Life, Again

You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth. – Psalm 71:20 NLT

There is a season after trauma that I have no other name for beyond survival. You have no emotional capacity to worry about developing new skills or qualities beyond what is vital to surviving the depth that is your life.

Losing your job (or walking away from it), ending relationships, losing family members, medical diagnoses that are so much bigger than what an ibuprofen can fix, assault – all of these, and more, can cause physical and emotional trauma. And for a season, that trauma can take up every ounce of available energy you have to give. There is no exact formula for getting yourself out of that season, though it can certainly be prolonged by refusing to make room in your life for your new reality (preaching myself on that one). It takes as long as it takes, and it is filled with grief and navigating your new normal.

I’ve spent the better part of the last 2 years in that season. First it was the realization that I needed to quit a job I’d spent 2 years, a graduate degree and a hefty student loan bill preparing for. Then it was the complete and utter financial insecurity of relying on a substitute paycheck when I was expecting to step out of the boat into a full-time teaching job, and instead was asked to spend a season waiting. Then it was the assault. And denying the assault had happened at all. And heaping all of the shame on myself for trusting someone I thought was a friend. And refusing to speak about it because I was terrified people would pick it apart and tell me I was overreacting.

This season of survival for me has been one of tremendous personal growth, though certainly not because I was attempting to grow. If anything, I felt like a vine that had been pruned back so far it was one wrong move from dying altogether. I was angry. More than that, I was enraged. All I could see was injustice. At what had been done to me, at what was being done to women and men just like me. At what is happening to POC in this country. At people in positions of power who abuse that power to place more weight on what they want than what is healthy or good for other people. At the Church for choosing to stay silent on much of the mountain of injustices just outside, and inside, of their doors.

The peppy, “God is good all the time”, brand of Christianity felt like someone pouring vinegar in my mouth. Because while I don’t blame God for what happened to me, He allowed me to suffer much hardship. And that concept felt nearly irreconcilable at times. God is good, but he also could have swept in with a Daniel in the Lions Den type of miracle, and He chose not to. And that doesn’t feel good. Especially not in the season of survival. That feels complicit. And touting the goodness of a God who appears to be complicit in injustice is a bit of a tough sell.

I needed room to wrestle and to doubt and to question. And the church at large, for the many things they are good at, is not very good at making room for that. Especially when the conclusion comes slowly. So I, for the first time in my entire life, put my relationship with the church on pause. (Sorry mom, that you’re finding out via my blog.) I, instead, found company in unlikely places. I found company, found church, amongst those who had been pushed to the margins of Christian culture. People who too felt like their spirits were one wrong move from dying altogether, but who also found that hope, while small, lived on in the dark.

While I would not at all say that I am thankful for or even done being angry at what happened to me, I am thankful for the road I walked through the wilderness in this season of survival. It was unbelievably lonely at times, but it also showed a side of the heart of the Father that I’d never had to experience before. The serendipity, the pursuit, the heart of the One who meets you in the midst of the grief and anger and sits with you in the silence, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, never once minimizing your pain. The humility, the gentleness, the grace required to be able to help hold and make room for the ugliest, hardest parts of another person’s life.

And somehow, through a process I have no idea how to fully recount or even name, in the midst of that survival, life begins to push up from the ground again. Not particularly quickly, not with any great fanfare, but you look up one day and realize that your hope is a bit bigger, a bit stronger. That there are moments of joy so true they take your breath away, mixed in with the rest of real life. Those moments feel more precious than gold, because there were days in the surviving where you weren’t sure you’d ever find it again. Where you wondered if maybe your ability to experience vibrant life had been permanently altered along with your body and spirit.

Those moments don’t mean that the grief is over. But they give hope that life won’t always be marked by investing everything of yourself that you can manage just to survive. That new life can still grow here, even though the field has spent a season looking empty and barren. Life that makes more room, passes out more grace, and is willing to navigate through life more comfortable in the quiet doubt. It is undoubtedly a different kind of life that pushes up through the ground, but it is beautiful, precious, worthy life nonetheless.

