the story of a year

 

a few weekends ago, as some friends came together to celebrate one of our own getting engaged, i did what i always do… ask questions. usually they are random, sometimes deep. in this particular instance, it was the latter: “what has been the hardest thing about this past year and what is the best thing that has come from it?” as i listened to my dear friends answer and wondered what i would share, i was reminded that much of my last year has been shaped by difficulty. there aren’t many good things that haven’t been overshadowed by sorrow. it is as if there has been a cloud over the past few years — dark and ominous, spitting rain and lightning and thunder — never stopping to take stock of the damage already done. what was held in my one sentence answer… “pretty much everything about my last year has been hard but it’s taught me a deeper dependence on the lord,” was far more than i could verbalize without crying. it’s held uncertainty, paralyzing fear, a sense that i’m still in that place mostly.

the story of my year tells of heartbreak, heartache and heart problems. it’s been disappointing diagnoses, the death of dreams, the depth of despair. it has held the hell that a loss of hope produces. the reality is, this year has challenged my allegiance to god and belief of his promises to me more than all my other 25 years combined. the culmination of so many hard things jam-packed into one singular year means that i’ve been unable to pretend that i can have even the slightest grip of control in what happens in my life. i have doggedly chased after job leads, determinedly attempted to pull myself up by my own boot straps, decided without a doubt that i won’t be in this place even a day longer. the sum of my efforts is the truth that without god, i am and can do nothing. apart from him, i have NO GOOD THING. when times are good, this truth seems obscure, dramatic. with the circumstances i have been in and through over the last year, i can assure you that it is no cute mantra on the inside of a fortune cookie.

“though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen,

and no cattle in the stalls,

yet i will rejoice in the lord,

i will be joyful in god my savior.” (habakkuk 3:17-18)

this year it has certainly felt like there are no figs, grapes, olive, food, sheep, cattle (or their equal) in my life. i have had to fight to be joyful in the lord. i KNOW that god is for and with us. he never leaves nor forsakes us. he is for our good. he loves us, carries us. these truths have never been more real to me than over this past year. it’s been the truth countless friends have recited back to me in my darkest, most vulnerable moments. they have been the truths i hated to bear, hated to find were absolute.

i’m learning more every day to count EVERYTHING a loss compared to the SURPASSING worth of knowing Christ. if i have Him and nothing else (as it so oft seems to be), i have enough. i lack no good thing. i hope that in whatever suffering you have or will endure (as is promised), that it would do nothing less that radically transform you into one who is in constant dependence on the lord — that nary a day will go by that you don’t grapple with your need for him. this is no small prayer. may we all rest in his abundant grace today.

to the refugee and black (wo)man and the down-trodden.

i have had these thoughts (though not quite as mature or well-formulated to-date) for years. only recently when it feels like humanity has broken down a little more and in a time where the sinfulness of man is perhaps more visible than ever, have i cared enough to think of ways to actually DO something. to stop worrying about putting my foot in my mouth and counting the cost before i’ve started and saying more via social media than i ever do with my life. i’m tired of caring about something or someone only when a crisis occurs. i’m sickened by my inability to empathize with human beings. i’m disgusted by how disconnected the way i use my time and words and tears has truly been representative of the heart of god. what a luxury to get to look away and what a profound disgrace.

i have had many conversations with friends in the last couple of weeks (primarily white friends that are mostly like me, mind you) about what’s going on. everyone fumbling for the words and to voice our despair and depression over the state of things. listen — i don’t know what to say. way too much has been said and so much of it is vastly unhelpful and not even an iota of enough and i have trouble believing my words matter either. and to a degree, they don’t. not if the feelings behind them don’t lead to compassion and to seeking to understand instead of begging to be understood. not if i’m more worried about what my words would sound like than what my silence would scream.

because i love god, i will speak up. the same way i want to speak up about the devastation of abortion, the way i despise the sex trade, the way i should care about child soldiers in foreign countries i will never ever visit, the way my heart is broken when any of god’s people are seen as less than their full worth. i have to care. if god’s people do not care — who will? who, except those who have received RADICAL GRACE, will and can stand  up for the afflicted, the oppressed? it’s our very bloodline, you know? god’s chosen people, a royal priesthood. also? former slaves. also? promised affliction and struggle.

