self-control

Which of the fruits of the Spirit do you struggle with most?
I want to say that I struggle the most with self control. When looking at the list of sins that most often trip me up, they are made up primarily of lust of the eyes & lust of the flesh: gluttony, pornography, smoking weed, fantastical thoughts, etc. Ones that I say that I’ve submitted to God’s control and the accountability of others – but I choose to try to manage them within my own strength: strength that I know I don’t have.
But herein lies my dilemma: in a way, I kinda like my lack of self control. I like the way I act before I think sometimes, because in the past, it’s led to some pretty cool stories. God has worked in the midst of my sinful decisions.
And in my own teeny little mind, I reason that self control directly opposes another part of my personality that I consider to be a strength: my faith. I have this stigma that the person with self control is the person who always follows the rules & never takes any big leaps of faith: someone who’s afraid to believe God for big things. Someone who fails to see just how FREE they are.
This is wrong for 2 reasons:
First, because Freedom in Christ is a gift to be thankful for, and exercising self-control is a form of freedom, not a type of bondage. You don’t have to do what you feel like doing. You’re free to do what you know is wise.
Secondly, because God is consistent, all fruits of the spirit and characteristics of Jesus mutually coexist. My lack of self control doesn’t lead to a seemingly great faith. One fruit doesn’t grow at the expense of another –  rather, they build each other up. They depend upon each other to thrive. That being said, at what point does my confidence in God – a seemingly good thing – translate into self control?
I think the key word here is “MY”. If my confidence is in MY confidence, then I’ve taken God out of the equation. And if God is out of the equation, then so is love, so is peace, so is patience and goodness and faithfulness and, you guessed it, self control.
As Proverbs 25:28 states, “Like a city who’s walls are broken through is a person who lacks self control.”
If I was a city, what – or who- would my walls be made of? Well, God of course. God would be my walls. He is my refuge and strength and my defender. I hide behind Him. But God’s walls cannot be broken. If a wall is broken through, then that wall was never God to begin with. That city is not defended by God, has no confidence in God, and has no self control. Self control is birthed from a confidence in God’s power, not in my own.
Confidence in God? Hm. That kinda sounds like Faith to me.
So, I think it’s still safe to say self control…but not because every now and then I get stoned and eat a big bowl of pasta with my friends from college, or because sometimes, late at night, I let my mind fantasize about future nights with my husband – although, those are both not good either. I also don’t struggle with self control because it puts limitations to my faith in God, as Ive tried to convince myself time and time again.
I struggle with self control because I struggle with pride – and self control is the opposite of pride. Self control is really submitting to God’s control, hiding behind His walls, His protection, and His rules – while pride is grasping onto our own power, authority, and reasoning – which wasn’t ever really mine to begin with.
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nap dreams

There I was, feeling guilty; sitting in this situation like we were seemingly doing something wrong – but also feeling like I finally made it.

We sat in a room that felt like a closet because of the secrets kept inside it. But it was really a classroom with a projector screen. On the screen I saw a map of Atlanta. Also on the screen was my car, driving recklessly across the red and blue lines of the map.

Like a woman describing the weather, I vocally explained this visual to my counterparts. Also like the weather woman, I was just as unsure as anyone. Chef and Chester and I watched as my car took impossible short cuts; leaping over entire towns in Georgia to avoid traffic. I drove recklessly to circumvent construction. But my perspective was always peripheral, never personal. At this moment, I never saw from inside the car.

As I watched this with a sense of wonder and confusion, a new emotion came over me – awareness. I now fully realized how dangerous was my driving. The truth began to swallow me…my car might never recover from the wear & tear caused by my recklessness….And how have I not died yet?

Just as this revelation unfolded in my heart, Chef said, “So, you’re doing at this company what you’ve always done. You’re trying to climb to the top.”

Interpretation comes in floods.

Chef and Chester both represent leaders in various restaurants where I’ve worked. The three of us in that room together felt like a secret society meeting of leaders conspiring how to manipulate the masses and sway them in our favor. Despite my select moments of servanthood over the years, selfishness reigns on the throne of my heart. I work unto the glory of myself, not to God. And as long as I view my job as something I can control, where I can express MY gifts; following unsafe short cuts and a twisted sense of reality – I put myself in grave danger.

But if I humble myself before the Lord, He will lift me up. I know this because told me it to me today. He said this: there’s grace. I’m grateful for grace.

Oh, nap dreams; born on
Sunday afternoons. Born to reveal in us what
must
die.

on writing

This morning, I went to Starbucks because I’m all out of coffee and almond milk. I must admit; this happens quite regularly. Yet, after being a loyal customer (read: addict) for over ten years, I still don’t own a Starbucks card…

Anyways.