It is that life that reminds me of who and whose I am. That brings me back to this Church body that I have spent my life loving, and being frustrated with. Life that gives hope and vision for what can be when we work to break down barriers and power dynamics that aren’t Godly. Life that doesn’t need to justify or earn its place at the table and doesn’t ask others to earn their places either. Life that cannot abide injustice, that refuses to minimize and that uses any voice I have to amplify the voices of who have been silenced.   Evidence that – despite the trauma, the heartache, the grief that has altered me on a cellular level – there is restoration here. Restoration to life, again.

Grief Isn’t Linear

When I was in college, my great-grandmother died. She had lived a long life with many things to be proud of so, when she went, we were incredibly sad but it also felt like her time. I had a friend at that time tell me that grieving isn’t linear. That I didn’t need to push to be able to answer “Doing okay” when someone asked how I was. That I could be devastated and joyful simultaneously, because grief couldn’t stamp out the beauty entirely, but it also didn’t leave before it was ready.

I clung to that realization in the weeks that followed. And again when my Grandfather died the next year. And again when school shootings kept happening to people I knew. And again when students I taught passed away from diseases they never should have had to face.

I struggled, however, to apply it to trauma. I wrote in November about the fact that I was sexually assaulted. It was the first time I had named a lot of things out loud, and called them for what they were, but I also buried a lot of my pain in an attempt to make it palatable. Because it had been long enough that I should have been better. I shouldn’t still get sweaty palms at the thought of being any level of vulnerable around a man who was interested in women. I shouldn’t still be so angry. I shouldn’t lose sleep at the thought of running in to him again, I shouldn’t have intense reactions of fear/disgust when I see his picture on a dating app or have a panic attack when I discover that I’m house sitting at a house a few blocks from where he lived.

I managed to forget that grief isn’t linear.

I was in a really lovely relationship for part of this last year where I emotionally connected with someone again for the first time since all of it happened. And every small accomplishment felt like I had climbed Mount Everest, because there were days where I still wanted to pull inside of myself and never date again. I had become inordinately good at stacking the deck to ensure that I was never truly vulnerable – even though logically I knew that he wouldn’t hurt me in the way that I had been hurt before, I needed to figure out how to trust my gut again. I needed to figure out how to trust men that were romantically interested in me again, certainly, but that was small potatoes compared to feeling like I couldn’t trust my instinct about people.

I was so hard on myself that I wasn’t better yet, wasn’t who I wanted to be as a girlfriend, wasn’t able to logically reason my way out of panic attacks and feelings of worthlessness. How exactly does one start that conversation with another person? You can’t just open with, “Hello there! I want you to still want to date me, but I have baggage that I’m working through that is substantial. Sometimes that work and that baggage will spill out on to you, and while I am also terrified of being a burden, I don’t see a way around it here.”

I forgot that the grief your body remembers, even when your mind has decided it would rather forget, does not come with instructions. There is no straight path to healing. No formula you can follow to create a perfect line out of the pain and trauma.

I was fortunate that the person I was having that conversation with was incredibly kind and did not once begrudge me needing distance or slowing to a stop where I had been fine moments before – but there was also so, so much work on my end to wade through the abyss in an attempt to name it. To manage my reactions, to be brave enough to be honest when I wanted to pretend I was fine, to not run away and kill it because I was overwhelmed at how fresh everything felt. To be quick with grace because grief isn’t linear.

Do you see the trend here yet?

Since I have begun to speak about this, I’ve been amazed at the number of people who are so kind. There are, of course, people who are made incredibly uncomfortable and respond with party line answers that mean that I cry in my car on the way home, but overwhelmingly, people are kind. But I’ve also met so, so, so many women (and a few men) who have gotten the misty look in their eye and conveyed, sometimes without words, that they know all too well what I’m working through.

