Thursday, December 30, 2010

Visual Spice:

I had a nice romp around the farm Tuesday with my camera; in two-and-a-half hours, I took three hundred photos… only forty-some amounted to anything worth keeping.   And I’ve discovered: 1- my dog is absurdly cute 2- I am kind of obsessed with trees 3- llamas dislike camera flashes.  Just to add some variety (and a break from novel-length posts) to my blog, here are some of my fave’s from the day:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Once Upon a Dream

A few days ago I watched a dorky-cute teen-girl movie, Ice Princess.  It’s about a girl who gives up a massive physics scholarship from Harvard to pursue ice skating.  Like all stories about pursuing dreams and passion, it got me thinking about my dreams, as I came into college and now as I leave college.  I had planned to attend Tech and study APSC ever since I first understood what college was, and as I entered college, riding was my passion.  I selected my top three schools by their riding programs—Virginia Tech, Sweet Briar, and Hollins.  This may seem a surprise to those who’ve watched my activities through college, for my visible passion is people.

To catch everyone up, here is a history of me and horses:  I ride Hunter, an English style originating with Foxhunting, so I do a good bit of jumping.  I own a horse, a Thoroughbred X Quarter Horse mare, 15.3ish, dark bay with dapples.  Her name is Angel (Queen of Hearts), and she’s 22 like me.  From about age 10 on, I was horse-obsessed.  I began riding at age 12 (roughly 5 years after most of my peers started).   I was good and very driven.  I loved competition.   I loved learning.  But most of all I loved the feeling of flying above the ground as the world and all its cares rolled away.  The summer between my college freshman and sophomore years, I actually trained to try out for the VT team—three months of exercise riding in return for private lessons and coaching.  But I never tried out; when I returned to school, riding came to a seemingly dead halt.  I stopped talking about it, I stopped doing it, and I even stopped thinking about it.  To this day I still don’t really know why… It was like I just gave up.  For no apparent reason I gave up horseback riding.  That spring I got a job cleaning horse stalls! Sometimes it was torture—I hadn’t ridden in months, but was surrounded by horses daily.  There were some days I would just sit in the barn crying, begging God for a way to ride.  I didn’t get to ride regularly again until the following January; I got into a riding class at Tech.  It was amazing and redemptive in many ways!  I rode for two semesters, but had to stop when I dropped APSC. 

The night that I decided to drop APSC, the decision actually came down to trusting God with horses.  It then had little to do with careers or parents or grades; the last decision was all about the pretty ponies and trust.  I was so afraid to let go of my hold on my passion again, afraid that it might not come back, afraid that it actually was over this time.  The night that I chose to drop, I also chose not to try out for the riding team ever, a tryout which both of the coaches encouraged, and I chose not to take lessons at Tech.   It was a rough night.  But God showed up and moved massively in my heart.

Now as my undergraduate career comes to a close, I face feelings much like those of my sophomore year.  Horseback riding seems on the verge of slipping away.  Riding is an expensive hobby, and it doesn’t travel well.  I find myself preparing to bury my dream again, but my dreams aren’t dead.  And I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to bury a dream, but they don’t stay in the ground—even dead dreams seem to float back up to the surface.   I know what I exchanged my dreams for—the pursuit of people and relationships and Jesus; I don’t regret it at all. 

I don’t mean for this post to be “Everyone, look what Amanda gave up!” or a pity-party for myself, but more to digest doors closing and seasons shifting.  I walk away from graduation without the things I had planned on—the degrees, the ponies, the relationships—but I possess the things I needed—the truths, the family, the redemption.  I walk forward, yet again, to surrender and trust—to trust that my dreams are not dead, but are safely surrendered.  “It’s just in His hands to come back the way He wanted it, and this time without all the stress and struggle.”  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dance Dance Revelation

I love to dance.  I really love to dance; it ranks third only to Jesus-ness and horseback riding.  I didn’t realize this until my sophomore year of college when a friend introduced me to Contra and Swing.  I quickly fell in love with dancing… spinning till I can’t see straight, everything melting away and drifting off with the music, laughing with every step whether wrong or right.   I have learned that my heart becomes surprisingly vulnerable while dancing.   Dancing vulnerable? Yep.  I can remember talking with a friend of mine about it… I just couldn’t understand why whenever I danced, all of my walls came tumbling down.  As I learned to dance more, it began to make sense.   I learned how to follow my partner’s lead, and following requires trust.  Apparently, vulnerability and trust go hand-in-hand.  

Admittedly, my technical skill with dancing is not always the most advanced, though it is improving exponentially.   Generally I can keep up quite nicely, but my lack of training has caused me to rely heavily on following.  Following did not always come naturally.  I can remember dancing with a friend, and he stopped mid song, looked at me and said, “Either I can lead or you can.  Take your pick, but we can’t both.”  I decided it would be best if he led, since I didn’t actually know the dance… a wise decision.  Gradually I learned to follow; however, problems still arise from time to time.  Now the problems are limited to distrusting my partner’s ability and integrity or to thinking instead of feeling.  

