The following is a list of all entries from the My faith category.
This is a hard blog post for me to write. Because it means I have to reveal some things about my life and my family’s history that aren’t exactly the funnest things to talk about. Because I don’t have a perfect life, and even though I had a wonderful childhood, it was at times far from ideal or rosy and pretty.
I recently had the opportunity to share my faith and offer some support and encouragement to a woman that I sort of casually know, but who had posted something on Facebook about some trials she was going through in her life. Financial problems, troubled loved ones, and overall discouragement at the lack of prosperity in her life. I commented with a few words of encouragement and a Bible verse (Psalm 121:1) and later got a message from this woman sharing her heart about how hard she is trying to trust God, but how difficult it can be when things just don’t seem to be working out in life, and you can see how hard that is on those you love.
To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to say in response. Here I am, a seventeen-year-old kid with a publishing contract and twelve hundred dollars worth of camera equipment. What could I possibly have to say about financial hardships or suffering in life?
A lot, actually.
My parents got saved later in life. My dad had lost both of his parents when he was a teenager, and he’s told me time and time again that he was always pretty much the life of the party in every circumstance, drinking too much and experimenting with drugs from a young age. My mom’s parents separated when she was seventeen, and she lived on her own in the city and worked her way through college, where she met my dad through mutual friends at a restaurant where she worked as a bartender. (Whoa, my parents have such a romantic story, right? That’s where I’m sure going to look for my husband–at a bar! Not!) Anyway, long story short, they fell in love, got married, and had two daughters. Then when I was five, my dad decided out of the blue that he wanted my mom to homeschool me, to which she promptly replied “You’re crazy!” and then “But I don’t know how!”
So she got some help and figured out what kind of books she needed to buy and how this whole homeschooling thing is supposed to look. One of the curriculums she decided to use for me was a Bible program to teach me basic Bible stories and help me memorize some verses. She’d been attending a lukewarm church for a while and thought it would be a good idea to teach her girls some Christian morals and stories. But what she wasn’t planning was just how gripping the simple Bible stories would be on her adult heart. The first story she read through was the introductory “ABC’s of Salvation”. And that was all it took. One simple kindergarten-level telling of the love of Christ for sinners, and her heart was pierced. She confessed to the Lord just how much she needed Him in her life, and from that day on, she was a changed woman.
God started working on my dad at about the same time. So within a few months (he knows it to the day!) my dad was down on his knees asking God to take over his life. He said that pretty soon after that, when on a Christian retreat with some men from the new church they were attending, He knelt by his bed and asked for God to take away his addiction to alcohol. And he said that after he prayed that, he felt the hugest weight lifted off his shoulders. He came home, dumped out every beer left in his fridge, and hasn’t had a drink since then. Not because he believed alcohol was evil or sinful–but because he was excited for the opportunity to show the world that he was a different man.
Well, the road in front of them wasn’t easy. In fact, it was bumpy and painful. Because only two weeks after my dad came to Christ, he got laid off from work. My mom hadn’t worked in years, so for the first time our family was completely without income in the midst of a huge nation-wide financial crisis. And, if things didn’t seem desperate enough, my mom soon found out something else: She was pregnant. With child number three.
I was probably only five or six when all this happened. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that our family was entering into a stage of life that would last for the next four or so years. And that was the time we all fondly call, “Food Pantry Days.”
Why? Because we were poor. We were more than poor! I was too young to realize a lot of it at the time, but my parents are very quick to admit that they struggled keeping food on the table. Milk was a necessity we couldn’t afford a lot of the time. We ate boxed spaghetti just about every night. Without butter. Without cheese. I remember complaining about that to my friends. Boiled spaghetti with salt for supper. And pbjs on food pantry bread for lunch.
Christmases came and went. We learned to make things for each other. I remember hand sewing a sleeping bag for my little sister’s doll and making a crown out of pipe cleaners and party streamers for the baby. One Christmas I complained about the lack of toys I got, and I’ll never forget hearing my mom crying about it later and feeling the worst kind of guilt in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t know we were poor! All I knew was that we ate spaghetti with salt and frozen chicken nuggets and lots of people gave us hand-me-down clothes. Which were usually too short considering how freakishly tall I was.
Things got better in time, obviously. My dad had been working at a low-paying job for Habitat for Humanity, but he eventually moved on and was hired somewhere else. The bills got paid. We were able to pay off whatever credit card debt we’d racked up and even started saving to build a house. We were back on our feet financially and life was looking good again.
I didn’t know very many details of that time in our life until I was much older. But then my parents started sharing about it openly. They had no shame in the change they would collect to buy milk or eggs or whatever else they needed. They were quick to admit that they had fallen into debt that had burdened them until they could pay it off. They confessed that they had considered bankruptcy then had declared it not an option unless they were willing to one day go back and personally repay all of those people every cent they had borrowed from them.
