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.”

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.

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.}

Take Heart

Sometimes life sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

Take heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being a Neighbor

I grew up in a Christian home in the 90’s and early 00’s, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that I grew up on Veggie Tales. I have seen every single episode, sung along to every weird song, and learned about biblical and social issues as they were played out by animated, goofy fruits and vegetables.

One of my favorite episodes was “Are You My Neighbor?” which retold the parable of the Good Samaritan. This may have something to do with the fact that the “Silly Songs with Larry” song was about Larry looking for his hairbrush, but I watched the entire episode enough times that it left an impression. For those of you who haven’t seen the episode, or haven’t seen it recently enough to remember, I’ll give you the abridged version:

Larry lives in Flibber-o-loo and Junior lives in Jibberty-lot. The residents of each of these towns wear a signature head piece (a shoe and a pot, respectively) and, because they think the other town’s choice in headwear is ridiculous, want nothing to do with each other. One day, Larry goes out on a road and gets robbed, with his attackers leaving him upside down in a hole, unable to get out. Two of his townsmen pass by, refusing to help him because they are otherwise engaged in their own lists of things to do. Finally, Junior discovers him, and even though neither town gets along or wants anything to do with the other, Junior recognizes that Larry needs help, and he helps him. He takes him to safety and pays for his lodging and medical bills. (And then the infamous “Oh where is my hairbrush?” song comes on, which I still sing when I can’t find things, and the episode goes on to its next part.)

When Jesus initially tells this parable, He is asked by a religious scholar what one needs to do to get into Heaven. Jesus asks him what Mosaic law said he had to do and the man recites teachings he had meditated on for most of his life, saying, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Jesus agrees and says that if the man does this, he will live. But the scholar wanted a more precise definition of who he was supposed to be caring for, so he asks, “And who is my neighbor?” He wanted a loophole that let him love the people that looked and thought like him, and could readily be classified as “his people”. He wanted to love the people within his own political party, and within his own religion – and he was hoping that Jesus would give him a palatable answer.

Instead, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. He concludes His story by asking, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?'”

I want to pause here for a second. Because the correct answer to Jesus’s question, at first glance, is all three of them. Regardless of city of origin or belief system – every single person who came across the man on that road was, at least passively, his neighbor. You could argue that the Levite and the Priest were more obviously his neighbor. They were all Jews, after all, while the Samaritan was not. It seems like the obvious choice that these two Jews would take care of their own. If anything, the scholar who Jesus is telling this story to has just outlined the reason why they should – eternal life at that point hinged upon loving God with everything and loving their neighbors selflessly.

And yet these two men hurried past him, choosing to ignore his need.

Jesus was not asking which of the three of them was inherently, religiously, or geographically his neighbor. He is asking which of the three men acted like a neighbor to the robbed man. Which of them, given the fact that the robbed man needed help, actively chose to be what a neighbor was supposed to be?

He was, by every definition, the two Jewish men’s neighbor, but they did not choose to be a neighbor to him. It was not convenient to come to his aid, nor did it benefit them in any tangible way, so they didn’t.

The one who acted like, who chose to be, a neighbor to him had every justifiable right to pass by the man. If you read the history of the Samaritans and the Jews – they were two groups that hated each other and treated the other poorly, if they even acknowledged the other at all. There were centuries of feuds and disagreements between the two peoples and it could have provided plenty of ammunition for the Samaritan man to walk by and let the Jewish man die. But he didn’t. He rescued him, tending to his wounds, placing him upon his own donkey and took him to an inn to recuperate, paying for the room upfront for as long as it took for the Jewish man to heal.

The scholar answers Jesus’s question by saying, “[His neighbor was] The one who showed him mercy.”

You all are my neighbors. You the republican, you the democrat, you the pro-lifer, you the pro-choicer, you the libertarian, you the atheist, you the agnostic, you the LGTBQ community member, you the immigrant, you the foreigner, you the Christian, you the Muslim – you are all, by right of being my fellow human beings, my neighbor. But am I being a neighbor to you? Am I the one that shows you mercy?

I want to be. I feel an ache in my spirit to be. I believe that the only way that I know to genuinely love you like Jesus loves you is to be a neighbor to you. And that means that I have to fight past my pride, my tendency to want to hoard my own money and resources, my need to not rock the boat and not step out of my comfort zone – to care for you in a way that is merciful. That is selfless.

