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.

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.

shifting sand

life is uncertain. be alive for any number of days and you know this. one day you’re pregnant, the next you’re not. one moment you have someone you want to marry, the next day you’re single. one day you have a father, sister, mother, brother, friend, the next day you’re attending their funeral. you expect to go to work and now you no longer have a job. you expected this friend to be forever and now you no longer speak. the uncertainties work in reverse as well. the infertile with a baby. unexpected to live with a hopeful diagnosis. jobless for years to a dream job. we are constantly inundated with situations we’d never choose, could never imagine. but what if all our hope is in the imagined things, the things desired and planned for? we are like fools. we are depressed, disheartened, disillusioned. we are a mist that appears for a little while and then disappears (james 4:14). we are simple, silly builders building our house not on the rock that is steady, unwavering, forever, but on shifting sand (matthew 7:24-27).

life’s uncertainties can be riveting, exciting, fun. they can be heartbreaking in the worst ways. they can change the way you view others, the way you view god. you can lose your faith over the gap between what you planned for your life and god’s apparent will for it.

the beauty is that in these moments, we can cling to the rock. we have this sure anchor, firm and secure (hebrews 6:19). he does not change like the shifting shadows (james 1:17). he will not budge, will not break. god is the only trustworthy place to take your dreams, to take your damaged heart. in the midst of one of the hardest seasons of my life, god is reminding me that he is my safe place. know how i found out? because when “the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house…it fell with a great crash“. the house i had so lovingly built, decorated with knick knacks of my own making and that i had invited people into has come crashing down around me. a crash of sizeable proportion. one that has left me temporarily homeless, clinging to the wreckage. i pick up my prized plans from the pieces of what’s left and i have been trying (without success) to put them back together.

for the past few months, i have lain in the rubble. comfortable with the likeness of what i wanted instead of joining the Builder in what he’s building for me in its place. he is not building the house i thought i wanted but the one i actually need (and i’m sure, will actually be what i truly wanted after all). my sights are set too low, my faith too weak. contrary to boasting in tomorrow, in what city i will go to or what job i will have, i should instead be content to follow in his will day by day (james 4:13-15). i’m not there yet but every day i pray i rest in him more. “as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” psalm 61:2

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(for a more eloquent, shorter, and far better analogy, read this quote from c.s. lewis’ mere christianity)

waiting on god.

earlier, i was hanging with some of my favorite kids (and their sweet gammie). case, the two year-old and i went to run a few errands. after leaving heb, we were in the mini-van (stay tuned for the rest of the wild details of my saturday night…..) and i was contemplating my next turn. meanwhile, the guy behind me wanted me to move. touche, sir, because i was sitting there for too long and hadn’t noticed him behind me. he honked, and i started to move. then case inquired, “what was that?”. i told him the man honked because he wanted me to go. i explained to him that sometimes when you want something right away, you get mad but that you can still be patient while waiting (typical mom move… making everything into a lecture). i asked him if he ever wants something from his parents RIGHT NOW and he has to wait? maybe he needs some more patience. i then decided to further my hypocrisy by telling him how sometimes, similarly to when our parents tell us we can’t have something and we need to wait patiently until they are ready to give it to us, we will have to wait on god. and we should say “okay god, i’ll wait on you”. and case repeated it, too. “okay god, i’ll wait on you”.

then i almost cried at the sweetness of case’s naivete in not knowing the depth of the ways the lord may make him wait in his life. how easily he says “okay god, i’ll wait on you”. i realized how hard it was for me to say those words out loud. because right now, i’m waiting. i’m waiting for god to hurry up my grieving process, to give me what i want, or at the very least — to tell me he is not going to give me what i want. you see, i don’t want to wait on god. instead of exhibiting patience until god shows me what he’s up to, i honk, then honk again, then ram my rage into the back of him (okay a bit of overkill, i’ll admit) until he gives me what i want. or at least until he answers. i don’t yet have the capacity to say (honestly) “okay god, i’ll wait on you”. i don’t have case’s blind faith. i barely have any faith at all.

i’ve sat silently and i’ve raged and i’ve tried to take all my brokenness to god. i have. but i’m not keen on waiting. when the process seems to stretch out unending and the grief feels unbearable, i. don’t. want. to wait. and i don’t want my father in heaven who knows me and sees me and loves me to let me wait. it seems cruel. it seems unfair. it seems like there’d be another way. and yet, he’s chosen to let me wait.

there is great growth available to me in this waiting period. i’ve grown immeasurably in compassion for others who are waiting on the lord — waiting for a baby to call their own, wading through a tragic death, waiting to see the lord’s provision in a job, wading through grief. i’m not alone. there are so, so many examples of people waiting in the bible. mary and martha waiting for two days for jesus to come heal their (now dead) brother lazarus; moses waiting for 4o YEARS for god to bring them to the promised land (i’ll choose another thorn in my side, thank you!); abraham and sarah waiting for so long for the child god has ensured them that sarah LAUGHED AT GOD (then lied about it… smooth, sarah) when she was told she’d finally have a child in her old age. we are not alone in our waiting but it often feels that way. there’s a pitiful comfort in feeling as though we are. but there’s no real faith, no real strength in it.

but what does the bible SAY we will gain by waiting on the LORD?

“… but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” isaiah 40:31

“wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD” psalm 27:14

“yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. for the LORD is a god of justice. blessed are all who wait for him! isaiah 30:18

“for through the spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.” galatians 5:5

“we wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.” psalm 33:20

we gain strength, stamina, faith. we are blessed. we have a help and shield. we gain courage. we can hope. the sting is not taken away but i pray in whatever waiting season you are in, you can remember we have a god that goes before us as our shield, is our rear guard, who is a lifeboat when we are sinking, is a refuge when we are weary, who takes our yoke and calls it light, who is good beyond measure, who brings life and life abundantly, who takes our small plans and trashes them for the ones that are beyond our comprehension. but i pray mostly in these quiet, painful moments, you could honestly say “okay god, i’ll wait on you” and that it would be enough.