(more reflections to come during my six-hour train ride back to the burgh tomorrow)
I’m slow, not prolific. I have to think and concentrate to get anything done. I’m disorganized and messy. I speak when I should shut up and shut up when I should speak. And my head’s shaped like a light bulb. Just because I don’t like something about myself doesn’t mean it’s sin. Sometimes I worry more over those parts than the parts that are sin. Isn’t there enough of the sin to worry about without micro-managing the unique aspects of your personality? If who you are is random, then yeah, go on a self-improvement program. But if you think God is in control of the whole thing of you, and he made you on purpose for a reason, and you try to be someone else, who will be you?
-Gary Morland, “Trust Looks Like”
^seriously though, please check out isla vista worship. i’ve been listening to them on repeat for the past thirty-six hours.
this is just a brief post to say i am alive and well and not sure what i’m doing with my life. i will be in pittsburgh interning for a publishing company/finishing up undergrad for the next two months, and after that the future is a blank canvas. (this metaphor is a little more comforting than “black hole” or “swirling vortex of terror.”) in the meantime, i’m enjoying the time i have left in the city that i love with people i love even more, drinking absurd amounts of bubble tea, and learning a lot about myself and a whole lot about God.
one of my goals for this summer is to update my blog somewhat consistently, and i want to try really hard to make this one of those rare things i say i’m gonna do and actually do it. even if my posts are about the length (or shorter than) this one, because writing only a little is better than not writing at all and the best way to kill productivity is by putting too much pressure on yourself.
so with that being said, catch ya on the flippity flip. ♥
(Because I can’t speak in public without having a million and one regrets afterwards when I think of things I should have said, hence why I write them down instead.)
Tonight I shared a list of my personal do’s and don’t’s for fellow college students in the campus ministry I’m involved in at Pitt, and someday I’ll share that list here. But right now I want to focus on something that’s more pressing on my heart: what Cornerstone has meant to me in the two years that I’ve been a part of this family. To do that, you need to understand where and who I was before I walked through the doors of Bellefield.
Reason why I feel let down so often:
I put value in things and people and feelings instead of God.
I go to bed feeling empty and broken because without God,
I get upset over such stupid, silly things and instead of breathing free and handing them over to God, I cling and obsess and ponder and analyze and regret and worry and think and think and think and think and think until my mind becomes like a broken record playing the same haunting, taunting tune over and over:
You’re not good enough You’re not good enough You’re not good enough.
And I become like a robot on the outside, spewing out just enough that people don’t dig too deeply, because if they did then they would realize that I’m wearing a mask and that I’m slowly chipping away on the inside
and I just don’t want to
do this anymore.
This is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote three years ago to this today and a tiny glimpse of the mindset I was living in at the time. I had throbbed with unspoken insecurities and anxieties and self-loathing since my freshman year of high school, and I was slowly but surely beginning to crack under the weight of my monsters. I was an utter mess inside with a smile pasted on outside. And for the most part, nobody knew.
The breaking point came on a mid-January day less than a year after writing that entry and with many like it in between. I was staying with my best friend at her family’s beach house for a spontaneous, week-long winter vacation, which sounds like the dream. And it was.
But for whatever reason, on this particular day I found myself overwhelmed with the thoughts and feelings I had battled with for so long. In spite of the fact that the girl I considered one of my very best friends was only a flight of stairs away, I felt excruciating loneliness. So I did what any rational human being who has grown up watching Disney princess movies would do: I threw myself onto the nearest bed and began to cry.
It sounds comical and maybe it was, but these were deep, real, heart-wrenching sobs. I had finally reached the point of complete helplessness. I knew there needed to be some kind of change in my heart/mind/life, but I didn’t know how to go about making that happen and I was tired of waiting on God to do it for me.
Eventually I migrated to the porch swing outside my room and laid down on it, still sobbing, and began to write down my emotions in the most honest way I could. The sun was shining with uncharacteristic brightness for the middle of January, ocean waves were rolling in the distance, and pop music was blaring from my friend’s phone on the porch above me. At some point I put on Gungor’s “Beautiful Things” because it felt right and listened to it several times, trying my hardest to make myself believe these lyrics that felt so very far from the truth.
you make beautiful things / you make beautiful things out of the dust
you make beautiful things / you make beautiful things out of us
After drying my eyes and catching my breath, I went upstairs and joined my friend to tan. I think I mentioned to her that I had been crying, but I did so in a light-hearted and joking sort of way so she wouldn’t be prompted to ask what was wrong. I wasn’t ready to answer that question. I wasn’t ready for my monsters to be exposed.