But the biggest truth they’re willing to admit is this: That they would not be the people they are today if the Lord hadn’t walked them through those trials. My dad will be the first one to tell you that. He honestly believes that God put him through all that so soon after his salvation as a way to grow him quickly. Because sometimes, my dad will tell us, you need to hit rock bottom in life. Because it’s when you’re sitting at the very bottom that you have no place to look but up.
My dad told me something once that both simultaneously shocked and touched me. He told me that his number one prayer in life wasn’t for my prosperity or overall happiness. His prayer was only that one day God would bring me through some kind of trial. That me and my husband would face some obstacle that would just prove itself to be too big to overcome. Too painful or too scary for us to handle. And that, through that trial, God would show Himself to us and draw us closer to Him.
I have to admit that hearing my dad say those words has meant more to me than few things I’ve ever heard him say. Because I know that he loves me enough to honestly want that for me. Because He wants me to have the same beautiful, intimate, childlike relationship with Christ that my parents do. The kind of relationship that comes through walking hand-in-hand with the Father through some hardship. The kind of relationship that grows from a deep abiding trust that God will always bring me through.
So how did I respond to my friend on Facebook? I told her a few of these things. I offered to pray for her. And I shared this song by Laura Story, that has always proved itself to be nothing but a comfort and encouragement to me as I think about what mountains God has in store for my future. Because sometimes, God’s blessings do come through raindrops. His healing does come through tears. And my parents are living proof that sometimes, it does take a thousand sleepless nights to really know that God is near. And I have found that, indeed, every trial in this life has proven itself to be God’s mercies in disguise.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. Which is kind of strange because I feel like when all is going well in life, I tend to just skip on down my yellow brick road, totally and completely oblivious to anything anyone might say to me or about me. This is me a pretty good percentage of the time. Happy and oblivious, like a toddler who’s never considered the fact that Dora the Explorer’s mother lets her go tramping about alone in the woods with a singing backpack and monkey wearing boots.
And then every now and then I happen to have a day (or two) where something happens that really causes me to think. And I know it’s always a God-thing, because it’s always those days that cause me to re-evaluate just how much His presence means in my life. Lately this has been manifesting itself in my own self-image and perspective on life. Because sometimes, I am just not happy with the way God made me.
It’s a really weird thing to blog about, mostly because I don’t know any of you and you don’t really know me, so it’s not like we can have an actual balanced discussion on this topic. For all you know, I could be some deranged psycho who just happens to be good at balancing truths with snarky witticisms and writing sappy fairytales. But a lot of who I am can’t even be translated into a blog, or an interview, or a vlog video. Because I’m a seventeen-year-old girl and I have so many faults and imperfections and things that I hate about myself, both physically and mentally.
Anyway, I’m just like all other teenage girls and sometimes I have days where I struggle with image, jealousy, and self-pity, just like everyone else. And it’s always tough to have to sit myself down and truly understand the fact that I will always be aware of my own imperfections and struggles, and probably always be a bit envious of the gifts and successes of others. It’s something that comes up quite often as I examine my heart, and something that I’ve really been praying about lately.
And so, whenever I have those days where I feel second-best or dissatisfied with the way God made me, I just take it to the Lord in prayer. I pour out my heart to Him and pray for satisfaction in Him. And the more that I pray about it, the more at peace I feel in my own heart about God’s hand in my life.
Before the world even began, God smiled to Himself as He wove together the seams of my life. He knew how I would look, how I would grow and love Him, and the things that He would lead me to do during my time on earth. He made me exactly the way that I am, with all my imperfections and quirks, because He knew that it was through those faults and cracks that He would be most glorified.
The Lord doesn’t always glory in the mighty, in the brilliant, in the socially succesful, or in the gorgeous. The Lord works through the lives of everyday, ho-hum people who honestly love Him and want to serve Him with their lives. And when I waste precious moments of His time comparing myself to others or wondering why on earth He wouldn’t give me certain gifts of abilities, I am not only hurting myself but also the cause of my Creator. Because God isn’t glorified in my dissatisfaction and complaints. He’s not honored in my vanity, or my self-pity.
It takes a different type of perspective to honestly please Him with my life. It takes understanding that I have a purpose–a beauty in God’s eyes. That even on the days that I feel stupid and silly and dull, He is still working through me. Working through my imperfections to point others to Christ. It’s a wonderful, glorious truth that I feel I have fully realized over the past few days. A truth that warms my heart and fills me with nothing but joy and love for others. It erases bitterness, wipes out jealousy, and leaves no room for hurt feelings. God loves me, and that very fact makes my life worth something.
