Anniversaries

I hate this post.

I hate that I have anything to add to this at all. I hate that this is so rampant, and can be found in every corner of the world. I hate it, but because I know how far-reaching it is. because I know how isolating the fallout is, because I know how devastating the thought of saying it loud can be – because of the very nature of shame – I’m writing about it anyway.

This week is a bit of an anniversary. I typically love anniversaries. Picture Leslie Knope buying her mail-lady a gift because she has an anniversary for the first time they met. Okay…maybe not quite that far, but I love to find things in life worth celebrating. It feels like I’m seizing joy and reveling in the things, and people, worth remembering.

Except some anniversaries aren’t worth remembering, but they always end up being the ones you can’t forget. This is one of those anniversaries.

A year ago this week, I was sexually assaulted. It was from someone I considered a friend, and thought I could trust.

I spent months afterwards convinced that it didn’t deserve the agony I was feeling, because it could have been worse, and I was to blame. I let myself be alone with him. I let myself trust him. I got out before it got worse, but I was in shock and didn’t leave right away – I even finished the last part of the movie we were watching. If I were really the victim, I would have left immediately. If it really happened like I remember it happening, I would have left and never talked to him again. It could have been worse, so I can’t be this devastated. I can’t feel this violated, because other people have been put in worse situations and hurt so much more than I was.

I can’t tell anyone because they’ll tell me I shouldn’t have been alone with him. They’ll think less of me for ending up there. They’ll tell me he had needs, and I should have known better. They’ll ask what I was wearing. They’ll ask why I didn’t leave the second he crossed the first line of consent.

And I won’t have a good answer for them.

So I hid. I pulled away. I kept my head down and threw myself at God like a woman possessed. And, because I was raised in the culture that said that everyone deserved to be forgiven, I forced myself to meet with him, to talk through what happened with him and have conversations surrounding consent. I walked on eggshells around naming what happened, because I didn’t want him to feel bad. I tried, for months, to be friends with him, because we were both at fault here – weren’t we?

I convinced myself that if I forgave him, and he seemed like he had learned from it, that I could and should move past it. If I couldn’t, had I really forgiven him? It was my Christian mandate to forgive, after all. He promised he understood boundaries and that he was firmly platonic in his feelings for me, so that he wouldn’t cross lines again. Never mind the fact that he tried to hug me a few weeks after it happened and the room started to spin, or that he drunkenly propositioned me four months after the incident. Or the fact that he would maneuver himself closer to me in groups, or purposefully try to make hurtful jokes at my expense. Or the fact that he told me that I was flirting with him and any other man I spoke to, so I couldn’t really be upset when they took things too far.

I convinced myself that this was a normal thing that happened to all girls at least once in their lives, and that if he’d learned from it and had apologized, I had to move on. I told all of my friends as much, and he continued to be invited to some of our larger group gatherings. It wasn’t until one night after a game night that he ended up messaging one of my close friends through social media that I realized how much I was hurting myself. She thought she would continue to let him message her and screen shot the ridiculous parts so she and I could laugh about it, and I had a full-blown panic attack. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak, I just began to weep. I was so afraid for her at the thought of her ever being in a position where she was in any way vulnerable where he was present.

The last few weeks have brought a lot of it rushing back up to the surface. Between the #MeToo campaign on social media, the time of year coming back around, and seeing him unexpectedly on various forms of social media – so much of the hurt and anger have bubbled back up again. And, as I often do, I felt pulled to write about it. And I opted to write about anything but this. I have half a dozen extra drafts of things I tried to write instead, because this was the one that I wanted to keep locked away. Keep buried from prying eyes and the shame that I was so sure was coming.

But shame can’t survive in the light of day. And if the #MeToo process showed me anything, it’s that situations like mine are so rampant. And we are all feeling so shameful and alone, when we were never supposed to have to shoulder that weight. So, needing every bit of the grace I have available to me, I’m muddling my way through telling this story and creating space to help hold yours.

For those who are facing their own anniversaries, or are currently walking through something so much fresher – I believe you. You are not alone. You are not to blame. I am so sorry that this ever happened to you. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, that you couldn’t talk about it or call it out, or that you talked about it and called it out to everyone. You deserved so, so much better. I believe we are better, in the long run, for forgiving them, but that is not a decision anyone but you can make. No one else gets to set the timeline, cherry-pick scripture or shame you for not doing it in a more socially acceptable way.

I experienced God deeper in my agony here than I think I ever have in moments of joy. Where I expected disappointment and condemnation, I only ever found grace, peace and rest. It didn’t fix everything, and healing was/is still work, but I am not, nor have I ever been, braving the process alone.

Regardless of what shame says. Regardless of what the toxic, predator-protecting culture says. Regardless of what fear says. You don’t have to navigate this alone. I believe you, you deserved better, your story is worth telling.

I believe you.

You deserved better.

Your story is worth telling.

My Lane

I have some of the most wonderful people in my life, and I don’t always get to see them as much as I’d like. When I do, it’s because we’ve decided that it has to happen and we collectively juggle schedules and spend days working on things next to each other because there are some things that just can’t be completely worked around. It’s mundane and exciting, stressful and incredibly renewing all at once.

I love to travel, and am often the one doing much of the flying or driving to get wherever it is that we end up going, and I have to catch myself consistently loving my time in their city and friend group so much that it makes me wish I could just pick up and move there. If I’m not careful, I look at my choices and how my life looks and begin to try to pick certain parts of it completely apart, wishing that it looked more like what I was seeing.

Completely forgetting, mind you, that I am happy with my life so much more often than I’m frustrated with it. Yes, it’s taken some funny twists and turns, and I may never be done with school (I’m pretty sure me going back this last time made some of my friends some money – so you’re welcome…), and I seem to have more funny/ever so slightly cautionary dating stories in recent history rather than something solid, and I’m in a city that often feels separate from a great many of my closest friends – but it is a precious life. I love the work I am doing, I’m excited for this new chapter in my career, I am not unhappy or dissatisfied with where my personal and professional lives are right now, I appreciate being so close to my family and I find so much more than I anticipate in Bakersfield and the areas near it that this life grants me access to. When I am intentional about celebrating my lane, I stop feeling frustrated by it.