I drive into the parking lot of the Starbucks in Little 5 Points. My original plan was to park directly in front of the store; but as my eyes scan and find a homeless man standing in front of the coveted parking spot, I careen my car the other way to park further from the store entrance.

I step out of my car, swing the door shut, and tap on my keys twice to lock it. I waltz towards the Starbucks at around 7:40 am.

The homeless man appears from behind a pillar; startling me.

“‘Scuse me ma’am, can I ask you for something..” he rambles in in a low, unclear tone.

Now, my mother from Queens, New York spent this past weekend with me; causing my tri-state way of talking to temporarily resurface.

“What do you want?” I ask abruptly. “You wanna bagel with cream cheese?”

He looks surprised. “Yes, thank you,” says the man.

“Okay.”

I open the Starbucks front door. There is no line, so I walk straight towards the cash register. A really sweet white girl with short hair takes my order and asks how my morning’s going.

“It’s good!” I said. “I do the 9-5 thing for only 20 hours a week, so it’s manageable.”

“Oh wow.” She looked at me with genuine interest. “What do you do for work?”

“Well,” I hesitated. “I write.”

That was it. Her face lifted and brightened all at once.

“Wow!” Her hands grabbed the register console. “What do you write?”

I tell her how I work for a company in Alpharetta that owns a bunch of florists all over the country; and that right now, we’re transitioning all 17 websites, and I’m writing all the content for all of them.

She somehow smiled even bigger.

“Wow!” She sighed. “That’s so cool that you can make a living doing what you love!”

I stopped her right there. “Well, as of now, it’s a part-time paid internship…and, I did graduate from college two years ago…”

She did one of those side-to-side head nods that we do when we don’t want to fully ingest another’s words; as if saying within our bobbing heads: “Yeah, okay. But…”

She finished that sentence out loud. “It’s still pretty cool.” She smiled sweetly again. “I’m a writer. So it’s cool to hear that maybe, someday, I’ll actually get paid to write.”

At that moment, I remembered her.

On another one of my coffee runs earlier this month, as I was waiting in line, this same particular short-haired sweet barista had been leaning over the counter; listening and nodding and looking at a young black woman. When the customer tried paying for her coffee, the barista refused.

She shook her head in defiance. “It’s on me.”

The customer shook her head in thankfulness. The barista looked at her.

“Can I come give you a hug?”

She consented; and the girl with the green apron walked around the bar and hugged the grateful patron. I watched this young black woman cry into the shoulder of the young white woman who had just served her. I thanked God for the privilege to witness such raw human connection.

I let them have their moment. As the only other customer in line, I tried my best to seem occupied by the myriad of culinary goodies Starbucks now serves – which is an easy task; considering the brilliant bold-type branding on every bag of kale chips is enough to make Don Draper instantly drop one on the counter and demand, “WHO DESIGNED THIS?!”

Eventually, the embrace ceased and the customer walked away. My neighborhood good samaritan Starbucks barista returned to her post behind the register; wiping the tears from her eyes as she rounded the counter.

“She lost her son yesterday.” I heard her say to her worker as she regained her poise. After a few quick seconds, she looked up at me. “Hey! What can I get started for you today?”

SCREEECH. Fast forward to the present. Now, she looks at me again; floored by my line of work. I order my coffee and the bagel and cream cheese for the homeless man outside.

As I exit, I hand the man his breakfast. Feeling uplifted and extra spiritual after receiving praise for working an internship that I don’t deserve, I throw in, “Jesus loves you, man.”

Lord, help me.

I walk to my car. I get inside and drive to my job. While driving, I think of things I’d say to the barista. I want to tell her this:

Dear Sweet Barista, (Uh, next time, I’ll actually read and remember the name on her name tag…yikes…)

As a fellow writer, I feel obligated to warn you: The moment you start making money by writing for other people is the moment you’re somehow convinced that you’re a writer. You begin to convince yourself: I’m golden. I’m living the dream. I’m WRITING.
Well…no.

Who’s words are you writing? Yours, or someone else’s? If you’re honest with yourself you’ll admit that your words were not your own. Sure, you have your own voice; yadda yadda…

But you wrote with limits.

An artist who does her art solely according to another’s limitations is not living as an artist. To live as an artist means to compromise some – but not all. It means making time and money to make more art.

So, make time to make art! It’ll take less time than it used to; because your brain and your fingers get in position more quickly. The stream of consciousness is already flowing. It just needs new material.
Granted, it won’t be easy. In order to keep up with it all, you’ll need to read a lot more. After all, generating content for marketing/web/whatever requires content to generate from. But generating content for your own personal writing is easier – because the content comes from your own experiences. And if you’re not careful, meaning; if you’re not WRITING, lots of very memorable moments shall evaporate into muted memories.

So, write.
Or, paint.
Or, create.

