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.

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.

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.

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.”

The Grace Option

This morning, I woke up feeling a bit raw.

In situations like this, my first response is to write, because I tend to process and find catharsis through blogging and translating the thoughts in my head into something tangible. So I jump from this topic or that one, starting half a dozen drafts because I feel like I need to share from the heart, but the thought of being more vulnerable chafes at the already-tender spots. The part of me that likes to forget how rarely I actually have all of this figured out, tries to convince me that if I power through, if I keep sharing even though I know that I need to give myself permission to be affected, it will make me feel better, faster.

I know it doesn’t work that way, but I cannot be faulted for missing an opportunity to try to streamline emotions. They are messy and hard and ripe with ways for me to mess up. They make life vibrant and colorful, but they are also the surest way to get hurt, and I am a master hurt avoider.

Sometimes I need the reminder (and I suspect that I’m not alone) that it’s okay to feel how you feel. It’s okay to admit that you are frustrated and disappointed, and that doesn’t mean that you are the losing party. It’s okay to not have everything figured out, or to fail and have to pick yourself back up. It’s certainly not fun, and it doesn’t feel good – but it’s part of the process. It’s okay for hurt, anger and grief to not be linear. To be full of relapse and progress. It does eventually get better, and you are better for having gone through the struggle of being present and sitting in your own discomfort. But it can’t really ever get better, until you slow down enough to name the injury and let healing happen in a way that isn’t forced.

I know how to hide behind therapy and conversations that make me sound really self-aware. Often times I feel self-aware, largely because I’ve done a lot of work to get to where I am now. I just also know how to say the right words and psychoanalyze the crap out of other people so I can avoid having to turn the focus on myself. Or worse, so that I have something to do rather than sit in the parts of my own experience that are screaming for my attention. Because at the end of the day, no matter how much training you have or hours you’ve sat on a couch, experiencing messy emotions is still messy. Processing hurt and grief, letting yourself be seen and known, letting yourself revel in joy without being worried about the fallout, loving flawed and broken people, discovering ways to love yourself – they are all difficult journeys that are full to the brim of times where everyone involved misses the mark.

In those situations, we really have two options. We can be quick to reach for judgment in an attempt to feel vindicated or protected, or we can muddle our way though choosing to revel in grace. I’ve done both. The judgment side, especially when I’m the one who should have seen it coming or should have done more to prevent the outcome, gives me a list of things that I need to work on. It gives me a list of things to make sure I never let myself do again to avoid getting hurt, or bruised. It makes me feel like I learned something from the situation, even if all I learned was how to keep people at arms length.

The grace option is so much harder.

It extends forgiveness in obnoxious amounts, even when I want to stay wrapped up in my hurt or anger or self-recrimination blanket. It reminds me that failure is not the end of the story, and that I am worth doing the work to pick myself back up. It is quick to point out that any process, this one included, is full of failure, missteps and trial by fire. It reminds me that I am not valued by what I bring to the table, how I look, or who wants to invest in me – but that I am already enough before I can begin to count the successes and the failures. It has a mountain of evidence to support it’s claims that regardless of the injury, being seen and known by people who have earned it is always worth the risk. It doesn’t yell, shame or degrade me for failing and falling, it just sits with me until I’ve caught my breath and encourages me to get back up when I’m ready.

It is convicting and persistent, but it is unimaginably gentle. And I find the more I choose the grace option, the more gentle I am too. Gentle with myself, gentle with the journey, gentle with those that love me and with those that hurt me.

I can’t say for sure that being gentle makes the healing go any faster, but it certainly makes the process the tiniest bit more bearable – which somehow manages to make all the difference.

Who and Where I am

Some days, I am so happy with my life that I can hardly stand it.

Naturally, in those moments, the darker parts of my mind start to search diligently for things that must be improved and increased, because the work must never be done. Without fail, I find the things that can always be made better, more presentable, more desirable, more polite, more palatable. And without my even realizing, the dizzy wonder I had about the every day life gives way to striving and exhaustion.

I’m so tired of it. Tired of feeling like if I just can fix this issue, improve this part of me, get this degree or that one, land this job, pay that bill, date that person – then I’ll finally be able to slow down. I know better. I know that unless you consciously decide to give yourself permission to slow down, you never will. I know that years can go by in a blink while you are determined to just earn one more thing.

I don’t want to live that way. I don’t think I want to live a life devoid of self improvement either, but I am my best self when I’ve made peace with who and where I am. When I can look at friends in their careers, with their spouses, raising their children, and be happy for them without wondering what is wrong with me that my life doesn’t look like that. I want a stable career, to have student loans be nothing more than a memory, a spouse that I love, admire and will work through life with, and children to help shape into grown humans. I want them, and for whatever reason I haven’t found my way to all of those milestones yet.

