Dear Haley of December 3, 2013

Dear Haley of December 3, 2013,

This is as bad as it gets.

Today, you are hurting. You are in the darkest darkness you have known. You are wondering why you cannot give up.

You don’t know right now, sobbing your eyes out on your bedroom floor, but this is as bad as it gets. Tomorrow will be a little bit better, and the day after that will be a little bit better. It’ll get rough again, and then it will get smoother. It’ll get worse again, and then it will get better. It’ll get darker again, and then it will get lighter. But in this season, your lowest point, this is as painful as it gets. I cannot promise you that will be the case for the rest of your life, even though I have yet to reach a point lower than where you’re at today. But I can tell you that this is the day you’ll later claim as the worst of them all. Sweet, sweet girl, this is as bad as it gets.

There is a voice you’re hearing right now, telling you that you will not give up. It will grow louder. It will win this fight. The self-loathing, the darkness, the lies of your greatest Enemy – they do not win. The One who wins this fight for you is Jesus. He has hope, joy, life, light, love, grace that will find you. The darkness does not win, but you don’t, either. God does. You will dance in a victory you did not win yourself.

Keep going. Hold on. This is as bad as it gets. This is your right now, not your forever. It sucks, and I’m sorry. But hope, because your story does not end here. The Author has not forgotten you. This is as bad as it gets. Do not give up.


Spoiler alert: stop saying “Go Dawgs” all the time, because you go to Auburn. War Eagle, baby.

Unfortunately, your adjustment to college isn’t the easiest thing in the world. (I don’t think anyone’s adjustment to college is easy; tuck that away for those days early in the semester when you think everybody’s got it pulled together but you.) On November 30, 2016, you will have another bad day. You will go to the student counseling center, but your appointment will not go as hoped. You will try not to cry in the counselor’s office and then cry in the bathroom back at your dorm instead.

But then, you will get up.

You will walk out of the bathroom.

You will journal, and this is what you will end up writing:

“God loves me so much that He sent Jesus to make me worthy of love. He did not create me for anxiety, fear, and pride, but confidence, kindness, love. Nothing is impossible with Him, so He is making me who He made me to be. We will get there. My God and I, we will get there together.”

You will believe it is true. You will eat some peanut butter M&M’s, watch a movie, and ignore the 10 page paper due in two days that you haven’t even started. You will tell a few friends about the kind of day you had. The next morning, you will wake up and remember the truth you heard. Honestly, it’s the same truth you’re hearing right now as you cry out, but clearer. You will be growing into who God made you to be, getting to know Him more, pursuing the life He made you to live, letting yourself be loved. You will mess up, but also get up. You will be in grace.

And that, my dear, is called getting there.


I celebrate this day you are suffering through right now. You don’t see that coming, but three years later, December 3 is a chance to celebrate and share God’s faithfulness. It is an opportunity for me to say to the world: “We are getting there. My God and I, we are getting there together.”

That’s true of you right now, too, you know. Sobbing on your bedroom floor is a moment that will be so redeemed. It is a piece that God in His glory will use to get you there. You don’t see it or believe it right now, and that’s okay. You’re human, and you’re broken. God knows better right now than to send you this letter I am writing. He keeps it simple: Do not give up. You know, deep within you, that you will get there. You don’t think you know, but you do. It’s why you don’t give up now: You hope that God will give you the grace to get there.

Three years later, He definitely is, babe. He is. There is so much joy in getting there with Him, because it’s not even about you in the first place. The story and the glory are His.

I’ve gotta go live in victory now. You are more than you know, and He is better than you know. You will get there. Your God and you, you will get there together.

Love,

Haley of December 3, 2016

(To read more of my story of December 3, read my post from last year here. Happy December 3, everyone.)

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The Wind in Your Sails

On Thursday afternoon, I received some pretty disappointing news. I cried for an hour, texted a few of my friends while crying, and talked to my parents while crying some more. After my hour of tears was up, I turned on Fellowship of the Ring and did my nails, trying to distract myself. But when the movie was over, I went straight back to crying. I journaled and called one of my friends, both while still crying, but nothing seemed to help. At long last, I decided to call it quits and go to bed.

As I lay down to go to sleep, I remembered something one of my small group leaders said a few weeks ago. Someone asked her what to do when God doesn’t give you the answer that you want, and she responded, “You sit there and you say, ‘I trust You no matter what,’ until you do.” And that was how I fell asleep on Thursday night: repeating I trust You no matter what over and over in my head until the tears finally stopped and my breathing evened out and my eyes closed for a good night’s rest.

