It's my senior year of college and I find myself aghast at the speed with which time has whizzed by these past 4 years. There's just no way I'm about to turn 22, about to graduate college, and go into the "real world" with nothing but a degree in two humanities under my belt (insert crazy tongue Emoji here bc double majoring in English and Religion seemed like a good idea when I was 18 but now, in the wake of a global pandemic, it feels a bit unnecessary), but that's neither here nor there.
This is the first time in my life I can remember not having any clue where I'll be in a year. Even when I was a senior in high school, I knew I'd be a college student somewhere, tucked safely into the insulated shell of academia for four more years. Call me a control freak, but I've always liked to imagine myself in a year from now-- what I'll be doing at this very moment, where I'll be living, who I'll be friends with, what books I'll have read, what I'll have learned, etc. It gives me a sense of peace for some reason. For example, I remember last January, my roommates and I had just signed the lease for our current house. It was just a 3-minute drive from campus, so if I ever passed it on my way back to school I'd casually drive down the street just to imagine myself a year from then-- cooking in the kitchen, having Bachelor nights, my cute bedroom, getting ready to graduate, reading for class until 2 a.m. and inevitably falling asleep on the sofa, laughing with my roommates on the back porch over cups of coffee. You know, normal things.
Never in my wildest dreams could've I imagined I'd actually be where I am right now-- okay, I'm living in the house I signed the lease for with all of my original roommates, so yes, that happened, and I'm still getting ready to graduate college, so yeah, that rings true. But I never would've imagined myself sitting at my desk, AirPods in, taking notes as my professor teaches class virtually because it's not safe to do so in person. I never pictured myself yelling "WHERE'S MY MASK!?!" as I frantically rush out the front door. I never imagined we couldn't have birthday parties, football games, sorority events, let alone class. I never imagined talking about vaccines, covid tests, and social distancing as part of my daily reality. No one did. I think I'll forever grieve what was lost in the past year, but so much growth has come from it.
Right now, I'm sitting at my desk next to the window that overlooks my front yard. The sun shines a cardboard-colored tint on the grass that browns in January, my neighbor's porch light is still on even though it's 2 in the afternoon, and I'm home alone. If you had shown me this glimpse of myself a year ago, I'd have thought, "Makes sense. Doing homework in the middle of a weekday afternoon." But there are hints of a different life around me-- the Zoom app in the bottom right corner of my screen, the remote internship I log into.
Where will I be a year from now? Can I picture myself on February 2, 2022?
No, absolutely not.
I have a vague sense of where I'd like to be. I've prayed about it a lot. I'll for sure be in grad school, but beyond that? I think I'll be working an unknown job in an unknown city. Maybe Nashville? Maybe New York? Maybe I'll just have to buck up and move home for a few months so I can save money before starting my life? I don't know, and it all scares me so much. I hate the "not knowing," but that's exactly where we find God, it seems.
I never want to forget the way it feels to sit here in the dull sunshine of a Birmingham February. The specific slant of light that glares through my living room windows. The uneven floors in our hallway. These are things I hold onto, cherish, relish, and already regret not soaking up more. I already wish I lived a little more in these last few months. I already wish I had stayed longer, seen that person, gone for that drive, not slept in that morning. I already regret letting myself get consumed in post-grad plans in my last months of college, although it feels necessary.
This isn't advice, this isn't even my own personal anecdotes or wisdom on this subject. This is just my prayer, my plea-- Lord, don't let it all slip away so quickly! Let it linger in reality and in memory! Let these last months of college be a lasting blessing in wherever I might go next. Use them to make me a better servant for You, and help me to TRUST YOU WHOLEHEARTEDLY in the planning process for the next year.
PS: the above photo is my roommate Jessica smiling in the brown February grass of our front yard on the day she found out she got a spot in her dream discipleship program for next year! Praise be! Texas is getting a good one :)
I haven't been writing much recently, it has been a very busy season for me-- between school, work, and the pandemic, I've struggled to sit down, put pen to paper, and write my thoughts. I plan on returning soon, once things slow down a little bit. I have missed sharing what God is teaching me through this platform, because I know for a fact He has called me to write for Him. Sadly, I have neglected to do that in this season.
