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.

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.}

Wholly Dependent

I have a confession to make: I am not self-sufficient. I put on one heck of a show, and I bend way over backwards to be capable at everything I do. I hate having to ask for help, and I will spend hours researching this topic or that one to avoid being caught unaware. I am not afraid of hard work, and when I come to mountains I can’t easily climb, I plan out a dozen ways to work around the roadblocks. When money gets tight, I budget my expenses on any scraps of paper I can find (in addition to a handful of apps), in an attempt to ensure that every base is covered and that I never have to go to my family with my tail between my legs.

Letting myself need therapy was a mammoth task. I convinced myself for a long time that if I couldn’t find some way to fix my own problems and whittle them down to manageable portions, then I probably would just need to be okay living with them forever. I failed my first Calculus class in college because I spent entirely too much time in denial about how little I grasped the content. When I did finally admit that I wasn’t understanding all of it, I chose to just work harder to try to study the material, instead of going to my professor and admitting that I needed help – and a lot of it.

I’ve bought into this idea that self-sufficiency is the goal. If I can just handle everything on my own, with 3-5 back up plans in place for every eventuality, and a savings account with enough zeroes and degrees in enough subjects, then I will always land on my feet. And it seemed to be working. I am resilient and I know how to work like a mad woman to save myself. I take immense pride in it. I’m not a damsel in distress, and if I need something, I’ll earn it. I have worked hard for what I have, but I also cling to things because they are evidence of my ability to provide for myself. I’ve actually said that I would rather go hungry than to have to ask my parents for money. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to go to them for extra money (though they did send me an allotted amount every month through undergrad) as an adult. The entirety of the 9 months I lived at home after I finished my undergraduate degree, I was counting down until I had enough saved that I could live on my own, because needing them to house me felt like I was moving backwards in my quest for independence.

I viewed being completely independent as the only way to be responsible. Needing anyone, for anything, meant that I wasn’t actually a responsible adult. It meant that I was well on my way to becoming a burden to the people I cared about. It meant that I had wasted a ton of money on an education I wasn’t using, and had asked people to support and believe in me when I wasn’t doing everything possible to return that investment, with interest.

And what good was I, if I couldn’t at least do that?

Not surprisingly, this need to handle it all on my own also made it incredibly difficult to let myself need God. I mean, obviously I needed God (and grace) for salvation, but beyond that, it was up to me to just work really hard to be a good person and use my dogged determination and self-control to follow the Lord.  I made concessions on things like needing grace more than I’d like, that maybe therapy and needing to be vulnerable was a step in my healing process, that I couldn’t love people well if I didn’t invite Jesus in to my interactions, that God knew better about what I was created to be than I do, that it was okay ask for what I needed even when that felt inconvenient, that it was okay to not have everything figured out, and that it wasn’t the end of the world when failure came knocking. I patted myself on the back as I handed control of those things over (begrudgingly) to the Lord, and kept a tight grip on everything else. If I turned everything over, if I admitted that maybe I couldn’t handle any of it independently, then I wasn’t helping myself. After all, God helps those who helps themselves.

The areas I have turned over to the Lord in the last few years have flourished. There has been healing, wisdom and growth in each and every aspect of my life that I have wholly surrendered control and care of. And I’ve watched the rest of it slowly fall down around me. Each time I took stock and determined that things were progressively getting worse, I doubled down and worked that much harder. I fell into a routine of scrambling and stressing, reaching a boiling point where I broke down and admitted that it wasn’t working. I would let go of one thing, slowly and painfully, and finish by ultimately creating a new life plan that would let me solve the rest of my problems.

I sang the songs that talked about holding nothing back, while holding my cards close to my chest. I read the words in the book of Job and only saw the ways in which his friends were being unsupportive, while overlooking the fact that his downfall was his pride and an insistence that he had done everything right so God must have been unjust to let hardship befall him. I worked longer and harder to dig myself out of a hole that just kept getting deeper. Everything I knew to do to get myself unstuck only made it worse, because I was missing the giant neon sign that was plainly telling me what I didn’t want to hear: I can’t actually do any of this on my own.