Already God is teaching me so much through this disappointment. He is showing me that He holds us when we grieve, even as He turns our grieving into gratitude. In a display of sovereignty, He takes things away to remind us that they were never really ours in the first place. He withholds things from us, forcing us to let them go, so that we can hold on more tightly to Him. His plan prevails. He is absolutely trustworthy no matter what.

I’ve been listening to “The Voyage” by Amanda Cook on repeat for a while now. This song continues to take on a new meaning for me. Initially, I was listening to it in light of the college decision that I still haven’t made. It was reassuring to me that God would “send the rains wherever we end up.” It made me feel like no matter what college I choose, I can’t screw up His plan. But since Thursday, I’ve listened to it from the flip side: His plan isn’t screwing up, even when it screws up mine. Like the tag of the song says, the Lord is the wind in my sails. That means He’s guiding me to wherever He wants me regardless. When that isn’t where I want to go, He’s still the One who’s large and in charge. When it’s unexpected and undesired, He’s still the One in control. When my circumstances change, He never does. When my situation doesn’t seem good for me, He is still good to me. When it sucks, He’s still sovereign.

The Almighty, trustworthy Lord is the wind in our sails. We’re going to get where we need to be, y’all. Thank goodness, and thank God.

What (We Think) We Need

I’ve been studying the book of Nehemiah lately, and I just love it. I love this feeling: learning, questioning, stories, a rich and deep history with so much evidence of the Lord. It helps that Nehemiah is a total #baller. The dude up and left a swanky job at the palace to go rebuild a wall, and he stood up to his enemies, relied on God and those around him, and worked together with a group of Israelites to get the entire thing done in fifty-two days. I mean, don’t you just want to make a “based on a true story” sports movie about it?

Nehemiah 9 is a great way to understand the Israelites’ relationship with God without reading anything else in the Old Testament. Verse 33 sums it up perfectly: “In all that has happened to us [the Israelites], you [God] have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly.” The Israelites review their history with God, listing out His goodness and faithfulness and all the ways they’ve rebelled against him. It’s a powerful comeback of repentance. When I was studying it last week, verse 21 caught my eye:

“For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.”

-Nehemiah 9:21 NIV

This verse piqued my interest because I think it highlights two types of God’s provision.

  1. Giving us what we think we need. The Israelites’ clothes didn’t wear out during forty years of wandering in the desert. Sometimes, the Lord provides for our needs (physical or otherwise) like we expect Him to. The job offer comes through. We meet a new friend at exactly the right time. We find twenty dollars. Someone gives us an encouraging text when we’re feeling down. It seems like a miracle but we get the stuff we need to get through.
  2. Making us more able to handle it. The Israelites’ feet didn’t swell up throughout all that walking. Sometimes, the Lord doesn’t give us what we think we need. But when that happens, He gives us strength, peace, and whatever else to face it and to be okay with it.

In this season of life, I’m learning a lot about God’s provision. Sometimes, it looks like an acceptance letter. Sometimes, it looks like a financial aid letter. It’s exciting news about getting to sing at church or the perfect amount of time in study hall to finish the work I needed to get done before the next class. (Senioritis, y’all.) Other times, it looks like a small sense of reassurance when the acceptance letter or financial aid letter doesn’t look like what I want. It looks like unexpected confidence when I’m speaking in front of a crowd. It’s faith that, when things don’t turn out the way I would have picked, they are turning out exactly like He planned.

No matter what happens, the Lord gives us what we need. It may not be what we think we need. It may be something on the inside that helps us keep a good attitude and grateful spirit when He doesn’t give us what we think we need. But God does provide for all of our needs, even when we don’t feel like He is. It’s not our job to work for that provision; it’s our job to trust it. I am learning in the book of Nehemiah and in this final push of senior year how rich and glorious that provision is.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

-Philippians 4:19

Senioritis: An Honest Report from the Trenches, Part VIII

February 4-6, 2016: The Last Church Retreat

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I’ve been putting off this blog post for a while. My last church retreat was wonderful, phenomenal, one to never forget, and full of so many tears. Senior year has a lot of lasts, and so far, each and every one has been emotional. #myLIFE16 was no exception.

