A prayer to my Lord, in a time of unrest

It’s easy to be faithful when the numbers aren’t on a screen in front of you

and you’re not sitting in Starbucks trying to budget for an adventure that you hadn’t planned on.

It’s easy to trust in you, God, when I’m on the other side of an obstacle

and looking back can see how that mountain was really a molehill.

And I’m aware that all too often I yearn for miracles

then in my next breath pray away the blessings that would create one

because the blessings didn’t come with ribbons and bows, but rather sweat and tears.

The faithfulness of the Lord is glamorous when spoken about from a stage, or written eloquently within a memoir, or shared on a panel of testimonies.

But when you’re down to your last two dollars, or feeling lonely, or worrying about being the failure you’ve always feared,

faithfulness becomes a cry for help instead of a humble thank-you.

And I am trying to cling to the question that has rooted me in my faith, the harsh-but-needed,

“You really don’t trust God with this, do you?”

Because I don’t. I know I don’t. That’s why I’m saying this prayer.

Oh Lord, you have made a way for me. You have intertwined every step of this post-grad path, but it doesn’t feel well-worn yet. I feel like I’m following the faintest of footsteps in the grass.

And with each step, I’m shouting a worry into the void.

“Pay the bills.”

“Make good friends.”

“I don’t need a boyfriend.”

“Did I mention pay the bills?”

Maybe with each repeating step, each repeating worry, this path will become a little more worn. A little more clear. Because right now it feels more like I’m being led blindly through a field rather than walking down a cement sidewalk.

A stable job would have been a sidewalk. Staying in my college town, moving back home, going to grad school. Cement, safe, man-made paths.

But why on earth would I want to take a man’s road when the path of the Lord is so much more beautiful.

Step by step. Pay a bill. Smile at a stranger. Delete that number. Take a side job.

Maybe, just maybe, faithfulness will reveal itself like a flower in a field.

My Jesus, remind me of your goodness. Your faithfulness. How you have cared for me for almost 22 years; why would you stop now? You have orchestrated my next steps perfectly, easily, and you placed this future right in my lap. Remind me that you would not place something in front of me just to snatch it away. Calm my anxiety, my fears, my worries that something that worked together so perfectly will not be cast to the wayside.

Remind me of your goodness. Let me not make an idol of adventure, but rather praise you for crafting the experiences and opportunities. Humble me, comfort me, show me your grace.

Alleluia, Amen.

Figs and Vapor.

I’ve been thinking a lot about two different things lately: Fig trees and vapor.

Weird, I know. But I didn’t really go searching for them. They came to me.

I read an entry on one of my favorite blogs, discussing one of Sylvia Plath’s stories. In it, she looks at a fig tree and sees each fig as symbolic of a desire in her life. Problem is, she can’t decide which one to pick, so they whither and fall off the tree. The moral is that we should just pick a fig, because we can create joy wherever we end up. Fretting over the decision doesn’t have a benefit.

The Bible talks a lot about fig trees: It’s the third tree mentioned by name in Genesis, and it’s specifically referenced in Proverbs and Song of Solomon. But in the New Testament Jesus uses fig trees to tell stories.

He curses a barren tree in Matthew 21, saying to the disciples that with enough faith they can have just as great an impact. And he tells a parable in Luke 13. A tree hasn’t produces figs for three years, and a keeper wants to cut it down. But another man suggests fertilizing it and allowing it to grow for one more year, in the hopes that it will bear fruit.

I’m not all-knowing when it comes to Bible knowledge, and the ways that these texts on fig trees impact me are probably not the standard message of the text. But since figs keep showing up in my life I’m going to assume they have a custom message for me.

Pick a fig, don’t fret to much over it: in reality each fig is good. Then use that to bear your own fruit, to plant your own fig tree. Nurture it, grow the faith, and let yourself thrive. Simple.

In a manner of speaking, calm down. It’s simple. Simple as figs.

The Bible has amazing stories of miracles and life-changes. I would read them in Sunday school and be blown away by things that transcend human capacity. But as a 21 year old…the simple stories have rooted deep within my soul.

This semester has brought back my intense anxiety, a mental health issue that I haven’t dealt with in this capacity since high school. In the midst of my inner fear I head the song Simple Gospel for the first time.