do you know that i have rarely felt that? i have rarely felt the ravage beast Injustice in my own white-girl american experience. i have seldom had the crippling fear of Persecution banging down my door because of the color of my skin or where i was born. i have never once in my life feared for my life or had to risk fleeing my country. i am blissfully ignorant. and thank god! what an amazing gift to never even consider my safety in daily life. but yet, there are so many who this has not been their story, has not been their narrative. do you know that every single one is made in the image of god? that jesus died on the cross to save ALL — even the ungodly, even while we were still sinning? the ones you think are the worthy of that sacrifice and the ones you think absolutely are not. but do you see the problem with our mentality that we get to decide which human being has merit and which does not? it elevates us to a righteous judge, it infers that we WERE somehow deserving of the sacrifice (which we assuredly were not, by the way). jesus died so that every human being would have LIFE and life to the FULL. an amazing, undeserved gift. offered freely to all.

and yet. there has been a huge population WITHIN OUR OWN COUNTRY that has not felt this to be so. black americans have historically and recently not felt valued as human beings (and truly have not BEEN valued as human beings). there are a myriad of other words and arguments being tossed around but listen: a great majority of the black population — in the millions — of human beings on our own free soil have, first in whispers and now in blood-curdling screams, been trying to convince us of their worth. if there was 10 black people in the whole country feeling victimized — fine. when, almost without exception, every black person has tried to tell us of their shared experiences and we respond with “no, it is not,” we are degrading their experiences to ours. we are looking through rose colored glasses telling them that “victimization” and “targeting” is actually just “sensitivity” or something they’ve conjured up, as if they’d like this to be true.

this conversation has miles to go and many wounds to heal before it is solved.

as christians, we are heirs to a bloodline that saved ours. we were washed clean and saved by the blood of a slaughtered lamb who was pierced for our transgressions. none of us are good, not even one — not even a white christian with the privilege of being born in a country with so many freedoms and the ability to choose from practically anything we’d like to become. we should use our so-called privilege to do what jesus did — stand for those who cannot. use our voices to call out injustice. use our platforms to call up into the tree to the one who doesn’t belong and say “let me come to your house”. as christians, let us look more like christ: humble, quick to listen, the one filled with compassion and prompted to move. we cannot stay silent anymore.

everyone has everything.

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so, i would say in a run-off between which of the ten commandments i break most frequently / have had the hardest time with, jealousy rates fairly low (under, like, murdering and such). it’s not that i’ve NEVER been insecure or jealous, it’s just not the thorn that pokes my side often. for the most part, i am comfortable in my own skin — flaws, talents, and all.

in a bible study this past year, we were discussing something (clearly, i’m good at remembering the particulars) and one of the girls mentioned feeling like she sees other peoples’ lives and her takeaway sentiment being that EVERYONE has EVERYTHING. i laughed hysterically (because i’m nothing if not mature + composed in bible studies). it seemed so dramatic. so trivial. so TRUE. we vowed that this would be our hashtag henceforth. #everyonehaseverything

but isn’t it true? in times of longing, doesn’t it seem like EVERYONE has EVERYTHING you want… you’ve prayed for? in this season, this has been one of the HARDEST things for me to overcome. i look around and see so many people succeeding and thriving at amazing things. their jobs, relationships (engagements, marriage, friendships), motherhood, cross-country moves, etc. it seems like everyone has it together, has more friends, has a greater purpose. on my really dark days, the devil is pretty good at asking me “did god REALLY say you couldn’t have that, too?”. on my really dark days, i’m keen to eat the apple or at least envy the one someone else is chomping on. and social media really isn’t the problem. it only magnifies the lie that your life would be better if only your circumstances were different — you had blonde hair or a cooler job or what-have-you.

