This is a paper I wrote for my creative non-fiction class, edited slightly to post here on my blog. Any feedback or constructive criticism would be appreciated!
There are people who insist that people don’t change, that a person is only what they always were, and will always be what they are.
I can’t say I remember the first time I met Lisa, or how we became friends to begin with. I told her so at her wedding, before she went off on her honeymoon: I said I couldn’t imagine my life without her; she’s like a sister to me. I do remember one event which really solidified our friendship. It was one weekend at Women of Faith, an annual Christian women’s conference; Lisa was rooming with my mother and me at the hotel. On the way back from a meal break, my mom had gotten us lost and made us late and then been mad at me for it, and I was so frustrated with her that I couldn’t sit in the arena. I wandered around the concourse with Lisa until we found a little room reserved for prayer. We spent the rest of that session together in that room; we missed the whole Mandisa concert, but she didn’t care and stayed with me anyway. That’s how Lisa is: She deeply cares about people. She has this love that seems to pour out of her and spill all over you until you’re drenched; her smile and her belief make you feel like you can do anything. When I first knew her, I thought she was a perfect model, with her natural blond curls and slim tall feminine build and perfect kind smile. She is the most joyful and beautiful person I know, my best friend.
We talk about everything. We’ve had conversations about faith, about politics, boys and men, movies and romance, food and fashion. Once, when we were talking in my car, I had an idea, almost an image, pass through my mind, and I told her what it was: It’s as if the whole world is black and white, and when she walks into a room, she brings the color with her. It’s just who she is. She is the city on the hill, a beacon. She is also a former felon.
When we would talk together, she sometimes told me about her history. She wasn’t always full of light and grace. I don’t remember the exact conversations; I’ve heard her story a few times since. She told me about her teen years, how she got into alcohol and all sorts of drugs. Her mom once rented a one-bedroom apartment with a boyfriend when Lisa was only sixteen; there wasn’t room for Lisa, who was expected to figure things out on her own. She often hung out with thieves and broke into places to steal. She told me a little about her time in prison. More often than not, she was in solitary confinement, wing 3 South —“the hole.” I saw a picture of the old her: Black hair, mug shot glare. No color, no life, just resentment and hatred and darkness. She would fight anyone, for anything. She would tell me these things, and I wouldn’t believe her. I’d tell her that was a completely different person. She would agree.
Sometimes we talk about my life, my struggles and anxieties and fears. We talk about how difficult my relationship to my mother is; how it feels having to go back home as an adult; what it’s like to be virtually the only person I know who’s still single and with no children; what it’s like to feel alienated from people my own age; how it feels to question the path I had complete faith in when I took that first step over three years ago. We talk about how I’ve been through many changes in my life, yet I feel as though I’m back at Start: I did not pass “Go,” I did not collect $200. Sometimes I feel like I’m in jail, waiting, watching others take their turns around the board. The path I’ve chosen is taking me through a long and weary wilderness of papers and ink, fearful dabblings in writing, late nights spent in alone rather than out with friends, allowing ideas to form and change. Sometimes I wonder what it’s for, why God is taking me this way and if it is really Him, and I tell my friend so. She reminds me how everything is a season, how the leaves will turn eventually and the attire of my weary desert will change for something cozier, and all the trekking that feels like worthless wandering will have been worth it because I started out going somewhere and I’ll get there. She believes in change. I believe her.
When Lisa decided to follow God and to get clean, she lost everything: The friends she used to run with abandoned her; she had to take her little girl and leave her boyfriend; she really had nowhere to go. Everyone told her she would fail and be right back, and no one took her seriously. She was a single mom with a record, and a recovering addict. Employers don’t often care what a person’s felony charge was, or how much their life has changed, or how much they regret their mistake; all that most employers see on paper and before them in an interview is a felon, and felons aren’t hirable. Lisa was alone in the world with very few options, and might have given up but for the dim light growing within her that drew her on for just one more day, one more day. People who experience addiction and recovery say it’s not one life-changing moment, but a thousand impossible choices every day. Lisa chose every day to take one more impossible step into the unknown, to leave behind who she was and everything she knew, to become the beautiful person she is today—an impossibility itself—a miracle. She chose to be the impossible before the eyes of her old friends and family, every day over years and years becoming what they told her she would never be: Free.
