2015

It’s fun to write. Sometimes it feels like a to-do list you can’t lose. As I sit down and start thinking through what 2016 could look like, I need to first look back at what 2015 was like. I gave myself the following goals back in January: I want to commit to writing at least twice a week, I want to go to India, I want to pay off my debt, I want to explore what it could look like to do some freelance writing, I want to run another half-marathon, I want to gain better control of my finances, and I want to buy fewer clothes. 

So how did I do?

I wrote at least twice a week for the first 5 months of the year. I went to India. I paid off my debt. I ran another half-marathon. I may have bought fewer clothes, it’s hard to tell. 

Out of seven goals, I accomplished three and a half of them. That’s 50%. If it was an uncurved test, I would have failed, but if that was my batting average or my three-point shooting percentage, I’d count it as a great success. I’m an optimist, who is not all that goal oriented, so by my personal standards, we’ll call it good.

These goals do not tell the full picture of my year. My year was full of experiences that make better memories than any achieved or unmet goals. 

This year I had an awesome girls weekend in Houston with two of my sorority sisters turned life-long friends. 

I watched my sister graduate Magna Cum Laude from college. 

I lasted eight weeks with less than 50 items in my closet. 

I flew to Las Vegas for the third time in 18 months to celebrate a best friend’s 25th birthday.

I watched the 4th of July fireworks with the Chicago skyline in the background while on a speed boat in Lake Michigan. 

I vacationed with ten of my closest friends to Florida coast where we focused on our tans and our relationships with one another. It will go down as my favorite week of the year. 

I visited Lake Papakeechie for the second year in a row with some of the best college friends I could ask for.

I watched my dad undergo open heart surgery and spent a week at home with him and my brother during his recovery. I learned what humility looks like that week. 

I paid off my student loans and then quit my beloved job at J.Crew. I am still adjusting to life without a retail discount. 

I moved from my sweet little apartment where I started to build my adult life into The Bungalow full of character and new friends.

I spent two week in India sharing the Gospel with people who have never heard of a God who loves His people with grace. I will remember my time in India as one of the richest experiences of my life. 

I celebrated Thanksgiving with extended family and enjoyed a day wandering New York City with five of my favorite people. 

I experienced some professional success as we reflected as an organization on our year. 

I met an entirely new group of women at my church as we studied the book of 1 John and grew in our knowledge of who God is and what that means for us.

I have started settling into a new normal, learning what it looks like to have free time again, and praying about what God would ask of me in 2016. 

It would be easy to look at my goals and feel like a failure because of what I didn’t accomplish. But here’s what I continue to learn – God cares more about who I am becoming than what I am accomplishing. So as I look forward to a new start, a blank slate starting in two weeks, I want to focus on becoming. Becoming more brave and less afraid. Becoming more patient and more settled. Becoming more confident. Becoming more me.
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All is Grace

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The sunset on Wednesday took my breath away. Life is chaos, any day my heart is feeling a million different emotions, sometimes all at the same time. And yet, as I pulled into the Keystone Mall parking garage after driving one mile from my apartment to work, I gazed up at the sky and felt like God had painted it just for me. I cannot change the chaos of my life right now, so I drink in moments of grace, moments when the sky feels like it’s painted just for me. I rest in a God who creates beauty for His children to enjoy.

J.Crew’s December Style Guide came in the mail yesterday. I spent ten minutes of my shift going through it and getting excited. SO. MUCH. FUN. STUFF! Knowing that the next 6 weeks will call for some long days which lead to long weeks, I let myself bounce with excitement over some new clothes for the store, new layouts and new customers. At the end of a long week in the middle of December, I’ll be able to look back on my excitement and giggle. A moment of grace, enjoyment in the job I’m doing and the relationships I’m building in a season of lots of work.

Thursday night’s small group, studying Hebrews 3 and talking through if a person can loose their salvation, ended with girl time – prayer and accountability. As a new friend prayed over me, here was that word again – grace. Not knowing how God is using the word grace in my life right now, she prayed grace over me. Grace towards myself in a situation where my head and my heart aren’t quite in agreement.

