Lines in The Sand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Way Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

127th verse

Hi again, friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is peace and rest in the knowing.

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

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

Nothing To Prove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And still God persisted.

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

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

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

Would you like to sit down?

Until it Sinks

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

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

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

I was furious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Story I Tell

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

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

It’s terrible.

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

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

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

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

Enter, truth sitting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Heart

Sometimes life sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

Take heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.