I don’t have to agree with you, I don’t have to end up looking just like you – we are working towards unity, not uniformity. But when you need my help, how can I withhold it from you? How can I look at you and not do that which is within my means to help you? How can I say that I love you and not let that love move me to action?

The parable in Luke ends with the scholar having admitted to Jesus that the one who is a neighbor is the one who shows mercy and Jesus’s response to him. Jesus could have gloated that He outsmarted the scholar. He could have further embarrassed the scholar by pointing out all of the ways that the he had been failing to meet the mandate for eternal life. He could have, but He didn’t. He instead reiterated the same commandment that the scholar already knew, that he was already practicing, and coaxed him to be inclusive. To expand the perimeter around those he considered to be his people. To be, in both name and action, neighborly to those who had always been his neighbors.

Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” }

Making Waves

Confession time.

I range from moderately anxious to completely terrified, anytime that I feel like I’m supposed to be writing about controversial topics. I hate making waves. Hate it. I spent years actively avoiding creating confrontation, even though I knew I felt differently than a lot of my peers and community. I desperately tried to channel my frustrations or controversial tidbits into reasons to be thankful and joyful. I filtered anything I liked or posted on social media for fear of starting something I didn’t want to finish. I ignored this aching need to say something in defense of people who were being railroaded or criminalized in a social setting. Sure, I would send private messages or text messages lending my support behind the scenes, but to do anything publicly was too scary.

I remember the first time I wrote a blog post in college that admitted, out loud and in public, that I was a feminist. It sat as a draft on my blog for 2 months before I worked up the courage to even label myself on my own site. The first time I felt like I was supposed to post about the pro-life/pro-choice debate, I cried the entire time I wrote it. When I posted a Facebook status about racial inequality and Black Lives Matter for the first time, I talked myself out of it for the better part of a day, and had to leave my phone in the other room after I posted it so that I didn’t immediately take it down. I am not what one would consider a particularly bold activist. If I post or write about something, it because I’ve admitted defeat to the still, small voice that won’t stop nudging me to say something.

Often, I feel like I’ve said too much, done too much, out of a desire to make myself look and sound smart, to come back and say anything now. I minimized, shamed and demeaned with the best of them. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I was pushing for justice – and that sense of righteous indignation burned through bridges faster than I knew. I told dissenters that they were being divisive, and welcomed those who thought like me while turning away those that didn’t. I told those who were struggling that they only needed to work harder, to do more to pull themselves up without help. I told myself that too. I accused people and groups of misusing grace, and brandished scripture like a weapon.

I thought I was doing what I should do. And remembering the things I’ve said and done in the name of that crusade makes me feel ill. It makes me feel like I have no right to stand up now and that any right to say something worthwhile died out long ago. I’m afraid that one of these times I post something that flies in the face of who I have been, someone will call me on it. They’ll use my own words against me, and I’ll have nothing to say in my defense.

I’m afraid that I’ll alienate myself from and hurt people that I love by speaking things they don’t agree with. By claiming that my Jesus feels and says things about people that they don’t see in Him. I’m afraid that I’ll go too far, and people that I have spent my life loving won’t want me anymore. That they won’t continue to open their doors to me, or that they’ll ridicule me behind my back. I’m afraid that these conversations I attempt to start will never achieve anything beyond creating discord. I’m afraid that I’ll step out and pour out my heart on these things only to later find out that I was wrong. I’m afraid I’ll speak up and be met with condescension and lose my temper because I let it become more about my pride than the One I’m standing for.

And for a long time, the fear of those things was louder than anything else. It choked out any ability or willingness on my part to say something or be something that deviated from what I thought I needed to be. It was louder than Jesus, as He consistently invited me to stand for the things I believed in and asked that I trust Him to give me the words and the bravery to keep being seen. It told me that unless I had a fully detailed battle plan, I was going to certainly fail, so I might as well sit this one out.

