Traveling Home

Carissa A —  August 8, 2016 — Leave a comment

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I am at home among the trees. In the forest, the air is full of brimming life, and towering pine branches rustle whisperings of majesty. Nature draws me to awe-filled worship of the King, and I often ache to make my home in the woodlands.

I blissfully drive Guinevere, my trusty black Honda Accord, through winding, tree-lined roads, euphoric in the exploration of nature. Yet I must remember even the most scenic views are temporal and mere shadows of the splendor to come – when we arrive home.

Home. 

Where is that elusive idea? I have found homes in treasured people and places alike, but they cannot be the stabilizing anchors of my heart, for they will pass away. But His Word and His truth and His city never pass away.

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14

I am an earthly nomad – a sojourner and pilgrim in this world, waiting for the heavenly home where I truly belong. I long for that eternal, heavenly city along with a chorus of blood-bought sinners who have all received undeserved grace upon grace.

Still within the firm grip of time and not yet caught in the unending stream of eternity, we strive and toil in this life. We pursue holiness and faithfulness and yearn for the day when we weary pilgrims reach the Celestial City.

Until the sovereignly ordained moment when I reach my final destination, I will journey through woods and waves. I will seek the One who is worthy to be praised and honored all my days on this earth. I will serve Him with what meager gifts I have, resigned to the perfection of His providence.

I catch glimpses of that kind of tenacious devotion – like a child peeking through her fingers, temporarily blinded at the brilliance of God’s glory. If I’m not rooted in Christ, I’ll wander all over the earth, chased by incessant restlessness, which is why I must be anchored in His word.

I will continue to travel through this swift earthly existence, driving Guinevere beneath star-emblazoned skies, along endless coastal highways and windy, mountainous roads. But my real destination is farther and unseen.

Until. 

The day when I experience sweetest and fullest communion with my Lord and His saints is coming. In that great and final day, I imagine that the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” will sound quite a bit like “Welcome home.”


For more breathtaking shots of Yosemite, watch “Euphoria,” a stunning supercut video from Caleb Arend Films.

The Fragility of Life

Carissa A —  July 24, 2016 — Leave a comment

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“I was hit by a car.”

There, the answer to my strangulated “Dad?” after muffled voices, road clamor, and the ominous absence of that all-too-familiar voice.

My stomach plunged to the depths of my worst fears. He was alive – that was all I knew. I floated in an eerie numbness from office chair to bedroom door to kitchen.

My mom flew out of the house and into the car, hurtling towards her husband and a mangled road bike. I continued cutting the cantaloupe she left in her wake, because when tragedy strikes, someone must continue the cutting of abandoned cantaloupe and ponder the fragility of life.

I surrender all.

Those words have new meaning when you prepare to bid farewell to the dearest objects of your heart. Am I willing to utterly and irrevocably surrender all to my King, whose reign encompasses my temporal and feeble existence?

When my heart becomes dulled to the life-giving gospel, I forfeit my ability to truly live as I am called to live. There is far too much at stake to waste this fragile life — this frail existence swinging over the brink of eternity, destined to drop away into the depths of infinity at any time.

Can I take the fall?

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17

All is from His hand – a full heart, broken heart, even a halted heart. These are multiplicities and prismatic variations, but in Him there is not even a hint of variation or change. In a vortex of changes, He remains the immovable epicenter. 

Even when life seems to be at its flourishing zenith, it is fleeting. Though awash in golden, ambrosial light, every morning comes to an end, speeding to the next stage of time. The morning of one’s life quickly diminishes as the brilliant light of dawn melds into vibrant tones and shades and flavors throughout the lovely yet fleeting cycle. All too soon, night approaches. 

To whose light will you run to in the eventide of life? Whose light will illumine the dark trenches of dimming day? 

The Lord of light Himself is and must be your answer. He is the only one who can irradiate and eradicate the dungeon of death – both natural, inborn spiritual death and natural, inevitable physical death.

Life is more than gazing upon the sight of green-draped mountainous heights and stunning sea depths. A pursuit of the height and depth of Christ’s magnificence is the only secure light, upon which we may be anchored in the everlasting morning of His love – stronger than death itself.

