Sinking In: Thoughts on Turning 24

It was only fitting to celebrate my birthday in Bloomington, Indiana. To me, celebrating birthdays is an opportunity to recognize the thousands of small moments that took place throughout the year and to reflect on the goodness of God over the course of a person’s life. As I drove the sixty miles south on Saturday with the sun was high in the afternoon sky, I was overcome with thankfulness of God’s faithfulness. There is not a single second in the past twenty-four years of my life that God has not been faithful. He has ordained every breath I breathe; I am not and never have been hidden from His sight. The truth of those words started to sink in when I was eighteen and a student at IU. Six years later, the words have sunk a little bit deeper, but I long to live as one who believes God for great and mighty things. In making the drive down 37, I was able to return to where the most significant part of my story started and celebrate everything that God has continued to do since then.

The past year has been one of incredible highs, some low lows, but truly the theme as been “sinking in.” Like trying to get comfortable in your bed at the end of the night, sometimes you’re a little restless before finding the right combination of sleep position, pillow fluffiness and temperature; this year I’ve worked through restlessness, fighting to find combinations that work. Combining alone time and spending time with friends, eating well and working out appropriately, time in Indianapolis and time other places, paying off student loans and saving for the future, working towards a worthy cause at work and rest, reading for fun and reading to learn, writing as a life-giving practice and fighting against guilt for not doing it enough, and maintaining old friendships and cultivating new ones. When the combinations are not quite right, I can feel exhausted, unfulfilled, or a mixture of both. I have not yet found the perfect combination, if it exists, but I’m sinking into the life I’m building in Indianapolis.

As I sink in, trying to find the right combination and get comfortable, I am reminded that things are not as they should be. There is a gap between how I want things to be and how they are. I work in international adoption, so I deal with this reality on a daily basis. But daily, I hear God telling me to continue to sink in, to lean into the tension that is being created. Stop fighting the tension and accept it. I have to let it mold me and change me because the gap will always be there. There will always be miscarriages, failed marriages, kids born with special needs, and lives taken from us far too soon. The gap is there for a reason – to draw my eyes upward and forward, towards a time and place where it will all be made right.

In the midst of the tension, I attempt to sink in; I try different combinations, learning more about myself every step of the way.

Finding the Right Rhythm

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I sprinted my way through the fall. When I stopped or slowed down, I looked like a basketball player trying to catch his breath in between suicides, sweat dripping off the brow. Instead of long slow inhales, I panted. Just when my breathing was semi-regular, I started my next set of suicides. My treadmill workouts mirrored my life. Short, quick runs followed by strength building with weights. Each time I stepped on the treadmill, I tried to beat my time from my previous workout. I wanted to get faster and I wanted to maximize my workout in the short time I allowed myself. My fitness tends to be the metaphor for my life.

Honestly, I do okay in sprint mode, never fully recovering from the last set – the last week or the last month. In fact, sprint mode is my default; I’ll blame it on a deep desire to prove my worthiness, which I’m trying to work through. It takes energy for me to slow down and take deep breaths, truly allowing my lungs to taste the fresh air. I like a jam packed schedule, and eating meals in my car does not really bother me, until I am exhausted, and then, I stand with my hands on my knees, bent over, trying to catch my breath.

I set foot on the treadmill this week, starting to train for a half-marathon in April, and instead of letting my body run as fast as it could for two miles, I pushed the speed button down and tried to find a different pace. The long run this past week may have only been 4 miles, but by April, I’ll be running 10+ miles on any given Saturday. Long runs demand a different pace, a slower rhythm.

This will be my second half-marathon and I learned last spring how important it is to train as a sustainable pace. You just can’t sprint 10 miles. Like anywhere worth going, or anything worth achieving, running long distances takes time. As I set foot on the treadmill last week and begun training, I resisted the urge to keep upping the speed. I took deep breaths as my feet pounded the treadmill belt and I let my mind wander, reminding myself that getting done faster wasn’t the goal, finding a good pace was. “Run longer, not faster,” is becoming my motto, both on the treadmill and in other areas of my life.

With holiday season over, I’m settling back into a more manageable schedule, but still trying to find the right rhythm, one that allows air to reach my lungs. I’m becoming more comfortable with a quiet night at my apartment to cook a meal, read a book and write. I’m finding myself curled up in bed with a mug full of tea at 8 pm, allowing my spirit to rest. Ten years from now, I want to look back on my life and be able say that I walked faithfully until the end, instead of burning out early because started out sprinting. My pace must be sustainable in order to produce faithfulness for the long-term over speed in the short-term.

