Last week, I turned 27. The leaves in South Carolina decided to hold out on us until the last minute and then surprised us by changing overnight, and who was it who said autumn's trees will teach us how to let go gracefully? I haven't written much over the past couple of months, so admittedly, this feels a bit like starting over.Read More
I wake up early, turning my alarm off and scrolling to see that #HowToSurviveTwitter is trending. The irony of this isn't lost on me: these social networks designed to bring us closer together are actually enabling seeds of bitterness and division to flourish. My heart feels so heavy lately that I wonder if any words will wander in at all, for fear that this weight in my chest will suck the life right out of them. And I don't know if I can handle any more death. Some days, it feels like nothing is safe or sacred or beautiful anymore, and I know when I get these spirally feelings, the only sure solution is to unplug -- to immerse myself in scripture and an extra hot bath.
The truth is, I've spent most of my life trying to save myself. Trying to measure up. Trying to prove to you that I am worthy of love and that I'm not too much trouble. I've been trying to preserve my own way of thinking and acting and I hold onto my own comfort so tightly that my hands burn and blister raw. I've looked for safety in all the wrong places.
Isn't that all we want at the end of the day? Isn't safety the driving force behind everything we do, from buying organic eggs to dropping bombs?
Our craving for safety leads us to lock our doors, and fear bullies us into locking our hearts. What we don't realize when we throw away the key, though, is that we haven't only insulated ourselves from brokenness -- we've also actively refused the remedy for our anxieties.
He who wishes to save his life must lose it.
If there's one thing I know for sure now, it is that the answers are rarely as simple as we want them to be. An old friend told me recently that we are all being thrown into shades of gray, and I tend to believe that's true. So I'm trying not to be too prescriptive these days -- except when it comes to love. I believe that we can choose to love because God loved us first, and he so loved our world.
Love begins with the willingness to see. And when we open our eyes, we will see the brokenness of the world -- the differences that seem to refuse reconciliation. That same friend asked me the other day how we can choose to love each other in spite of these differences, and my only thought was that we simply hold onto each other, leaning into the tension together until all is reconciled. Because we know that the story ends at the table, with a family. We know that in the end, all will be made well. Fear has an expiration date. When we open up our eyes, we will see the beautiful parts of the world -- the evidence of redemption. And sometimes, we will see that the line between ugly and beautiful gets blurry -- like how the scorch of the forest fire makes the soil more fertile, or how a seed must be buried and break open in order for what's inside to reach the surface.
And we can choose to be kind, because there isn't one of us who isn't feeling more than a little buried and broken, and sometimes it is hard to know which way is up.
We can go out on a limb and tell the truth when someone asks us how we're doing. Sure, it might be shocking at first, but I'm learning that it is only when we lay down our own fig leaves of fine that other people will feel freed up to do the same. Instead of shouting our opinions from the rooftops of Facebook and Twitter, we can choose to boldly whisper our stories in the presence of friends. We can put down our devices long enough to learn the names of our neighbors and listen to the worries of our kids.
When we open our eyes and our ears and our hands, we begin to see that the issues we go on and on about affect real people on our own streets, and I’m convinced there’s something about looking into someone else’s eyes that shocks our own hearts into rhythm. When we crack open the doors to our own truths in the presence of others, we crack open the doors to healing. This is how we move from being spectators to the redemption story to being participants with Christ.
He looked us in the eyes wasn't afraid of us sticking our hands in his wounds.
I know that living this way, broken wide open, will hurt, and I can't tell you with any certainty that it will ever hurt less. That is the ugly-beautiful tension of it all: the surgeon's cut is always the first step towards surviving and healing.
This isn't meant to be a political statement. I just mean to say that I'm tired of being afraid. The days of injustice are numbered, but love lasts. And don't we all want to be part of something that lasts? I'm learning how to be a safe space for the people I love. And I'm learning how to find safe spaces in them as well. The world needs safe spaces. Because I know that if we are going to survive, it will be together.
With each other and for each other. And that will be enough.
This place has seen little more than silence over the past four months. In a lot of ways, my heart is still trying to find it's bearings after October all but emptied me out. Grief, I'm learning, is no respecter of anyone's schedule. I wish I could say that coming back here felt like coming home, but that wouldn't really be true. Honestly, staring at this blank page feels like bumping into a lover from a past life. It feels like trying to rehabilitate a broken bone. Nothing is where it is supposed to be, and every move feels painful and awkward and requires more trust than I think I can muster. It isn't that I don't believe that healing can happen in an instant -- I do. But that has never been the case with me. So this is where I am now. Busted up, but trying to conjure up the courage to take the next step and the next until the scars fade and this chapter is a memory.
