Archives For Struggles

Braving the September Blues

Carissa A —  September 24, 2017 — Leave a comment


“Help me to navigate September’s stormy sea with grace and resilience, resting on my divine captain, Jesus Christ.”

–an evening prayer, 9/6/17

I have the September blues.

It’s a strange feeling. There’s something about the euphoria and adrenaline of a new semester plummeting to the dread of impending reality. Even summer crashes hard on the rocks of academic responsibility.

Septembers are odd. Unlike the delight of crisp October, September finds itself in that underwhelming portion of the year between rising action and final denouement. No more are jubilant beach days glittering and glorious, with life seeming like a constant adventure. Instead, now I find myself stuck in the hamster wheel of senioritis.

The drowsy blend of heat and syllabus shock.

The discomfort of settling into a new social rhythm.

A strange, September-bred existential dread.

When I often don’t know why I’m upset but still I sink under the weight of a mind fraught with care.

Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Brokenness all around.

Even in my most cynical moments, I know this too shall pass. The September will conclude, the metaphorical sun rises, and I journey on, aided by a steady, supernatural hand. Even my own frailty doesn’t prevent the God of time from having His way with my life.

Fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

–Isaiah 41:10

Everything God has given me is lightyears beyond what I deserve. His mercies are new, September will end, and His grace prevails.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.”

–Psalm 34:8

His grace is daily flowing for me, because of Christ’s atonement. Sufficiency and efficacy are twin facets in grace’s multidimensional beauty.

September has been rough. Crying out for help, resisting it, fleeing and fearing, praying and persisting. Where is it at? Elusive contentment, heart-rest, abundance of life?

Christ is the one who sustains––ad infinitum. He is all in all. Salvation, peace, and bravery are all found in Him alone––now, and every September until we reach that golden shore.

“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;

His going out is sure as the dawn;

He will come to us as the showers,

as the spring rains that water the earth.”

–Hosea 6:3

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Dear Mathilda,

When you told me your mom recently died the air in my lungs evaporated.

We were standing in a lengthy line at the bookstore when that sad, haunted smile crossed your face. We had barely known each other a week. I no longer cared about my overpriced textbook––I wanted to leap across the divide of unfamiliarity between us and embrace you.

I wanted to tell you I know what it’s like to scream with the Psalmist: “Why are you cast down, oh my soul?” (Ps. 42:5) Your heart feels such indescribable agony––your throat physically closes off and refuses to inhale oxygen.

Instead of verbalizing my lament, I stammered a shaky “I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry for saying “sorry”––a sad, scrunched-up apology for my inability to cure you of your suffering. A few weeks later, you stunned me. You said I remind you of her––your mother.

I wish I had known Tammy.

Known her when all she loved was being under the trees near your forest home as she cared for outcasts. “The mountains and trees that call you were her home,” you said.

That was before the devastation of cancer.

I haven’t experienced the death of someone so close to me, but I do know something of the pain of loss. At times, it is excruciating when you miss someone that much––your spirit hardly stirs because it is so crushed.

These are the times when you cling to the promises of God with clenched, trembling hands, knowing He is “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).

On Earth, we march to the beat of weary hearts and fatigued steps. But we will one day join all the saints in eternal, celestial song.

“High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.”

I urged you to meditate on the victory of Christ that one Saturday night when we ate Little Caesar’s under smog-layered stars.

What a joy––that we have a Great High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

In our pain, we know He is intimately acquainted with our griefs, the sorrows over which He has triumphed.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).

There will be a day when we will join Tammy in ceaseless praise, singing a new song to the Lamb––our Redeemer, our Comforter, our Lord.

I love you. But He loves you infinitely more.

–Carissa

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And now she gazes at her Savior. (1959-2016)

Longing for Lion Eyes

Carissa A —  September 10, 2016 — 1 Comment

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You have lion eyes,” my dad said. “Like mine.”

I inherited his eyes – brown and molten gold in the sunlight, and I long for the heart behind those eyes – reflecting both warm tenderness and fierce flashes of fortitude. Instead, I wake from care-ridden nights of fear, tossing and turning the tables on myself.

As much as I long to have lion-hearted valiance, my eyes too often dim with hesitation and weariness. I turn my gaze downward, rather than setting my mind’s eye on eternal things.

I can only be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10). Only then can I “not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet. 3:6). This is a faith-driven fearlessness in the face of the most menacing foes – even death itself.

We must have a reverent fear of God, awestruck and speechless in light of His infinite holiness. Through this worshipful fear, we move forward with a bravery provided through our Great High Priest, the Lion of Judah Himself. His atonement guarantees that we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

This mercy and grace will carry us to a place of fearless determination, where our lives are spent for the gospel. It fuels a willingness to “run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2).

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

Eyes that blaze with lion-hearted courage are only possible as we gaze on Him who redeemed us. Filling our eyes with the Lord’s splendor and majesty, we behold His glory and reflect that glory with the brilliance of unshakable hope in our “sure and steadfast anchor” (Heb. 6:19).

May we run in His strength alone, pursuing lion-like boldness, confident joy, and courageous devotion.

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.

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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.

I Am Afraid of Commitment

Carissa A —  January 2, 2015 — 1 Comment

Carissa.SnowI am afraid of commitment.

There, I said it.