When I stop comparing my lane to people who aren’t me, I stop feeling like I’ve got to hustle to have something worthy of show and tell. Sometimes that means that I’ve got to step away from the parts of the Instagram life of others that I can see, sometimes that means I need to hole up by myself for a bit, and sometimes that means that I have to shut off the input from people who mean well and are concerned for me, but are measuring my life with a different currency than I can afford to use for myself.

I listened to an audio copy a few years ago of Amy Poehler’s book, “Yes Please”, (which I recommend) and one of the things she said that stuck out and has stuck with me was about this trend for women to compare themselves to other women. She says, “That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. ‘Good for her! Not for me.'”

I find myself guilty of this kind of comparison thinking often, especially when it seems like people I love and admire have found their grooves, and I’m still me – with my hair and it’s teeny front section likes to stick up, spotty acne that doesn’t want to completely go away and propensity for carbs with cheese.

Granted, I’m also 24, at the start of a career I love, working on the second graduate degree (I’m telling myself that it’s not complete overkill to have a matched set – like salt and pepper right?), I spend ungodly amounts of time at Disneyland, have hair that holds a style really well (gracias, genetics), a smile that has gotten me out of a decent amount of trouble (gracias, orthodontist), so so much health insurance (gracias job, parents and ACA) and have been fortunate to have friends and family all over the world that love and invest in me.

And yes, I’m not married. I don’t have kids or own my own house yet. I’ve not travelled nearly enough of the world. I don’t know what my life will look like 5 years from now. My car is 11 years old and makes a decent amount of noise when she starts or if she feels like it. I just started even being concerned with retirement or annuities. I have a decent start on 27 Dresses worth of Bridesmaid dresses hanging in my closet, and most of my vacation in the last 5 years has been wedding related.

I want the big life milestones eventually – but when I measure with the right currency, I can’t really help but feel anything but fortunate. There are things I want to improve upon, certainly. I would love to actually run the half marathon I’ve been slowly ‘training’ for for the last 2 years. I want to get better at crocheting, I want to see more of the world, I want to be better about the way I handle my money, I want to manage to keep plants alive – but none of those things impact my worth as a person or ability to be content where I’m at.

The only thing, frankly, that has any power to affect my ability to be content is me. And I thought for a long time that contentment was something that would just show up if I followed the right order of operations, but these days I’m thinking that contentment has to be seized. In the midst of the ordinary and the “not quite”s or the “not yet”s, you’ve just got to reach in and claim the contentedness as your own.

Sometimes, that requires a mantra until the words settle deep into my bones. Sometimes, that requires a good long look at my life and things that I’ve done because I felt I needed to. Sometimes that requires letting go of things that used to make sense but don’t anymore. Sometimes that means walking away from communities and organizations that I’ve loved for a long time because my time in that place has come to an end. Sometimes that means doing scary things because I’ve been staying safe for too long. Sometimes it requires an uncomfortable reality check, and for me to address things in my life that are a problem. Sometimes (often) that means being almost painfully intentional about self-care and creating space to sit in the aspects of my life that are both beautiful and painful.

Whatever it ends up looking, whatever ends up being the cost, I am better to myself and for myself when I give myself permission to be happy where I am. When I give myself permission to not need to create a to-do list that picks apart what work I still need to do to be keeping up with any Joneses.

There is struggle here, and things hoped for but not yet fulfilled, but there is also abundant grace, and precious, precious life. Life worth celebrating. Life worth reveling in. Life worth living.

Faithful to The End

I get the itch to travel a lot. I don’t usually end up going to particularly exciting places (this summer being a pretty notable exception) because for the most part I am traveling to places I’ve already been to see family and friends, but I’m not home for too many weeks before I feel the familiar drive to plan the next one.

Spring break almost always ends up being a time that I’m somewhere else in the country, and this year was no exception. Less than a month before, I had decided that I could afford to go on a trip and wanted to see friends and family in the PNW. It was, as they often are, a bit of a whirlwind trip, and before I knew it I was packing up to drive home again.

Some pretty ridiculous ideas come to me while I am in the car, alone, for 13 hours. I had the brilliant idea to figure out just how empty my gas tank needed to get before the light would come on in my car, by getting dangerously low on gas near a major city with plenty of options for refueling. Never mind that my AAA had lapsed, and I was 4 hours from home at 11pm at night.

As you can imagine, the situation got pretty dicey, made worse by the fact that despite my best plans, exits and gas stations ended up being closed and I had to travel an extra 45 miles to get to the next one, even though I only had about 20 miles worth of gas left at the most.

If you could have been a fly on the wall of that car – you’d have heard the extent to which my Pentecostal upbringing came out during that stretch of time. I was praying in tongues, praying for anyone and everyone that popped into my mind, speaking provision over the mechanisms of my engine, feeling comforted and confident that I’d felt like God said he would get me to where I needed to go, and feeling increasingly stressed out as I kept cresting hills only to discover that I wasn’t actually to the next set of gas stations yet.

I kept hearing, “Just trust me.” If you know me and a little bit of where my life has been these past few years, that’s been a common theme and I have been really bad about sitting in it. I trust God and then I look at the odds, and I panic. And I try to take back control and spin myself into the dirt, coming to rest before realizing that I just have to trust God after all. Wash, rinse and repeat. So, back to my self-made gas shortage: I’m cresting the hill that has several gas stations, and I falter. I remember talking to God and asking if I was supposed to keep driving on faith. If this was even bigger than the fact that I should have been out of gas right then and that I needed to drive by this set of stations.

The “Hannah, really?” was practically audible, as my car chose the end of that sentence to turn itself off and begin to decelerate. I decelerated up to and through the off ramp and seeing that the only gas stations were way too far away for my car to reach, shifted into Neutral. Praying like mad to the Waymaker, a station pops up to my left, seemingly out of nowhere. My car goes up a bit of a hill as it rounds the corner, even though it had come to a stop at the bottom of the off ramp, I manage to pull into the station and my car gets perfectly lined up with the gas pump before finally coming to a stop.