Inhale grace, exhale grace. In all things grace. I serve a God who brings grace into chaos. The chaos that stems from navigating this thing called life could drown me, and yet grace saves me. I don’t have to figure it all out, I just have to take the next step, guided by God. Grace in the ordinary and mundane. Grace in sixty hour work weeks, grace in retail life, grace when it seems like I have nothing left to give, grace in exhaustion. Grace abounds. Grace never runs out.

October is over and will go down in history as one of my favorite months because of how God moved in my life to teach me about grace. I am desperate for more grace. Grace to guide, grace to strengthen and grace to fill. Even though the month is over, I’m still learning. All is grace.

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.

 

Thoughts on a Feeling-filled Day

This afternoon I made a wise decision to log off of social media and stop reading blogs for the remainder of the day. I have a terrible habit of letting things get to me. I can get so caught up in the words that other people are saying that I forget what’s true. I start running towards other people’s opinions and getting angry when others disagree with them. In today’s society, everyone has an opinion on everything. Or, if they’re like me, they have feelings about everything.

Everything I’ve read about World Vision has me paralyzed with feelings. Feelings of confusion, feelings of outrage, feelings of apathy; if it’s a negative feeling, in the past 12 hours I’ve felt it. And by the time I’ve sat down to write, the controversial decision has been reversed, but my feelings are still there. I want to blame someone for all of the chaos and hurt.

I keep coming back to one of the most significant conversations I’ve ever had. I sat across from a dear friend in the IMU Starbucks as she spoke truth into my life that I’ve never been able to let go of. We were talking about my life, my walk with Christ and the high standards I set for people. She looked me in the eyes and said, full of grace and truth, “Caitlin, you just don’t think you’re THAT bad.”

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to hear, but has been the most formative and challenging. Because I am THAT bad. Pre-Jesus, I was an enemy of God. Even if I had been the only person on the planet, Christ still would have had to come and die a brutal death on the cross from my sins. The Apostle Paul says it like this, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). I am the worst. I couldn’t not sin tomorrow even if I tried.

But God, being rich in mercy and abounding in love, refused to let sin be the end of my story. In Jesus, He gave me an escape route. I did nothing to earn it. Nothing. I am a broken sinner in desperate need of a savior, and God provided Jesus. Grace does not make sense.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on anything. I can’t make theological arguments or even quote the correct scripture most of the time, but what I do know is that on either side of the argument, the way we talk matters. Where we talk from matters. I want to talk from a place of humility, remembering what God has saved me from and saves me from each and every day. A god who humbled Himself and made Himself nothing. He washed the dirty feet of the disciples and died a criminal’s death.

So in the midst of the chaos and confusion of my own heart and mind, I’ll cling to what I know and let God guide the rest. I have a feeling that God is going to care a whole lot more about my heart than where I stand on issues. I am loved by a gracious, all knowing, all-powerful God. He is using all things for His good.

Gift Wrapping

Friday at MLJ, we had a gift exchange at our Christmas party. Everyone was invited to bring a gift and throughout the exchange, you could either pick an unopened gift or steal a gift from someone who had already picked. I was predictable and brought jewelry from J.Crew to give. When I purchased them, they came in a jewelry bag, a nice black box and then a small J.Crew bag. The J.Crew bag said J.Crew on it, obviously, but was nice enough to give as a gift bag. That was the plan. Until yesterday. We were talking around work about how if it was appropriate to not officially wrap our gift, but bring it in a nice gift bag that may give away where the gift was from. I was suddenly self-conscious about my nice J.Crew gift bag. Had I had extra time and didn’t work two jobs, I probably would have gone out and bought a different bag for my gift. I did not, and today everything went fine. No one commented on the packaging, they loved the bracelets. It’s silly to think I almost spent time, money and energy on packaging.

I’ve had three different conversations this week that have made me reflect on the way we wrap our testimonies – stories of what God is doing and has done in our lives – the same way that I felt the pressure to rewrap my gift exchange gift. I’ve had a version on this conversation three times this week. What is this fascination with making things look “good”? We want nice, neat before and after testimonies where the after is dramatically different from the before. I was addicted to porn, now I don’t even struggle, because of Jesus. I had an eating disorder, now I don’t struggle with control in any area of life, because of Jesus. I was never in a relationship where we weren’t having sex, now I don’t even struggle with purity, because of Jesus. If one of these is your story, I celebrate with you. God can deliver us out of those strongholds. It is a beautiful thing!

