Jessie’s Journal, Part I

So I recently found an old journal of mine from when I was 17-ish. I’ve been writing in a journal ever since I was 11 or so, so this one is probably  Vol. CLVIIEKDV or something.

I covered this particular journal in pictures cut from an travel catalog a couple of hot Australians handed to me during one of those college & career fairs.

I covered this particular journal in pictures cut from a travel catalog a couple of hot Australians handed to me during one of those college & career fairs. BECAUSE ADVENTURE.

When I found it OF COURSE I immediately started reading it, and OF COURSE I immediately started cringing and breaking out into hives and nervous laughter. I was SEVENTEEN AGAIN, minus Zac Efron’s excruciating romantic encounter with his own daughter.

I promised the Twitter I would share excerpts, because I mean, HOW COULD I NOT? Seventeen-year-old Jessie was a GEM, you guys. And also a WELL of emotions and adverbs. Every single adverb.

There’s really no way to set up any of what’s about to happen, so let’s just dive right in.

On Love…Part I [ed. note: everything is in parts and EVERYTHING is in Roman numerals]

Today, I felt my heart beat faster and my stomach tingle and my toes curl when I thought of someone. Could this be it? I know that it isn’t physical attraction [ed. note: WAIT, NOT physical attraction? THAT’S SO MEAN.] So I am perfectly safe in that aspect. So obviously it is their personality. And isn’t that what we need to fall in love with first? [ed. note: NO, SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD ME, FALL IN LOVE WITH HIS PORCHE FIRST. What I mean is, maybe we should marry for money?][JUST KIDDING, marrying the guy while we’re both flat broke totally worked out.]

You guys, I fell in love with a different boy pretty much every other month. REAL, TRUE, LASTING LOVE, OBVI. What follows that delicious opener is a dissertation two solid pages long on dating vs. trusting God will drop my future husband (MY SOUL MATE) into my arms (or vice versa) because I probably had just finished reading I Kissed Dating Good-Bye and DUH, THAT’S BASICALLY WHAT HAPPENED TO JOSHUA HARRIS.

[Love] makes me seem weak and vulnerable and my heart is just bare, completely unprotected, waiting patiently on that line. Love is such a beautiful thing. [ed. note: wait for iiiiiiiiiiit…] Although I have never firsthand experienced it, through little tastes I’ve come to grasp concepts of love. [ed. note: GROAN. GROAN. GROAN GROAN GROOOOOOAN.]

You guys, I was SO FULL OF WISDOM AND EXPERIENCE AND TRUTH back then. I’m pretty sure every single teenage girl I know today is a thousand times cooler and more self-aware than I ever was at 17.

And is love truly a search or more of a stumbling, you just happen into it, you just stumble into someone’s life and something new happens.

THIS IS THE DIRECT RESULT OF TOO MANY MEG RYAN MOVIES. Thanks for NOTHING, ’90s Meg Ryan.

FINALLY, I wrap it up with some profound words:

But why do I need to know [ed. note: I’m talking about needing to know if the 17-year-old boy mentioned above was THE ONE] if I trust God will deliver me someone who I will love forever and perfectly [ed. note: please ask my husband — who is NOT the 17-year-old boy mentioned above — next time you see him if I love him perfectly HAHAHAHAHA]? Each situation is separate and different, so I guess it’s nearly impossible to generalize all situations with one theory or one solution. And about that pitter-patter of my heart? It felt nice…

OMG, THE ELLIPSES! This girl’s story isn’t over yet! Will she find THE ONE? Will she discover what it means to stumble into love? Will there be a Part II? Only time will tell!

(And me. I’ll tell. There will be a Part II, because I have a composition notebook quite literally filled with teenage wisdom, SUPER random poetry, and at LEAST a dozen more boys to fall in love with.)

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Easter Sunday; Oh, the Bliss!

It was still dark when the women rose that morning. But even if the sun had been up, their days would still feel black as night.

It was their new reality; after weeks or months or years at Jesus’ side, drinking in his goodness and his warmth so filling it spilled out onto the desert sand, they were suddenly parched. Drifting. Fearful and grief-stricken and hopeless.

At least today they can put their grief in motion.

So they go to the tomb where Jesus lay, both anxious to get there to anoint his body and fulfill their holy rituals, and dreading the brutal finality of his death.