I am shaking and laughing and crying as I get out to pump my gas. I didn’t even think to be worried that my car wouldn’t start (it did on the first try) or anything beyond the fact that the Lord reminded me, yet again, that He is faithful. Even when I am foolish and doubt it all, or try to go too far late at night without enough gas. When He promises to come to my rescue, when He promises to get me to the next gas station, when He speaks things over me that seem impossible – He is faithful to the end.

I tell this story to the friend I went to the PNW to visit, after I get home, and she looks at me and hits me with “Hannah, that sounds like a really eerily accurate description of how your life has been.” In my personal life, in my professional life, in my financial life – all of it has spent several years feeling like one really long 45 mile stretch to the nearest gas station. Knowing that God promised some things that seemed overwhelmingly wonderful and consistently out of sight. Knowing that I was called out of some boats that were really safe and secure. Knowing I had to let go of things that seemed like they could have been good enough long, long before any fulfillment of crazy Jesus promises ever came.

I certainly don’t understand why the timing of things works out the way that it does, but I am reminded, time and time again, that He is faithful to the end. For the career that felt like it would never come to fruition, for the relationships that appeared would always be broken, for the hope that seemed to be on the verge of running out, for the healing that felt like it would never come, He is faithful. Even when I forget. Even when I don’t see how I can bear the waiting even a single second longer. Even when I’m fighting every instinct that is urging me to protect myself and have a list of back up plans ready. Even when everything about what was promised seems impossible and beyond all reason. Even then, He is faithful.

Lines in The Sand

I’ve spent the last several years feeling pulled to pretty wildly different stances than where I started on a number of contentious issues. It was one thing to feel, act or vote a certain way if I could remain anonymous, if I could hide out from the backlash and people who were quick to condemn me for deviating. I could support these causes in secret. I could stay on the sidelines, sit in the pews, around dinner tables and bite my tongue, preferring to only discuss those topics with people I knew were similarly minded.

Because as much as I love this Church, this body, this community of believers – they scare me. There is a limit, a line one cannot cross in activism or in behavior, to the amount that grace can be extended if any kind of esteem is going to survive. Cross that line, err in that way, or come down on the wrong side of any number of these issues and the fall from respect and grace, especially if you’ve got any kind of public platform, is swift, loud and devastating.

You are removed from the nice, safe, warm “us” category you spent a long time taking for granted, and tossed firmly out into “them”. Tossed into those people who “ignore scripture”, to those whose relationship with God is called into question, to those who are “indoctrinated”, “trying to hard to please the world”, “abusing grace”, “going to be in trouble on judgement day”, “false prophet”, “false teacher”, “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and a thousand other barbs that capitalize on my fear that wants to breed in the dark.

This fear I hold is, of course, in direct opposition with the more than 300 admonitions in scripture to Fear Not. I have to repent of it often. We are warned in scripture that the public’s love won’t be ours if we’re trusting Jesus out onto the water – I just never imagined that my test with public opinion would be from many of those who I had always considered to be my people. This, coupled with the fear that I could live, love and write this way only to get to the end of my life and discover that I had all of it completely wrong, kept me completely silent for a long time.

And if the worst happens, if I end this life and Jesus is standing on the other side of death and instead of “Well done, my good and faithful servant”, I hear, “Hannah, how could you?” I can only pray that grace and mercy will intervene and that the desire of my heart is known. That Jesus sees that what I want most is to love like He loves. To throw open the gates and welcome everybody into that love. That I was quick to cry out to Him, to rest in Him, to rely on Him. That I sought to know Him and love like Him, and that I followed where I felt He was leading.

I admit, I worry about that outcome sometimes. When someone I love has discussions about me that they don’t think I can hear, or they post about me on social media, or they lay it all out to my face, I have moments where I am swiftly and cripplingly terrified that I’ve made a huge mistake. That I’ve bared a part of myself to them when I thought I could trust them with it, and now I’m bloodied with only myself to blame. That although I spent months feeling the tug in my spirit to act before I ever stepped a toe out of line, that although I agonized, sometimes for years, before I took a public stance on these issues, that although I’ve spent countless hours in prayer, the word and pouring my heart out on the Altar, that although I’ve seen God’s hand in this learning process, somehow I got it twisted and am dead wrong.

But that fear pales in comparison to the gut feeling I can’t shake that God has called me out onto this water, and that this is exactly where I need to be. That the people I’m speaking for and standing with are worth the heartache and discomfort. That I can’t say, “Here I am Lord, send me” and run the first time that I get my heart broken or someone calls my faith into question. That even in this, my faith needs to be bigger than my fear.

There is still so much I don’t know. So much that is a work in progress – to the point that the list of things I do know is so, so much shorter. I know that I’m commanded to love God and love people, and that if this is where the Spirit has called me to stand, if this is what God asks of me, doing anything else puts me in sin. Even if it gets lonely. Even if I’m a “them”.

I’m not confident in my ability to do any of this well, especially not on the first try.

I am confident that God is pulling me closer to Him, and that He makes beauty from my mess. I am confident that He is at work here, and that nothing can separate me from His love. I am confident in my need for all of the grace I can get, because even on my best day I’m still human and still prone to bumble.

So I’m here doing the best that I can. I certainly do not have it all figured out. I’m trying desperately to trust Jesus even deeper into the scary places, doubting and failing, repenting and starting it all over again. Trying listen more than I speak, and when I do speak, to speak up for people who don’t have a place or a voice when they should.  Trying to be all at once, a part of this church body and one who is on the opposite side of so many of these lines in the sand.

The Long Way Around

I love taking road trips. A few summers ago, I did a solo road trip from my home in southern California, to northern Washington. I got to visit family and friends, travel to new places and listen to quite a few audio books and hours of my favorite music. I’ve made several drives up and down long stretches of the West Coast because I wanted to and I could.

Those drives become a source of individual competition – how well can I do on time? How far can I make each tank of gas go? Can I prepare well enough ahead of time that I only have to take breaks when I have to get gas, combining food and bathroom stops all in one rest stop? I end up making a great deal of the trip up as I go along, but as I’m driving, I’m planning and plotting for ways to be successful. Ways to get where I need to go in the shortest amount of time and distance possible.