Coming from a pessimist, this has always been kind of obvious to me. I’m one of those people who is probably never one hundred percent happy all the time. I can be really cheerful and bubbly at times, but usually I’m always thinking about something, no matter how insignificant, that is standing in the way of my true happiness. It happened again this week. I wanted something so badly that it was getting in the way of my happiness. I was thinking about it, worrying about it, and basically freaking out over this one sort of random thing that I wanted to happen. You can probably guess what happened. I didn’t get what I wanted. All of the things I’d been praying for blew up in smoke. I won’t say I was heartbroken, but I was pretty sad. I cried for a while, which is really lame if you think about it, and then stiffened my upper lip and told myself not to wish for such big things next time.
That’s where I went wrong. Because I’m a dreamer, and I’m always wishing and hoping and praying for big, impossible things to come true. The pessimist side of me is constantly there, telling me that those things are never going to happen, but the dreamer in me can’t help but wish for them anyway. And so sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in this constant cycle of anticipating wonderful things and then crying myself to sleep because none of my dreams came true and I didn’t get what I want.
I know. Total sob story. Seventeen-year-old published author didn’t get what she wanted one day. Cry me a river.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that my brain is working in a semi-reasonable way. Because if it was, I would realize that I have everything I’ll ever need in life. I’m young and healthy and successful with a loving family and network of unbelievable friends that all believe in me one hundred percent.
This is something I need to be constantly reminding myself. Because the sinful part of me tends to get way too hung up on not getting what I want. I fail to take the time to look around and be grateful for what I already have. God has blessed me with so much, but I’m never going to be content when I’m constantly looking for fulfillment and happiness outside of Him.
I know what would happen if I always got what I wanted. I would always want more. And more, and more, and more. Even then, I would never be satisfied. It’s not really a problem of not getting what I want, but of always wanting what I don’t have. And so, I pray that in the following days and weeks, instead of wishing for things that God may not have in mind for me, I’ll pray for the strength not to desire those things.
What reason could I ever have to be dissatisfied or discontent with what God has given me? I know that He’s put me right where I am, and that He knows exactly where I’m going to go. So I don’t have to lose sleep at night or cry into my pillow because of some silly thing that I had planned out for myself. I won’t always get what I want in life, but just as the old classic rock song says, I find that I get what I need. Because I have a God who loves me and cares about me, and who will always see me content and happy, as long as I find that joy in Him.
A few years ago, I made a ground-breaking discovery relating to my acute odontophobia (fear of the dentist). Quite truthfully, there are few places on earth I wouldn’t choose to be other than in the operating table–ahem!–I mean, seat of a dentist’s office. I’d rather strapped to the front of a three dollar waffle iron display at a Walmart in Kentucky on Black Friday than have to go to the dentist. It’s that bad.
Anyway, like I was saying, a few years ago I discovered the source of all my dentist phobia issues. And no, it didn’t have anything to do with tennis-shoe wearing women forcing me to watch Rachael Ray on mute without subtitles for half an hour while drilling holes in my mouth and asking about my summer vacation. It was instead the realization of this earth-shattering fact: I have a small mouth.
It’s totally true, and it’s the reason why I hate getting my teeth cleaned. Because my mouth is just not big enough to stay “just a little wider, sweetie” for more than ten seconds. Hence the discomfort and endless blog rantings. And the awkward conversation between the dentist and the hygenist consisting of, “I’m gonna need you to stand here and hold her mouth open, ’cause once I get these blocks in, there’s not gonna be any room left for my hands.” Yup. Embarrassing.
I was thinking about all this the other day after getting home from getting my teeth cleaned. And another really funny thought occurred to me. Even though I may always be cursed with a small mouth, I can still have a really big voice.
I’m not talking about that in an obnoxious, I’m-gonna-blast-your-eardrums-by-ranting-about-Taylor-Swift-and-her-messed-up-love-life-24/7 kind of way. I’m talking about my voice as a writer. As a person. As a Christian.
Albert Einstein once said, “Nothing I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice, I can help the greatest of all causes — goodwill among men and peace on earth.”
I have no idea whether or not Albert Einstein had a small mouth. These things are kind of hard to tell unless you’re actually the person with the problem. But what I do know is this: It doesn’t matter what the physical size of your mouth, or your larynx, or your tongue is–Your voice can still be heard around the world, if you’re speaking loudly enough.
At my friends’ Bible study earlier this month, we were each posed the question “What are you passionate about?” We went around the circle, listing our passions and hobbies. Writing, politics, animals, our faith… After we’d all finished, the leaders of the study encouraged us to actually stand up for and declare our passions, reading us Acts 5:40-42.
“They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
I left that study with a new and emboldened desire to constantly speak from my heart. I may not be the wisest person on this earth, or the most godly, but I do have something to say and I want to say it with all the passion and zeal it deserves. I want to constantly share my thoughts and my dreams in a way that will inspire others to stand up and raise their voices, too.
