Monday, June 26, 2017

You've Got a Friend in Me

This past weekend I hosted a birthday party to celebrate turning 21. It was not a drunken ordeal, in fact, there was no alcohol at all. It was my just my friends eating tacos and playing games. I loved every moment of it. I remember looking around, tortilla chips in my mouth, at the people I surround myself with. I heard the outdated Black Eyed Peas song on my ridiculous party playlist I had created and I heard the voices of those I loved most singing along to a song we all knew in middle school. I was blessed to meet all of these people in college. each and every one of them mean so much to me, showing up in my life just when I needed them or they needed me. However we met, I am thankful. 

But this post isn't about my birthday party, it's about the people God has placed in my life. I am thankful for my church family and my campus ministry. I am thankful for my supportive family. I am thankful for the mentors and professors who invest in me. I am thankful for the friendships I've been blessed with. Whether they are abroad as missionaries or ministering locally, I am thankful for their godly desire to teach and to serve. Whether alongside me in Bible classes at Faulkner or alongside me on mountain tops in Europe, I am thankful for their companionship. I love that each friendship has security rooted in Christ, my King. That with any problem or praise, I know that they will take it to the Father. I cherish these people with all of my heart. 

I didn't start out my college career with friends. It took me a while to find secure relationships, and even then, no one is perfect. I remember being very depressed in my dorm room the fall of my freshman year. I remember tears rolling down my cheeks as I begged the Lord to send me friends. I remember feeling unwanted and unloved. I remember aching to laugh with someone, to be known by someone.

Little did I know, these things can take time. I've seen in the past year relationships grow stronger, new friends that I wouldn't imagine being this close with this quickly, and friends that were there to wipe my freshman tears, whether I appreciated them then or not. 

Friends, thank you for all the love, the encouragement, the rebuke, the compassion, and the fun. Thank you for hugging me when I cry in public and listening to my incessant talking. Thank you for the sweet notes and and sincere words. For every sip of coffee and every step taken in Targets. For every late night in prayer and every early morning in Scripture. For snacks late at night. The trips, the sleepovers, the study sessions. Shopping trips, Bible studies, workouts, and concerts. And any other fragmented sentence I can contruct to communicate that I am thankful for the time and energy poured into our friendships. 

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus the very message to my friends, old and new: 

"For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him."
As I begin my senior year this fall, I know that we'll be going our separate ways (unless it's already occurred @mereypotter) but I pray that when people say "the friends you make in college are friends forever" proves to be truth in our lives. Thank you. 


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Clinging to Goodness

"Good morning!" said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat.

"What do you mean?" he said. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"

"All of them at once," said Bilbo.

This is my favorite passage in all of literature; it is by J.R.R. Tolkien as he writes the beginning of his novel, "The Hobbit." I love the wit between the two characters as this is their first meeting. I love the line, "and he meant it," the genuine goodness that Bilbo feels and wants others to feel on the blissful morning described. 

I preach positivity and gratitude. I look for silver linings, even if I have to paint them myself. I listen to the birds chirping and smell the smallest of wild flowers. I desire love and peace and goodness. But lately, I've found myself trapped in negativity. Maybe you can relate to swings of life like this. I feed into my complaints. If there's a bad thing to be said about something, I will be the first to say it. My analyzing hasn't been leading me to compassion, but to judgement. Gossip sits on the end my tongue, slander in my own voice rings in my ears. When wished good morning, I repeat Gandalf's words in my own grumpy tone, "is it a good morning whether I want it or not?" My irritability leaves me in miserable moods with no one to blame but myself. 

I know the things that bring me joy, activities that light me up. I've read articles on self-care and practicing positivity. However, they all stem from Eastern or New Age thinking, which is not what my spirit is rooted in at all. Though I can find truth in them, it doesn't speak to the darkest places of my heart-- only Truth Himself can do that. I needed something deeper, something more real. While I can enjoy gratitude journaling and yoga flows, I knew Scripture was where I needed to be. Romans washed my mind with the light it needed. 

