On Grieving and New Chapters.

Dearest Hannah, You have graduated from college, and are now in the in between. And let's be honest -- while you have accomplished much, the in between hurts like hell. It feels like all your limbs are being pulled in opposite directions, and you are young and the world is so very big.

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The idea of the quarter-life crisis would never have caught on without people like us. We feel every ounce of the weight of our decisions, and we are young, the world is big, and we can do literally anything we want, but we want to live our one life well.

Blessedly, I had a wedding a month after my college graduation. I emptied myself of energy in preparation, not even allowing my mind to consider what had just happened. It was a cushion for the shock that came in the days after I walked across the stage. A putting off of the inevitable.  After the honeymoon was over and the dust settled on what had become my life, I grieved and grieved hard. If you hear nothing else, hear this: it is okay to grieve.

I spent five months at home before I found a job. Those five months were some of the most difficult, because much of my time was spent alone. My husband had a full time job, and we were in a town where we didn't know anyone.

And then I met you. As much as two people can bump into each other via the internet nowadays, we did. I will always count our meeting among the gifts -- tangible proof that the Lord knew just what I needed.

I had the pleasure of watching you transition to your final year of college, a year that I know has left its mark. You decided, as if out of the clear blue sky, to change your major. Senior year of college, and I know you must have been feeling like your life had been hijacked.

When we're introduced to Abra(ha)m, scripture says "the LORD had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you.'" I think God is still in the business of calling us out of our comfort zones, plucking us from all familiarity and planting us smack dab in the middle of the unknown. 

There's an old proverb that says the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I've learned that great leaps of faith are often disguised by these steps.

And I've learned that at the end of the day, God pulls us out of our comfort zones so we can experience the true meaning of comfort: that the Lord provides all things. I've learned that in the seasons of loneliness, His presence is near, and when we feel empty, He is only preparing to fill us.

I've learned that there are questions. Should I get married? Should I apply for a masters degree? Where should I live? Who am I? And I've learned that He holds the answers.

I've learned that He goes before us, and that everything is held together by His grace. When it seems like our comfort zone is so far out of sight, the Comforter is drawing us closer. When it seems like we're faced with all the questions and none of the answers, we have unadulterated access to the Giver of all wisdom.

We simply have to take the first step. And the real secret? God told Gideon to go in the strength that he had. There's no formula, no code, and blessedly, no scantron. We just move. We put one foot in front of the other, open our hands a little bit more, and a little bit more...

to grace.

 

This is not an open letter.

This is more or less a heap of thoughts which grievously resembles the current state of my house. Which reminds me of all the things I could be doing at home instead of being stuck in a hotel room going back and forth to training for work. Tonight, I ate dinner with a thirteen year old girl, and now I can't get that Erin McCarley song out of my head: little girls don't know how to be sweet girls, mama didn't teach me // little boys don't know how to treat little girls, daddy didn't show me. To say that she was not a sweet little girl could very well be the understatement of the century -- the latest iPhone held close to her face, the only time she spoke was to scoff at or speak scornfully to her mother. I fingered the bulb of a Christmas light that twisted around the trim of the booth and occasionally laughed to keep from screaming.

I can't stop thinking about all the blurred lines and wrecking balls that, at the end of the day, only demolish our souls; multi-billion dollar corporations feeding us our thoughts, telling us what we want and making coy promises of liberation and enlightenment, and I just want to tell her that they don't care about her a bit. 

I wonder where our innocence has gone, and I try not to feel responsible. Its more comfortable to not bear the weight of that burden. But I know avoidance doesn't change anything. I still laughed at the joke in that movie and rushed to watch the video of her twerking. We are all responsible for what we produce and choose to reinforce, and I try hard to shake the thought that her parents have created a monster. We've all created monsters.

I want to tell her that I remember what it was like to be thirteen, but I'd rather not revisit the years of my life wasted adamantly believing that only Hollister or American Eagle clothing were good enough to adorn this body, the years absorbed by the notion that life happened on a screen, and that more and bigger was always better -- except when it came to the circumference of my waist.

Its funny -- there's that verse of scripture that we memorize in youth group about not letting people look down on us because we're young, and what they don't tell you is that that is a much harder concept to grapple with as an emerging adult. Because at 23, I am still young, and while I don't claim to know everything, what I do know, I know well.

At 23, I know that far more important than the circumference of my waist is the circumference of my lifeI know that life can be as rich as the soil beneath my unpolished toes, and that the ripples our lives make have nothing to do with how many followers we hoard and everything to do with how willingly our hearts stretch and our arms reach to meet the needs of others. This is what I want to tell her.