When I have been able to, I’ve wrapped them up in a hug and whispered what probably ended up being nonsensical reminders of worth, because dealing with this kind of trauma is unbelievably isolating. It’s not palatable for people who don’t have the capacity to make room for your pain. It’s not palatable for people who were fine with you talking about it the first time, but also admonish you to not “continue to air out your dirty laundry”. Trauma is not a one-and-done kind of situation, folks.

And though it doesn’t ease the many facets of life after the traumatic event, often we need to remember/be reminded that it’s okay that our grief hasn’t abated yet. It’s perfectly normal to put ourselves back together slightly different than (or significantly different) we were before. It’s unbelievably frustrating that we don’t have a sequence of events (short of lobotomy) that allows us to forget and go back to being relatively normal, unaffected members of society. But there is no formula. No secret three-step process or miracle cure.

Rather, there is the realization that life from here on out may get to be planned or it may be just one step at a time. That there will be times where you need to go off into the garden yourself to cry, pray and process, and times where the only way through is letting yourself need every ounce of your support system. That there will be days where you are incredibly intentional about making choices that invest in yourself, when you can manage, and days where it’s all you can do to accept grace. That there will be weeks, months or years of needing therapists who see you, validate what you are experiencing and gently coach you back to your feet to start taking those one-step-at-a-time steps again.

That there will also be relapse. God, so much relapse. Where you’ve gone for weeks feeling almost whole again, only to be tripped up by something you didn’t see coming and end up in a heap on the floor.

It’s not pleasant, it’s not fair, it’s not deserved – but it is part of grief. And while you may find yourself spending far more days angry than you are sad, processing trauma is full of dealing with grief. Grief for who you were. Grief for the parts of you that died. Grief for the ignorance you didn’t realize you had to take for granted.

There is no one way to do this process, this decision to survive and keep moving, exactly right. There is so much grace here. For wherever you are here. For wherever I am. While there is no shame in the fact that this is, and will likely always be, a part of my story, I am so comforted in the knowing that it’s not the strongest part. That this grief, even on days when it is screaming at the top of its lungs, can’t drown out the beauty and joy entirely. It can feel like it is coming painfully close – but hope and life abound. In the cracks, in the shadows, in the unlikeliest of places, it refuses to be stamped out completely.

“My friend, grieving isn’t linear. You don’t need to push to be able to answer ‘Doing okay’ when someone asks how you are, when it’s not the truth. You can be devastated and joyful in this space, simultaneously. Grief can’t stamp out the beauty around you entirely, it’s not strong enough. But it also won’t leave before it’s ready. You are not alone here, even when you can’t bring yourself to physically be here. Be where you are, and know that’s okay for today.”

Indescribable

I watched a video last week that showed a young man standing in a field talking about how Christians, too often, water down their message to blend in with the world. That we were called to be set apart and to be known as different from the rest of the world around us. We shouldn’t worry about trying to be popular or well liked, on this journey with Jesus, but instead pick up our cross, even at the cost of ostracization, and solider on.

And I’d agree with that, but only as long we are picking up the right cross.

I think we as the church have spent a long time picking up the wrong cross, and finding ourselves bewildered that the “World” doesn’t want what we are selling. We have the right arrangement of words, we know the songs to sing, we wear the right things to Church on Sunday. We proclaim the glory of the chain-breaking, miracle-working, law-of-nature-defying Jesus. We muddle our way through loving people wholly and without reservation. And we tell the world that our greatest hope, our greatest source of peace and comfort, is Jesus.

But I think the magnitude of that hope gets lost in translation. Or maybe it gets lost in us.

Our good news is, as it has always been, this indescribable hope. We have hope that good is coming, that the pain will end, that the dawn will break, that somehow all of the chaos and grief and struggle will all be woven into something beautiful in the end. We have hope that we are not alone, not forgotten. That we are pressed, but we are not crushed. That we have a safe place to run when the world threatens to crash in and overtake us.