Whatever your “art” is. Do it professionally…AND unprofessionally.

After work, (aka; writing all day), your mind, your body, and social media will tempt you to veg out on Netflix. Together, they will convince you, “it’s okay, you wrote a lot today.”

But…

It’s not enough. Write your words; and write them well.

And write now! Before you get that job – which you will – write well.

Oh, I know! Write about that encounter you had with the woman who lost her son. I was here for that, you know. I saw the whole thing; and I’m proud of you.

Thank you for reading my writing; and for always smiling.

Sincerely,

Someone who’s just trying to figure it all out.

 

for where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.

Dear [white] Christian women:

Don’t overdose on Bethel Music. Please. Don’t overdose on Kari Jobe’s eyelashes or ambiguously simple 4-word Bible verse T-shirts with chunky necklaces and wavy ombré hair and Jason Mraz hats. Don’t furiously shake your hands for not creating calligraphy in the likes of every single, “It Is Well” home decor item sold in random Christian stores in malls across the Southern slice of this country.

All that stuff is good stuff. But it’s not God.

If you didn’t have your almond milk latte in a Bible verse mug, would you still read your Bible?

If you didn’t have your Jesus Calling book, would you still call out to Jesus?

And when you get tired of listening to modern worship music, (and you will…)

…WILL YOU STILL WORSHIP?

Jesus is not in the things. He’s in your heart. Beware of relying on Christianese cultural crutches to experience His presence.

Yes – there is real power in worship music. You know what’s especially powerful, though? Listening to worship music in another language. Like Mandarin or Swahili or even just plain old Spanish.

Try it! Test your ability to sense His Spirit. And while you’re at it, test your love for Him. Is it dependent upon Starbucks dates where you and Katie chat about the importance of maintaining a smiling face in worship leading; because how dare you show the children’s congregation what depraved humanity actually looks like? Are you “meeting with Jesus” in the midst of those conversations?

I mean, it’s not an outright no. But I will say this: Jesus has met me most strongly recently in my cubicle at my underpaid internship. When you retrieve to your desk to put on your headphones to blast some Elevation Worship/Hillsong/Tasha Cobbs/”YOU DESERVE ITTTT” as a survival mechanism to rescue yourself from drowning under the pressures of job transitions & personal insecurity & others’ approval & your own sexuality & when will I get married & oh yeah, I forgot that I’m a really good singer and I need to get famous first & well, I mean, I need to get God famous & God…..

THANK YOU.
You deserve it.

 

story of grace

I was born to two evangelical Christian parents. My mom is Greek and my dad is Italian. Both are from Queens, New York. I lived in Queens when I was younger, then around age 8, we moved to Connecticut. I’m now 25. One year ago, I moved to Atlanta on my own.

God has guided me throughout my whole life, even when I wanted nothing to do with Him. As a young child, my parents would pray with me regularly and read the Bible to my brother and me. I believe I had an accurate understanding of God’s love for me from a young age. In fact, I chose to get baptized at age 12, right as I entered middle school. But that was also the age I began experimenting in some hidden sinful habits, as a manifestation of something that had happened to me when I was younger. I told no one. I dragged others into it with me. I began to believe that these hidden habits would always stay with me.

All through middle and high school, I was publically a Christian, but privately rebelling against God. I sang at my parent’s church, impressed the adults, and told my friends about Jesus, but I didn’t act like I knew him. Part of it was that I didn’t believe He would love me if He knew how dirty I was. But part of it was me willingly giving into my sinful desires.

Also, I lied excessively to my parents. Part of me was afraid that they wouldn’t love me if they know how dirty I was. But, part of me was okay with hurting them. And the more I lied and disobeyed, the easier it became. Furthermore, deeper disobedience resulted in deeper lust.

At 18, I began attending The King’s College in Manhattan. This was my first time living away from the home I’d known, (AKA the fear of my parents finding something out and yelling at me,) and my first time living with roommates. Faced with many temptations right off the bat, I gave into all of them. I became a reckless college party girl. I was proud of my demise, proud of my stories…until I did something really dirty, and my whole entire tiny Christian college found out. I will say, that time, shame knocked me down hard…but I chose to stay down.

Yet, I continued to call myself a Christian – even when I didn’t look, act, or feel like one. I would openly say that I planned to marry a Christian and raise my kids in church – but now? I’m 19. I can do what I want. I’ll just pick up that lifestyle later on.

After two years in Manhattan, my parents – who were paying for my education – told me it was time to come home. My grades had plummeted embarrassingly low. I was practically on probation. I worked at a restaurant while living in the city, but my check would get cashed and then was immediately spent on alcohol and cigarettes.

I needed to come home.

