Whatever is True: Jesus Shows us the Way

 

Image result for at jesus feet

Well, I’m not sure how many of you have been with me from the beginning but to kick off this blog I decided to start with a series entitled “Whatever is True.” You can head to my previous posts or click on the links below to check those thoughts out. I thought for my last post of the series that I’d share what I think is the thread that links all those four posts together.

I’ll never forget the day that Andy finished graduate school. After six and a half years, Andy’s committee was finally ready to sign off on his project and we were preparing to leave Galveston. To put our move in context I just have to write here that moving half way across the country to a barrier island on the coast of Texas was both one of the most important things Andy and I have ever done (both personally and as a couple) and also one of the hardest journeys I’ve ever traveled. I can’t really put a finger on why I found it so hard. Plenty of people make big moves like this and don’t experience it in the way I did. If pressured to explain it I would say this: It’s as though my personal spiritual and emotional make up at the time and the state of Texas geographically and culturally were just iron against iron for all the years we were there. I felt like my soul was constantly on the battlefield.  For all the good experiences we had there (and there were some amazing experiences and friendships made) I just never felt at home.

It turned out that the day Andy’s final copy was due to his committee on my 32nd birthday. To put it mildly, Andy and I have vastly different schoolwork habits! I tend to look at a deadline and set out a schedule of sorts in order to finish on time. The idea of pulling all night sessions at the end of a big project makes me mildly nauseous.  Andy is the opposite. He collects bits and pieces for his final project along the way and then puts them all together at the very end. If you ever needed real life exhibits of the Judger/Perceiver dichotomy in a Myers Briggs personality profile then Andy and I can gladly serve as your poster children!

So, true to his style, Andy spent the entire night before the due date in a study hall on campus putting in some final tweaks to his paper. In retrospect, I could have been more understanding as it was essentially his final day of grad school. But after multiple weeks of crazy hours and promises to be home at one time only to see him hours later, I found myself steaming that he couldn’t just hit “submit” and be done with it. I wondered what changes he could possibly make the night before the due date that would make or break his committee’s final decision.

After a restless night of irritable sleep, I finally saw him walk up the steps looking like a bedraggled zombie, at around 10 or 11 on the morning of my birthday. Our house was in total disarray as we were preparing to move a few weeks later. All of our stuff was either packed away or on its way to an open cardboard box. At 30 weeks pregnant we even had our first daughter tucked away waiting to make her debut in Georgia once we moved.

It was in this chaos of mind, body and surroundings that Andy entered and presented me with a manila folder. Inside was the front matter of his final thesis. I had enough presence of mind in that moment to mask my frustration from my obviously exhausted spouse and began to leaf through the pages he had presented me with. He had dedicated his project to me and the dedication page was (and still is!) lovely. I will always cherish those words. Then I read his notes to his family and mine followed by words to colleagues and close friends we’d made both in Texas and back home.

Lastly he wrote a note to our unborn daughter. He encouraged her, should she read his work one day, to consider the health of others. It is virtuous, right and good to do so, he said. At this final sentence, whatever trace of anger I had gave way to two hours of completely unexpected tears of relief. I finally called my mom at some point to blubber afresh to her for another hour after Andy retired to get some sleep.

For the next couple of weeks the two of us were extremely emotional. When he defended his dissertation publicly, I silently thanked God that he had maneuvered things in such a way for me to NOT be in attendance. A doctoral candidate often invites close family and friends to the public portion of the defense but because of some last minute rescheduling I would be attending my own baby shower in Virginia the morning after his presentation. This last minute change up was a minor miracle as no sooner did I receive the first text message from a friend in the room on the morning of his defense did I start sobbing anew at my mom’s kitchen table. I don’t think I would have kept it together if I had actually been physically present in the room.

I don’t know how else to describe those weeks after grad school but to say that the burden I had carried just lifted in the most surprising and unexpected way. I often think about that experience when I consider this world and whats actually required of us for joy and life to come forth. Sometimes I think it looks like surrender. My brother-in-law David has often asked me over the years if I resisted when we decided to move. My response has always been some version of “Yes. There was a lot of resistance.” followed by, “But I knew somewhere deep down that in this particular situation I was being asked, by God more so than Andy, to lay down my preferences. I just knew at this gut level that the future marriage and family that I wanted depended on my willingness to go somewhere that I didn’t want to go.”

I don’t write these sentences with any sense of heroism about them either. Its hard to tell how my own writing sounds at times so I hope I’m not coming off in that manner. I wasn’t exactly a compliant sheep about it all. There was just this internal integrity that I knew would be broken if I didn’t go.