Heaven knows I have a tiny mouth. For some reason, God decided to make it that way, and I doubt it’s ever going to change. But I pray that I will always be remembered as a girl with a very big voice proclaiming a very loud message–and that the message coming from my lips would always be one of praise and service to my King.
Those of you who have ever received a signed copy of Interrupted from me, may have noticed something underneath my signature. I always sign my name alongside my favorite Bible verse, Galatians 6:14. However, the story behind how I picked that Bible verse is a wee bit interesting, so I figured I’d share it with you all today…
When I first signed the contract for my book, I was fifteen years old. I’d never given any thought before that to being famous or ever having to give my autograph for anything. But, obviously, people started teasing me about it almost immediately. My dad, especially, seemed to think it was funny. He told me that I had to learn how to develop a trademark signature quickly, so that I could whip it out for my millions of fans. So I painstakingly developed an intentionally messy (haha — who am I kidding??) signature that I could use for signing autographs. I remember joking around that I had to learn how to write my name in order to both autograph my books and sign my drivers’ license at the same time.
But once I had perfected my signature, a thought suddenly occurred to me. I didn’t have a verse. You know what I’m talking about. All the best Christians seem to have favorite Bible verses that they use when they sign their names in order to send some kind of message to the world about what they care about.
For some reason, this has always been a bit intimidating to me. I’ve never been the type to easily choose favorites of anything. I hate going to Bible studies and having to go around the circle talking about who our favorite characters of the Bible are. I don’t have a favorite Bible character! I like some and dislike others, but I don’t have any that I hold above the rest! (Except for Jesus, and it was somewhat frowned upon when I gave that answer once, after hearing about a dozen Esthers and Marys.)
The same goes for Bible verses. I love God’s Word and I know many verses by heart that I absolutely adore. But I never could choose a favorite, signature verse.
And so I did what any person searching for a signature Bible verse to put alongside her autograph in books sold to the masses: I randomly opened my Bible and started reading.
Granted, I prayed quite a bit. I asked God to make it glaringly obvious to me when I came across a verse that would be appropriate and would really come from my heart. And, believe it or not, obvious is exactly what it was! I literally opened my Bible to the book of Galatians, and my eyes immediately fell upon Galatians 6:14. Instantly, I knew that it was the perfect verse for everything I’d been through and hoped to accomplish.
“But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (NASB)
I just feel like that verse absolutely sums up everything I want my readers to know about me. Too often, people seem to credit everything that has happened in my life to my age, or my talent, or my personality. But it’s all because of Christ that I am what I am, and that you are what you are! My constant prayer is that others will be able to see Christ shining through everything that I do, and that this verse would be an accurate picture of my relationship with Jesus.
So, there you have it. The semi-interesting story of how I became one of those people, and why I don’t mind anymore!
With a title like that, I feel I should start off this post with a disclaimer: I am not insinuating that I think of myself as either pretty or smart — the two things that I’m discussing in this post! I’m a teenage girl with normal teenage insecurities, and I don’t have any abnormal vanities that you should know about. Just making that very clear.
But this is a question I’ve been thinking about lately. I guest-blogged on the Go Teen Writers site this morning about stereotypes, and ever since then stereotypes have been on my mind. Two in particular.
The first stereotype that really bugs me is when people see a pretty, well-dressed young woman and automatically make this assumption: Wow, look at her hot pink nails and high heels. She must be one of those self-absorbed rich girls who’s never worked a day in her life. And then they proceed to think that of her for what seems like the rest of eternity.
The other stereotype that I cannot stand is the exact opposite situation. This is when someone hears that a girl is interested in writing, reading, or any other type of intelligent pastime, and they immediately assume: Huh. She must be one of those smart girls. I bet she only showers once a week because she’s in a relationship with the written word and sleeps in her thick-rimmed glasses just in case she decides to spontaneously start reading under the blankets in the middle of the night.
I’m probably exaggerating here, but you know what I’m talking about, right? It’s like teenage girls have only two options. We can either be pretty, popular, and air-headed, or smart and reclusive. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground.
I’ve experienced a lot of this in my own life, to tell the truth. I know some people who turn up their noses at my red wedges and floral sundresses, claiming that I’m being vain and worldly, and I know others who look at me like I have three heads when I ask what they think of Surrealism or covenant theology. Sometimes I feel like I’m being torn between two personalities that can never live in harmony. No one wants to discuss theology with a girl in a polka dot dress, and no one expects a published author to spend half an hour sampling the perfume selection at Bloomingdale’s.
But then I started thinking about it in a Biblical sense. What does God want of me? Does God think that it’s silly to want to wear lipgloss and heels, or does He think it’s ridiculous to be so caught up in appearing intelligent and mature that you forget to have fun? There are so many verses about appearances, both of the exterior and interior, but it’s still hard to make sense of it all.