Unfortunately for the part of me that thrives off of this, this mentality doesn’t transfer well to the rest of my life. I want to make a plan, do the preparation and then just bust out whatever I’m working towards. I want to find the shortest route from A to B, and then somehow manage to get there faster than anyone expected that I would. Sometimes this works. Sometimes I manage to come in ahead of schedule and feel just a little bit smug and superior because I managed something beyond what was anticipated. The overwhelming majority of my life hasn’t turned out quite like that though.

If my personal, academic and professional life has been a road trip, it’s been one filled with detours, road blocks and traffic jams. It’s been one full of having to come to terms with the fact that I am not in as much control of the timing and details of parts of my life as I want to be. The times where I’ve been able to force myself to stay on schedule and keep up with whatever grueling pace I’ve set for myself (because who needs breaks and self-care anyway) I’ve gotten to the finish line only to discover that it’s not turning out like I thought it would. As one who has prided herself on being prepared and equipped to handle every potential outcome, this has often felt like running through quicksand. It’s exhausting, disheartening and has, at times, felt like it would never end in my favor.

This never felt more apparent than last fall when I quit my job in the public health field (after completing a graduate degree in Public Health) and submitted an application to teach full-time. I just knew that teaching was where I needed to be, and what I needed to be doing. There was an opening for what looked like my dream job, and I was qualified in the subject matter. It seemed like divine timing, like I had finally found what I was supposed to be doing. I put together what I thought was an excellent syllabus, I did research and structured a basic nutrition class that I would have loved to have taken in undergrad, and submitted everything with no small amount of prayer that they would see me and the work I had done in this field, and want to give me a job.

And I waited. And waited. And waited. For 3 months, I subbed and obsessively checked my application for some sign that it’s status had changed. I watched my bank balance lower, my other full-time options get fewer and still clung to the idea that this was what I needed to do. It felt like a Gideon and the threshing floor moment. And then, in November, they just withdrew the job. They sent me an email that said that they weren’t going to hire anyone, and thanked me for applying. I was devastated. I ugly cried for a couple of days and just felt the most hopeless I had ever been about finding a way to get back on track for this path and pace I had set for myself. I experienced some devastating things in my personal life that fragmented some of the blissfully innocent ways that I viewed parts of my world and the people in it.

It was the turning point that forced me to acknowledge that maybe it wasn’t my road trip we were on after all. I had been contorting and stressing to make sure that I was doing everything I could as the driver to stay on track. It had never occurred to me that for this to work the way it was supposed to, for my yoke to be easy and my burden to be light, I had to relinquish my spot in the driver’s seat. I had to come along for the ride, even if that meant that from my perspective, it looked like we were taking the long way around.

The long way, the scenic route, in my life often makes me uncomfortable, especially when I start to get distracted by lists and schedules that tell me when I should be getting somewhere. Detours, when I can’t immediately see why I’ve got to take them, frustrate the part of me that still tries to find worth in my tangible measures of success. I am quick to forget that the scenic route is the one filled with beautiful things, things that make life richer and fuller. The trade-off for taking a little bit longer to get there is the chance to experience life worth living along the way.

It is also, in my experience, the path where God does the most outlandish things. Jobs we shouldn’t have had a chance at, serendipitous encounters we couldn’t have planned, moments that make us feel all at once precious and so very small. It’s the water that defied gravity and physics because Moses raised his staff, it’s the battle with Gideon’s army of 300, it’s the shepherd taking down the giant with a small stone, it’s the orphan teenage girl marrying an Emperor and ultimately saving a nation, it’s the man called out of captivity to rebuild the wall, it’s the single lunch feeding a crowd of thousands.

It is infinitely bigger, bolder and braver than we can imagine, because we aren’t the ones doing the creating. It isn’t always beautiful road through scenic countryside, sometimes it’s rife with uncertainty and discomfort. Sometimes it is nothing short of excruciating. I don’t pretend to speak for that season of life, but I know what it has been for me, and I know the circumstances that felt like they’d suffocate me. I know the maxed out credit cards, the empty bank accounts and the fear that it would never get better. I know the worry that I was the cause of my own misfortune and that all of the work I had done through school and in life was for nothing. I know the isolation when it seems like everyone else is living the best season of their life, while you come home to a life that is ragged and bruising.

Those moments are ugly, and make this long, windy road seem like it’s the path to nowhere. But it’s not. There’s a purpose for the path that this life, this walk with Jesus takes, and though I won’t reduce the heartache of it down to a blasé statement about how it all turns out with sunshine and butterflies, you are stronger at the end of it. You hold the precious things a little more tightly because of the loss you can’t completely forget. It can be ugly and treacherous, but it can also be astoundingly, breathtakingly beautiful. It can be full of new life, new love and new understanding.

When we will let go of what we think it’s supposed to look like, how long we think it will take us to get there, and what we think will be asked of us in the process, we reach the kind of trust that lets us be along for the ride.

I’d be lying if I said that it made you completely doubtless, if anything, it makes Mark 9:24 all that much more poignant, as the father of the dead boy says to Jesus, “I believe! Help my unbelief.” We are, or at least I am, still incredibly prone to attempting to grab the wheel again. I am amazingly capable of forgetting that I am not nearly all-knowing enough to be the one who charts the course, and instead end up catching myself mid-wheel-wrench, saying, “I believe, help my unbelief”.

I don’t know where you are on your scenic route. It could be beautiful and breathtaking, or it could be the middle of the night as you are running out of gas, but I want to encourage you (and me) to trust the navigator. Trust that if the road detours a bit from the fastest route, there’s a reason for it. Trust that even when it looks dangerous, you aren’t abandoned. Trust that, even when it feels like there’s no time left to be saved, to come around the bend intact, you’ll make it out the other side. Trust that the long way around, even when it seems fruitless and disappointing, leads exactly where you’re supposed to be.

127th verse

Hi again, friends.

