29

“Look at yourself, child.”

That was what I heard as I looked at my reflection in the mirror. It was said with love and compassion, but also with finality.

My eyes were almost swollen shut from crying. My nose was running. I looked scared and overwhelmed and exhausted and sorrowful. I hardly recognized my own reflection.

And He, my loving Father, was calling it quits. “That’s enough, beloved,” He said. And then, as gentle and tender as anything I’ve ever heard, “It’s time for bed.”

He stood by, watching with vigilance and love while I sobbed, gasping for breath. He stood by and He felt my pain. And now He was calling me to be done. To rest. To let Him be God over the nighttime, and God over my heart when I awoke again in the morning.

And so I took a deep, hiccup-y breath and went to bed. And everything in me was so heavy and swirly and confused and grief-ridden that I couldn’t even give words to it.

But it was okay because He was taking control of the situation. He was reminding me, in words as loving as a kiss, that I am His child. Precious and beloved, but human. Small and young and needy. And He is God.

How quick we are to forget that we never stop being children. We never stop needing to be parented.

And this Father of mine, in His infinite wisdom and love, was calling it bedtime.

This has been the most painful birthday of my life. It has been excruciating. And even though it hasn’t been void of love, it has also been full of aloneness and sorrow and grieving all that was lost in my 28th year of life.

It has been full of tough love. Of learning and feeling misunderstood and having to humble myself and listen even when everything in me is screaming THIS IS NOT FAIR!

Tears and hugs and disagreements and embarrassment and vulnerability and words–both comforting and painful–spoken in love.

No rose-tinted glasses here. It’s been real and raw.

And important.

A stripping away of so many things.

A necessary acceptance.

Peace where there once was only screaming grief.

And gratitude–a breath-taking reason to say Thank You–for all this last year that wasn’t lost.

My life.

My faith.

The family God is grafting me into.

It’s been a hurricane- a wild swirling of emotions and hard truths and questions and longings. My eyes haven’t known where to focus.

But of course, the only way to survive, is to look up. To focus our eyes on Him.

Oh, God. There’s so much I don’t understand.

But at least I know where to focus my eyes.

And as I was talking to Him last night about my birthday, as I was telling Him how painful it was, I heard:

“I know, daughter. I know. But it has been important.”

I’m starting my 29th year of life off with some really, really hard things laid out before me.

But in all the pain and swirling, God is building a foundation. Stripping away lies and things I have been blind to. Planting my feet firmly on Truth. Forcing me to ask myself, “Do I trust Him?” even when I’m in intense pain. And, in exchange for my unconditional “yes”, giving me a peace that is greater than any of the sorrow.

And I wouldn’t trade this birthday for one that was more full of smiles and warm feelings. I don’t want to live a birthday like this ever again, but I trust the importance of it.

The pain of God undoing what never should’ve been.

The pain of responding to the call to grow.

The pain of a new beginning- a beginning that “just so happens” (I’m looking at you, God 😉 ) to coincide with the beginning of my 29th year of life.

And I believe, with my whole heart, that is it going to be good, this year.

Because I’m leaving it up to Him. And He loves me fiercely. Protectively. He looks at me and smiles. He sees potential. He whispers over me promises. He calls me dear and beloved.

And He looks at me, with my swollen, red eyes and nose chapped from blowing it so much, and breathes peace into all the wild within me.

And He says, “It’s time for bed, child.”

And I take a deep breath and nod my head. And I surrender.

It’s all going to be okay.

The Turning Page

I read today that our tears reveal something about our hearts- and about the God who created our hearts.

After the author made that claim, he continued by naming things that had made him cry- and in doing so, he painted a sort of portrait of who He is.

I was also thinking about how I couldn’t participate in our church activity last Saturday. When the pastor asked us to think back on 2015 and remember what God did, I just stared at the Christmas tree on the stage and counted the lights and tried not to think or cry. And when we got into groups to share, all I said was, “I can’t talk about it. Not because God didn’t do anything, but because the only reason I am here to reflect on 2015 and welcome 2016 is because of Him.”

And I can’t think about it. My mind feels held captive right now, the horror and shame and desperate grasping and clinging for someone to love me. The images and memories. The terror and “I can’t believe this is my life” and the being alone. The “I can’t breathe.” The phone calls. The long nights. …Just listing things is making my heart beat fast and my cheeks redden. The trauma is as real today as it was five months ago. And if I’m not careful, I could drown in it.

But I do want to recap 2015. I want to look at my tears and my blessings and thank God for both. And the rest of it? The thoughts and memories and images that feel like fire to my brain and heart? I’ll leave them alone. I’ll hand them to God to heal or redeem or restore. I’ll continue to fall to my knees and beg Him to take from me what isn’t of Heaven. I’ll try to breathe and trust and believe in hope.

And so, I’m going to make a list. A list of what has made me cry in 2015. And a list of what I’m grateful for.