Lisa is married now, and going through even more changes; our friendship has gone through some changes as well. She and her husband are busy learning how to become one, figuring each other out, working out how to build their new life together. She seemed distant for a while, and I was afraid the season for our close friendship may have come to an end for good; but it was only a short winter while her new marriage began its long spring. We still talk, and now I go to her house to visit with her whenever I can. Lisa and her husband just had their first baby together, a girl. She’s changing before their eyes. She will grow up with a father who loves her and a mother who believes in her ability to change and the goodness of it. She’ll also have an auntie, not by blood but friendship, who will be there as often as possible. Lisa is still my best friend; that hasn’t changed, and for that I am glad.
Though it’s much different than it used to be, life is not suddenly easy for her, because she’s not done changing. We all continue to morph into different versions of ourselves as long as we live, either becoming more and more the person God made us to be or running from that person. Every day we choose to trust what He says about who we are is a day we choose the impossible. Lisa inspires me to keep hoping one day I might be married, though I can choose to be whole and happy now regardless; to keep hoping, even when I feel as though no one else is walking the same road as me, that this season won’t continue forever. She reminds me I am exactly where I need to be in order for God to do what He needs to do with me, even if it’s not ideal. I don’t know who I’m becoming yet; I don’t know what I’ll do with this degree once I earn it, besides hang it on my wall. I believed in the beginning that this part of my journey had a purpose, that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. This road is not easy, and it must be because it’s the right way; His roads are always narrow, after all.
Lisa told me once about being in the hole in prison, absolutely at her desperate end. Her life felt as though it was being engulfed in darkness and despair and she would never get away from it, never change; she “kited” for her mentor over and over, but her mentor let her be alone. The only book they allow you in the hole is the Bible. She read it and read it, sought and groped after all the promises and hope written in the pages, longing for the light. One day it came. As to Paul on the road to Damascus, the light came. It flooded the cell, flooded her, and the love that came with it destroyed her. To this day, it destroys her; it shines out from that hill of her life into the dim valley of single college students dwelling at home in the wilderness, reminding them that things change and people change, and light always comes.
For more of Lisa’s story, read her testimony on the Esteem Outreach website.
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You don’t understand how the joy I felt as soon as I had conceived of you in my mind drove me to form you, or the way your first breath and cry made my heart swell and my feet dance. Nor can you fathom how excited I was when I made the earth and everything in it, knowing one day, the perfect day, you would walk in it. I saw you before you were, and I couldn’t wait for you to become—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You can’t imagine the sorrow in my heart, knowing I’d given you the gift of choosing everything I Am, but that you would reject it—reject Me. I raise the sun even when you aren’t looking and I never get tired of searching for your heart, nor of opening mine to you—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You don’t know just how far I reached through space and time to pierce the darkness that blocks My light from your view, to shatter the boundary between your heart and my love, to offer you My hand, forever. I will never give up on you, no matter how far you run or how deep you dive, no matter what you say to My face or what you do when you believe My back is turned to you—I never turn my back on you—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
My heart sings when you turn to me, when your heart reaches for mine, when your spirit worships in truth. You reach up to Me, and I am already there with you; you cry out to Me and I have already heard it. You bask in My presence and let My love overflow in your being until you think you should burst, but this is only a glimpse, a taste of my passion for you. I made you for Myself, and all that I make is good. I know who you are, I wrote a wonderful story about you, when I dreamt of you before the foundation of all things. I made you out of faith that you are able to be and to do all I imagined you could—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
This is just a little something that came to me a little while ago, and I will eventually elaborate on it. Any feedback or constructive criticism would be appreciated!
I love visiting my grandma. Most kids do, I guess, but my grandma’s not like most grandmas; she’s a time traveler.
My grandma sometimes thinks we’re other people, or looks for other people who aren’t there. She talks about things she has to do that she doesn’t, or acts like she’s in places she isn’t. Whenever I ask my mom why, she says, “Grandma’s somewhere else right now. We just have to wait for her to come back.” It confused me at first, because she couldn’t be somewhere else if she’s still right here in her chair. I decided she must be a time traveler, but only her mind time travels; she hasn’t figured out how to make her body go too. She must be trying really hard to figure it out though, because she’s gone more and more.
One day, when she had come back, I asked her why she liked going to the past so much, and why she didn’t like it here. She said she loves us very much, and she didn’t always go on purpose, but most of the times she visits are good. She goes all the way back to when she was a kid like me, and her mom was there; she misses her mom. I would too. She said she also goes to good times like her wedding day with Grandpa; he’s in heaven with her mom, and she misses him a lot. I asked her if she could go to the future instead of the past, and maybe then she could visit them there, but she said it wouldn’t work. She said, “I’ll go that way someday, but when I go, I can’t come back. Maybe I will go soon, but then you’ll have to wait awhile to see me again.” I told her she should go, since she misses them so much, and she would even get to see Jesus for real; that made her smile.
