But have not Love.

I was taught to conduct with love. Not mere passion, or devotion, or care: love. To treat each piece with tenderness and respect; to know it deeply and truly; to let my body tell its story honestly. This understanding was the culmination of all of my training as a musician. I finally understood what I was trying to reach for all these years.
In the moments when 3 measures would overwhelm me to tears but I didn’t know why, it was love.
In the darkest, loneliest hours that somehow turned to be the sweetest, most fulfilling nights, it was love.
In all of my striving for excellence, and courage, and discipline: it was love.
I can’t create real music if I am not in love with it. And I can’t love music without being overwhelmed with the desire to create it.
I left for my next university clinging to this new love, leaving all of its beautiful stepping stones carelessly discarded by circumstances beyond my control. I held on to a single intact shred, torn and beaten by sudden adulthood. I tried to water & nourish it with what I knew: more knowledge.
More classes, seminars, teachers, challenges, and technical tricks would grow this love.
But that isn’t what I want. These people want to be good just to be good, just to be better than someone else. Their music is just notes on a page, a checklist of tones and timbres. I don’t feel anything when I sing with these people, or talk to them about music. The conductors are all methods and equations; they fail to see their choir as human, and forget that what they feel is more important than their lofty title or reputation.
There is no love, even as they sing the very word. I listen to the spirit of these beautiful pieces being slaughtered on stage, uncaring, unfeeling, brainwashed note-producers.
Egos in tuxes.
It was over. I knew everything was wrong and that I would not find what I was looking for. I dropped my classes, and fell into despair over my lost love.
I had a birthday that month and entered my twenties.
It felt so small.
I felt so small.
Suddenly I realized that I was, indeed, very small. And also, how absolutely wonderful that was.
My goal for so long was to be in graduate school by 21, and I was well on my way. But why did I want that? To say that I could? To show up my exes and the nay-sayers of my past? I have been living this shabby version of faked adulthood for a year, and I clearly was not ready for it. I was spending tens of thousands of dollars on an education that I did not even want any more. I know what I am looking for. I found it. It’s done, selected, chosen. Even if I never find it again, I will never settle for less. Nothing less than unabashed, complete love.

But I think I will find it again. Maybe in school later, or a career, or a big ole PhD. Or in my future childrens’ giggles and hugs. In supporting my husband’s wildly lofty dreams. In quiet mornings and poems that no one will read. Maybe I will be a conductor, and paint stories with a group of beautiful voices.
Wherever it is, I will not settle for stale, or arrogant, or purposeless. I will not do it because I am the correct age, or sex, or class. I will unabashedly love, with my fingertips & pen marks & songs. Yeah, I dropped out of college. And I did it for love.

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Two Years of You.

This week is really special for me. Every April, Cadence Student Ministries (a ministry who specifically works with military students stationed overseas) goes on a high school youth retreat with American military high schools from all across Europe. At this retreat last year, I lead worship and gave my testimony and a call to commitment in front of over 500 students and staff. The previous year, I was just another kid in crowd… and I didn’t believe in God.
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I know I talk about “the hour I first believed” a lot. Even outside this blog I bring it up in almost every faith conversation I have. Call me obsessive, but this single night in my life was the moment. The only one that really matters. In a single moment, I was saved from much-deserved eternal damnation and brought into a life of light and hope. So yeah, this moment is pretty much on the forefront of my mind. I’ll never stop being thankful for that night or telling people about it. It blows my mind. And it happened two years ago at this CSM retreat. I wrote a short description of this moment a few months later (tucked in the middle of a larger piece of writing) before I had a church or really had anything but a bible and some raw faith. What I like about this writing is that it’s so… human. If I wrote about this moment now, it would be saturated with Christian lingo, theological terms and evangelical imagery. But I didn’t know any of that. I didn’t want any of it. I just  wrote what I saw. So here you go:

The Hour I First Believed

           “I left for the spring break retreat with my youth group, just to spend some time with my friends and get away from stress at home, but God had much bigger plans than I did. Although the trip was fun and packed with events and new friends, I found myself often feeling alone and feeling as if there was something else tugging at me. The messages were eerily relevant to my circumstances and the speaker’s honesty and fresh perspective were cutting. I continued to try to resist what I now know as the Holy Spirit, until one night during worship, I couldn’t any more. I have no other way to honestly describe the moment that I felt God than with an image: His powerful hand, reaching inside of my chest, taking hold of my dead, shattered and rotting human heart and clutching it suddenly. My spirit violently jerked to life for the first time in my sixteen years on this earth, gasping for air. The connection was immediate, electric and incredible; if you’ve felt it, you know. In that moment nothing else in the world mattered, not my pride, not anyone around me, not my past, future or even my life itself. I realized that nothing else on earth could fulfill me like He could and I was completely and totally His.
           Later that night, as I sat praying for hours, I tried and tried to stutter out an apology for everything I had done and for not listening to Him. I knew that I should repent, but I was terrified, ashamed and I didn’t even know how. And then I again felt Him; this time He brought me the understanding that I could never apologize sufficiently. He reminded me that He already knows everything about me and He loves me anyway. So I spent the rest of the night praising Him, instead of mourning for myself. When I went home, people told me that my “camp-high” would go away and I would go back to normal life. It wasn’t a camp high; it was my Savior and my life completely changed.”

Another version I found in a draft for a college application essay:

.     “In that moment, I realized that I thought I was just too far gone to be a Christian: that big faith was for other people and that I could never follow Christ. I was ashamed of my past, and rightfully so. In a panic, I began to turn away, trying to hide my shame. I wasn’t good enough for Him; I had nothing to offer to Him… But He rushed to catch these thoughts replying, “You can never be good enough, but I love you. I need nothing from you, but I have everything to give you.” So I gave Him my life: an unworthy reply to a righteous and perfect love.  The only thing I had to give. I was so ready for something in life to be fulfilling and worthwhile and He swiftly revealed the fact that He is the only one that can provide true satisfaction.  I always thought that big faith and full surrender were for missionaries and monks; everyone else could go to church on Sunday and be nice to poor people and that was okay by Jesus. With the Lord’s righteous sword, my first task was defeating that image of mediocrity. My life became a spiritual battlefield, and I will never regret it.” 
I just can’t help but get excited when I read  these. Not because they’re revolutionary or extraordinary passages of writing… but just because… well, it’s the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s just plain transcendent. I don’t know if I can ever actually explain what I mean, but I hope I’m getting across something.
So, Happy Birthday to me. Time to live my life in celebration.
Rooted and Established in Love,
Leah

[[Also, Cadence Student Ministries is an awesome organization who does so much for us military youth! The dedication and love of their servants changed my life and helped me grow in my faith daily. I am thankful beyond words for the role they have played in my walk with God!]

Redemption.

I know I haven’t written in a couple weeks. But honestly, it doesn’t matter. I made this blog to write about things that I needed to write about, not to force myself to think of something clever every Sunday night. This is real stuff about which I have so many thoughts floating around I have to write. So I might as well post it.
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.    Laying wide-eyed next to you, pale and bare, wondering at how different our lives are. You grew up like that; like Christians are supposed to. I didn’t. And the way I grew up… sticking needles through my body and reading in dark, dusty bookstores and loving black. You didn’t. You were safe like I should have been. I didn’t let myself be. I fought light every day of my life. In some ways I still do.

