the room as a relative stranger to be welcomed by some and notably shunned by others. they all know me, but they don't know me like they think that they do. i was just a visitor. just a bystander. yet this group of superior people were trying to make me feel less in just the short time that i was there. i stood to the side to watch such big fish swim in such a tiny pond that they truly believed was the atlantic ocean. they bullied, cast aside, rejected others simply with their body language and when forced to speak spoke insincere words with fake smiles. and while it could be assumed that i was in a room of middle school girls, the room was filled with adults all old enough to know better. ironically, they tell others on a regular basis not to demonstrate their same behavior. but the ones who chose to exclude all shared the same sad frown. the same misery. the same inner unhappiness. and though they were obviously shunning me, i couldn't help but want to reach out and to embrace them.

my second story is just the opposite. i was visiting a church in tennessee where i knew less than 10 people in the room. from the minute i went to find a seat, i was embraced. random strangers were coming and greeting me and wanting to know all about my life. but the feeling they gave me couldn't compare to the one i received at the end of the service. in most churches, when the sermon is over and the invitation song is sung, no one goes forward. that long walk down the center aisle is viewed as a walk of shame, and there's nothing really inviting about it. but in this church, people started appearing from nowhere to go forward. before i knew it, the whole front row was almost completely full of people. and soon the second row was filled by people surrounding the others with support. people admitted and confessed their sins and were fully embraced by those around them. it was not a walk of shame but a walk of celebration. and those who chose to embrace all shared the same joyful smile. the same delight. the same inner happiness.

and those 2 situations taught me an invaluable truth: we are all breakable. we are all human. we are all imperfect. no one is superior. no one is better. no one ever attains the right to exclude. or to shun. or to reject. we are all fragile. we all need to be embraced. and we all have the inner need to embrace others.

but we say the most heartless things to and about other people without even thinking. we feel that we have the right to determine the weird, the crazy, the weak, the dumb all because of our own perfection and normalcy. yet we forget the fragility, the humanity, the brokenness of other people because we can't see that same imperfection in ourselves. so we shun. we reject. we cast out. we avoid. we neglect. we walk all over other people to make ourselves feel superior. we look for weakness in other people to make ourselves feel stronger. and we intentionally try to make other people feel inferior to make ourselves feel better.

but everyone is fighting a hard battle. we each carry our own struggles each day, some so evident and apparent and others almost invisible. and we also each individually carry our own pain, and many will never know what that pain is. one carries the loss of a husband. another, the loss of a mother. one carries the burden of cancer. another, the hurt of a miscarriage. one carries the feeling of rejection. another, the continued hurt of betrayal. one carries the burden of knowing that he or she has just done something totally unthinkable, and that person already feels as unforgivable as we could ever hope to make him or her feel.

and there is nothing appealing about us when we choose to prey on the fragility of other people. in our arrogance, we believe that we are doing the rejecting, when in reality it's the weaker, the inferior, the lesser people who are avoiding us because of our pride. and in our attempt to prove just how great we are, we instead prove that we are the true ones in need of love and affection.

but we are so fragile. and we are all fighting a hard, individual battle. and we are just breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys.

March 12, 2011

the thorn

"every rose has its thorn, just like every night has its dawn."

i love roses. i love the way they smell. i love how soft they feel. and i also love their hidden meanings which are determined by their color. red symbolizes love. dark red symbolizes unconscious beauty. white symbolizes purity. pink symbolizes thankfulness. light pink symbolizes sweetness. yellow symbolizes friendship. orange symbolizes enthusiasm. lavender symbolizes enchantment. and each rose is perfectly unique.

but i have yet to find a perfect rose. because every rose i've ever received has had a thorn. every rose, no matter how beautiful, has displayed a tiny threat. and it is bittersweet to hold something so beautiful knowing that it holds something that can bring about so much pain.