January 1 has come and gone, and I am still learning to lean into the ugly beautiful of a fresh start that I did not choose. This is me, sweaty palms and gritted teeth, finally hitting send on the text message that simply says "I miss you." Finally starting the work of demolishing the walls held up by my pride.
These are the stories of all the lives that came between us.
"Close your eyes and point," he told me. "We can go anywhere." All I wanted in that moment was to pack a suitcase and be gone before the world woke up. Walking away looked so damn easy. I wondered if anyone would notice we were gone. Will anyone fight for us? I am asking God.
This place is full of ghosts.
My bones are dry. I'm searching for any sign of life. A whisper that all is not lost, that beauty will rise up from these ashes. A permission slip to cry on the floor of my closet until I can't breathe, someone to tell me that it is okay to hold out hope, even on the days when it feels like the odds are stacked against me. Especially on those days. Hope isn't some fragile thing, you know. It isn't for the faint of heart.
"Forgiveness," my friend tells me, "is one of the most supernatural things a human being can take part in."
These are words my soul needs to hear, but I resist. This feels like writing the eulogy for a dream. I stand over the grave with my fistfuls of soil, not wanting to let go. Not wanting to pick up this cross.
I learned something about panic today, sitting stunned and silent in a pew. The word was born from the name of a false god. I've made idols from these dreams, from this semblance of control. I've seen the faithfulness of God, but now I'm in the wilderness and everything seems dark and empty and I need something to fix my eyes on. I slice my soul wide open and bleed, desperate to change the course of the story.
Will anyone fight for us? And it is not lost on me that he has never stopped fighting. Just perhaps that we've been fighting different battles -- me for my own dignity and him for his image come to life in me. He'd stitch me up, if I would just be still long enough.
Perseverance is the cessation of striving. Hadn't I learned that? Hadn't I always known that the invitation was to come and die? Hadn't I answered that invitation with a confident yes? Hadn't I always said I believed that wherever God had me really was the safest place?
Death will never feel safe. It will never be the choice option. But it is the only option that leads to life and freedom.
I should probably tell you, in case you're wondering: my idols never answered me. They never loved me back. They never held onto me the way that I held onto them in the middle of the night.
Maybe this is what coming home feels like, after all.
I haven't really written in a couple months. I've told the story to a few close friends, but I haven't really known how to tell it here. I wish I could say that coming back felt like meeting an old and dear friend -- the kind that you can just pick back up where you last left off and feel like no time has passed at all. But really, this doesn't feel much like that. I'm not the same person I was before October happened. Truthfully, I'm still trying to process the fact that October happened.
"I feel like I've gone through some strange metamorphosis." I say it out loud to someone, almost without meaning to.
Most days, I want life with God to be more like a sprint and less like a marathon. I want to be holy now, want this whole purification thing to take no more time than instant macaroni or a Poptart. But being made well doesn't happen overnight -- at least not in my experience thus far. Love moves slow, because love understands worth.
"I try to remember," I say to a friend as we sip our holiday coffee, "that I have an enemy -- and it isn't the people who hurt me." Sure, it may seem that way in the heat of the moment, when feelings are fresh and the sting of grief leaves me stunned -- when I watch as the trauma brings any semblance of normalcy to a screeching, burning halt. Lashing out and spewing every last ugly thought is what feels good and right, and I am tempted. Except I cannot escape this thought: when Jesus died, I died. Now, every hurt or triumph I encounter in this life must be viewed through a new lens: the lens of the cross.
"Not that that makes this any less painful," I continue. "I'm not naive enough to think that any of what happened is okay."
The pain demands to be felt.
"I'm just learning to trust that he is making me okay."
When our hard won community withered, when I reached the end of my rope and the bottom fell out like a hidden trap door underneath me -- grace caught me. He allowed the air to remain in me.
I look at the new chapter that is 2017, and my heart is deeply ready.
Not that we know where we're going or how we're going to get there, because we don't. But we trust that he goes before us.
"I go knowing that I am cherished and cared for and deeply beloved."
I believe that now in a way that I hadn't dared to believe it before. And believing it has changed me -- rescued and ransomed pieces of my soul that I had rather let lay in the grave.
Nouwen writes that as Christ's living body on earth, we are taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world -- just as he was taken, blessed, broken, and given for us.