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good."
Romans 12:9

It's so simple, but I think that's what I needed. When we love sincerely, complaining, gossip, and slander won't be what enters your mind first; encouragement will be. When we hate evil, we won't push away the love in our lives. When we cling to what is good, we cling to Christ our Lord. When we genuinely chase after Love and Truth, when we wish goodness over people, we will mean it.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

More Than Mere Men

One of my favorite days on my trip abroad was our day at the Vatican in Rome. My excitement was limited to my Protestantism, but I would have disappointed David Lipscomb with my giggles of anticipation. I must be clear as to why I was so pumped for this tour. It was not to see Pope Francis(we didn't), the work of Raphael, not even to see St. Peter's Cathedral(although, that's another post entirely). My thrill was rooted in Michelangelo, the master artist himself. Seeing the Sistine Chapel has been a dream of mine since I was a high schooler, reading about the delicate brush strokes of the Renaissance. This dream was only rekindled as a college freshman, learning of the spiteful hand of Michelangelo as he painted for the Pope.

This dream was moments away of coming to fruition was we stood in like outside of the massive walls.

After waiting in line for what seemed like years, we made it in. Room by room, staircase by staircase, we inched closer to that beautiful chapel. My heart was racing as the guards told us to be quiet when we entered. As I stepped through the threshold, my breath left my lungs and tears left my eyes.

It was beautiful.

Hushed whispers rose up to compliment each figure's complexity.

I gazed at my surroundings, taking in the narrative told all around me. The ceiling told God's creation. Each day leading up to the monumental moment of God breathing into Adam. Man lazily stretched out to God, taking advantage of Love as Creator. God reaching out towards man like He would do for the rest of time, constantly seeking communion with Man, even at the price of His own Son. The fall of man shows Adam and Eve taken away from that communion by their own choice of disobedience. Running from the Good, from the Best. Next, all around the walls are the prophets, foretelling the Messiah. Intermixed are pagan prophetesses, distracting Man from the promise of communion. The finale at the head of the chapel, showing Jesus, the head of the Church. On the last day, He is separating the humans covered in His blood from the mere men.

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul calls out the church for quarreling and jealousy. He tells them plainly that they are still living as the world does, saying, 

"You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?"

Looking at the Sistine Chapel from a secular standpoint you see paint, talent, and a lot of human figures. Even God is shown as a human in two different forms! But if you see the story it tells from a Christian standing, you see God working from Creation to Rapture. Is that the truth in our lives too? We, as mankind, were created with God breathing into our lungs, promised to be with God forever. When we broke our side of that covenant with sin, God moved the rest of history to pull us back into His presence. 

We are not mere men.

From prophet to prophet, God revealed His will of sending Jesus to ransom us from Death once and for all. Jesus came to die the punishment for our wrongdoings, and He was raised in glory to show His authority over Hell. Christians, we are covered in His royal blood, allowing us to come clean before the Creator.

We are not mere men.

Jesus promised when He went back to the Father's right hand, He would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit who would equip us to carry out the Kingdom on Earth. Now, Church, we are filled with God living within us, search our hearts and working through us.

We are not mere men.

Fellow Christians, Lovers of Light, I remind you this morning of the charge that we have in Christ: seek holiness, because we are more than where this Earth is bound. Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-14, 

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Because Christ has taken ahold of us, because He has called us to holiness when He washes us in His sacrifice, let us honor that blood covenant by seeking righteousness and holiness in the way we live. I say with Paul, I do not consider myself perfect in this by any means, certainly not as close to holiness as Paul was when he wrote this. Let that not discourage, but give us a goal to strive after: Christ.

My parents would always say, "Remember who you are and whose you are," when dropping me off at anyone's house growing up. It was a reminder that I am a child of God and a stern warning to act accordingly. Later on in life, those words rang back through my ears. As I stood, a blubbering mess in the Sistine Chapel, I was in awe of beautiful art, but moreover, a beautiful narrative that my Lord wrote to draw me back into His presence. 

Church, remember who you are and whose you are,  for we are not mere men. 

-Sarah Mae

Friday, May 19, 2017

Why Studying Abroad was Meaningless

The last few months have been monumental ones. I'll try not to bore you with stories of studying abroad. I'll try not to be that girl who relates everything to something she saw in Italy, or heard in Greece, or the worst of all: felt in Israel. Unfortunately for you, Reader, I embody that girl. When I am old I won't be unlike the grandfathers who served in wars, recounting memories because those times created them as people. Certainly, I am not equating fighting for one's country to being spoiled in Europe for three months, but I, too, felt created, sustained if nothing more, by those travels and experiences.