We have this hope because of who we know God to be, who He has proven Himself to be over and over again – but I think we miss it when we sell the hope without the struggle. And I don’t mean the supposed “war” on American Christianity, or red cups at Starbucks. I mean the earth-moving, soul-wrenching, gaping-wound kind of struggle. The fear, doubt and uncertainty that you don’t let out in mixed company, lest someone start quoting bits of scripture at you without first helping to hold and make room for your heartache.

The kind of struggle and agony that makes you doubt God and His goodness, because a good God cannot possibly allow this to happen to people that He loves. The kind of pain that leaves you angry, broken and desperate. The kind that feels like it will never end, and that leaves you wondering if it might be stronger than your ability to survive. The kind that makes a church, who is more concerned with the message of hope than the need for it, viscerally uncomfortable.

This indescribable hope has room for the doubt, anger and fear that is brought out in us during the struggle. It has room for our bruises and our tear-stained faces. It has room for our work to set boundaries and our thousand small victories mixed in with ten thousand huge defeats. It has room for our agony because of the very nature of hope. Hope is not enduring belief in the absence of pain, worry, doubt or struggle, but rather that glimpse of new life, of worth, of purpose that pokes up through the ground in the midst of it all.

This gentle, enduring hope, that stares down insurmountable odds and certain failure. This hope that will take root, even in the most desolate conditions. This hope that can be attacked from all sides, and may seem lost in the darkest moments, but is never very far from being revived. Even at its weakest, it gives life and the strength to push on just a little bit further.

Our hope is that we are seen, known and never forgotten by the One who has seen it all. It is that the One who spoke earth into being will always be the Father who sees us while we are still a long way off and runs to meet us, putting His robes on our bodies and His rings on our fingers. That there is no end to the Grace we are given freely. That there is no rock bottom we can find that sees us abandoned or deserted. That we, despite the parts of our lives that would otherwise discredit us, or make us less than worthy, are treasured. We are so deeply cared for, even when can’t begin to pay it back or reciprocate.

We are forever caught in tiny, fleeting moments of serendipity that together make up a symphony of hope. This is what is so attractive about our Jesus. The foolish, unbelievable tenacity of His love for, and belief in, us.

Not our on trend aesthetic, not our contemporary or traditional worship services, not our brand or our labels. Not our stances on how people dress or don’t dress their bodies, not our stances on how to define the “right” people, not our moral high ground. Not anything that we, as model Christians, want to list on our Righteousness Resume.

Hope.

That never gives up on us, that never loses faith in us, that never stops calling out the best in us, and that endures through every circumstance. Beautiful, unbelievable, indescribable hope.

The Stances We Take

Y’all I’m struggling.

Not with my career, though it certainly keeps me busy. Not with my personal life, though again, because of the career busyness, it has certainly taken the back burner. Not with my goals or plans, I’ve still got those. Not with my relationship with Jesus.

But with the church.

This thing that helped to shape me, to mold and make me who I am today. I spent the better part of two decades very firmly on the inside of the “us”. I checked off all of the boxes, I served in every area that one could serve in. I loved it. I fought for it. And as I got older, and I started to have to sit in a lot of these ideologies for myself, I still sided so often with the church. She was old, yes. She was full of historical scandal and damage to the marginalized, yes. She was often obsessed with herself, yes. But she was also so beautiful. So precious. So lovely, once you wiped away the grime.

But I also began to be more and more frustrated with the stances I saw taking precedence. With the allocation of resources to fancy new light set-ups to stay relevant, but not to other, arguably more important needs. With the trend to invite and confine women into roles that weren’t preaching or teaching to mixed crowds of adults. With the consistent calls for unity that felt a lot like calls for silence if one planned to deviate from the party line. With the continued treatment of the marginalized. But I knew she could course correct. I asked better of her. I dug in, biting my tongue in favor of not rocking the boat, and tempered the anger I felt at the injustice we weren’t addressing, translating it to palatable questions that I hoped would spark conversation.