It took me far too long to admit it, but commitment terrifies me. The persistent paralysis induced by an active fear of committing to anyone or anything prevents me from truly living.

  • This fear prevents me from pursuing what I love — namely, writing: writing on this blog and writing to challenge myself in the pursuit of excellence. I fear falling short of the insurmountable expectations I have set in place for myself, and I fear falling short of the expectations of others. That fear is unimaginably crippling.
  • This fear prevents me from experiencing healthy relationships. Beneath my ferocious loyalty to the people around me lies a fight or flight instinct that either tempts suspicion towards the motives or legitimacy of interpersonal relationships or tempts me to flee any and all emotional attachment before it destroys me.

I have come to realize that there is risk involved in anything worth pursuing. I fear relinquishing my grip because it means risking criticism, heartache, and vulnerability.

Commitment is a scary thought because I recognize my own weakness and it frightens me. Despite this, the essence of a life well-lived is understanding there will always be unpredictability, messiness, and inevitable suffering, and still choosing to move forward.

It is only when I embrace vulnerability and let go of my imaginary grip of control that I find true freedom from fear. I used to think that my attempts at planning the entirety of my future were freeing. Attempting complete and utter control over all aspects of life is not an expression of freedom.

The key to escaping fear is a trust in something outside of yourself — a trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God. Freedom is found in Christ, and with that assurance, fear is nowhere on my radar — is it on yours?

I am convinced

Carissa A —  November 26, 2013 — 3 Comments

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

These verses leave me thunderstruck. There is such a calming reassurance that never fails to blow my mind. There is great confidence to be derived from the knowledge that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” as the chapter earlier states.

Death has been conquered, once and for all. Life has inevitable heartache and heartbreak, but you know what? The everyday struggles of life do not possess the power to separate us from the vast love of God, either. Angels and demons? Present circumstances and anxieties about the future? You have no reason to worry. God is, and always has been, in control. Paul gives us an important reminder that nothing – nothing that can even be thought to have enough power – can separate us from God’s love.

We neither deserve nor earn that love. It was manifested ultimately at the cross of Jesus Christ; His final payment for sin – the outpouring of God’s wrath on His only son – was what ensured our standing with God as righteous. Sin separates us from God, which should drive us to run from it. It causes a rift between God and the believer, but it does not change God’s hold on that believer.

Our own personal sin, however base and instinctual the desire may be to give in to fleshly desires, cannot remove us from the love secured for us in Christ. If that isn’t a reason to give thanks, I don’t know what is. If you have acknowledged your sin and repented (Acts 20:21), cling to this promise, and have every reason to be as convinced as Paul was about its truth.

“I love you.”

Carissa A —  October 19, 2013 — 2 Comments

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“I love you.” Words that, given the right context, send shivers down my spine. Regardless of the identity of the speaker, my response will always be the same. Ecstatic joy, quickly followed by paralyzing skepticism. “No, you don’t,” my mind whispers.

To the one that carelessly breathes, “I love you:”

You don’t love me. You love what you think I can give you. What is it? An ego boost? A trophy to show off to your friends? Instant physical gratification? I am merely a placeholder, fit in the same slot that you would fit any other girl into. You are not worth my time.

You don’t love me. You love the qualities of yourself you see reflected in me. Let’s be honest: You love yourself, but veil your narcissism by concealing it in the admiration of another human. You don’t care about all my parts semblancing a whole. The only parts you care about are those of yourself you see mirrored back at you. Without that, you lose interest. You are a coward.

You don’t love me. You love the idea of me. This is the most painful, darling. You have conjured up an elaborate, beautiful being without flaw. I am not she. You are blinded by the insistent murmurings that I am this creature you have shaped me into. And you can’t get enough. How heartbreaking, that you would not set that image aside and try to love me for the woman that I am. I promise, love, I am as, if not more, intricate and impossibly mysterious as your hologram version of my essence. Why won’t you come closer and find out?

Love. Ha. What a meaningless word…

Or is it? We, as humans, screw everything up, including the definition and action of otherwise pure words. It’s our fallen natures. God is love. Flesh rejects God, flesh rejects the incandescent absolute that love is, translated to our broken human levels, where we fumble over our words and say things we don’t mean and cling tightly when we know we shouldn’t and burn so hot only to end up icily bereft of feeling.

Past vs. Future

Carissa A —  October 15, 2013 — Leave a comment
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALate night reflection from 7-13-13:
“Everyone has a past…and a future,” voiced Jon Foreman at today’s Bro-Am. “You are more than the choices that you’ve made/you are more than the sum of your past mistakes,” the band Tenth Avenue North sings in their song “You Are More.” Both statements? True.
In the past lie the dark times that we so desperately avoid but weigh so heavily on us. They overshadow the times of undeniable bliss and happiness and reveal our depth of depravity. We should always be looking to the future, hopefully, gratefully. Onward.
You are more than your past. But your past is still part of you. You are more than the fantasized about but not yet fulfilled first kiss. But you are that fantasy, the way it evolved and how it dissipated. You are more than the nauseating secrets. But those secrets create the framework for your soul.
Your past does not have to define you. Choose the parts to learn from and move on. Your essence is the sum of your experiences and dreams and the hollow potentiality that every human possesses. You are who you have been and who you are working to be. Self-discovery is a broken road, but one that every soul is destined to journey on.”