In the end, this is the conclusion I finally came to: God is most concerned about my beautiful heart. When my biggest priority is making sure my heart is pure and beautiful, everything else will fall into place. It won’t matter if I spend two minutes on my hair or two hours. (I do tend to lean more towards the two minutes, though, for those of you who are interested. Curly hair rocks.) Because everyone around me couldn’t think for a moment that I’m vain or air-headed if the love of Christ is flowing from my words and actions. If someone could spend ten minutes in my presence and walk away thinking, Wow, she needs a reality check and a little less cash, or I hope she really loves books, since she’ll never get a boyfriend with that sour face, then that’s my own fault. Because I was showing off my own sin and selfishness, and not the love of Christ.
It is possible to be both pretty and smart, but only when Christ is in control of our hearts and minds. Because then the prettiness doesn’t come off as fake or vain, it’s a beautiful and effortless representation of what’s in our hearts. The smarts aren’t a result of heavy encyclopedias or too many hours watching the History Channel, but a natural outcome of the time we have spent getting to know people and understanding the world God has created around us.
So go put on your red peep toes and read a good book. It’s about time someone did.
P.S. This post may or may not have just been an excuse to photograph my cute new pair of bow heels and a pile of my favorite books. Just sayin’.
I talk a lot about role models on this blog. That’s because I think it’s very important for young people to have godly examples in their lives to emulate. I get excited whenever I meet or learn about someone inspiring. Someone who has a great attitude, or who has done something amazing for the Lord. Usually, these people aren’t famous and I don’t tend to see them being interviewed on the Today Show (although, if the Today Show were to interview one of my role models, I’d probably be pretty stoked). No, these are just “Average Joe”s. Normal men and women, from all different backgrounds and time periods, who somehow made a mark on history, no matter how small.
Anyway, today I wanted to talk a little bit about who we find inspiration from. We live in a culture that reveres celebrities. Young girls cite Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, and Shawn Johnson as their biggest role models. Guys tend to admire Michael Phelps, Peyton Manning, and Mark Zuckerberg. I’m not saying that any of these people are bad examples. Some of them are great role models! I even think of Christians like Bethany Hamilton and Tim Tebow.
However, I think that there is one very big empty space that young people are missing when they think about their inspirations. And that is the example of the “Average Joe”. I think about people like Nicole and Karin, both of whom I’ve mentioned on this blog. I doubt you’d ever heard of either of those young women before. You’ll probably never will hear of them again. But they’ve had a greater impact in my life than all the celebrities and sports stars combined.
Because really, when you think about it, just what is so inspirational about all those celebrities? The fact that they said “no” to sex before marriage? The fact that they abstain from using curse words in their songs? Um, I do both of those things. You probably do, too. Those are great, admirable qualities, but just because someone is marketed as “clean” and “family-friendly”, it doesn’t necessarily make them role model material.
When I think about the great inspirations of my life, one of the first examples I think of is William Borden. “Huh?” you’re probably thinking. Yeah, I’m not surprised that you don’t know about him. I didn’t know anything about him either, until I dug up an old biography at an estate sale. But what I read in those pages absolutely floored me. This was a man who lived in the early 20th century, and was born into a wealthy English family. However, he denounced his fortune, gave up his place in his father’s company, and pledged his life to the Lord’s work. Unfortunately, William Borden never made it to the mission field. His life was cut short at the age of 25, when he died of meningitis while training for missions in Egypt. But did he ever have seconds thoughts about the life of luxury he was giving up for a life of potential danger, discomfort, and hardships? No, siree. After his death, these words were found written in his well-worn Bible: “No Reserve. No Retreat. No Regrets.”
THAT was a man worth admiring. And I’ve certainly never seen a CNN documentary about him. No blockbuster movies. No Christian radio show interviews. And yet, he remains one of my biggest heroes of the faith. For a life short-lived, but lived all for the glory of God.
Do you see what I mean when I tell you that your biggest role models can go beyond the realms of celebrities, athletes, and politicians? Nicole, Karin, and William are just three examples of everyday people who have had an impact on me, personally. Who is going to inspire you? Is it going to be the curly-haired songstress who makes three million dollars merely by showing up at a red carpet event — or the woman at your church who works tirelessly to make sure that there’s enough bulletins to go around every Sunday? The one that’s never paid, or thanked, but who continues to print and fold hundreds of papers anyway, just because she enjoys serving the Lord in every possible way. Will you admire the athlete who won a million gold medals and made a fortune advertising for swimming pools – Or the girl who offers to babysit weekly at no charge for that family with eight kids so that they can take their three-year-old to his weekly doctors’ appointments, until the physicians can figure out how to fix his heart?
