Koinonia

Koinonia.
Communion.

The Greek word appears 19 times in the New Testament. Yet the original Greek conveys such richer meaning than our modern English; it speaks of fellowship, sharing, intimacy. Given-ness. The fellowship of the church; the intimacy of Christ with His Church. 

Jesus’ words at the table have echoed through all eternity: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” A new covenant of One-ness; His body broken and given for His Bride.

And it’s the communion, the koinonia, where I find healing. As my brokenness presses into His wounds, as I speak “Thy will be done,” I die a thousand healing deaths. 

Because this communion, this fellowship, this sacred and rich intimacy feels more like the Garden of Gethsemane than it does the Wedding at Cana. I bring my pain, my sorrow, my suffering to His scarred body, and the brokenness breeds an intimacy I didn’t know possible — because He knows my pain. I long to know and be known. 

Faith is a paradox. And as I bring more of my wounds to Him, as each small daily death leads to more surrender, I feel Him not just next to me, but within me. My brokenness leads to given-ness, and those small deaths bring life to others.

And somewhere along the way, I forget myself.

The Lonely Sheep

I loved my Art II class in ninth grade. I had never considered myself to be artistically inclined, but my art teacher thought I had potential. Granted, I thought myself to be quite inferior to the other students. Their clay sculptures didn’t fall apart into a sticky mess like mine did. Yet I still looked forward to fifth period every day after lunch; the quietness of creating something in solitude somehow fed my soul.

Most of my pieces might have been considered a mess by art critics, but that didn’t inhibit my desire to keep creating. For a self-proclaimed perfectionist, art was a welcome escape into freedom, into a flow of vulnerability that didn’t come with right or wrong answers. 

I remember vividly my favorite piece. Inspired probably by something like an old Southern Living cookbook, I found myself using watercolors to paint an old barn with sheep in a field. I couldn’t wait to show my finished piece to my mother, who loved talking about my great-grandmother’s old farm.

But instead of the happy “ooh”s and “ahh”s I expected, my mom turned her head slightly and asked, “Why is there only one sheep?”

In my excitement to paint such a beautiful scene, I had forgotten the fact that most sheep do, in fact, live in herds. It didn’t take long to decide on a name for the painting.

The Lonely Sheep.

My 15-year-old self couldn’t have predicted how much of a metaphor that picture would be for the next 15 years of my life.

Because I would go astray. I would be lost, without a herd, certainly without knowing my Shepherd was close by. I would wander and try to find my way back, hopelessly lost using my own dim-witted sense of direction.

And even when I heard the Shepherd’s voice calling me back, I would still be dumb enough to try and find my own way.

It’s been preached over and over the actions that a shepherd would take to protect his sheep. Searching, leaving everything he has, even allowing wounds to the creature’s neck or legs — all in an effort to ensure that the sheep won’t wander, to ensure that it will learn to stay by the side of the shepherd. 

Brokenness. Brokenness allowed, even birthed, out of love.

It’s the most painful wounds that the Shepherd allows to be inflicted that keep His sheep bound to His side. That teach the sheep to love Him, to trust Him, to follow Him in all circumstances, up every steep climb of every mountain.

And when the sheep return to His side to follow Him, they find that they were never truly alone.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Victory

I went to the grocery store today.

For most of you, that’s a pretty normal event. Perhaps not the most fun chore on the to-do list, but still fairly routine. Bread, milk, cereal, maybe some frozen chicken for dinner, and ice cream for a late-night snack. Right? 

Not me.

I got to Harp’s at about 7:30 this morning. Rolls, cookies, pastries, crackers, milk, and one frozen pizza later, my stomach is so distended I feel as though I could purge multiple times.

I am a food addict, and this has been my secret life for 15 years. Even as I’m typing this blog post out on my phone, I’m fighting the temptation to pick up a half-thawed frozen pancake to stuff in my mouth.