I fell off the face of the planet for a little bit there, and for those of you who dutifully read these posts, I’m sorry that I haven’t been prioritizing the site. I got busy, I got prideful in my own ability to manage myself, and I got incredibly off track. Those three things have an unfortunate tendency to stick together, and send me falling face first, just as I’ve gotten a little too confident in my ability to get life done.

If I am starting to sound a little bit like a broken record on this, it’s because I am. It’s a same song, 127th verse kind of situation. I get angsty, needy for validation, stressed out beyond belief, I don’t sleep as well, I don’t want to exercise or keep my house clean, I don’t want to cook, journal, or write, even though I know that I am best self when I am intentional about the self-care these things bring me. I procrastinate, I panic, I melt down, I seek out other ways to fill the growing ache in my chest, and then I get up and do it all over again.

I am not living bravely, I am not living free.

I pick up the unsatisfiable need to make sure that all of my bases are covered, to make sure that I’ve got a 10 year plan all lined up, to make sure that I have enough back up plans in place to save myself, to make sure that people like me and to have petty, selfish revenge scenarios in place for the times that it appears I’ve been wronged. I complain that I’m tired and worn out, and still manage to have nothing to show for my exhaustion.

When I am here, when this is the me I choose to continue to let myself be, I am, unequivocally, the worst version of myself.

And, as it often does, the pull to just let go will come when I am forced to slow down and take stock of my life. Reminding me that God is still in control, even when I spin and strive and plan, and that Jesus’ yoke is easy because I don’t have to keep doing all of these things to see new life. Yes, I have to show up and do the best that I can at whatever I’m doing. Yes, I have to show up and fight through the anxiety to let myself be seen and loved. Yes, I sometimes have to search for truth while rejecting the fear that’s never quite far enough away. But I do those things trusting that regardless of my mental score count at the end of the day, God is in control.

That even when I feel like everything I’ve done hasn’t moved anyone or anything an inch, I can be secure in the knowing that infinitely more here is happening than meets the eye.

That even when I feel like it could all crash down around me if I don’t keep running around spinning every plate, I know that the One who spoke the earth into being can handle my messy offering of a life too.

There is peace and rest in the knowing.

I crave them both, on a level I don’t think I can fully express, when I leave this space. When I forget that I am most at home in surrender. When I forget that God is making beauty from the things I want to call hopeless. When I forget that my value and worth as a person can’t be sustained from any source other than this one. When I forget to seek out truth, even when it may end up making me uncomfortable or be hard to hear. When I forget who and whose I am, I attempt to do more, to be more, so that I can prove that I belong.

Except, as we’ve discussed, there is no need to earn a seat at the table, because it’s always been ours for the taking. I’m left relearning, again and again, that I am and have always been, worthy, welcome and enough.

Nothing To Prove

I have had, for about as long as I can remember, a chip on my shoulder. I needed to get the job done perfectly right the first time, and manage to get it done faster than anyone else. I hustled to everything, with everything and for just about everything, and was consistently about 10 minutes behind. I overfilled my schedule to the point of breakdown (or three), and scheduled, down to the minute, what had to be done during my day. I prided myself in the fact that I earned, worked and strived for everything I had. I didn’t see that while tenacity and grit are things to be praised, pride in my refusal to need anything or anyone was not.

I needed to keep the peace in my family and be consistently in the “black” in the grace bank that exists within our family dynamic. I needed to be the best in my classes, and earning A’s in everything so that no one could say I should have done better. I needed to be involved in every ministry I touched, and integrally so, so that I was showing God how much I loved him. I needed to be holy, and consistently improving so that no one could accuse me of abusing grace. I needed to be the friend who would bend completely over backwards to help anyone, so that my place within the friend group was secure. I needed to atone for the teenage mistakes I had made in dating by doggedly avoiding any and all romantic relationships that weren’t with the one, which meant that every single guy I met was immediately examined to see if he could be Him.

I had a running list of things I needed to do and to be to ensure that I was worthy and welcome. And not surprisingly, things got added to that list faster than I could check them off, so it grew and grew and grew. On all sides, there was this pressure to perform. To always be on. To live up to my perceived expectations from the world and the people in it whose opinions I valued. It seemed like I could get one area of my life on track for my constant barrage of to-do lists, and then I’d turn around to discover that I had fallen further and further behind in everything else.

Failure was a four letter word, and it felt like I spent most of my time narrowly avoiding it being branded across my legacy. Still bigger than a size 10? Failure. Still not employed in a career? Failure. Still not able to love people completely like Jesus loves them? Failure. Still not holy and an ideal Christian? Failure. Still not done with school? Failure. Still uncertain about so many things that seem to be do or die in the faith? Failure. Still not married? Failure. Still not financially secure? Failure. Still not a home owner, buying a new car, paying off student loans, having my 10 year plan figured out, having children, having enough money to confidently buy groceries every month? Failure, failure, failure.

If God helps those who help themselves, then it was no wonder that I was failing at so much and feeling set adrift, because I wasn’t managing much of anything that looked like progress. Even when I was, it was overshadowed by the fact that no matter how far I came, I couldn’t seem to ever feel like I’d arrived.

I remember sitting on my therapist’s couch about 8 months ago, and unloading the stress I couldn’t seem to shake and the worry, fear and anxiety that all I was destined to do was fail and miss the mark. She asked me when I was going just let go, and let life happen. I’m sure I gave her a face that plainly said, “Does not compute” because that made no sense to me. If I wasn’t planning my next move, how on earth could I measure my progress? How on earth could I make sure I wasn’t falling behind? How on earth could I plan to pick myself up from my next plan that didn’t quite work? Everything would fall down around me if I stopped all the panic and stress and worry, I was sure of it. It wasn’t like I was one of those people who didn’t feel like they had anything to prove. I had goals. I had drive. We were two fundamentally different groups of people, those of us who have to earn anything and everything, even if it’s done the hard way, and the people who just feel entitled to be there, even without an explicit invitation.

Except that we aren’t. And though there are people, I’m sure, who feel entitled, what I was seeing as entitlement was actually a confidence in the fact that they had nothing to prove. They didn’t need to hustle to fix, improve and change themselves to be welcome, because at the core of who they are, they know that they’re already enough. It was the one thing I couldn’t ever possibly check off a to-do list, because it comes from the place where the fears are stilled and the striving has ceased.

