Come to the Well

I glanced between the open textbook on my desk and the message on my phone. Meet in the hallway in 10 minutes! By the time I saw the message, I had only 5 minutes to decide and be ready to go. All day, I hadn’t planned on going. I hadn’t even considered it. But then I saw the text. And I thought about the next day, and what it would be like to hear about the event from the girls on my hall. I realized that I didn’t want to hear about how good it was; I wanted to experience it. What felt like only seconds later, I was walking towards the common room with no idea what was ahead of me, but an expectation that it was going to be really, really good.

And I can say with 100% certainty that there was nowhere else for me to be on campus that Thursday night other than in the music hall, surrounded by my sisters in Christ, for the first night of The Well, a monthly event for young women at Liberty University. It got it’s name from the story of the woman at the well, and seeks to empower women through the transformative love of Jesus Christ.

In the space of about two hours, I was wrecked again and again by truths I have been regularly rejecting and forgetting. For years, I have been choosing the things of the world over the things of the Spirit. From my dreams for the future to the way I spend my time to where I focus my energy and affections, I am constantly and consistently prioritizing myself over my relationship with Christ.

I go through this battle of self vs. spirit knowing that there is a definite right choice, and yet I continue to make decisions based on what I want and what satisfies my pride. I can sit in youth group or small group and talk how God is so much more than the things of this world, but when it comes down to making that choice, I consistently fall into the temptation to choose myself.

It’s not that I doubt God’s goodness or greatness, necessarily. I believe that God has a plan, and that His plan ultimately is better than any plan I could come up with. The problem is that for years, I have been complacent in my relationship with God. I haven’t had a sense of dissatisfaction in my lack of spiritual growth. I’ve been lazy and selfish with my time and energy.

That began to change that Thursday when the speaker asked an auditorium full of young women where we had our affections. For the first time, the idea of idols became clear to me. You see, I always knew that faith has to go beyond the mind. That it’s in the heart. I had all the words and ideas to communicate that in youth groups and bible studies. But I never went anywhere with it. For all my knowledge, I didn’t invest my heart in God because I was too busy investing everywhere else. In grades, in successes, in the idea of the future. And most of all, in relationships.

When you’re investing your heart in places other than God, you’re already in the territory of idolization. And relationships definitely became my idol. That idolization turned something I was created to have into something that was pulling me away from the One who created me.

But there is so much grace and patience in the midst of this battle. And there is comfort in the consistency of the God who waits for His children to stop running, turn back to Him, and collapse in His loving and safe arms.

One Thursday night meeting hasn’t drastically shifted my habits and patterns. Change is a process, and this process is driven by my own motivation and discipline. But there has been a shift in where my affections are focused, and the awakening of a new desire to know and love Jesus in a profound, life-giving way.


Focusing on the Why

Shortly before I left for college, my family and I spent a week in a cute beach house in Port Aransas, Texas. We were a short walk from the beach, and spent days playing in the waves and relaxing by the pool.

At one point during the week, my dad reminded my sisters and I that our week at the beach could potentially be our last Payne family vacation. He challenged us to go through the rest of the week focusing not on the what of things, but on the why. Our vacation was full of whats. The beach, the house, the ventures into ‘town.’ And it was easy to get caught up in what we were doing, and even easier to forget why we were doing it.

Ultimately, the purpose of our trip to Port Aransas was a way to get away from our daily routines and spend time growing closer together in an intentional way. And honestly, sometimes we didn’t do that very well. Sometimes we lost sight of that purpose; sometimes we became too focused on the what.

Now, a few weeks later, I am sitting in Lynchburg, Virginia, and remembering that conversation. And as I look around my campus-my home-I can recognize a lot of the whats. Textbooks and classes and meal swipes, dinner with friends and the quiet moments between rush hours. I can also recognize that at Liberty, the why is deeply engrained in the school; the professors are dedicated to relating each course towards the mission of creating Champions for Christ, and the goal of glorifying God is entwined in the events around campus. Students are constantly encouraged and mentored to pursue God and strive to glorify Him in all their actions.