However, as much as I love to talk about it all, in true ecclesiastical form, I found that it was meaningless without the Creator and Sustainer Himself. The Tuscan hills rolled aimlessly, if not rolling to match the thunder of God. The Aegean Sea's clarity was fogged if it did not reflect the truth of Jesus. The Greek tablets were ancient scribbles, if that was not the language in which the resurrection of Christ was proclaimed. The art and architecture was colorless and broken if it was not created to fulfill being made in the image of the Creator. The Sea of Galilee just a disappointing lake if it was not calmed by the power of Christ. The streets of Jerusalem were just overcrowded, if it were not those crowds that glorified and crucified my Lord.

Meaningless, meaningless.

Meaningless if I went three months with a bad attitude toward many of my fellow travelers without being convicted by the unconditional love and forgiveness of Jesus. Meaningless if I let every piece of art, every beautiful landscape, every encounter with children of God pass me by without reflection on the Sovereign Father. Meaningless if I stood on mountains and ignored the Holy Spirit calling out to my soul.

I flew from Atlanta on January 25th expecting to be filled with every step in places I had always dreamed of going. To my dismay, I flew into Atlanta on April 25th knowing I was not completed. I am not complete because I have a more clear plan for the future. I am not complete because I have seen my favorite artists' work in person. I am not complete because of the stamps in my passport.

I am thankful for these things, with more gratitude than I can express. I think about it everyday, and I hope I do for the rest of my life. My parents, so lovingly, wrote me letters, one for each week of my trip. My father would always pen, "Remember the good, forget the bad. It's never going to be like this again." (I'm strategizing a tattoo for that one, maybe) He's right, and I am thankful that he is.

But there's a more joyous conclusion to all of this than just thanksgiving and incompleteness: I am complete in Christ. All the things I enjoy, these very words that I stitch together, are meaningless without Christ. I, too, am meaningless without Him. Paul writes this promise of Jesus in Colossians 2:9-10: 

"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority."

I didn't read as much as I would have liked while studying abroad, but I did fall in love with C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce. One of my favorite quotes, there are many, is from a lover of the Lord, dancing in Heaven's meadows, she says,

"I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak."

Readers, this is our anthem. All is meaningless without the fullness of Christ. All is meaningless without His Love. All is meaningless without the Strength of the empty tomb.

-Sarah Mae
(Sorry, Mom & Dad for the student loans it took to learn this lesson.)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Just a Little Waltz with Jesus

This week I watched the new movie La La Land in theaters. It was beautiful all around, from the music, the cinematography, the story-- what caught my eye most was the choreography. I fell in love with every step, my heart aching for when I would do much of those steps myself. In high school, I had the opportunity to ballroom dance. I took lessons weekly and went to balls at the end of each semester. I have several ball gowns still, and too many pairs of white gloves for a millennial. I learned to cha cha, swing, reel, foxtrot, and waltz, naturally my favorite. With a gentle adjustment of angles two can send this boxy dance into a swirl of fairies. I hope I never forget how my tulle ballgown turned into a blur of blush when that simple time signature played.

Some of you might be surprised that I ballroom danced, not because I'm not as whimsical as a frolicking deer, but because unlike said deer, I'm rather clumsy. I'm convinced that my tall frame and high center of gravity is my downfall-- literally. Despite adoring dance, I wasn't the best at it. I had the steps memorized and the rhythm down, but execution wasn't always perfect. There was one time where I actually just fell over during the lesson. I pushed my skirt down and popped back up, my partner was in tears because he was laughing so hard.

But my mediocre dance skills and lack of grace were no match for a strong leader. In ballroom, much like marriage, the man does the leading. There was one partner that I had who was good. He could almost lead me beside still waters for his name's sake-- but not quite. He would say, "watch this" with a smirk and lead me into an intricate flow of steps: right, back, spin, promenade, spin, opened box, and back into the flow of clockwise dancers. Sometimes, it wasn't that easy, my volition would cut in and try to lead. My partner would shake my guide hand in the same way you would smack a sharp object from a child and say, "Stop that! Let me lead, please!" It wasn't just that I was a miserable dancer on my own, I wasn't equipped to lead. When I would attempt to take over, one or both of us would then make a mistake, but with him in the lead, everything went smoothly, his grace covering me.

Doesn't that sound familiar? Do you ever feel like everything goes worse when you try to take over instead of submitting yourself to the leadership of Christ? I sure do. No matter how many right answers or steps I have memorized, without Jesus as the Lord of my life, its going to be disaster and I will be the one to fall-- even if that's what I was attempting to avoid. James gives us a picture of this in his ever so practical book in 4:7

"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."