And I’m going to call it brutiful.

And worth it.

And holy. Because God has never left my side. He’s been the dryer of my tears and the giver of every good thing.

*

Times this year I’ve cried:

Those nondescript, unsuspecting moments when someone I love is talking or sitting silently or reading a book or watching TV and I look at them and I find treasure there in their face, the slope of their nose and the way their eyes look when they smile and the little intricacies and details of who they are- the curve of their fingernails or freckle on their jawline or crooked smile. There, as if written on their forehead, I see: GIFT. And my heart swells to overflowing with fierce love and tenderness and gratitude to the Lord for placing them in my life. And I say a silent prayer that they won’t ever leave- that we’re in this life together, forever.

In the vet’s office, soothing Theodore with coos and promises that it would all be okay as the vet told me the opposite. Watching him get sick and suffer. The thousands of dollars I spent and midnight trips I made trying to find a way to make him be well only to discover I couldn’t fix it and I had to say goodbye. And having Laura offer to be with me when I put him down. Terrible grief. And a verbal hug.

Jordan singing Great is Thy Faithfulness on The Voice, the truth resonating in those words. The way Adam looked at him with uninhibited joy and undisguised pride. And I knew I was watching someone’s dreams come true. And it was beautiful and poignant and made me smile and cry at the same time.

The mail. Painful letters, returned house keys, bills I couldn’t afford and that triggered hard memories, and a Christmas card from the social worker at Good Sam, which reminded me it was all real; I really did live that. I lived it. The trauma. The gripping horror of it. I lived it. And I survived it. And God won’t leave me here in this place of forever, just trying to survive and battle the trauma. Someday the Christmas card will make me smile because she cared and I survived and I forgive myself, because He has forgiven me, and what was lost isn’t beyond His ability to heal, and what is broken isn’t beyond His ability to mend. And nothing is ruined.

Hugging my niece after seven months. Love and grief and sorrow and joy all mixed up together in that moment. Wrapping her up in my arms, lifting her off the ground and carrying her like I did when she was three. Looking at her face- the gradual maturing of it. Memorizing the features and the words she spoke and begging God to help her still love me and remember me. That baby who I loved with a love I’d never felt before, who I’d comforted and delighted in and cuddled and kissed and played with… now eight years old. And rather than being there, a present person in her life, through circumstances out of my control, we are growing apart instead of together. And I knew that. And I felt that. But she was there, before me, still the one who I loved with my whole heart, and I didn’t care if she loved me too- all that mattered was memorizing how it felt to hug her, taking that with me into the next days and weeks and months. And letting myself love her as best as I could from a distance- through prayer.

The moments of aching aloneness. Feeling unwanted, unconnected, like I don’t belong to anyone. Like no one would choose me. Without family or people who carry me in their heart like a mother or sister or aunt or cousin or husband or child would. And I fear that the love I thought I had is fragile or not real or dependent on my behavior and continual efforts to prove myself as lovable.

Reading blogs or books about how He loves us- how near He is and how safe it is to hope that there’s more of Him to experience and discover. The gentle whisper to my soul: “Continue to maintain that wild, irrational hope, child.”

Watching A Little Princess- that scene where Sara is begging her father to remember her. And then he does. And he runs after her just as the cops are putting her in their car and he shouts, with the fierce protectiveness of a loving parent: “Sara!” And she runs to him and leaps into his arms and he holds her and whispers loving things to her and they cry.

When hope feels as impossible to hold on to as smoke or sunlight.

That event where I felt judged and shamed and love felt performance-based. And I felt misunderstood and confused as to what’s real- caught between the opinions of the people I love and respect and admire, and the convictions of my own heart.

Reading about or hearing about or witnessing good mothers. When mothers look at their children with unmasked, limitless love. When I hear children (even grown children) say they don’t know what they’d do without their mom. And, the stabbing pain of knowing that unless God does a miracle in my life and brings me someone who wants a desperate-to-be-loved 28-year-old daughter, I won’t ever have that again. Nor will I ever get to be a mom without His hand in my life.

Each time I’ve left a counseling session that hasn’t helped and I’ve wondered if the problem is them, or if I’m just too screwed up to be helped, or if maybe I’m not screwed up at all and this is just how I’ll feel forever.

The gift of rainbows in the sky. Particularly last month when I saw the barely-there rainbow in the sky on my way to work. And I smiled and whispered, “Thank You.” And then, there, as I rounded a corner, I saw a bright and vibrant and beautiful second rainbow, the end of which was right beside me not even five feet away. It was incredible. And I realized then that the faint rainbow, which I had been so pleased with, had just been a shadow of the real gift He had to give. I imagined God’s eyes twinkling as I thanked Him for that faint rainbow, all the while knowing He had something even better coming just a few seconds later. And I imagined Him there, holding His breath, so excited for me to see.