My process of letting go was ugly. I fought it kicking and screaming, and burned myself out to the point that even my body was showing it. I felt powerless in a way that I’d never experienced before, and wore failure and uncertainty like my own scarlet letter. I came to the end of what I could fix, plan and reframe. I yelled, I wept, I raged. I doubted God (understatement of the decade), I pulled away from every ministry I was a part of, I gave up on things God has called me to stand faithfully in, I quit my job, I fell off of the face of the planet, and attempted to sleep my way to a better season.

And still God persisted.

Persisted in calling me to rest, in calling me to peace. In calling me to trust that He speaks truth. In calling me to trust Him with the details and to come along for the ride. In calling me to let go of needing to control and hustle. In calling me to stop trying to earn things that had always been mine. In calling me to realize that I’d never been anything less than enough.

And though there are significantly less details on this side of things, there is so much more peace. So much more rest. So much more contented security in the knowing that I’ve got nothing to prove, because I’ve never needed to do anything more than follow where the Lord is leading. If He wants big, scary, impressive things for me, He’ll make the doors open when they need to, and all of my planing and frenzied attempts at control won’t help that process along any faster.

And while I may have moments where I forget, I’ll never lose my seat at the table. I’ll never manage to make myself more worthy, or more enough. There’s no shortage of room here, no rationing or reserving of seats for those who are working hard enough to earn a place. I am, and have always been, welcome.

Would you like to sit down?

Until it Sinks

When I was 15, the pastors of the church I’d attended all of my life retired. We had new pastors who stepped in and took over. Over the course of the next year, the church atmosphere changed, the number of members dwindled and it seemed like as soon as I blinked, we were down to a few key families that were keeping the lights on and the doors open. My parents were Children’s Pastors and some weeks it would be the three of us running everything from the nursery to 6th grade. It was work. It was exhausting. I was watching something I’d been a part of all my life slowly fall down around me.

I decided I was ready to leave. It looked like just about everyone else was jumping ship, and it seemed only logical that I got to as well. If we left, they wouldn’t be bringing in enough money to keep the doors open, and would have to turn the church back over to the denomination. In my eyes it was a mercy killing. I took my plan to my parents and begged them to leave. To let me leave, and go find something new.

I knew they were as stressed out and tired of it all as I was, so I was incredibly surprised when my dad’s answer to my proposal was no. He said that he’d prayed about it, and that he felt like the Lord wasn’t releasing us to go.

I was furious.

Why on earth wouldn’t the Lord release us to go? No one else seemed to have that problem. Some days it seemed like we were just enabling some of the things that were happening because it couldn’t have kept going without each of the handful of key families. I made my frustration known, and spent a lot of the next 6 months incredibly bitter. I wasn’t being fed, I wasn’t growing (I thought) and I wasn’t in a healthy situation. All things that I knew could be better, all things I saw people in other situations getting to have, all things I wanted. But the Lord didn’t release us to go.

The next few months saw an even greater decline, and finally the church was turned back over to the denomination who sent an interim pastor for several weeks. Eventually our former pastors came out of retirement, and much of the former congregation came with them. I still remember the barbecue that we had as a church to celebrate everyone coming home, and people kept stopping me to say hello and would end with some variation of “isn’t it so good to be back?!”

All I could think at the time was that I hadn’t gotten to leave in the first place. That those of us who stayed were the only reasons that anyone had anything to come back to. That I was tired of being firm and rooted, of digging in and holding on. We all were.

It was the first time in my life that I had encountered a problem I, and the people I looked up to most, couldn’t solve and that God wouldn’t let us run from. I have been, for most of my life, an expert problem solver. If I can’t find a way around it, I do what I can to avoid the issue to begin with, and I couldn’t do either of those things here. It was the first time, other than when elderly relatives had died, that I had had to endure something that didn’t seem at all holy or growing, and be reminded that God and His plans were still good. It certainly wouldn’t be the last, but it felt a little like being tossed into the deep end and being told flippantly, “Don’t drown.”

There are times where we are in seasons that are ugly and painful and we want nothing more than to pull a Jonah and book the first ship in the opposite direction. We tell ourselves that if we are following God, it won’t be this difficult. We tell ourselves that this can’t possibly be God’s will for our lives. That we should just leave before it gets any worse. (Sometimes – especially in situations of abuse, neglect and unhealthy boundaries – I believe we are correct in thinking that God does not want that for us. That God is not the reason we are there, and that He is not honored by staying. In those instances, I believe that we have to choose ourselves, and get out.) But then there are times where despite all of our protests to the contrary, we aren’t released to go anywhere.

Sometimes we have to stay on the ship until it sinks, trusting that God is at work and will rescue us even there. Sometimes we have to listen to the well meaning people talk about how good God is to have brought victory, as they unknowingly discredit the bloody battles we endured long before victory got there. Sometimes we pray and pray and pray for the burden to be lifted, the healing to come, the miracle to happen – and we see nothing change. Sometimes the weight is so heavy that we aren’t quite sure where the line is between pressed and crushed and we aren’t sure how we will even get through the day – let alone the season.

If that’s you, I feel compelled to encourage you here. I see you. I see that struggle. I see those days when you aren’t sure where the money for your next tank of gas or grocery trip is coming from, or how you’ll keep the lights on. I see you as you fight everything in you that screams at you to cut your losses and run for the hills. I see you as you doubt God like you’ve never doubted Him before. I see that bitterness that threatens to overwhelm you. I see that heartache, that frustration, that bone-deep sense of weary, that fear that this season may never end.

I wont reduce your struggle so much to say that I’ve walked where you’ve walked, but I know what that brand of joy-leeching season has looked like in my own life. I’ve walked it, so angry at God that I wondered why I messed with any of it to begin with. I’ve attempted to level with people about where I was at in my struggle and had platitudes tossed back at me that felt like salt in an open wound. I’ve turned corners to discover that what I thought would be the end of the whole mess was only an intermission. I’ve run from what God has asked of me, getting on my own boat to Nineveh.  I’ve managed to find an unfortunately high number of the ways to handle hard seasons wrong, but even then I come, each time, face to face with grace.