Lord, I’ve been told to be ashamed
Lord, I’ve been told I don’t measure up
Lord, I’ve been told I’m not good enough
But you’re here with me 

I reach out and you find me in the dust
You say no amount of untruths can separate us

I will rejoice in the simple gospel 
I will rejoice in you, Lord

True to it’s name, it’s not complex. And it brings me to tears when I listen to it in the midst of being trapped in my own mind. Like the fig tree, there’s beauty in the simplicity of it’s message. As a writer and creator, I get so focused on the beauty of words and hidden meaning behind them, that when I go back to the basics I’m reminded of the power that the building blocks of meaning have.

So that’s figs. How does vapor tie into this?

Amidst my inner fear and anxious heart, I’ve found comfort in the ideas in Ecclesiastes 1: “Everything is meaningless.”

Confession: I hated this idea when I first heard it months ago. But then I listened to a meditation podcast titled “Everything is Vapor.” And it put it in perspective for me.

The fig I choose doesn’t matter in the long run. If I can cultivate joy either way, I should just pick a fig. My life is just a blip on a timeline, a short, puff of smoke (James 4:14). A puff of vapor.

So the worries and fear that plague my mind will not do so when I leave this Earth. In my short time, my vapor moment, I will cultivate my fig tree. I will root myself in Christ. Because this world is full of brokennness, and attempts to cut down forests of fig trees. So I will dig my roots in deeper, even when I feel too weak to do so.

We all deserve our best chance. That phrase still scares me a little bit. But I’m learning that my best chance is whatever I choose. And there’s some freedom in that.

To figs and vapor. May they shock and comfort at the same time.

 

 

Comparison is the thief of joy

I look around at my friends who are getting into grad school, receiving awards and scholarships, and presenting research.

It’s fine. You’re doing just fine. I whisper to myself.

I smile as my girl friends who are pre-med are praised for their ambition. I’m proud of them too. My own ambitions are smiled upon but not discussed in length.

It’s fine. You’re doing just fine. 

I hear the plans of those who have finally figured their life out. Their post-grad life is not longer a mystery. Even if just for a little bit, they have some security.

It’s fine. You’re doing just fine.

I scroll through shout outs to parents and siblings on social media. Picture-perfect Easter photos of families in pastel dresses and polos. Families who build each other up.

It’s fine. You’re doing just fine. 

I sit on my bed after finally having finished an essay at two am. Mellow but deep acoustic music is playing through my computer and I’m brain dead and feeling a little dramatic and existential. No one has texted me since 6pm, there was an event I had to miss that day, and I ran into an ex after sweating it out at the gym. I didn’t read my Bible that day.  I feel a little lonely.

It’s fine. You’re doing just fine. 

~

Fine. Fine is one of those words that has lost its meaning. It’s hollow, a placeholder for friends that aren’t really friends who ask how we’re doing. I usually avoid it. When asked how I am I actively try to search for other adjectives. “Good” and “fine” are hackneyed and meaningless now.

But lately I’ve been finding peace in that word. If Solomon can find peace in the meaninglessness of life, maybe I can do so with that word. Because fine used to mean something. It used to mean content, functioning, moving about the day. I think it can still mean that. Especially after a year of building myself up to be a person that I’m proud of.

~

It’s nine am, and I wake up to the sun streaming through the curtains because I don’t have class until eleven. I make coffee in my pajamas, which is a sweet treat after going without it for forty days. I read for fun, something I actively decided to do again this year.

It’s fine. You’re doing fine. 

I meet with a professor to talk about research that I’m passionate about. Others might not even be aware the literature research is a thriving entity, but for me, it brings so much joy. We discuss Shakespeare and another professor I love pokes her head in to join in the conversation. I feel respected and intelligent. Later that week I present separate research for the first time, and even though friends of mine have been doing so for years already, I’m proud of doing it now. And my professor is in the room to watch me.

It’s fine. You’re doing fine. 

I walk through the doors of the middle school I teach at. Most days I feel like I’m not making a difference, but today one of the girls offers me her decorative necklace so I’ll have some green for St. Patricks Day. I take it and hang it on my bulletin board in my room to remind myself that all my studying will be worth it one day. I get offered a job in passing later that week if I’m “still looking” when I graduate in a year.

It’s fine. You’re doing fine. 

I walk into my sorority house not in the best mood, and am met with the excitement of some of my favorite friends who want to get lunch with me that week.