I am capable, intelligent, and resourceful. But I can’t save myself, plan out the best course of action for my life, or work hard enough to ensure that I always land on my feet. I wasn’t meant to. I need God. More than just as my ticket into heaven, or as comfort and joy in times of struggle. I need Him in such obscenely big ways that I don’t even fully know how to put it into words. I need Him in every area, all of the time. And I’ve spent countless hours doing everything I could think of to avoid having to acknowledge and admit it.

Truthfully, I don’t even know what surrendering complete control looks like. I’ve been working for so long to keep everything under control, that to now be faced with the task of giving it all away feels monumental. To reach for help before I begin outlining a plan of attack to solve it on my own. To find and stay in the place where all of this endless striving has ceased. To stop trying to bring things to the table, and let myself just be at it because I’ve been invited. To be still and let God be my God, instead of trying to find a way to rescue myself.

To trade in my paltry attempts at being independent for peace and rest in a life wholly dependent.

Abba, I’m so sorry. Yet again, I’ve managed to forget that you have only good plans for me, and that you never fail to rescue me, because you delight in me. Help me to trust in you infinitely more than I trust myself and my own skills at saving the day. Show me what a dependent life looks like, and bring me to the place where fear and striving cease.

Wait For It

Nearly three years ago I felt like I was called to move back to Bakersfield. I was at a Jesus Culture conference, dealing with heartbreak and complete uncertainty about my future after yet another job that looked promising, and should have been an open and shut situation, fell through. Standing with 3,000 other people in a beautiful building in Midtown Sacramento, I felt so clearly in my spirit an ache for the last place I would have expected. Beyond feeling an overwhelming sense of rightness, the very next thing I knew with an inexplicable certainty was that I couldn’t talk about it yet. Instead, I was supposed to go on a 21 day fast with a church body that I wasn’t even a member of.

I hated fasting. My parents had done it quite a few times when I was a kid, and it meant that the house didn’t have any of the good food, and that everyone was a little bit closer than normal to hangry. I love food, and I love to cook for people and share food that is ridiculously good with the people I break bread with – and fasting kind of dampens that. It becomes a little bit less enticing when someone says to you, “Hey, do you want to come over and eat this vegan chili that I made because I can only have fruits, vegetables and whole grains for the next few weeks?” But I knew in a way that I couldn’t explain away that I needed to.

So, I fasted. And I failed at it a lot. I don’t know if you know this, but if you want to feel like an exemplary Christian, fasting is the very last thing you should do. Bringing your wants and cravings, your habits and temptations, into submission in such a basic and vital way – you certainly are brought face to face with your own shortcomings. I almost quit so many times because I thought that if I couldn’t do it perfectly, that it couldn’t possibly be honoring to God. I didn’t yet understand that faithfulness to God doesn’t require you to never waver, or to never fail at whatever it is you’re doing, it just requires you to be determined to get up and keep going when the missteps do come.

And then I moved home, and felt like I was supposed to start a bible study doing what I did best. Taco Tuesday took up much of my Instagram feed, and we had good study and excellent food, but it only had 5 people at its biggest meeting, and circumstances nobody saw coming meant that it was cut short after only 6 months. I thought for sure that being called to a place would mean that God had a career ready and waiting when I got here…and the back up to my back up fell through in spectacular fashion. I worked a collection of unexpected jobs, and then when my back up plan did open up and I started working in the classroom, I had a couple of opportunities for full-time work that everyone thought I was a shoo-in for. Can you guess what happened next? Yep. I didn’t even get an interview for a job that I’d been doing, and doing well, for the 4 months leading up to the position being flown.