Each time I’ve prayed a prayer of surrender and trust. Each time I’ve lifted up my heart tentatively and on shaking hands and said, “Take it. I trust You.”

*

Things I’m Grateful For:

I didn’t spend Christmas alone.

Hard, growing, vulnerability-requiring, bonding conversations.

Being able to cry again.

The laps and shoulders I’ve cried on.

Dancing in the rain.

Life-affirming road trips, particularly the one to Cape Flattery and the spontaneous 6:00 p.m. drive to Ocean Shores.

Having–and keeping–a job I love.

People who’ve been there in hard moments. They’ve showed up or answered their phones. They’ve welcomed me into their homes and lives. They’ve prayed for me.

Good books. Books that help me feel like Jesus is right here at my side, filling me with the sense of “life abundant” that I am clinging to as being my birthright.

The kids in my life who love me and who I get to squeeze and cuddle and love on.

The miracle of leaving Bellevue early. And having a ride home.

Getting my head above the water long enough to choose not to give up.

My church family. The increased comfort I feel there. The post-church shared meals and laughter and conversation.

Every single moment someone’s looked at me with love. I notice it- every time. And I store it up in my heart and use it to battle the lies that seem to constantly be threatening to pull me under.

Every night I’ve gone to bed with hope filling me up inside. Every morning I’ve woke up with joy bubbling within me. Every afternoon I’ve suddenly been struck by the assurance that it’s all going to be okay.

*

I still have to ask Him every single night to tuck me in.

I’m 28 and I can’t sleep–I can’t silence my heartache and fear and desire to take control of things I have no control over–without believing the God who calls me daughter stops by my bed at night and tucks the covers up around me and kisses my forehead.

And I calm my heart by meditating on my belief that He stands vigil while I sleep, looking down on me with love, working in my life even while I rest.

And that is how I’ll begin 2016- needing God with a desperate fierceness.

And trusting Him to never leave my side.

The Redeeming Of Mistakes

When I sit down to write a blog lately, my stomach fills with knots and butterflies and all the other things nervous stomachs fill up with. And I don’t know why. Maybe I’m subconsciously afraid I won’t hear from God (which is the whole point of my writing). Maybe it’s the enemy trying to dissuade me from trying. I don’t know. I just know I won’t let my nervous stomach win.

That said,

The other night, I watched Tomorrowland. I honestly didn’t have huge hopes for it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was one of those “I have to pee but don’t want to get up” movies. So I just sat there, uncomfortable, willing my body to cooperate until the movie ended.

I’ve heard before that there are two wolves battling inside us, hope and despair, and what wolf wins is whatever one you feed. And yet, there was something about hearing that in the context of this movie that made my heart fill with lightness.

The main character, Casey, was relentlessly, unwaveringly hopeful. Even in the face of really overwhelming, depressing, seemingly inevitable things. She didn’t give up. She was convinced there was something that could be done. Anne Frank-style, she saw the beauty through the tragedy. She didn’t deny that the present was hard, she just opened her eyes up to see that it wasn’t JUST hard. And in doing that, she had the power to create for herself a future that reflected the hope she was holding tight to.

And isn’t that what we’re called to do as Christians? To look at impossibilities and seeming inevitability and overwhelming darkness and say “no”? Demand that it bend its knee to the name of Jesus? We are called to look at hard things and speak hope and life over them, calling them to reflect heaven. On earth as it is in heaven, right?

*

It has only been two and a half months.

The other night, I sat in a car with someone who witnessed that season of my life, and I talked about it. And I felt shame-induced nervousness rising into my throat. But I talked about it anyway.

“I forgive me. She still loves me. It’s in the past. God is doing a new thing,” I kept reminding myself.

I REFUSE to submit to shame. I refuse to not talk about it. Even if it makes my hands shake and my stomach hurt and my eyes tear. Even if it makes my cheeks redden and my insecurities about love and relationships and my own mental health resurface, I refuse to hide. I refuse to just carry truth around with me in a backpack, trying to forget it or only sneaking a peak at it in my most private moments.

I will unpack it–brokenness and embarrassment and shame and all–and lay it before my loved ones and I, and we will all look at it. We will look at the truth and we will talk about what needs to be talked about.

And I won’t hide it.

It happened. It’s part of my story, and I can’t move forward without embracing that. I refuse to carry it around with me on my back for the rest of my life, trying to keep people from noticing the metaphorical backpack I’m always lugging around.

Instead, I choose to ditch the backpack all-together as I lay bare my truth. And in doing so, I choose freedom. I choose humility. I choose to trust God with all of it.

When I look back on that season in my life, I can’t believe it actually happened. I don’t recognize the person I was. But the miracle is that, slowly, shame and embarrassment are being stripped away. And all that’s left is gratitude- gratitude for how far God has brought me, and gratitude for the people who’ve remained.