But what if you story is more like mine? Even once I found Jesus, I struggled to manufacture control of my life through eating. While I’ve seen victory, when things are tough, I’m still tempted to grasp for control in whatever way I can, sometimes wanting to go to unhealthy lengths with food or exercise. Is my story not a story of victory? Is God not at work in my life because I struggle? Do I need to re-wrap my story?

No. I see God to be so faithful in the struggle. It is in the struggle that I am reminded that dependency on God not self-sufficiency is the Christian life. I should be reminded everyday that the gift inside of the bag is the same –grace, freedom, life with Jesus – why should I re-wrap it? I want to embrace my brokenness because it brings me back to the cross. I want those who I do community with to feel safe to bring things into the light before they’re completely resolved. If I wanted to know everything that someone loves in their life, I don’t need to look further than their social media, but over coffee, the phone or a glass of wine, I want to know the real truth, without the pressure to re-wrap it.

Here’s to telling stories that aren’t quite complete yet. Here’s to celebrating the struggle because it makes us more like Christ. Here’s to living in freedom of not having to put our testimonies in better gift-wrapping.

Disappointments

Today, my younger brother, Jake received disappointing news. He’s 12, so the disappointing news was things not working out the way he thought they would with soccer tryouts. Tears were cried and he was disappointed. He came down the stairs after showering with a scowl on his face repeating over and over and over again, “I don’t want to talk about it.” My dad said, “I know you don’t want sympathy, but I also know Cate is the probably the best one to talk to right now.” The beautiful thing about this place I am right now is that I understand, maybe better than ever before, other people’s disappointments. Because I feel so raw, I also feel very ready to jump into other people’s sadness. I just kept saying to Jake, “We’re so proud of you. We’re so proud of who you are and what you stand for. We’re just so proud of you.” When you’re unsure how you feel, discouraged or even disappointed, hearing that the people that love you still love you no matter what, and more than that, are proud of you, is all you need to hear. I cried like a baby on graduation day when my mom looked in my eyes and told me she was proud of me, because I needed to hear the truth from someone close to me, since I was struggling to believe it for myself.

I have seen community come alive to me in the past couple of weeks. I was sharing with my sister just how cared for I feel by people. My parents’ friends have offered to send my resume to their employers, friends have introduced me to opportunities, co-workers at J.Crew have asked me how the job search is coming; I’m incredibly blessed. In different words, my community has rally around me and reminded me that they’re here for me, that they love me, and that it’s all going to be okay.

We live in such a broken world. And Jesus entered into it. He entered into the pain, suffering and uncertainty of our world. Because He loves us. I try to walk with Jesus and follow His example, sometimes entering into other people’s pain, suffering and uncertainty.  As Jake headed up to bed tonight, I said to him, “I wish I could tell you the feeling of hurt, rejection and inadequacy wouldn’t ever happen again, but it will.” I’m oh so encouraging, right? “But, remember who you are and just how loved you are, it will be okay.” It’s all we can say when others are hurting. It wouldn’t be okay because it will go away, which it will, but because of Jesus. He left heaven to enter into the crap we experience. His willingness and triumph remind us that we’re not alone, that we’re loved no matter what, and that if we are followers of Christ, we’re to remind each other of those two truths, even when the recipient is having difficulty believing the truth.

Life Lessons Learned on the Strugglebus

I work at J.Crew. If you’ve never worked in retail, you can’t really relate, but if you have, you know the feeling of spending quite some time organizing, folding and size ordering a table only to look at it thirty minutes later and have the table completely messed up. As I drove home from work on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but feel like this situation, which I’ve encountered numerous times the past couple days, was exactly what my life felt like. I worked to nicely order everything and over the course of a couple of weeks, everything fell into disorder. Unlike the tables of clothes, my life isn’t so easy to put back together and reorganize. But, I keep asking myself, “Would you change it? Would you go back?” Over the course of the week, I’ve watched my answer change from yes, to no. Hopefully that doesn’t sound insensitive, but I think its progress. I may be on the strugglebus, or even driving the strugglebus, but I’m learning things here that aren’t easy, but are important for me in walking with Jesus for a lifetime.