I had thought that I would live with friends, and we’d do ministry out of our house, loving and feeding people. I moved out on my own in faith that God would work though that (and because as much as I loved my parents, I could only live with them again for so long). The roommate situation I had set up completely fell through and I was struggling to pay rent every month. I was doing graduate school, and stressed to the maximum, and not able to work as often as I’d been doing before, further pushing the already iffy financial situation. I thought I’d heard God in a couple of different situations that required immense faith, and I wasn’t seeing any progress. I want to find a way to force progress or to cut and run before I got hurt, and it seemed like the only thing God was saying was “just wait for it.”

I finished my graduate program and got a job working in that field, that fell out of nowhere into my lap. I loved the work that we were doing, and threw myself into it. I noticed after a couple of months that I was consistently feeling more and more drained. But this was the work that I had moved here to do! I was ministering at two very different places each week, involved heavily in my church, and doing good work within the community. I was finally making Bakersfield a better place, after 2 years, I was doing what I’d been called here to do, so I just had to buck up and power through. And I just kept getting worse and worse. My body started to show signs of the stress and exhaustion I was feeling, and I wasn’t kicking the summer cold I had caught. I’d get a little bit better and then a lot worse. A cold turned into a sinus infection, which drained down and settled in my chest, which then turned into bronchitis, finally turning into pneumonia.

I had nothing left. Everything I knew to do to pull myself up and keep on going made the situation worse. It was still a couple of weeks before the school year started, so I tried to ignore the nagging feeling that I needed to leave that job in favor of a few more paychecks and prolonged financial security. I’m a sucker for control, guys. That nagging feeling didn’t dissipate, and after a few therapy sessions that involved more and more and more confirmation, and a realization that maybe I’d been a teacher in some capacity all along, I turned in my notice. I knew choosing me and stepping out in faith was terrifying, but I also knew that it was right. I thought for sure that stepping out in faith would lead to a big pay-off. And the big, well-paying teaching job that I applied for and logically would have been an ideal candidate for, withdrew the job posting and encouraged me to apply again should they decide to repost it.

I wept when I got that email. I knew that my bank account couldn’t get much emptier, and that there was not a ton of room between my credit card balances and their maximums. Then student loan repayment started at a higher rate than I was anticipating and had budgeted for, there was an error with my paycheck so it didn’t come in at all that month from one of the school sites, I got my first speeding ticket and got into a fender bender. All within the same 30 days. Ya’ll. This has been my 2016. It has been littered with prayers that sounded something like, “Lord, if you don’t come though I’m going to spontaneously combust. Everywhere. Messily.”

And though nothing has felt like the big thing that is still coming, I’ve managed to come through each of these things by the skin of my teeth. I’ve never had a season where the Lord has stripped me of control so systematically, but I’m still standing. And heaven help me if my spirit doesn’t keep coming back to how good God is. That feels obnoxious to type, because this year has been really really freaking hard. Maybe the hardest of my adult life so far. In fact, this season, these last three years of being called back to Bakersfield, have been full to the brim of things that were difficult, painful, and routinely overwhelming. Literally nothing has ended up like I thought it would. I’ve probably spent an inordinate amount of time in the last 1000 days crying, so stressed out it felt like I couldn’t breathe, in fear, or doubting that God would come in on time. But I’ve not spent a single one of those days abandoned, or left high and dry.

Maybe that’s encouraging. I hope that it is. In a season littered with a series of things that feel like failure, I know that God is at work here. I know I’m supposed to be here. I know I’m loved, treasured and worthy. I know that when everything that seems like it can fail, ends up doing so in spectacular fashion, I’m still able to get back up and keep going. I know that regardless of the situation, I’m not handling this alone. I know that if God is true and good, as He has proven Himself to me to be, that all of this will be worth something in the end.