Cascades of Grace

Carissa A —  July 8, 2016 — Leave a comment

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“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Cor. 9:8

Grace is remarkable to me. It is the rushing power of God’s grace that drives the past, present, and glorious future. His grace sustains every moment of my existence. As the years progress, I view in greater measure the depth of meaning behind my name – Carissa from charis, “grace” in Greek.

He is able to make all grace abound; therefore, He is far above all itself, attesting to God’s infinitude and omnipotence. When we correctly align our doctrine of God with Scripture, we can affirm that yes, it is indeed in His character to make all the possible streams of grace accessible to us in Christ.

This grace is not merely accessible, but abounding, overflowing, and ever-increasing. Our God is outside the limits of confinement and constraint. He obliterates the floodgates of restraint with the truth of His boundless character. As a result, He is more than capable of granting to us all we need “according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19)

In Christ, we not only have “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), but we have all sufficiency. The ultimate filling of our cavernous and thirsty hearts is possible through the atoning work of Christ alone, and it is complete for “all things at all times”. Since the rich plenitude of this grace has been lavished on us (Eph. 1:7-8), we are able to abound in every good work as God causes all grace to abound to us. We are conduits of His grace to a lost and dying world.

We can trust that God is magnificently almighty in His lovingkindness and accordingly, we are enabled to joyously abound in the work He has called us to. He has provided an abundant reservoir of His mercy stored up for us in the place of well-deserved wrath, even when our circumstances seem to indicate spiritual scarcity. We can find joy in obedience, an overflow from jubilees of praise, and find fullness of satisfaction in Him alone.

He is more than able to meet every need in Himself, for His grace is far greater than the powerful cascades of any and every waterfall on Earth.

Facing the Past

Carissa A —  July 2, 2016 — Leave a comment

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“No.”

I turn, look straight at my nostalgia, and I say it again.

“No.”

Shaking my head like an exasperated parent (“Not again…”), I sigh and take the hand of my nostalgia, pulling it away from a painted mirage of the past overlaid on the present. We’re here again – “here” being near a place or person undeniably laced with memory. Haunted.

“No,” I sternly warn that desperate, hungry nostalgia. “You will not take this place and warp it through a fisheye lens of sadness.” A deep, melancholy breath.


Nostalgia and I no longer square off like old arch-rivals. Now we meet up for coffee every so often. Like a distanced friend, I immerse myself in nostalgia’s presence only once in a great while. There are far too many circumstances flooding my senses in the present moment to lurk amidst shadows of past memories and miss them all.

Looking back can be dangerous. It’s impossible to grow when you’re fixated on fighting against the road you’re predestined to travel.

Nostalgia again: sinister, insisting, “Remember how wonderful this was?”

Yes, I remember. But then I remember this is not all there is, that this world is not my home. My joy and my life are grounded in redemptive truth that exists outside of time – outside of me. At the end of the day, it is not my own past that defines me. In fact, it is neither my own present nor my future that defines me, either. There is only one past event truly defining who I am.

The cross.

When the second person of the Trinity bore my sin and shame upon the cross, dying the death I deserve after living the life I could not, that, yes that is the past that defines me. I am not my own (1 Cor. 6:19-20), for I have been bought with a price – the precious blood of Christ. Upon His death and victorious resurrection lies the crucial hinge-pin of my life’s very purpose.

I don’t serve the god of the past, my nostalgia, or lingering, leech-like pain. I serve the only true God, whose immeasurable worth is beyond compare; an infinitude of words could never do His character justice. 

I know I’m safe in His sovereign and omnipotent care. If anything, the past should have taught me that. Evidences of His work in my life are as numerous as the galaxies of stars He knows by name.

This life is pretty breathtaking. The fact that we are living, feeling beings suspended in space surrounded by a universe of fathomless infinitude only surpassed by the living God is astonishing.

The past, the future, and the moments you graciously spent reading these tear-stained words are all ordained by the Creator and Upholder of time itself. In light of His all-sufficient grace, a battle with nostalgia is infinitesimal since each memory is absolutely necessary to guide you to where you need to be. Press on.

The Weight of Joy

Carissa A —  June 11, 2016 — Leave a comment

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“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.” –Psalm 103:11

I like cloudy days. Deep cloud banks hold more weight than airy blue skies, and I feel that weight acutely. I empathize with the sky. The weight of both sorrow and joy.

