Thursday, June 27, 2013

THOUGHTS | surrender & stuff

alternately titled: I don't always have deep thoughts, but when I do, they come in bucketloads.

I wanted to write on a deeper level some of the things that happened at National Convention (and since), not only externally but also inside me.  You see, NC was a strange week for me.  Oh, it was a good week to be sure, but...something was different.  I've tried to explain this to multiple people and the best way I've come up with is that it was just realer.  More grounded in reality.

I went to NC three years ago, after my first year as a TeenPact student.  18-year-old two-time-staffer Jenn is a lot different than 15-year-old first-timer Jenn was, turns out.  I feel like camps like this (and for me three years ago, this is definitely true), so much of it is a "camp high."  So much of what you learn is theoretically great ideas about serving Christ and living for him and loving other people and sharing the gospel and so on and so forth.  But what felt realer about this year was that everything was more practical, more applicable to me.  It wasn't like "oh yeah that's a great, mind-blowing concept" but more like "wow that's actually exactly what God's been doing in my life over the past one...three...six months."  It was real life stuff.

And honestly that kinda stunk, because those real life things hurt and are really hard.  I realized about halfway through that I went to NC with the wrong attitude--I went to escape reality.  And instead, God brought me face-to-face with it.  Because not all my problems are going to get fixed with a camp high.  And instead of that camp high, NC turned out to be more of a continuation and confirmation of things God has already been showing me, things I've been grappling with for quite awhile.

Let me give you an example.  When I staffed my TeenPact state class, Jesus showed up in, well, subtly big ways (he can do that, ya know).  I remember talking to my mom on the phone at one point when she called to check up on me and saying, "This is the first time I've been happy in...weeks."  One of the passages God showed me that week, and that he has continued to press on my heart since, is Philippians 3:7-9.
"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him..."
The very first night at NC, during I think pretty much the first speech, what does the speaker read?  Philippians 3:7-9.  I mean, I have to laugh.  Good one, God.  But stuff like those verses--it's so easy to be excited when hearing that in a theoretical sense, like "yay I'd totally be willing to give up everything for Jesus!" and yet much, much harder and much more profound when the rubber hits the road and you can point to your own life and say "and this is what I've lost for the sake of Christ, this is what I've had to give up for him."  Because it's rarely (ever) pretty or easy, and it makes you decide whether your faith is actually real.

Also, I can't even express how utterly humbling it is to be asked to a position of leadership, small as it may be (being a dorm leader), feeling so personally unqualified and yet recognizing that God doesn't need any qualifications from me in order to work.  It's not about me, it's never been and never will be about me (thank goodness).  Seeing the way God prepared me to serve in that capacity at NC even through my state class was incredible.  I am reminded again and again and again, most gratefully, that God uses broken vessels.

So yeah.  Did I miss having a camp high?  Kinda.  It's funny when people all around you are like "WOO JESUS" and you're like "guys no, why don't you understand, this is hard stuff, man, this is real life, don't you get it, are all your lives easier than mine, what am I doing wrong??"  But Jesus met me right there.  And I mean, right there.  It took a lot of prodding for me to open my eyes to it (because if I'm being honest, a lot of times it feels good to sit and throw a nice ol' pity party for myself), but it turns out he was there all along.

It's really been since NC that I've been able to process more of what God was showing me that week and loosen my grip on some things I was still unwilling to lose for him, unwilling to let God have control of.  Remember back when I told you all that I was Jonah?  I can't tell you how many times God has pointed that out to me, how every time I want to be angry because I've had to lose things for Jesus (this is a theme in my life right now, if you couldn't tell), he whispers, "You're yelling about a plant that isn't even your plant."

Dude--the perspective that gives me.  Who am I to complain and be angry when God kills a plant that isn't even my plant in the first place?  I somehow thought that going to Nineveh gave me rights to that plant, but that is so completely selfish and self-centered and blind.  And in that case, my whole life is a plant that doesn't belong to me, and who am I to tell God off for doing with it what he pleases?  Because ultimately, my purpose is to bring him glory, and goodness knows he knows more than I how I can be used for that end.  And ultimately, anything I do outside of his will is so terribly empty and meaningless.  And because of realizing all that, I can honestly say that I am content with where he has me.  I feel like it's nonsensical or almost wrong of me to be content in situations where the world says I should be still throwing that pity party, but I don't need anything but Jesus, and that has become more real to me now than it's ever been.