Fast forward to a year and a half later: I make the decision to transfer from the community college I had been attending to the University of Pittsburgh. I move into an apartment in Oakland the week before Pitt’s classes begin. I avoid anxiety-inducing, potentially awkward orientation events and general social interaction for as long as possible. My friend from home who has attended Pitt and been involved in Cornerstone since freshman year persists in inviting me to its daily O-week activities until finally I cave and leave the safety of my apartment to go to something called “jazz night.” I meet a few people, enjoy a few mocktails, and gush to my friend that night over Skype about how I feel like I may have found something really special here.
Fast forward to 3:33 a.m. on April twenty-first, two thousand sixteen. I’m winding down from Senior Share night, the last hurrah for Cornerstone’s graduating students where they’re given the floor to talk about their experiences and offer words of wisdom to underclassmen. I am a senior. This was my last hurrah. I am still in denial of this fact, but we won’t go into that now.
What I do want to talk about is this: how very full my lonely heart became when it found a home here. How God put some some wonderfully weird humans in my life, people who listened to me as I pieced together my brokenness and loved me in the process. How He spoke His truth to me through your words and wrapped His arms around me with your hugs. How He gave me the courage to open my mouth and let my monsters out of the dark, cramped spaces inside of me, then let me watch as they shriveled in the light.
“Beautiful Things” has become a sort of mantra for me in the past couple of years, a song that keeps popping up at just the right times when I need to be reminded that our Creator doesn’t leave us in our mess.* He picks us up, brushes off the dust, and begins to mend our mangled hearts. Sometimes (most of the time) He uses people to do this. For me, many (most) of those people are in Cornerstone.
Some of the advice I shared with you tonight included things like “Don’t fool yourself into thinking your words aren’t important,” “Don’t say no when people invite you to things because you think they’re just being nice,” “Don’t give up on relationships that seem like they’re going nowhere,” etc. At one point (I can’t remember exactly what I was saying because it’s honestly all a blur), I was struggling to find a word to express how I feel about everyone in Cornerstone. I ended up panicking and settling on the word “great,” which is one of the things I regretted afterwards because “great” doesn’t even begin to cover what you are.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made, perfectly and unconditionally loved.
You are an irreplaceable piece of a glorious mosaic (s/o Spencey ♥).
You are a beautiful flower blooming from the dust.
You are important, valuable, and cherished.
You are good enough.
You are His.
Don’t ever forget these things, friends. If you do, give me a call so I can remind you all over again. I love you all a whole lot more than my clumsy attempts can express and I’m so excited to see how Jesus continues working through this incredibly special, unforgettable, indescribable community.
Also, you’re pretty great too. ♥
– Kati Lynn
*Side note: of course we sang “Beautiful Things” for worship tonight. Because, like, God.
This is in response to the people who, when I tell them I love working with junior high students, say something along the lines of these following phrases:
“What?!? You’re crazy! Middle schoolers are the worst!”
“Well, I guess someone has to.”
“God bless you.”
And, my personal favorite…
Granted, I’ve come to expect these responses and they usually make me laugh. I like having a unique heart for a group of people that few others have the tolerance for. I enjoy the look of shock and awe on my friends’ faces when I tell them how I spent the majority of my past two summers hanging out and attempting to have heart-to-hearts with hormonal preteens whose attention span is less than that of a newborn goldfish.
But deep down, these responses actually kind of bother me.
Probably it’s because I was one of those hormonal preteens whose attention span was less than that of a newborn goldfish. I was your typical overly hyper, fashionably challenged, grewupinthechurch girl with a strong sense of self-righteousness and a weak sense of humor. I, like all thirteen-year-olds, needed a little extra patience from my peers.
And thank God I got it, although (most of) it wasn’t from my peers.