I’ve been involved with Celebrate Recovery for almost three years, and although I’ve had periods of sobriety off and on, the second step still hasn’t quite clicked. The fact that I am truly powerless over my body’s addiction to sugar and carbohydrates is such a miserable idea. The idea that only God has the power to guide me through life without my drug of choice is quite offensive to my stubborn, self-reliant nature. Yet the effects of my sugar addiction are devastating when I succumb to the temptation; as my husband can attest to, I sink into the lowest depression you can imagine. And the truth is, I haven’t really been honest about my struggle. There’s a big difference between saying “I binged”, and admitting that I stayed up until 1:00 in the morning driving to every fast food restaurant in town (that was still open) to order food and eat in my car.

And I have spent so, so many hours asking, “Why?”

Why did you give me this, Lord? Why me? Why food? Why couldn’t you give me something that is less physically obvious, so I don’t gain and lose 35 pounds every year? Why can’t I just stop? Why can’t you take it away? Why not alcohol or drugs, something that I could just quit and never touch again? Why do You hold me responsible for an obsession that started when I was a sophomore in high school?

And every time I ask the “why”, He comes back with a simple “Trust Me.”

I had a mentor once who dealt with food struggles herself. We only met a few times, but one thing she said to me has stuck out in my mind: “This is the cross He gave us to bear.”

What if He chose this for me?

What if He sympathizes with my struggles and temptations so deeply that He wants to walk hand-in-hand with me through them?

What if He knew I was so stubborn and self-reliant, that in order to stay close to Him, I needed a struggle that surfaces three to five times a day? That every time I sit down to a meal or snack, every time I walk through a grocery store, every time someone brings cookies to work, I must turn over my stubborn will into His hands?

And most importantly, what if I have been asking the wrong question?

That instead of asking “why” during every painful temptation and struggle, I can embrace the moment and joyfully ask “how can I trust You more right now?”

My cross is heavy. At times, it feels that it is more than I can bear on my own. It has nearly crushed me with its weight — I have spent more nights than I care to count in a hospital bed, angry with God that He chose this cross for my life.

But in the worst moments, before I reach for the food and instead mutter a simple prayer of Lord, help me, He holds me. He instructs me. He points me to a Scripture on Facebook as I frantically try to distract myself from the cookies. He perfectly times an encouraging text from my husband or a friend. 

It’s the tiny, seemingly insignificant moments of timid trust that He embraces, showing me back to the path of life He desires for me.

And perhaps the cross that nearly crushed me will ultimately be my victory.


Falling

“I can’t eat a whole ice cream. That’s too much. I’ll feel guilty afterwards.”

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Sitting behind my parents in the back of our 1992 Dodge Caravan, I took another spoonful of my sundae topped with crumbled pieces of Reese’s peanut butter cups. It was my absolute favorite, and a definite treat for my 6-year-old self after an afternoon of swimming at the pool. But as my parents debated whether or not to indulge their sweet tooth, one word stuck out clearly: guilty.

Why would someone feel guilty about eating ice cream? I thought. Saying mean things, and hitting, and not sharing your toys — those were things I was supposed to feel guilty about. They were bad. But ice cream was so good.

And just as when Eve took a bite of the apple, shame covered my innocent mind, and my eyes were opened.

It was, in effect, my Eve moment. 

The fall.

For me, the fall began to manifest itself in different ways. Imperfect eating. Imperfect grades. Imperfect friendships. I longed for the elusive mark of perfectionism that would tell me I was okay, that I had made it, that I was accepted. I carried my perfectionism into young adulthood, convinced that carefully avoiding the ever-threatening fall would save me from a world that constantly said you are not enough.

And then, I fell.

Not once. Not twice. 

And not softly.

Yes, I was in treatment centers. Yes, I was in hospitals. Yes, I was on suicide watch.

You would think I would have learned my lesson by this point — that constantly striving for perfection came to a hopeless end.

Instead, my story comes to an almost-happy climax — being led to a wonderful church and recovery program by the Lord, meeting an amazing man and getting engaged, and serving in a faith-based workplace. Oh, and falling nearly as hard as before.

And why? Why do I continue to fall despite everything in my life going so seemingly well?