Distrust arises in two situations: either I distrust his dancing skill, or I distrust him as a person—I distrust his ability to know how to take care of me, or I distrust that his character is one that he will take care of me.   This distrust manifests two ways.  One is me trying to take the lead.  The other is a reluctance to go where my partner leads.   Neither is pretty; neither is fun.   Walls and invulnerability.  

Over thinking the steps is easier for me to overcome, as it depends exclusively on me.  This tends to happen in dances where I have time to think.   The waltz is where it’s appeared most.  I love to waltz, but unless I turn my thinker off, the waltz does not love me.   I struggled with the waltz for a while; I understood the basic steps and the rhythm, but I would over-think and try to anticipate what came next.   In Take the Lead, a cute dancing movie, there is a scene where this girl learns follow by waltzing blindfolded.   Though I didn’t try a blindfolded, I found a way to apply the concept—occasionally choosing to close my eyes.  When my eyes are closed, the only option is to feel the music and my partner’s leading.  

All this to say:  dancing reveals my struggles with trusting people and God.  I don’t always trust Him to be able to take care of every part of my life.  Nor do I trust Him to always lead me to good.  And more often than it should, over-analyzing gets in the way of fluid movement.  When I trust my partner dancing feels great, and knowing every step doesn’t matter!    When I trust my God living feels great, and knowing every step doesn’t matter!   

Monday, October 11, 2010

And the greatest is love.

While journaling I felt God whispering..

What is my destiny? To love. Love out of who I am in you, out of who I made you to be.

Where should I love? Love where you see me loving and where you hear me calling.  Speak the words that I give you and touch the hearts of men. "'Is not My word like fire?' declares the Lord, 'and like a hammer which shatters a rock?'" (Jer. 23:29).  "I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, 'You are My people.'" (Is. 51:16). 

What are you saying?  Love.  Love is always the answer.  It is the movement in every moment. It is what I am; it is what you are made of.  Love will free you to love and be loved, beloved. 

What does love feel like? It is undeniable and oft' indescribable.  Love is like a pearl.  "Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.  (Matt. 13:45-46).  You've spent your whole life thinking that I was the pearl; but,  you are the pearl, and I have given all I have to buy you.  "You were sold for nothing, and you will be redeemed without money." (Isaiah 32:3.)  You get much more than a pearl.  

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away."  (I Cor. 13:1-8).

Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Appointment or an Appointment?

I was chatting with a friend of mine today about my plans for post-graduation and intern.  I don’t really have any...  oops!  She suggested Zambia; I’ve seriously considered moving to Zambia.  I didn’t actually want to come back.  As we boarded the bus to leave Mongu, I asked God if I really had to leave.  He said yes… So I’m here.  

When I was in Zambia, God poured immense amounts of grace and favor upon me—grace being divine assistance to reach a level which I could not attain in and of myself.  I believe there is grace to be completely in God’s will at every moment in my life.  The Zambia trip was clearly a God appointment for me; the grace was there.  But how does one know the difference between grace for a moment and grace for a lifetime?  What is the difference between an appointment (part of the schedule) and an appointment (placing/position)?  I felt as if pieces of my life’s puzzle were falling into place in front of me, like a promise of what will be.  The interpreters started calling me Mother Theresa; I felt God whisper not to limit myself to that.  When I returned, I wanted to move.  But now after the encouraging voices fade and the whirlwind adventure settles, what, other than questions, remains?   Undoubtedly I am changed, but am I commissioned?  

"Where I Belong," Cory Asbury 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

[Insert Zambia Story Here]

This past spring, from mid-May to early June, I spent three weeks in Africa—two weeks in Zambia and one in South Africa.  The first week in Zambia we spent backpacking in the bush, in a village called Zalulao.  No electricity, no running water, no toilets, beautiful people; it was amazing!  

Afternoon’s in Nalulao generally consisted of naps, soccer, or playing an odd assortment of games (catch, duck-duck-goose, volleyball).  One particular afternoon, I was playing “Throw the Ball to the Makuwa” with about 30 girls between the ages of three and twenty-three.  The girls had already exhausted one makuwa (white person) and were doing a fine job of tiring me out.  Suddenly they all stop, move in towards me, and start talking to me.  (I only know three words in Lozi: “encha,” a positive affirmation serving as a greeting; “makuwa,” white person, and “wena,” you, when speaking to a child or peer.)  They know limited amounts of English from school.  I catch a few words: water, game, photo, and washing.  Every time they say washing they make splashing motions and giggle; I choose to ignore that one.  I agree to nothing yet.  The girls eventually called Soko our translator over.  His listens for a moment and then explains.  “They want to play the game down by the water and have Jess take pictures.”  That’s not a big deal… sure!  I agree.  