If you’re in a season anything like mine – you’re not alone. It’s not a mark of your worthiness as a person, or a sign of the future waiting for you. I don’t know why it’s not worked out like you thought it would, I don’t know why what should have been enough ended up falling short. I don’t know why we have to struggle and sit in the unknown space, hearing God consistently say, “Wait for it. Wait on me.” I don’t have answers beyond the fact that God is good, and this waiting is not in vain. You are stronger than you’d ever expect, and you don’t have to weather these storms alone. I don’t think that makes the waiting any easier, but there is power in knowing that you’ve got support, even from unlikely sources, and that this part won’t last forever.

“We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken…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.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 & 16-18 MSG

 

You Already Are

I’ve always been a little (okay, a lot) afraid that I would end up alone.

Dysmorphia was partially to blame for that fear. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking that I’m simply too much – too fat, too loud, too opinionated, too stubborn, too independent, too “strong-willed” – to attract someone, who I would find attractive, that had a strong character and loved Jesus. Add to that the fact that I have heard my entire life that “someday my prince will come”, and I just kept watching month after month and year after year pass me by with no such prince, and it seemed like the odds were good that I’d end up doing this life on my own.

Which, as one who wanted more than just about anything to be known and loved, sounded like the most terrifying outcome imaginable. Who was I, if there wasn’t somebody in all of the people I’ve met in my life who wanted to take on this life as my partner? What did it say about my worthiness that that significant other box has either been empty or filled with people who didn’t deserve the title? If I pretended harder that I didn’t care, could I force God’s hand and speed up the process? I liked that option, because it seemed like all of these people who were happy and had their fairytale relationship had some variation of “I stopped caring about it, and then all of a sudden, poof, so and so was standing right in front of me.” Granted, it treated the creator of the universe a bit like a significant other vending machine, but a girl’s got to do what she’s got to do, right?

Part of that decision, logically, was turning my focus inward. Discovering Jesus, and starting the process of developing a relationship with him that went miles deeper than the one I’d known as a child. Guys, I know it sounds cheesy, but I fell head over heels. I love Jesus in a way that isn’t logical, because He loves me so, so, so, so much more. Not surprisingly, it took me significantly longer to let myself be fully loved by Jesus than it did to recognize that I was in deep on my end. Letting myself be loved as I am was (and some days, still is) incredibly difficult for me when I knew how far I still had to go on my self-improvement plans and to-do lists. It’s still a bit unbelievable to me that what started as such a selfish attempt to get Jesus to just hurry up and bring a spouse already would have blossomed into what it is today.

And while I would love to one day be a wife, and a mother, I don’t feel like my life will be one iota less valuable if I never wear either of those hats. I’d like to believe that I’ll be a mother in some capacity, even if I’m never a wife, because there are entirely too many boys and girls in this country that need love for me to not dive in headfirst, but even if for some reason that doesn’t happen, my life is worthy now. It is beautiful, it is precious, even if the only partner I ever have is Jesus. Because Jesus is not a consolation prize. Not ever. A life spent with him, even when it detours from what a four-year-old me imagined for myself, is not ever something that has to be settled for.

Hear me please, boys and girls, women and men, who are dutifully waiting on the right person to come so that they can fulfill the need to be truly known and completely loved.

You already are.

You cannot ever be more deeply known or radically loved by an individual than you are right now. God’s love is perfect love. The kind of love that casts out fear, that repairs the wounds we hide away, that makes whole the broken pieces, that calls to life a purpose that is terrifying and all at once exactly right, that extends so much more grace than can be imagined. It is the love. The love that smooths out your rough edges, the love that reminds you that you aren’t doing any of this alone, the love that sees and calls out the very best in you. It makes the fairytale romance look like a knock-off, dollar store version of a Hallmark card in comparison.

Don’t get me wrong, being in love with another person can be beautiful. It can bring out the best parts of you, it can make you want to be selfless, kind, gentle and make the world a better place. But it can also be painful and difficult. It can bring out the worst parts of you. It can shine a big spotlight on the parts of yourself that you aren’t proud of. It is certainly worth doing, because a life spent hidden away from connection and vulnerability isn’t much of a life at all, but no matter how well it could possibly pay off in the end, it can’t complete you.