How close did the women come, in the dusty pre-dawn light, before they realized someone had gotten there first? And who could possibly have beaten them there? They had left before anyone else had awoken, everyone who loved and mourned Jesus as thoroughly as they had and did had been left behind. These women were the first to go, the first to visit Jesus’ grave. Who could possibly have gone before them?

Those who followed Jesus during his ministry were no strangers to the supernatural. Though they witnessed countless miracles, had seen demons overthrown, nothing could have compared to walking beside Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, the unseen Yahweh with skin on, with calloused hands and dirty feet and flashing eyes and desperate conviction and untapped love.

But none of them could have known, not fully, who they followed, from whom they learned about God and man and God’s pursuit of man. Even as close as they stood, they couldn’t have known.

Not until the stone was rolled away. Not until they came face-to-face with Jesus the Resurrected, the payer of our debt, the conqueror of our penalty.

Their faith had been so shaken. The very foundation of their beliefs and their new, fragile knowledge of God had crumbled beneath them, settling into the cracks of the earth as it shook open. Their hearts had been broken; their hope had been lost.

But then they saw the tomb. They heard the angel sitting on the stone. They held the cast-aside burial linens, they searched the barren, empty walls, they felt the frailest breath of hope catch in their throats, and they ran to tell the others what strange things were happening.

They’re still happening.

We still come face-to-face with Jesus the Resurrected.

The tomb is still empty.

And hope, if we let it, still catches in our throats.

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Good Friday; It Is Finished

They suddenly find themselves untethered. The gravity that had pulled them in and held them there, that gave them purpose and hope and a name — is gone. 

Was it really just last night they celebrated the Passover together? Remembered God’s special favor for his chosen people together?

They were convinced — Jesus was sent from God. His own son, they were sure of it. Every miracle they witnessed, every quiet moment away from the crowds, every time Jesus reached his hands toward the untouchable, his evident, unquenchable love for humanity. 

They were convinced all right. Counted themselves blessed to walk beside this Jesus, this prophet, this rabbi who not only knew the holy scripture inside out but actually lived them, every impossible commandment, every challenging word. 

But now what? Their world is spinning. Nothing feels real. Were the last three years just a dream? How could they have seen the mysterious God so clearly through Jesus, how could a man so intimately acquainted with the almighty God be arrested like a common thief? How could a man so willing to heal and touch and teach be hated like a brutal murderer?

They mourn. They fear. Where is God now? Has he removed his favor from them, the chosen people? Did he fall silent yet again, angered by the way the world treated Jesus? Dismissal and disbelief, hatred and cruelty and glaring injustice. They watch as Jesus is taken in, arrested. Then ushered out and thrown to his knees as soldiers and guards attack him. They want to drown out the sound of the jeering crowd hurling insults and laughter, but if the crowds fall silent then they will hear the soldiers’ whips against bare flesh, tearing pieces of it as they pull up and away and swing for another lash. 

Their own cries of grief over the treatment of Jesus are swallowed by the hungry crowd; maybe that’s what’s saving them, keeping them from the same fate. To anyone listening, they seemed to be a part of it, united in the chants to crucify him. 

And even as they watch, Jesus, already covered and slick with his own blood, is forced to hoist that heavy cross onto his back, the rough rugged wood digging deep into his bones, his muscles weak and exposed and screaming in agony. Still, they hope. 

They have seen his miracles. They’ve seen him command demons and the sea. They’ve seen the sky and even death bow down to him, some of them even saw his earthliness fall away to reveal his Godhood in all its glory. 

They hope. Surely Jesus will put an end to this madness, this torture. Surely something huge is about to happen, and then everyone will see; then you’ll all believe. 

They follow Jesus yet again, the dirt behind him stained with rivers of his blood, the cross dragging deep, ominous gouges in the road, stirring up dust until their eyes sting with betrayal and disbelief. 

Anytime now, Jesus, they might have thought, hoped, prayed. Throw down that cross and rise, show them who you really are. Where is that power and might and authority they have seen firsthand? Show them, Jesus!

But they don’t know — that was never his plan. 

The sound of the hammer against rusted metal jars their very bones. They flinch with every swing, maybe even cover their ears and avert their eyes. It still isn’t over, they think, it can’t be. 

The soldiers raise the cross, Jesus now sufficiently nailed to the wooden planks. They drop the cross into the deep hole meant to steady it, and when it hits the earth, the momentum throws Jesus forward. But the nails do their job and his hands and feet are ripped further but not off. He is held there. 