With all of that being said, last semester I took a class called creative nonfiction where I was able to refine a lot of my writing for the first time in a LONG time. This class made me realize that for me, writing is not just a hobby or pastime, but a wholehearted desire and love. Hopefully, one day, a career. I rarely allow myself to even dream I could write for a career, because it sounds so idealized and unlikely. But this class served as a much-needed reminder to me: God is not concerned about what sounds idealized or unlikely-- if He wills it, it will happen. I simply have to be a faithful steward of His call.
In the midst of this class, one of our assignments was to write a story about religion in our lives. It could be anything as long as it didn't sound too "devotion-y." I knew I had many, many, many things I could've written on. But when I considered my options, the first thing that came to mind was the Pulse shooting, which occurred in Orlando, my hometown, in June 2016. Pulse was a nightclub that was just minutes from my home, and the loss rocked my community, church, and city as a whole. It even affected me personally as I began to come to terms with the unspeakable and horrific realities of mass shootings. I watched as families grieved the unexpected loss of young people-- in their 20s and 30s. I watched as the city came together as a united front for these families. It seemed as though Orlando took on the demeanor of a grieving spouse for months, draped in black, solemn, curtains drawn. The city and its people changed so much because of it.
So I wrote this short piece by way of remembrance. I don't think it even comes close to doing justice to how hard it actually was. But it is my real and raw account of the events, 4 years removed. Additionally, in light of the recent events in our world-- the horrific deaths of my Black brothers and sisters Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, and many, many more who all deserved life but were mercilessly robbed of it-- I feel these same emotions I describe here. An incomprehensible loss, a feeling of deep-gut anger and guilt and shame and compassion. Confusion and fear wrapped into one. It's hard to describe, this feeling, but it is something our country is sadly familiar with.
All I can say is this: Jesus, You are good. We wait in hope for Your return. Until then, we humbly labor in Your name, praying that Your love and kindness may overtake our hearts and embolden us to make Your Spirit known to others.
by Eva Parker
Under normal circumstances, I’d be elated to see Anderson Cooper in the parking lot of my local Einstein’s Bagels. I would say hello to him, ask him for a picture probably. I’d ask what brings him to my local Einstein’s Bagels in Orlando, Florida, on the intersection of Orange and Kaley on a random Sunday in June.
But when Anderson Cooper is on the news, standing in the parking lot of your Einstein’s Bagels, reporting that 49 people have been slaughtered across the street at a nightclub that is three minutes from your front door, the circumstances are anything but normal.
A life cut too short never feels fair. I know God doesn’t work this way, but as a mere spectator of life, it feels like a retribution. It feels like a stab you didn’t see coming, followed, inevitably, by a wound that can’t heal because you never got closure. You never knew exactly why the stabber stabbed you. You were just the victim of a terrible, horrible accident.
A single life cut too short is one thing. You read about it on social media, or hear about it through word of mouth, and you mourn for a short second and say a quick prayer for everyone who knew that person. You ask God to have mercy on their souls, not in a jokey way, but in a legitimate, serious, this-person-no-longer-has-breath-so-Lord-give-them-mercy kind of way.
49 lives cut too short, however, is a whole other thing. It is foreign. It is a conglomerate of grief. It isn’t a quick prayer, it is a mass of darkness that hollows you out and renders you incapable of prayer. It is a wrestling match with God.
49 lives cut too short is a whole day spent in front of your TV staring slack-jawed at the reporter, begging him to say “April fools!” even though it’s the middle of June.
49 lives cut too short is the sound of cell phones ringing in a room full of dead bodies—families desperately calling their sons and daughters, praying to God they’ve just overslept and not lying cold on the floor of some nightclub. What a despicable, unfair way to die. My friend’s dad knew this police officer, and he was there. He heard the phones ringing. He saw the dead bodies and the phone screens lighting up in the pockets of their jeans. He told me and my friend about it. It still haunts me to this day.
49 lives cut too short is something you never quite get over. 49 lives cut too short makes you start envisioning unrealistic shooting scenarios in your head while you’re at school in the middle of October, over a year later. It gives you PTSD every time you hear helicopters whirring above your house, because the entire two weeks after the shooting, there were news helicopters surrounding your neighborhood at every angle, angling for an overhead shot of a building with 49 dead bodies in it.
What I know to be true: God isn’t any less present in these tragedies. I went to church on that bloody Sunday. It was a mere seven hours after the shooting had occurred. Imagine waking up to the news that the deadliest mass shooting in American history has occurred less than a mile from your church campus, and you’re supposed to preach a message in a few hours. What do you say? Where do you even begin?