But when I get caught up in that comparison, when I start to put my own measures of worth and value in how closely my life, spirit and body look like The Jones’s – the first thing to go is my ability to be content in my own skin. And I’m not sure there is an achievement in the world worth that cost.

I’ve gained two diplomas, a ton of knowledge and understanding of the world and my place in it, the beginnings of a career, more shoes than I should have, definitely more nail polish than is necessary and a thousand other things that may seem impressive (or superfluous) to the outside observer, since beginning this journey of healing and whole-hearted living. And not one of those things is more precious to me than the fact that when I come to a complete stop, I genuinely like the person that I am. Not a single one.

This is perhaps the first season of my life where I can say with total honesty that I enjoy my own company. Don’t get me wrong, I still know all too well how to forget it, but when I stop and take stock of who and where I am, I’m not afraid of the person reflecting back at me. My relationship with loving my body is a complicated one, but it’s worlds better than where it used to be. I’m not afraid of who I’ll be if the things I know how to offer people stop being impressive. I am talented, creative, kind, thoughtful and intelligent – even if somebody from the sidelines thinks to tell me they don’t think I am. I am not what the voice of Dysmorphia tells me I am. I am enough.

Even when I start to be frustrated that I don’t have more of my life figured out, or that despite my best efforts I still don’t love to run, or that my savings account doesn’t have more zeroes. Even when I am quick to forget that I can’t be all things to all people. Even when I fail at loving and being gentle with myself. Even when I fall further down the “wouldn’t it be nice if I had…” rabbit hole than I should, given how blessed I am. Even if there comes a day when I am surrounded on all sides by people who are determined to convince me that I’m not. Even if I have to choose myself over things that could be wonderful a thousand times. Even if at the end of the day, all I’ve got left is the Lord and my own company.

Even then, I’m enough.

And though you may not believe me, I promise that you are too. It’s one of those things you can be afraid to believe about yourself until that moment when it finally seeps down into your bones so far that you just know. And you’ll be quick to pick up the old way of thinking that told you that you were lacking, or entirely too much, especially at first. But keep going. Retraining your brain to choose to hear the quiet voice of truth over the one that yells your worst fears is not an easy task, but it’s so worth it. Sit in truth. Rest in it.

You are enough. You are loved, worthy, precious and enough.

Let’s all slow down a little, celebrate who and where we are, and let truth begin to reshape the broken parts of us. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile.

Remember to Humanize Them Again

I think we have collectively forgotten to humanize people who are different in some way than we are. I say forgotten because I’d like to believe that there is enough goodness in each of us that we wouldn’t intentionally choose to degrade someone, and that the problem instead lies with forgetting to remember to humanize them again.

Webster’s Dictionary defines humanizing as:

  1. a  :  to represent as human :  attribute human qualities to

    b  :  to adapt to human nature or use

  2. 2:  to make humane

That definition, while accurate, is not the most relatable or easy to wrap one’s head around when you may not be familiar with the concept. When viewed literally, it makes my claim seem rather foolish. Of course we give human qualities to other people. They are, as we all are, human. We aren’t going around classifying the people that don’t agree with us as little green martians and those that do as normal humans.

Let me explain it another way. Imagine with me please, that you and your parents were on the way home from seeing a movie. You’d had to park a little bit further from the theater than you’d have liked, but were in a hurry on your way in, so you took what spot you could get. After the movie, it was significantly darker and your car seemed a lot further away, but you all hurried back to your vehicle, ready to be home. You are nearly there when you are stopped by two individuals brandishing weapons, intending to rob you. Though you and your parents were complying, the attackers fatally shoot both of your parents, and take off.

Okay, yes, I did just loosely describe Bruce Wayne’s parents’ death with a few artistic liberties. But stay with me please, the thought of that potentially being real, the thought of losing both of my parents in such a senseless tragedy, makes me so nauseous I can’t let myself go too far down the rabbit hole.

Now let’s say that this story gets picked up by the media, as it would, and the internet shows up in all it’s glory with comments about how it was probably your own fault for living in a city with high crime rates, for parking so far away, for not immediately just giving anything up, for not having a weapon handy to shoot said attackers, for even going to see a movie at night, and a thousand other cruel, senseless comments. You, the sole survivor of this attack, are horrified and angered that anyone would try to pin this blame on anyone other than the people that killed your parents. You just lost two people you love most in life, and these masses are quick to try to pick your tragedy apart to lay blame where it doesn’t belong or try to further their own cause.

You’ve become a headline. A case to be studied, with circumstances and factors to be evaluated. You aren’t someone who lost your parents in an unfathomable way – you are entertainment, you are famous, you are a statistic, you are an object of fascination. You aren’t human anymore in the eyes of those who choose to remove any amount of empathy from your situation. People will tweet terrible things about you, you will be used to further careers, you’ll probably become a meme. You’ve been dehumanized, Bruce Wayne.