It’s pointless and exhausting to think through the events over and over again, remembering who saw what, and how I felt, and what people must’ve thought, and the person that I was, and what people remember, and what I remember, and how much they all think about it, and whether or not they still see me the same way. It’s pointless and just keeps me stuck there, trying to think my way out of it- turning things over and over in my mind, as if doing so will eventually make them not have happened.

So I say no. I say it’s done and I can’t undo it. I say, “Here are the contents of my backpack.” And I smile because some run the other way, yes, but not everyone does. And that’s beautiful.

Here’s what I know: I forgive myself. God forgives me. And I am still loved. And really, what more could I want? What else matters?

Yes, loved one, you’ve seen me at my worst. You’ve seen me embarrass myself. And yet, you’re still here. …And how much freedom is there in that?! In knowing you’ve seen me as unlovable as I’ve ever been, and you still love me?

So, maybe it’s not embarrassment I should be feeling. Maybe I should just be feeling incredibly blessed. Blessed to be alive, and blessed to be loved.

And grateful that God, knowing this season was coming, placed me among the people who would be safest for me and best for me and see me through it, administering some “tough love” and all.

And anyway, isn’t that what love does? It sees our embarrassment and says, “No, I will still love you.” And embarrassment can’t continue to exist in that environment. In the face of relentless, unwavering love, when the people who witnessed our embarrassment refuse to call it that but instead say “I love you”, the only way we can still be burdened with embarrassment is if we are refusing to forgive ourselves.

And refusing to trust that God is able to restore and redeem even out biggest mistakes.

And He does.

I don’t ever want to go through an experience like that again. I pray over myself regularly that God will protect me and help me guard my heart and stand firm in truth. But He can (and does) take even our biggest mistakes and make them something beautiful. It’s astounding.

You know, I spent a long time thinking I didn’t matter. That I was unloved. That I didn’t have family, simply because it didn’t look the way I had thought family should look.

And I fell into a deep, dark pit.

And they saw. They watched. I embarrassed myself. I scared them. And still, they showed up.

And who does that–who stands by, even while we are destroying ourselves–other than family?!

It’s not embarrassing because it’s cloaked in forgiveness and love. And the result? All I can see now is that God’s given me a wonderful gift. He’s revealing to me His incredible provision and protection for that season in my life, and my continued recovery.

And oh, how the right people are in my life. People who love me without allowing me to unintentionally project my need for God onto them.

And He did that. He said, “These are the people who will love her without letting her forget that, more than anything else, it’s My love she needs. They will be her family.”

It’s only been two and a half months. Oh, how far He’s brought me…

The pit was dark and deep.

And yet, here I am today, still climbing out, but looking up. Smiling. With the sun on my face.

In His Arms

I was tempted to start off this post by saying: “Sadness sucks.”

But that’s not really true, is it? God can use our sadness. God can grow us and speak to us in our sadness. But we make it harder on Him, I think, when we’ve labeled our sadness as “sucky”, as something to “get through”. I am learning to breathe through the sadness, to ask God how He wants to use it.

I went to the Chris Tomlin and Toby Mac concert last night.

I started the night off feeling kind of awkward in my body, wanting to dance or clap, but feeling self-conscious.

Towards the middle of the night, I was standing, swaying, raising my arms.

And then sadness hit me like a pool of water when you jump off a diving board and belly flop. I wasn’t expecting it. And honestly, it was hard to say what exactly happened.

But there I was, sucker-punched by sadness. And so I sat, and I hugged my knees to my chest, and I wiped tears off my cheeks with the back of my hand, and then wiped my hand on the knee of my jeans.

And I felt embarrassed. I didn’t know if anyone noticed that I was crying, and I was worried that if they did, they would think I was ruining their fun. But I have vowed to myself not to shut my heart down, not to say “no” if the Lord is wanting to do something in me.

And what is worship if not time dedicated to the Lord?

Maybe sometimes that looks like raised hands (even while your knees shake, as I wrote about in a previous blog!) and sometimes it might look like curling your body into as small a ball as you can get it and letting yourself cry.

And yes I was crying, and yes I was sad, but it was more than that. It was more than sadness. I was also crying because I felt deeply moved by how the Lord loves us.

And everything I lack can be found in Him.

No one is going to hold me. I’m no one’s daughter, little sister, wife. But He will. He will hold me.

And that, the grieving of what I don’t have and the mind-blowing beauty of what I do have, it made me cry.

And also, off to the right, glowing like a reminder that I didn’t want, stood the hospital. I’ve been in that ER twice in the past couple of months.

All around me, words about God’s love filled the air, and off to the right stood a reminder that I’ve come so far… and still not that far.

And I cried. I cried because of how my decisions must’ve grieved the Father’s heart. And I cried because HE HAD NEVER LEFT MY SIDE. How astoundingly beautiful that the Jesus who died to give me life would still love me after I had decided that life wasn’t worth it.