It took awhile for me to grasp that life is live, and it flies by so much faster than you want it to. I think the shift happened around the time that I looked up and realized that there are literally countless things to be thankful for, and so much that I am afraid to lose.

I want to tell her that when your heart stretches, there's resistance and pain. And that the whole of life is about coming to the uncharted ends of yourself to find that glory resides in the fringes. There is something so holy about that place.

I have two friends who, three years into college, decided to change their majors. And they're probably two of the most courageous people I know. I laughed as I likened Hannah to Abraham, leaving everything she thought she knew and just going until God said stop. I have to admit, sometimes, my words stick with me. Now, I just whisper over and over and over lead me, lead me, lead me.

When the world threatens to fall apart.

It occurs to me that I have barely stopped to breathe in the past ten months. And now that I've paused to write, my whole essence heaves a sigh. They say that transitions, even happy ones, cause turmoil in our systems. We have to grieve when we move from one chapter to the next. Turning the pages can be traumatic. Because sometimes, you're catapulted like a rag doll. Other times, you have to place your hand on the doorknob of change and walk through, one baby step at a time. And I don't know which one is more frightening. Its no big secret that life moves so much faster than we want it to.

My last semester of college, I juggled twenty-one hours worth of college classes that included an internship. In February, I got engaged. In April, I got hit with a fourteen hundred dollar bill on my student account and was afraid to tell my dad about it. I graduated in May and got married in June. At one point during the months since, I worked myself into a ridiculous state thinking I was pregnant, despite routinely taking my birth control pills. Because Craig works full time, I spent my days alone for the most part, in search of my own employment, and in late September, I finally heard back from one of my prospects. I got my first driver's license at nearly twenty-three years old. And I now work as a case manager for the Division of Family and Children's Services.

It has most certainly been a year of transitions. And looking back, I have been scared to death throughout the overwhelming majority of it.

There was a day at the tail end of summer that I told my friend Mat that I spent my days paralyzed by anxiety. I don't think I had ever been so matter of fact about it as I was that day. We were in the middle of the woods, hiking down towards the river, and I could barely look up the entire time for fear I would step on a snake.

I'm not proud of my anxiety. It is the most gruesome limitation.

I can only describe it this way: no matter how many storms you've weathered, anxiety is constantly telling you that the next one will be different; the next storm will be the one to steal away your soul. No matter how many times that person has been sympathetic to your needs, loved you through successes and failures, the next one will be the one to strip away that faithfulness.The world, your world, is constantly threatening to fall apart.

Fear shrinks the heart.

Emily Freeman talks about how we tend to glorify people who appear to have it all together, and I think she's right. I have spent the past ten months bracing myself at every turn, gripping my life and trying like hell to keep things together.

The past ten months have taught me that I don't have to keep it together in my own strength.  They have reinforced the heart-knowledge that I do not have to strive.

Colossians says He is before all things, and in Him, all things hold together. Romans says He is working all things together for my good. Psalms says He watches and protects me tirelessly, that He is my keeper. It assures me that when I am faithful to follow where He leads, that He will enlarge my heart.

Even when it seems like the world is threatening to fall apart. I am held together. 

Bob Goff says our actions should betray our uncertainty. And sometimes the most difficult action is simply choosing to fill our lungs with oxygen again.

You, me, and everyone we know.

Somebody tell me where God lives because if God is truth, God doesn't live here. -- Andrea Gibson

I am slowly learning how to live a quiet life. That said, words are truly the only way that I know how to meet with the Good One, and so this is my altar. This is how I reach up, and one of the ways that I know to reach out. Sometimes, I cannot come in peace, so I come in the only other way I know how, which is in pieces. It takes strength to be weak. I write because I believe in the Bride. I write because what I want to do, I cannot muster the courage to do, but what mindsets and behaviors I don’t want, I find myself addicted to. We could all be so much better. Things can be different, if we choose.

I realize that the Truth is divisive. Some have manipulated this mindset to excuse their malice towards others that they deem less. But the table turning Jesus was far more concerned about the people on the outside of the temple than he was about those who thought better of themselves on the inside. He came for the sick. He left the ninety-nine for the one. To use Christ's actions in the temple as justification for our own hatred of others not only displays a gross misunderstanding of the scriptures, but a gross misrepresentation of the gospel.

We have so many lofty theological discussions, and can recite our dogma forwards and backwards, but I wonder if we really understand. I wonder if when we look at the living and active Word we can really say that we know Father God's heart and character well enough to understand that His ways are not our own. Hallelujah, His ways are not my own.