This happens every day. On some level, it’s a coping mechanism. The internet has made an entire world’s worth of tragedy only a click away, and if we let ourselves feel each situation as deeply as it deserved, we would be emotionally spent all of the time. To survive, and stay up to date with the news cycle, we become desensitized to death, war, famine, poverty, sickness, joy, life – you name it, and we’re probably not that impressed. I don’t think choosing to limit the amount of emotional space that news stories take up in your own life is necessarily a bad thing. But I think it is incredibly dangerous to forget or ignore that we have chosen to become desensitized when situations demand that we treat people as human beings.

When we can look at millions of people who have been displaced from their own country under threat of death or worse – and refer to them as skittles that include a few that have been poisoned. Skittles. Mothers, grandmothers, daughters, fathers, sons, brothers, sisters, people. When we can look at famous people who have been robbed at gun point and make statements like “but should we really feel bad when you are that rich?” or “She shouldn’t have flaunted her expensive jewelry if she didn’t want to get robbed”. When we can look at cases of rape and sexual assault and pin the blame on the clothing rather than the attacker. When we can interact with people anonymously over the internet and tell them to kill themselves for being irritating. When we can publicly call for assassination of political candidates we don’t agree with. When we loudly proclaim that illegals are stealing our jobs and are probably criminals, while simultaneously forgetting that people we see and know every day are the very people we’ve just slandered. When we forget, that like us, each of these people we reduce to an object has a story and life we know relatively nothing about. When we can do these things and be proud of ourselves, we have become completely oblivious to our own dehumanizing of other people.

Nationally, we seem to have a pretty severe case of foot in mouth syndrome. But I think we do it so often, we’ve stopped feeling bad. (Hello again, desensitization.) We call it honesty, and being real, when it’s really just loss of focus.

I’m all for limiting who gets a say in how you live your life. The people who matter to you should be the ones with the greatest influence. The ones who get to comment with any credibility on your character, or your potential. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the people aren’t still human. That they aren’t still worthy of love and belonging. That they don’t still deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That they don’t still deserve justice, compassion and decency – regardless of country of origin, zip code, religion, skin color, political party, sexual orientation, or criminal history.

I for one, am feeling no small amount of conviction about the seasons of my life where I have forgotten to humanize people who are different than me. I am a better person when I remember that they are so loved, so treasured, so precious – even if I’d rather forget. And though I’m getting better at feeling like I am the odd man out on these things…on this one, I need to know I’m not alone in this. That on both sides of the aisle, we are fighting to humanize what has been dehumanized. To treat people, even those we may never meet face to face, humanely. To retrain our brains to see people as people, not statistics, or headlines, or a set of circumstances to be picked apart at our discretion.

I don’t think we have a chance of getting any better – any more compassionate, any more forgiving, any more whole – until we figure out how to do that.

You First. Always.

I think I have a tendency to want to cling to God’s promises more than I do God himself.

It takes me so long to settle into resting in grace and accepting things the Lord has for me that somewhere along the journey from first recognition to acceptance, I lose track. Little by little, what consumes my energy and my time is the anticipation and preparation of the thing I’m waiting for. It all starts out innocently enough, with prayer for this person and that one, for this job, for that interview, for clarity and focus in this relationship. But before I know what’s happened, I spend more time praying for that person or that one, for that job or interview, for this relationship and that one, than I do simply communing with my creator.

My view of a day, then, becomes unfortunately tangled with how well those aspects of my life are doing. How much progress is being made? Have I succeeded in any of them? Can I put a check next to that line in my pretty floral planner? Am I doing everything I can to make those dreams a reality and those promises come into being?

When my answer is yes, I feel like I deserve the things God has promised me.

When my answer is no, I work even harder to try to force a yes.

In that space, I am not mindful of self-care. I do not listen to my body when it is more tired than it should be, or when it gets sick more than normal. I don’t listen to my spirit when it is discontent, and can’t seem to find a place of peace and rest. I definitely don’t listen to my Jesus as he calls me home. But why would I? Aren’t I, after all, doing everything He is asking of me? Aren’t I working with all I have towards earning his promises and gifts to me? Aren’t I supposed to throw myself into this path, His path, with fervor?

I manage to lose sight, yet again, of the reality that the purpose of this Christianity business, of this life, is relationship with Jesus. It does not benefit me even a little to forgo that relationship in favor of working really hard to get to the promised returns. And yet, I am exceptionally good at being unaware as I do just that.

I want to live a life that reflects that nothing matters more to me than my relationship with Jesus. Not my job, not paying down student loans, not the promise of a family and husband of my own, not owning a house and having my life together, not esteem and respect of the public, not degrees, not fame, not notoriety, not blog posts full of sage wisdom, not messages that reach a dozen people or a hundred, or ten-thousand. Just Jesus.