I hurt. And I’m sad. And also, I’m full of hope and joy. I laugh and smile. And I cry. And I’ll take that- I’ll take feeling, even when it’s painful, over numbness. I want, as much as possible, to live my life fully alive.

And so I cried at the concert. And I rebuked embarrassment and shame and any depression that might want to creep in and sabotage the good work the Lord was doing, and I prayed, “Holy Spirit, have your way in me.”

And I sat in my seat, chin quivering, breathing in the love of Christ, allowing pain to beat in sync with my heart, and smiling. Because it’s incredible, the beauty that is promised to us, the love that is here for us now, and the people all around me–thousands of people–all worshiping the God who sustains and redeems and never, ever walks out on us.

And I cried for another reason as well. Because I was at that concert, worshiping the God who loves me, and I wasn’t there alone. I went with my church family. People who I fiercely love.

Love is such an incredible gift. Healthy, genuine, unconditional, reminiscent-of-Jesus love.

I’m still terrified of it- of boundaries and vulnerability and not having any signed, unbreakable document assuring me that people won’t leave me. But mostly I’m able to breathe in the gift of what the Lord has provided for me, and marvel at the fact that He has taken such good care of me.

He has given me people–and, miraculously, FAMILY!–and He’s given me victory and growth and comfort and wisdom and freedom. And He’s given me Himself.

I am moved to tears by Him.

I cry because of what I don’t have, and I cry because of what I do. And I think maybe that’s beautiful. Because tears indicate a heart that is fully alive. And smiling through the tears is an act of trust- surrender to a God who knows more and sees more and who is faithfully good.

And maybe I’m not ever going to be the life of the party, the person everyone gravitates toward for a good time. But I’m watching God break off my belief that I have to prove myself to people or show up “a certain way” rather than just showing up. Slowly, but undeniably, He is doing a good work in me.

And I feel the Lord closer to me after last night’s concert. I feel His breath swirling all around me.

And so when I am sad, it’s easier to turn my head against His chest and be embraced by the Lord who understands me and loves me perfectly.

The Lord who holds me.

Breaking Chains

I raised my hands during worship at church yesterday.

I used to raise my hands all the time, back when I went to church with my family, back before Mom died, but I haven’t since. Not publicly. In my times of private worship I do, but not at church.

The thought of raising my hands publicly, within eyesight of people who know me!, felt terrifying. Vulnerable. An intimate moment between the Lord and I made public.

If you asked me five years ago if I’d ever get scared of raising my hands in church, I’d think you were nuts. And yet, there I was. Terrified of a thing that never used to scare me before.

I don’t know how that happens. How your heart can ache for love, and it seems so innocent and harmless, but it grows. Your desire for love starts to color how you see yourself and others. You analyze their behaviors and try to read their minds and wonder if you’re enough.

All  you need to do is say, “I care what that person/those people think of me,” and Satan takes that and runs with it.

And so you wake up one day and realize that you’re terrified of people, of being seen, and that you’ve become caught up inside yourself that you can’t even be you anymore.

But you don’t know any other way to exist anymore. Fear has taken over.

And you thought what you needed was love, you stood your ground and crossed your arms over your chest and stubbornly said, “I NEED love! People NEED love!” And that’s true. However, you’ve created a prison for yourself- a prison of trying to earn love and prove yourself lovable, and thinking that you simply won’t be able to survive without it.

But as long as you’re there, no amount of love received in that place is going to free you from the fear that has overtaken you. Because a human’s love can’t do that. Only God’s love can set us free.

We MUST find our security in Him alone.

We must be able to say that, even if everything else is ripped away from us–even love–we will be okay because He will never leave us. And He is more than enough for us. He is all we “need”.

And I say that not in a convicting way, but with a tender heart because I KNOW how freaking painful it is to leave everything, even our desire to be loved, at the foot of the cross. It is excruciating.

But oh, how desperate we are as a society to spend more time there, at the foot of the cross, letting the Lord sing over us and remind us that He is the fulfillment of everything our hearts long for. That His love for us is REAL. And that He is ALIVE. And we are never alone.

We need Him in a desperate way. We are too vulnerable when we’re not completely hiding ourselves in Him.

Anyway, back to my story.

So, to recap, I was scared to raise my hands during worship at church.

And yet, I knew that if I held back during worship out of fear of other people, I was making them an idol. And so, even if I was worshiping God with my mouth and my heart, I was also worshiping people in my actions and my mind.

And that thought made me so sad. Because I do love my Jesus! And I don’t want to worship people!

But I felt like a prisoner to my fear of people. And while I sincerely wanted freedom, I didn’t want to have to do anything scary or uncomfortable to get it.

And so I just hoped and prayed that one day the Lord would just free me of my fear. That one day I would just raise my arms and worship Him and it wouldn’t be scary anymore.