But I have learned over the past two weeks that ultimately it doesn’t matter how focused my school is on glorifying God. It doesn’t matter that the student body seems alive with spiritual energy during convocation, or that my professors are dedicated to aligning their courses with Christ, if I am not stepping into those places with a heart and mind prepared and focused on glorifying God on my own.

I have heard a lot of people talking about revival in the past few years. Church and group leaders declare a desire for revival to begin in their congregation. I believe that a community cannot fully glorify the King if the individuals within that community are not experiencing a personal, intimate revival in their own relationship with the Lord. And although many of my classmates and professors may have that, they cannot make the decision for me. Simply being around them is not enough to start a revival in my soul.

Before I came to Liberty, I thought it would be easy to schedule quiet time with the Lord. I built up my life here to be one full of intentionality and personal connection with God and with other believers. And it can be; but it isn’t the place or people that make that decision. That decision rests on me alone.

So here’s to choosing intentionality and connection this year, and actually following through on that choice. Here’s to focusing on the why, and dedicating my days to glorifying God.

Small Gesture, Big Meaning

Almost a week ago, I made the small gesture of moving my tassel from one side to the other. As small a movement as it was, it carried a pretty significant meaning; I am no longer a high school student. I am that much closer to independence and adulthood.

The entire weekend of my graduation, I felt the need to blog pressing in the back of my mind. It only made sense to post something about graduation. There was no way I had nothing to say about such a big event. But every time I sat down to write, I felt stuck. The words wouldn’t come out in the right order, if they came out at all. This remained until I realized I don’t owe anyone a blog post. I write on this blog ultimately for myself, and while I have an audience, I do not owe that audience. I have the freedom to wait and give the blog post time to come out naturally.

I’ve given it almost a week, and although this week has been somewhat busy, there have been pockets of time to reflect on the past four years and the lessons I’ve learned throughout.

One of the biggest things I have seen and learned about in all four years of high school is God’s provision. In my freshman year, He opened the doors for me to become involved in the school newspaper, which kick started a passion that hasn’t faded. As a sophomore, God gave me two fantastic friends who made me feel loved and important in a place that made me feel unwelcome, lonely and isolated. Last year, God surrounded me with a community of supporters that lifted me up and encouraged me as God was working in my heart and my life.

The provision I’ve seen in the last year alone is beyond words. Through the process of applying for the ROTC scholarship, God filled me with strength, determination and patience, and He opened doors repeatedly that got me to where I am now. When I felt inadequate or uneasy, He filled me with His peace. And after an initial stinging rejection, He opened the doors for me to be accepted into Liberty’s Honors Program. Smaller, but just as meaningful, He provided me with a much-desired Arabic class that fit perfectly into my schedule. And emotionally, He gave me energy and healing after a toxic friendship.

God is a great, great provider, and He loves to meet our needs. I remember being so shocked at the story of Gideon and the fleece, because somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that we’re not allowed to ask God for clarification or signs. I thought we were supposed to sit tight and not ask questions. I thought that if you asked for a sign you were showing your doubt. When I read about Gideon and the fleece, I thought “What is this guy doing? Doesn’t he know we’re not supposed to ask questions?”

I am so glad I was wrong, and that Gideon asked God for signs so many years ago. I am so glad that my God loves me and loves when I ask Him for things. My God is so, so good, and even in the abundance of awkward, lonely, insecure moments He has used these four years in high school to meet my needs and show me His love for me.

An Overwhelmed Heart

A dear friend recently asked me, “If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself going into your senior year?”  Although I had expected some broad, deep question our entire walk, I had to pause and think about my answer.

“I would tell myself to step take a step back and chill out.” I told her. “Because when it comes to chill, I have none.” It was a lighthearted response, and the conversation was filled with a degree of ease and laughter. But the comment had a large degree of honesty in it, too .