They pray for it to be over soon. Their hope is gone, trickling down that hill with Jesus’ blood. So they pray the end comes quickly now, ending this anguish. 

They want to shake every single person in the crowd, grab their shoulders and shake until they are boneless. Do you realize what you’ve done? they want to shout. Why are you doing this? Get him down from there! Now!

But before they could muster up the courage, the earth shakes beneath their feet. First they think it’s their own bodies shivering in fear and grief. But the trembling grows stronger, and the shock in their neighbors’ eyes tells them it’s everywhere and underneath them all. Maybe this is it, Jesus’ big stand. Maybe the ground will open up and swallow whole the monsters who did this, who let this happen. An unearthly rumble splits the sky. 

But it isn’t the earthquake roaring but Jesus, his final dying breath rolling over them like thunder. 

“It is finished.”

Words everyone can’t help but hear, as if Jesus were right beside them all, speaking those words in their ear, their heart, their soul. 

The sun drops out of the sky, the world turns black, the earth shakes still, the son of God dies. 

Hope is lost. 

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Maundy Thursday; Passover Feast; Jesus’ Last Supper

If they knew what was coming, would they have changed their minds?

If they knew how seemingly out of control the next few hours — days — would spin, would they still have dropped their fishing nets to follow? 

With their bellies full from the Passover feast, purposefully prepared food that told the story of their lineage, their unique relationship to a living, mighty God, with their eyes heavy with wine…what a night! they might have thought. Fulfilled in ways that can only come from ancient traditions steeped in meaning, deep conversation between men who have traveled and slept and witnessed impossibilities beside one another for three years, intimate prayers and muscle-memory rituals rich with history. 

Did they notice the unusual hitch in Jesus’ voice or the slow and deliberate way he broke the bread and poured the wine, blessed the feast then washed their filthy feet? Half the time these simple men could barely keep up with Jesus, his mind and thoughts so far out of reach, his wisdom timeless and older than the sea. 

But did they notice that night, these men who knew Jesus more closely than anyone else, the strain in his words, the God within him warring with the man in him, the weak and so easily broken body he had worn these many years. God in disguise, a Lion in Lambskin. 

Could they understand, even as they heard those puzzling words, saw the telling flash in his eyes:

This is my body, broken for you. 
This is my blood, poured out for you. 

More riddles, they might have thought. Maybe Jesus speaks of that first Passover, the daring and dangerous night they are celebrating, the escape from slavery and into the unknown, leaving behind cruelty and injustice and a foreign land. Their ancestors crying out and being heard by God himself. Called out and freed by God himself. 

He is so wise, so well-spoken, so thoroughly taught. No one knows more than Jesus. Surely He speaks of their covenant with Yahweh. What else could Jesus mean, on this the day of Passover?

If those men had known what Jesus’ words truly meant, would they have drifted off to sleep in the garden while his body crumpled to his knees and blood-tears? 

Knowing the story, the full story, I still want to tell Jesus to stop. To get up. Leave the bread, the wine, just get out of here. Can we just forget the whole plan? It’s not worth it, Jesus; I’m not worth it. Let’s just call the whole thing off. 

I dread the next chapter. Every time I read it. I want to press my hands against my ears and squeeze my eyes shut tight and block out those heavy, life-changing words: “broken for you; poured out for you.” 

“Don’t do it, Jesus!” I want to yell at the whisper-thin pages of my Bible, trembling with grief and awe as I read on. 

But even so, he goes. The story continues. 

Jesus watches Judas slip out into the night, greed leading those washed feet; he implores one last time his men to understand, to listen and hear; he meets his fate in the garden just before dawn, in the deepest, darkest part of the night, the black sky weighing down on him like heavy oak. 

Doesn’t he know we’re going to blow it? Doesn’t he know how dangerous and small and fickle and mean we will be, even in the name of his life and death? Doesn’t he see the hurt and abuse we will inflict, the agenda we will push, the self-righteousness we will wear like silken robes? Don’t do it, Jesus! We aren’t worth it! Just call the whole thing off!

We are going to fail you, Jesus. Why do you still head toward that cross?

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A Prayer for Your Passion

“As the time drew near for Him to ascend to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
– Luke 9.51

My God, there are hardly the words for this little verse. “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” There is so much power packed into this single line of Scripture, so much purpose in less than 140 characters. I want to understand what Jesus was going through; I want to ask for help in feeling what He felt. But, oh, that feels like a dangerous prayer.