When we put ourselves under the authority of God, even if we misstep, he's still holding onto us, fighting off the forces of darkness with every waltz towards holiness. The righteousness of God is like the perfect dance partner, one who leads without failure, the one who teaches new steps, one who guides away from people and things that get in the way of a perfect waltz. Surrendering yourself to the goodness of our God keeps us from trying to take over and ultimately failing. I imagine my spirit, when it is invested in Jesus my Lord, much like I was the night of that Christmas ball, my tulle ballgown turning into a blur of blush as joy took the form of 3/4 time. 

Sometimes all we need is just a little waltz with Jesus to make the spinning chaos of sin into a grace-filled, graceful surrender.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Temperance: Reflecting on 2016

Perhaps I'm a few days late, but I would like to reflect on 2016. This year was emotionally draining, but spiritually filling. I learned a lot about myself in regards to what I am capable of, my strengths and weaknesses, and what I want. I discovered that I was capable of discipline, of chasing ambition.

photo by Jinny K. Photography

Summer of 2016 I was haunted by the thought that I don't know who I am or who I want to be.  I prayed, talked, and wrote about. I went to wise people and foolish people, hoping that someone could console my anxious questions. I wrote this just before seeking out a wise professor, an unofficial mentor, really. 

"Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to be a story teller. All my stapled paged "books" from preschool prove that. I wanted to see the world and tell people what I saw and about who I met. Little did I know the wisdom in the heart of the small child that I once was. But as I grew older, I wanted something more realistic and tangible: I wanted to be an astronaut, the first woman on the moon, to be specific. 

After getting a telescope and science books for Christmas, my interest in the heavens grew. I knew constellations and I could recite the formula of the speed of light (300,000km per second). Yet still, I wondered if I could best explore the stars with my head or with my heart. My aspirations reverted back to the vagabond writer I'd once dreamed of. I wanted to see the universe via rhetoric instead of rockets. 

Later on, marine biology was my obsession. The depths of the ocean fascinated me. I wanted to know the secrets of watery graves, I wanted to know about all the creativity that went into God forming the seas. The adventure of exploring and researching captivated me-- the idea of the depths of the earth defining "deep" intrigued me. ...And ultimately pointed me back to my metaphoric pen. I decided the same as before-- I enjoyed the depth of great writers more than the ocean's. 

 Later, as a high school upperclassman, I thought if I wanted to write, I would need to teach. I considered being a theatre or literature teacher; or using my gifts with children and teaching kindergarten. I had this moment my senior year when I realized how much structure I would have-- how I loathed the future I had planned for myself! Once again, I was back to wanting to be a gypsy for Jesus. 

Now I know cross-cultural ministry is where I am supposed to be, writing, story telling, along the way. But who I am to be, who I want to be, is just as much a mystery as the galaxies or the oceans.

After I tried my hardest to communicate my questions to him, he told me that I'm asking the right ones, but followed with the best one. In 1 Chronicles 1, God tells Solomon that whatever he asks for will be given to him; my professor asked me what I would want from God. "Self-control," I whispered quickly. 

My choices, my attitude, situations I had put myself in flashed before my eyes. The people I was surrounding myself with or pining after, it all had the same root. I was creating these things with a paintbrush full of everything but temperance. After that, full of doubt, I prayed for it, for discipline. I prayed for faith to ease my doubts and love to purify my skeptical heart. I took control of the mundane things that were holding me back from using my volition for good. I've always been stubborn, but rarely have I sighted that in to help me. 

I changed my diet, I exercised more, I read instead of binging Netflix, I didn't let my anxious mind have control over my emotions. The following semester, my grades got better because I managed my time. I watched my spending. I got better sleep. I attended more classes. I sought temperance in every aspect that I could. I'm not perfect, and I still screw up in the mundane, but in the bigger picture, I have, by the grace of God, more self control now than I ever have. 

In addition to this, I sought healing from the demons that have hurt and haunted me for too long. I fought depression and anxiety so much that my panic attacks are at an all time low. I worked everyday on how I saw myself. I gained confidence and security in who I was, finding that who I've been looking for has been hiding under Pride all this time. The answer to my echo of questions this summer is that I want to be a person who remains in Christ so much that the fruits of the Spirit are growing in glorious abundance. 