I like to be in control. I like to have a plan. I like to color coordinate my calendar and cross items of To-Do lists and reach mental goals that in the grand scheme of things really don’t matter. I obsess over time and whether or not I’m spending it well. I worry that I’m being held back or disadvantaged and that I need to be pouring all of my energy into alleviating the drawbacks. I get upset when people waste my time because I have things to get done.

This mentality is often a source of motivation and productivity. But it is also a source of anxiety and isolation.

I went through a several-month period where I didn’t spend time with friends or take any time to relax. Watching TV became stressful because I felt that the 50 minutes spent on Netflix could be put towards studying or reading or doing homework. I declined invitations to spend time with friends because if I went with them, I could not let go of the feeling that I was running out of time for other things.

For several months, everything I did was surrounded with stress and anxiety. I could not escape the feeling that I was wasting time.

This mentality comes and goes. I’ll have a couple months of ‘relaxing’ that are likely a result of a temporary burnout from my stressful, intense productivity. But even these months of relaxing are marked by a worry that I’m not doing the right thing.

But I was not created to live life in a vacuum of stress and anxiety, and when I choose to focus on To-Dos and Haven’t-Done’s, I invite in negativity that God doesn’t want for me. And more importantly than that, when I prioritize school and my success, God falls to the wayside.

I am learning (and will be learning for the rest of my life) that I cannot overcome the stresses and anxieties of life on my own. I am powerless against the craziness, and no matter how much I plan, things will always go wrong.

I love the image evoked in Psalm 61:2, which says “When my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” When we are in the midst of the chaos, our problems loom over us, blocking our view of our Savior. But God is a solid foundation that is higher than us, and when we let Him be, He is much, much higher than the struggles we face. He lifts us up in His righteous right hand, and is unendingly willing to show His power and love for us.

Through everything, we have a God that loves us and loves to be with us. His presence is full of peace, grace, and comfort, and provides relief from uncertainty and trouble.  Although I am prone to an overwhelmed heart, I have the ability to choose God’s presence, and all the good that comes with it.

P.S., It’s Not About The Song 

When I was in ninth grade, my youth group and I took a trip to Kansas City for a youth conference, Acquire the Fire. On the way home, my friends and I were talking about the event-and complaining about the music.

The band that lead worship was a talented group of people. But they chose the same songs for every worship session. And they repeated the same lines over. And over. And over again. We all agreed that the worship would have been better if we’d been able to sing different songs. Or maybe if we sang the chorus twice instead of twenty times.

A dear friend and mentor heard the conversation, and fortunately stepped in. She challenged us to see worship in a different way. To see the Lord instead of the lyrics on the screen. To have a heart of worship regardless of how many times you’ve repeated the same phrase. She told us that worship is more about where our heart is than the quality of the music.

That night, she began to teach me a lesson that I still haven’t learned. I still find myself criticizing worship leaders and aspects of the worship bands (which is ironic considering I can’t carry a tune to save my life.) I still find myself saying “if they could just play it the right way, it would be easier to worship.”

This mentality takes the responsibility off of my shoulders. If I blame the band for my lack of worship because they were playing a song too fast, then I don’t have to confront my own failures in worship. I don’t have to admit that I was holding on to anger and that it was keeping me from worship. I don’t have to admit that I wasn’t willing to let go of my daydreams to focus on the Lord that has never stopped focusing on me. I don’t have to admit that I failed the one who would never fail me.

But by blaming the band or the song choice, I’m also telling God that my ability to worship is based on external factors. It is based on the people I’m with and what they’ll think of me. There are times where I’m hesitant to raise my hand in praise because heaven forbid I do something unusual. How different a picture that is from King David, who danced before the Lord with complete disregard for anyone else’s opinions-including his wife’s.

Since that conversation in Kansas City, I’ve come a long way with worship. I am more deliberate with where my heart is when I sing praises, and I understand that worship isn’t about the song. As I move forward in my relationship with the Lord, I want to deepen this intentionality so that my worship fills all my actions, not just the ones when I stand in the church pew. I was created to praise the Lord in all I do, and I’m not going to let a song put a damper on that.

