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.

Daughter. 

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. 

For the days when you want to be anywhere but here.

Mama said there would be days like this. But sometimes days turn into weeks and weeks into months and one day his or her comment will all but push you over the edge, and you'll walk in the front door a crying mess. You'll wonder what in the world you were thinking saying yes to something like this, and if you had only known, you would have politely said thank you, but no thank you. You dread the emails, the phone calls, the well meant inquiries from people who know you've struggled just to make it through the day, because let's be honest, you're still struggling just to make it through the day, and to even think about what tomorrow may hold is enough to make you want to walk out the door without so much as a goodbye or it was nice knowing you.

There will be days like this, my mama said, when it seems like nothing you do is good enough, but the world keeps tacking things onto your to do list like it's no big thing; like your whole life revolves around making them happy, no matter how thinly you've spread yourself. Never mind that you have a home and a family and its everything that you can do just to keep it together under the weight of all the responsibility.

Hot liquid salt will roll like tiny raging grief tsunamis, and the truth is, all you want is to just be better: a better wife, a better friend, a better daughter, a better sister, a better homemaker. Some days the should be's and the have to be's and the need to be's choke the life from the truth of who you were created to be.

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You were never meant to carry the weight of the world. The stanzas of a familiar old tune recall that He's got the whole world in His hand. And if He's got the whole world, He's got you, because last time I checked, no one has ever survived floating around in space without oxygen or food or warmth. You are not a martian.

You might be in the wilderness. 

There's an old adage -- something about whatever God leads you to, He will bring you through. He never leaves you where He found you. The wilderness is God's slow cooker, and perhaps the only way to reach the finish line is to come to the altar with our rawness, our readiness to be seasoned with what He is preparing to teach us on the journey.

The people who tell you that this life with Jesus is easy are lying. They're the ones who could never expose their broken parts. With or without Jesus, this life will break you. With or without Jesus, you will spend a night writhing in tears on the kitchen floor because everything has fallen apart and you don't know how you got here or how to put your life back together again. With or without Jesus, you will be broken, but when you're walking through the wilderness with Christ, love and grace and joy and peace and hope are what shine through the cracks. When you walk through the wilderness with Christ, the pain is never wasted.

It isn't ever that He has caused the pain, no, our brokenness breaks the very heart of God. And so the Word became flesh and came down into all of our wildernesses and said I am the Way. I have given you purpose, I have gone before you, I know what you were created for...

a life of abundance.

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This wilderness? It only lasts for a moment. The wilderness is where we learn to live radical trust, the wilderness is where we learn surrender. The wilderness reminds us that comfort doesn't come from temporal things, but an eternal Person. This place only exists as a reminder that the world is not our home.