It’s fine. You’re doing fine. 

I worry about my lack of plans for the weekend. Bearstock is that Saturday, and if I don’t have plans for an event that’s happening I worry that I’ll get left alone. A freshman girl I love tells me she’ll be hammocking in the afternoon. I pass the day with her and some friends which fades into a night of a large group of us squished on a small orange blanket listening to confusing music. We take selfies and join the jumping crowd for the upbeat songs. We go to steak and shake afterwards and I feel filled to the brim with friendship.

It’s fine. You’re doing fine. 

My favorite singer releases an acoustic album. I listen to it at 11pm one night expecting to get the feels. Instead of sadness I get bittersweet feelings of the memories of the sad girl I once was and the woman that I am now. The sadness becomes something to reflect on instead of something to immerse myself in.

“It’s fine.” I whisper to myself, meaning it completely for the first time. “You’re doing just fine.”

 

What a Good Woman Does

When the Civil Wars broke up, I was heartbroken. I’d never been invested enough in a band or group to be affected by their changes and choices (individual artists are a different story), but when I heard they were going their separate ways, I was crushed.

Their music is several nostalgic for me: Barton Hollow saw me through a significant time and relationship in my life, and The Civil Wars was released right as I began my freshman year. Not to mention the art itself is flawless: I’d never heard a duo like Joy and John Paul that emotionally struck me. The lyrics, the stripped-down music, the power of it all blended together. To this day it’s probably the biggest connection I’ve had to music.

Specific songs connect me to people, to feelings, to specific events or conversations. Poison and Wine is the song I use when I’m asked what my favorite song of all time is, because I’ve had a big emotional connection to it. Eavesdrop paralleled my bliss when I was in love. Tell Mama made me warm up to the idea of having children of my own. The list goes on. When the break up was made official and Joy Williams began recording her solo album, I was wary.

The way Joy’s album feels for me personally is cathartic. Named Venus to reflect a multitude of change, revival and rebirth as a woman, I wasn’t a fan of the first single released. The entire album makes me ache though. In a good way, if that’s a thing.

Because when she released What a Good Woman Does, it was on repeat for days. It’s similar in style to The Civil Wars, which was my initial draw towards it. And then I dissected the lyrics.

To hear me
I haven’t lost my voice without you near me
I can tell the truth about you leaving
But that’s not what a good woman does

In my own mind, where I define myself as brash, verbally justifying all decisions and feelings, explaining away every little think, I was still.

Fresh from an ended relationship, this song was a nudge and a starting point in my own remaking of myself. I could explain away my decisions, let the blame fall elsewhere, justify why I’d been hurt and try to make others understand my pain at the possible expense of another…

But that’s not what a good woman does.

And it’s taken me a while to see, but I am a good woman.

I am flawed, broken, in a never-ending reformation of character. I am a universe wrapped in skin.

And that song still tugs on my heart.

 

 

 

And even though right now, I don’t feel strong
One day I will, one day

To everyone.

To those who have seen me grow throughout different periods of my life, this if for you.

To those who knew me as a child, I still hold some characteristics of my five-year-older chatterbox self. I get excited easily and move around a lot, while my pitch changes drastically and quickly. These behaviors were at their peak when I was a child, and there’s subdued, but still present.

To those who knew me as a teenager, my first instinct was to tell you that I’m sorry. But I’m done apologizing for being a person. I’ll apologize for any hurt that I caused, as I’m sure it was plenty, but my teen years defined so many aspects of my life. If you knew me then, you probably remember me being overwhelmed by the smallest of challenges. You remember my insecurity of not fitting into a specific social group, and anxiety and depression threatening to take over as my mind tried desperately to figure out the chemical imbalances that made me hate myself. To those who knew me as a teen, thank you for loving me through the hardest time of my life.

To those who knew me when I went after a self-desctructive relationship, thank you for balancing tough love with comfort as I sought for validation from another rather than from the Lord. That lesson was one of the hardest.

To those who knew me my first year of college, you remember me spinning in pretty dresses and trying to find a balance between the social and the spiritual. You remember my overwhelming excitement to start a new chapter, and my happiness in such a smooth transition. You remember me seeking to learn and lead and describing myself as over-emotional.

