Letters From An MBI Student – 10/22

Dear Family,

You’re the ones who listen to me when I’m rambling, right? That’s what family is for, right? Well, that and being the voice of reason on the other side of the table?

Because today I’m going to ramble. Here’s the brain dump, all under the verbose subtitle of “Thoughts On Being Sunshine When I Am Not.”

Our family was never big on nicknames, were we? Not when I was young, anyway, because I remember being inordinately proud of “Sunshine” and all that it entailed. Grandpa started it, I think, and I was always a little jealous if I ever heard him call someone else that name. It was special, it was mine (in my eyes), and it felt unique in our family of formalities (until Babes and her litany came along and the rest of us dissolved into the shortest versions possible, right? Heh.).

The new one is “Rae” here at school, unless you’re the dude at the counter at Joe’s last night who saw my ID and said my full name and threw me for a loop because only Lady and Nae really do that. I reintroduced my shortened self so it wouldn’t be awkward, which it was anyway. It was a bit of a jump, a blip in the day, a bumpy precursor to what happened today.

Something about a name…funny how a name wraps you up in a brand new wardrobe that you maybe used to wear. I’m my full name in certain workplaces, sometimes at home, and in a lot of old memories–some wonderful, some darkly less than that. Sometimes that name feels like a homecoming, sometimes it feels like an inside joke, but more often it feels far older than I am; something other than myself and what life is now.

I like “Rae,” though. I like being “Rae” at school and at home and at my new job. I like a new version to occupy, because so much of me feels new. Whether that is through the renewal of God or my own poor choices is still being sorted through.

But “Sunshine”…that is the old standby, the old spelling, the OG. The first other name I can remember that I wanted as mine. But sometimes it feels like the farthest thing from who I am now than I have ever been. I remember times when it was a glorious pinpoint of identity: times in middle school and early high school when someone else applied that designator without any idea of what it meant to me. But the flip side of that coin have been the times when that name was–is–dredged up like an old photograph: a toothless child, a version of me 50 lbs ago, myself in a tracksuit in garish 90s colors. I’ve never had a mirror quite like that name – a recalcitrant, encouraging, reflective, combative, warped, airbrushed, far-seeing mirror. A mirror that speaks back to me of pasts joys and past sins, present statuses and present failings, future possibilities and future impossibilities. I love and hate and don’t always want the expectation and promise and lingering of a name that doesn’t feel entirely mine but I can’t actually let go.

Sorry, I told you it was a ramble. Here’s the pb&j version, the 411, the juddering in my day after yesterday’s brief tremor: I was introduced to my replacement at a job. A lovely, lovely person: an older newlywed, new believer, excellent conversationalist, good listener, and already a friend (in the “I-just-met-you-today” sort of way). I was my work self, which means I can be chatty, laughing, engaging…all of those proper things that were made easier by her honest and friendly response. [Side note: I just realized that I have truly have the best sort of people to train. People who do my job far better than I and who allow me to exit with peace that the job will be done well, regardless of whether that means my way or not.] We laughed, talked, and will probably meet for coffee outside of our two Saturdays together, because her interests and mine converge in a way that can’t be explored when we’re talking about investments and securities.

Half an hour into the morning, after introductions and wheres and whys, she asked, “Is your family Christian?” –I nodded and smiled [and by the grace of God in your lives and mine, Parentals, I was able to be proud]–“because you have such joy.” The conversation blinked into something else and that comment didn’t initially register. Not until we left at the same time, after only two hours together, and walked out to see her husband waiting for her. She eagerly wanted to introduce me and in the quick, muddled conversation that happens in unexpected introductions, she said: “She’s such a ray of sunshine!”

And I returned the compliment–genuinely, because I’m looking forward to a longer time with her–and walked down my little alleyway to the train that takes me back to my home here in the city where I’m “Rae,” which she didn’t know, 520 miles away from where I used to be “Sunshine,” which no one here knows, where I’m not “[full name],” where I’m a version of myself that feels like all of those don’t coexist. I can’t describe to you what it feels like to have someone ignorantly, instantly apply those names to you as if they are the most natural thing in the world and of course these three iterations of myself are all the same person. Of course what’s on my birth certificate and what was my childhood and what is myself now are all the same person. Of course. Of course.