.     We met painting flowers on the sidewalk so many summers ago. Laughing like kids and talking nonsense. We’ve always painted together since then. Bantered theology while I washed dishes and you dried them. And I’d smile at your goofy faces while you cheered me up after hard days. Now I stare at your silhouette, highlighted by the dim light peeking through the window beyond our cold, naked legs.
.     These sheets are grey. I always thought of you wrapped in sunshine; glowing white sheets and a bright, open room with blue walls and wood floors and your big, strong, chest stretched out beside me. And something in me knows that this is life; that the sheets aren’t white, that we have to whisper, and that I have to drive back home in the morning. That this is how it is.
 .    I lean over to your ear and kiss your temple. “Welcome to college.” I think, and almost whisper. I pull away slowly and my eyes linger on your parted lips, your breath passing steadily between them. Turning away, I slip my slender body from under the warm sheets and sit on the edge of the mattress, conjuring strength to stand. Your room is so empty. On the wall hangs a leaning calendar; a bible that we sat and read together lies open on the floor; a door to the closet where I fold and carefully stack your clean t-shirts; and the bed that we share. The floor is carpet. My toes brush the shaggy fibers and remind my tortured heart that it’s not wood. That this is life and that life isn’t nice and bright and blue. Sometimes I don’t want to know that God never leaves my side and that He loves me and counts me worthy. Sometimes I want to sit on the edge of that mattress and cry and cry and feel worthless. This night has done nothing but confuse me. How can I be so loved? How can God be so good to me? How dare I abuse that? Why does this feel real for the first time in my life? Why are we lying to ourselves?
 .    My feet press to the floor and I meander toward the bathroom, closing the door and flipping the fluorescent light on. My flushed face greets me in the mirror. So serious and factual, my eyes practiced, my lips pursed. My body always looks the same to me. And when I see it in the mirror I always hear whispers – reminders of scars and money and sleazy hotel rooms. But I don’t care right now. For some reason you’re the only one I want any more. That whisper tells me that’s selfish and impossible and that I ought to get over it. That’s not how life works. I lean against the wood panels on the door and inspect the popcorn ceiling.
My heart is reeling. My thoughts are quiet. “God, I know You’re good. And I know that life is cruel. None of this makes sense.” I shuffle my foot across the rug and bow my head. I don’t cry. No. I’m too smart for that. Nothing’s going to make sense right now and I know that. I just wish I knew what was wrong with me and how to fix it. For the first time, I just want to go back to your arms and stay there until morning and love you. I want to love you. I don’t understand this feeling and I hate it. I hate loving you because it’s worthless and stupid and it won’t ever matter. It will leave me as empty as your bedroom. But I wash my face and brush my teeth and open the door, slowly tiptoeing to your bed and crawling in under the grey sheet with you. You feel me slide in next to you and squint sleepily at me, inhaling deeply. Shifting to your side, you use your right arm to pull me close as your left bicep cradles my head. And I don’t care anymore. Tears well up in the corners of my eyes and know in that moment that you won’t be gone in the morning; that you love me, too, even if it’s just for tonight, and even if it’s for all the wrong reasons. And that’s new, and terrifying, and that’s okay. I don’t care anymore. I fall asleep feeling safe, like I should have been.

“His left arm is under my head and his right arm embraces me.”

– Song of Solomon 8:3

My Chains Are Gone.

This week, I went on tour through Colorado and Utah with my University Choir! It was a fantastic experience despite having to sleep on gym floors and shower in high school locker rooms a few times. I got a lot closer with the people in my choir, which I think was my favorite part. The closer we are as individuals and as Christians, the better we work together as a body. I was also really aware of the fact that we were singing entirely for God’s glory, and that was exciting to me. Anyway, I could ramble about it, but I actually want to share (surprise, surprise) something God did this week and is continuing to do.
A couple of nights, we did get to stay in hotels (thank you, Lord, for real beds and sinks) and the first hotel had the most comfortable bed I think I’ve ever slept in… or maybe that was because I was previously sleeping under a bus seat before we arrived. Dead tired and brooding over the at the alarm I had to set for 545 am, I read some 1 Thessalonians and turned out the lights. My mind started to wander, as everyone’s tends to do before sleep, and for some reason I started thinking about one of my ex-boyfriends. I’ve danced my way around this word for years, but I can admit now that it was unmistakably an abusive relationship. It left a lot of scars that still affect me even now; it changed my whole life and that of my family. Three years later, I can openly talk about it and have used my experiences to help others: I count myself so blessed to be able to be a witness about it and teach other girls how to stay safe and avoid unhealthy relationships! But the fact is that it did poison me deeply and only through Christ have I come as far as I have. I pray for Josh (said ex boyfriend) often and am normally very intentional about how I think about him and the memories I have from that time in my life. For some reason, that night I was thinking about a memory that I hadn’t in a long time. And I just ripped in half again.