in an effort to keep the reality of a rose, some thorns are left untouched, evident to everyone, exposing the danger at hand. but in an effort to try to increase a rose's beauty and appeal, other thorns are removed, giving the impression that the rose is safe. but in my experience there's always that one thorn that is overlooked. that you just can't see. that you thought was gone. that immediately is found by your most sensitive finger.

some thorns are huge, giving their warning of potential pain like a big red flag. they are clearly seen and very easily noticed. and they give an inaudible alert to stay away. other thorns are tiny, almost invisible to our eyes, and they take great effort to find. but the invisible thorns are usually the most dangerous and hurtful of all because we never are able to see their pain coming. and they betray us with their false image of perfection and beauty.

people are like roses. each person is a perfectly unique and beautiful creation. but just like roses, we all have thorns. struggles. imperfections. blemishes. flaws that result in pain.

just like paul, we live with thorns. we carry them with us everywhere we go. they bring us pain when we realize that they make us imperfect, the exact opposite of what the ONE who created us wanted us to be. and they bring others pain by causing them to stumble. by tearing apart their lives. by creating quick and piercing hurt.

in our eyes, some thorns are huge, giving their warning of potential pain like a big red flag. they are clearly seen and very easily noticed. and they give an inaudible alert to stay away. other thorns are tiny, almost invisible to our eyes, and they take great effort to find. but the invisible thorns are usually the most dangerous and hurtful of all because we never are able to see their pain coming. and they betray us with their false image of perfection and beauty.

but in GOD'S eyes, the thorn is a thorn. there is no size. there is no weight. there is no difference. it is a thorn. a struggle. an imperfection. a blemish. a flaw that results in not only our pain but also HIS pain. and HE is the only ONE with the power to remove it.

and like paul, some of us plead for our thorns to be removed. hoping for peace. begging for comfort. striving for perfection. but others choose to give into the thorn, believing that they were intended to have it. not realizing that it was brought about by a choice that was not determined by the CREATOR. not understanding that we roses were not designed to have these thorns.

they say that their thorns were given to them by GOD. that they were meant to carry them. that their thorns are bigger and harder to bear. that they have pleaded with GOD to remove them but HE hasn't. that they will never live a life without the thorns.

and in their surrender, they choose to give into their weakness. to believe the thorn will never be removed. to embrace their struggle. to succumb to their imperfection. to run with their thorns only to bring pain to themselves and others with every step.

but the truth is that our lives on this earth will always contain a thorn. there's always that one that is overlooked. that you just can't see. that you thought was gone. that immediately is found by your most sensitive finger. but the hope is in the fact that JESUS also had a thorn. actually, HE had a whole crown of them. and HE died wearing our thorns. setting us free. allowing our perfection. giving the hope of one day existing without thorns.

therefore, we must live our lives in anticipation of the day when HE will remove the thorn.

"therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, i was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of satan, to torment me. three times i pleaded with the LORD to take it away from me. but HE said to me, 'MY grace is sufficient for you, for MY power is made perfect in weakness.' " 2 corinthians 12:7-9

March 5, 2011

the discipline of love

several of you have asked if i was going to write any type of response to the current events here at harding, and what you are about to read is the answer to your question. i write with a complete spirit of love and pray that my words will touch your heart and help us all see a glimpse of the amazing love of GOD.

"delight yourself in the LORD and HE will give you the desires of your heart." psalm 37:4

ever since i was a little girl, i have known that one day i hope to be a wife and a mother. whether it was creating a glamorous wedding scene for barbie and ken or changing my baby doll's diaper, that desire has been instilled in me for as long as i can remember.

and i have worked hard to achieve that desire. i have been a dater now for a good 7 years and am pretty sure i'm about to go pro. i cannot count the number of first dates that i've been on at this point but could write a book using the stories. i've been praying for the man i one day hope to meet since the age of 5. i've made lists, read books, and more importantly read scripture trying to determine the qualities for which i should be looking. and i have been waiting patiently on the LORD to give me this desire of my heart.

