Saturday, December 20, 2014

When the Light seems small

Her words sank to the ocean depths of my heart. Scornful words spoken out of deep pain and loneliness. Christmas is coming, and her would-be-carefree teenage body is carrying a child she did not expect, nor does she want. She is lost, broken, and alone this Christmas. And the Light could not seem more dim to her.

Really, she joins the ranks of countless others who feel stretched to the breaking and lost amidst relentless but false promises of happiness in this Christmas season. 
"Where is the Light?" she asks. 

Yes...when the darkness presses in, where is the Light?

When you feel lost and sad and alone, where is the Light

I read, "In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Does the Light seem small to you this Christmas? Do you feel buried under the heaping darkness, crushed by the weight of the world?

No matter how big or painful or vast your darkness is, it can never extinguish the Light that entered our humanity so many Christmases ago. Your darkness will never overcome the Light, will never be too much for Emmanuel, God with us. 

The world promises more happiness with more stuff, more food, more more more. Emmanuel does not promise more happiness, but more presence. God with us, no matter how messy we are...Light that will never be extinguished by darkness, no matter how deep your darkness is. 

For you who face pain, loneliness, any amount of darkness this week...Christmas is for you. Emmanuel, God with us...Light that is not overcome by darkness. This Jesus, who said "take heart! For I have overcome the world"...He is for you, He is with you, He is greater than your darkness. Take heart, friend. The Light will not be extinguished. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Day I Said Thank You...and They Blessed My Socks Off (Friendships, Part 2)

"Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise..." (Proverbs 13:20).

"Two are better than one, for they have a good return for their labor: If either of them fall down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

I forever have precious memories tucked away in my heart. Memories of a cold, cold day last January.

Each of them, they mark different seasons of my life. They are the best parts of who I am. 

They have encouraged, prayed for, held, laughed with, and taught me. They have loved me so, so well. 

I decided that I needed to take some hours, to break bread with them and say, "Thank you!" for loving me so well.

It was my birthday, but they are the reason I am who I am. They deserve to be celebrated.
So celebrate we did! 

We laughed... 

We embraced...

We created "thank-you" notes for the people who have enriched our lives...

We made lovely smelling things...

I individually thanked each of them for who they are, for the ways in which they have blessed me...

We told stories...


They prayed over me...

And we enjoyed being together.

God has blessed me with some incredible friends, mentors, sisters, confidantes, and encouragers. My life would not be the same without them. Though I want my life to continually say "thank you," taking a day to intentionally and purposefully thank them was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Though my intention was to bless them, I think I walked away more encouraged and blessed myself.

Who has blessed you? And have you taken the time to say "thank you" for the many things those people have done for you?

**Photo credit goes to my talented friend Lauren**

Saturday, December 13, 2014

On Singleness, Waiting, and Hope

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (From Luke 2)

I can almost see him standing there, a faithful and persistent man, desperate for the promised Messiah. For months, years, decades...He waited. He had received a promise, and yet the years continued to tick by without fulfillment of that promise. I wonder, what must that waiting have been like? Did he ever lose heart? Did he ever want the waiting to end, to simply be done with the agony of the unknown?

For me, this advent season has been one of wrestling, of learning hope and living into the dissonance of waiting for hope's fulfillment. I have written before about this dance, this uncomfortable and sometimes awkward exchange between myself and God. I beg for this wait to end, or for the desire to go away. I'm asked instead to press into the ache, to cling tighter and ask, "How do you want to reveal yourself to me in this season?" 

Our culture masquerades hope as a cheery emotion...a kid the night before Christmas. It would seem, though, that hope birthed without pain is a cheap counterfeit. Paul says, "We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:2). 

For Simeon, hope meant years and years of praying and pleading for the redemption of Israel. For Simeon, hope meant waiting...and waiting...and waiting. For Simeon, hope meant no answer for decades, but a choice to keep asking, to keep searching, to keep waiting anyway. In her book Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, Sara Hagerty describes hope as "the awkward intimacy of believing that He might say no while asking expectantly that He says yes." 

For me lately, waiting has come dressed up as singleness. Being single is hard and can be very lonely. It is easy to enter into discontentment, to notice everyone around me who has what I want. As I wrote in my journal many weeks ago, it often seems far easier to give up hope, to numb my desires because "the risk of them sitting on the table unmet seems too great." When I choose to press into this waiting space, however, I find that I can know God in new ways. While this season has not been easy, I have come to know a God who tenderly engages my heart. A couple months ago, I wrote the following in my journal:

You are the Husband-God, who longs to KNOW me intimately and wholly, who wants to incite passion and desire in me for himself. 