On Saturday night, at the beginning of my last session ever as a student, I looked at one of the girls I’ve had the privilege of walking through life with for the past five years… and we just burst into tears. I felt so sad that it was really and truly ending, but at the same time, my heart was full of gratitude. In the past four years, Inside Out has been so good to me. They’ve grown me and my faith, given me a family, and been there for me, a constant, when everything else was going wrong. My last church retreat was one last hurrah, but also an opportunity for reflection. As I looked back on four years of fun, friendship, and faith, I definitely couldn’t keep it in.

I cried because I’m sad to leave Inside Out and some of the best people I’ve ever know. I cried because I’m happy that Inside Out is never really over, because I want to pour back into this ministry that’s poured so much into me. I cried because I’m so thankful for all God has done and how He’s moved in the past four years. I cried because I’m grateful that He will continue moving for the next four years, and forty, and four hundred bajillion. I cried because I’m a crier and God is good and faithful.

And that’s #myLIFE16 in a nutshell.

Passion 2016

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Two weekends ago, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Passion Conference at Philips Arena. Passion Conference is a giant Christian conference of college-aged students, and though I’m not yet a college student, I was able to go. It was three days of little sleep and lots of Jesus; 40,000 people spread across three different locations, all praising the one name of Jesus together; some of the wisest teachings and most honest confessions I’ve ever heard; inspiration, community, worship, and grace all rolled up into one.

Throughout it all, I heard God telling me: it’s time for something real.

I grew up in church; I found a faith of my own in middle school; I have grown so much in my relationship with Jesus in high school. But for the past couple of months, I’ve felt something deep inside me that has known: it’s time for something bigger. It’s time to dig deeper. It’s time to walk the walk like I have never walked it before. It’s time to get more serious about faith than I’ve ever been. It’s time for a relationship with Jesus in the truest, most dependent, most authentic sense. It’s time for something real.

Though all the speakers at Passion were absolutely, mind-blowingly incredible, one line from Christine Caine continues to stand out to me. She said that people tell her all the time that they want to be a great Bible teacher, but they don’t even think to open their Bibles.

So, that’s where my real thing has started.

The Lord guided me to wake up earlier. I’ve always been an early to bed, early to rise kind of girl, but these wake-up calls are really, really early. In the mornings, I’ve opened my Bible to the book of James, using the inductive study method (what does it say?, what does it mean?, what does it mean to me?) that we learned in our community group. God is already speaking so much to me: about how His ways are so much better than our ways and the ways of the world (Isaiah 55:8-9), about being careful to represent Him well in every word I say, about trusting Him to come, about submitting myself to Him. It’s begun with speaking to Him and letting Him speak to me in the mornings, and I believe that the Lord will turn it into something so much bigger and more beautiful.

He always does. After all, He did at Passion. My expectations weren’t uber high, and He blew each and every one of them completely out of the water as He blew me away. I believe that God is alive and well, moving and working in this 268 generation. Our Father is real. He is freedom. And He has used Passion to inspire in me a deeper and realer passion for Him. I can’t wait to see where He takes me next. All the glory to Him, forever.

“For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

-Romans 11:36

 

“Yes”

I forgot what I learned this summer.

Six months ago (has it really been that long?), I think one of the biggest lessons God taught me was the power of a simple affirmative. I can be shy and introverted, so my natural instincts are often to decline any sort of social function. It’s easy to say no: to give a noncommittal shrug, an apology, an excuse. And I absolutely believe that there are appropriate, wise times to say no.

But I also believe that our yeses might end up surprising us.

I forgot this and went into survival mode this fall. After a summer of crazy adventures, hiking tall mountains, pulling one and only one all nighter, meeting new people, playing putt putt, and having so much fun… school came, stress came, and Busy Haley came. Busy Haley is often too overwhelmed with homework or responsibilities to say yes to fun, to silliness, to being in high school. She also kind of sucks sometimes.

But tonight, she was gone as I remembered.

Say yes to the event that’s on the other side of town. Say yes to introducing yourself to the girls from Miami. (You’ll end up talking to them the entire night, btw.) Say yes to Life Things. There are school things, prefect things, babysitting things, expected things. But say yes to Life Things. (Maybe they’re what this whole thing is all about, anyway.) 

There are a thousand excuses you can make to say no. Just like how there’s never a good time to get sick or a good time for your car to break down, there’s never a “good time” for Life Things. They come right in the middle of everything else and seem inconvenient, untimely, and out of the way. But they’ll surprise you. They’ll remind you of the good things. Saying yes to Life Things is worth it. Tonight, I said yes to driving across town and talking to strangers from Miami and taking goofy photo booth pictures, and it was amazing. Awesome. Breathtakingly wonderful. One of those times that leave you smiling at God because He knew all along exactly what you needed. When you say yes, He uses Life Things to be exactly what you needed.