and in my patient wait, i have remained pure. at 13 i made a promise to GOD to remain a virgin until the day i marry, and by HIS grace i have kept my promise. i didn't make that promise because i felt like HE would never forgive me if i messed up or because i don't fully accept HIS grace, but simply because it is what HE asked. and because of that commitment i made and the understanding that GOD wants me to save sex for marriage, while honoring my promise has been a challenge, it has never been a question. and i continually pray that HE will give me the strength to fulfill that and the other guidelines of discipline that he has set for my life.

i remember thinking as a little girl that when my parents disciplined me. when they gave me rules. when they gave me boundaries. when they told me no to certain things. that it meant they didn't love me. but as i grew up i realized that they gave me all of those things because they loved me. not to harm me but to bless me. not only because it was right but because it was best for me. and so it is with GOD.

because GOD loves me HE has made it clear that HE doesn't want me to lie. HE doesn't want me to steal. HE doesn't want me to kill anyone. HE doesn't want me to cheat. HE doesn't even want me to joke crudely. HE wants me to take care of my body. HE wants me to marry a boy. HE wants me to save sex for marriage. HE wants me to think about good things. not only because HE'S perfect. not only because HE'S jealous. but because HE wants what's best for me.

and that is the discipline of love. to give guidelines. to give rules. to give boundaries in order to give the best. to love someone so much that you put that person above yourself. and to see when the decisions he or she is making are not only not what GOD wants but essentially not what is best for that person.

sometimes i feel that when i love people i have to approve of and encourage everything that they do, but by definition that is not love. when we condone behavior that is clearly displeasing to the LORD, we are not loving GOD and certainly not loving the person whom we are condoning. love disciplines. love gives rules. love gives boundaries. love says no to certain things.

i have also noticed that every time i try to justify my own questionable behavior. every time i use or omit certain scriptures to my advantage. every time i try to create confusion or gray area, it is because i'm trying to please myself and not GOD. it is seeking my own desires above HIS. and it is ultimately loving myself more than loving HIM. and life is simply too short and heaven simply too wonderful to let any earthly, temporary, meaningless pleasure sabotage that perfect forever.

so with all of that being said, i continue to patiently wait on the LORD to fulfill my own, personal, earthly desire. to tell you that i don't question if and when it will happen would be to lie. i have remained faithful. i have remained pure. i have prayed on my knees. and yet still i wait. i deeply desire to one day be a wife. i deeply desire to one day be a mother. but above all. above everything else. above any great thing here on this earth. i desire to sit at the right hand of GOD. to take walks with HIM daily. and to enjoy every pleasure of heaven.

i realize that despite my faithfulness, that day may never come. i may never be married. i may never get to have sex. i may never get to hold my own child in my arms. and no amount of my faithfulness or goodness is ever going to grant me those desires. but my identity is not based on my marital status or my sexuality, nor is my happiness. i do not live a life of misery because that desire of my heart has not been filled. and while those things would be wonderful additions to my life, they do not define me. my happiness is dependent on the first part of the verse, not the second because my delight is in the LORD.

so i will continue to wait on the LORD while following in HIS footsteps. i will strive to do everything HE says and not put question marks where HE has clearly put periods just to achieve my own personal benefit. i will realize that no earthly pleasure will ever be worth the exchange of heaven. and if GOD never fulfills this one desire of my heart, i will remain disciplined and pure for life. because that is the discipline of love.

March 4, 2011

wanting

"there are two ways of being unhappy; not getting what you want and getting what you want." unknown

it was 7th grade. i had moved to alabama and was just beginning to work through my eliza thornberry/eunice from "she's the man" stage of life. my only comfort was that even though i had to wear my braces and glasses during the day, i only had to wear my headgear at night.

all that being said, i wanted to be popular. i needed to be popular as a last chance for hope, and so i developed a crush on the most popular boy in my grade: a starter on the basketball team and everyone's favorite class clown. i daydreamed constantly about how my whole world would change if he would just ask me out. i envisioned myself becoming a cheerleader and cheering him on in games, going to movies with him and all of his friends, and best of all, wearing a ballgown to homecoming only to sit on uncomfortable bleachers with him and spill nacho cheese on my dress.