You are the Husband-God, who calls to the broken places in me and wants to tenderly care for my vulnerability. 

You are the Husband-God, who wants to provide extravagantly for me.
You are the Husband-God, who delights in partnering with me on this journey, who gives me co-authority to change the world with him.
You are the Husband-God, and I long to know you as such. 

I have despised this waiting space. I have filled it with 'Why-me's" and "how-much-longers," when I should have instead filled it with "I long to know you deeply as Husband-God." Forgive me for wishing this sacred space away. Help me to ask the question, "What do you want to teach me about yourself in THIS, Jesus?" when my flesh protests. Help me to vulnerably open my heart to you, even with all its desires and longings uncovered bare before you.

Hope is hard. Quite honestly, it sucks sometimes. But the alternative is a dead heart, and a lesser knowing of the God who continually pursues me. This advent season, I am choosing to enter into hope, to a deep and intimate knowing of God that comes only through the dissonant chord of waiting for a promised resolution. This advent season, I will remember Simeon...I will remember his faithful waiting, and I will remember his worship when the fulfillment of God's promise to him finally stepped into the temple courts. I will press into this advent of my heart, into knowing Jesus in the sacred space that is waiting. 

 "Moved by the Spirit, [Simeon] went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

'Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel'" (Luke 2:27-32).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Locusts and God's grace gifts in the swarm: Friendships, part 1

Those days were impossibly long and yet too short. The end was coming quickly, and yet it seemed to forever loom on the horizon. I struggled to learn what it meant to grieve well, especially when the object of my grief was not yet gone. I was lost in my todays, dreading the tomorrows, and wishing my yesterdays would come back. Meanwhile, my peers were embracing futures they had only just started to write. I couldn't relate. My life was being consumed by locusts...and though those months and years of death and destruction would be given back in grace gifts beyond my wildest dreams, all I could see were the swarms (see Joel 2:25).

There was a steady faithfulness, though. She and I, we would purpose to meet at the local gym...presumably to work out together, but inevitably we would always end up gabbing relentlessly, nursing our sore muscles and even sorer hearts. It was in those moments of consistent, intentional friendship that I poured out my poisonous brokenness and soaked up God-strength to face the next tomorrow. God's grace comes in many forms.

Then there were the months of darkness and depression, of broken trust and deep, deep hurt. This relational girl was torn apart when relationships in which I had deeply invested myself combusted. God gave me another relentless grace, another kindred spirit. She met me in the pit. She listened, she caught my tears and joined my chorus of screams at a world broken and unfair. But in the end, she wouldn't let me stay in the pit. She nudged me upward, closer to the heart of a God who never stopped pursuing me.

Of course I can't forget the sisters who share my blood and my heart. The wise one, who has poured so much of herself into me...who was my template for life for many years as I watched her live and grow in independence, making her own choices and becoming the beauty she is today. And the young one, with whom I can be candid and perfectly goofy and still feel fully accepted and loved. The giggles and road trips and shared passion...who am I without these ones who share a history with me? Dear sisters, by blood and by heart.

I haven't even begun. I could name many others...Grace gifts I never deserved but God heaped on anyway. What I couldn't see then was that, while the swarms were still thieving, God was already giving back what was being taken. Even today I sit with hands poised over keys...not really sure how to convey the magnitude of what God has done for me through these dear, treasured friendships that will never allow me to stay the same.

Friendships--the kind of treasured, life-altering friendships I am talking about--are hard fought. They are work, commitment, and sacrifice. But the generous return is immeasurable. There have been days when I could have buried my head under the covers with less heartache than it took to pursue, to pour out my heart, to grow. Those days when I choose to do the hard thing, though--to willingly enter into the depth of sacrificial friendship--those are days I meet Jesus in new, deeper ways. These gifts I have been given in the form of friends are a reflection of God's goodness. And while now we only "see in a mirror dimly," and that reflection can sometimes be smudged and smeared and dirty, it serves as a reminder to day, I will "see face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

I turn 25 in a few months...and while I am semi-freaking out about this quarter of a century milestone, I am also reminiscing about a beautiful day last year celebrating those who made me who I am. Can't wait to share those memories in this space...a tiny glimpse into the depth these dear sisters and "spiritual mothers" (well, biological too ;) of of mine have added to my life. Stay may decide to celebrate a few people in your life as well :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

When the fixing comes in the knowing

"As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone" (Luke 8:40-43).