There is grace for you, friend. There is sufficient and abundant grace here. I know that knowledge doesn’t make the work in front of you much, if any, easier, but it’s the truth. You will likely handle parts of this season more poorly than you could have. You will probably flounder and doubt more than you wish you would. I wish I could say that this season will all whiz by, and you’ll look back and clearly see the hand of God in all of it. You may…but I think it’s more realistic that you’ll get bits and pieces of what God is doing and have only faith to fill in the gaps. You’ll be faced with the knowledge that God is good, but also have to admit that it looks like everything is falling apart around you, while the God who storms in and saves the day is mysteriously silent.

The good news, if there is any to be found, is that things are growing in this space. There is a resilience, a grit, a laws-of-nature-defying tenacity that is birthed out of seasons like these. You discover what you can withstand, usually through circumstances you wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it’s so much more than you’d imagined. You discover the magnitude of the scripture that says, “My grace is enough. It’s all that you need. My power comes into its own in your weakness“, as you come to know that grace is not portion controlled or rationed by those who judge you for needing it to begin with but that it is both constant and exactly enough.

You are not alone here. Not alone in this season of waiting and praying and aching. You are not alone, not forgotten, not abandoned. I don’t know when it will stop, when the storm ends and the skies clear. I don’t know why this has happened, to you of all people, why this part of life has looked the way that it has. I don’t have nearly enough of the answers, but what I do have is a gentle reminder to rest in who and whose you are. To be encouraged in the midst of this mess with the knowledge that there is infinitely more happening here than what we can see.

{So we’re not giving up. How could we?! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.}

The Story I Tell

So for the next little bit, the blog is going to veer away from political posts (mostly). I know it’s been charged for the last few months, and part of that has been my own personal journey of owning who and where I am – even in the face of potentially convincing people that I’m a few fries short of a happy meal. I don’t regret the pull I felt to write them, though if anything I said in attempting to respond to that pull hurt you or made you feel like I have any room to stand in judgment against you, I apologize. It is never my intention to attempt to pick up the conviction that the Spirit has placed on me and try to use it to carve you up instead. If I’ve done that, please contact me and give me the opportunity to make it right with you – I can live with making people uncomfortable but wounding people is not acceptable.

So, back to the regularly scheduled program: let’s talk about anxiety.

It’s terrible.

It springs from situations that shouldn’t be debilitating and overwhelming, creating some new ugly thing that derails even the most mundane, comfortable activities. If you suffer from (or think that you might have) anxiety, I strongly encourage you to do some research and find a therapist. The good ones are worth their weight in gold, and you won’t believe the difference it makes once you start to work towards healing and healthy living. One of the things I have found to be the most helpful in pulling up from the spiral is a concept that carries over into regular life as well. It is the practice of sitting in your truth.

That sounds more impressive than it is, I think, but the actual act is kind of absurdly simple. Sitting in your truth requires you to stop and hold the fear, the panic, long enough to determine if it feels true or if it is true.

I spent a long time trying to plan and create lists when I felt the panic rising. I would write down everything that I had to do and there was catharsis until the next thing threw me for a loop, causing the whole process to start over. It was a snooze button for the panic, because it took everything I knew was standing in my way and let me find ways to individually try to accomplish it. It made me incredibly self-sufficient and resourceful…but it also made me unwilling to need anyone or anything else, with a heavy dose of pride in my own ability to save the day.

But it didn’t do anything to address the root of the problem. It didn’t, couldn’t, tell me if everything was going to be okay. If I would be enough, if I could survive it, if I would further my career and save my relationships. The lists were an attempt at combatting the anxiety with the truth. When it felt like I had too many things to ever accomplish, writing everything down helped put it into perspective and made it feel achievable. It had good intentions, it just wasn’t enough. It was too narrow an approach to be applied universally.

Enter, truth sitting.

When you are in the middle of a wave of anxiety and panic, or just feeling fear about something that seems exponentially bigger than you, things that are completely false can feel like truth. Some things that have felt like truth (but weren’t) from the last few weeks:

  • I’m slowly training for a half marathon, but if I go more than a week between days when I make time to run, I start to believe that I am incapable and that the 30 minute program will be impossible to complete.
  • If I go too long without working with a particular age group in the classroom and then pick up a job in that age group, I worry that I’ve forgotten how to connect with them and I’m going to somehow not survive the day.
  • If I spend too much time at home (shout out to all of the introverts out there), I catastrophize what will happen when I go back into social situations. I worry that I’ll not be able to put an outfit together without looking hideous or mismatched. I worry that I’ll say or do something stupid, or stand confidently on something and find out later that I’m wrong. This leads me to start to believe that I am bad at connecting with people and that I am incapable of carrying myself well without a ton of planning and preparation.
  • I’ve been eating healthfully and exercising pretty faithfully for the last few months, with evident progress, but when I eat meals that aren’t overtly healthy, I immediately worry that I’ve gained a ton of weight and everyone will notice.
  • Financially things are really tight right now, and I start to believe that I’m always going to be broke and will never have enough money to pay all of the bills I need to pay and still buy groceries.

None of these things were true, but in the midst of my fear and worry, they certainly seemed true. I can and do survive (and somehow mostly enjoy) every one of the times I go running. I don’t always handle classroom situations as well as is possible, but I always survive and usually walk away from the day feeling like I am good at my job. I love to connect with people and am usually able to carry myself well as long as I don’t get in my own way with worry. I have enough nutrition knowledge to know that one meal won’t undo the months of work I’ve put in, and that I just have to keep moving forward in healthy living. I am working towards the credential that is paving the way for a career. The struggle in this moment is worth acknowledging, and fully experiencing, but it isn’t going to last forever.