He’s with her. Just standing there in front of the steps of our high school. We’ve been broken up for a month or so now and they haven’t been apart since. I’ve got new friends. They’ve got money and hash and good parties. I’m fine: keeping my chin up and staying intoxicated often. I’m stronger than I was. I glance toward the door, waiting for Kaitlin to come out, and catch him looking at her. Differently than he’d look at me. The bump under her shirt is almost noticeable now. How could I have been so weak? I let him cheat on me. He slept with her with my stamp of approval. “I know, you’re just friends. I know I can’t see you anymore and give you what you need. I know you love me and I want you to have every pleasure in this life. You can give her your body, just let me keep your love.” What was my logic behind that? There wasn’t any I was just a dumb kid who didn’t want to lose him. I loved him. He was everything. What a fool.
Kaitlin finally starts down the stairs and I glance away toward the road. When I look back, she’s on the ground splayed out, face to floor, her books everywhere. “Oh my God!” I yell and rush past Josh and his soon-to-be baby-mama to help my unfortunate friend. She starts laughing and brushes herself off, mumbling about how much she hates those stairs, then continues past me. When I turn to follow her, Josh catches my arm. I cringe at his touch and turn like a deer in the headlights. I know the color has drained from my face as he opens his mouth to speak: “I don’t appreciate you talking sh*t about my girl. You need to keep your f*cking mouth shut…” the stream of curse words follows me as I hurry away, not acknowledging his questions or saying a word. I can’t. My throat is sandpaper, my heart is in my stomach. I am a wide-eyed, blank-faced coward. I run to take Kaitlin’s arm and we walk toward the barracks like nothing happened.

.     It took me three years to realize why this simple interaction was so terrifying: this boy whom I had loved with all my heart, given everything to and trusted with my whole life was acting like I was nothing to him. Lying in that hotel my heart was screaming: “You knew everything about me! Every dream and weakness and fear; you were my my best and only friend for a year of my life and this girl was just someone you were using for sex! How dare you!  I was not just a nothing one-night-stand. How could you?” Tears spilled from my eyes and I slipped out of bed, trying not to disturb my bed-mate (whom I’d met about two hours prior so it would be pretty dang awkward to start sobbing in bed next to her), grabbed my bible and headed to the bathroom. I sat on the edge of the tub,  settled my face in my hands, and silently sobbed, asking God to draw me close. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence for someone with clinical depression: I’ve learned to go straight to God, look my sorrow square in the face and then hand it to my Healer and Deliverer rather than trying to handle it myself. But this time was different. I was trapped in the darkness of this memory, black smoke and the heavy feeling of betrayal tugging my mind back into slavery. I rubbed my eyes and the opened them, suddenly realizing where I was.
Okay, so I was in a hotel bathroom… but I was also on a college choir tour in a beautiful part of Colorado with wonderful Christian musicians; I am living a life I never thought I could and always dreamed about! I am not trapped in that world anymore. None of that can touch me anymore. This is my NEW life! None of that matters anymore; it’s worthless and meaningless to my life now. I realized I was free from everything. Entirely free. And not because of anything I did, but because Christ has brought me this far. I have every chance and opportunity and blessing in life and I never have to worry about being trapped in that darkness ever again.
It can’t touch me. I am free.
The shadows of the memory slowly started peeling away, my breathing slowed and my mind calmed. Free to go and love and live; laugh, explore, make mistakes, ask questions, move and dance and sing and give; stand and speak and wander; read, write, teach… Nothing can hold me back. A verse popped into my head:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

I went back to bed, tears still streaking my face and an ache still in my heart, but now with warm healing bubbling up inside me. I hugged my knees under the cool covers and talked to my Friend and Father until I fell asleep, praising Him and enjoying His company. As I drifted into His peace I whispered the truth that I now cling to:
“I am new. I am new. I am Yours.”