That my heart would willingly surrender anything and everything else if it means that Jesus would come first. Achieving any one of those things at the expense of this relationship couldn’t possibly be worth it. Couldn’t possibly be fulfilling or worthy of defining my life.

That I would desire nothing more in this life than a life spent with Jesus. That my hands would always be open, and my eyes fixed on the One who gives, not the things He brings. That my money, my time, my intellect, my compassion, my passion, and my drive would all be home in Him. That before I work to bring Him glory, speak to those who He loves, or follow Him out across the world, I would guard my relationship with Him like priceless treasure.

That my prayer would be frequent, but that every single one coming from my lips would be grounded in “You first. Always.”

Tethers Me Home

I’m sitting in my car, as it’s traveling the road to my house, weeping and yelling at God. I’m angry because I feel like doors are closing on me left and right. I’m angry because I feel like I am being asked to give and give of myself to people who don’t always deserve it. I’m angry because I trust God in a desperate way that I can’t fully explain, but I don’t even begin to understand Him. I’m angry because I want more than anything to not have to keep showing up, keep being present, keep standing in blind faith, and yet I know that I want to have enough faith to not throw in the towel. I’m angry because I want to lean into the discomfort in theory, but having to practice that as much as I have been is irritating and exhausting. I feel helpless and claustrophobic, and it’s translating to me being royally ticked off at the Creator of the universe.

And I’m not mincing words.

I think if you put a bug in my car, you’d hear so many things that would leave you concerned for my mental health. Not the least of those being outlandish, unfiltered, seemingly one-sided conversations with God. Not surprisingly, at least not to anyone who also partakes in these kind of conversations, I also work towards peace on a lot of heavy, uncomfortable things in my tiny grey car. I manage to rail, cry and hurl hurting words out into the open, and come away feeling lighter, even if my problems aren’t fixed just yet.

This may be one of my favorite things about God. He is enough to get mad at. He doesn’t try to minimize the hurt I’m feeling, or explain it all away. He doesn’t get angry when I see red, and need to get everything off of my chest. He isn’t surprised when I don’t handle emotions and vulnerability right the first time, and there is always grace when I am expecting condemnation. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating when I want answers and still feel left in the dark, but there’s something precious about the knowledge that I can get mad, overreact, be unreasonable, find myself justified in my anger – and I’m still loved. His plans are still for my good. There is no retaliation. My words don’t ever get thrown back at me in anger or used as barbs to hurt me later.

I have, for most of my life, done what I can to be smaller. Not just physically, but in the amount of space I take in relationships or interactions. I have done everything I knew to do to be the least amount of burden on the people I care about and want to like me. That translated to me minimizing my own needs and stuffing things down in an effort to not cause waves for the other person. There were boyfriends, friends and family members that I was afraid to let myself be emotive around, because it could hurt the relationship. If I was angry, I could be seen as crazy and overreacting. If I was hurt or sad, I would be a drag, a downer and a drain on that person.

And while I’d like to think I’ve gotten better, in recent years, at letting myself be seen, even when I’m not polished and convenient, it is healing to my spirit when I can just be, without worry. I have several friends who have earned the right to be the ones I lean on, confide in and show the whole me (I think everyone should have at least a couple of them – they help keep you sane), but beyond even them, knowing that I can rant and rail at God, I can be too loud, too brash, too anything and still be ridiculously, completely loved…it changes things.

It paves the way for the kind of contentment that can only come from opening yourself fully to being known and adored by your creator. It removes the need for platitudes, biblical or otherwise, that try fill space in the face of heartache, pain and anger. It sends a double portion of grace your way, and makes you more willing to be handing it out, because you are secure in it’s abundance for you. It is the peace in surrender after you’ve found yourself at the end of your rope, having yelled until you have nothing else to say and cried until no more tears will come.

It is further reminder that nothing you can do can separate you from the love of Jesus.

It is peace, that somehow never fails to be enough, even when the problems aren’t solved and the answers haven’t come.

Even when the answers that come aren’t the ones I want to hear, or the solutions to the problem that end up presenting themselves don’t ever seem to be more than just enough. Even when I find myself in positions to relinquish things I’ve sought after and prayed for for years. Even when I end up in a situation that asks me to make scary, hard choices. Even when I may end up holding nothing in my hands, and may end days with the people I love not supporting the steps I take. Even then.

I am utterly adored by the One who spoke life into being. He creates space for me to be hurt when I’m hurting, angry when I’ve been set off, joyful when I look for things to celebrate and at peace when I don’t have everything figured out.

That love isn’t logical, but it’s what tethers me home. Not to any spot on a map, but to a place of peace and rest with the One who sees me fully and chooses me still.