And I sat through messages about the end times, tithing, not judging others, modesty, going into missions, being in the world but not of it, unity, unity and more unity. None of which were bad topics in and of themselves, but they came at the expense of messages on justice for people who died at the hands of those sworn to protect them, the refugee crisis and our response as the church, the DAPL and the natives trying to protect their lands, politicians claiming christianity but mocking disabled people and veterans, the blind eye to those that were harassing and assaulting women and on and on. These things matter, and the stance we are willing to take on them matters.

And though I understand that there is no easy way to talk about these things, that the discussion is sure to be rife with hard truths, hard conversations and missteps, I think we have missed the mark by choosing to keep them out of pulpits. I grew up Pentecostal. I have heard more end time messages than I can begin to count. I don’t need any more messages on the rapture. Especially not more than I need honest, open, thoughtful and well-researched conversations about racism and systemic injustice in this country. Not more than I need to be reminded that I am called to follow the two greatest commandments: To love my God with all my heart, soul and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. Even when that neighbor is brown. Or gay. Or Puerto Rican. Or Muslim. Or fleeing from Syria. Certainly not more than I need to be reminded that my tree is known by its fruit, and that if the fruit of my life is vitriolic, hateful or insulting – the tree is known, even if I call it something different.

And I accept that pastors, even after doing thoughtful research into the Word, history, current scientific and sociological research (when applicable), and the stories of people who have lived it, are likely going to still be able to preach a message that I don’t completely agree with. That’s just life. I am one of many in a congregation, and at the end of the day, they are accountable to the congregation as a whole and to God. Even in the face of the most timely and appropriate messages, there will still be work for the rest of us to do to help the church, and society at large, love in a way that looks more and more like Jesus.

Stances on hard things have hard answers. They require answers that must be tempered with grace, truth and love. But we cannot keep ignoring the hard things, the convicting things, in favor of preaching again on Proverbs 31, or not overusing grace, or the persecution of the American Church, or yet another message about hazy, future dates to signify the end of the world. We cannot choose to pick out those things that are relatively easier for us to call out, and ignore the giant, bloody beam that we’ve allowed to remain in our collective eye.

Our pride is rampant. Our self-obsession is rampant. Our determination to be first, to be loudest, to be the most vindicated – even in the face of scripture that says that the first will be last – is rampant. Our dismissal of things that we don’t like or agree with is so, so, so rampant. And it’s heartbreaking. It creates an us and them, and moves people between the two based on the quantifiable characteristics we can see. It’s so human, and still so full of the Divine – the Father, Son and Spirit most certainly still dwell there – but it’s also got a closet bursting with skeletons that we can’t contain.

The longer we try and pretend like that closet doesn’t exist, like we aren’t spending far too much time trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus with those feet stuck firmly in our mouths, the more people we hurt. The longer we pretend that the cries of those we’ve overlooked and cast out aren’t deafening, the more deaf we become to the call to be passionate about justice. The more disconnected we become from those who have always had a seat at Jesus’s table. The more we forget that Jesus makes space for all of us, but his bid to come is also an invitation to die to the parts of us that are selfish, prideful and looking for praise and a pedestal. The more we grieve the heart of the Father.

And god – I can’t bear the thought of that being our legacy. Of the mark we leave on the world. A people who meant well, but got distracted and ended up hurting the heart of the One who brought us here in the first place.

May we be refined by our encounters with the marginalized that we see the way God sees. May the pride and self-obsession be purified out of our bodies. May we be broken-hearted by the injustice we’ve looked at without seeing. May we be moved to be passionate, zealous defenders of justice. May we address the damage we have done and continue to do. May we be the first in line to make amends and change that within us that is hurting the very people God loves. May we always be ready to set another place at the table. May we, in all things, live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

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.