Those are the people you should admire. They’re not flashy, or famous, or well-paid. You probably wouldn’t even notice them at all unless you took the time to really look. I’m constantly praying that God will open my eyes to see and appreciate His servants. As humans, we’re drawn to notice the rich and gaudy. But, as Christians, we should always seek to be aware of the humble and servant-hearted. Those are the people we should desire to be more like. And once we open our eyes to the amazing Christ-loving people around us, we will never fail to be inspired and encouraged by their godly examples. That’s what our generation needs to be moving toward. Forget Kate Middleton. I’d take Katie Davis any day, any time.
Betcha weren’t expecting that, huh? Right now you’re probably scratching your metaphorical head, muttering to yourself, “The teen writer-chick chose some random girl named Karin Swenson as the number one person she wishes she’d had the chance to meet? What about C.S. Lewis or L. M. Montgomery or e.e. cummings or some other double initialed literary genius?”
The truth is, L. M. Montgomery rocks my world. I would love nothing more than to sit down and have tea and raspberry cordial with that woman. Maybe gush about some epic puffed sleeves and name some local lakes. That would be sweet. But, truth be told, I really am being honest when I say that if I could have had the pleasure of meeting and talking to anyone who has ever lived and died, I’d pick Karin Swenson.
Which is ironic, because technically I have met Karin Swenson. She went to church with me when I was little. In fact, I’m sure I saw her dozens of times and there’s probably a good chance I even talked to her once or twice. But, she was at least twenty years old when I was a little girl, and rarely caught my attention. I was focused on Sailor Moon and Kraft macaroni-and-cheese, and arguing with my parents about whether I should be allowed to own Bratz dolls. So when we moved away and left that church when I was seven, Karin was the last thing I remembered.
And, to be honest, I never thought about her after that. I totally and completely forgot about her. If you’d asked me, I might have recognized the name, but I had no idea who on earth she was or anything about her. That’s why I was shocked when one evening, over a year ago, my parents announced that they were taking us to the funeral of Karin Swenson, a young lady that we used to go to church with.
At first, this kind of put a dent in my calendar. I hate funerals, and I always feel like we go to them all the time. We don’t, obviously, but that’s what I remember thinking when my parents first mentioned going. Oh, great, I thought. More sobs and sniffles and itchy black clothing and singing cheery hymns when everyone really just feels like crying. Not to mention it was for someone I didn’t even know, much less care about.
[This is is how I view funerals]
Nonetheless, we all went. And, let me tell you what, that funeral home was packed. Like, standing-room-only, high-school-homecoming-queen-killed-in-a-freak-accident kind of packed. We sat near the back and looked through our little programs at all the photos. I was surprised at how pretty and happy Karin looked in all the photos. I didn’t know much about her, but my parents had mentioned that she was young (28) and that she’d died of some kind of disease she’d had for a long time.
By the time her brother got up to speak, I was getting a pretty good vibe for what was going on. Beautiful young woman; dies of painful illness; everyone’s devastated; her whole life was cut short and she didn’t get to do much. Yeah, I was right. It was going to be pretty depressing.
But, actually, I was wrong.
I learned that Karin fell sick when she was seventeen, as a senior in high school. It was a strange disease. Her body couldn’t digest food properly anymore. Eventually she was put on feeding tubes because unable to keep anything down. Over the next eleven years, Karin battled this sickness. She grew weaker—visibly thinner–and her body just continued shutting down until she died in February of 2011. Karin’s brother Jim, a missionary, conducted the memorial service. The tenderness in his voice as he described his sister’s life and love of the Lord spoke of the unique bond between the two of them. He spoke of Karin’s faithfulness. Of her quiet and calm assurance.
“To the rest of the world,” Jim said, “Karin’s life may have looked like a raw deal.” And, from what it sounded like, he was right. I mean, she suffered. For almost a third of her life she was sick. Every time the feeding tube sent nutrients into her body, it felt like knives stabbing her. She couldn’t eat, couldn’t behave like a normal twenty-year-old girl.
“And yet,” Jim continued, “Karin saw her life as a blessing. She saw her sickness as a gift.” Karin saw joy in life, and loved everyone around her. She cared more about her neighbor’s suffering than her own. Jim described one time he thoughtlessly complained to her about food sickness he suffered from in Asia. He shook his head as he remembered Karin’s response. Concerned for her brother, she sympathized and said she was earnestly praying he wouldn’t be sick any longer. It was only then that Jim realized the foolishness of complaining about a mere case of food poisoning from the sister who hadn’t eaten a single meal in years. And yet, she showed him sympathy.