Again and again, we have chosen the lie that leads to our fall. Moreover, we have become the liars. We tell homosexuals, Muslims, people of other political affiliations, that they are not worthy of what Jesus did for them. We have created the culture of "us four and no more," and have clung to it out of fear of what we don't understand. We are prideful and rebellious, labeling our own sin, our lies, our lust, our adultery, our idolatry, as somehow less shameful than others. Christ met with the foreign woman at the well,  he allowed the bloodied woman to touch him, and he reached for the leper. Our lights are off, and we like it better that way. We don’t like seeing ourselves, don’t like others seeing our broken parts. We are both the prodigal, and the older son, who feels as though he has been forgotten and allows himself to become bitter. Yet the Father says “everything I have is yours.” The book of James says that we do not have because we do not ask. Scripture is beautiful that way. It is convicting that way.

From the fall, humanity has had in mind that God is somehow holding out on us. Why then, are we not satisfied with all that we have here on this earth? Why do we not answer the knock on the door and allow the Lord to come in and eat with us? This craving to experience glory has been rooted in our souls since the beginning of time. Knowing this, how could every breath not be worship? We have been called out of the darkness and depravity of the grave, and yet we still wear our grave clothes around like security blankets. We live by a law that emphasizes our shame over his grace, condemning both ourselves and our brothers and sisters. We don’t want to know who we are, because that would mean realizing our responsibility to live in light of his gracious response to our depravity.

We do not act justly, and we do not love mercy. We have become like the pharisees whom Jesus himself rebuked. We know the law, and we debate it down to the punctuation in order to prove ourselves wise and others wrong. There is a vast difference in calling out sin in someone’s life in order to prove that you are right, and bringing something to their attention for the sole purpose of becoming holy. Somewhere along the way, that got blurry. So we end up obsessing over sins that we do not struggle with, pointing them out in others, saying to ourselves “well at least I’m not that person.”  We walk around like we don’t have the answers, as if we are not the best representation of love that people have to go on. We still don’t know what love is.

As we approach Easter, I think of what has become known as the Triumphal Entry. Israel was looking for a king who could defeat Rome and put the nation back on top of the political chain. But Jesus didn't come to agree with anybody's politics. He was a king who came to be a servant. He offered himself, he met people's needs before he ever offered his opinion. As he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, he was met with scores of people who expected him to save them from Caesar, instead of saving them from their sin. He wept over the city, knowing that he would soon be viewing them from the tree that he had been nailed to, beckoning them to come and take up their own crosses as well.

Recently, I read a friend's Facebook post about an aunt who recently passed away from cancer. She wanted the comfort that her aunt was in heaven, as she did know the Lord, but her aunt was a lesbian, and because of this, my friend was unsure. My friend was met with people quoting scripture about how the unrighteous will never inherit the kingdom of God.  My fiance and I are currently looking for a church for our wedding that is geographically favorable for both of our families, who live four hours apart. As we have contacted pastors, many of them have told us point blank that they only allow members of their church to get married there. One even said that "they can't let just anyone in their church."

Nine out of ten young people walk away from their faith in college. It is a staggering statistic, one that I have heard many times in my four years at a Christian college. I finally understand why the number is so high. Why would anyone want to become part of this?

So to you, me, and everyone we know, I am so sorry. I'm sorry for the lies I have believed that have made me less of a person. There have been too many to count, and they sneak into my soul looking for what they may destroy. They never deliver on their promises. They have planted fear in my heart that only Christ has the power to uproot. Lies about my body, lies about the world and love and sex and how to reach the top. Lies about how close I should get to you. I believed them all. I swear I didn't want to, but I drank the poison because it brought the numbness. The poison was easy.

I'm sorry for repeating these lies to you. Perhaps not in words, but in ever more powerful actions.

I am sorry for treating your dreams and hopes and fears and troubles as if they are somehow less than my own. I'm sorry for my graceless inability to rejoice when you rejoice and mourn when you mourn. I'm sorry for my lack of humility, and what things I have said out of my own unstable understanding. I attempted to offer silver and gold, but had none but cheap counterfeits. Lies about holiness and grace and standards, and how close you can get to me.

My friend Andy once told me that everyday is an opportunity to react well to the gospel. If sin is not responding well, not believing the truth, then living according to these lies would certainly more than qualify.

The outrageous thing about grace is that it destroys our economy. I want my walls to be torn down.

I want a fire strong enough to burn down every bricked building, every pew and pulpit, until all that remains is the Church. We could be so much more.