I'm not saying it isn't still really, really hard, and that being content isn't often a difficult choice, a daily choice, that I have to make (and one I still fail to make a lot--I'm writing this on a good day, obviously, hah).  Surrender isn't a one-time thing, I've learned, and I still sit sometimes, tapping my fingers and wondering when it will stop being hard, when it will make sense.  There's a quote, the source of which I am completely uncertain:
"There are two types of waiting. There's the waiting you do for something you know is coming, sooner or later--like waiting for the 6:28 train, or the school bus, or a party where a certain handsome boy might be. And then there's the waiting for something you don't know is coming. You don't even know what it is exactly but you're hoping for it. You're imagining it and living your life for it. That's the kind of waiting that makes a fist in your heart."
I can't tell you how many times I've raised that fist at God and shaken it because I'm sad and confused and lonely and angry.  And lest you mistakenly think I have it all together, there are times when I have to set down my phone and hide my hands in my lap so no one sees that they're shaking from an emotion I can't even identify, and there are times I have to slip away from the crowd into the bathroom to get out a little cry, and there are times I come home alone, alone, late at night and fall on my floor in tears and shout that I just want to understand.  Almost daily I feel super friendless and experience an achiness deep down that you can't get rid of just by taking a deep breath.  Sometimes I have to repeat truth to myself over and over and over even if it's hard to believe it in that moment.

That's another thing that hit me at NC.  You know that verse that is repeated to us often at difficult times when people are trying to give comfort about God being in control?
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Jeremiah 29:11
One of the things that I was confronted with at NC is that I simply didn't believe that verse.  I was like "nope God, you don't know what you're doing, this is definitely harming me, how is this giving me a future, you're wrong." (hi my name is Jenn and sometimes I have a really bad attitude.)  And so many of the things I've had to overcome in finally surrendering my hold on things involves asking myself the question, "do I really believe God is who he says he is?" Because he says he's good, and he says he's love, and he says things work for the good of those who love him, and he says to delight in him and he'll give me the desires of my heart, and he says he knows the plans he has for me, and that they are good plans.  And it's funny, because most people don't take the time to read the rest of Jeremiah 29, which is God saying he has plans for the Israelites while they're in exile.

How about Job?  It's not like he ever understood why and it's not like he didn't have pressure all around him telling him to cave in and it's not like he didn't lose everyone and everything dear to him and it's not like even after things were better, anything could exactly replace what he'd lost.  But what is his response?
"Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him." Job 13:15
Like, gee.  I don't know, that may sound depressing, but sometimes encouragement comes in unexpected places.  And sometimes peace and joy and a deeper realization of Christ comes through circumstances that are at last dire enough to wake us up to how helpless and broken we are without him, and how wholeness can never, ever come apart from him.

I hate that it takes being in the hardest place of your life to make theoretical head knowledge like this into real, living, breathing, soul-searching, heart-pounding, life-giving belief.  I hate that it takes some of our biggest failures, our biggest weaknesses, our desperation at the end of ourselves, to finally, finally come to Jesus.  But I am blessed beyond measure that Jesus has been there waiting for me and loving me the whole time.
"The gospel enabled me to see that:
because Jesus was strong for me, I was free to be weak;
because Jesus won for me, I was free to lose;
because Jesus was someone, I was free to be no one;
because Jesus was extraordinary, I was free to be ordinary;
because Jesus succeeded for me, I was free to fail."
-Tullian Tchividjian
Jesus is so good to me.  I have literally nothing in life to complain about.  Life is good, and when life isn't good, God is good, and I'm learning and clinging to the fact that that's all that matters.

whew. the end.
xo, Jenn

ps--you guys are great to put up with all my deep thoughts, but life is weird (what is life) and this stuff is like whoa to me, and it's stuff I can't keep quiet about.

pps--I met at NC these two really sweet and wonderful and awesome girls (Anna and Abi) who I had previously only known over the interwebs. how cool is that? pretty cool, I'd say. I've said it before and I'll say it again--TeenPact people are the best people (blogging people are pretty rad, too).

ppps--I just want to throw out there that if any of this resonates with you or if it stirs something inside you or if there's deep struggly things for you too, shoot me an email? I'd love to pray for you, like you don't even know, or just talk or whatever because trust me, you're not the only one. if this is you, just remember it's me too. let's be clueless together. kthanksbye.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

you are my sunshine (vocal/uke cover)

there are times when this, below, is really the extent of the musical ability that I can coax from myself. I love music. who doesn't love music? actually, me, I hate music, it gives me too many feels. but seriously. (I have a hard time being serious sometimes whew.)

I started playing piano when I was 5, so you'd think that playing for thirteen years now would make me a musical genius, but alas, I still struggle pathetically through my sheet music and have difficulties being friends with people more musically talented than I. somewhere along in my early teens, I decided it would be a fantastic idea to play the flute, because Cassie wouldn't teach me to play guitar (she was selfish and liked being the only one in the family who knew how). I stink at flute. then along came Grant's cute little ukulele, and I figured it would be my replacement to the guitar that no one ever taught me to play. so Grant showed me a few chords and I looked up a few more, and lo and behold, my talent.