Jim admitted that he had struggled with his sister’s illness more than anyone. He confessed that he had stressed and worried, praying that God would take away his sister’s illness and heal her completely. And yet Karin’s perspective of the sickness couldn’t have been more different. Jim read e-mails he received from his sister only a few short months before she died. In the e-mails, she pleaded with her brother to stop praying for her life and instead be content and happy with the will of God. She reminded Jim that if God wanted to heal her the next day, He would. But if not, she knew that He had a greater purpose for her because of her sickness and death. She described it as a gift, a blessing, in that it allowed her a chance to share the Gospel with those around her and minister to others’ needs.
After the service, there was a time of sharing when anyone could stand and tell a special memory of Karin. I sat in my seat, tears pulling at my eyes, as I listened to friend after friend stand and tell Karin’s parents how much of a blessing she had been in their lives. Some had voices thick with emotion, others smiled through glistening unshed tears. One after one, they shook their heads and basically said the same thing: “Her life was a gift and I am a different person because of her.”
One young man in the back stood and said that he’d known Karin since middle school, before she was even sick. He shared that he had been a special-ed student, and that he spent lunch sitting alone, because no one would talk to him. “Karin talked to me,” he said, “She took me under her wing and was my friend. And I know I’ll never forget her because you don’t have very many friends like that.”
Another woman stood and revealed herself to be a nurse, one who had only ever met Karin once face-to-face. “I never broke through professional barriers,” she admitted, “Until I met Karin.” The nurse described Karin as possessing a joy that she had never seen before, and that she had come to love Karin through the e-mails they exchanged and the assurance Karin possessed.
As the minutes ticked by and I sat in my seat, stuffy in my black dress and suffering from puffy eyes, I began to think about this young woman that I had never met before. At first, I wondered what kind of things Karin would have accomplished for God if she had never gotten sick. She had a Latin and Greek major from the University of Richmond. Maybe she would have been a great teacher, or missionary, or done so many other wonderful things for Christ.
But as I lay in bed that night, the Lord finally laid upon my heart what would have happened if Karin had never gotten sick. Nothing. Or at least, not much. Because, through her suffering, she became an example of Christ that resounded with more people than she’ll probably ever realize. We may never know what path God would have led her on if she had lived fifty more years, but I do know this: Karin had the right view of God, the right view of sickness. She knew that through her suffering and through her death, more people would be able to see God than through her life. And that was a possibility that excited her. It didn’t fill her with self-pity or bitterness or anger. It was just as her brother said: “Karin’s life was a test from God. It was the worst, most painful, most difficult kind of test. And she passed.” And now, because of her sufferings and her pain and her death, Karin is enjoying a life that is far more wonderful than anything she could have experienced on earth.
Few sermons I have ever heard have been as powerful and convicting as the simple testimony of this one woman’s life. Let me tell you that I thanked my parents with tears in my eyes for taking me to that funeral service. When I think back on moments that have changed my life and my perspective, I hope that I’ll always think of sitting in that cold, hard pew, listening to the voices speaking up one by one in praise of this humble, amazing woman. And I hope I’ll always remember how those testimonies created a yearning in me to give my life, my talents, my time, and my everything to serving God and helping others. I may not always be as effective a witness as Karin was, but I’ll always have her example showing me the way.
My dad is kind of famous in our community for his quirky, off-beat, dry-humor sayings. I can’t count the number of times he has ushered guests to the door after a night of fellowship with the off-handed comment, “Well, you can’t come back if you don’t leave.” Or the number of meals that he has pronounced to be “pretty good garbage” or number of mornings that he has stared at me intensely when I come out of my room with messy hair and puffy eyes, only to ask, “And Rachel, how did your sleep find you?” He’s even thought up the perfect thing to say after listening to a three-year-old whine and huff for three minutes straight about some melodramatic but highly insignificant matter: “Mmhmm. I see. And how does that make you feel?” (The answer? Nine times out of ten it’s a blank face–Three year olds don’t deal well with psychiatric questions)
But I think the most popular dad-ism is one that he claims he borrowed from a high school buddy of his. It’s my dad’s answer to half of our predicaments. Every time we come to him saying, “Daddy, I don’t know if I can do this,” or “Daddy, I don’t think I’m good enough,” he’ll just look at us, shrug, and say, “Well, if you can’t sing good, sing loud.”
For years, that answer puzzled me. I’m one of those very logical, facts-based people, and I couldn’t rationalize any correct syllogisms to explain the validity of this statement. It didn’t make any sense at all. Common knowledge told me that people who are not good at singing should not be belting out notes at the top of their lungs. That would not be doing the rest of us a favor at all. And I wasn’t about to give 110% to something that I wasn’t good at. I was too prideful, too cautious for that.