I told my mom what Grandma said, and how she seemed so happy about seeing everyone again. My mom seemed really sad, even though she tried to smile, but I don’t know why. I thought she’d be really happy, but I guess she would just miss her mom. I know I would, and then I was really sad thinking about it.
The nurse from the big house my grandma lived in called two days later, and my mom started crying and saying Grandma was gone for good. I was sad that I wouldn’t get to visit her anymore and hear her stories, but I was really happy she finally got to go to the future and see Grandpa and her mom, and even Jesus. There was a big church service that weekend, where everyone celebrated my grandma and talked about her life. There was a big box at the front of the church, and everyone walked by and said things to it, and some put their hands in it. I wondered what was in there, and when we got up to it, I saw my grandma! I was really sad, because I thought she’d travel there for good, but now she would have to come back for her body. I asked my mom why she left it behind, because didn’t she get to take it with her to the future, to heaven? But my mom said, “No, sweetie, no one takes their body when they go to heaven. We only need it here on earth; we get a different one there.” I was a little happier then, and I whispered to my grandma’s old body, “I bet you’re even more beautiful now. I’ll see you later, and tell Grandpa hi from me.” She must have been so happy when she left, because she was still smiling.
I wrote this in my personal journal over a year ago now, when I was feeling very discouraged. Perhaps it will encourage someone else today.
A Soldier’s Complaint
I am walking to the land He has given me to possess; I am walking in it, to possess it.
I’ve walked through deserts; through dim valleys and lush fields.
I’ve scaled high, steep hills; I’ve climbed long, shallow ones.
Through rain and sun, night and day, I have walked.
When I have walked alive, I have been dead. And when I have died, I have walked in new life.
And what I have lost along the way—it is worthless; to what I have gained, all the world does not compare.
I have nothing left, yet I have everything I have ever needed; indeed the desires of my heart are mine.
I’ve fought—I’ve fought, and been victorious, and I’ve also given up victories.
I’ve swung the sword and thrown the dagger and held fast the shield.
I’ve put on the armor, and I’ve forgotten the armor.
I’ve been wounded. I’ve been in pain.
I’ve been healed, restored, renewed.
In battles, in the war, I have fought.
I’ve died to all things, slowly and assuredly; and even to this day, I am dying!
I am walking, I am fighting—fighting for what? Walking where?
My Darling, do you not trust Me?
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for harm, plans to give you a future
and a hope.
I am so weary, I am so drained…
Run, and do not grow weary.
I can’t see where I’m going, I have to stop…
Walk, and do not grow faint.
What if I can’t run this race set before me? How can I go on?
I am with you always
Even to the end of the age…
My life is not my own. I am not my own.
You are all I have; You are all I want! I am only alive in You, and life flows through me from You.
You refresh my soul, restore my strength, and quench my thirst.
You fill my heart when I open it wide, and I overflow when I do not shut it up.
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
So I run.
I run, sword in my hand, shield on my arm.
I run, my face to the sky and my eyes to the hills; through the tempest and the eye, through the shadows and the light.
I am the torch, I carry the flame; running always for the prize,
For I know the plans I have for you
plans for welfare and not for harm
plans to give you a future and a hope.
Running home, to my Father and my Groom; fighting alongside my King and my Lord.
I have a future.
I have hope.
[Original: 28 January 2012]
Colored pencil & oil pastel on hot press board. *Please don’t copy or save this image*
This is a project I had to do for an art class, actually: a musically-inspired piece.
The song that I chose is “Like and Avalanche” by Hillsong United.
I strongly encourage you to listen to the song as you consider my work:
Feel free to turn it up!
All the elements of this picture reflect aspects of the song, or at least how it affected me at the time. I’m certain that if I did another on the same song, it would look very different.
I have always loved this song since the first time I heard it. While it’s called “Like an Avalanche,” it makes me think of tidal waves. God’s presence and love is like the song: it is gentle and beautiful and joyful; but it is also powerful and fierce, and can overwhelm you with little warning. Grace is more than “unmerited favor” or even forgiveness of sins; grace is the power of God in the life of one who believes Him to be who He says they are, and to live as He has called them.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” —Ephesians 2:4-7
“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” —Romans 5:7-10