The intensity of His journey, the necessity of it borne from this overwhelming, overtaking love. I try to imagine how consuming Your love must be for this broken creation. I try to put words — any words, all the words, the most eloquent words I have — to this image of drowning in Your love, floundering, unable to even see the bottom, much less touch my toes to it. What a small way our small minds can quantify such love.

O God, I want to experience Your love in such a way that it fills my lungs and swells my heart and steals my breath. I want to be so full of You that Your love pours out of me, gushing from my fingertips and over this parched land.

These few words tucked quietly in the gospel of Luke moves me in such profound, unaired ways.

Your Word is already so full of Your deliberate plan to rescue us and redeem us, to turn Your creation back to You, to reconcile this world with what You envision it to be.

But these particular words draw so much hope from me, such gratitude and shame, all at the same time, honest emotions for once that twist in my gut. Something expands in my chest, leaving me breathless and doubled over, and I think, why haven’t I been hearing this? Why haven’t I been paying closer attention?

Jesus, there was nothing unknown to You. You knew the plan. You knew the cost. As the man You fully were, You fully became, how terrifying it must have been, the knowing. How You must have dreaded every dusty step closer to the cross, every sunset one more day spent. To weep blood from Your brow in desperation for what was to come, the burden pressing heavy and hard against Your back and driving You to Your knees. I can only pretend to imagine the tightness in Your chest, the knot in Your stomach, Your heart and pulse pounding out a desperate rhythm, “Take this cup; Thy will be done.”

But as the Christ, the Holy Son of God who was there from the beginning, whose hands shaped the formless void, You witnessed our downfall, You wept as we split wide the chasm between Heaven and Earth, all the while knowing the price of our redemption, all the while knowing You would willingly pay it.

How clearly this verse shows us Your passion, Your purpose. How real and how near is Your spirit, Your will and Your want for us. You offered Yourself up and into the greedy hands of the very ones You longed to draw back in. We didn’t understand; how could we? How could these dry and dying bones even recognize the life abundant You were pouring out over us, reviving us?

You set Your feet toward Jerusalem, Your eyes to the cross. You never once wavered but spilled as much of Yourself along the way — Your love, Your healing, Your mercy and grace and Your call for us to do the same — until all that was left was a final breath: “It is finished.”

What is left to say but a whisper, “My God, my God.”

What a journey, Jesus, the descent into Your darkest hour on this earth, all so we wouldn’t have to go too. You invite us along, to follow You, not into despair or dread or to our rightfully earned deaths, but to follow You back to the kingdom of Heaven, back to God Himself.

I would walk that journey to Jerusalem with you, if I could, if only to squeeze Your hand and promise I’ll do better, to be better, so can we just call the whole thing off?

But You died so we wouldn’t have to, not really, not fully.

Jesus, how passionately You died for my disobedience; help me to live as passionately for Your love.

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God’s Reality

“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.
This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.”
1 John 3.18 (MSG)

So I tend to make the season of Lent a very private one. (Could you tell? #sarcasm #OMGshetalkstoomuch)

Not that I don’t talk or reflect or write about what I’m reading and learning and praying over. But that I tend to make the focus just Jesus and me. The necessity of Jesus’ life and death in contrast to my utter depravity and desperate need for rescue. Jesus’ holy perfection and my hearty disobedience. His eternal life, my ashes.

I don’t usually leave a whole lot of room in my head and my heart for much else to that story; it’s hard enough swallowing just how ridiculous the gap is between God and me.

But as introspective and inward-focusing as Lent can be, as it was designed to be, it’s only part of a much greater story.

When I intended to sit in silence this season, to step back from all the words I like to string together, to shut my mouth so God could speak, I don’t know what I was expecting really — probably not to hear from Him so clearly.

But how often God surprises me. Not by being full of truth and wisdom and eloquence and love and all of these things with the utmost tenderness. But that God would be all of these things to me. Specifically me. Who am I to not just witness but to experience His truth and wisdom and eloquence and love and quiet, powerful, moving tenderness, and in such a personal, real way?

I can believe and trust in God’s love for the world; God is love — so He loves. He so loves this world and I understand that because of everything I have seen Him do in and for it. It’s a corporate love for His creation, a cradling of the whole world in His hands.

But maybe if He’s asking me to stop seeing my sin as the general, generic sinfulness of mankind, then maybe He’s asking me to do the same for His love.