And so I mouthed the words under my breath and avoided social encounters and basically kept away from anything that was even remotely close to the outside limits of my comfort zone. I played it safe. Until one day, I was standing at my cousins’ church doing my usual quietly-singing-the-low-notes-and-faking-the-high-ones thing, when I heard this woman across the room just letting it all out. Singing so loudly that I could hear her voice over the entire choir, belting her heart out in praise to her Savior. Her face was radiant–she was completely happy and one hundred percent sincere. It was really something.
And then it hit me–why isn’t that me? Why am I so afraid of others’ opinions and judgments that I’m not willing to give something my all, even if I’m not necessarily gifted at it? So what if I can’t sing? Why should that stop me from joining in praise just as loudly as that woman across the room? In other words, I may not sing good, but why am I not singing loudly anyway?
Yep, I definitely had one of those moments that parents dream of, where their words of flash across their children’s minds in some kind of life-altering experience. If my life was a movie, there would have been a slow-motion flashback montage thing going on right then. Sadly though, my life is not a John Hughes production, and it was a relatively small moment in the big scheme of my childhood experience. However, I did learn something very important that day.
I learned that I don’t have to always be good at everything I do. I learned that it’s okay to sing off-key and make mistakes and be imperfect. But I also realized that being imperfect is never an excuse to not do your best. It’s not okay to be so afraid of others’ opinions that I forget to sing loudly in life. To chase my dreams and try new things and keep going even when I feel discouraged.
I’m probably never going to be a great singer. I’m never going to be great at a lot of things. But, you know what? I’m okay with that. I really am. And if you ever went to church with me now, I hope you’d see me singing with a big smile on my face. Because I serve a God that doesn’t mind my imperfections, but loves me in spite of them. I have all of eternity to sing like an angel. I intend to make the most of my limitations now, and always sing loudly, even if it ain’t too good.
P.S. If you have a minute, you should check out this amazing blog entry written by my reader Sarah after she read this post. It definitely brought tears to my eyes which is a BIG DEAL.
I’m on such a high coming off this weekend. My family had an amazing time at the 2012 HEAV (Home Educators of Virginia) Conference, working booths for both my books and my sister’s skirts. I had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people and was encouraged to talk with so many young writers. You may have seen the announcement on my Facebook page, but God definitely blessed my booth there and I ended up selling out of my book. Sixty people went home with a signed copy of Interrupted! Leaving me to the conclusion that I better bring a lot more next year….
Anyway, after the success of this weekend, I am just plum worn out. I struggled to stay awake during the sermon today (nothing against our pastor’s preaching—I was just that tired!), but after a short nap this afternoon, I’m feeling a bit more refreshed and rejuvenated. In fact, I laid in bed for a while this afternoon just thinking about how very blessed and thankful I am.
It’s been a little over a year since I started this blog, and less than three months since my book was released. And in that amount of time, I have gotten countless emails, letters, and messages from people all over the world filled with words of encouragement. It’s been amazing to see how God has used my story and my book to inspire young (and not-so-young!) people to chase their dreams and put their words to paper. Amazing, and absolutely terrifying.
It’s terrifying to think that there are nine-year-old children working their way through the pages of Interrupted, who may have never read a book dealing with such a serious subject matter before. It scares me to think that there are twelve, thirteen, and fourteen-year-old girls looking up to me as an example, both as a Christian role model and an author. It completely sobers me when I remember that there are thousands of parents out there who have let their children read my book, and trust me to instill in them godly truths through my writing. All of these facts constantly run through my head with every word I write, every conversation I hold, and every opportunity I have to share my story with an audience.
And yet, despite my fears and reservations, I have a greater hope. From day one, it has been my prayer that God would mark out my path and direct all my steps. From my own eyes, my future may seem scary and uncertain and nerve-wracking. But every time I step back and try to look at the big picture of my life, I can definitely see God moving. I can see Him bringing young people into my life that I can minister to, and that can serve as an inspiration to me. I know that He is constantly giving me opportunities to serve Him in bigger and more exciting ways. And I realize that every time I feel discouraged, He is faithful to continually reassure me through the kind words of others.
Having the chance to personally meet so many sweet, encouraging people this weekend has definitely reminded me of why I work so hard. Why I spend so many hours slaving over pitiful first drafts, formatting blog entries, answering emails, and putting together interviews. It’s because I love this. Every minute of hard, frustrating labor is completely dissolved in the humbling joy that I get out of meeting twelve-year-old boys, sixteen-year-old girls, and forty-something-year-old moms who are just as excited about what God is doing in my life as I am. I don’t have all the answers, and I haven’t done it all, but every kind and encouraging word that each of you has shared with me has done nothing but make me love what I do all over again.
Okay, okay, I’ll stop being mushy now. I really do wish I could write every single person who has taken the time to read my book or write me a short note or email and thank them, but for obvious economic reasons, I cannot. I will keep posting, though, and I hope that all of you had just as great of a weekend, and will have an even better week!