It might be just me, but I’m ready to say yes more. I want a life that’s more than just responsibilities, homework, reports, exams, and fulfilling expectations. I want a life full of Life Things, and I’m definitely saying yes to that.

Finally, Not Planning

“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.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.”

-James 4:13-16

I’ve talked about the college process a lot on here. There are a lot of different parts to this process, from standardized tests to essays to lots of submit buttons, but by far my least favorite part is the “I don’t know”s.

Where are you going to school next year? I don’t know.

What do you want to study? I don’t know.

What do you want to do after college? I don’t know.

I have ideas, canned answers just for the sake of avoiding those three little words: I don’t know. Such and such are my top four schools, this is probably what I’ll study, I think I’d like to have a job, and suddenly, everyone thinks I at least have an inkling of an idea about my future. Fake plans are definitely the easy way out.

The other week, I sat down for coffee with my small group leader and the conversation steered this direction. When I told her how uncomfortable I was with the “I don’t know”s, she asked me why. I realized: jealousy. It feels like everyone has their life together but me. It feels like I need to have the ten-year plan that ends with marriage, two kids, a steady career, and a white picket fence, because everyone else has that. It feels like there are all these expectations I need to meet that everyone else is meeting except me. It feels like not knowing by November seals my doom.

As I underwent this epiphany, she encouraged me by saying that the ten-year plans – the ones that get super specific and confident – leave very little room for God. If I know months in advance that I’m going to go to School A and get Major B and get Job C, where is God going to come in and shake things up a little bit? What if He tries and I’m so obsessively following my map that I miss His?

I may know very little right now, but I do know that I don’t want to miss God’s plan for my life.

The tricky part of this is that, right now, God’s plan for my life consists of three little words: I don’t know. It consists of me sitting here with open hands, waiting for letters from colleges in the mail. It’s me not having any clear, satisfying answers to the Big Three Questions. It’s trusting that He knows what I don’t.

I am learning to give myself the freedom to not have a plan. This is so contrary to my nature it’s not even funny. This summer, I started using a very intense planning system called the bullet journal, and I’ve been using it all school year. When friends want to spontaneously have fun, I need to take a minute, because spontaneity has its time and its place and that time and place are never and nowhere. (Just kidding. Sort of.) There have been weeks in the past couple months when I’ve been so busy planning ahead that I think it’s Thursday on a Tuesday (and let me tell you, realizing that it’s Tuesday instead of Thursday sucks). I am a planner in every sense of the word, and I’m very serious about it.

But instead of rigorous scheduling, I’m currently practicing the art of not knowing. And honestly, I really do think it’s an art, because “I don’t know” is about the least satisfying answer to give anyone. But it’s the answer I’ve got right now. God knows what I don’t, and I’m learning to be okay with that. Even better – I’m learning to be stoked about that. Because wherever I end up, whatever I study, whatever I do: it’s going to be awesome, because He’ll be there the entire time.

Growth

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I’ve been thinking a lot about growth lately.

I would be lying if I told you senior year hasn’t kicked my butt. It has. Each week seems more challenging than the last, if I’m being entirely honest; I’ve got at least one college application to complete each week until the end of October, my coursework is plenty difficult, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. I’ve already had so many late nights doing homework, finishing an essay, and/or crying.

But it is so comforting, reassuring, and amazing to know that I am growing because of it all.

It’s no coincidence that at the same time I’ve been enthralled by this idea of growth, I’ve also become increasingly enamored with flowers. With my kindergarten-level artistic skills, I drew a little flower on my wrist the other night after praying because I felt like God had been telling me that He’s using my circumstances to grow me. I don’t usually care much about physical beauty or attractiveness, but bouquets are certainly an exception. I love how vibrant the colors are; the brightest blooms just call to mind the description violently alive. (Not swords and fistfights violent, but proud and bold violent.) I’d love to be like that. Violently alive: claiming this life with a force that seems almost unnecessary.

I am growing toward a fuller life, a life with more Jesus, more love, more people, and more good things. As I cry my way through senior year, as I press submit on application after application, as I freak out quite a lot, I am growing. It’s why this space is receiving a makeover and a revamping: I’m growing to take charge of my responsibilities, including my writing. I’m growing to pursue the things that I care about and/or that I am called to and let the rest go. In the wise words of Albert Einstein, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” I refuse to let these difficulties go by without wringing every last drop of opportunity out of them. Each and every struggle is growing me, and I am grateful for it.