Could it be that I’ve still been so terrified to make a mistake, so scared to displease someone, so frustrated at my inability to climb my way to higher ground that, just as Eve ran with Adam to cover her nakedness, I cover those secrets in shame?

Fall precedes grace.

And if I’m not willing to fall, I’m not ready to accept grace from the One who already knows my secrets. 

Because without a fall, there can be no future hope. With no brokenness, there is no healing. With no pain, there is no glory to the One who provides that which we cannot — redemption.

If I don’t let go and risk a fall, I can’t let go and trust.

And as I sit in my driveway, tasting a Reese’s, I’m ready to ask God for the thing that might just turn my life around:

Lord, let me fall.

Eucharisteo

“Polly’s got green paint on her dress.”

My six-year-old eyes peered at my newly-acquired Polly Pocket, fresh from Toys ‘R’ Us. I had been so excited to finally make the purchase with my piggy-bank money, but after arriving back home, I saw to my great dismay that Polly did, in fact, have a speck of green paint on her pink dress.

My mother sighed in exasperation. “You always find something wrong with whatever toy I buy you — you’re never happy!”

She was right. I taught myself from an early age to expect the worst — therefore, in my mind, I would never be disappointed. Even as a young girl, I lacked hope; and without hope, I failed to see the happy blessings in my life, having learned to fear the worst. Failing to recognize the happy things in life led to ingratitude for things and people, with a tremendous fear of disappointment at its root.
And as I got older, the ingratitude led to resentment, which led to deep anger and bitterness towards God, who seemingly never offered good things. Loneliness, anxiety, and depression characterized my life. To make a very long story short, I eventually began to recognize those things as gifts from a very loving God who longs to be close to us and will use any means necessary to draw us close — including pain and suffering.

But what about when He removes the pain and suffering?

How then do I learn to live when my life is actually full of happy things?

How do I graciously accept an invitation to lunch with a friend, without thinking to myself, “I shouldn’t enjoy this; I might waste time I could spend with God?” How do I accept an offer for a wedding shower without feeling guilty for receiving? How do I accept and celebrate joyful life events — getting engaged and married — without fearing that I will become too closely tied to those things, and have God rip them away for my terrible idolatry?

How do I believe that God is a happy God, who rejoices when we rejoice and mourns when we mourn?

Because the truth is, we are told to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), not just the painful times when we are forced to look for the hidden treasures within, as I’ve become so accustomed to doing over the past couple of years. Sometimes I just have to look around me and smile. He has done amazing things, and He is good in my mourning as well as my dancing.

Because this eucharisteo, this thanksgiving, is found in the sweet wine as well as the bitter cup. As Jesus blessed the bread and the wine and gave thanks, He looked to His Father, who knew Him intimately — who knew the precise order of events that would have to occur to bring joy and hope to a hurting world. The wedding at Cana, the raising of Lazarus, the agony in the Garden, the Crucifixion, and every other event leading to the ultimate Hope in resurrection. These things, these blessings known and planned by a sovereign Father who desires good for His children.

So I can rest in a loving God who is happy. One who delights in us. One who sees and knows all, and who will do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine.

One who, I’m sure, loves to dance.

Fearing Comfort

“I’m not afraid of anything.”

I looked back at my 11-year-old student, wondering if she would pick up on the not-so-subtle nonverbal cues I was trying to send her way. Raised eyebrows and a slight smirk on my mouth all said, “I definitely don’t believe you.”

“Okay, I’m sometimes afraid of spiders. And snakes. And I don’t like to sleep in the dark. But I’m definitely not afraid of roller coasters, except when they go really incredibly high and shoot you down so fast you throw up all over yourself.”

I gently agreed with her that yes, spiders and snakes were creepy, and yes, I used a night light sometimes, and roller coasters gave me motion sickness on a pretty consistent basis, too. But it was okay, because some fears were normal.