Called To Be… Vague?

.     When I became a Christian, I changed my whole plan. Or rather, I entirely let go of having any plan. In fact, I let go of everything. I wanted to depend on God day-by-day and not worry about where He was leading. It was the craziest thing I’d ever done in my short life, and completely necessary for my growth at that time in my faith. I was a new person! Now granted, my old plan wasn’t too hard to let go of: attend CU Boulder, work with NORML when I graduate, marry a gentle, intelligent pothead and have some kids, then grow old smoking spliffs on our porch together. Not joking, these were my aspirations. But at least I had a goal, right? My first year as a Christian was my Senior year of high school, when I had to make all sorts of decisions about my future. And I had no plan, no goal, no path, but to follow Christ.

.     I can say that it was an adventure, but I cannot say that it made any sense. So I wasn’t depending on myself any more, but what exactly was I doing? Basically just stumbling around in the dark and praying a lot that it would makes sense soon. When people asked what I was going to pursue in my future, all I could say was “whatever God has planned for me”. (They were all probably like, “What a nice, religious way to say ‘I have no fricking idea and I forgot to make a goal for my life’.”) A lot of it was fear that I’d plan the wrong thing and then God would have something completely different in mind and I would have spent my life outside of God’s will. So basically, I was afraid to be bold and make moves toward what I really desired. I mean, with all my heart I wanted what God wanted but I didn’t know what that meant yet so I just had to be still and wait… right?

.     It always seemed so vague to me. Waiting for him to point me toward my purpose on this Earth, hoping his voice would come booming from the sky telling me what to major in or what mission trip to go on or whatever. Now, about 21 months after giving my life to Christ, I finally realized that He already gives us the the most specific, detailed path we could ever follow: the Bible! And he doesn’t leave us alone to interpret it, He walks with us and He even lets us ask Him personally when we have questions. Following Christ is not vague in any sense of the word.  He has given us commands and instructions and challenges to live out and those are not easy. You cannot simply check off all the boxes of being a good and faithful servant and then go get a “real job”. The things that are so valuable in the world are really only side-projects for a Christian: things that give us importunity to grow and witness and move toward what we’re actually here to do. My guiding aspiration is to strive daily to be the woman of God He created me to be. It has little-to-nothing to do with my career or school choices. It has everything to do with reading His word, listening to His voice and consistently following His commands. That alone should consume the entirety of our time here. And guys, did I mention that it’s really, really challenging? And it’s also the only truly fulfilling thing we can do with our lives? Whoever says obeying God is boring and depressing is doing something very wrong.

.    The point is that God is our prize. Our endgame. Our greatest pursuit. Not the things He gives us, or the places He leads us. Just Him. The fact that He allows us to just sit at His feet and walk with Him daily. Me: a dirty, worthless sinner! It’s so easy for the world to suck us in and tell us we have to know exactly what we want and where we’re going and who and why and how much money… Well, I know what I’m working toward and where my heart is: in the one thing that is eternal.

We are not, in fact, called to be vague. And with the strength, peace, and understanding my Savior gives me, I will follow His intricate, difficult, beautiful path.

Fear not. Seek first the kingdom of God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. Pray without ceasing. Clothe the poor. Feed the hungry. Go and make disciples of all nations. Do not worry.  Be kind. Ask, seek, knock. Live quietly, mind your own business, and work with your own hands. Be still and know that He is God. Deny yourself and take up your cross.  Honor marriage.  Be faithful. Be a servant. Do not work for food that spoils. Love each other. Remain in Me. Be thankful in all circumstances. Be patient. Rejoice . Repent.  Shine. Witness. Be humble. Carry each others burdens. Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. Be united. Submit to one another. Keep your word. Love your enemies…
Follow Me.