Did you know joy has weight? I certainly didn’t, until I felt the seemingly insurmountable weight of all else. Trapped beneath a collapsing sky. The clouds that appeared so friendly now threaten to close in, suffocating all thoughts of His steadfast love. But regardless of how I feel, the sky remains intact, and His love is from everlasting to everlasting.

True joy is weighty. It’s not all airy, giddy, and light. Joy is weighty because it cannot – must not – rely on trivial things. These things are fleeting, but true joy is unwavering and rooted in eternity.

“Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.” –Lamentations 3:41

I attempt to lift my heart to heaven, but I’m left gasping for air with the weight of fear and heartache and lamentations. Tears rise unbidden when anxieties fall heavy. I tremble at the thought of change. Blanketed in melancholy, I experience immense weight, but I know a greater, steadying weight that undergirds and supersedes all.

The thundering of the storm brings to mind the thundering power of my Savior. I am safe and sheltered, guarded in the shadow of His wingsthe sovereignty of His reign. The beauty of a life lived in submission to a loving Heavenly Father is that He holds the future in His hands. He has lavished His torrential grace upon me; He is the God of all renown, and He can be trusted.

Lifting my weary eyes to the sky, I watch radiant rays slanting through slits in ominously thick fog banks. I catch glimpses of glowing heavenlight slipping through the darkness. The heights of hope are undaunted by the density of the dark.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” –Psalm 27:1

This is the weight of joy.

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I trace the zigzag of sorrowful eyes, darting from ground to eyes to hands, sustaining eye contact and then dropping low to the sidewalk, like the worn-out rhythm of a melancholy jazz tune, sustained notes of sadness melding into hope, because we are called to the greatest hope.

“There are some who would have Christ cheap. They would have Him without the cross. But the price will not come down.” – Samuel Rutherford

We are only whole with the restorative power of the gospel. We must lay aside every distraction and snare in our pursuit of “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Eph 3:8) In following Christ and enduring the intense suffering of this life, there is a long, narrow, and difficult road ahead. 

The gospel is worth suffering for and fighting for. Truth is valuable, and truth is costly.

Are you willing to surrender all? Will you live a crucified life for the sake of that truth? Surrendering all is not futile. It is leaving all behind for something greater, something infinitely worthy of wholehearted pursuit. It means fulfillment and purpose found in denying self and focusing on increasing glory given to Christ.

How can Paul say he is content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities (2 Cor. 12:10), all for the sake of Christ?

When the Almighty Creator of the universe calls you by name, redeems you, and seals you for all eternity, it gives pain great purpose. He calls us to a living hope that will not put us to shame, and we can have unwavering confidence in His promises. We glory in weakness, because He is our strength.

We rely on our sure foundation and proclaim Him as the only one worthy of praise – Christ Jesus our Savior. It is in the fiery tempest when we truly see that He is faithful from everlasting to everlasting. We are undeserving recipients of His grace, and we magnify Him in uniquely kaleidoscopic ways through our pain.

We are struck down, but not destroyed. We are never defeated by the darkest forces of sorrow, because Christ is victorious.

We rise. And we fall. But we will indeed rise, just as He rose victoriously from the grave, and we too will rise to be with Him. Now we rise continually, with the cadence of a meaningful life focused on eternity, pressing on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Our hope is sure. When we totter on the edge of sorrow and anxiety, we can be steadied, knowing “in every change, He faithful will remain.”

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair (2 Cor. 4:8). Despair has no hold on those for whom Christ died.

We rise in His strength alone. We take our stand beneath the cross, knowing we will rise to eternity, to dwell with Him forever.

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August meant the loss of summertime’s ethereal haze. The barren landscape of RVs on the crest of Silver Strand State Beach was laid on a backdrop of breathtaking blue. In defiance of fleeting summer days, my brothers and I spent those days with salt water hitting our mouths and waves crashing on our heads, tugging our hair with the tide toward shore. The ocean remained unchanging, though the tide ever rolled in and retreated, in the early, squinty mornings of that endless summer to the cloudless nights where the star-dusted sky flowed through the horizon and into moonlit waves.

My idealism reached an all time high during that euphoric season. I was bound only by the limit of my imagination and as a result, I was limitless. One such limit to test, as it turned out, was the boating buoy a mile offshore. If I conquered that estranged red sphere, I theorized, I could conquer the looming months of high school ahead.

