Whatever is True: Grace For the Moment

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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.

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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

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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.

Whatever is true: I am Loved.

When we lived in Galveston there was a long hot season when it felt like the light on my insides had gone out. The sun shown hotter than hell in Texas but internally I felt like my heart had grown a thorn bush around it. Getting to it was incredibly painful.

A friend and I met for coffee and she told me about a novel she had read. In it, a man is tormented by the darkness of the world. So much so that he walked perpetually bent over with sharp talons lodged deep into his shoulders. “The love of Jesus,” she told me, “slowly removes those talons, one by one.”

While out for a jog a few weeks later I kept thinking about that image and felt within me a boldness to ask for a replacement one. “God,” I said, with certainty. “I feel those talons in my shoulders too. And if you wouldn’t mind I kindly ask you to…kick the ever loving shit out of them. None of this one at a time business! And,” I continued confidently. “Please let me know when you’re done.” I left it at that, possessing this all too rare confidence that He would answer in a way that I would understand.

Months later, I had a dream that I was in Ocean City where my family vacations most years. A devious man with bad intentions took my four year old hand, full of innocence, and walked me down the boardwalk and off to an isolated place where no one could see us. Just as he prepared to take advantage of me, an unsuspecting child, Andy and my Dad slammed open the back door of the building we were behind with a force that surprised us both. The two of them pummeled the dark man to death with fists and elbows and body slams for what seemed like hours. They were still going at it when I opened my eyes.

Sometimes I fail to grasp the love that I’m told God has for me. I’ve spent a long time thinking that God expects a perfection from me that I can’t begin to deliver. But Andy? My Dad? These two imperfect men have given me their lives, and I know it down to the bottom of me. One when I was very small. And one when he said “I do. Come what may.”

And so, in His own way, God let me know that from the moment I was very small until this present moment that I stand in that He has been kicking down doors and beating up devils to get to me. I still often feel like I have talons lodged into my shoulders. This is probably because I am a lot like the man in the novel – I look out into the world and see suffering and wonder about the love of God in the midst of such misery in the world. Yet I’m finding that God is faithful to answer in any number of ways when I’m responsive to the nudge within that says to stop looking at the pain and to look up and out to the One who can take me to the other side of them. Little by little I come back to the place where I started from as a small child. I remember that I am loved.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you…”

Isaiah 43: 1-4

Whatever is True: We are Broken.

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A few years ago while we lived in Texas a man showed up to our church and announced that he was starting a recovery ministry. A successful businessman, he admitted to our community that he had a history of hard drug and alcohol abuse and after years of letting it lead his life he decided to quit for good. He was successful with the help of Celebrate Recovery (CR), a Christ based 12 step program that brings people together to admit their issues and help each other stay on track.

I had heard about this movement in various circles and was immediately excited to tell everybody I knew to sign up and get moving towards healing. After all, I knew that if Jesus was about anything he was about the healing and restoration of broken people. I also knew that CR was established for anyone with a “hurt, habit or hang up” of any kind and therefore anyone could attend. For whatever reason though I couldn’t see that I was likely the primary person in my midst who needed healing.

The first cohort of people went through their steps and I heard great things about its kick off year. I also started to realize that I was more of a mess than I gave myself credit for. I had read all the books and sought counsel from any number of wise folk and still felt like I was locked in my own personal mental prison. My schedule opened up right about the time that a second group got started in the program and I decided to join them.

I could write several articles on what I learned at CR. I think the most critical thing I gleaned was several months into the program when we had all but finished reviewing and applying each of the recovery steps to our own lives through weekly workbook activities. On this particular Wednesday we got together and before meeting in our smaller work groups we recited each of the 12 steps out loud together as one large group in the same way we did every week. The room was filled with addicts of all kinds: perfectionists, substance abusers, alcoholics, anxious folk, depressed folk, attractive people, not so attractive people, doctors, scientists, the unemployed and the almost if not already homeless. Together we recited the twelve steps out loud as we did every night along with an accompanying bible verse starting with the first:

“Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

‘For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18’ “

This is the very first step that is ever addressed at a Celebrate Recovery program. For whatever reason the depth of my internal brokenness had never truly sunk in until many months after I had first heard it. Yet when I finally truly understood it on this particular night I all but laughed out loud. Its was almost as though I understood the true depths of the gospel for the very first time.

Not long after that night I had a dream that I’ll not soon forget. In the dream I was friends with a character from Gray’s Anatomy (Thank you, Netflix). She was in one of the early seasons. To be honest, I can’t remember her name but I do recall that in the show, she was supposed to be the best heart surgeon in her field. She was never without the right answer or the right diagnosis that would save a patient’s life right before the episode was over.

In my dream, she was my friend and I kept trying to invite her to live at my house. I knew something about her that she refused to acknowledge publicly…every night, after work, she would leave the hospital after her shift was over and spend the night attempting to sleep in an old, rusted out car. Here she was, this world renowned surgeon who one would assume could afford to live where ever she wanted. Yet she chose each night to sleep in a beat up vehicle with no windows. I remember she smelled terrible and needed a shower and a warm meal but she kept putting me off. She would only spend time with me for a little while until heading out into a driving rain for some fitful sleep on the street.

I knew when I woke up that God was trying to tell me something…He was kindly suggesting that I was the surgeon. I’d been keeping up appearances and for all intents and purposes I continued to excel on the outside both at work and at home. Inside though, my soul was fitfully attempting to sleep on the street in a beat up old car instead of taking His offer to come inside to a warm bed and a hot meal with a truly compassionate friend.