My pastor stood on the altar and kind of just threw his hands up. Of course, he gave a message and every word of it was profound. But the funny thing is, I don’t remember the content of his message—I just remember, after the worship band sat down, he got up there and was silent for 30 seconds. He stared out into the crowd of worshippers hungering for truth. Parched for His quenching Word. Begging for comfort and understanding and a pat on the back and an “it’s going to be okay! God’s in control!” But he didn’t. He didn’t stand up and pridefully announce: “Y’all, I know the deadliest mass shooting since the Civil War has just taken place not even three minutes from our church campus, but… God’s in control. He is good. It’s all gonna be okay. Now let’s continue with my pre-written message.”
No, he stood there silently for 30 seconds, his eyes glistening with tears, his chin wobbling. And he threw his hands up in the air. And that, to me, is more profound than any message could’ve been in that moment. A man who has attended seminary, who has spent over 20 years pastoring a church in the heart of a very broken city, who has raised godly children and written books on God’s character, who has studied the Word for more time than I’ve probably been alive. A man who should be able to understand the inhumane nature of life, and find a few meaningful words of encouragement to hand out to his congregation in the thick of a national crisis. If a man of that nature stands on the altar before his church and throws his hands up in submission, then I feel okay doing the same sometimes.
Pain doesn’t feel real until it falls on your doorstep. At least not for me. It feels like this abstract thing you’ve heard about but don’t fully understand. It’s like singing songs about falling in love but not knowing what love feels like. You get the concept, but the experience is totally foreign, a gray area.
Where is God in the mass shooting? Where is He in the indescribable pain of 49 people being torn away from their families far too soon?
I don’t know. I’ve asked Him a lot. I lived through those weeks and months of pain, and I have to say, rarely did I feel comfort in knowing God’s sovereignty was still there. Of course it was still there. It always has been; but why did it have to be there when 49 people were killed innocently down the street from my house? Why couldn’t God’s sovereignty have just left the sphere for a few hours so that there was an explanation? Oh, God was on break that night. He overslept His alarm. That’s why 49 people were killed—because He wasn’t on guard like He usually is.
But He was on guard, and it still happened. And so has every tragedy that’s occurred since the Fall to the 49 people being killed at Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016.
But then I think about how Jesus became flesh. He isn’t some mystical spirit who floats in the clouds and controls the weather. Oh my gosh, He is so real and He is so true and I know it so deeply in the marrow of my bones that even typing the words God overslept feels blasphemous. He is divine and He is human. 49 people died, yes, and that’s something I’ll probably never stop grieving.
But the profound thing about Jesus is that He throws His hands up in the air, too.
He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as He died the death He was born to endure. He got mad. He threw His hands up. He knew what He was being born for; He’d heard all the prophecies.
He was expecting it and He still threw His hands up.
Words have failed me for the past 6 months.
I'm used to writing. I'm used to waking up in the morning and feeling an itch to put my thoughts, feelings, and ideas into words. I'm used to feeling passionate about lots of things, having words on the tips of my fingers about all of them, and getting feedback. It's a pattern I've grown accustomed to, something I find true joy in. Words given to me from the Father, like how water is funneled through sewer systems and tunnels and pipes to the faucets, showerheads, and toilets we take for granted every day (can you tell I have very limited knowledge on how the water system works?).
But there's some seasons where you're not the faucet, pouring out and giving and dreaming and thinking--you're the conduit. Suddenly, you're the tunnel, the pipe, even the sewer system filled with gunk. You're on your way somewhere, you know you will be filtered and cleansed and washed for better use down the road, you just don't know when. Everything around you is dark and fuzzy. You feel like maybe you've lost the way, and you allow yourself for just a fleeting moment to imagine that you're the captain. You direct yourself, and oh, the pressure that comes with that fleeting thought! Suddenly, everything is more high stakes because you're in charge and if everything around you fails, it's all on you.
I haven't really written since May. My journal has been pretty much empty (save for a few desparate entries, when my heart felt like it couldn't carry the burden anymore), my blog has been--visibily--very empty, and I just don't know where all my words went. I thought, "Maybe writing isn't my gift. Maybe I've let people tell me that for years, and I'm just going along with it because I'm a people pleaser. Maybe I'm just not a writer by nature."