My brother and I ate lunch on the scorching white sand before kayaking out to the buoy. I was filled with a well-prepared turkey sandwich and confident exhilaration. My revel in the endlessness of that saltwater afternoon was merely a brief love affair I knew would come to an end all too soon. I could paddle out to that buoy, I thought. I could paddle out and around and away, off into open sea, to romantically perish at the hands (or teeth) of a shark.

God has a sense of humor. I am sure of it.

We were a mile offshore, just having circled the altogether unimpressive boating buoy. The up-and-down rhythm of the tide was lulling, and if our parched throats hadn’t driven us to paddle back, we might have been allured to explore further. The buoy certainly didn’t mind the company – he rarely had visitors. The beach stretched out far into the distance in front of us. We began to travel back.

When I saw the fin, I thought it was a dolphin. I saw and I thought and I idealized, as only I can do. My lens of crystalline serenity was shattered by my brother informing me that this was, in fact, a brown fin, not grey. Slightly miffed at the skewed reality that intruded on my romanticism, it took a moment to register that this fin was zigzagging directly toward the bow of our sturdy sea vessel, which was beginning to look a lot more like an endangered inflatable kayak. We froze. The fin slipped underwater right before reaching the front of the kayak. My arm muscles strained to keep the oar perfectly still across my lap and for an agonizing moment, all I could hear was the labored breathing of my brother and the gentle lapping of the water against the boat.

And then she was right there.

She passed under the kayak, and it was just my luck that she reappeared not two feet from my trembling hands. Just barely below me, and as large, if not larger than our ten-foot kayak, she was close enough to touch. I watched in breathless awe as she passed. Her monstrous back was speckled with a vividly unique design, and her jagged tail lazily propelled her out into the open sea behind us. While I was terrified out of my mind, I also envied her. In the midst of my fear, I felt fascination and a desire to share in her freedom, to glide through the vast ocean, unhindered by worries and cares.

That August and every August since, I envy the shark.

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When I was quite young, I loved to climb to the top of the stairs and toss bright pink and green parachuted figures off the landing. I sent toy soldiers sailing on parachutes of soaring dreams and imagined how exciting it would be to jump off on my own someday. It seems like it was the very next day when the tears of my mother soaked through my shirt collar as she pressed her face to my neck. She didn’t want me to go. Go back to college after spring break. Go and get married. Go and go and go. And suddenly, I was frightened. I didn’t want to go either. I wanted to stay in the safe cocoon of my mother’s embrace. I wanted to toss the toy parachutes off the stair landing again and again, believing for even a brief moment that they were flying. I wanted to sneak around the corner of my childhood bedroom door once more to try and catch my toy stegosaurus conversing with toy Woody.

But they never did converse. I was convinced that I’d one day stumble across their subversive gossip about the other toys. I believed they had words worth hearing and stories worth listening to. I still do.

Maybe I’m not ready to enter the adult pool at the beach-side resort I always stayed at when I was younger. The resort with the too-green grass and the playground that shrunk in both its size and appeal. Maybe I still feel like a child. Am I still a child? I never quite lost the wide-eyed wonder that seems to be sacrificed on the altar of adulthood concerns – taxes and paychecks and “what are you doing after college?”

I really haven’t travelled as far in my maturity as I’d like to think. I sometimes revisit the hazy land of loneliness, where I met Alex and Televega so long ago. I remember when my go-to companions were imaginary. At least they have a harder time stabbing your back. My mother would ask who I was talking to and my three-year-old response was “nothing.” Thus, my closest imaginary friend, Nothing, was born–an Asian girl with long black hair and a quiet smile. My Japanese roommate looks like Nothing. But a real friend is far better than Nothing.

I think about when I informed my baby brother that “the morning dove gave birth to chicks.” My imagination was kindled with thoughts of a “morning dove” – a nearly celestial creature that glows like the sun when it coos. It was only later that I found out that the doves are actually mourning, moaning. I mourn over the loss of the blindingly bright morning doves. Somehow my mom caught a recording of my awe-filled little voice instructing my brother and kept it. That solemnity was mimicry of adult action, and it is strange living on the other side of time, smiling benevolently down at other little adult mimickers.