I can imagine her standing there. The crowds are pressing in, and yet she feels alone...unknown. Lost in a sea of people, and yet acutely aware of her own brokenness. Her body and her heart have bled for too many long months and years, making her unclean and unworthy of human touch. If only she could find the healing she had spent all her years and dollars trying to obtain, maybe then the shroud of shame that had become her garment would be lifted.

"She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased" (Luke 8:44).

She wanted physical healing...and believed touching Jesus would be enough.

"And Jesus said, 'Who was it that touched me?' When all denied it, Peter said, 'Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!' But Jesus said, 'Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me'" (Luke 8:45-46).

She wanted healing...and He wanted to know her. He was not afraid of her desire, of her bleeding or her femininity. He was not put off by her "dirtiness."

She was not hidden to Him.

"When the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed" (Luke 8:47).

I would guess that she would have been content with the physical healing, but He knew she would not have been truly healed. He called her out, brought her to her knees.

Then He spoke life to her: "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace" (Luke 8:48)

I imagine Jesus reaching out a hand and pulling her up from the ground, lifting her chin with a gentle finger. I imagine His eyes spoke the heart healing she did not even know she needed: "I see you; I know you. I am not disgusted by your bleeding body. I have known your bleeding known by me." She wanted to stop the bleeding, and she left with a heart freed in the knowing of a God-man who took on himself her bleeding body and bleeding soul.

I have been her...bleeding in my own shame and brokenness, alone and unknown. I have longed for the healing, and been caught in the knowing.  How often do I ask for the fixing, rather than the knowing? This God, "who has searched me and knows me," is teaching me that the fixing comes through the knowing (Psalm 139:1). As I know and am deeply known by God, my bleeding heart is mended. The shame is lifted, and I am at peace.

Dear friend, know that you are not hidden to the God of the universe. You are known, and you are beckoned to know. Won't you allow yourself to be caught in the knowing today?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Even if this wait never ends

These fall days are my favorites. The cooler days, constantly changing colors, and yes, even the rain somehow resonate with my soul more than any other season.

Today as I drove to my next destination, I found myself looking at the beautiful trees and wondering what it is about all this change that I love so much. Perhaps it is how fast it comes. I drove the same direction only a week ago, and yet...everything is different now. The colors are more vibrant; the reds and yellows and oranges deeper than before. Some trees have already begun to shed their glory. I realize I like change I can see. I like to know what is coming.

I am in a season of what feels like perpetual waiting. Of wondering if change is ever going to come, or if it is just around the bend. I don't know, because I can't see it happening. I've held the weight of big dreams for so many years, and yet here I stand...still carrying them like so much baggage, watching as others unwrap their dreams and wondering when I will be able to do the same. I like change I can see, and yet I am blind to what is before me.

These days, my heart empathizes with the Abraham of the Bible. He had dreams too, and he carried them for years and years and years before unwrapping them into reality. I wonder if he felt this too--this desperation, a grasping for any sort of glimpse into that promised gift. I wonder if he looked around and felt like everyone else was unwrapping what he had been promised.

I wish I could sit down with him and ask about that season...that season that lasted decades and probably felt even longer. Did he feel alone in the waiting? Did he ever just want to throw in the towel and give up the trusting and say enough is enough? Did he long to know...when? I ask all those questions myself, and I want to know if this man who was "credited as being righteous" ever asked questions himself.

As I take a long walk today and try to find joy in the waiting...glory in this in the unseen, I will think about Abraham.

I will think about the God who promised him descendents that outnumbered the stars, the God who brought his promise to fruition...but not in the way or time or place that Abraham had counted on. 
I will think about Abraham and so many others, who "were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:39-40). 
I will pray for bigger trust...that my heart would be strengthened by faith, even if this wait never ends.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Finding Faith with Shaking Hands

I have so many thoughts swirling through my head and heart. This week has held so much heartache and brokenness for the world at large and for people I love. I read of Christians beheaded and people betrayed by those they were supposed to trust and lives taken by the worst of diseases. My dear sister tells me of horrible things she has seen and known in the heart of Africa and I feel as if I have a spike through my heart. Again and again and again. So much evil, so little love and grace. At least, it feels like it. 

I experience glimpses, though. 

Glimpses of hearts coming to life and redemption consuming brokenness and hands opening to the One who gives good gifts. Even in the darkness, there are glimpses of light. I have waded through some hard places this summer, and God has tenderly given me probably the best cathartic in the midst of the darkness: A new passion.

Have you ever experienced it? That glorious coming to life when your heart starts beating for a mission and breathing purpose and hope into your soul? I have known such a rebirth this summer. It has been good and invigorating and restorative. It has also been hard

Because when your heart starts beating for a singular mission you wonder why everyone else's isn't beating in sync with yours. 