The past two months have broken me.
What offers me the most comfort these days is how Jesus looked at brokenness as being such an integral part of living that he was willing to forsake glory to experience it with us. He chose it for my sake. I'm grateful for the grace upon grace of it all. In awe of the abundance.
But he gives more.
I find myself wanting to live out of that more, to live as though Christ in me, the hope of glory, can never run out. To live like he is close, that he wants to be close, and that his love for me goes on and on.
To shut the door to a life of scarcity and being scared.
Because I don’t want to get to the end of my life and realize that I was a grace and glory hoarder. When you catch a glimpse of the way of the beloved, you want everyone you know to come with you. Therein lies the secret of the givenness.
I’m not the same person I was a few months ago, I tell her. She is patient and kind and offers the kind of soul deep hospitality that my heart has been longing for.
I walk with a limp now, a soul war torn from these battles in the wilderness. But you don’t get to the abundance any other way. There are no shortcuts to holiness, no formula that makes sanctification more palatable or predictable.
But he makes the scars beautiful. He makes beautiful things from us.
Nine months ago, I had just turned 25 and was desperately trying to navigate living in a new state with a new job in ministry with new people, and too much of my identity was wrapped up in trying to recreate myself into a person who was well liked -- a person who fit seamlessly into the role of just enough, whatever that looked like. Just enough edge, just enough grit, giving just enough of a glimpse to keep people intrigued and on their toes. On the inside, I felt lost, deadened.
I treated God much the same way, only giving him the pieces of myself that felt ready. He offered to come in and eat a meal with me, but I wanted him to call ahead. I couldn't have him walking in on me in my unfinished fig leaves, clawing at whatever mirage of control I thought I could grasp. What I didn't realize was that he was working all along, breaking the walls down brick by brick, and sometimes that's what miracles look like. Now, I know: I can look back and see him wooing me. And he is not a God who gives himself in pieces.
I didn't see the way of beloved coming on the horizon, let alone understand what it had in store for me. I couldn't have, and perhaps that is the grace of it all. We don't know what tomorrow will bring and how love will choose to rush in. I used to fear that, and to be perfectly honest, I still do fear it on most days. But he knew, and he was already etching thanksgiving on my heart when I chose to etch it on my skin.
Lately, I've found myself praying hard for revival, for my own heart, for my marriage, for my friendships, for our church, and for the Body of Christ as a whole. I've wept in worship, asking for parted waters, a flood so uncontainable that it couldn't possibly be mistaken for anything other than a wave of the Spirit. I've been begging for a straight path into a promised land.
When you catch a glimpse of the way of the beloved, you want everyone you know to come with you.
I took a spiritual gifts inventory through our church last week, knowing that one of two things would come out on top. I've always been told that I am an encourager, and I have always felt called to make people feel at home. In the end, in this particular inventory, hospitality took the top spot, much to my lack of surprise.
Hospitality is, at least in my experience and what I would venture to guess is yours too, most widely viewed as being the hostess with the mostess: the one who opens up their Pinterest pretty home and turns a cartwheel in shiny pumps to hand someone a gluten free bit of slaved over deliciousness without breaking a sweat. And everyone at the party talks about how fine they are.
But really, that's not the kind of hospitality my thirsty heart longs for. Dare I say that I'm betting that it's not the kind of hospitality you're looking for either?
I'm craving soul hospitality.
If there is a revival to be experienced, it won't be ushered in through our contrived attempts to mimic glossy magazine covers. We won't find it by closing the doors to our messy places.
Jesus didn't come and die so that we could simply make ends meet or just do okay or experience the same old stuff on a different day. He didn't give his life so that we could walk around with the prerecorded response of fine.
Honestly, I'm not fine.
Neither is my best friend.
A boy in the apartment building next to mine took his own life last week.
The headlines scream war and hate and the world is not fine.
Our time here is so short and precious and we don't need any more occasions to wear our grave clothes.
We are broken, and we are broken for each other. We are poured out, and we are poured out for each other. This is the way of the beloved, the way of being transformed to the image of Christ, whose body was broken and poured out for us.
I need you now, and perhaps you need me. I don't have many answers, but I'm trying to learn how to become one.
Here I am, arms open, with all of my fear and trust issues and temptations and nervous quirks and baggage. And you are welcome here: welcome to cry, welcome to not hold anything back, welcome to start the brick by brick demolition of your own walls, welcome to walk in freedom just for freedom's sake.