and one day, as if by magic, as i was sitting in mr. layman's physical science class, i felt a tap on my arm and found a perfectly folded note by my side. i paused for a moment of silence, realizing that my dream could in fact become a reality in a mere 5 minutes. and there it was, amidst the talk about all of the motorcycles he had recently witnessed driving on the trail of tears and about how he really hoped he passed 7th grade physical science. there it was: "charissa, i like you. will you be my girlfriend?"
and do you have any question of what i did? i responded with a "yes" that filled the remainder of the page. i felt butterflies in my stomach and felt myself radiating with excitement as the realization swept over me: i was his girlfriend. he was my boyfriend. my whole world was about to change. i was about to receive a whole new identity. a brand new me. a whole new way of life.

but as the day began to pass, i started to notice a few things. as happy as i was, i didn't really feel any different than usual. i wasn't any prettier, sweeter, or better than before. middle school girls were still mean. middle school boys were still smelly. the cafeteria food was still questionable. and i realized that despite the excitement, this universe-shattering event was simply not shattering my universe.

i had gotten exactly what i wanted. exactly what i had dreamed of and hoped for. it was a scene straight from a movie: the cute-in-that-nerdy-kind-of-way girl dates the star basketball player to become the head cheerleader and live happily ever after. yet i realized that in my hopes of getting what i wanted, i had created a fictional fairytale that was just that: fiction. and i learned that having a boyfriend to wave to across the cafeteria, to run into in the hallway only to say a quick "hi" and immediately blush and run, and, as my dad liked to call it, to "go out" with but not go anywhere, well, it wasn't what i wanted.

so the very next day, not even a full 24 hours after accepting my new title, i went from being beloved girlfriend to heartless heartbreaker. i remember staying up that night until the late hour of 10:00 to write a full page letter saying things like "it's not you, it's me" and "i'm just not at that place in my life right now." well, of course i wasn't, i was 12!

it was my first confrontation with the question, "i just got exactly what i want, why am i not happy?" the same question that i was confronted with when i finally did become a cheerleader. when i finally got my first boyfriend that i'd keep longer than a day. when i finally got whatever title i was going for or became whatever person i so wanted to be. and i continued to wonder that question until i was introduced to a brand new thought:

"happiness is not having what you want. it is wanting what you have." or as the apostle paul put it, being content regardless of the situation.

now in grad school, i see the same concept on a regular basis. i see a guy chase after a girl for months wanting to date her, only to dump her just 2 weeks after she said she'd give it a try. i see a girl idealize a guy, putting him on a perfect pedestal and making him into the dream of what she's always wanted, only to be disappointed when the guy proves to be just that, a guy, and the dream proves to be just a dream.

i see individuals finally get their ideal jobs after years of education only to leave them once they discover they weren't everything they wanted. i see marriages fail once one or both people decide they don't want to make it work. and i see countless good things go to waste when we decide that those good things are no longer worth wanting.

we are constantly searching for what will make us happy, for what we want: no more braces. no more glasses. no more 5 extra pounds. no more high school. no more college. no more career that we no longer like. that new look. that new friend. that new job. that new relationship. that new toy. that new gadget. that new car. that new house. that new life. only to discover the question, "i just got exactly what i want, why am i not happy?"

and we fail to realize that it's truly not getting what we want that will make us happy but being content with exactly what we have. if we're single, it means basking in the love of those all around us instead of focusing on the one type of love that we don't have. if we're working, it means making the best out of a tough job situation and maybe even discovering that we kind of like it. if we're married, it means honoring and adoring that other person who decided that we were worthy of his or her forever and not looking for ideal and unreal comparisons that that person will simply never meet.

it is my prayer that we can all see the beauty, love, and happiness in what we currently have, not in some dream of what we want. and that at the end of the day we can say with paul in philippians 4:11-13, "i am not saying this because i am in need, for i have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. i know what it is to be in need, and i know what it is to have plenty. i have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. i can do all this through HIM who gives me strength."