To those who knew me my sophomore year, there’s so much for you to know. Because you see, I don’t know if all of you can grasp the differences in my character that were forged that year. You may not remember it, but I  began a journey with my identity and myself. I was no longer the chatterbox five year old, the angsty teenager, the sundress-clad freshman, but those elements of myself were all you had known, you assumed that was me. It’s nobody’s fault; people change all the time, but I don’t think all of you were ok with my change. I was evolving, growing, making mistakes that were teaching me hard lessons, but you still expected the version of me that you had created in your mind, or that I had tried to continue to be to please you.

So this is a message to all. I’m not mad at anyone; it’s foolish to be angry at others for not being aware of all of my internal change. But it is probably a wake up call for some.

Because when I don’t laugh at your jokes, it doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of humor. When I refuse to put myself down as you expect I will for a joke, I won’t. When a sad commercial plays and you turn to look at me because you think I’ll cry at the slightest thing, I won’t explain my lack of tears. These are all things you expect me to do but you have failed to realize that I don’t anymore, because the girl you met whenever you met me is not here.

I am not who I once was. Is anybody? My heart is new, ever-changing, ever-evolving with the promise of the One who holds it close. And that is the only thing I will allow to define me anymore.

 

Patient, Fine, Balanced, Kind

OhtoGrasp_better

As this semester comes to a close, I find myself occasionally worrying about the future and how short my time left at Mercer is. Though I’m consistently reminded that I’m still so young, the fact that it’s been 2 1/2 years since I pulled up to my gross freshman dorm still trips me up.

As a result of the introspective view of time, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity this semester. For those 2 1/2 years that have flown by, I’ve attempted to define myself through various means. Organizations that I’m involved in, personality terms, social groups. I had a bit of an identity crisis over the summer when I worried that how I define myself no longer matched up with my actions and words. Simply put, I worried that I was defining myself as who I was when I came to college, rather than who I’d grown to be.

Several things spurred this on: rethinking my career, shifting friendships, ongoing pressures that I placed on myself. Whenever I’m in an uncomfortable situation, I tend to default to humor. Unfortunately, I’m not gifted with a quick-wit so my default humor tends to be self-deprecating. Since I was young my mom has told me that I’m incredibly hard on myself, and no matter how I grow and change that still shows up in certain instances such as that.

But self-depricating humor doesn’t match the person that I am now. Sure, I likely would have spoken in that manner as a freshman: it was an easy way to make people laugh, and it also toned down any potential arrogance. But now I’m not afraid of people thinking I’m arrogant, because I know I’m not. I know these things about myself, I’m secure in that.

For so long I defined myself as things that I was NOT. I wasn’t athletic, quick-witted, exceptionally intelligent. I couldn’t do science without screaming, or paint something traditionally beautiful. I lacked traits that I saw in other people: not being fueled by emotions, quietly but effectively demanding respect, being a magnet that others gravitated towards. And as I desired to be a mosaic of other’s gifts, I failed to see my own and it tore me apart.

So this semester has been an interesting one as far as identity goes: I’m consistently praying for security in who I am, even though I’m not always 100% sure on who that is. I’m praying for revelation, for trust in the unknown, for consistency in my spiritual walk. I’ve spent many nights crying in prayer, asking God why I continue to feel small even though I was trying, trying, to be better. But God likes to work in the whispers, in the cracks of the wall. He brought me comfort in the form of coffee with a friend I’d always wanted to know deeper, with support from summer friends that I was sure would forget about me come autumn. In attempting to find my identity I’d thrown myself into everything that I could, but it was in the quiet and stillness that I found myself the most refreshed in the Lord’s blessings.

I’ve been trying to focus more on things that I’m good at, but not defining myself by them (frankly the opposite of what I’d done in the past). So, I know that I’m good at writing. I know I can tear through a book in a short amount of time, or that I can intentionally meet with people to build relationships. I know that I care deeply, which I’d previously defined as more of a curse than a blessing. I value vulnerability but have found a balance between being authentic and over-sharing, a change I can see even in the past few months.

But none of these things truly define me or make up my identity.

Rather, my identity comes from the Lord. Which sounds kind of weird and over-spiritual, because what does that even mean? Who can define that hackneyed Christian phrase that people tend to use when discussing dating relationships? (ugh, that’s a topic for a whole separate blog)

I’ve begun to look at my identity as first and foremost a child of the Lord. Everything else is kind of moving pieces. I’m a visual learner (future teacher probz) so in my mind I see my identity with a center and lots of moving parts around it. I think that at the core my identity remains the same for most of my life, but pieces are bound to move, change in size/significance, or change in name. But the center always remains constant.