But He doesn’t work like that.

I mean, what lesson would that have taught me? He wants to make me more like Jesus, which means that I am going to have to walk through some hard things, not just be delivered from everything.

He is more concerned about renewing my mind and freeing me from the chains that bind me than He is concerned about my comfort.

If He had just taken away my fear of raising my arms in worship, I’d still be bound in other ways. My arms might be lifted, but part of me would still be worshiping people.

I had to make a choice. If I wanted freedom from that fear, I had to CHOOSE Him. I had to choose to care more about worshiping Him than I cared about what people would think.

Even if I was terrified.

And I sensed the Lord saying, “Do you trust Me?”

Did I? Did I trust Him with my fear? With my desire to be loved? To not look like a fool? Did I trust Him enough with my heart to let it be seen? Did I trust Him enough to be vulnerable?

And again, I had to make a choice. I had to choose that yes, I trusted Him. I trusted Him with all of that and more.

And so I mustered all of my courage (literally), and I closed my eyes tight so that I could try to forget that there was anyone else in the room to witness what I was about to do, and I raised my hands.

And it was terrifying in a way beyond even my comprehension. I mean, I knew it was going to be scary, but I hadn’t anticipated that my body would react like it did- I was shaking involuntarily from my fingertips to my knees! I honestly thought I was going to have to sit down because my legs were trembling so badly.

And when I realized how badly I was shaking and that I couldn’t make myself stop, I started to feel REALLY embarrassed because PEOPLE COULD SEE ME, and what if everyone was staring at me?! What if everyone noticed!? And that train of thought didn’t do me any favors. I started to shake worse.

And there I was, my hands in the air, shaking. And embarrassed. But then, much to my own shock, I felt myself start to smile because MY HANDS WERE IN THE AIR! I did it!

And I decided that even if I wasn’t going to be able to stop shaking, I might as well make the most of the fact that my hands were raised! If people could see, they could see. The damage was already done. And so I turned my thoughts back to the One who deserved my worship.

And as I worshiped, as I kept my eyes closed and focused on the face of my Jesus, I stopped shaking.

There’s power in offering yourself as a sacrifice during worship- surrendering pride an fear and choosing instead to worship freely and openly- because He deserves it.

I raised my arms on Saturday and something broke. A chain. And I really think some of that fear was spiritual. I was fighting a battle. Because logically, it shouldn’t have been that scary. And losing control of my body like that was bizarre.

Before I had raised my hands, when the Lord was asking if I trusted Him, I also sensed Him asked me if I wanted to be free. It’s a good question. Do I want to be free?

Do I want to be free from all the things that have me bound and chained to a life that is less than what He wants for me? Am I willing to do scary things to get free? Am I willing to say, “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. I give up trying to make myself be loved. I trust You with all of it.”? Am I willing to make the conscious decision, over and over and over again, to exalt Him above everything else- people, fear, my heartache?

Yes.

Because I know that there is no life any other way.

I can stand there with my arms at my sides and worship Him with my mouth, but that isn’t going to make me any more lovable. It’s not going to get me any closer to where I want to be in relationships with people. All it’s going to do is ensure that I stay bound, living in a life of fear, worshiping things other than my God.

I deserve better than that.

HE deserves better than that.

I think yesterday’s worship service was the most important one of my life. Because I chose the Lord.

I jumped. And I shook. And I was terrified.

But then He caught me. And I smiled. And I felt His love flood my heart. And I stopped shaking.

I have to choose to do what I can, and then trust Him with the rest.

I have to surrender outcomes. I have to surrender everything I cannot control.

And I have to choose to walk in faith, to live like I believe that Scripture is Truth.

I couldn’t control my shaking or how many people noticed or what people thought.

But I could choose to raise my hands. I could choose to say to my heart and my mind, “NO. We only serve one God, and that is Jesus Christ.”

And whatever happens from there, from the time I thrust my arms heavenward, that’s up to Him.

But He promises to catch us.

He beckons us to do scary things, asking, “Do you trust Me?”

And really, no matter how scary it is, there’s nothing scarier than choosing to stay captive to something that will ultimately rob you of the fullness of life God wants for you.

For example, today I moved quickly and my bunny, Penny, jumped up and ran away. She is the sweetest, most affectionate bunny, but she is incredibly skittish. And every time I forget that and move too quickly and she runs from me, it hurts my heart.

I wish she could know that she doesn’t have to be afraid of me- not ever. That I would never hurt her.

And so I told her that.

And as I was talking to her, I sensed that the Lord could say the exact same thing to me. How often do I get caught up fearing things that I don’t need to be afraid of? How often do I live like I don’t trust Him? How often do I forget that He won’t hurt me?

Oh Jesus, help me continue to do the scary thing. Help me continue to choose You. I pray for freedom. For fullness of life. Break away the chains that bind me, Lord, as I run to You.