Sitting in truth is not a knee jerk reaction. It is not immediately instinctual, when you have spent years listening and buying in to fear. It is a retraining of the brain – a habit we practice and practice until we are able to catch ourselves veering off path, and are able to stop and course correct. There is still failure a plenty here. Sometimes you’ll catch it before you start to fully freak out, and other times, you won’t see a spiral coming until it’s knocked you completely over, and you’ve got to find your way back. The best way I’ve found to come back to calm and peace is to speak truth over myself. Something about these things that I know but don’t always remember coming out of my own mouth manages to make more of a difference than just hearing someone else say it.

For me, this sometimes look like repeating scripture, or prayers that probably don’t make much sense to anyone else. There is admittedly quite a bit of talking to oneself involved. My mantra often sounds something like this: “I am enough. I know that I am because of who God says I am. I am capable of change. I am strong enough to survive [insert specific topic here] and potential failure there. I am loved and worthy of love and belonging. I can do scary things. God is in control here. He is incapable of failing me. He has never deserted me. Even if this all ends in disaster, I am surrounded by people who will still love me, and are waiting to help me if I ask for it.”

It reads a little like every self-help book out there, but each of those hit on my biggest anxiety triggers. And though the results are not always immediate, saying things that I know to be constant truth breaks through the fog. It allows relief, peace and determination to settle down into my bones. It puts me in a head space to be able to work on the things I can change, and to not borrow worry for the things I’m not able to influence. It changes the story I tell about myself.

It reminds me that I am brave. That failure and relapse are a part of the process, but they don’t have to be the end of the story. That even when situations seem hopeless, there is always hope.

Take Heart

Sometimes life sucks.

Even considering the numerous things in it that are good and precious, even knowing that the hard parts won’t last forever, even with a bone deep understanding that God is in control and has a plan to make everything work together for our good – even then, sometimes the fear and the heartache are loudest.

I thought that I would graduate from college, with my husband in tow, and have life figured out. There would be this fun montage where we figured out things in a comical way, adopted a bunch of kids, and then I’d hit my stride and help to change the world. And from my last 6 months in undergrad, I have been living what seems like a prolonged season of trial by fire.

It has been hard. There were days where it felt like God was punishing me. Punishing me for not being enough, for not getting this job or that one, for being lazy, for not doing this extra thing in college that would have solved all of my problems now, for not being financially stable, for not being conservative enough, for not being feminine enough, for not being willing enough to toe a line. I think I’ve questioned nearly everything, and come up with far too many answers that made me uncomfortable. All of my soul searching and desperate praying for answers just kept leading me back to this cycle of waiting and doubting. These new revelations that felt like truth in my bones were ostracizing me from the people I wanted approval from the most.

The number of times I’ve wanted to throw in the towel, to not write about things that made waves, to embrace apathy because my only alternative was to do terrifyingly brave things while trusting my gut, to stop opening myself to difficult things, to force myself to fit into a nice, neat, Right box. I’ve agonized. I’ve wept. And I’ve heard the whispers that say that it shouldn’t be this hard. That if I were actually following the Lord – if I were actually going the right way, that I wouldn’t be this out of my element. That maybe I’m wrong about all of this, about this part of Jesus. That maybe they are right…that I need to hang up this hat and go home to do something that actively avoids this kind of conflict.

I’ve begged the Lord to let me go from this. And I’ve tried, and temporarily succeeded, in walking away from this pull that I feel to keep writing. To keep speaking. To keep wrestling with uncomfortable answers, stances and positions. To keep opening myself up to conversations that have the power to wound me. To keep coming back when I want to hide myself away, because my heart and pride have been hurt. To keep teaching, and being taught by, unlikely choices. Despite the frustration, hurt and fear, I can’t seem to stay silent or disengaged for long. Because in those moments, when I have decided to call it quits, I hear the same bit of scripture over and over again.

Take heart.

For those of you who may not be as familiar, this comes from a verse in John 16 in which Jesus is telling His disciples that things are about to get crazy. He is about to be crucified and their work is about to begin in earnest as they spread the gospel. He, being Jesus, knew that these very human and flawed disciples were going to have times in the coming days, months and years where they were scared out of their minds. Where they wanted to hide away and fade into obscurity. Where they wanted to be done with anything remotely involving bravery. Knowing this, He says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

When you look up the meaning of take heart (because one can safely assume that Jesus was not encouraging the literal stealing or taking of hearts), you find some variation of an instruction to regain courage or bravery. I appreciate this distinction. To me, it feels different than the many, many times that scripture tells us to not be afraid. It feels more like a reminder to stop in the midst of the fear and heartache that are loud and overwhelming and be heartened, be encouraged, in the midst of whatever circumstance you are in.

It’s as if Jesus (if He spoke in 21st century American slang) says to His disciples, “Some parts of this life that I’m calling you to are going to suck. It’s going to be painful, difficult, draining and exhausting. Some of it will be thankless, some of it will be unbelievably discouraging. But regain your courage, be heartened, because I’ve overcome even this. I’m bigger than all of it. I have and continue to call you to this thing, this mission, that is infinitely bigger than you. Though it may feel like it, I’m not abandoning you to the wolves. I’m not expecting perfection from you, and I’m not sitting with your punishment at the ready when you come to me in repentance for failure. I know that sometimes it’s rough, I know that it feels slow going and like I’m not at work here. Trust me. My spirit is here with you. We’ve got this.”

And man if I don’t need to hear that routinely.

I don’t claim to believe that my calling in this is anywhere near as world changing as the Disciples’ were. I’m just trying to love people like Jesus loves them and have conversations that include people that don’t see eye to eye with me on everything. Sometimes it seems like I’m just talking to an empty room, and that everyone else has gone home. Sometimes it seems like all of this is causing significantly more harm than good. Like any heartache I feel is my own fault and that continuing down this path is only pushing me further and further away from the people I love most.

And in those moments, the fear is easily loudest. Because sometimes, even though I know that God is at work in all things, life is hard. Conversations and events in life throw me for a loop, and I lose any and all courage I’ve had, tempting me to write it all off as a loss.

But despite the clamor, despite fear and heartache that threaten to overwhelm anything and everything else – there is a clear but gentle admonition to regain my bravery, to be encouraged. To keep doing what I’ve been called to do. To keep trusting that God is working even the worst of these things together for good. To find peace in the knowing that He has overcome the world.