And I thought back to years prior. Years filled with anxieties about calories, and exercise, and the scale reading 97.2 instead of 96.8. Events remembered not by the family or friends present, but the food that was served and what I was wearing in an attempt to cover my body — a body that wore false pride as a mask and shame like a robe. Weeks, months, and years of joyless pursuits — of seeking safety in numbers, in keeping my head down to block out a world that seemed so incredibly intimidating for a girl who was always utterly alone with her thoughts, who felt she was both too much and not enough for everyone around her.

Years of fear. Years of seeking relief. Years of emptiness.

And now that the years of emptiness are being restored, where do I find myself? Am I satisfied? Am I happy with my comfortable job, my comfortable home, my comfortable relationships? 

Or do I want more?

Because if I don’t — if I don’t want Something infinitely greater and more precious and more eternal than this world has to offer — if I am not willing to sacrifice all that I have for the sake of that Being — if I am not willing to trade my short-term happiness for the eternal peace that surpasses understanding — then I have become complacent, no more useful than a dull knife.

And that — that state, that place of comfort and complacency and relaxation and false security in things — should be my greatest fear of all.

“It would seem that Our Lord would find our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

— C.S. Lewis

Resistance

I didn’t want to be a writer.

No, really. All my life I’ve hated writing. I never hated the process of getting my thoughts out, but I detested the academic side of re-reading, editing, re-working, etc. From the time I was in elementary school, teachers would tell my parents I was a talented writer, but I always dreaded any kind of written assignment. I was more of a multiple-choice kinda girl. It didn’t matter what the topic was, either; I didn’t want to bare my soul about my knowledge and thoughts on the process of photosynthesis on a fourth grade science test.

Plenty of my friends loved to write. In junior high and high school, it was the cool thing to do — to write dramatic fiction and poetry based primarily off of late 1990’s teenage romance movies. To me, writing for fun seemed pointless. All I cared about were getting good grades, and I wanted to do that with as little personality as possible showing through my English essays. Perhaps I knew that there was something inside of me that needed out; a voice that was being quieted by a world that seemingly demanded perfectionism. Perfectionism didn’t exist in the written word; writing was fluid, and using my voice made me feel exposed and vulnerable. The critical voices in my head (as well as those of over-zealous teachers) told me that my writing was imperfect, and therefore unacceptable.

In graduate school, I opted for the “easier” way out — much like most of my colleagues, I wrote a 30-page research paper and took comprehensive examinations, instead of composing a 75-page thesis. I celebrated with Chick-fil-A the day I turned that paper in, telling myself I’d never have to write anything but fill-in-the-blank diagnostic reports ever again.

But apparently, God has different plans.

For several years, I’ve played around with the idea of writing a book based on my life experiences and how God has used them to teach me about Himself. I love the idea of writing a book, because my pride loves to think I could have my name plastered all over a cover and therefore make me somebody. But that’s all I like about it. I like the idea; I don’t want to do it. I don’t care how many times God nudges me in that direction; it feels like work, and it would be hard, and it wouldn’t go fast, and I would risk rejection — and I hate feeling rejected. I am the ultimate procrastinator, and six years after God started tugging at my heart about it, I’ve barely gotten a word on paper. And yet somehow, I know in my heart that if I don’t do it, it would be the biggest regret of my lifetime.

I have a million excuses not to start this project. I’m planning a wedding. I’m planning a wedding. I’m planning a wedding. My evenings are filled with discussions about personalized tic-tac favors. Who has time to write their life story when Mom and I are attempting to coordinate colors like blush pink and horizon blue?

This is the section where I’d love to write, hey, please pray for me. Pray for direction and that God would give me exactly the right words to say, because I’m so excited about where He is leading me. But I can’t say that, because I’m not excited about it. I dread the idea of it so much that I’m blogging about how much I hate writing. I could even ask you to pray that God would overcome my resistance, but really I need to stop wasting time asking for prayers and just go get a pen.

 

Labor Pains

I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering lately. Its nature, its purpose, its origin. How we suffer. Why we suffer.