My youth leaders have, hands down, been some of the most influential people in my life. They loved me through my prolonged awkward stages, when I couldn’t carry a conversation to save my life and I called my parents to ask permission to watch PG movies. They gently spoke truth into the lies I believed about myself, Jesus, and other people. They helped me understand that God’s love is not something we earn by being the only one in our friend group who doesn’t swear or listen to music with the word “sex” in it – it is a gift, pure and simple: unconditional, wrapped in grace, no returns. They took me out for milkshakes, laughed hard at my jokes that probably weren’t that funny, brushed out the half-dreadlocks that formed in my greasy summer hair during Bible study sleepovers, listened to my angsty adolescent woes and responded with their wise and emotionally rational input, and – in one case – called me during a hair appointment the morning of their wedding to wish me a happy birthday (looking at you, Diana. ♥) I don’t even like to imagine who I would be today if it wasn’t for the individuals who invested so much of their precious time and energy into loving my hardtolove junior high self.
On that note, I’m well aware that we all have different strengths and talents and we’re all gifted in different areas of ministry. Not all of us are called to be youth leaders, and I get that. (On that note, I have so much respect for those of you who work with children/infants on a daily basis. I can’t spend more than two hours with humans I can’t hold a coherent conversation with.) And yes, middle schoolers are infamous for being petty, dramatic, immature, selfish, awkward, attention-loving, etc. But honestly, I would dare to say our adult selves possess most of those same qualities… we’ve just gotten a little better at hiding them.
Here’s the thing: the middle school students I’ve worked with over the past four years are kind, compassionate, hilarious, thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent, and loving. They are in the midst of figuring out who they are and who they want to be. They carry deep hurts and hidden scars. They need someone to look past their pimples and braces and remind them of their beauty and worth. They need someone to validate their tears when the guy they were mentally planning their wedding with starts dating their best friend, to hug them when the other girls take a group picture without them and post it on Instagram, to hold their hand and sit quietly beside them when they open up about things they have never shared with a single soul.
They need someone to see that their awkward caterpillar self has the potential to grow wings and cheer them on from inside the cocoon, cramped and uncomfortable as that may be. They need someone who will look them in the eyes and love them exactly as they are. They need someone to believe they can do big things now, not in four years when they’ve made it past puberty with more confidence and a better concept of personal hygiene.
Because, as a 21-year-old who received more than enough support and encouragement from my youth leaders during the turbulent time of my life that was middle school, I still need someone to look me in the eyes and remind me that there was nothing wrong with 13-year-old me. That the pain I experienced during that time, the hurt I clung to long after those years passed, had nothing to do with who I was. That I was just as worthy of love then as I am now.
Because if no one is willing to walk beside them through the messiness of adolescence, they’ll come out of it believing that no one is willing to walk with them through messiness, period. And that is one of the most damaging things we can teach them.
1 John 4:11-12 // “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.”
In this verse, God does not tell us to love only those to which our love comes easy. He does not tell us to love those who share our interests or maturity levels. He tells us to love the people who steal our phones to take hundreds of selfies and cry to us about having their heart broken every other week and say hurtful things to hide their own bruises.
He tells us to love one another because He loved us first. Period.
So friends, in response to your wide eyes and gaping jaws when I gush about my love for middle school students, here is what I have to say: once upon a time, I was a middle school student who desperately needed love.
And thankfully, Someone gave it to me.
Disclaimer: If you haven’t seen the movie the above quote is from, I wouldn’t suggest reading this unless you’re okay with spoilers.
So I watched The Breakfast Club for the second time in my life the other night with a couple of friends, both of whom until that point were Breakfast Club virgins. To be honest, I was a little bit hesitant to show them. It’s one of those movies that I’m weirdly protective of because my love for it is so strong and I’m afraid that other people won’t reciprocate that love (see also: Perks of Being a Wallflower and basically any underrated Disney movie). My worries were unwarranted, however, because both of them loved it. Even though said friends tend to have a different taste in movies than I do, it’s one of those films that just seems to strike a chord with everyone who sees it.
But to be honest, this post isn’t for me to rave about how brilliant and relevant and heart-warming/wrenching The Breakfast Club is as a whole, although I certainly could do that with no problem. No, this post is for me to talk about one thing and one thing only. And by thing, I mean person.