May this be a season defined by rhythm and space to breathe. May my pace be sustainable in order to walk faithfully with the Lord for a lifetime.

 

Ready or Not, Christmas is Here

Christmas came quickly this year. As it does every year. The week before Christmas, as I’m receiving Christmas cards from friends, gifts from co-workers and scrambling to finish wrapping my family’s gifts, I promise myself that I’ll be more prepared next year. The next year comes and there are cards left unwritten, some written without postage, and others missing addresses. I sit back in the days leading up to Christmas and sigh, saying, “I had the best of intentions.” But intentions alone do not get things done.

It’s almost as in a game of hide and seek, Christmas counts very quickly and then yells, “Ready or not, here I come.” I’m the hider and I’m not quite in my hiding place yet. And so I scramble.

But what does ready really look like this time of year? Perfectly wrapped presents, shiny ornaments, pretty outfits, thought-out meals, cards in the mail. Even with all of these outward things done, or once we’ve resigned ourselves to them remaining “good enough”, can’t we feel unprepared? I know I do.

I’m not ready for Christmas yet. There’s a restlessness in my heart that remains unsettled. I haven’t been faithful enough in my Advent bible study. There’s some habitual sin that keeps rearing its ugly head. There are ways to serve others and yet, I haven’t found the motivation. My heart and soul are as unprepared for the season as the outward manifestations of the holidays. In my game of hide and seek, once I’ve found my perfect hiding spot, I am not ready to be found.

And yet that is the story of Christmas. Christ comes. “The word became flesh and made its dwelling among us.” He came to dwell in the chaos, conflict and cacophony; with us. He comes into the mess of our best intentions. He comes into our unprepared hearts. He comes, whether we’re ready or not. He invites us to receive the best gift there is – Himself. He comes down from heaven, in the form of a baby who will die for our sins, and He is okay with our unpreparedness. He does not judge our messy, imperfect homes, He knows our broken hearts, and yet He comes.

I’m thankful that he comes. He comes into the chaos of my life and ushers in a better way – His way. He is okay with my unpreparedness, both externally and internally. He is getting me there. He meets me, in my hiding spot as I am with open hands and an open heart. He comes and I am found.

So tomorrow I am thankful to celebrate a Savior who came to meet me and comes to meet me every day in the middle of unfinished and imperfect circumstances. And I look forward to His and my final meeting, when chaos will exist no more and all will be made right again.

Fear

I’ve been responsible for merchandising Crewcuts at my J.Crew store officially since August, but unofficially for a little longer than that. At least once a month, I sit down with our concept book, which corporate mails to us, I review which product we are due to receive during the week and I come up with a plan. This plan is based on the concept book, but I adjust it to work for our specific store based on what clothes we have in store, what we will be receiving and how our store is set up. I’m starting to get the hang of it. I like how the organization leaves space for creativity. And yet, once the plan is made and I have to start moving things around, I stand in the middle of my Crewcuts room at the back of the store, start feeling very overwhelmed and I want to quit. In a dramatic fashion complete with a temper tantrum.

The task at hand suddenly seems impossible and not worth dealing with.

I spend about five minutes huffing and puffing, unsure where to begin, and even if I want to. Without even beginning, it’s like the clothes win.

Somewhere along the way, at the beginning of a large task, I’ve adopted the mindset that it’s easier to quit before I even start. I sabotage my own success by convincing myself that I’m not capable. There’s a small voice in my head saying, “Caitlin, you’ll never be great at this, so why even try? Just walk away.”

Unfortunately, this voice is not just in my head oncea month during rollout week at J.Crew. This voice, which I’ve identified as fear, rears its ugly head almost daily. It’s there when I follow-up with prospective adoptive families, it’s there when I write our monthly newsletter, it’s there when ask a co-worker a spiritual question, it’s there when I want to reach out to a friend who I haven’t talked with in a while, it’s there when I step on the treadmill, and when I sit down to write a blog. I can’t seem to fully escape the voice in my head encouraging me to stay on familiar, well-worn paths instead of taking a step into the uncomfortable. This voice justifies the decision to stay good, instead of reaching for great. Fear fights to maintain the mundane and mediocre.