I think I'm finally ready to unpack and call this place home.
It is a Wednesday. The nurse tries her best to hide the sense of alarm rising up her gaze as it falls on the screen. The numbers shouldn't be that high. The cuff tightens, and I try to breathe, try to keep my knees still. My heart beats, and I can almost hear it, and I think what in the world am I doing here? I am telling the truth. I am saying it out loud.
The doctor calls it white coat hypertension: a common spike in blood pressure occurring in a medical setting in otherwise healthy individuals. Months earlier, they had done blood work and an echocardiogram because the numbers were too high. Everything turned out to be fine. I try to remember that I am okay.
I tell her that I used to start my day by reading the news, but not anymore. I tell her about the panic attack, how I felt as though I had been run over by a semi-truck all the next day. I tell her about my leg muscles seizing in the middle of the night, and how my patient husband would massage the extremity until relief finally came. I tell her about the last time I self-harmed. I tell her about the sense of dread -- that Fear has been running the show, and I will do anything to get my life back.
What I don't tell her is that when I called the crisis hotline as a teenager, no one answered. No one told me that depression is every bit as devastating as cancer. I don't tell her that I wake up in the middle of the night crying, and that I can't remember the last time I showered. I don't tell her that sometimes when I'm driving, I want to leave this place and never come back.
I already feel like a fool for saying so much, for actually telling her that I am familiar with the symptoms. I tell her that I must be a doctor's least favorite kind of patient, knowing just enough to get me into trouble. She is kind, and says that it sounds a lot like clinical depression.
I have clinical depression. It is also called major depression.
The enemy that has remained aloof for the better part of a decade had finally been given a name. I didn't know if what I felt was relief. I had always known its face, and could see it coming from a mile away.
The doctor interrupts my thoughts. She says there are medications, and that sometimes that is the best course of action. She says that the side effects should only last for a couple of weeks, and that if I needed anything, I could call her any time. The pharmacist warns that the nausea is the worst of all, and I find that he is right. My stomach churns for days, and seemingly stops like clockwork just as they predicted.
Every Wednesday evening, a group of teenagers and a handful of twentysomething leaders meet in the church foyer to talk about what it really looks like to follow Christ. Their clothes are monochromatic, and their hair is a different color every week. They bring their questions, and we do our best to show them the way. Don't all of our questions echo the hissed inquisition of the Garden? Is God really good? Can I trust that grace will catch me?
We talk about how Christ, God with skin, met people where they were, in the middle of their mess. In the heart of their lies, their adultery, their plots, their pain, their smelly, blood soaked cloths -- the clothes they wore to the grave. He never held out for perfection.
I'm good at preaching that to others, and terrible at believing it for myself. I'm thankful that Christ comes all the way to meet me, but I would much rather him call ahead so I can clean myself up. I don't want him to see my dirt, my heartache, my indecision, my inability, my wrecks. I talk a big talk about authenticity, but I'd rather you believe that there is nothing wrong with me. I'd rather you not realize that in the deepest parts of my being, I'm still looking for something.
When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a lot of things. A dancer, a lawyer, a meteorologist. For a long time, I wanted to make signs. I grew up seeing signs nailed to trees and telephone poles: Jesus saves. And I was certain that the people who nailed up those signs made a living doing it. I could make a living telling people that Jesus could save them.
I wish I could go back in time and pinpoint the precise moment when I began to question if Christ truly was everything I had believed him to be -- the moment where the lies forced their way in. You have to perform. You have to hustle. You have to compensate for your inefficiency. How well you follow the rules is more important than the condition of your heart.
Is it really any wonder that my blood pressure is through the roof from the minute my feet hit the floor every morning? There are days when it seems like nothing I do is right or good or even okay.
I consider his sanctuary -- his divine operating room for mending hearts like mine. I don't want to believe that there's anything wrong with me. I don't want all the ugly to be exposed. Even more than I don't want the pain, I don't want the ugly, and pride has always been one of my greatest downfalls.
But still, he asks. Do you want to get well?
Will you let me do my healing work inside of you? I know how badly you want to be used by me, and this is the first step. Let me love you back to life.
My heart beats. I am the paralytic, and I can only muster excuses.
But I cannot heal myself.
He won't let me go. His love compels in the most gentle of ways. My heart is his, but sometimes I get nervous and try to take it back. I make a mess of myself. I become bitter.
And he makes beautiful things. If we let him. I want to let him.
Lord, let it be according to your will.