But I just sat down because this morning, after desperately turning to Matthew 13 to look at a passage about endurance, a full-fledged sentence entered my head. This usually happens to me all the time, but this was the first time in months. It almost felt like permission: Is it okay for me to write now? Are these words for You, Lord?
So I got back from class this afternoon and I let myself sit on it. I thought I didn't want to write. I thought that I would be bad at it now. I thought, "Maybe that was it, just a sentence, and I'm not equipped to serve God in this way, so I should just let that go."
But it persisted, so after indulging in some Netflix, I caved and here I am. And the words are falling out of me like water. Like water from a faucet that hasn't been turned on for months.
For months, I've let ignorance and avoidance write the story. I've let my own submissiveness to the greater, bigger idols in my life drive what I think, do, say, and feel. The only time I felt freedom from this was when I was at camp, and as soon as I left, it crept back up on me.
I've been searching for reason and permission to do something I know for a fact I've been called by God to do. I've been looking for a reason to keep doing it even when it doesn't feel natural or right.
What if I never needed permission? What if I've been given permission already, and I'm the one who told myself I wasn't good enough anymore? What if I let the Enemy lie to my face for 6 months, and those lies have grown into my heart like climbing vines on a building?
Here's what I haven't been doing: enduring. I haven't been holding fast to what I know in my heart to be true because of my own insecurities. Which brings me to this morning.
Matthew 13 tells us the parable of the four soils, or rather, the parable of the sower. It's a lot of verses, y'all, but bear with me here because it's rich and I need it all to be here:
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
I read these verses and suddenly, it felt like something clicked. I've spent six months not writing, not looking to God for my daily nourishment, wondering what it takes to get His attention, to let Him know I'm ready for growth and progress and movement.
I am planted. I've been planted, and I pray it's in rich soil that will grow to be fertile and produce multiple crops. I don't want to have a faith planted in shallow soil that withers as soon as the sun bears down, or a faith that chokes the plants when it springs up. I want a faith that grows because there's days of rain, days of sun, and necessary refinement--all things required of a fruitful crop. A shallow faith seems so easy because it requires no trust. It only requires the image of trust which is easy to feign on the outside, but not so easy when you face inner turmoil due to that lack of trust.
Just like trust, endurance is hard. I know this to be true on a physical level because I ran cross country for one glorious season my freshman year of high school--and quit immediately after that one season. If that isn't representative of my idea of "endurance," I don't know what is.
Endurance takes training. It's not something you learn in one practice--it takes dozens of practices to be able to run a full 5k without stopping to walk (at least for me it did!). It takes all kind of stretching, form training, and breathing techniques to be able to coach someone to cross that finish line. It is not easy, but the reward is great. And I guess that's what I've been missing: a faith that is not defined by how quickly I can cross the finish line, but by showing up for the race. I don't have to be the best one at everything I do to prove to God I'm worthy of being His daughter. I don't have to have more friends, be the most fit, or have straight As to serve His kingdom well, to disciple and be discipled.
I just have to show up, be planted, and endure.
Endurance is an art. It takes time to perfect it. I will never perfect it, just like artists never perfect their craft: they're always learning, growing, and discovering new techniques (at least they should be!). It's okay to go through 6-month seasons of weariness, like I just did. It doesn't mean I'm not still His daughter, it doesn't mean I don't love Him, it just means I'm learning to endure.
I've been looking for rest in the wrong places. I've been looking to find rest in other people, places that are important to me, or activities I thoroughly enjoy doing. But when I think I'm rested because I've done those things, or talked to those people, or visited those places-- I still feel weary.
So here I am-- flawed, imperfect, but saved by His grace. He is my strength, the perfecter of my faith, and the breath in my lungs. I know these things to be true in my head, and now I pray that He translates them to my heart as I seek to find rest by enduring in Him.
3 years ago, when I was a junior in high school, I drove up to Birmingham to visit Samford for the first time.
I distinctly remember being taken aback how beautiful everything was: the full trees, the old brick buildings, the green grass (which I have since learned is 100% spray painted). Oddly enough, though, one takeaway that has always stuck with me is this: "I love the way it smells here."