The girls erupt with squeals of delight as we go running to the lake.  There I am in a long flowing skirt, walking through waist-high grass, with squealing Zambian children running around me—it was perfect!  We get to the water’s edge; but, oh… they aren’t stopping.  Maybe we are dipping our feet in?  I lean over and daintily unvelcro my Teva sandals.  As I look up, I see the bank is littered with clothing, and all the girls are piling into the water butt-naked.  I have never seen that much nakedness in my life.  I was a bit shocked at first, but I agreed to play, and to turn back now would be an insult.  However, moving forward meant going in fully clothed—we were given strict instructions to under no circumstances be seen without a skirt on, else we would risk being perceived as prostitutes.  I couldn’t pass up the chance, so in I went.  We had a grand time; though, they couldn’t understand why I wore my clothes in.  I became the talk of the town—the women made fun of me for days…  It was totally worth it.  

Monday, October 4, 2010

"The Scarred Casing Fails You"

I’ve been working on a certain painting for almost eight months now, which seems an absurd amount of time, and it's still not done.  (But seeing as life happens so frequently, my painting often does not.)   It all started with a dream.  In the dream I am standing before a group of people holding two paintings.  The first painting I had already done, but the second was completely new to me.  I starred at it.  It was off-white with a ridged plaster border.  I could see hints of blue and faded writing around the edges, but in the center there was nothing.  I knew that the paintings were a pair, a series, before-and-after. 

The first painting was a prayer for healing, painted nearly three years ago.  The painting is of an anatomical heart; the heart done with gesso (plaster) is rough to the touch, almost sharp.  It’s surrounded by a cloud of black, but is being penetrated by white, purple, blue, and gold—purity, identity, revelation/peace/healing, and truth.   I wrote a song onto the painting, Broken Heart by Falling Up.  It sums it up well.

A few days after the dream, I was curled up on my living room floor (inside the fort) journaling… God what is in the center of the painting?  I got this mental picture of a pair of wings surrounding a smooth, whole heart—guarding and protecting it.  “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.”  (Psalm 91:4, NASB).

I wrote: “Beneath the scar tissue… You shelter me.  There is a place in the depths of my heart that sin and death could not touch.  You surround me with Your wings, and beneath them I am whole.  You took my lashings and my pain; You protected me before my life began.  I shed the dead skin.  May the scales fall away.  My calluses now fall away, like a plaster casing shattered.  Ashes to ashes; the evidence of death is mere dust, dust blown by the wind, dust from which You create again.  With even the dusts of death do You create life.  You have every victory.”

The first painting depicts every wound I’ve ever received, whether self-inflicted or from others.  But the second painting shows that the walls are just a casing around who I really am and that who I am is safe.  I began to realize that I was guilty of self-protection; I used my emotional scars as walls.  I do not need to protect myself.  Though pain and suffering is inevitable, I do not have to be bound in it.  Forgiveness is freedom.   The scarred casing fails; Love never fails.  The plaster hides my beauty and restricts my movement.  Feeling is not to be feared when redemption is real.   

[Painting #1]                                                                 [Painting #2]

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Spectacular Dependency

Yesterday I bought my first pair of eyeglasses.  I’m farsighted; I can see without glasses, but doing some of the things I love most has become uncomfortable.  Wearing glasses is something that I have very mixed feelings about.  It’s not that I don’t like the way they look—I think they’re cute, a new accessory for my wardrobe—the dilemma lies in dependency.  I have now been told that I need to attach myself to something other than myself in order to thrive.  Interesting…

(I’m pretty convinced that September and October are the months for provoking my issues with dependency.)  This time last year, I fell off of a horse and badly sprained my ankle.  I had a friend, a trained paramedic, look at it.  His orders:  ice, elevation, and absolutely NO WALKING.  I was at Intern class that night when the instructions were given, and since I had no crutches he carried me everywhere I needed to go—down the stairs, to a seat, to the car, etc.  Compliance was fairly easy that night, but in the days following it was not.  

There was one morning in particular that I got in trouble—I had been walking on my own at class.   He approached with a grizzly bear look on his face and said nothing.  I cheerfully asked him how he was.  He responded:  “Fine, but you’re not going to be if you keep walking on that ankle,” and then he left.  I fumed.   “How the heck does he expect me to not walk and still get around?  What, am I supposed to have someone move in with me to carry me to the bathroom when I have to pee???  It’s not realistic!  I’m not trying to be stupid.  ARGGHHUhhh!”  I got crutches a few days later.  Independence is mine!!  Yeah, no; independence is painful… It was much easier to let him bear my weight, but in getting crutches I no longer needed him and chose to do everything out of my own strength.  Sound familiar?

Dependence scares me.  Independence is that for which I have been trained.   Pride: to be self-dependent, not reliant on God or others.  “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6).  Correction: pride scares me more.  Grace is God accomplishing that in, with, through, and for me which I could never achieve on my own.  Why do I fight grace?  

Cease striving and know that I am God.”   (Psalm 46:10).