*          *          *

I love people. I love people’s stories, I love hearing about their lives, I love discovering what makes them tick. I’ve been getting in trouble since Kindergarten for socializing because you guys, I love people. (#ENFJ #letsbebestfriends)

But I know I don’t love every single person I come across. Sometimes there are people I don’t even really like. But more often and more tragically, there are people I don’t even really see. And that might be the saddest thing of all. As much as I think I love people, I do not live or operate or even subscribe to God’s reality.

Every single person is an eternal soul known and loved and forgiven by God. I can talk all day about how that’s true despite my own behavior dismissing that, and it won’t make it any more (or less) true.

But maybe if I practice love — real love, God’s love, His personal, intimate, interested, transforming love — His reality will be so much clearer in this dark and desperate world. His voice will be that much louder, much more prevalent than any other noise I make with all my other useless chatter.

That’s what Jesus did; He brought the kingdom of God that much closer to us, to where we were squandering and drowning in our own broken selves. He peeled back the veil and said, “Would you look at how My Father loves you? How He sees you?”

No. Not quite. Not fully.

But I want to, and I want to help you see, too.

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Heirlooms of Our Faith

“Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the Spirit He has placed within us should be faithful to Him. And he gives grace generously.”
– James 4.5-6

I sort of hate when the Bible asks me questions so boldly: do I think the Scriptures have no meaning? I don’t dare say yes, but do I approach His Word with the reverence and respect it commands? Maybe one day.

Be Still, and Know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

Maybe because I’ve been paying more attention, trying to tune an ear to God and an ear to His people, I have heard a lot of flippant things said about the holy texts recently. That the Bible is outdated and irrelevant, that it ties the Church down and restricts her, how, sure, it is a beautiful book of our history and lovely metaphors for our lives, but see how far we’ve come? Such enlightened speak makes me scoff and disagree and go get my poster paints for a picket sign.

No. I do not think the Scriptures have no meaning.

But.

(There is always, always a “but” when you ask God to change you.)

But I know I don’t rest and rely on His life- and hope-giving words. Wait, let me back up. The Bible — indeed full of history and visions and prophecies fulfilled, directives and instructions and examples of loving well — is His Word; it isn’t The Word. The Bible gives life and restores hope, but not like Jesus, The Word Made Flesh. #theologyorsomething

So if Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, then the Bible is the language of that image. The Scriptures give words and structure and plot lines to a very big and uncontainable God. Snippets, to be sure; the Bible has a beginning and an end describing a God who is eternal and infinite.

The Bible gives us a hearty glimpse. It shows us the saints and sinners who have gone before, how they saw and heard and learned about the same God breathing life into us now, how God moved in and interacted with His creation, how this earth has experienced Him.

It is His story and it is how we came to be invited into it.

This story — a collection of thousands of stories about one God — digs deeper. It invites us to dig deeper, to bury ourselves in the articulated God. These words — ancient things passed down from generation to generation, spoken and written and translated into words we all can use, through time and across the world — are the heirlooms of our faith.

This holy text, scrolls of wisdom and life and truth, tell us of a God intimately interested in our world. Passionate, this particular text says. Faithful and generous. And to think how unable our most eloquent speech is to fully describe Him.

I love the words, obviously (have you met me?). I love having the ability to be precise about what stirs my heart, to move my fingers across the page or my lips around syllables, and just like that, you know how I feel; suddenly, I am known.

That God would give us the words to describe (sort of) His goodness (to a degree), that He would shrink down (enough) to fit into language like so loved the world, and slow to anger, and leads me by still waters.

Not only do we have a way to see God, a way to name Him and speak of Him and to Him. We also have His own Spirit. What a generous God, to make Himself knowable in our limited language; to make Himself visible in the life and death of the Christ; to make Himself small enough to fit inside us, His Spirit residing in us, making room to hear the Spirit in each other, to hear and respond to the available God who craves our awareness.

I believe the Scriptures are Spirit-breathed, divinely inspired. But I have to come clean about how little time and attention I give them. The clearest, most straightforward way to know God and I barely give them a second thought.

But God’s got that covered too. When I am forgetful and distracted, when I choose a hundred other things above God, when I do actually think, despite myself, Scripture might possibly have no real meaning, no relevance to my modern, busy life, His grace is given generously.

What an extravagant God, to provide every way to wrap my simple mind around as much of Him as I can manage, and then the grace for when I squander that.

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