Failure is Tough but I am Enough

At 3:45 two Sundays ago, my mom received the call I’d been waiting weeks for; a spot opened for me to go to Girls State. An hour later, my parents and I hit the road on our way to Seguin, Texas. Mostly I felt excited. For one of the first times in my life, I would be surrounded by intelligent, involved, and eager girls who  were my age.

My parents dropped me off, and I jumped into Girls State life, instantly joining conversations and seeing the beginnings of friendships sprout from unlikely places (Chacos were quite the conversation starter). Since I got there late, I was behind on the information, and the girls in my city were more than willing to help catch me up.

Not only were these girls intelligent and talented, but they were humble. They were honest, and funny, and kind, and unique.

I went into the week knowing that I would run for an office, but I didn’t know what. At first I bounced between city and county attorney. I chose county; but then I began to wonder if I sold myself short by not going for the highest. So I decided to run for Attorney General. I wrote my speech. I loved my speech. I felt confident; I would get through primaries, at least. I was so sure of it.

And then I didn’t. As soon as I heard the other girl’s name, I felt ashamed. I was so embarrassed for trying to do something way over my head. I felt foolish for even thinking that I could make it. I felt stupid.

The worst thing about these kinds of thoughts is that once the first one comes, they don’t stop. I went from being embarrassed about not winning to despising everything about myself. I felt stupid, immature, and ignorant. Things I have never felt before. I began to think I was unqualified to be there. I may have a high GPA, take all accelerated classes in school, and have an undying love for reading. But there? At Girls State? I felt fake, like I was pretending to be something that I’m not.

It didn’t matter that I am aware of what’s going on in the world, or that I’m passionate about a wide variety of things. My desire to learn and my love for the people I am surrounded by were forgotten. The things that make me who I am no longer mattered, because they weren’t enough to get me to where I wanted to be. I felt inferior to the girl who won-anyone who won, really. What do they have that I don’t? What makes them so good?

But I realized sometime between that moment and the end of the night that other people being good doesn’t make me less good. I may not have won the position I wanted, but I am talented, I am intelligent, and I have a right to take up the space I occupy. I am not less for losing.

So often we think failure is a sign of weakness or worthlessness. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else; I have a fear of failure. It holds me back from joining teams and clubs because the thought of trying something and not succeeding drains the excitement from so much. This week, I overcame that fear and tried for something that was not a guarantee.

And I failed.

But I’m more secure in who I am because of it.

Failing does not mean we are inadequate or inferior. The people around us are not better for their successes or wins. Our culture runs on jealousy and bitterness, and it creates the idea that if we’re not the very best, we’re the worst-regardless of how good we actually are.

I was created in God’s image, with a specific purpose and a specific set of talents for that purpose. And so were you. But we can’t focus on our relationships with God (or with others) if we’re constantly comparing ourselves to the people around us.

Over the course of the week, I learned how to fail, and it wasn’t a fun lesson to learn. But without ‘missing the mark,’ I wouldn’t be able to confidently say that I am enough, despite my failures.

For His Glory

I spent this past weekend at a friend’s house attending a very small, local version of If: Gathering. It was a beautiful, convicting, spirit-filled time, and I am so grateful for the conversation and realization that it brought.

During one of the sessions, one of the speakers asked a question to the effect of, “What would it look like if we focused more on making God known, than making ourselves known?” At first the question went in one ear and out the other. I’ve heard it before, and I’m sure you have to. But then I did a double take. What if I cared more about making God known than making myself known?

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be important, to do something that puts me in the history books, to have a biography written about me. I want to make a difference. I want to change the world. I want to be remembered. I want to  impact someone’s life.

I want, I want, I want.

I get so wrapped up in these grandiose ideas of what I can do for God, what I can do for people. But the problem is, I’m not doing it for God. I’m doing it for myself, with the hopes that other Christians, or other citizens, or other humans look at me and say “she is so good.

I’m selfish. I’m arrogant. I’m working for myself, for my own glory. And anything I do that isn’t for the glory of God isn’t worth doing at all.