I don’t know what it is about his character that makes me adore him so much. I’ve come to this realization that, when it comes to men (fictional ones at least), I tend to fall for the bad boys. The dark, misunderstood, emotionally complex guys who come off as complete assholes with no redeeming qualities whatsoever… until they reveal something about themselves that changes everything. A vulnerability or weakness of some kind; a hard, hidden truth about their past or even present that explains why they are the way they are. Not justifies, but explains.
And that, my friends, is John Bender in a nutshell.
John Bender is, at first glance, nothing more than an arrogant delinquent with a sharp wit, a dirty mind (and mouth), and a penchant for stirring up trouble. He verbally pokes and prods at the other kids in detention, knowing exactly what to say to get a rise out of them. He backtalks Mr. Vernon relentlessly, earning himself an extra two months’ worth of detentions. He swears like a sailor, bullies Claire to the point of tears, vandalizes school property, threatens other students (even whipping a knife out of his jean vest to prove his badassness), and demeans and belittles everyone around him. As my good friend Natalie would say, he’s the ultimate jerkasaurus. He’s the character that you love to hate because he hasn’t given you a reason to do anything else.
And then he lifts up his sleeve and shows you the burn mark from his dad’s cigarette. And suddenly, everything changes.
You understand why he feels the need to intimidate everyone around him, to maintain his “criminal” image even when others claim to see right through it. You understand why he has zero sympathy for girls like Claire, who complains about her home life while she’s in detention for skipping school to go shopping with her dad. You understand why he keeps egging Vernon on, knowing that he’s digging a deeper pit of detentions for himself and also knowing that this means less time spent at home with his abusive father. You understand why Andy and Vernon’s words about him being worthless and invisible actually seem to affect him. You understand why he walks around spitting on the world and everyone in it, acting like he cares about nothing and no one.
And you understand why, when it’s just Bender and Vernon in the closet and there’s nobody else around for him to put on a show for, he drops the act. When Vernon offers him an opportunity to punch him in the face, something Bender’s probably been dying to do all day, he holds back. He sits there motionless, eyes wide like a confused and frightened child, as Vernon verbally abuses and intimidates him. And when Vernon finally fakes his own punch, Bender flinches.
Because in that moment, John Bender was probably seeing his father in front of him. A man who insults, mocks, and beats him on a daily basis. The reason that his heart is so calloused, his temper so quick, his demeanor so cold. He saw his dad in detention, the one place he thought he was safe, and he was afraid.
And that’s why I love John Bender. Because, out of all the other characters in The Breakfast Club and the crap they’re going through, his story is the one that breaks my heart the most. I love John Bender because he’s honest – brutally so, yes, but honest – and he’s real. He makes me think about the John Benders that were probably in my own high school, the kids that I judged and looked down on and rolled my eyes at because they cursed an absurd amount or backtalked the teacher or boasted about failing their tests. Those are the kids that were probably hurting the most, that needed grace and patience and compassion the most, and those are the kids that our society tends to give up on first.
John Bender is fictional. But his character isn’t. Alas, his real life counterparts probably won’t be Judd Nelson-esque, 80’s movie heartthrobs with rugged jawlines and sparkling brown eyes. They might be hard to crack and even harder to love than Bender himself. But they’re out there, and they need that love.
They need it bad.
So I’ve kind of been the worst at blogging this summer. As in I haven’t updated it since the train ride home from Pitt, and in less than two weeks I’ll be in a car on my way back to Pitt. Which means a whole summer has gone by between my last post and now. And what a summer it’s been.
This summer I worked as a youth intern at my home church for the second year in a row, and there are plenty of stories I could share with you about that experience. But I’m not going to talk about that right now. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the time I saw the ocean glow.
Last week was our annual beach vacation/family reunion. It’s always my favorite week of the summer, not only because I’m spending it with some of my favorite people on the planet but because I’m spending it at my favorite place on the planet. The beach town we stay in is so peaceful and secluded, it really is like escaping from the world for a while. Besides going to the actual beach and doing typical beach things, there’s not much to do there besides bike to the souvenir shops, kayak around the canal behind our house, and alternate between frozen yogurt and salt water taffy for each meal. It’s a pretty predictable week, and it’s wonderful.