Jerry McGuire lied.

I have hated that line in that movie (and admittedly, not been the biggest fan of that movie at all because of it) since the first time I saw it. It highlights, along with the Disney Princess culture of my childhood and a thousand other movie plot lines, the myth about love. Finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with is beautiful, and to be celebrated: but it doesn’t make you any more worthy of love and belonging. It doesn’t add a gold star to your life’s accomplishments. And I think we collectively put a lot of strain on an already difficult thing when we expect it to check the Life Fulfillment box too.

Jesus completes me. He’s the only one who can. That is the only relationship in existence that can weather the strain of all of those expectations indefinitely. It’s the only one that can support my need to be known, seen, loved and unequivocally supported at every level. It’s the only one that can bring utter calm in the midst of a season full of chaos. It’s the one that makes me the best version of myself, and only in loving Jesus, being loved by Him and loving like Him, do I find myself loving other people in a healthy way.

I wish I could tell you that I just decided hard enough that Jesus was going to fulfill me, then there was a fun montage where I discovered how loved I was (to the tune of an excellent song, of course), and then I realized that I was content on my own. That’s an infinitely prettier picture than what actually happened.

This process has not been all rainbows and butterflies, but it has been saturated with Jesus, peace in chaos and comfort in the midst of the most painful of surrenders. There have been no shortage of those. I’m a type A planner, and I’d spent the better part of 20 years placing entirely too much hope and faith in the idea that if I just loved Jesus hard enough, and did my best to go out and love people like He did, I’d earn myself a husband. Breaking down those hopes and surrendering them piece by piece was long, exhausting and bloody. And there were times when the only thing I even knew how to pray was that I wanted to want the Lord the most, whatever that was supposed to look like.

Some days, I still forget. I forget that it’s okay to stay in my lane, and that my life is beautiful, regardless of how many of these boxes I end up checking at the end of it. I don’t think there is any one exactly right way to do any of this, or that any two people have the same journey to the same kind of surrender. I do know that there is so much grace here, and that as difficult as this process has been, I wouldn’t trade this space, this thing with Jesus, for all of the fairy tale endings in the world.

Find Reason to Treasure It

I have spent much of my life so far anxiously waiting for what comes next. I couldn’t wait to grow up, move out and get the next season of my life started, and when that next season started, I found myself wishing for the next one.

I have felt the pull for the last couple of years to actively avoid wishing away entire seasons of my life in favor of whatever comes next, and to intentionally practice being present and seeking out the things that bring me joy here. I have also failed, quite a lot, at actually following through with that.

I will be the first to admit that it is perfectly natural to wish some seasons away. Sometimes we have the promise of something good, and working to lay a steady foundation for the thing, but we have no signs of growth in the thing itself. We are actively working, planting and preparing for this new, exciting thing, yet we don’t have it quite yet. Whether that be a new job, a new car, a new house, a family, a spouse, financial security, college graduation, or a thousand other things, we can easily wish away the preparation time in favor of the big conclusion.

I have. Some days, I still do.

However, I’ve come to realize in the last year or so that this time may be irksome, but it is undoubtedly preparation time. It serves a purpose. It is beneficial and necessary. It doesn’t make it any less annoying when we just want to rush to the end and be done with the whole process, but we need it. Even more, I think we should cherish it.

Those of you that know just how impatient I am (especially if I’m veering into being hangry) are welcome to take a moment and laugh at that statement coming from me. I, the girl who gets annoyed when food takes too long to be served or I can’t get coffee quickly enough in the mornings, have jumped ship in this to the “patience is a virtue” bandwagon. Lest you fear I’m a completely different person, I’m still irritable when I’m too hungry or haven’t had enough coffee – but I think I’m also finding reasons to appreciate these seasons that I’ve spent a long time wishing away.