One of my high school English teachers would make us repeat the phrase, “Embrace the ambiguity.” In the midst of difficult chapters of literature, when we would get tempted to quit, she would stop us and have us say, “Embrace the ambiguity.” She said that the quicker we got uncomfortable not knowing everything, the more we would enjoy the text and then start to understand it just a little bit better. I like knowns and outcomes. Feelings are my favorite, but sometimes I just need concrete, which leads me to search for answers in places I’m never going to find them. This side of heaven there are things I’ll never know – why people keep bringing me back for final round interviews of jobs that I’m simply not qualified for, is one that I just don’t quite get. Why seemingly good things fall apart is another. The quicker I can abandon my entitlement to know and understand the why, the better off I will be. There are so many things I don’t understand right now, that I’m being forced to embrace the ambiguity that is my life.

I’ve never been good at faking anything. Especially faking being okay. My emotions always give me away. Usually this is really annoying, especially when I’m sad and can’t stop crying, or when I’m just feeling down and the thought of putting on a happy face seems impossible, even if it’s just for a couple hours of work. But, I’m learning that realness and even rawness invites others to be real and raw. I have nothing else to offer the world except me, and the evidence that my life provides to the transforming power of Jesus. The more real I am, the greater Jesus looks to others because they can see just how broken I am, and be encouraged about what it looks like to be loved in spite of that. Being raw encourages authenticity in others.

At this point, I don’t know what next week looks like; I could be starting a new job, or still be at J.Crew. The future is so uncertain that I have to live day by day. I like to plan, but right now, I’m being forced to live in the present. I wake up in the morning and ask Jesus what He has in store for the day. I can’t really worry about the future because I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen. So I can only really take things one day at a time, and trust that God has the rest under control. Plus, at risk of sounding cynical, this prevents me from getting my hopes up about what the future has to offer. I’m still healing from that one, and very thankful that I get to live here in the present not wishing the future would hurry up and get here already. Life on the strugglebus is teaching me the value of the present and how to make the most of it.

What are you learning in the season you’re in… even if you’re not on the strugglebus? Are you a willing learning, or dragging your feet like me?

The Visible & the Invisible

I had a hard day today. It was one of those days that I regretted putting on make-up, ate ice cream out of the carton at 11am and considered going back to bed instead of into work. I’m tired of hearing that I don’t have enough experience for jobs, or being asked what my long-term plan for my life is. I’m convinced that anyone who can tell me what they think their life will look like in 10 years should be kicked hard in the shins. It’s just not reality. Not for me, and not for most people – I’ve asked around. I sat in my car for a couple minutes after a quick trip into JoAnne’s Fabric and had a yelling match at God in my head. It went something like this, “Lord, I know you have purpose and the fact that I am where I am right now is somehow good for me, I just don’t see it. I’m done. I’m ready to just be done. I want to know why I’m here because I can’t see your purpose in it. You say wouldn’t waste experience and here I am doubting that I can even do ministry, I feel so completely disregarded. I don’t see it.” Uncertainty brings out the doubter in me, that’s for sure.

This evening I’ve been trying to work through some of this stuff. I know my circumstances aren’t going to change overnight, but I want my attitude to change, but for me I struggle to fake things, I can’t fake an attitude change, I need to change the belief, or figure out how do that. As I’ve been reading through the Gospel of Mark, I found myself judging the disciples just a little bit – feel free to judge me now, I deserve it. Jesus’ disciples watched Him feed 5,000 people and then the next time there were a large number of people to feed (4,000), they wanted to run for the hills thinking it was impossible. Reality is, without God both of those situations are impossible. The amount of food that they had in front of them could feed a family, not thousands of people, but it did. In between those two events, Jesus calms a storming ocean even as the waves are crashing up onto the ship that the disciples are in. Without God, the disciples and the ship would have been no more.

As I’ve thought and prayed through these events, I’m reminded just how much I have in common with the disciples. When things get rough, I fixate on the visible reality right in front of my eyes. My inexperience, my joblessness, my singleness, my lack of community, and the list goes on. Just as the disciples did. They fixed their eyes on the visible – multitudes of people to feed and the raging seas. I, just like the disciples, forget that there’s another part of the story. It’s invisible. That’s why it’s easy to forget. Even as I reflect back on my pity party in my car, one word came up numerous times – see. There is an invisible part of my reality – God’s goodness cannot always be seen to me. He has prepared me to whatever comes next; He is teaching me about His character, even as I wallow in self-pity. He declares that the best is yet to come. He continues to ask me to take one more step of faith into unchartered territory, against what make sense to my rational (pretend I’m rational) mind. But I want to see evidence, I don’t just want to believe it might be there, I want to see the purpose. One of the most beautiful things about God to me is how He weaves the visible and the invisible together all for His glory. But my earthy perspective prevents me from seeing the weaving some days. God, would you grant me the eyes to see how you’re weaving the invisible and the visible together in my life? And on difficult days, like today, just help me to believe that the invisible exists and that there’s more than what I can see.