How can I even pretend that I work for the glory of God when I change the music I listen to in order to avoid the judgment of my peers? How can I pretend that I work for the glory of God when I tell people I was ‘in a teacher’s class during lunch’ instead of telling them I was at bible study? How can I pretend that I work for the glory of God when I hide His love for me and for them when it should be pouring from my soul?

I daydream about God using me in a foreign country, bringing people to Him with unfailing faith and love. But why would God give me the opportunity to impact people in another nation when I deny the mission field He has provided for me at school?

Those grand ideas of what I could do for God? I can’t do anything for God. He doesn’t need me.

But because He gave everything for me, and because I have accepted Him in full, I am called to serve Him. Not because He needs me, but because I need him. Because without Him, I am nothing. Because without Him, I am dead, dry bones.

My  prayers lately have been for God to reveal His plan to me, to show me His calling in my life. But He already gave me my calling, before the thought of me ever crossed my parents’ minds. He called me, he called us, to “go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). I have no excuse, I have no reason, to deny my peers and my neighbors the chance to hear the Good News.

I don’t know what my future holds, and I don’t know what mission field God will put on my heart in the years to come. But I do know that I have a calling that does not depend on my environment. I was created to serve the God who loves me, for nothing but His glory.

Free to find me

Starting in fifth or sixth grade, the formerly tom-boyish and oblivious me became concerned with a concept that had, until then, only been considered in passing: relationships. In my family, we have an established ‘dating age’ of sixteen, and because of my incredibly close and respectful relationship with my parents, I held up that age and didn’t enter into any official relationships behind their backs. I did, however, have ‘special friends’ (the title we gave guys with whom I had mutual interest). My parents knew of all of these relationships, and we kept an open dialogue about them.

I am incredibly grateful for that established dating age, because without it, I would have most likely entered into several relationships that would only result in me being hurt in ways that obviously could be avoided. And I am also incredibly grateful for my parents’ willingness to allow me to have ‘special friends,’ because I have been able to experience and learn about relationships without the pain.

But since that year when I first became aware of relationships, and thus began to desire one, it has been a thought that constantly sits in my mind, entertained when I’m bored in class or listening to love songs or watching movies. It is hard to live in the culture we do and not regularly wish for a relationship. We’re constantly given the message that unless we are in a relationship, we are either inadequate, or missing out on something.

This message, and my own desire for deep emotional connections with others, has led me to focus far too much on relationships, and in doing so, I have lost my sense of self. And beyond that, I’ve lost my sense of God. When I am in a relationship, I am devoted to building and maintaining close emotional connections with that person. I invest my time, my thoughts, and my heart into that person, and in that process, my identity becomes rooted in them.

Following the end of one of these almost-relationships, I told myself and others that I would focus on becoming who I am as an individual, and developing emotional connections with God, before I attempted to start any other relationship. I had grand plans to walk down this path of complete singleness with joy, learning to love myself completely, and developing a connection with God that I crave with people.

But before I knew it, I found myself dreaming of my next crush. Maybe I would bump into him in Barnes and Noble, and we would strike up conversation about all our favorite books, and that would lead to a beautiful and fulfilling relationship. Or maybe he’d move into the neighborhood this summer, and our perfect relationship would just unfold itself from there. I would be ashamed to count up the minutes I’ve spent creating (mostly unlikely) ways I could meet him.

I have neglected my joyful walk through singleness by closing my eyes and imagining how great a relationship will be. I have subconsciously fed myself the lie that singleness is not enough, that being alone with God is not enough. I have created this place in my mind in which life is better when I have a boyfriend. And because of that, I am still forgetting who I am  and whose I am.

When I meet The One, I want to be the woman God has created me to be, the spouse he needs me to be, and the individual I want to be. I cannot be that if I am invested in another person, or the idea of another person, to the point where I am distracted from who I am as an individual, and who God has created me to be.

I have wanted to start a blog for months, but didn’t because of a lack of purpose and theme. This realization gave me both of those things. So now begins my journey of becoming who I was created to be, and for now I will do it single.