I spent many years in denial about my own suffering. Because my pain had its root in personal sin, I assumed it didn’t classify as “suffering.” Wasn’t suffering for martyrs? Saints who persevered through trials for Christ’s sake? I’m the furthest thing from a saint. I made (and still make) a lot of bad choices, and so don’t I just receive the natural consequences of those choices? I have a difficult time imagining that my 3-year-old client is suffering when he starts screaming for a toy I won’t let him play with at the moment. Isn’t that the same general idea?

When sin entered this world, so did suffering. If we define suffering as any kind of pain, or distress, or hardship, we can pretty easily trace back to its roots. If God is the source of all pleasure, then finding (or seeking) ultimate pleasure in anything else is sin, which then results in suffering — because we fail to find God. (I say ultimate pleasure because God created many things for our pleasure and our good. But we can sin by elevating those things to a level of idolatry.)

Using this framework, apparently I have suffered a lot. Because I’ve sinned a lot.

In looking back in my own life, I can see a pattern. I become tempted by the thing. The thing looks more and more appealing until I reach for it. I know instantly that I’ve sinned, and I feel shame and remorse for choosing the thing I know I shouldn’t. I hide my face from God, become angry and bitter that the thing didn’t provide the satisfaction I wanted, and I heap guilt upon myself for making a bad choice. I suffer through remorse and pain over my choices, and I lament the separation from God I have created through my sin. Poor choice after poor choice after poor choice results in my wondering whether I am physically, mentally, spiritually able to make a good choice. I become trapped in my own poor choices, lost in the pain, and my sin becomes my identity.

The Good News, of course, is that Jesus comes in, sweeps away our mess, cleans us up, and gives us a new identity in Him.

It would be nice if that was the end of the story. We get rescued, and boom, we are free.

But what if God actually wills that we continue to walk the road we were on?

Jesus was a man familiar with suffering. He was free from sin, completely obedient to His Father, and He suffered more than any of us. He truly did experience separation from His Father on the cross. He was forsaken. And yet it was the Father’s good pleasure to crush Him.

I remember a story I heard in a sermon once. An unbelieving teacher, knowing that one of his young students professed faith in Christ, invited her to the front of the class. The little girl was deaf, so the teacher signed his question to her.

“If God is so good,” he asked, “why did He not allow you to have your hearing?”

The little girl thought for a moment, then wrote her answer on the board. “Because it was my Father’s good pleasure.”

His good pleasure.

His good pleasure to crush His Son. His good pleasure to allow sin to enter the world. His good pleasure to allow sickness and disability and crime and addiction and murder. His good pleasure to let His people suffer in a world of chaos and confusion.

Because in His mercy, in His infinite goodness, His Father allowed Christ to suffer for history’s redemption. He who suffered and died for us brought infinite glory to His Father.

And in His mercy, He allows us to sin that we might seek His face for freedom. In His mercy, He allows broken relationships and sickness and anger and bitterness and anxiety, that He might restore the broken pieces and create something more beautiful than the pain we experience. Just as a mother labors for hours to bring forth her precious child, so He allows us to labor through suffering so that He is able to produce good fruit with and through us.

So what if my depression, my anxiety, my fear, my addiction are all precisely in His will for my life?

What if my pain is not something to be fixed, but something to be experienced and walked through, side-by-side with Christ?

What if it was, and still remains, His good pleasure that I walk this road of suffering — the anxiety, the bulimia, the depression, the fear — until the good work is complete and He says, “It is finished?”

Until something much greater and more beautiful than my pain is produced?

Romans 5:3-5:  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

 

 

Facebook Blessings

I scrolled through my Facebook feed. Smiling, laughing kids. New house. Engagement. Marriage.

Everyone was #blessed.

I wasn’t out of the #blessed circle. A month earlier I had announced mine and Kevin’s engagement on Facebook. The congratulatory comments, the likes, the “I’m so excited for you”s — they all made me feel special. Noticed. And I was convinced that I was blessed, because God had brought someone into my life to love, and I didn’t have to be alone anymore.

And just 72 hours later, God slapped it right back in my face.

As I opened my journal from less than a year earlier, my eyes fell to the entry from April 24, 2015.