Thankfully, I am able to take the first step in merchandising and move one item of clothing. Once it is moved, there is no going back, and ten minutes later three or four things are in their new locations and my confidence is back. I start to realize the vision and my heart gets excited. I send the email and receive a response; I start the formatting on the monthly newsletter and hit save. If I’m feeling particularly brave, I text a friend I haven’t spoken with in a while, step on the treadmill, or shut my door, sit down at my desk and let my fingers move across the keyboard. And I find my rhythm.

Suddenly, being great doesn’t matter near as much as trying to be better. Fear is powerful, it can paralyze me, but it does not have to. There’s a split second decision that I can make to either let fear win or try. It is always going to be easier to quit at the beginning, and since I have a flair for the dramatic, the tempter tantrum may be fun, but then fear wins. The stakes are too high to quit without trying.

When fear says, “Why does it matter? Why even try?” It suddenly isn’t about the task anymore. Whatever the task at hand, it matters because I matter; my voice and my experiences matter. If I let fear win, even it it’s clothes, fear begins to move into the bigger things. The high stakes things. Fear has the ability to restrain me; to hold me back from the things I’ve dreamed my whole life of doing, the things God has hardwired me to do. If I’m not careful, I will end my life with a long list of good intentions and tasks I was too scared to try.

When I step out in confidence and faith in the small, seemingly unimportant tasks, I’m practicing for when the task is writing a book, telling a story, teaching about Christ or casting vision for serving orphans. If I learn to let fear win, it will gain momentum, hold me back and I may never experience the fullness that God has called me to. I don’t doubt the power of fear. I also don’t doubt the power of faith.

When fear yells at me, questioning my capabilities, preparedness or importance, I whisper back my belief in God, and therefore belief in myself. Belief in a God who has called me to take baby-steps even when they are uncomfortable. Those baby-steps are paving the way for big steps, but if I’m not careful, fear will win, and I’ll never know the greatness of the life that God has in store for me.

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Grace Says, “Stop Competing.”

Growing up with a sister close in age to me, I always had some one to compete with. Even though we had different teachers, we had similar strengths and played the same sports. There was no getting away from sibling rivalry in our home. It always felt as though we were competing with and being compared to one another.

To this day, I still immediate engage in competition, small things and big things alike. If there’s a chance to win, it’s game on. The Gatorade commercial where Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan are taunting each other singing, “Anything you can do, I can do better; anything you can do I’m better than you,” can sometimes be the soundtrack to my life. The automatic ON switch in my brain has become detrimental to me. My mind creates competitions in things that should never involve comparison.

The desire to compete comes from a place deep in my heart that longs to believe that she is enough. Good enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, holy enough. It’s as if winning, even at trivial matters, is an indication that I am enough. It’s a cry deep within my soul to be known, fed by insecurities of inadequacy and insufficiency. These insecurities drive me to compete with other people, keeping track of their failures and shortcomings, somehow believing that if I can be better than them, then I can prove myself as enough. My own insecurities and sin tendencies paint a picture in my head of me standing before Jesus and saying, “But at least I was better than her.” The constant competition operates out of a desire to prove something, perhaps even hoping to prove myself.

But scripture tells me that my worst fears are confirmed. On my own I cannot win. Instead, I am worthy because of Jesus’ life and sacrifice, because of His grace. It’s not about my own abilities or my being better than someone else, but the sufficiency of Christ. On my own, I’ll never win, I am the worst of sinners, but in Christ I am victorious. Because of Christ, I am enough. In Christ, I can stop competing; it has already been achieved in full. I cannot add to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Because of grace, I can stop competing because there was never a competition to begin with.

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Monday Lovin’

My 13 year old brother made a public declaration that Jesus is the Lord of his life this weekend. Watching Jake get baptized was one of the sweetest moments of my entire life.

I spent three summers at my parents house in Cincinnati while I was in college. Since Jake is 10 years younger than me, he was a constant companion during those summers. I would take him on errands with me, take him to lunch and try to convince him to spend time with me, making up for the lost time when I was away at school. I used these summers to tell him all about Jesus. I practiced the sharing the Gospel with him and often asked him spiritual questions that were way over his preteen head. But somewhere a long the line, seeds were planted by me and countless others,  God watered those seeds and now roots are taking form. Praise God!

He is learning at thirteen what I started to learn as an eighteen year old – following Jesus is worth it. There’s nothing else worthy of giving my life to apart from Christ. Jake has a long road ahead of him, part of me feels relived that I did not walk with Jesus in high school – high school is hard enough, but on the other hand, how comforting would it have been to know that I was enough for God as I walked through hard years of friendships and grades. Whatever age we come to be saved at, it takes a heart level change to realize that compared to following after Jesus, everything else is a loss. Jesus is worth it.