Rainbows and Trust

I saw a rainbow today. Barely. I stared at the sky for a long time, trying to figure out if my eyes were playing tricks on me.

God knows I am forever hunting the sky for rainbows. He knows what they mean to me. To me, they are a hug from Him. A reassurance. He knows that.

And after carefully scrutinizing the sky, I felt something well up inside of my soul. It felt like I was being hugged from the inside. And I knew that my eyes weren’t tricking me. It was there, a rainbow, in muted pink and orange and yellow, arching across the sky.

And I bet no one else even saw it.

But I did.

And that makes me think that God put it there for me.

I was praying when I saw the rainbow. One of those, “You are big and mighty and holy and I am in awe of You… But, Lord, please just tell me that it’s all going to be alright,” prayers. And then I saw it. And my prayer quickly became, “I love You, I love You, I love You, I love You…”

And I do. I do love Him.

But it’s also a prayer, a plea, because I know I cannot trust myself. I know how hard it is to hold on to a God I cannot physically touch, especially when this life feels disappointing. It’s hard to not give up seeking a God who cannot hold me.

And I don’t think I’m alone in that struggle. We love Him because He first loved us, right? Which is selfish and silly and honestly kind of sickening to me, and yet, it’s human nature. And so, I pray His love for me will overwhelm me in such a way that my love for Him continues to grow stronger and deeper all the days of my life.

And I know myself. I know that I am prone to drowning in emotion. If things go poorly, if they don’t go my way, no amount of filling my head with scripture is going to counter the ache that forms like a ulcer in my heart. I know it’s true that He is good, and I know it’s true that He has a plan, but that doesn’t make this moment hurt less.

It does, however, whisper an important truth to my soul: “Do not despair.” And that’s immensely helpful, it is. But as I said before, I am prone to drowning in emotion.

And so I pray that prayer, telling Him that I love Him, because I need to feel Him smiling at me. I need Him to know it’s true. And I need Him to hold tight to me. When I turn away or try to give someone or something else God’s place in my life, I need Him to pull me back. I need Him to consume my heart.

I cannot control anything. I cannot control how my life turns out or whether or not I’m okay. I’ve tried. I have nothing left to offer. I’ve tried to battle my emotions and thoughts with scripture. I’ve tried to begin each day smiling at the sunrise. And I don’t have it in me to try to be okay anymore.

I want joy that is genuine, not happiness that I hold on to relentlessly, even while it’s struggling to get away.

I think for a long time I’ve done life with my happiness like an umbrella in the wind, constantly turning itself inside out. I’m soaking wet from the rain and my umbrella is inside out above my outstretched arm, but I refuse to let go. I refuse to say this isn’t working. Instead, I hold on anyway, insisting everything is great.

I cannot do it anymore.

And, ironically, I think maybe that’s where God has wanted me all along. I don’t think God asks us to be stronger than our pain, I think He just asks us to trust Him.

And I want to. I want my love for Him to be the biggest, realest thing in my heart.

I read last night that sometimes it takes more courage and strength to let yourself fall apart, trusting God to catch you, than it does to try to hold it together. I think that’s really, really true. It’s much scarier to throw your hands up and say, “I can’t do it!” than it is to attempt to power through.

It’s much scarier to give in to gravity, to loosen your death-grip on the ledge you’ve been digging your fingertips into to keep from falling, and to just fall. To let go, knowing that you aren’t going to grow wings on your way down, and knowing that you cannot ensure that your landing will be a soft one. You fall and all you know as gravity pulls you towards the earth is who your God is, that He is holy and mighty and He has a plan, and that You couldn’t hold on anymore anyway. There was no other option but to fall and trust.

Where I’m at right now is really embarrassing. But I cannot hide it or pretend everything is okay or else I know that I won’t survive. So I have to be honest with the people in my life who I love and trust. And that is terrifying. Completely terrifying. Because… I don’t know how anyone could love me through this.

I have no choice, though. It’s either risk losing love or risk not surviving.

And, as a friend of mine keeps telling me, love isn’t fragile. I’m trying to believe that, which is hard because I don’t know that I’ve ever known a love that isn’t fragile or conditional.

My friend says, when someone loves you the way the Bible describes love, they don’t stop. They don’t change their mind. They don’t give up on you. The love of the Bible is strong and unwavering.

And so that is my prayer, as well. That something beneath my feet will be solid, that something in my hands won’t crumble.

I pray this time, this season of my life and the people in my life, are from God. Because if they are, I can breathe. People will always let each other down, I know. We are flawed and imperfect and human and I am completely okay with that. But if God goes before me, if He paves the way, if He knew this time was coming and I’d need someone to help me get through it, then maybe the people in my life right now are in my life for a reason, and maybe I don’t have to be afraid.

