Once upon a wilderness.

bwvines On Wednesday night, a group of scrawny teenagers sat in a circle inside the church building to talk about faith. As the conversation intensified, the girl with the black hair asked if we really meant to say that people die of cancer today because the woman ate the fruit a gazillion years ago. Some days my own heart burns with that same slithering question: if God really is good, then why all this pain?

And I want to say yeah, girl, I feel it too -- the pain. It plagues my body, my mind, my relationships, everything. And I want to tell her that I've been doing this whole Christian thing for a long time now, and still there is a deep longing inside my bones for something that I can only describe as being outside of myself.

My cheeks are ablaze from news that came earlier in the week: a friend's unfaithfulness to the marriage vow. My heart is heavy, and all I want is to be able to tell this wide eyed girl just starting out that it gets better. I want to tell her that this weary world won't always knock the wind out of her. I want to promise that she won't get sucker punched if she lets her guard down. I want to tell her that it can be well with her soul, but I honestly don't know if it is well with my own. I look at the floor and say nothing.

Jesus didn't come to save us with answers. He came to save us through his blood. 

I've been silent here in observance of Lent. I've tried to embrace stillness in an effort to meditate on what he has given me in spite of myself. I've thought a lot about the places that I've taken my cup recently, in hopes of receiving what is already mine. Henri Nouwen calls this "running in circles, hoping that something or someone will be able to convince me of my Belovedness." I've read through the first chapter of Ephesians more times than I can count, and gone back and forth with God about whether or not I actually want the light turned on. I change my mind a lot, and on the days when this life just gets to be too much, I want to take it all back.

What I haven't done, what I just can't bring myself to do, is be honest with God. So I busy my hands building cities and try hard to not want or need him or offer him anything at all beyond a cool, cordial nod every now and then.

That's how I know he is wooing me. Because if this love story was all up to me, well, I don't have the greatest track record when it comes to faithfulness either. Most days, what the world offers me looks a lot more comfortable than a cross, and even the pain of emptiness seems safer than illumination and exposure. 

See, I know the words I want to pray, but fear is quick to swallow them up. I've mastered the art of covering myself with fig leaves sewn together with my own self sufficiency and pride. Still, he asks, where are you? And I tell him that I'm all good. Except, of course, I'm not. I try to pretend that he doesn't already know.

More so than ever, I'm finding it painfully difficult to be vulnerable. I want to ask God to tear down the walls, but I'm also terrified of what we will find on the other side of them. Its so strange, this juxtaposition between wanting something with my whole self and being so afraid of it at the same time.

I know he has things to say to me. I can tell, because I've got these big dreams inside me, but no matter where I go or what I'm doing, I feel like I don't quite fit. This place feels like wilderness, like he just wants to get me alone so he can tell me all the things my heart is so desperate to hear through the pain.

I want to run, but I'm discovering the only direction I can go is towards him.

So instead I walk, more like feebly crawl, hoping I could just touch the hem of his garment. Yeah, as it turns out, that story is about me, too. And the miracle of it all is that he called the bleeding woman daughter. It wasn't enough to take away her ailment -- he replaced it with an identity.


How good it would be to hear that word, God. How good it would be to be called daughter. 

Will you speak it over me?

Silence every other voice. 

Strip away every other identity. 

Whisper it in the dark until I believe. 

2016: a love letter to and from the woods.

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset Truth be told, I have started to write this post five times now. There are snippets in my drafts folder spanning from a few words of an opening sentence to several paragraphs, but for some reason, none of it has felt right. Really, none of it has felt the least bit true.

Lately, I've been having some trouble sleeping. I'll feel fine all day long, and the minute my head hits the pillow, my stomach will begin to churn, or I'll wake up two or three times throughout the night. My body will toss and turn along with my soul, and as I drift in and out, I'll ask God if this is really just his way of trying to get ahold of me. Should I get up and pick up my Bible? Right now, it is collecting dust on my dresser next to an overdue library book. It has sat there since I unpacked it in our South Carolina apartment three months ago.

I spent yesterday night dreaming and journaling about what I want 2016 to feel like. By midnight, I had it narrowed down to two words: wild and free. I had decided that surely I would make it through these woods by the end of the month and on January 1, I would wake up with a fresh and clear vision. Everything will be set right.  I am very obviously the queen when it comes to ignoring what is right in front of me.

Then I read a friend's email about her own experience standing on the outskirts of the woods, and the realization came tumbling down like a ton of bricks: this is by no means the end. I crumpled a bit as I considered the idea that maybe I haven't even made it into the woods yet. Maybe everything that has happened in my life over the past few months has only been God's way of mapping out the starting line. What if he's still reaching for my hand and asking are you willing to step into this place with me? What if this is still the breaking down and the building back is on the way away horizon?

I don't know why I've found it so difficult to open my Bible lately. I boast all day long about how much I love scripture, and I really do -- but it honestly feels like a surface level kind of love, which makes me think that maybe I've got my definitions all wrong. I buy books about prayer and never read them. I've found myself searching for intimacy with those around me when what I've been craving all along is, as C.S. Lewis put it, the real thing.

As much as I am ashamed to admit it, I have become deeply entranced by the notion of instant gratification. I don't want to go through the process of tending and tilling the soil. I don't want to get my hands dirty -- instead, I want to wake up to a world where depth and fullness only take as long as a Hot Pocket. I want the satisfaction of hearing the ding! on the microwave, but I know that obedience and intimacy don't work that way.

Intimacy is birthed out of the hard conversations -- the talks that feel kind of awkward. Shouldn't I know this by now? God, what are you trying to tell me? 

In her email, Amber wrote "I go knowing I'm cherished and cared for and deeply beloved." 

The first thought that came to mind was wait, how do you know? And a heaping dose of shame followed. Does this mean starting all over again? I got baptized last year. I'm on staff at a church. Have I really even made the commitment, or has all of this just been really pretty lip service? Ya'll, the devil is so mean. He sneaks in stealthily and once he's in, he goes to town unpacking suitcases of grief and doubt that inevitably manifest in the purple hollows underneath my eyes. I went to bed feeling totally alone with my questions.

I heard a sermon a few weeks ago where the pastor challenged his listeners to acknowledge God's presence as soon as they woke up. On particularly unnerving days, he told them to take a walk with God, and simply say I know you're with me. I did come away feeling like it was something I needed to do, but of course, the hype was quick to dissipate, and daily life soon crowded in. But I haven't forgotten it.

I want to say it here: God, I know that you're with me. On the mountaintop, in the valley, in the woods, I know you're with me. So I will take this step with assurance. Hosea speaks of God bringing us to the wilderness for the purpose of intimacy. Perhaps it is only when we step into this place that we truly learn to trust him. Here, where nothing makes sense and the questions stir and literally the only thing we can do is believe that he is the Way.

The only thing I know for sure is that I am hungry. I have tried to busy myself in an attempt to forget the emptiness inside my heart. I have tried to fill myself up with that which was never meant to satisfy my longings, but now I want the real thing.

It won't be an easy or swift journey. Honestly, it may be comprised entirely of baby steps. Today I want to take them, but I know that there will be days when I don't. I know there will be days when it hurts. But my heart can trust that I am going with a friend -- someone who wants me to believe the truth he speaks over me: that I go cherished, cared for, and deeply beloved.

This is it, friends: I have chosen BELOVED as my word for 2016. I had mulled over a few words (phrases, even) but none have held a candle to this word that means "darling, dear, dearest, precious, adored, much loved, cherished, treasured, prized, highly regarded." This is how he sees me. I want to live in light of this truth.