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“Baptism doesn’t save you, it’s what saved people do.” -James MacDonald

Monday Lovin’

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About six weeks ago, after a weekend of confessing that I was not experiencing much joy and living life on autopilot, I sat down and made a list of things that were life-giving for me. The list consisted of reading, writing, running, cooking, listening, encouraging and crafting. This list is in the first few pages of my journal. When I’m starting to be drained, I look back on the list and remember where to start feeling like myself again. These activities help guard against the numbness that I have confessed comes too easily and is too comfortable to me in this two job working, trying to balance everything season of life.

 

This weekend, I was able to do a little bit of everything.

 

I made a dinner with a beautiful friend and we shared what was going on in our lives and our hearts. I’ve been friends with her for five years and the conversations we shared on Friday may have been some of the best we’ve ever had. I’m thankful fro friends who go deep, talk about insecurities and don’t judge you when you talk about yours.

 

A run before dinner on Friday and a run around the Indianapolis canal on Saturday morning with a friend were the perfect ways to enjoy the fall weather that has descended upon Indianapolis. Despite the havoc that fall causes my allergies, I try to squeeze in some time outside in the mild temperatures.

 

My roommate gets married so soon, and Saturday we were able to celebrate her upcoming nuptials with one of my most beautiful showers I’ve ever been to. Her aunts, mom and sister created the perfect atmosphere to honor her full of delicious food.

 

Saturday while spending time with a great friend, we could not seem to stop talking about grace. Oh how thankful we are for God’s grace and the ways it is never-ending. I am thankful that He uses me to demonstrate just how much grace He gives. It’s been a hard summer, wrestling with sin, exhaustion and calling, but His grace has sustained me.

 

Sunday morning I woke up early to decorate the windows at work. It’s a tedious task, but when it’s all done, it looks good. It’s also a rare opportunity to really get to talk with my co-workers. I left the mall with some new burns on my fingers from the hot glue gun, but some fun memories of all of us working together to create.

 

This Monday, I’m lovin’ running, reading, writing, cooking, spending time with sweet friends and grace. I am praying that I can find small snippets of time this week to spend time doing these activities.

 

PS- I’m also lovin’ this new blog and spent hours over the weekend moving all my old blogs over. More to come about that experience!

Fear

August has been a whirlwind of a month. It started lakeside with some of my most favorite friends. We spent Saturday night catching each other up on our lives. The real stuff, the nitty gritty, not the Facebook/Instagram versions of who we are. We got real. We shared some dreams and some frustrations. I told my best friend that I wanted it to be Lake Weekend every weekend; she kindly reminded me that it wouldn’t be real life, and that we all have a threshold for vulnerability. That weekend really set the tone for the past couple weeks. I felt like I left the weekend with more questions than I arrived with, even though my heart was incredibly full.

No one told me how difficult grown up life was going to be. It’s hard, gut wrenching work to wrestle with your life’s calling, to discern the difference between good and right and to live in the present, taking into account when bills are due. Add in actually living life and it’s enough to make me want to throw in the towel on adulthood. Note: I’ve tried throwing in the towel, but everyone keeps telling me that it’s impossible. I’m learning about some of my big-time insecurities that I’ve spent the last 7 years trying to ignore. Scary fears that have been causing me to walk with a limp and not even realize it.

Last week, while reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly (shameless plug), I asked myself the questions: What are you afraid of? What are those fears preventing you from doing? I think the first question is fairly easy to answer, but it’s that second one that pierced my already fragile, tender heart. It’s a good thing to put a face on our fears. Our teachers and parents have been telling us to do that since we were in elementary school. But, putting a face on a fear doesn’t mean it is not still crippling. It was asking that question when I realized just how much I’ve let fear rule my life. I’ve let fear dictate the path and set the pace. Have you ever tried to run at someone else’s pace? It’s hard, even if it’s slower than you normally run; it’s uncomfortable and sometimes more tiring. Fear’s been doing that to me for as long as I can remember.

I keep asking myself where do I go from here? This weird, uncertain, really raw place where I sometimes cry in my car. Who do I become once I’ve stripped away fears that I’ve let define me for the majority of adult life? Who am I, really? And, can I sort all this stuff out by Monday morning since it’s the start of a 60-hour work week?