And, if not, if things do get worse before they get better–(dear God, please say they’re going to get better!)–at least I’m still the daughter of a King who puts rainbows in the sky for me.

Taking In Truth Like Vitamins

1. It isn’t wrong or weak to need a safe place.

“[My daughter needs a] safe place to know that she is in the middle of those who love her. She needs a safe place to hear her mother’s heart for her and that we in this home are FOR her. That we will fight for her. She needs to know that she matters more than the rest of it. More than the boys who bug her at school, more than the crazy feelings in her head, more than the difficulty of being nine. More than her frustration. She matters more than all of it. And we parents, when did we become grown up enough to be in charge of any of this? Sometimes we need a safe place too. Sometimes we all need a safe place. We need to be carried. I’ve found myself at a place in the last few months when I’ve needed to be carried, and when I’m finally there, I realize what a hard place that is. It’s humbling, it’s painful, and it’s true. Sometimes I need someone to say, ‘Stand up for yourself,’ and ‘You can do this; you have this.’ But sometimes I need someone to gently lift me and carry me because there is nothing left. Let us be a people who are carriers of one another. Let us look with intention around us to find those who need to be lifted and held rather than scolded, and then Lord give us the strength to carry. And when it is we who need to be carried, let us have those around us who can do it.”

 

2. We aren’t meant to do it alone.

“Because the way out [of a dark place] is a daily, moment to moment choice, and one I continue to struggle to make. But the hope is real and the God of it bigger and stronger than anything. Every lie that says we are alone is rooted in alienation from God that happened long ago with a tragic choice that shattered a perfect world. Loneliness has been a part of every life since, but God again and again speaks something greater. He speaks it in Deuteronomy 31 and Jeremiah 31 and Psalm 23. Ultimately, He speaks it through the perfect love displayed in His Son. Our trust in this love binds us forever to God in a way that enfolds us in His heartbeat as it becomes ours. The beauty, my friends, of every bit of loneliness, especially the most intense, is that it drives us to the Source of our hope. Our hope is anchored in God and His promises. As we believe this is our truest reality, we will overcome. As we trust the deeper love of God, we find the strength to step into community. True community feeds true community. Every step we take to be ourselves, to love others and let them love us brings us out of isolation and closer to our real Home. The lies of loneliness and isolation lose their power. We choose to trust God’s love is as real as He is. We choose to trust His love in others and read that post, listen to that story and open our hearts to the Truth. And, when we are ready, we share ours too. We embrace the God of hope who binds our wounds in the ties of communion and community.”

 

3. It’s okay to be a mess.

“You don’t need to have it all together. You don’t need to almost have it all together, either. In fact, it’s absolutely 100% OK if you’re a wreck some days. Because you weren’t created to have it all together this side of heaven. Read Psalm 139. Let each word pour over your worn and broken pieces until you believe that you were placed in this world at this time by the One who does have it all together … by the Almighty hand of God who cannot make mistakes.”

 

4. We are called to love, even when it’s scary.

“God doesn’t call us to fit in, be popular, or be accepted by the world around us. While it’s wonderful to feel that sense of connection and love when it’s offered in return, we are called to be set apart and even glaringly different. Even when we experience being mocked or gossiped about or hurt by community, He asks us to remember who we are and why we are here, to press through that fear to love people anyway. The vulnerability of putting ourselves out there to share life, connect, and be in relationship with others, in spite of our weakness or painful experiences, is a part of the risk we take as a Christ follower to care about and impact the world. In being a willing follower of Christ I’ve offered myself up to serve Him in the world in whatever He asks of me. He already knows me, He knows the risk. But He still asks me to get up and out the door to show His love. He reminds me every day to open that door, to invite others in to my home. He offers me that opportunity to be vulnerable and connect with the world. He nudges me to offer time to serve my church. He asks me to reach out to others in friendship or even for help. It is hard to press through insecurities and discouragement to head out in search of community. But we are called to do it anyway. To be a fully devoted follower of Christ, we have to be willing to surrender the preoccupation with our needs, our weakness, our agenda, and our own insecurities so we can remember our purpose to show love to the world and rest in our identity found in Christ.

 

5. Love is never wrong.

“[It doesn’t matter how we connect, but WHO is connecting us.] We serve a God who brings us together in deeper ways than what can be defined for geography or proximity. He forms bonds between our hearts and souls that transcend the factual details of our lives. So let’s chat on phones. And click on computers. And share our hearts over coffee. Whatever it takes to find and keep community. Jesus clearly showed us we’re to do whatever it takes to reach the people we care about–even if it means stepping outside our comfort zones. He didn’t say, ‘Connect with me on my terms.’ He said, ‘Wherever you are, I will come to you.’ We have been sought out by the God of love. And now it’s our turn. Who is God asking you to love today and where can you find them? Your answer to that question is your mission field. Do whatever it takes to be there.