So right now, the moving pieces of my identity are still taking shape as I’m learning more about myself. I know one of them is Word, reflecting my passion for reading, writing, and communicating. Another is likely wisdom, a spiritual gift I can see myself exhibit in some situations but I’d never put a name on before due to fear of arrogance. Most pieces are unnamed, but they have significance of their own. As someone who loves a plan, diagram, bullet-points and checklists, it makes me a little nervous to not have all the pieces of myself defined. But I think the point of it all is that it’s ok that I don’t. Hey, that may never happen. But I’m slowly becoming ok with that.

Cheers to 20 years of whoever Taylor Steen really is. 🙂

(Also, the painting at the top of this post is by my talented friend Jessie Wiseman! Check out her work at http://jlouise.squarespace.com)

It is well

I’m officially old.

As an upperclassman, I’m officially repeating things. Freshman year overwhelms with a search for a new home, and sophomore year there’s still a sense of newness in going through the beginning of the semester on the other side. As a junior, I’m a seasoned veteran in moving back to campus, welcoming new bears, and watching lives unfold and plant roots.

My own roots are continuing to dig into new soil and enrich what they’re currently planted in. This year has come with its ups and downs like any new season of life. Well aware of the difficulty of coming from an enriching, almost utopian-like summer back to the daily grind of writing papers and contemplating the future, I dove into this year self-assured that because I was aware of the potential struggles that they wouldn’t big issues. Whoops. Surprise, I’m still desperately in need of a Savior.

This summer I staffed at Crossroads Summer Camp with Clayton King ministries, a ministry so close to my heart that it ached to leave South Carolina at the end of July. I came as a camper for five years, and staffing was quite literally a dream come true. It came with its own struggles, from physical exhaustion to outpourings of emotion with friends that quickly changed from new to intimate due to the bubble of camp life. The Holy Spirit truly moves in that place, and though we all know that those five weeks are not the norm, we truly benefit from pushing pause on our daily lives to see God work in unimaginable ways. I will never be able to put into words how I grew as a person and a child of God in that time. I’ve only ever seen the spirit move so strongly at Crossroads and Wesley.

Speaking of Wesley, with a new season comes lots of exciting things for the ministry. I suppose we are in a “transition”, as we shift directors, but the good thing about a ministry so focused on the presence of the Lord is that each detail seems orchestrated perfectly for the sake of the gospel. So, though this year has brought change, I can’t think of a single change that has been painful. I love serving with such a rich community of believers. We had our annual fundraising banquet this past weekend and several students came to support the ministry; as the band played the final song of the night multiple students walked to the back of the room to worship as they would have on a regular Tuesday night. That moment will stay with me: a community so insistent on praising the Lord that they carry it wherever they go, from Tuesday nights to a banquet with strangers to their post-grad lives.

And as for me, each day is a shout to the Lord for guidance and peace. Even on most days, I’m still aware of my smallness and desperate need for his love. This semester has brought about new opportunities for the future, which come with doubts and fear. I’m leading in several areas of my life and consistently working through personal struggles. I’d normally be freaking out on a daily basis.

And yet, I’ve been feeling an overwhelming sense of peace. As my season of life has shifted into a series of repeats, I’ve found myself handing over what would have been anxieties and turning them into prayers. Something I read this summer described how women in childbirth often experience more pain by trying to grit their teeth and just make it through. It is the women who fully allow themselves to feel the pain, be present in the agony, that describe it as bearable.

So that has been my battlecry thus far. That despite the balance and peace that I’ve been feeling and praying over, when the hard times come about I won’t deny them. I won’t blow off my pain or toss up a quick prayer. Rather, I will allow myself to be fully immersed in my frustrations, my heartache, and cry out to Jesus for aid. Denying hard times has never made them easier, but recognizing their power over my soul and crying out for aid smashes them to my ground. What once may have crushed my spirit can now be used as leverage for strengthening it. If I lay my broken heart out on the table, sure, everybody can see it, but it can also be comforted and illustrate to others the power of vulnerability before Jesus.

I’m finally proud of the person I’m becoming, the person that I am. And thank goodness that person isn’t perfect.

So. It is well, with me.