You see, before, I spent an awful lot of time thinking that the other shoe would drop and all of these good things I was working for would never come. I’d always be broke, I’d never graduate, I’d never figure out what I was supposed to do with my life, I’d never get married, I’d never have a family, I’d never have my life together in any tangible way that mattered. All of that fear translated to frantic attempts to force my life onto what comes next. I’d scheme, strive and plan for how to help myself get on to the next stage of things, because I didn’t think I could look myself in the mirror if I ever stood still. If I wasn’t doing everything in my power to make everything I wanted come into being by sheer will alone, then I would have no one to blame but myself when I was disappointed later.

These days, thanks to Jesus, therapy and good friends, I’m not as scared of my own reflection. I’ve spent an awful long time being in situations that forced me to stand still and took away all of my scheming ability. Of course, I’d be a liar if I said I always liked it or handled any of it with grace on the first try, but I’d like to think I am getting better at it. I’ve been amazed at a great many things, as I’ve had to learn how to let myself be present and appreciate my situation for exactly what it is as opposed to what I wish it were, but none impacted me quite as much as the peace that comes from accepting that these good things will in fact come. They may not look like what I thought they would, and they probably won’t fall into place according to any timeline I can dream up, but just because they aren’t here yet doesn’t mean that they aren’t coming.

I’m going to say that one again: Just because the good things you are waiting for haven’t come yet, does not mean that they aren’t coming.

It took me a ridiculously long time to recognize that as truth. Sometimes I still forget that it is and start to spin my wheels frantically, trying to fit it all into a 3 year plan. But the days when I am intentional about looking for the truth and resting in it, I am forced to admit that those things will come when they come, and any time between then and now has a purpose and a beauty.

I think the most accurate example of this was the complete feeling of peace I felt this Valentines Day. I have historically spent most of them single, and the few that I haven’t have not led to me ending up with “the one”. I know plenty of people that bemoan the holiday, or that look forward to it longingly each year to have dates with flowers and gifts. I’ve traditionally been rather ambivalent towards the whole thing (though you can believe I’m all about that discounted chocolate on the 15th). As February rolled around, I anticipated the same thing for this year, until about a week and a half before the 14th. I was driving in my car, and just felt an overwhelming thankfulness for this season. I knew, with a surety that I still can’t fully explain, that I wasn’t in store for many more single Valentine’s Days and that what I really wanted to do with the ones I had left was to celebrate my friends and be thankful for the people that love me. A friend and I cobbled together a Galentines Brunch at my parents house and spent the morning laughing, loving and eating with 10 of our friends. It was precious, life-giving and undoubtedly better than any other Valentines Day I’ve ever had, single or otherwise.

I couldn’t pinpoint what it was about that whole situation that brought me so much peace and joy until recently, when I realized that it wasn’t actually the fact that I ate good food with good friends, but rather that I found reason to celebrate this season that would otherwise be wished away. And in doing so, I had the added bonus of making the world a little brighter for some people I love, too.

I think I’m right in the middle of another one, this time in my career, and while I would love to have it all locked down and life figured out, I think I want to celebrate this spot rather than frantically try to plan my life out from here. I want to be present more than I want to try to control all the possible scenarios and try to force success. I want to give myself permission to neglect my to-do lists and self improvement timelines, in favor of just being present where I am.

I want to sit in this season of preparation and not just begrudgingly endure it, but find reason to treasure it. I don’t know that I’ve ever actively wanted that before.

I have little to no idea what I’m doing, but I know it rings of truth and feels like peace, so I’m willing to step out and try it anyway.

Steady Heart

“I think you just need to sit in it. I know it’s killing you, but this place is exactly where you need to be.”

So said my therapist. I don’t think she could have found a phrase in the English language that makes me cringe harder.

 

I need action steps. The thought of sitting and waiting and being steady (when I’d rather charge ahead and work for the change I want) makes my skin itch from the inside. I feel useless, in the dark and frustrated. I, the do-er, become the wait-er, and I have been known to go to ridiculous lengths to avoid that space.