But while we were there this past week, I got to witness this crazy rare thing called bioluminescence. Google it if you want a more scientific description, but basically it’s when there are millions of these tiny little plankton floating around in the ocean that emit light when they’re disturbed, resulting in neon green waves. And it wasn’t just the water that was affected. When I stomped my foot in the damp sand, it was like setting off a small green firecracker or disturbing a nest of baby fireflies. Walking along the shoreline made me feel like Kida in the crystal transformation scene, when the water glows beneath her feet as she’s walking across the lake (come on, I had to throw an Atlantis reference in there somewhere 😉 ). It was dazzling. My little brother Raymond called it “ocean magic,” and I can’t think of a better description for this incredible phenomenon.
As if the ocean looking like it was full of glow stick juice wasn’t crazy enough by itself, one of the nights we went to see it also happened to be the night of the Perseid meteor shower. Imagine standing at the edge of the ocean, watching fluorescent waves crashing in the distance and looking up to see a shooting star streak by in a sky glittering with hundreds of its own tiny lights. It felt like a scene straight out of a Sarah Dessen or Nicholas Sparks novel, only it was real life and that made it a thousand times better.
In that moment, my heart felt so full it could’ve burst. I’ve always felt closest to my Creator when I’m standing in the middle of his creation – his artwork – and that night at the beach was like glimpsing a masterpiece. He might as well have whispered in my ear, “I made this for you.” After a stressful, exhausting, challenging, amazing first summer home from college, during which there were times when God felt as far away as the stars themselves, it was a beautiful reminder that his presence – his light, if you will – is always there.
If there are stars and oceans and sparkly green plankton in heaven, you’ll know where to find me.
Psalm 8:3-4 // “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
Psalm 139:7-12 // “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
❤ Kati Lynn
(Unfortunately, my LG smartphone camera wasn’t strong enough to capture photo evidence of the bioluminescence. So instead here’s a picture of the sunset I watched from the roof of our beach house one night. 🙂 )
Today is all kinds of bittersweet. My heart is full, but it’s also heavy. I’ve said goodbye to many wonderful people over the past few days, including but not limited to: my roommates, my friend who lives in England, some of the best friends I’ve ever had – people who have genuinely changed my heart and my life this year – and even some friends that I just started getting to know but already care so deeply about. It’s hard to say goodbye, even if it’s more of a “see you later,” and it’s weird and sad and scary to think that this is the end of both my first and second to last year at Pitt.
But at the same time, my heart is so hopeful for the hello’s to come. For the new apartment I’ll be living in next year with one of the best friends I mentioned, for the small brick-walled room with a beautiful view of Schenley Park that will be mine. For the friendships that will continue to grow and the new ones that will be made when I come back. And for the people who are waiting for me at home now, the family I miss so dearly and the friends I can’t wait to reunite with. For the junior and senior high girls I spent the past two years getting to know and love and grow with as a youth volunteer and intern at my church, and for the new ones I get to meet and begin building relationships with now that I have an opportunity to intern there again (which I am so incredibly thankful for). ❤
And through it all I have a God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever; whose perfect love and endless faithfulness are the anchors I cling to in a sea of tears and confusion and change and goodbyes. I ended last summer singing the song Oceans by Hillsong in an ocean (yes a literal ocean, you should try it sometime 🙂 ) In that moment I was feeling a lot of the same emotions I’m feeling now as I prepared to say goodbye to my home and friends and family and say hello to Pittsburgh, the place that would become my second home. I want to start this summer, this new adventure God has in store for me in the place that has and will always be my real home, singing those same words:
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.
Sharing my friend Kayla’s thoughts about something called “academic faithfulness” because it’s relevant and important and something more people (including me) need to think about.
I’ve been spending the last year trying to figure out what it’s like to be a Christian college student. But in this impassioned journey I lost the word student. And then one day, at this little thing called Jubilee, my spine stiffened, eyes widened, and hands began sweating even more than their usual drippage (see: hyperhidrosis) at the most outrageous thing young Kayla had ever heard: God cares about school.
It is probably accurate to say that I’ve spent my whole life floating between two beloved mottos of our generation: I’m either decidedly and enthusiastically too cool for school or too school for cool. Ever since schoolwork moved beyond coloring and dioramas (rip our diorama days), I flip back and forth between not caring about school or wanting really badly to be one of those devoted students who has all their work done not just an hour before it’s due…
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