Have you ever considered this? The fact that getting what we want often requires us to go where we don’t want to go? It sounds morbid but if I know anything I know this one truth. Jesus asks us what it is that we want and we respond with our desires for family, career, joy, marriage, children, or home and then he often responds to the deepest of those desires with the most paradoxical and devastating news. “Ok, these are great things to want. But I don’t want you to miss the point it all. So first we’re heading into the wilderness. You’re just going to have to trust me.”

The wilderness, perhaps you’ve experienced, is as frightening and exhausting as I, for one, never could have imagined. Its tears streaming down our faces and sleepless nights wondering when the anvil will come off of our hearts. Its depression and anxiety and loss and being stripped to our cores until we feel incredibly exposed and alone.

But then one day, just as your putting the last of your dishes into cardboard boxes and sweeping the final crumbs into the trash you realize in a moment that its finally finished. Months later you’ll be sitting down to write about it all and realize you just spent six and a half years in a spiritual and emotional gymnasium in order to prove to yourself, your spouse and your God that you can handle whatever comes next because you’re not going down without a fight.

I think that’s the point of the wilderness. Its a place to discover who you really are. When its finally over you stand up and walk into the light that’s now pouring into an empty and spacious room and you realize that you’ve got new skin on. You know in some small and strange way that a part of you died. The life breath was gone. There was no pulse. But somehow, against those crazy odds, your heart just starts beating again. You’ve risen back from the dead.

This. This promise of resurrected bodies, minds and hearts. This is what draws me to Jesus of Nazareth.

Every. Friggin’. Time.

He’s the only person I’ve ever encountered who reverses this very real and frightening reality that is death. And he’s the only person in living history who, full of highest integrity, calls out to us and says: “You can do it too.” 

“Embrace me.” He says. “Embrace my pattern for life through death in the wilderness and along the way you’ll come to know what it means to really live in the first place.”

This is the most astonishing news to me. It finally lays the foundation for what our lives are all about in the first place. Its about letting God uncover our desires and letting him show us that the things we all desire – even the very best things like loving families and happy marriages and inviting homes – are just shadows cast from a Creator who gave us those desires in the first place.

You want to know what I think? I think Jesus is just beside himself trying to keep quiet until we follow these shadow desires back to the source of them. He doesn’t want to spoil the surprise. But I’m sure he must look with great anticipation to the  day when we’ve followed those shadows all the way back to its smallest width and we realize we’re actually staring at his feet. At this point there’s nothing left to do but look up. And there he is. There he was. There he will be. The one forever father. the one devoted husband. Our one and only home. Our strongest desire.

No sane human person ever willingly takes on a death. This is what makes faith in the wilderness so difficult at times. Even writing this makes me mildly uncomfortable because one day I know one of you readers might just email this piece back to me and tell me to read my own damn writing. Ha!

But this place. The place where the shadows of my greatest desires meet the shadow giver’s sandals is my favorite place to be in the entire universe. Because this is the place where we’re at his feet saying we just can’t do it and we’re just too screwed up. And this is the place where divinity bends down to lift up our chin and say “its OK. You don’t have to. Not by yourself. I’ve already done all the heavy lifting. Just rest in my arms. Just sit at my feet and enjoy my presence. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Yes, you are BROKEN. But its OK because you are indescribably LOVED.

Yes, the path to JOY is hard. But its OK because I’ll give you GRACE when you need it.

Yes, getting what you really want will require a DEATH on some level.

But its OK. Because you have JESUS.

 

To this, all I can do is let the tears drop down to the dirt on his toes, and say

“Oh Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

 

Officially Published!

Hi Everyone. Still working on my next post but I wanted to let you all know that an article I submitted to an online periodical has just been published! Super excited about it. She Loves Magazine is an online mag that focuses on women and justice issues.

You can check out the piece I wrote here.

Thanks for your continued reading. This has been a fun adventure with you all!

-Courtney

Whatever is True: Grace For the Moment

Image result for image of feet

I’m sitting in a bustling office waiting to be called back for an interview. Its April of 2006. The interview I’ve prepared for is for an internship that I want so badly I could scream. It would just be for the summer – 8 weeks total – but it would be paid and would bridge the gap while I submit resumes for full time jobs. More importantly, its an internship in the field that I love. I’d get to spend the whole summer working at various non profits and learning with other interns about the ins and outs of the organizations that I really want to work for.

The only thing standing between me and this opportunity is a panel of faculty and student leaders who are interviewing candidates and deciding who will be the best fit for the program. As I look back on it, I had no reason to be worried. I already had a resume that was charting a path towards this internship to begin with. I also had that sixth sense in my bones that this program was created just for me.

The major problem I was ruminating on was the fact that in that season I had a tendency to choke when the performance really mattered. I had my first panic attack in a classroom where I was presenting for a final exam in a marketing class. I looked at screen where my slides were projected and I couldn’t see what was in front of me. The notes I had practiced with suddenly made no sense as my mind became a jumbled mass of incoherent thoughts.