If I’m honest, I think I still spend most days attempting to keep up appearances. As with any addiction or ingrained habit, its rare to go from sleeping on the streets to well adjusted and at home in your own skin overnight. Oftentimes it still feels too vulnerable to admit that I’m really most like a surgeon who sleeps in her car at night when no one else is looking. But I would venture to suggest that my best moments in the past couple of years have been when I honestly admitted that I’ve been searching the streets for days on end, looking for cover from the wind and the rain. At some point, utterly exhausted from fear that my heart will never find shelter I’ll usually have a moment of clarity and I’ll look up from the ground. At that moment…its rarely failed…the wind and the rain slow down and I notice right in front of me a house on the block where I’m standing with its lights still on. I walk up the steps and turn the knob and find a clean towel and a fresh bar of soap for my tired aching muscles. I clean myself up and put on a robe and sit down to a meal that was prepared just for me.

In this moment, just after thinking I was lost for good, its suddenly so clear that what happens next doesn’t really matter much anymore.

I’m home.

 

 

Whatever is True…

So, as a way of getting to know each other, might I share that on a Myers Briggs Personality Test I test as an ISTJ. If you’re looking for order and the comfort and bliss of the systematic, I’m your girl. If you want excitement and novelty and newness, well, that’s not really my strength. Extroversion and the world of emotions feel a bit like writing with my left hand. For me, its awkward and shaky and doesn’t flow as smoothly as my introverted, thinker side (much to my frustration at times!).

I’m feeling a bit like a duck out of water these past couple months as I realize that most of my life for the past year and a half  has been novel and new. We’re in a new city, making new friends. I’m a new mom with a new daughter, new routines and just recently, a new job and a new church. If I’m honest, I’m getting a little tired of all the change. Yet with an ever changing child on my hands, it appears I’m in for lots of change in the coming years. So I want to write a couple of posts that will be grounding in the coming days and months. I want to remember the things I can fall back on when everything feels up in the air.

Someone once told me that Paul is at his pastoral best in his letter to the Philippians when says the following:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true,whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think on these things. Whatever you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, put these things into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8

I appreciate this verse because it invites and challenges the thinkers, feelers, introverts and extroverts in all of us into a life of consideration and practice that’s full of integrity.  If you’re going to think…and you will…think honorably, purely, admirably. Consider the things that are lovely. And then don’t stop there. Put those noble, beautiful thoughts into practice.

I can get stuck in my own head. If I’m not intentional, I can get caught up in a merry-go-round of thoughts. Recently I’m realizing that the only thing I’m putting into practice are hours of considerations of my own considerations! If that’s not the definition of an incredibly unhelpful merry-go-round, I don’t know what is. Paul’s reminding me to get back to basics. I  want to remember what is true and put it into practice. This won’t always feel easy or natural but then again I only need to do it one moment at a time. Looking forward to getting these thoughts out there in the coming days.

What, on this day, is true for you? How is this truth honorable, right, pure, lovely or admirable? I would love to learn from you!

 

Welcome to My Blog!

In the winter of 2004 during my Junior year of college, I let an eager 22 year old young man convince me that I should let him take me out on date. When I suggested we could get a drink and he instantly made dinner reservations I should have considered the fact that my more hesitant self clearly needed to be swept off her feet. Thirteen years later we have arrived in Atlanta, Georgia by way of Baltimore, Maryland with a 6 year pit stop in Galveston, Texas to get a doctorate (his, not mine, but I dare say I EARNED MY DOCTORATE THERE TOO).

We have a one year old daughter named Ellie and an 8 year old dog named Nellie (Yes. This is ridiculous. It’s a whole thing. I will explain later) and are wrapping ourselves up in a marriage, family and community and finding that it mostly fits if we can get over ourselves long enough.

I’m starting this blog with two primary questions in mind:

  • What does a life of freedom actually look like? In some ways I connect this concept to my generations incessant “can you have it all” question…Is having it all possible? Do we even want it all? Well, if you ask me I’m learning that I just want the freedom to decide for myself. Yet this freedom business is tricky. It can be as simple as laying something down or as confusing as starting from scratch.How do we know if we’re making the right decisions? I’m excited to see what comes of asking these question and letting them sit before us. The path could lead to something really lovely, don’t you think? I look forward to dialoguing about it in this space.
  • What do I really want? This question is related to the first but it goes one step further. Society would have us stake our identities on extremes. You’re either a 70 mile per hour career woman or a stay at home mom with an iron in her hand but God forbid we have our hands in and out of both pots at various seasons and find those seasons actually satisfying. In the gospels, before Jesus healed a person, He very often asked the person “What is it that you want?” If he is divine (and I believe that he is) then surely he didn’t need to know the answer. And yet Jesus is the compassionate healer who won’t stand for healing the physical malady without also bringing the spiritual and emotional wounds along for the ride. I want to talk about what this journey looks like in my life and others and see where it takes us.

Life can be really messy. As I write this it’s the week of Easter and I’m sitting in Atlanta recovering from the plague (ok a virus, but as I eat saltines and consider if broth will stay down the hatch, we might as well call it the plague) when I was supposed to be visiting some beloved family members and celebrating an important event in their lives. These things happen sometimes but it’s certainly not what I would have said that I wanted. There are so many things in this life and this world that take turns we don’t expect: for the good and for the bad. I’m wondering what God is inviting us all into? What are the parts we’re supposed to play? How do we live this well?

Doing it together is a great place start. Thanks for joining me.

-Courtney

PS. if you like what you’re reading please consider subscribing on the right side of this post. I promise I will only post when I have something pressing to share. ‘Aint nobody got time for jibber jabber…Am I right?