I am an adult, but I am still an adult mimicker. Walking through a crowded grocery store, I may look intent on my task, but I am really as bewildered as a five-year-old. I want to cling to the side of my mother’s shopping cart as if it’s my saving grace, looking up at the figure I knew would always be taller and stronger than me. But now I’m clinging to my own shopping cart, steering nervously, just as I steer nervously through life, looking for her hand to hold in the most embarrassingly timid of ways. I’m returning a phone call at work, and I’d rather lean on my mom’s arm as she dials the number for me. Instead, I leave a voicemail for Curtis, the brash RV park owner, who for all I know is gone fishing – or wishing for his mom’s presence as much as I am for mine.

“I don’t want you to go,” she chokes out during that fated end of spring break, drawing deep breaths between sobs. It’s a terrifying thing, hearing your mother cry. It’s even more terrifying to be the cause. Reverse the years, I want to yell at God. Make me six again.

I’m not six. I am far closer to twenty-six. What a paralyzing thought. Who am I? I’m a dependent on federal paperwork and independent in real time. I’m a daughter, and I’m a woman. Daughterhood seems more appealing than womanhood sometimes. There is a sad, tired feeling that sweeps over me, and I just want to crawl one hundred miles down the coast of California and into my mother’s embrace.

When she visited me, I couldn’t let her out of my sight. She was there, in my college dorm room, and I was so afraid she’d disappear. Feeling her hold me on the dorm bed was the strangest experience of the school year. An odd reconciliation between being a daughter and an independent woman. The little girl is also a college student. How can I be both at once?

I am moving forward, sailing on the winds of possibility. I am still a daughter, yes, and often a fearful one, but I know that I am not alone. I am soaring on toy wings, followed by an invisible fleet of parachuting soldiers and ghostly friends and luminous morning doves.

At the end of my flight path, she stands. Her arms are outstretched. Always waiting.

Anticipation

Carissa A —  April 30, 2016 — Leave a comment
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The leaves tremble in anticipation of the night, closely preceded by a reigning misty fog.
I tremble in anticipation of approaching darkness, perceiving that my fears lurk in the descending drizzle.
I see you everywhere. Even the tree branches drifting outside my window seem to hold traces of your presence.
He is present, even when you are not. He is eternal, even though you are not.
He is ours, but we are not each other’s.
I crumble in anticipation of impending separation, a tearing away of old affections and distancing of lingering love.
He is here, even when you aren’t.
He is consolation, peace, joy, hope.
He is faithful, always good, and we are His.
He is my all in all. Only Him. May my eyes be fixed on what is eternal. Father, I need You.

December 2015

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When did Christian art become synonymous with poor craftsmanship? 

A well-crafted art piece—music, literature, film, a painting—doesn’t easily relinquish its grip. It never truly leaves you; when you tear yourself away, traces of its presence haunt you. Where is that vast vigor in Christian artistry?

There may be more to be in awe of in the majestic, sprawling guitar riffs of Metallica’s “Fade to Black” than in 10 repetitive worship songs droning on with neither artistry nor passion. Much of culturally revered music is not made for the glory of the God who enabled magnificent music to exist in the first place. It is still a phenomenal testimony to the beauty and grandeur of the great Artist Himself. 

It seems like beauty and grandeur are all but gone in Christian craftsmanship. In a world where relevance means far more than truth, mimics and cheap gimmicks are more the norm than the exception. 

When you sacrifice truth on the altar of relevance, don’t be surprised when the results are mediocre at best. That applies to any avenues into which we can apply our God-given gifts.

Christians are often too afraid to be original and creative in their respective crafts. They care far too much about what the world thinks of the radical message of the gospel than they care about infusing every piece of art they create with the splendor of that message. 

When fear of God triumphs over a fear of others, ultimate creative license is given. There are no limits to what someone with a reverence for God and subsequent strength through grace can do. 

Being a Christian isn’t a good luck charm to dust off every now and again. Being a Christian means you carry out even the most mundane tasks for the glory of God—the God of mountains and music and ceaseless creativity. How much more the passion of one’s heart? We of all people have endless reasons to create excellent art.

He is risen. We are free. What greater reason is there to compose crescendos and colorful canvases and captivating calligraphy?