Coming from Florida, I had no idea how beautiful the South smells in the spring. It's those pine trees, y'all. They burst to life with such vibrancy, dulling everything around them, infusing the air with their sweet perfume. The air constantly smells like mowed grass, pine needles, and a subtle hint of honeysuckle. If a scent could be picturesque, this would be that scent.
We don't get pine trees in Florida--all we got is palm trees which, to my knowledge, are scent-free year-round. And I was tired of those palm trees, and everything else about Florida, and that's when I decided it was time for me to move somewhere that made my heart sing when I got a whiff of the scent of spring. Simple as that.
I was 17 and I left Birmingham with an ache in my heart. An ache that said, "This is where you need to be." I'd spent such little time in Birmingham, but it already felt like a piece of me belonged to it.
Here I am, 3 years later, and I can confidently say that Birmingham has won me over. There's something beautiful and magical about growing into independence in a city all your own--a city removed from your family, a city that you have practically no ties to. It forced me to forge my own path, in a sense--to really figure out what it was the Lord had for me here, all on my own.
I had entirely forgotten about that pine tree smell until one idyllic spring evening last year. I was babysitting, sitting on the back porch of a random family's house, when a gust of wind blew and the wind chimes let out a delicate tune, and in waltzed that iconic scent of spring. It was the first time I'd gotten a whiff of it since my first day in Birmingham.
I once read this article once that said that smell is the strongest of your 5 senses. It is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. Because of this, smell acts as a trigger in recalling a long-forgotten event or experience.
I sat there overlooking the green grass, watching the little boys play with their trucks on the patio, and just reminisced on the growth that had occurred since that spring day of 2016.
2 years ago, I signed my name on a dotted line to live in a 5 by 11 foot box with a stranger in a building crammed with 400 other stranger girls. This place quickly became just as dear to me as my own home, a building packed wall-to-wall with memories from my very first year of real independence. And the stranger (and the 400 other strangers) who lived in that box with me quickly became my best friend(s).
2 years ago, I aimlessly drove around the streets of Birmingham with new friends as we searched for a church community to call home. Today, I sat in the pews of my church where I have recently become a member and teared up at the thought of leaving for four months. That church--but more importantly, the people who embody it--are a place of peace for me. A direct sign of God's provision in the midst of a year full of searching.
3 years ago, I smelled that Alabama pine and thought about how nice it would be to live in a place where I could smell the pine trees in the spring. And that's what's gotten me through since. Sure, there have been winters, and that's when you can't smell--or even see--the beautiful pine trees at all. In fact, the trees are completely bare, and to be honest, everything looks bleak and sad and empty. But even in those seasons, I have to remember to thank God for putting me in a place where I know the pine trees are coming, even when they seem so far away.
I spent a lot of high school praying for the opportunity to attend this college, and if I didn't cherish even my worst day here, I would be remiss. Because, yes, there are those flourishing spring seasons where everything is blooming and budding with life and promise and I'm slack-jawed at my good fortune. But there are also those bare-treed seasons, the seasons where I'm always cold even though I'm wearing a coat, and I've lost all feeling in my fingers and I begin to wonder what it was that made me move 10 hours up north again? But even in those days, I cherish the cold, because it is what makes way for the spring.
Then you have those few weeks where the seasons are transitioning, when the trees are kinda budding and the air is kinda warming and the jackets are kinda gone but you still have to stuff one in your backpack just in case you get a cold snap.
It rains some days. Some days, it's perfectly bright and sunny.
And to be honest, a lot of sophomore year has felt like that. A lot of looking around and thanking God even for those weird seasons. Some days, it rains and it's cold, but the next it clears up and I just stand around kind of like, "Hmm. Okay."
And I'm learning. It's hard, but I'm learning how to see God even in the weird seasons.
Tomorrow, I have to leave this city and its pine trees for 4 months. Granted, I'm leaving to go to a place I love almost as much, a place where I feel so at peace (camp, duh). But there's something about Birmingham. To me, Birmingham is a direct representation of God's provision in my adult life--how He can provide comfort in a place I've never known and make a sterile dorm room feel like home.
There are some things I'll always hear, see, taste, or smell that will remind me of Birmingham. Like, The Head and the Heart. Their entire Signs of Light album. The taste of iced coffee. Hills. Green everywhere, even in the winter. Jim N' Nicks barbecue. Caveat's porch. The smell of Love Beauty Planet hand soap. Giant Christmas trees. The sound of bare feet padding up tile staircases. The word "magic." And yes, the smell and sight of pine trees. So many little things, gems I carry close to my heart. Tiny little memories and snapshots that make this place feel like home--at least for now.