“…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 5:18

Skinned Knees

I bit it big time walking into my house on Friday night. I skinned my knees, my foot, my palms and even chipped my nail polish somehow. I was embarrassed and in pain. Thankfully my roommates rushed to my side and did all that they could, but they couldn’t take the pain away. At first I couldn’t wait for the wounds to stop bleeding, then I realized a lack of blood didn’t mean a lack of pain. My roommate came into my room to tell me a story and I was so focused on not crying and I was in so much discomfort that I had trouble listening to what she was saying.

Even as I laid down on top of my bed with Neosporin on each of skinned knees, my wounds were still tingling with pain, and I couldn’t bring myself to focus on anything else. I was felt paralyzed and shaky; every movement I made hurt because I hurt. Thankfully, I’m recovering, my wounds have scabbed over and I’m not shaky anymore. I can move without thinking about being in pain. However, every once in a while, something hits my palm or I bang my knee, and as a result, I wince. Because it’s not fully healed, and it reminds me of the hurt.

Earlier in the week, I met with a counselor through my church. He talked about emotional wounds. Unlike my beat up body, emotional wounds cannot be seen. There are events in our lives that leave wounds, each person has different ones, but we all have them. Unfortunately we aren’t always aware of these wounds until they get skinned open again or if it gets hit. For me, a lack of stability in my life is like banging my already skinned knee. Right now, I seem to bang that knee a lot, and then I remember just how much it still hurts. It’s not always paralyzing, I can function normally most of the time, but not always. I’m still healing. Unlike physical wounds, emotional wounds take lots of time to heal. If only emotional healing was as easy as putting Neosporin on my knees.

I’ve found a lot of comfort in David’s words in the Psalms lately. He’s a messed up and faithful man with honest words; words that meet me in a season full of uncertainty and instability. David talks about waiting for God, and being confident that God will show up. Not because his life doesn’t suck at times, but because his life’s circumstances did not determine God’s goodness. There’s healing to be done in this season. God has me here to teach me something crucial about His character. So here’s to emotional wounds healing like skinned knees. Lord, I want to have the same faith as David, that despite uncertain situations, You are so very faithful all the time.

Directionally Challenged

I’m a senior. Which means I get asked the question daily of, where are you going to be next year. It’s a funny one. I don’t even know what I’m going to eat tomorrow. The planner in me has disappeared, I don’t know where she went, or if she’ll come back, but I’m focused on the here and now. When people ask me questions about the future, I get a very confused look in my eyes and get tempted to ask them, I don’t know what I want to do in ten years, what’s your ten year plan? The problem about senior year, and transition years in people’s lives, is we expect them to have answers and plans. There’s an expectation that they should know where they want to go and how they are going to get there. Newsflash: this is unrealistic.

Yes, having direction is good, but having God is greater. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m going to be doing, but I have faith in a God who is working all things for my good. I have faith in a God who has made everything beautiful in its time. I have faith in a God who will not leave me or forsake me. I have a wonderful friend who told me, “Your lack of direction and ideas for your future mean that God’s got a pretty big plan for you.” Or something to that effect. And I’m hoping he’s right. God doesn’t ask me to bring my five-year plan to the table so he can approve it, He asks me for the rest of my life and promises to make it beautiful for me. God isn’t going to give His stamp of approval to my plans; He’s going to give me His plans for me. I may not have it all figured out, but I’m trying to trust the God who does (key word in that sentence: trying!).

So what can I do? I can stress out over something that isn’t even in my control, or I can listen and wait on God, ready to move whenever He calls me to. When I try to make my own plans, I trick myself into believing it’s about me, when in reality, it’s about a good God who is going to do GREAT things with my life. I’ll choose to be directionally challenged if it means I’m surrendered to God and not trying to figure out things myself.