Worthy

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”

-Isaiah 30:18

Justice begins when we realize we don’t deserve it.

I think a lot about words like “worth” and “value” and “deserve” because I struggled with them a while back and then found inspiring organizations and people like So Worth Loving, Hannah Brencher, and Eryn Eddy who use them. A lot. And I think I have concluded that to be worth something and to deserve something are two completely different things.

You deserve something based on what you do. You do your chores, you deserve your allowance. You work really hard, you deserve a break. But being worth something has to do with who you are, in your core, in your very bones.

That’s why I can say I deserve hell but am worth heaven; I deserve death but am worth life; I deserve hate but am worthy of love; I deserve shame but am worthy of forgiveness. What I do, and therefore what I deserve, sucks in comparison to holy, perfect standards. I fall short all the time and deserve the death that sin causes. For a while, that was also my identity. Sin was this unshakeable, unbreakable piece of me.

But then, Jesus. He came along and fixed it. Sin was taken out of my identity and replaced with words like “loved” and “pure” and “blameless.” In mercy, He took what I deserved. In grace, He made me worthy of better.

God decides who I am. Not me, or anything I do, or anything I say or think. “Loved by Him” is written at the top of the list of things about Haley in big, bold letters, and it trumps everything else. He calls me worthy, and I believe He calls everyone worthy. His death started the worthy crew. He paid the ultimate price to determine our value; His life given on a cross is a much more solid foundation for self-image than any inward or outward beauty or strength.

Praise be to the One who called us worthy when we definitely didn’t deserve it and continues to call us worthy today. He is so crazy in love with us, and that’s the greatest love story the world will ever see: a love so powerful that it took people who were broken and deserved death and made them worthy of more.

Whale Sharks

I stood in front of the big tank at the Georgia Aquarium on Thursday afternoon and thought to myself, “God is so big.” A whale shark swam by, followed by a manta ray, followed by this green fish that I remember calling “broccoli fish” when I was little. Every time I saw one of the whale sharks, I thought, “God is so big.” I hated to walk away from that big tank. Even though it makes me seem like a loser, I was there by myself, which meant that I had the freedom to sit in front of that tank for as long as I wanted to.

And every time I saw those whale sharks, I thought, “God is so big.” But surprisingly enough, it wasn’t the most natural thing in the world.

Naturally, I want to make God mine. We sing a lot of songs at church about God being mine (“Oceans” and “Arms Open Wide” are two that instantly come to mind), and I’m all for God becoming that personal. Some of our craziest moments of connection are when we realize how ridiculous it is that God offers Himself to us for a relationship that will last into eternity.

But I’ve been learning a lot about letting go recently and I don’t think we can march through life clenching our fists too tightly around anything, even God. We cannot box Him up inside our hearts or our rows of chairs on Sunday or our small group circles filled with encouragement and chocolate. He is in all of those things, but He’s in so much more.

He’s in the whale sharks. He’s in the stars that we can’t see and never will. He’s in the galaxies a million lightyears away. He’s in the teeny tiny plant cells with their teeny tiny cell walls. (I’m ready for A.P. Biology, y’all.) He’s in darkness and death, and by that I don’t mean that He causes those things or enjoys them, but that He can be found working in them. He’s in India and Haiti and England and Malaysia and New York City and Uganda and Australia. He is in the history of Bible times and the promises of the future. He is in everything, so why do we try to confine Him to just “mine”?

He is so much bigger than our big city churches with our food drives and electric guitars on Sunday. He is so much bigger than my journal time every night. He is so much bigger than the songs I sing with hands lifted high, than the coffeeshop conversations I have with my small group leaders, than the tears we shed on our latest church retreat.

I don’t think you can know God until you realize He’s yours, but I don’t think you can know God fully until you realize He’s not only that. He’s everyone’s, everywhere, in everything, everyday. It’s my prayer that God would allow me to see Him that way. I want to see Him in all the world so that He can use me in His plan to love and change it.

The next time I see those whale sharks, I don’t want to have to force myself to see them as His creation. That’s sort of what it felt like on Thursday: oh, right, this is His, He’s not just in my bubble of a sheltered life. I am in training now to see God in whale sharks, and flowers, and letters, and cancer, and college, and finances, and people. I want my view of God to expand and expand and expand until I see everything as the tiny piece of heaven that it already is or that it will become. God is so much bigger than a church. He’s even bigger than the whale sharks. It’s time we started trying to see Him that way.