I wish there was a ten-step plan to work through on my own timeline, which would obviously be the next week, not the next few years. I also wish it were easier, or just less painful. But there’s not ten-step plan and there’s no quick fix, although I try to prove that shopping solves some of the problems.

I think the first step choose to be brave. Brave has to mean different things in different contexts. Brave for the Apostle Paul was returning to Jerusalem knowing that persecution awaited him, but that he could not be disobedient. He was brave because he obeyed and he showed up in an uncomfortable situation.

I’m not marching into persecution and three years in prison, at least that I know of, but I still think brave right now for me means to keep showing up. Showing up for my friends. Showing up for my jobs. Showing up for myself. Being present in this moment knowing that this moment is enough. Knowing that I’m enough. Learning to run at my own pace. Just let me figure out what my pace is first.

 

Obedience

I’ve been hanging out in the Early Church with the Apostles this month. No, but really. I have not learned time travel, but in spending time the book of Acts I’m learning about these brave, bold men and women who were followers of The Way before Christianity was officially Christianity. Each person fits into the story in a special way, as if the story depends on him or her to play his or her role. And the dependence on the Holy Spirit is undeniable; I want to live more like the Early Church, open to the true power of the Risen Christ in my life, Him living in me and through me.

I usually camp out in the Pauline Epistles with Paul. I love me some Paul. Freedom, grace, love – these are a few of my favorite things. But right now, I’m captivated by Ananias. It’s Ananias who speaks to Saul, after Saul has encountered Christ, and Ananias says, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17). This, seemingly small moment, is a bold act of obedience for Ananias; no one really knew if Saul could be trusted, or if the Holy Spirit was going to soften Saul’s heart. Saul could have ordered Ananias to be put to death, or even acted indifferent towards the words Ananias spoke. And yet, this act of obedience for Ananias changes history.

We don’t know much else about Ananias, but we do have lots of additional information about Saul, our friend Paul who, led by the Holy Spirit, authored about half of the New Testament. I’m blown away by Ananias though. His obedience means so much in light of we get to know on this side of history. Yes, in the vision, Ananias is told that Paul is going to be God’s “chosen instrument”, so he has some idea of what could happen, but God tells and Ananias obeys.

God uses this ordinary act of obedience to produce extraordinary results.

Not all acts of obedience are made equal. Sometimes it takes years or generations to see the fruit. Sometimes something that seems big doesn’t take a lot of thought or second-guessing. Sometimes obeying is the last thing we want to do. But we obey. After reading and thinking on Ananias’ radical obedience and the boldness of the Early Church, I want to obey better, in the small stuff and the big stuff. I want to live knowing that has created a special role for me in the building of His Kingdom, but I need to say yes, to be able to step into it. It may be a baby step, a seemingly unimportant conversation, or huge leap of faith, but as Ananias demonstrates, obedience leads to something extraordinary.

A Month

I’ve had A MONTH. A month with no breathing room. A month where I feel like I gave way more than I got. A month full of uncertainty, no rights and no wrongs. A month of a lot of moving, but not much progress. A month that has thrown me back on my butt.

The scary thing is how well I can do these months. Months without time to process, without time to cook a real meal and months without time to even watch Netflix. I can power through just about anything. Eventually I go numb. A couple of weeks ago, I canceled my evening plans to give myself a night to breathe. I spent good time processing on the treadmill and realized just how much bondage I am in… to being busy. Seriously, it’s like a new addiction. Thus the numbness.

When I choose busyness over a slower pace and space, I miss out on so much. I am so preoccupied with what comes next that I forget to stop and say a prayer of thanks for what is. I miss out on the opportunity to see the people around me for who they are, and not just how they fit into my schedule. The most dangerous thing that happens is that I start to define myself based on what I’m doing and not who I am. Why is this one the most dangerous? Because if I’m measured based on what I do, I fail every time. Defining myself based on doing and not being puts me on the throne. It forces me in performance mode. It changes how I view God.

I want to be concerned about being so that the doing flows naturally. In a society obsessed with what you do for a living and what you’ve achieved, I want to be defined solely by who I am and what I stand for. I want my 5 year goals to be about characteristics I want God to develop in me, not things to check off the list. I want to get lost in the truth that God says I’m enough, and not exhaust myself trying to prove to the world that I am.

It’s time to slow down. To exhale. To rest. To remember that I have enough and that I am enough.