A New Heart.

My new heart is something I couldn’t grasp. If I had a new heart, why am I still doing the same things, chasing the same desires, feeling the same hates? If You made me new, why did I still care about that stuff?


I realized today that having a new heart is not about me. It’s about others. A clean heart is for others. A heart in line with God’s is fully interested in others. And I’ve been trying to figure it out in terms of me. Selfish me. Usually hearts are for yourself. Or at least, mine always was. My relationships, my desires, what felt right to me. Me me me. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourself.” Philippians something. I suck at remember where things are, but I know them. The more I care about others more than myself, the closer I get to God, and more significantly, the closer I get to God the more I care about others.
My old heart never would have cared about orphans in Africa, or the persecuted in Asia. In fact I hardly do now, compared to how much I should care about it. But seeing it now does something to me that I never could have imagined with my old heart. A heart without compassion because it was so busy with self-preservation. And as a Christian I have been struggling with knowing what is right for me, what brings me closer to God. I genuinely WANTED to grow closer to God and understand His will and seek Him with my whole heart… but I still concerned myself with ME. And it was unsatisfying. It tasted bland. It was confusing. And now I understand why that was unfulfilling. Because my heart no longer yearns to make myself happy; this heart wants to love people, wants to give itself away. And it doesn’t feel complete unless it does.
The pastor at my church once said, “Human life is incomplete until we give it away.” It’s true. We naturally long for relationships in which we give ourselves away, whether selfishly or not: marriage, friendships, even in work I suppose. We want to give ourselves away, just some people for their own glory. In ungodly relationships I would give my heart to another, so that the other person will take care of it and prove that they are worthy of receiving my heart. But in Godly relationships, you seek to take care of the other’s heart first, above having your own heart cared for. That’s why relationships that are not Christ centered are so much more difficult. And I would even venture to say pointless. But back to the original subject, my heart has been confused as it seeks to be cared for, to be loved and to be fulfilled, when God specifically shaped it to care for, to love and to fulfill. This heart is new and strange and I have just begun to get the hang of it. It’s for service. It’s for compassion. It’s for freeing the oppressed, healing the hurt, feeding the hungry; breaking chains, loving sinners, speaking up; strengthening the weak, leading the lost, caring for the un-cared for. But only through the strength of Jesus Christ. As this year of confusion has shown me, I can’t do these things on my own. I am not prone to seek righteousness, but the new heart I have cannot feel true joy until I do. It is through Christ alone that I can be satisfied, and not by living a happy, comfortable, “blessed” life. In fact I hope the opposite.
Romans 12 makes so much more sense to me now: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The renewing of my mind. A living sacrifice. That all sounds fine and dandy but I didn’t think much about what a living sacrifice meant. Am I willing to completely forget myself and simply be a vessel for the Lord’s will? To go to even the dirtiest and most dangerous places he calls me; to break my body and physically toil for His kingdom? To walk away from everything I own on this earth, or to have it taken from me? To be beaten and imprisoned for His name? (If people can go through that and God never fails them, how silly is it to be scared to speak up about the gospel in high school?!) Being a living sacrifice does not look like going to church on Sundays and giving a homeless man a dollar. It means giving our whole hearts to God, and our whole selves to the service of others. Our WHOLE hearts, not our devotionals before bed. Our WHOLE selves. Not our soup-kitchen-Wednesdays. It’s crazy, I know. But God’s not exactly the most rational, play-it-safe kinda guy all the time. He is our creator. When we sacrifice ourselves, it was already His in the first place, so we have nothing to be prideful about. We’re blessed that we have it in the first place.
I’m so glad You revealed this to me, God. I know that there is so much I cannot grasp yet and I know that my faith is weak. But I finally see that you have made my heart new! And now I’m ready to give it away.