Funny how saying that doesn’t make it any easier to reconcile. Because I’m not “Sunshine,” and I haven’t been in a long, long while. I’m functioning in endless variations of different worlds: one where God is so, so good; the other where He is so, so incomprehensible. The former is external, my lexicon, the world of “Sunshine,” the world of Moody speech and Moody expectation, the world of conversation and pat answers, the world where I’m drawing from the words of faith that I have existed in for as long as I have been alive. The latter is the internal, the heart language, the world where names attack and answers falter and words feel as useless as paper promises that never become real.

Yeah, I should have probably warned you that this is not a brain dump; this is a heart dump, too. Someday I’ll write to you of the faithfulness of God that is continually and graciously walking me from the words of His goodness to the truth of it. Today I heard all of the names I have ever wanted for myself and today I heard all of the names I have that used to be myself and today I heard all of the names that are not myself. And they were all the same.

Final thought [Side note: if this letter were in ink you’d never receive it because the postage for this book would put me in the red]: I am not any of those names. I am not the name on birth certificate, I am not the name first written on a whiteboard inside a welding cell, I am not the nickname heard while smelling lacquer and sawdust. All of those are mine, but they are not always me. And I cannot return or embody all of the history and assumption that each of those names create.

I have to untie those threads of expectation, I have to acknowledge those old photographs, I have to confess those good and dark memories, but I do not have to occupy their paths, because they aren’t me. They’re part, not the whole, and not the fault of the label or the labeler; they exist and mean something but not everything and sometimes I forget that.

Sigh, sorry, I think this is actually the end of my ramble: Today I was jarred by the realization that I am not what I would like to be, but what I would like to be is not who I was. Today I was grabbed by an old and present and future self and saw my warped reflection in an unexpected mirror. Today I needed my God for the simple reason that I needed to be known better than anyone else has ever known me. Today all I wanted was to be named by the He Who calls me His. Today I needed to know that who I truly, truly am is a wavering sinner rescued by unwavering grace. Today I needed Isaiah 41.


“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.'”

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.”

“Since you were precious in My sight,
You have been honored,
And I have loved you;”

“Everyone who is called by My name,
Whom I have created for My glory;
I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”

Maybe missing you and realizing again that you love me a little like Him,


Letters From An MBI Student – 9/15

Dear Family,

Out of all the things that I thought I might have trouble with at school, words was not one of them. But then I have a day with the same words that aren’t the same words and my brain seizes them and says: “Yay! Words! Let’s overthink them!” and a field day ensues because what has been said out loud is only half of it. I really need to get that fixed, but in the meantime, try these four on for size:


Boss 1: Where are you going?

Brain: Huh? The stairs? Wait, was I in trouble? Did she think I was going someplace I shouldn’t? I was just walking down the stairs. IT’S JUST STAIRS. Maybe I go sneak off and sit in a corner and text? Wait, maybe it was small talk. Dang, I hate small talk. Sound convincing.

Me: My office?


Coworker: Where are you going?

Brain: Context. Context. Does my life have to be interesting all the time? If I say “nowhere” am I boring? Or is that sarcasm? Context. What were we talking about? I don’t remember. ABORT! Talk about something safe!

Me: I intend to do nothing but sleep.


Boss 2: Where are you going?

Brain: Say you aren’t, because you aren’t.

Brain: But if I say I’m not, will I have to work instead? Will they ask for extra? Must. Do. Laundry.

Brain: Say you are, even if you aren’t. Gone, not doing laundry. Laundry is a lame excuse.

Brain: But where?

Brain: Just be occupied somewhere with something! Interesting! Someone? Just don’t say homework or laundry.

Me: A homework meeting? And then I have to do laundry. And…stuff.


Student: Where are you going?

Brain: I don’t even remember. Just somewhere. Do I have to tell you? I’m going to be a hermit and climb my small mountain of homework and read alone for hours and hours and enjoy it. Let’s not say that. Be vague. And occupied.