Because when your passion invites doubt and questions from others, you start to wonder why you ever breathed in hope to begin with.

Because when the mission finds resistance in the tug-and-pull of mundane life, it can be discouraging.

Because creating change and initiating redemption is scary. 

It is downright scary, and I can feel the talons start to close and the passion clamp down. But then I read this:

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side of the lake." So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, "Where is your faith?"
Luke 8:22-25a

Did you catch that? They were IN DANGER! Most would say they had every right to be afraid, to assume the worst. But then He says, I'm sure much more gently than I would have, "Where is your faith?

Where, friends, is your faith? 

In this dark and dangerous and evil world we are living in, where is your faith? Where is MY faith?
He calls us to have faith even in the most dangerous of storms. 
He calls me to have faith when the winds are against me and all logic says hope is lost. 

He calls us to have faith because He is so much bigger than the problems we feel like we are drowning in and the danger ever around us.

At the end of this passage it says, "They were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, 'Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and water, and they obey him?'" (Luke 8:25b). How interesting that they were still afraid. But they weren't afraid because of a dangerous storm. 

They were afraid because they were reminded of WHO, not what, they should be afraid of. 

He holds it all, friends. He holds all the pain and hurt and brokenness in the palm of His hand and He commands the winds and water. We don't have faith in our circumstances. There will always be horrendous brokenness and evil and people who discourage and resist. 

We have faith in a God who holds it all in the palm of His hand and asks US to have faith, even when our hands our shaking and our hearts are hurting. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My Internet Tantrum

In the last couple of weeks (maybe longer), my heart has been in a very dark place. I have cried more tears of frustration, self-pity, sadness, and loneliness in the past 10 days than I think I have cried in two years total. It has been almost five years since my dad left this earth, and while some might say the tumultuous grief journey I have traveled in the last half decade has somewhat softened, I am realizing that perhaps it has simply changed. Lately I have been wrestling through grief over my life...Lost. Changed. Different. I have allowed myself to be swallowed by the bitter pill of "It's not fair," and "What if that chapter of my life had never been written."

You see, I was embarking on a great adventure, the exciting "next step" every 18-year-old spends months and years dreaming of and planning. I was growing, thriving, learning new things. I was happy. I was stepping out boldly on my own, carving a path I had spent years equipping myself to walk. One short, glorious month down that path, I was thrown to the ground by this thing called CANCER. And nothing was ever the same. I quit school when most of my peers were just starting. I moved home when my friends were moving away from home. I held my dad's hand during chemo treatments while my friends were pursuing their educational dreams and having fun. And then I was forced to navigate the deep, all-consuming grief of losing my treasured daddy while my peers were going on summer vacations and dating cute boys and I could no longer relate. Can I just scream, on this internet space, that it's not fair?! It wasn't fair then, and it's still not fair now.

It's not fair that my career path was altered.
It's not fair that friendships I had just started to forge never got the chance to bloom.
It's not fair that I never got the carefree "college experience."
It's not fair that I suddenly felt the huge weight of holding my family together.
It's not fair that I lost a year of my life watching my dad shrivel away.
It's not fair that my 18-year-old brain was forever blazened with images of my dad gasping for breath.
It's not fair that every day I am left to wonder what could have been.

And while I am forever grateful for that year spent with my dad before his death, my life has never been the same. Honestly, I am tired of watching people live the life I have always wanted to live and wonder if I would be living that same life if the cancer had never happened. Instead, I go to 401k meetings at work and struggle to manage my money while feeling lost and alone because I do not have the guidance of a father. I watch my siblings and friends get married and make big life decisions and I feel so lost in the middle of it all. I worry about things like how to get the stupid tractor fixed so we can mow the pasture, and how to make sure my little brother has a way to pay for college. I have spent the last five years worrying about everyone else and trying to hold them all together, and who has time to move and get married and buy houses when there is so much worry and responsibility already heaped on? I'm tired, overwhelmed, and lonely because how could anyone possibly understand when I can't even explain to them that I am sad, much less the tsunami of emotion behind the sadness?

Then the guilt takes over. Because I read that last paragraph and I think, who am I to complain? It has been so much harder for my mom. And there are kids around the world who never even knew their dad, much less have 18 years of memories with a dad who loved and doted on them. How can I be so selfish and ungrateful? Sometimes I just have to admit it, though. I have to dump it out and let it sit on the table in all its ugliness. Then I can embrace the beauty of this life I live.

I have many, many amazing friends who love me.
I have a good job.
I have a roof over my head and a mom who goes above and beyond for my siblings and I.
I have four (now six) brothers and sisters who are goofy and loving and all I need to bring a smile to my face.
I have Jesus, and I have this journey He has given me to steward.