i can feel it eat away at my soul. where once there was joy, confidence in who god made me, vision for my own path — i’ve instead become entangled by wishing for something other. my jealousy not only diminishes the work god is doing in me but degrades those i’m jealous of. they become a measuring stick, a stat: have a job; in a relationship; are pretty. i don’t have the benefit of perspective and knowledge of their inner lives, i instead degrade them to what i want them to be and i dehumanize them in a way that is shameful.

my jealousy disconnects me from people. instead of cheering them on wholeheartedly and rejoicing in their victories, i secretly envy the discrepancies between our lives. but jealousy serves as an even more dangerous force than we realize. in the bible (and in the here and now), jealousy uncontrolled leads to murder, stealing, gossiping and so much more. the bible literally calls it “unspiritual and demonic” (james 3:15). yikes! it follows to say “where jealousy and ambition exist there will be disorder and every vile practice” (james 3:16). jealousy will always lead to more sinfulness. so, while it may seem like a harmless afterthought to harbor bitterness and envy in our hearts, i pray we purge every evil thought from our minds. after all, these are human beings made in god’s likeness. and eternity hangs in the balance when we decide whether we will care for ourselves or for them. jealousy is choosing yourself each and every time.

lessons from the carseat.

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(photo cred: unsplash)

a few months ago, i wrote a blog post about how god used one of my favorite kiddos to teach me a lesson. to speak to me using my own words to a child. i think maybe this should become a series because mostly i’m just like a little child pretending i’m grown + have no need for a father. for this series, let yourself imagine a graphic drawing (or actual photo) of me in a carseat in the back (long legs n all) and god in the drivers seat mostly shaking his head and in all probability – cursing while i act like… well… a child. moving on….

this morning, i took my nieces on a VERY urgent donut trip (as is every donut trip). it was pouring rain but worth the trouble so we went to the store, were driving back to the house to eat them and my niece inquired whether i had gotten her chocolate milk. i had not. i didn’t realize she wanted any and told her that. she wasn’t thrilled and was feeling pouty about it. i told her that i was sorry, that i didn’t know she wanted it but that we got DONUTS and we should be happy with what we did get and not unhappy with what we didn’t. the pouting proceeded as did my mature attitude about it ;). a few minutes later when we were closer to home, i tried to get her attention to explain to her why it was unnecessary. she was having none of it (touche, sister. when i don’t get chocolate milk, i’m not pleasant either). i told her we were taking another loop until she had a better attitude about the fact that she GOT chocolate donut (WITH SPRINKLES!) and not being sad that she didn’t get chocolate milk. i explained that i knew it was disappointing and sad but that sometimes we don’t get things we want but that we can’t just pout about it. we should focus on what we DO have and not on what we DON’T.

then it hit me. (the donut did. from the back seat. she threw it at me. ok i’m lying.) i’m so guilty of this.

god is trying to tell me, “hey kid. i know you want the CHOCOLATE MILK. I GET THAT YOU ASKED FOR IT AND I SAID NO. i HEAR you complaining and i SEE you pouting. (no seriously… every day i’ve been telling god “hey…. still not happy here. still not my plan. thanks, bye”) but you get a CHOCOLATE DONUT. WITH. SPRINKLES. for god’s sake (literally), be happy for the things i HAVE given you and AM doing in your life. stop pouting or we’ll take a few loops around until you get it.” and still, i demand my own way. i think that if only i had the thing that i asked god for and want, i would be content. if i had the chocolate milk or the job that i want or the boy or the situation, that i’d suddenly be okay. and maybe i would. temporarily. but god is looking to sustain me long-term. he has a far greater plan than the chocolate milk and the chocolate donut. he is doing a more wonderful work (however terrible the means) than i could think up. while it’s difficult to trust him (especially for my wayward self), i have to live every day walking confidently in what IS and clinging to his promises of what eventually will be. here’s to enjoying the chocolate sprinkled donuts of today and hoping for the chocolate milks of the future. or some such theologically deep thing. below is a quote from cs lewis to make up for all the damage i did above. you’re welcome.

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” //  cs lewis, the weight of glory.

buoyant hope.