From that time forward, it felt like I was always one step away from losing my grip before I needed to do something important. For this reason, what should have been a confident interview started with me in a hallway waiting to be called, one step shy of full on panic.

If you could have read my thoughts in those 15 minutes it would have been saying something like this:

“What if I panic when they ask the first question?

“Escape plan! Just run out of the room like you did during the presentation.”

“But then your dream internship will be lost!”

“OK stay in the chair and breath. stay in the chair and breathe. stay in the chair and breathe. ”

“But what if I panic when they ask the first question?”

“Escape plan! Just run out of the room like you did…”

Now picture this conversation on a hyper drive loop. Like when you accidentally hit the button on the record player that makes all the voices sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. And then picture those same four sentences playing over and over again non-stop for 15 minutes at Alvin speed. Add in regular rushes of adrenaline typically reserved for the top of a roller coaster or the appearance of a robber and you have my basic state of mind and body, minutes before my interview. At least that was my state of mind until something strange happened.

Greg Savarese, a classmate and acquaintance from various campus activities over the last four years, rounds a corner at a quick clip and stumbles over my foot. He looks back to see what caught his shoe.

“Oh hey, Courtney! Sorry I didn’t see you there. How’s it going?”

Surprised by the unexpected fumbling of people and shoes and then equally surprised to realize I knew the person I’d almost tripped, Alvin and the Chipmunks were silenced instantaneously.

“Hey, Greg. Fine, thanks. Where are you headed…”

We engage in a five minute conversation about our plans after graduation, only having to part ways when I am called back by Amy, another classmate who is facilitating my interview that morning. She chats me up all the way to the classroom where I see smiling faces with hands extended in welcome and greeting.

I finish a great interview and reflect on the fact that Greg Savarese turned a corner in the nick of time.

And I realize that this is what Grace looks like.

Unmerited, unworked for, unearned favor. Something I couldn’t have orchestrated if I had tried, in the very moment that i needed it.

A friend of mine texted me this week: “God doesn’t give grace for our imagined fears.”

It struck me that this is true. It also strikes me that he has given me grace over and over again in the very moments that I’ve needed it.

Oh, that this would sink into the marrow of my bones.

I’d be the freest woman of them all.

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever is True: The road to joy is mostly hard. Until, sometimes miraculously, it is not.

When I was in college, I rowed crew. I can’t really tell you why I joined the team other than to say that I left high school with a lingering crush on my high school boyfriend. This boyfriend was obsessed with his older sister, a rower for Clemson University,. I think a large part of me felt that the way to his heart would be through collegiate athletics. Just so you know how well that went, I am now happily married to Andy who does not have a sister and the boyfriend in question is probably somewhere out there with a boyfriend of his own to row with down a river in northern Virginia where I assume he still lives. We lost touch somewhere between his coming out of the closet and his raging at me in a public restaurant for quitting the team half way through my senior year. By that time I was exhausted and he clearly needed counseling.

For all the wacked out reasons that I joined the team, I can say that it was a largely positive experience for me despite them. I had been a decent enough soccer player in high school but was tired of the sport by the time I got to college. Crew was something new I could learn that kept me focused on goals outside of how many shots I could down in a given weekend. Our school had a reputation for partying and the idea of spending most of my college years drunk sounded worse than spending most of my college years getting up at 5:00 in the morning. So I chose the latter.

The only real problem with the Loyola College rowing team was that we weren’t very good. Racing shells, oars and coaching launches are so expensive compared to the price it costs to run a basketball squad that the school couldn’t afford to offer our team any scholarships. This left our coaches committed to recruiting people who were just masochistic enough to actually want to get up at 5:00 every morning during their college years and work on perfecting our rowing strokes. Needless to say, it was always a hard sell.

My sophomore year, my two closest friends on the team were two seniors who had just returned from study abroad years in Ireland and Thailand. Not only were they terribly out of shape but they were five foot four inches at most and no more than 125 pounds soaking wet. These two along with two others in our varsity eight were really much more fit to lightweight events – the category of rowers that allows shorter women to compete against teams more similar in size and thus more suitably matched for competition. Of course my  smaller teammates sizes were a problem given that the rest of our squad were closer to six feet, and, well, decisively NOT 125 pounds.

On a soccer team these varying sizes might not be such a problem but in a boat where the length of someones arm’s and legs determines how fast or slow you have to swing to keep a boat balanced, it can be a huge problem. This meant that most of our mornings were spent with our coach attempting to help us time our catches in a very specific way. Quicker with the shorter girls and a longer in the air with the taller girls. We practiced for hours on end, at 6:00 in the morning, on the world’s narrowest boat. We did this rain or shine for months.