Never change, Birmingham. Stay your cute little quirky, quaint self and I'll be back so soon.
Recently, I read this book where the main character's best friend's husband passed away suddenly from an unexpected brain aneurysm. The best friend, a young mom of 3, called the main character and begged her to come spend the night in the hospital with her. "I don't think I can get through this without you by my side," she wept into the receiver. Of course, the main character dropped everything at an instant and went to be with her friend--just as I would for my best friend.
Not only that, but the woman's 5 other best friends drove across several states to be with her the next dew days. When they had to shut off the husband's life support, they stood in the hospital room praying and crying--but, in the words of the author--there was a broken but beautiful joy within the walls of that room because of the solidarity that comes from grieving together.
I read that story and thought of the night Jesus was crucified. Not necessarily because of the death, but mainly because of the concept of grieving together.
When Jesus knew he was going to be arrested, tried, and beaten, he called upon His best friends, the disciples, to pray with him. He took them to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he said, "Sit here while I go over there and pray...My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." (Matthew 26:36,38)
He asked of his disciples two simple tasks: to watch over him and pray as they waited.
A few verses later, after we see Jesus fall facedown to the ground and beg the Father to "take this cup from him" if it is His will, (v. 39), we read as he returns to his disciples sleeping on the ground of Gethsemane.
Matthew 26:40-41 says: "Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. 'Couldn't you men keep watch with me for one hour?' he asked Peter. 'Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'"
After this, Jesus leaves again and prays. When he returns, he finds the disciples sleeping again. Instead of awaking them, he goes and prays on his own a third time. Over and over again, he just prays "If at all possible, take this cup from me, Father. If it is not possible to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." Over and over and over again, praying for relief but also accepting the Lord's will with open hands.
I can practically feel Jesus's frustration and sorrow. Can you imagine if you had asked all of your closest friends to join you as you wept and prayed and petitioned unto the Lord, then found them sleeping on the job? I would be so hurt. I think about the story of the woman and her husband's death--what if she had walked out into the waiting room, after asking her friends to pray for her and her husband and children, to find them fast asleep in their chairs? What would they even say? "Oh... we're sorry we fell asleep. It's just that your sorrow wasn't enough to keep us awake or focus on praying."
However, as much as I want to scoff at the disciples, I am them. I'm a messy and broken sinner who tries so hard but falls asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane every day. I think about their failure to stay awake and pray with Jesus and I think, "Honestly, same."
But every time I think about this passage, the one sentence that sticks with me so clearly is this: "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation." I'm so easily enamored by the world and the false hope it portrays--the glimmering mirage of what could be, if only we could have this or do that. But the truth is that none of these things matter if we hope in the promise of Christ's return, a hope that is not false, a hope that is everlasting and eternal.
I love writing short, reflective sentences beside Bible passages as I read, learn, and pray through God's word. One of the sentences I have written by this passage in Matthew is this: Lord, let me not be found sleeping. This is, in sum, my heart's deepest prayer. All my earthly desires aside: this is it for me. I just want to know Christ and make Him known and do kingdom work in whatever facet that might be for the rest of my life. The dreams I have are nothing when held up to the effervescent light of who Christ is, and who I am through Him.
Be encouraged by this: None of us are ever going to get it right. Romans 3:23 says "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," but despite this, we shall all be redeemed by His deep and abiding love for us. Not by our own work, not by how many people we have saved, not by how we have performed on earth. We are saved by Christ's redemptive love--and in turn, this love redeems us. It changes us and makes us into new creations who long for His presence in our lives.
I wrote this poem after reading Matthew 26 on Good Friday last week, sort of a reflection from my heart as I dwelt on the words of Matthew.
This story begins with a sleeping man
His eyelids as heavy as the burdens he carries
While he sleeps, he is saved by the Man
Who shed blood so that he might continue to slumber
When he comes to, he learns of the sacrifice
His burdens forsaken, his heart as heavy as his eyelids once were
He falls to his knees and he sobs:
"Lord, let me slumber no more
So that I may never forget this atonement
This shed blood for my selfish sake
And let me serve You with my very last breath
So that I might be found in You.
So that I might be found in You."
May we all go and be found in Him.