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72 weeks ago (or about a year and some change if you’re not a math whiz like me), i posted this instagram with the full caption below:

“GUYS. I must tell you a cool story. After a personally difficult semester in the fall, I felt excited for a new start this year as God graciously has been realigning my priorities and heart. Yesterday, after my party I read a letter from@vgoneal expressing prayers for this year to be one where i felt light + weightless; in a word, BUOYANT. Today, I was going to doodle and pulled a quote that i had saved in my notes from a recent book i had read. The quote? “HOPE MADE HER BUOYANT”. I thought it was such a beautiful coincidence. Then, I read a status that @binduthota had posted about MLK jr on his sufferings and God and how they intertwined to change him. As i was looking for something else to doodle, i pulled it up, reread and this quote caught my attention “When the chains of fear and the manacles of frustration have all but stymied my efforts, i have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the BUOYANCY OF HOPE.” // The unlikelihood of 3 unrelated things fitting together so seamlessly points to one thing; a God that cares INTIMATELY about the details of our hearts and lives.”

 

for 72 weeks i have intermittently come back to this prayer. to feel a weightless, buoyant hope. and i often wondered if these were empty words. i haven’t felt light or carefree. i haven’t felt the weight lifted in quite awhile. i wondered if i misheard god. if his promises really weren’t reputable.

until now.

it’s not that everything is peachy keen and shimmery. it’s not that all the things that pain my soul have disappeared. its that in the middle of it, god has been revealing his purpose and his kindness to me. i have, after a long endurance of suffering gained character that leads to hope. i feel buoyant. i feel alive and giddy. i feel like the whole world is before me. and after feeling so much darkness in the past few years, this is and can only be the work of god. he has given me hope in a future — a future i couldn’t have imagined, wouldn’t have pursued had it not been for this time of silence and waiting.

do you have a word from the lord? is it one that you keep hidden in the back recesses of your mind hoping you didn’t actually emit it to the world? didn’t it say it too loud? do you have a hard time trusting his word? his sovereignty? or will we be like abraham, who, “after waiting patiently, received what was promised”?

when looking up where that verse was, i was reading it for context and to see what the rest of the chapter said (read below) and almost cried at the beauty of the word of god. of his faithfulness and promises. he can be trusted. he cannot go back on his word. he swears against himself because there is no authority above him. what an unshakeable and steady god we serve. his promises are unchangeable, as is he.

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it says “we who have run for our very lives to god have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go”. amen! hallelujah! we have a god who sent his son for us who is literally running ahead of us to take our place, to take the permanent post of high priest for us. we have an intercessor, a redeemer. we are allowed to hope because of his work on the cross. we get god’s promises and jesus, too. we get it all because god is gracious and kind to us. because he chooses to bless us.

so, if you’re waiting on the lord — if you are exhausted with hoping, if you are distrustful that his word will be true for you — look to sarah (genesis 21:1), look to abraham (hebrews 6:15), look to anyone in history, look to me. god will never take back his promises. if he has given you a word, a promise, a prayer — he will be faithful to complete it. as mlk jr so eloquently put it, “[when the chains of fear and the manacles of frustration have all but stymied your efforts, you will feel the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope].” onward, friends.

“be brave and courageous. wait patiently on the lord”

3 months.

3 months can fly by in a flash. it can drag on for eternity. i’ll let you guess which of the two has described my past few months.

three months of searching for answers, hoping for them, desperately needing them. and finally, i’ve resigned myself to one day having them. no longer bent on hoping, no longer believing my efforts have mattered. i have tried — by god, i’ve tried. i’ve done everything i know to do — talking about it, spending time alone, with god, with wise counsel. i’ve tried giving every anxious thought over, i’ve attempted to keep hoping when it seems futile. i’ve begged, i’ve cried, i’ve sat silently hoping to feel something. i’ve raged and asked nicely and tried to discern the best way and decided to move. and then the door that may seem a crack open, has slammed in my face yet again. what do you do when no answers appear?

silence seems to meet me the loudest.