 

And yet…here I am again.

 

Back in this middle space that makes me want to yell and cry and even voluntarily clean my bathroom in an effort to feel like I have something to show for this time.

 

I am dead weight here. I contribute nothing, I fix nothing, I accomplish nothing, and I can be commended on nothing in this space, save sitting still. And yet, I know something will happen here. I know God well enough to know that work is being done, even when it’s not being driven by me.

 

A couple of the ladies from Bethel wrote a song last year called Steady Heart. I have a love/hate relationship with this particular song, because it wont quit describing what God wants from me when I want to spiral or frantically find a way to compile a plan, but is also such an accurate picture of what I want to be consistent in saying to the Lord. The chorus particularly poignant (though I genuinely recommend the entire song/album). It says: “Steady heart that keeps on going, steady love that keeps on holding, lead me on. Steady grace that keeps forgiving, steady faith that keeps believing, lead me on.”

 

I long to be steady when I can’t see my next move or what lies just around the corner. I want to be faithful, loving and gracious when the opportunity presents itself to spiral hard about the magnitude of the uncertainty facing me. I want to trust that God’s promises and plans are coming, regardless of how the situation looks right now. I want to come out the other side being able to say that I knew all along that God would deliver, and that I didn’t doubt him when the storm came. I also fail at all of it. A lot. I know that I should do and be better, and yet consistently, I resort to my own sad attempts at self preservation.

 

I am so quick to forget that the Lord is faithful. Quick to do a Hail Mary attempt at saving myself that accomplishes next to nothing. Quick to complain about the frustrations of it, or compare it to what I think it should be looking like, rather than accepting that it will probably look differently than I dream up because it isn’t actually my plan.

 

In this space that I keep finding myself, I am quick to ignore that little voice that asks me to consider the possibility that I am sitting still because patience must be grown. Because something about all of this waiting is leaving me better than I started, healthier than I was at the beginning. Because I’m not quite ready for the next step yet, or that it’s not quite ready for me. Because God is bringing His kingdom on earth – and while I am privileged to be a part of that process, it isn’t actually about me.

 

But God is. He is about me and for me, in every way that He could be. He doesn’t fail me, isn’t surprised by my doubt and cravings for productivity. He doesn’t have a tipping point where I have finally exhausted all forgiveness, or lose patience with me when I take two steps forward and three steps back. He is the steady heart that keeps on going, steady love that keeps on holding, the steady grace that keeps forgiving and steady faith that keeps believing. In me, to me, and for me. He sits with me in this space, whispering reassurances and affirmations to my weary and bruised spirit.

 

Keep going. You can do this. You are worthy. You are so precious to me. You are worthy of love. I love you. That doesn’t define you. You can do this. Keep going. I am with you. Just a little while longer. Don’t give up. I’m still here. You can do this. It will be worth it. Trust in me. I’m not leaving you. My grace covers this too. That’s okay, let’s try it again. I believe in you. I adore you. You are enough. You can do this. We will overcome even this. I’ve got this. I’ve got you.

Painfully Right

In this life I’ve led with Jesus, I have often felt like I am being called to weird, crazy, outlandish things. The last 7 years of my life have been some of the most adventurous and beautiful, but they have also been full to the brim of the Lord asking me to be open-handed with everything I wanted to hide away for myself.

 

I wanted control over my academic future and the skills I had honed to be just good enough to have perfect grades, but not enough to be doing my best. I wanted to continue deriving worth from my academic performance. Surrender.

 

I wanted to choose a career that had as little uncertainty as possible. I was going into a high powered profession, where there would always be a need, I could always find a job and I would always make enough money to pay back student loans and live comfortably. Surrender.