What I didn’t know then, and still sometimes forget now, is that fear sounds a lot bigger and scarier than it actually is. Speaking about something that will be met with resistance is still routinely stressful for me, but it’s also rather like a muscle – the more I work with it, the stronger it gets. And if God is leading me to and through it, I will see more good and more growth come of it than I thought possible. I’m coming to realize that my dislike of conflict may never fully go away, but that being brave looks like being scared and willingly doing it anyway.

This process requires grace. I spend too much time worrying about how people will respond, and find myself needing to repent for being anxious. I spend too much time waiting to see what others will say, and I find myself needing to repent for not stepping out when and where the Lord has asked me to. I finally step out, and people insult my intelligence or integrity and I feel the anger come rushing in – and sometimes I let it free in ways that aren’t helpful, so I find myself needing to repent and ask forgiveness for making it about me. Sometimes I get irritated that people aren’t seeing what I wish they’d see, and I forget that I was worse once. I find myself needing to repent for losing sight of humility and the fact that I’m not the one who does the heart and mind changing.

And though it makes me more than a little uncomfortable to think about, I may work up the courage to speak, find ways to do so gently and with love, and even have a hand in people deciding to rethink their own stances and dig deeper – only to find out that I was wrong. But I think as long as my intention is to create conversations that are not about how smart or skilled I am, focusing on ways that we can be better at loving God and our neighbor (whatever that ends up looking like), all of this is worth any discomfort that comes up along the way.

Be gentle with me, friends, as I am doing everything I can to be gentle in return. Be gentle with yourselves too, trusting that whatever the Lord is doing here is going to be for the good of us all in the end. Consider being receptive to things that are different and uncomfortable, please, and be willing to bring me things that are different and uncomfortable – working towards unity, together as we’re all different.

Let’s be a brave people, a just people, a kind people – who stand for what we believe in without holding down or climbing on anyone to get there.

Standing Tall

I’m struggling.

I make it my mission to never publish faster than my compassion can keep up. When I do, when I write things that burn with the white-hot brand of self-righteousness, things that announce to the world that I’m better and holier and you’d better get in line, I stop having anything worthwhile to say.

I read each of these blogs dozens of times before they get posted publicly. I get everything down, and then force myself to walk away so that whatever emotion spurred on this writing has a chance to cool before anything is put out that I can’t take back. I have published and posted while I still saw red, and done untold damage to the people who have invited me into their lives because in that moment, I chose feeling right over being kind. I chose to brandish my truth like a sword, rather than letting love temper it to be something that builds relationships and changes hearts and minds.

And though I know that I am not alone in this practice, that thousands of others are doing their best to reign in the outrage, the hurt, the despair at the carelessness to which words are being thrown around on social media and the internet – sometimes it seems like the vitriol is stronger. Sometimes it feels like this need to be the loudest and the quickest draw is destined to drown out any and all compassion faster than it can be distributed. We get so caught up in the need to be right. The need to surround ourselves with people who agree with us. The need to tell it like it is. The need to post that status, share that meme, quote that figurehead – whatever it is that we do to ensure that in this battle of words on a screen, the other person is more wounded in the end.

I did that. I’m exceptionally good at arguing. I’m good at making the point that is hurtful but also touches the soft spot that usually ends up granting me a win. I’m good at hurting people to climb my way up to the top, and prove that nobody wants to be right more than me. I’m good at researching facts. I can find snippets of things that let me talk my way in and out of nearly any argument.

But at what cost?

Because at the end of the day, that version of me is selfish and snide. She throws barbs to people that she categorizes as a “them”. She is exclusive and surrounds herself with people who think, act and look like she does. She makes generalizations about people’s character and quality based on their political parties and affiliations. She grossly undervalues people when it suits her and she dehumanizes them when strategy indicates a way to win.

Having been that girl, and working hard to be someone who reads the blog posts and Facebook statuses 30 times to make sure that I weed out harmful things – I can honestly say that I prefer compassion. Yes, I win less arguments. I do my best to be willing to open dialogue with people even when I know they don’t agree with me. I sometimes find myself in dialogue with people that I know don’t respect my opinions or my ability to form them. I fight down my pride and the need to vindicate myself in an effort to listen more than I speak. I also fail at it a lot, and have to come back and apologize even when it provides the other party a chance to hold something against me.