"talent." heh heh. when I say that this is sometimes the extent of musical ability I can produce, it's because it's pretty much the only song on uke that I remember how to play. this song is...well let's face it, the title is deceiving and it's pretty depressing all around. but it's also very dear to me and has been for a long time. I can still remember my mom singing it constantly whenever she needed to comfort her kiddos. (my mom watching this video: "those are the actual words? this is depressing. I don't like this song anymore.") I sang it at an open mic a couple months ago, and it reminds me of happy things.

so. voila. I know there are flaws, vocally and lyrically as well as...chord-ly? (let's all laugh at me messing up that chord right at the end.) but the house was quiet and this song is close to my heart. enjoy.

Monday, June 17, 2013

the unreality of reality

"But his heart was in constant, turbulent riot. The most
grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his
bed at night.  A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun
itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the
washstand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled
clothes upon the floor.  Each night he added to the pattern
of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some
vivid scene with an oblivious embrace.  For awhile these
reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a
satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the
rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing."
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

After finishing The Great Gatsby in three days, these remain my favorite words.  I cannot describe what this book did to me, only that it made me feel.  The way Fitzgerald put his words together--beautifully, purposefully, meticulously--was unlike anything I've ever read before.  It was poignant and rich and soul-shattering, and oddly (but almost appropriately), not because of the story.  Rather, because of the emotions and the pictures it stirred inside me.  It felt like

Though skeptical of the justice it can do this masterpiece, I do want to see the movie now.  I also just found out that there was a 1974 film made starring Robert Redford, so you can guess what I'm going to see as soon as possible.

ps--I guest posted over here the other day, if you'd care to take a look.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


This is the post where I dump on you a million and one pictures and ramble about a week in the life.  Except that it was a week in the life at National Convention 2013, which means it was an exceptional week filled with over 700 other like-minded people worshiping together, playing frisbee as if their life depended on it, hanging out (especially around food), campaigning in mock elections, discussing and sharing in small groups and dorms, making new friends and bonding again with old ones, and mostly learning about our God (who, if you didn't know, is pretty incredible).

I had the incredible honor of working on the photography team with this lady.  If you don't know her, you should.  Tori Watson from Marvelous Things Photography is a photographer I've admired for quite some time, and it was lovely getting to meet her in real life.  You can see her official photos from the week here!

You wouldn't think they're just mock elections here.  People take these things seriously.  My dear friend Esther ran (and did an incredible job, I might add).  But there was lots of campaigning.  By which I mean, lots of free candy.

Did I mention that there's an epic ultimate frisbee tournament?  I'm pretty sure there is never a time at NC when someone isn't playing frisbee.  My team made it to the final four, which was unexpected and exciting!  And there was also volleyball and basketball and such.

Two of the best parts of the day are the beginning and the end.  Bonjour is a dedicated quiet time in the morning to really spend time in the Word (so good).  And Rendezvous (whoa they like French or something) is time at the end of the day to spend time with the people in your room wrapping up the day, getting to know each other, as well as sharing/praying/laughing/etc.  I co-led a room with one of the intern girls, Katelyn, and it was so sweet.  Dang, I love those girls.

(These are all the girl room leaders.  An incredible group of young women, I tell you.  So blessed to get to serve with them.)

Session happens three times a day, morning, afternoon, and evening.  There are powerful and challenging and funny and fantastic speakers, skits and announcements and stories and all kinds of good stuff.

If I could be one fifth of the actor this guy is, I would be happy.  His part of the lip-syncing battle = easily one of my favorite parts of NC.

Yay small groups.  It was fantastic getting to know people within smaller groups like this.  Go Cherry!  (Even though we fail at getting out of the human knot.)

Frisbee teams (the Titans won, you see)!  And also mini golf.  Mustn't forget the mini golf.

There's lots of time to hang out.  And eat food.  And talk to people.  Lots and lots of people.  Also, apparently colored skinnies is a thang.

More crazy fun exciting elections stuff!  And waking up much too early to stand in line and vote...

The camp has a bluff with an incredibly beautiful view over the mountains.  It also has the best cell service in the whole place, ahem.

Coffeehouse (seriously so gorgeous at night).

 (Sometimes I snap random portraits of people.) (People are great.) (Also awkward, but that's another story.)

On the last (very emotional) day, there was the ultimate frisbee championship game under the lights, and tears and farewells  And the next morning it was even worse--trying to find people before they took off, giving last minute hugs, promises of roadtrips and seeing each other soon (everyone come visit me!).  I actually think I've convinced a couple friends from Virginia to come see The Wizard of Oz when we perform in August.  DO IT.

IN ALL.  A remarkably grand week.  Though I have many deep thoughts (my brain is a train wreck of deep thoughts recently) on it, besides just the superficial "yay cool people and cool things!" comments.  (Though trust me, there are definitely cool people and cool things.)

People are great.  Awkward, but great.  I love my NC peeps.