I share all this to say that most of my time on the water with this squad was incredibly frustrating. Narrow boats with varying stroke times mean that the boat is constantly dipping from side to side and the oars are getting stuck in the water because the timing is off. There is no glorious sense of “swing” that you hear about when you talk to rowers in more suitably matched clubs. Practices are slow and choppy with constant stops to allow various rowers to practice strokes while the rest of the team balances the boat for her with oars flat on the water. After two years of this torture it hadn’t occurred to me to expect anything other than a slow boat with no swing. I didn’t know that things could be any different because I had never experienced it.

Then, at the end of our sophomore racing season, something strange and completely unexpected happened. We were at our conference championship regatta and in the final women’s race of the day. We were positioned next to Marist College that had a boat I was certain would beat us just as they had beat us at every race we had met them in that season. The starting gun went off and we started the race like we did every other race and practice that season. We each zoned in on the muscled back of the teammate in front of us, attempting to match their oar speed stroke after stroke.

Miraculously, 500 meters into the 2000 meter sprint, something happened that the entire boat felt. We got swing. Something clicked and the boat for the first time started feeling light. It was like rowing on air. Not only that but by half way down the course I could see out of the corner of my eye that we were neck and neck with Marist College – the team that had left us in the dust race after race that spring. On the other side of the boat I could see on land that our coach was now on his mountain bike racing towards the finish line and screaming  at the top of his lungs on our behalf. The rest of the men’s and women’s teams were soon running behind him cheering us on. What they hadn’t known until after we were already on the water was that the women’s races that had gone ahead of us had all gone very well for our school. Our coach and teammates on the sidelines knew what we didn’t: if we won the varsity women’s eight race we would be conference champions.

Eventually, we got to the final 250 meters and with a call from our coxswain we gave the rest of the race everything we had left. Marist did the same as we heard their coxswain yelling at her rowers to push harder but they didn’t have it. We won the race and then to our doubled surprise at the finish line we learned that we had won the entire regatta. We all completely lost our minds, started screaming and all but jumped in the water we were so happy.

I love remembering this race for several reasons but I keep coming back to two thoughts when I think of it. First, I keep remembering how quickly we forgot the drudgery of the months beforehand. Miserable practices were long forgotten once everything clicked that day. The rest of the season was incredible as we felt and performed like an actual legitimate crew. If I’m honest, sometimes I think that the heights of joy we felt that day would not have been as high if we didn’t have the miserable months behind us too. Its like the harder parts put the really joyful high in deeper relief.

The other thing I love remembering is just how elated we all were by the end of that race. I rarely think of it without a huge smile flashing across my face. It reminds me that happiness (as our culture views it) and joy are two very different things and that joy is totally worth shooting for.

I don’t know about you but I have a few things in my life these days that feel a bit like unending rowing practices on a cold and rainy river. I am also all too aware that some of these difficulties are things that might just stick with me in some form or another for the long haul. In rowing, some crews just never get past the drudgery. I am grateful though for these high moments in life that remind me to keep digging in, keep practicing and keep holding out for joy. Looking back I can say that it was worth the 2 years of difficulty to get to those 2 months of pure joy. I’ll never forget what that felt like.

040
I got a chance to row at the Houston Rowing Club a few years ago. Hardest sport I’ve ever been involved with! It sure is beautiful though when everything finally clicks.

For Andy

wedding.jpg

To Andy, on the week of our 9th wedding anniversary…for loving me like no one else can. You continue to be the greatest gift to me. Let’s grow old (and crotchety), together.

Like Falling Asleep

By: Courtney T. Beck

I tried to write about love once

but the words wouldn’t come

in any elaborate way.

So I considered my mother

who traced her finger

around my ear and

through my hair

as I fell fast asleep

while she read

by the light.

Now, in this season, I consider

You.  Who shows me love

by the way that I rest

when I’m with you.

We rise tired these days.

Pushing back sleep to

push on with the work.

We learn to die to

a certain vision of things

so we might rise to

something warmer and

more inviting.

Love

it turns out,

is not so easy to come by.

Most days it’s throwing

mud and seeds and water

onto a table

that may or

may not have access to

the sun; whose

beams must shoot through

the necessary hole

we attempt to keep open

in the roof overhead.

But sometimes, a definite

miracle unveils a sure clearing

that appears in spite of

the mud that’s now pooled

below the table, beneath

the hole in our roof.

It’s a space that’s familiar,

from a younger season,

when there was no roof

that needed tending.

From a time when the skies

held our hearts,

lightly, like clouds that

could not be captured.

Soft feet step

into a new space

filled with light. And soon

the sun and mud and clouds and soil

give way to a mother’s finger

tracing over our faces.

And we fall fast asleep

while she reads

by the light.