While some days I just wish time would rewind and play out differently, I know from these past five years that I can do hard. I can walk this journey out and soak in the blessings poured out along the way. Life is not fair--we were never promised easy--and each person faces their own struggles and challenges. I truly do not intend to whine to those of you who were unfortunate enough to read this (oops, too late, already did...). It's just that this pouring out, this writing down is my best kind of therapy. Please don't feel sorry for me, just know that the grief and needs people experience following the death of a loved one (or some other tragic life event) don't end one, two, or even five or ten years down the road. It's's always hard. But I can do hard. And I'm trusting, believing, knowing...that in the end, I will be the better for it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

When Shame is Your Crown

She wore it like a backpack full of bricks. Heavy, invisible bricks. When meeting people for the first time, she was uncharacteristically uncomfortable. When spending time with dear friends, she learned the art of quickly maneuvering the conversation so that the other person revealed all and she inadvertently escaped having to reveal much of anything. Her internal mantra? Head down, avert eye contact. Overcompensate by serving big and loving bigger. Maybe if people liked what she did they wouldn't have time to dislike (or even HATE. shudder) who she was. That backpack full of bricks? It was STEALING her identity. Shame was her crown.

Sounds awful, doesn't it?! And yet, that has been me at a given moment. For quite some time, I had never even considered that shame was a crown I donned frequently. Once I noticed it, however, it became a rather glaring trait. Shame is definitely NOT beautiful. At times throwing off the shame has felt daunting and insurmountable. The reality is, I KNOW truth. I can verbalize truth, say it over and over to myself until I am blue in the face. But believing--like heart-depth, down-to-my-toes believing--is a different ball game.

And gosh darn it, one of these days I am going to hit it out of the park and smash that crown in the dust. All because of this:

"Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame." Psalm 34:5

I would gladly exchange shame for radiance, wouldn't you?! I think about Jesus and the confidence with which He lived his earthly life and carried out his ministry. Why? How? Probably because He was daily, minute by minute, reliving that moment when heaven opened up and He heard/felt/believed the words of refreshingly gentle truth: "This is my Son, whom I love, with Him I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17).
His mirror was Father God. 

Oh that my mirror would be Father God, that I would exchange my covered-in-shame face for one that is gloriously radiant. That crown never did fit me anyway.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I'm Back: Finding the River Once Again

It's been almost five years. And when I look back, when I take in the mountain peaks I've scaled and the valleys in which I've wept, I see what became my saving grace: The healing power of Story. One of my favorite fiction authors, Charles Martin, penned these words in his latest novel: 

"Story is the bandage of the broken. Sutures of the shattered. The tapestry upon which we write our lives. Upon which we lay the bodies of the dying and the about-to-come-to-life. And if it's honest, true, hiding nothing, revealing all, then it is a raging river and those who ride it find they have something to give--that they are not yet empty" (excerpt from Unwritten, by Charles Martin). 

My soul screams out a resounding, "Amen!" to these beautiful, poetically accurate words. 

In my darkest moments, I have been sewn back together by Story. I have laid the bodies of the dying upon the canvas, and I have been swept away by a raging river that will not let me rest upon the shore for long. So here I am, crawling back into the rage, opening the wounds that fester deep, and allowing Story to find me hiding nothing once again.

I recently snuck away from life for two weeks with my sister, finding a somewhat rocky peace in respite from this chaos I call mine. In those empty spaces, I read a book that I think will become a signpost, a shift in direction, in my life. Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson, took a spotlight and exposed the dank alleys of my soul I have both knowingly and unknowingly kept secret for a long, long time.

Emotion has never been my forte. Oh, I feel deeply. But I never learned how to channel the tsunami, so early in my life, I assume, I developed coping mechanisms to divert and avoid the torrent. They worked for a time, but Emotion is a beast that will not be contained. You choose not to let Him out and He will create His own way. His way can look like damaged relationships, fear and avoidance of intimacy, a few extra pounds here or there that add up to a whole lot more, other health problems, addictions, and on and on and on. Over the years, He has forged His own paths out of me, leaving scars that will not heal slowly.

It's time I face Him head on, embrace and accept the truth He heralds. Expose the shame and fear that have hijacked my life for so long. And find healing from the only One who "searched me and knows me" (Psalm 139:1). He, the One who searched those deep spots I've avoided and covered over, and yet knows me. He knows me in the deepest, most intimate way possible. And there is no shame, no condemnation in being known by Him. Yes, there is freedom in being known, and I want to find that place with Him.