Me: Joe’s.

*Bonus Question: Can I come with?

Brain: Say no. You won’t get anything done. You will talk all the times because you like this person and haven’t seen them today. She will talk all the times because she does. Say no. Be bold!

Me: Sure!


[disclaimer: yes, most of them have to do with the 5-car pileup between an introvert and an expectation. Such is life.]


And at the bottom of it all are things like this that keep me sane.

Lady: Where are you going?

Brain: Homework. Somewhere. Laundry. Probably. Sleep. Please. Silence. Yes. Food. Again. Homework. Always.

Me: I don’t know.

Lady: Okay.


Maybe missing you and your own version of sanity,


Letters From An MBI Student – 9/23

Dear Family,

Some days you really need to study. Some days a friend really needs to talk.

Some days your three hours of study time disappear in two hours of conversation.


Some days you really want to make brownies or something with sugar or something just really, really sweet. Some days your body hates the things you really want.

Some days you make them anyway and your apartment smells like heaven all day.


Some days you want to cut class. Some days you think you probably should in order to study.

Some days you don’t and you realize you wanted to come just because you wanted to say the Apostle’s Creed like you always do.


Some days you think you’re going to fail the drive test. Some days you think you should cope with coffee or excuses or something equally artificial.

Some days you drive your best and make a friend.


Some days you try to study. Some days your mind says “Nope.”

Some days you pretend that you’re okay with failure even when you’re not.


Some days you meet a friend. Some days a friend buys you coffee.

Some days you get coffee when you least expect it and everything is wonderful.


Some days you think you’re going to fail the test you couldn’t study for. Some days you sit and talk to a friend because that’s what is needed. Some days you go to class instead of cutting it to study. Some days a creed means more to you than normal. Some days you find out things you didn’t want to know. Some days you find out things you truly needed to know.

Some days you ace your test, find a friend, sip a coffee, sing a song, learn a truth, gain a hug. Some days you don’t learn about the grace of God. Some days you do.

Maybe missing you,


The Soul

Part Four: Time and Eternity


THE SOUL should always stand ajar.
That if the heaven inquire,
He will not be obliged to wait,
Or shy of troubling her.

Depart, before the host has slid
The bolt upon the door,
To seek for the accomplished guest—
Her visitor no more.

~Emily Dickinson

Letters From An MBI Student – 9/12

Dear Family,

I’m writing to share proof that I am at a Bible college. I can now confirm that the stereotype is true, and so are comments like these: “I don’t know math! Why do you think I came to Moody?”

It’s not Moody’s fault, per se, but it’s just the way of things here. Sadly, the relative lack of STEM individuals is demonstrative all by itself that Moody is a Bible college. Now I just have documented, quotable proof of it. Enjoy.

[This conversation is directly transcribed from an incident that took place in front of me, in class, during the break. Today. All individuals are college students who are at least juniors. All individuals were male, but how that influenced this conversation is under review. All nicknames are pending.]

[I have no clue how this conversation started, but I do know that all individuals involved were serious in their opinions. Save us all.]

Young Daschle – “The Pythagorean Theorem. You know, a + b = c.”

Baby Einstein – “What?”

Ex-Thor – “You know, if a is b and b is c, then a is c.”

Young Daschle – “The Pythagorean Theorem.”

Baby Einstein – “No, that’s a2 + b2 = c2

Young Daschle – “We’re not trying to find the circumference.”

Ex-Thor – “That’s 2πr2. Boom!” *mic drop*

Baby Einstein – *headdesk*

[True story.]

Maybe missing you,




Letters from an MBI Student – 8/22 Notes

Dear Family,

So how is school? Well, it’s the first day of class, and here’s how it started.

6:00 – Alarm #1. What is happening?

6:05 – Alarm #1.1. I must have hit snooze? Why am I waking up to birds chirping? This is weird.

6:10 – Alarm #2. Bells. Huh? Oh, right. New phone, new ringtones, still the same Dismiss button.

6:20 – Alarm #3. My poor roommates. I forgot to tell them this. Hope they don’t hear. Or mind. Snooze.