I struggle when I know that something is wrong or unjust, and I don’t know how to temper that anger with love. I feel the call to speak up try to claw its way out of me, and I have to wrestle, to sit in it and roll it around in my head until I find a way to speak my heart without pride. It can be infuriating. But I never regret the times when I have waited until I can find a way to say what needs to be said without throwing stones. Please don’t misunderstand, choosing to say nothing in the face of injustice because I can’t immediately find a nice way to say it also isn’t the answer. Sometimes, even the nicest of truth stings a little, but I believe that we are better, kinder, and gentler when we do the best we can to infuse the truth decency demands of us with as much genuine love as is possible.

I won’t lie to you, it’s slow going. It’s exhausting. It’s one of those things you work at and work at and work at, feeling like you’ve got little to nothing to show for it beyond the knowledge that you did the best that you could. But I’ve also seen more change in this painfully slow process than I have from every argument I’ve ever won, combined. Change in me, change in the environment around me, change in those around me, change in the way we discuss contentious issues – it is happening. Little by little, bit by bit, it is making a difference.

I wrote a post just after the election results were announced, where I talked about the fact that the day would come where I would stand taller and love more deeply because of those results. Because of the vitriol and anger of the election season. Because of the fact that I saw people I loved saying that this candidate was God’s candidate, despite treating people, that he viewed as less than him, awfully. That day for me has come. For me, resisting the precedent modeled by this candidate to be angry, petty, hurtful, demeaning and prideful looks like following my convictions and doing everything I can to saturate anything that I write, post or say with compassion.

Being willing to stand, even if means I’m alone, for the things I believe in. For the people I believe in. For those who have been silenced, marginalized and minimized. But to do any and all of those things in the most inclusive way I am capable of. To start conversations far more often than I ever climb on a soapbox. To temper each of those with grace and love. To care more about the people than I do my ability to be right. To be willing when I inevitably fail at that, to get up, do what can be done to make it right and try again.

I don’t know what standing taller and loving more deeply looks like for you. Maybe, it sounds a lot like mine, maybe it’s got nothing in common beyond the human mandate to be decent. Maybe you aren’t even ready to think about it – that’s okay too. It was not at all my intention to assume that my way is the only way, or even the best way, but I do know this: When we are willing to struggle to be humble, kind and find ways to speak truth that’s been tempered with love – vitriol doesn’t win. Hatred, divisiveness, selfishness, and violence don’t win.

When we give everyone a seat at the table, when we are determined to do more talking with than talking at, when we let go of needing to be vindicated, when we worry more about the the way we speak to people than how many arguments we win, when we prioritize compassion above being the loudest, when we care more about the people on the other side of the aisle than we do about surrounding ourselves with people who will like our Facebook statuses and pat our backs – we win.

Welcome Home

I’ve spent a really long time misunderstanding the value and purpose of repentance. From a pretty young age I knew that we didn’t have condemnation in Jesus. This led me to conclude, that unless I majorly messed up, asking for any extra forgiveness from God was a moot point. If I was really sorry for whatever I’d done, I needed to change my behavior, and that was better than some whispered apology for whatever I’d done wrong. As long as I worked really hard to be good, and acknowledged that I needed forgiveness to get into the Christian club, I was checking my Good Christian Girl box.

Much of my faith as an adult has been relearning grace, discovering and removing the places that legalism had taken root in me, and finding more and more ways that I have missed the mark. With the best of intentions, with my Sunday clothes on, wanting to do and say things that were Godly – I blew it. And I’m not talking a one time deal either. I mess up often. So, so, so often. I am impatient when I should be still. I am conniving when I should be trusting. I am anxious and stressed out when I should be at peace. I waver when I should be faithfully rooted. I spin and I scramble to create my own stability and security when I should remember that God has never left me hanging. Not a single time. But if anything is possible to ensure that I don’t have to sit in this space of such need for God to provide, I’m going to find it and cling to it. I have reached for my to-do list and planner to try to organize my stress away, rather than go to the source of my peace and joy. I spend more time than I should choosing to sit in the hurt and the pain of circumstances, rather than being quick to forgive.