Lord, right now I feel You in the absence. I feel You in the waiting. The waiting, the hoping for a spouse. For someone to love. Because in that absence, I feel Your arms perfectly around me, holding me, and I am joyful. Moments of this struggle through singleness can be excruciating, but You are teaching me to cling to You more tightly, and I wouldn’t trade the closeness with You for anything. Hold me until You bring my husband, and keep holding me when he finally gets here.

Somehow, amidst the excitement of meeting Kevin and making plans for our future, I’d lost sight of the beauty in the moment. I’d lost the perfect peace in submission, in surrender, in waiting, in reverent worship, in trust through painful struggle. I wasn’t blessed because I’d met Kevin, though he was certainly an amazing gift from the Lord. I was blessed because I was needy.

Grace floods in when we are emptied. The blessing comes as we are stripped away and left with nothing but Him, and we can see He is sufficient, we know He is sufficient.

What if the greatest blessing, the way God blesses us the most, is when we feel most deeply our need for Him? The Greek word translated as “blessed” is makarioi, meaning “fully satisfied.” To be found in His favor, regardless of circumstances.

This is freedom.

If we are blessed beyond Earthly circumstances, beyond relationship status, beyond monetary status, beyond anything other than God Himself, how then can we despair? This is the joy of abundant life, the precious hope we cling to. This is the freedom from attachment to any person or thing on Earth that allows us our heart’s greatest desire in intimacy with our Creator. This is the Gift, because He is the both the Gift and the Giver.

Roughness, Redefined

I had a rough week.

If you know me at all, you know that’s a pretty common phrase to come out of my mouth. Almost every time I get a text from a friend I haven’t talked to in a few weeks, the conversation goes something like this:

“Hey, Katelin! Been thinking about you. How are things?”

“Oh, not bad. It’s been a bit of a rough week but things always get better. How have you been?”

And if I’ve really had as many rough weeks as I’ve let on to have, I should be a fairly miserable person by now.

The truth is, I have had a lot of hard days. This past week was one of the toughest I’ve been through in years, and it had absolutely nothing to do with any outside circumstances. Depression and anxiety are real, and they tend to hit at inopportune times in life. Seemingly everything can be going perfectly, but as soon as that dark cloud starts to hover over my mind, darkness closes in, and nothing seems right.

And in those times, I want to get better. I want relief. I want to be free from worry and stress and pressure and sadness and fear and frustration and anger.

But what if I’ve allowed those times to overshadow the good?

I love Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. In it, she discusses the idea that stress and anxiety can be addictions, just like any other substance or behavior. Stress and anxiety become such practiced behaviors that they become a go-to, a way of living that is the norm, leading to further depression and pain.

And this leads me to ask the most embarrassing question of all: What if my perspective isn’t all there is?

Because at the root of my depression lies a lot of pride. Pride that says, “This is how I see things, therefore I am right, and nothing can improve, and I refuse to accept the fact that a simple change in my thought pattern could help provide the relief I’m seeking.”

My pain has been real this week. There is no doubt in my mind that I struggle with depression and anxiety at times. But the beauty of it is that I don’t struggle all the time. Believe it or not, this girl is actually happy sometimes. I laugh, I smile, and yes, I dance around in my underwear. Sorry, Kevin. You’re gonna have to get used to that when we get married.

Isaiah 42:3 is one of my favorite verses: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.” God never promises freedom from suffering, but He does promise to never forsake us through it. The light always shines brighter in the darkness, and the relief is always more treasured when it does finally break through. And if He is the Master Cutter, He knows precisely which blows to make in order to craft His precious jewels. Truly, we are His diamonds in the rough — and we can rejoice through the rough days, knowing that we will come forth having been cut with perfect precision.

So yes — we can rejoice at all times. I can rejoice while I’m dancing and I can rejoice while I’m crying out to Him. He knows precisely what I need, and I will thank Him for the joyful days and trust Him through the rough days. I refuse to allow the pain to overshadow the good any longer, because He is still writing my story — and He knows exactly how it ends.

Romans 8:28:  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.