 

I wanted a spouse who would love me and with which existed a mutual attraction. That was my list. And that meant that I tried to fit several guys in the course of my teenage and early adulthood years into a box they weren’t meant to occupy, because I couldn’t understand how I was supposed to expect more than that. It felt like a pretty tall order as it was to me, so anything more was probably unrealistic and would leave me disappointed. Surrender

 

I wanted to continue living a life that was plagued with mental sickness. That feels weird to say, but really, if my only other option was bringing it into the light and letting the Lord and some very helpful friends and trained professionals help me deal with it, I was content to stay sick. Surrender

 

I wanted to plan out a timeline for the way my life would go. Career, family, neighborhood, pets – the whole 9 yards. To Do lists are cathartic to me, and a 5 year plan was no exception. It gave me certainty, and something to measure my life’s progress by. Surrender

 

I wanted to remain staunchly oblivious to the parts of the world that are painful and ruin the comfort I have in my own little bubble. I wanted to look past the starving, the sick, the poor, the marginalized because it makes it hard to acknowledge that that kind of injustice can exist down the street and still be content to be so wrapped up in my own life. Surrender

 

I wanted to have relationships with friends, family and significant others that were easy because they ignored conflict and difficult conversations. Keeping everything surface level until one day the stuffing becomes too much and you explode all over the place. It’s easier to procrastinate on the hard, real conversations until it all bubbles over. Surrender

 

I wanted to hide away from having to be vulnerable with my life and my doubt. I wanted to appear all together, and if I told the story of my life, it would gloss over the parts I am no good at, or routinely fail and fall short, and highlight the ways that I am an ideal Christian. I didn’t want to share my hurt or my fear with my friends, let alone the internet. I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I had invited people into my murky parts that might help keep me accountable, and respond with truth and grace when I expect them to judge me harshly. Surrender

 

I wanted to be successful by worldly standards, with my life conveniently together and perfect. I didn’t want to be in a situation where I had to ask for help sometimes to do things I wish I could do on my own, or where I needed other people or God to come in just to make things work at the very last second. Surrender

 

Each time, surrender has looked different. It’s had a different cost, and it’s taken wildly different amounts of time for me to come to the place on my knees where I tell the Lord that if it’s not His best, I don’t want it.

 

They tell you in church that the Lord has a plan for you, and that His ways are greater. But they often neglect to mention that you have to let go of things that seem good to make room for the Lord to give you things that are best. And that can be incredibly painful. That doesn’t make it any less right. It hurts and it’s comforting and a jumble of other emotions all at once that don’t actually make much sense beyond knowing that God is good.

 

Because often in that space, in that season when you have let go of the good, you are left holding nothing but the knowledge that the Lord has never failed you. You don’t have the best; you don’t have the neat, clear resolution you’re pining for. You have the heartache that comes from letting go of this good thing, this thing you had thought would be exactly enough according to your plans. You have the hope that the Lord won’t leave you hanging when He’s asked you to surrender, but you also have some really empty hands.

 

Brene Brown writes about it in her newest book Rising Strong. There is this place, a moment, where you’ve left what is comfortable and known behind you and that door is shut behind you, but the next door hasn’t yet opened. You are left to navigate the dark, and no matter how many times you find yourself in that situation, it doesn’t get any easier – with practice, you just have a little more faith that this middle space, this spot of complete uncertainty, is a part of the process and does eventually give way to something else.

 

I am no stranger to this middle space, but I still dread it. I’m currently existing in it for several different promises in my life – and it requires so much self death. Death to my desire to figure it all out, death to my love of timelines, death to my need for the right answer, right now. Feeling my way along in the dark feels viscerally painful when I am the queen of being prepared for random eventualities (which is why my trunk usually looks like some kind of knock-off boy scout troop lives there). I like to be prepared, physically and emotionally, for the task ahead. I like to find all of the exits and have strategies going in my head for how I’m going to charm this person, navigate this tricky situation and emerge victorious.

 

And in the dark, all I’m left with is the realization that God is Enough and one foot goes in front of the other.

 

Surrender. God is Enough. One foot in front of the other.

 

Surrender.

God is Enough.

One foot in front of the other.