6:25 – Alarm #3.1. Five more minutes? Snooze. Or was it Dismiss?

6:30 – Alarm #4. Oh, now or never. Dismiss. But I’m up.

6:50 – I will be late, or maybe not. “Wonderwall” by Hurts takes me halfway to PT.

7:30 – PT is done and I am back and starving and leaving before having breakfast is as terrible an idea as I thought it would be. The first and only time I will leave my room before sustenance.

7:40 – Stuff my face, stuff my backpack, do dishes, make a list – these all happen somewhere in here.

7:50 – Makeup is overrated. Today is a Husker shirt day. What do I need? What am I supposed to be doing? What is today?

8:10 – Monday morning and Joe’s is open. Two old floormates to greet, one kid in a suit to run into, my full name is written on a coffee cup (that hasn’t happened in a while), and the new counter at Joe’s is exactly where the broken-hearted dudes sit at a bar. The kid in the suit agrees. He takes a seat.

8:20 – where am I going? I’ve turned into one of those kids who walks and is on their phone and will probably run into a pole, but Hallelujah, I have a phone that works and it doesn’t take me 15 minutes to log in and look up my classroom.

8:25 – in my first classroom, not lost, an acquaintance next to me, and the perfect seat.

I could continue, but you get the point. Basically, every minute is full and I feel like I’m hitting Snooze to give myself five more minutes until the next thing. But I’m not adding time to my day, I’m just pretending to.

Welcome back to Moody. Maybe I’ll write to you in class next time, since sitting in a classroom is the only time I have to catch my breath so far.

Maybe missing you,


Documenting Life


I take pictures. Of stuff. And people, sometimes. I can’t really call myself a photographer, because I don’t try hard enough to be a good photographer. I don’t think of my photography as some careful art…I think of it as just…it.


I just take pictures. Of scenes and slices of life that remind me of greater things. I take pictures of landscapes because the wider the horizon, the more I am able to breathe. I take pictures of things because the tiniest details can be captured and seen over and over again. I take pictures of people because I don’t want to forget. I take pictures because I document joy.


Except when I don’t. I don’t take photos when I am angry, when I am sorrowful, when I am lost. Because in all of those times, I don’t know how to see those things in a photograph. I’m not looking at the world around me like it is beautiful, so I don’t bother to save a piece of it. There is no joy, so there is nothing kept. I don’t want to remember those times.


And that’s the problem. Because it’s not because the beauty is gone or even tarnished. It’s just that my sight of it is a little dim. Eventually I come around to seeing the way the sun streaks through the clouds, and then I pull out my camera or pick up my pen, and I document joy once again.


But shouldn’t we be documenting the not-joy moments, too? Shouldn’t we be telling of the days when life is less than glorious, when the sun-streaks are dull or not there at all? Look at the Bible. What if we were missing the lament of Job or the rebuke of Jeremiah? What if we were missing the tears of Lamentations or the repentance of Hosea? What if the only thing documented was joy?


Psalm 51 is a photograph; a photograph without sunshine. At first.

“For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight–
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.”

Why take this picture? This is not a sunset that takes your breath away or a perfectly red rose. This photograph is snot and tears and mostly regret. And yet.


“O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart–
These, O God, You will not despise.”

But these photographs are the ones we need, too. The ones that are just as honest as the rest. Because the truth is this: there is sunshine and sunsets and glorious horizons. There is laughter and joy and yes, please, document it.

But there is sorrow, and sadness, and brokenness, and loss. There is sin and chaos and yes, please document it.


Because the times of the thunderstorms come before the times of the rainbow. Because the records of sin and sorrow come before the triumph of salvation. Documenting joy is wonderful and necessary and keeps our souls healthy, but it is not enough. It is not enough to say that God is only good, or only delightful, or only as present as the sun we can see. It is far more honest to say that God is greater than these, delightful and demanding, and present in every circumstance.

So here is my document of both. Of both pain and pleasure, for the grace of God exists in both.


Share your joy, O saints and sinners,
Share your grief, O saved of God,
Share your home, O long sojourners,
Share your hope, O redeemed soul