Faced with the laundry list of marks against me, I feel an overwhelming need to repent. But this brings me to an interesting conundrum. Much of what I have learned, as a lifetime member of the Church, about repentance is that it is the intentional turning away from sin. Doing the old 180º turn, and deciding that I was going to do better. This fails, every time. Maybe not immediately, I’m rather skilled at keeping sinking ships afloat for a lot longer than anyone expected, but eventually they still sink. I think this is, at least in part, why I didn’t really understand or buy into the repentance as an integral part of life ideology. My life is full of accomplishments, but it also reads like a compare and contrast list of things that work when God is in control and fall apart when I’m at the helm.

Repentance, then, has looked something like this. I do something that I either know immediately or realize later is not up to par with who I want to be. I feel guilt. I decide I don’t want to do that thing any more. I pray about that decision and feel peace. I work really hard to not do that thing any more, often without addressing whatever underlying causes exist. I have the best of intentions, but eventually find myself in a situation where I am tempted to do that thing again, and I don’t choose correctly.

And the cycle begins anew. Often with my own inner voice or someone else quoting Romans 6, reminding me that grace is not meant for me to abuse by continually failing. I believed that grace was meant to be used sparingly and that if I needed it with any real frequency, I must be a bad Christian. If I needed to repent routinely, I must be reveling in my sin, and subsequently abusing grace or backsliding. So I did my best to avoid and not need either one of them. I simply had to work harder, have better self control, and become better at a larger variety of things, so that I didn’t fail and I didn’t need to repent and abuse grace.

I was a hamster, and striving to make myself holy was my wheel.

And though I worked and worked and worked, I never arrived anywhere. I studied scripture, I set unrealistic expectations on myself in the name of a holy life, I was the leader of my own torch-and-pitchfork mob ready with the tar and feather for my own sins (and everyone else’s). I couldn’t do enough, or be enough to fix myself on my own. It took the guilt that should have been edifying and the thing that led me closer to Jesus, and transformed it into an ugly, score-keeping ball of shame that told me I was so unworthy I shouldn’t even bother hoping to be anything better than what I already was. That shame took over and did its best to ruin the good in my life. It suffocated anything that wasn’t perfect, and it told me that I had no business asking for help with things I was capable of working toward on my own.

Part of the healing process, the shame removing process, has been becoming reacquainted with grace. Giving myself permission to need it in obnoxious quantities. Giving myself permission to be broken and flawed and still adored by Jesus. Giving myself permission to be imperfect, to not have all of the answers, and still be willing to be used by God in ways that are far too wonderful for me. Recognizing that the only one who has ever limited the amount of grace I am allowed to have is me, and working to be so much more liberal in my use of it – both with myself and with the people around me.

That’s been painful, difficult and incredibly beautiful. I’ve seen God so at work in those broken places that I’ve allowed grace to come in and complete. It’s been exactly what I needed, but it’s not the whole picture. Grace is enough and sufficient for any and all of life’s problems, but it doesn’t absolve us of the need for repentance.

I’ve had to relearn what repentance means, and how fundamentally sacred an act it is. I spent so long looking at it as failure and defeat, rather than a chance to bring myself to the Lord to be covered in love instead of condemnation. I made the idea of repentance into Judgment personified, when all it has ever been is coming home to rest at the feet of Jesus, admitting that I need Him. That I need to be saved, that I need grace, that I need strength, peace, joy, and forgiveness. There are still consequences to whatever choices I’ve made, and I still am responsible for working my way to apology and amends when I’ve blown it, those don’t disappear because grace is sufficient. Those things may still be hard and painful but they don’t separate me from grace and peace, from a life lived with Jesus. If anything, when I admit I need Jesus is when I see the most growth, the most life-change, and the most healing.

The beauty of repentance, of this knee-bent-surrender, is that forgiveness is swift and constant. We will never come to a place of repentance only to find ourselves rebuffed and turned away. We will never find those things thrown back in our faces the next time we miss the mark. We will never be found lacking because we are willing to admit that we need help. Each act of surrender is met with the same kind of joy and homecoming celebration described at the return of the Prodigal Son. Our Father puts robes on our bodies and rings on our fingers as He celebrates the homecoming of His precious child. When we expect demotion, to be shamed and put in our place for our mistakes, we are met with open arms. Despite the scenarios we’ve imagined and the lectures we’ve feared in this moment, what we hear instead is precious and a balm to our souls.

“Welcome home.”

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