It hurt my pride pretty badly. I wanted to stay in the city with my friends, I didn’t want live under my parents’ roof again…I wanted to do what I wanted to do. Plus, in Connecticut, it’s super taboo to go to community college. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to be known as the girl that got chewed up and spit out by New York.

Truthfully. That’s where my mind was.

Once I moved back home, I started taking classes at community college. Little by little, I would find myself in situations where I’d have to vocally declare my faith. I remembered hearing something about how Jesus would deny me if I denied him, so I would offer up a half-hearted defense and admission of faith.

I did have enough decency to tell my parents’ church’s worship pastor that I shouldn’t be singing up on stage because my life did not look like the lyrics of the songs I was singing. But as I continued to sleep around and put myself in recklessly dangerous situations, God’s favor covered me.

Eventually, I got tired of faking it. Also, my parents found my fake ID, so my whole façade came crashing down and they began to ask me specific questions about stuff I had done; very upset by it all. Little by little, I opened up to them. I remember one night specifically, sitting on my bed, admitting to them two very scary things: that sometimes I questioned my sexuality. And that lately, I had doubted God’s existence.

They responded with anger and grace.

Moving forward, I transferred colleges, but stayed at home. I was a commuter and a transfer student. I continued living recklessly, until God met me in a very real way and told me that I needed to stop living in sexual sin – I now saw that if I continued down this path, I would only be hurting myself more and more. In response, I began listening to more Tim Keller sermons and listening to worship music in the car.

One day, while driving to class listening to old school Hillsong Australia, the Holy Spirit came over me. I started clapping my hands and worshipping God behind the wheel…I lost control of the car. I was in the left lane going about 70 miles an hour on a windy parkway. My car did a total 180, swirling around from the left lane into the right lane, now facing the opposite direction. Along the side of the highway, there were big wooden logs attached by metal cords. My car tire got stuck in a metal cord, preventing me from driving over a cliff. My back windshield crashed in. My car was totaled.

I sat there in disbelief. Then, I got pissed.

“What the FUCK! I have a midterm today! And now I don’t have a car!”

I wrestled with God about this for some time. It was clear that He had ordained it; I barely had a scratch from the wreck. He was intervening. But I didn’t know why.

While I had no car, I took the train to work and school; and I read St. Augustine’s Confessions…who talks about lust pretty much throughout the entire book. This was the moment that I realized I could be open with God about my struggle with purity – that He understood it and had compassion on me.

I began doing just that – being honest with God and with my parents.

Over the couple years, I tried my best to live honestly; wherever I was. It took a lot of time for my parents to begin trusting me again, but it slowly started happening. I started to sing again in church. God gave me an insatiable appetite for His word, and I began reading the Bible every day. My spirit absorbed a lot. I started to be able to hear His voice more clearly; and trust Him with my day-to-day life.

I was still caving into sexual sin, mainly because I worked in restaurants and that environment fuels lust. So, after praying about it, I quit. This freed up my schedule to begin attending a different church, where I met more Christians my age. Those relationships humbled me, taught me wisdom, and gave me the confidence to share my faith.

After living at home for 3 and a half years, one of my best friends moved to Atlanta. She planted the idea in my mind for me to move here too. I prayed about it continuously and visited a few times to test it out. Each trip, I fell more in love with the city and the people. I wanted to move. God continued to confirm it through scripture, dreams, words of prophecy, and other divine ways.

Now, I’ve been in Atlanta just over one year. God is repairing me day by day from the aftermath of my years of rebellion. He has revealed to me the reality of Romans 1. He gave me over to my sexual desires, even while I believed in the reality of His holiness and the immense price He paid through Jesus. And because of that, its led to a whole bunch of other sin entering my heart. The root of it is shame; but its also prideful rebellion. Alas, thankfully, His grace covers me, and I believe that I am truly a new creation in Christ. My story of grace is a continuous process of conviction, repentance, freedom, blessing, sin….

….and, repeat.

4-sided coin

Envy is funny.
Have you ever watched someone else walking in their calling and get stricken with jealousy?
Have you ever wanted to know why things are taking so long for you?
Have you ever gotten jealous of your younger brother?
Have you ever wished things would move a little faster?
Have you ever gotten impatient?
Fear is funny.
Have you ever been attacked by shame?
Was that fun?
Did it make you cry?
Are you afraid that i’ll happen again?
Are you afraid that when it does happen again, you’ll willingly allow it to happen?
Have you ever been too proud to admit that you still struggle with shame?
Have you ever been proud of your shame?
Have you ever realized that all forces of darkness work together?

Fear and shame and pride and envy. A four-sided coin.
I’m afraid of feeling shame. I’m afraid of my prideful relationship with shame. I’m proud of my fear of shame. I envy the humble.
I’m a mess.
Are you a mess?
Or is it just me.

I hope it’s not just me.