i’m often crippled by decisions. choosing where to eat, what to eat at that restaurant. what decision to make, when to make it, what it will turn out like. when it comes to the big decisions — which job do i apply to? should i move on with my life? is this relationship a wise one? where should i move? — it’s near impossible for me to feel like i’m making the best one. i always put so much pressure on THE decision, forgetting that god’s grace will carry me along as he gives me the wisdom to choose. this time around, i have been struck dumb yet again by the inability to choose. it felt like i had both endless options and none. finally, after feeling some excitement about potential job, new city, things i actually love, i decided to just make a faithful choice. it seemed that some pieces had the stamp of god, had the scent of something holy spirit led. so i started planning for this. after months and months of feeling that he’d make it crystal clear, i decided to take a step forward in faith instead. i felt hopeful and excited for the first time in a long time. so i attempted to take a few steps in that direction. what was i met with? the door slowly swinging towards shut. while he hasn’t said “no,” it doesn’t seem likely to work. and after being strung out on sadness and sick with sorrow, i simply can’t handle another “no”. it doesn’t just seem like a door shut to an opportunity, it seems like a door shut on my soul. barely hanging on, the sliver-thin string has been snapped off in front of my face. i know god must have purpose in it but i no longer care. it seems like the endless “no” is reverberating in every facet of my life and i’m distrustful that god really and truly cares about me.

i know one day it’ll all make sense and all of that cliche stuff i’d tell someone else in my position but right now, none of it seems true. in this moment, it seems like i’m in a desert — the path behind me dry + desolate; the path in front of me empty + uncertain. but since i’m in the desert, i know i can’t stay here. while i’d like to lay down on the ground and hope that someone will rescue me out, i know i have to keep moving forward in faith that god will lead me to an oasis. there will be life again. i know this and, ultimately, i trust this. but in my everyday struggle, it’s a fight to move ahead one. step. at. a. time. kicking the dust up as i go, often crawling, often crying out the last sustenance i have in the hopes that i’ll reach the thriving place soon.

new every morning.

it’s true that his grace is new every morning. but often so is the reminder that your life is not as you wanted it to be.

i really want to be able to give you guys a positive report. i am way better at sharing my struggles from the other side. from the side of healed and whole and happy. it’s in this broken and weary place that my words run out. the pain is unbearable so i choose to feel nothing in its place. the grief is still there — churning and rolling in the depths of my soul. it’s the ride i can’t hop off of. the one that seems as though it will never end. i will be forced to see it through until the end. and as it stretches on and on, i don’t think i have the fortitude to withstand it. i don’t think i want to.

i unwished myself alive yesterday. that’s a nice way of saying i wanted to die. i don’t want to exist in this pain and so i dreamt up ways i wouldn’t have to. that’s a nice way of saying sometimes i’ve thought of ways to die. i get that this is dramatic, dark, demonic. it’s near impossible that i’d ever act on it knowing that it’s not a real answer to the problem in my aching soul. i know there’s purpose and hope in a King and Kingdom. but all those things FEEL light years away. they don’t feel true every day. they don’t feel like something that matters when i can’t breathe or cry or function. and short of drinking or drugs or the million other things that take the edge off temporarily, i don’t know what else to do. ask Job how long you can cry out to god while your soul is crushed. how long will we wait, lord? how long must i find joy in unrelenting pain? how long will nights of futility be assigned to me? how long will my days come to an end without hope? how long will my pain — whether silent or spoken — dissipate? how long will my broken spirit remain? how long must i wait?

i don’t have cute answers or cliches and i don’t want them, either (seriously, save ’em for your mama). some may contain truth but mostly they force me to believe that there’s something wrong with grief. that i shouldn’t feel this way and it isn’t honoring to god. that he can’t handle the depth and weight of my heartbreak and i know he can. i know he will see me through until the end. i know he loves me. i know this won’t last forever. i know i have hope in heaven and in my sure savior who has rescued me from true death. we will only suffer a little while until we enter into eternal glory. he said “a. little. while” and i hope to hold on that long. clinging to his promises and that his mercies are new every morning. even when they don’t feel like it.