I want to love my God and those in His image. I want to bring joy to those in mourning. I want to share peace to those who have none. I want to be patient with myself and anyone who needs it. I want to be kind to those who are persecuted. I want to do all things in goodness. I want to be more faithful than the largest mustard tree. I want to exude gentleness to everyone I touch. I want to be controlled by a mind of Christ. 

I know who I want to be. My prayer for 2017 is that, in Jesus's name, I will be this person. I pray that I will grow to be the woman of God I was created to be. 2016 was a year of learning, I hope 2017 will be a year of doing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

In Love with Life Himself

He walks in bundled in a stylish coat. His trendy long hair is pulled back messily. He comes in here a lot and always orders the same thing: large shot in the dark with a splash of almond milk. Right behind him comes an interracial couple, always holding hands and calling the other exclusively by “bae;” they’re here for a dozen cookies. In the corner is a single dad with his 6-year-old son. He got a small house brew and a gelato for the kid. His son seems happy, while the man aches of stress. His pre-mature balding head proclaims his messy divorce and mediocre job to keep his kid in that itchy private school uniform, that now has chocolate gelato on it. The window glows of sunlight and the joy of the teenaged girls sitting in the sill booth. Their faces lit with youth and a mutual adoration with that song, “Closer.” All of these people with a different story, a different background, and a different destination. Yet, I can’t help to notice, as a I serve them their coffee and pastries, that they all keep the same rhythm with their hearts and breathe the same air. 

Photo by Jinny Khantisouriya
Hozier has a song called “Someone New,” from his self entitled album. The song claims that he falls in love a little bit with someone new everyday. When I listened to the song at first, it came out in 2014, so it its been a while, I related to it simply from being a people-watcher. Though extroverted, I get very introspective when it comes to strangers, or meeting people in general. But when I began working as a barista at a charming coffee shop, the meaning of the song really clicked with me. I find myself getting much too emotionally attached to costumers, not romantically, but in compassion. The Christmas phrase “good will towards men,” yeah, that.
The other night, the cafe was chilly, but my hands were being slowly warmed as I steamed milk for a frothy cappuccino, the metal cup heating up with every swirl of cream. Noise from several hushed conversations floated like smoke, I couldn’t listen to just anyone. The only clear noise was the hiss from the espresso machine and the acoustic Christmas music about weather that never exists in Alabama. I glanced up from my task to read all of the faces in the shop. The demographic in the neighborhood this coffeehouse sits in is so diverse. There’s evangelical elderly folk; young, openminded partners, as they would call themselves; those that are both upper middle-aged and upper middle-class; and a lot of college students who choose our coffee over Starbucks because our beans have “more personality” and they like to stick it to the man with their support of locals. As I read lives like words on a page, I realized I had probably scorched the milk I was steaming. Only slightly alarmed and not a bit surprised, I still chuckled at the coffee-drinkers. I loved each one of them, even the ones who order decaf.

It’s interesting to me, in addition to being sad, how little I consider loving humankind. Sure, humanity seems hopeless most of the time. People make ridiculous decisions from breaking hearts to killing innocent people: sin sucks. But our God looks at us with love. Instead of offering us warm beverages and baked goods, He offers everlasting life. That was very cheesy, sorry, reader.  This past semester, I wrote a paper about facets of Jesus’s identity according to Hebrews 1. While working on this paper, I found myself crying in awe of Christ. I had become so in love with the facets of his personality and very being that I was studying. One aspect that specifically blew me away was that He is life. Sure, I had heard this taught my whole childhood in church, and certainly in the pursuit of my Bible degree, but I don’t think it ever hit me until just recently. Therefore, Christ being life, and us being made in the image of God, as I watch the different people and their stories walk in and out of the cafe, as I fall in love with every breath and heartbeat among the hustle and bustle around me, I fall deeper in love with Life, Himself: Jesus Christ.

To the young guy with the coat and the man bun, to the beautiful mixed couple, the man and his son covered in gelato, and to the giggly teenaged girls: you are loved. Not just by me, the clumsy barista, but by the one true God. It is because of Him that you live, and it is for Him that we should choose to live. As I fall in love, a little, oh, a little bit, everyday with someone new, know that everyday, the Sovereign Lord of all is loving us more than humans can imagine, calling us deeper and deeper into His mercy.