When it all falls apart

What do you do when you’ve let yourself slide back into who you were?

What do you do when the supports you were used to vanish and you feel like you’re failing on your own?

When you’re drowning, when life is uncertain, when everything feels like it is falling apart, what is it exactly you should do?

You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and remember that it is a new day and another chance to make a different choice; a better choice.

In the end, I’ve learned that I am my best advocate and when I stop advocating for myself and allow myself to fall into a hole, the hole just gets deeper and deeper. Even the people who reach out, who notice I’m digging the hole, who throw down a rope and say, “hey, grab on!” can’t do anything more than wait for me to take hold and pull myself up to the level where they can assist.

Moving back home is hard, working two jobs that include taking care of other people the entire time are tedious, having uncertain hours and a weird schedule that sometimes includes working overnight is exhausting. Add in the fact that old supports were left in Southern California and the new supports I fashioned out of scraps I’ve managed to unearth are actually not that sturdy in the long run and I find myself living in a world of instability. My environment acts against me and foils me at every turn but the worst thing I did was give into it.

I began consuming the negative, I became a victim of circumstance, I began to blame the universe for something that was ultimately my choice.

Then I had a moment of clarity, a breath of fresh air, and it hasn’t changed anything; it has empowered.

I can change. I can self-advocate. I can engage in self-care and I can do this.

Because I am stubborn and strong and willful and by golly I have a purpose and I haven’t been doing a great job at living it out lately.

Time to pick up, dust off, and get back to work.

The Saturday In-Between

There is an awkward Saturday situated in-between Easter Sunday and Good Friday. In previous years I’ve greatly associated with Easter, or I’ve greatly associated with Good Friday, but this year I’m strangely content to relate most to the Saturday in-between the two big events.

A church I attended once referred to it as ‘dark Saturday’ which I think fits. It is the day after the crucifixion, the day where all of Jesus’ followers would be in mourning. I think along with the mourning they probably asked, “what’s next?” The man they’d followed for years, a man who had performed miracles, healed the sick, and cared for the poor, who promised them heaven and for God to be restored as king, was dead. Crucified at the hands of the Romans. Their Messiah, the chosen one, was gone and I imagine their faith was probably at a standstill.

After all, when your everything ended up hung on a cross and killed for the public to see, it might be hard to imagine moving forward.

They didn’t know that Easter would come the next day. They were oblivious to the fact that the stone would be rolled away, the tomb would be empty, and they would have the chance at new life. Jesus would resurrect and a new point in history would begin.

Saturday was a day of isolation. Loneliness. Uncertainty.

So this year I think Saturday is the day I associate with, because since I’ve moved back to Oregon I’ve felt like I’m in some sort of black hole. Yes, I’ve managed to find work. Yes, I get to be with my family and play with my niece, yes, I’ve been given some awesome opportunities and cool experiences…but it still feels oddly empty. Where things of the world abound in my life, God is strangely absent.

Though I guess absent isn’t the word as much as muted is. God is muted. I attended a Christian school for two and a half years and had God in every aspect of my life. Classes were based in faith, friends always wanted to have faith based conversations, my work was in an environment surrounded by people always challenging and pushing me to pursue Christ. In that time God was a high definition bluray with surround sound.

Now He’s more like a gurgling brook I can hear but can’t see.

I feel like the disciples in that I understand the reality of what happened on the cross, and unlike them in the fact I know that resurrection came, but somehow I still find myself resting in the middle ground. I’m sitting between death and resurrection wondering where exactly I’m going to go next or what I’m supposed to do next.

How can I continue to pursue a resurrection relationship when I feel a strange disconnect from my surroundings?

I have a lot of questions and not really many answers. I will celebrate Easter tomorrow and accept the fact that grace saved me. But I will still meditate on the meaning of the Saturday in-between and keep seeking what comes next.

The Lonely Church Hunt

Church hunting is one of my least favorite things to do.

It is oftentimes frustrating and always nerve-wracking. I had a great church experience when I was going to school in Southern California. I was finally beginning to understand the church culture down there and found an amazing family at a new church plant in Orange, California. When I found them I knew my time with them would be limited but I enjoyed every moment of it.

Being back in Oregon means I have to find a church again. The one I attended through high school and the start of college simply isn’t my home anymore. I wanted to find a church within the community I was living in, anyway, not one twenty minutes away in a town I was out of touch with. So Sunday after Sunday (on the Sundays I can manage to get out of bed which is a different topic) I try new churches and I walk out of them feeling strangely alone.

The past few years have taught me that ‘little c’ church is not the same as ‘big c’ Church. The Church, which is the culmination of all God’s people all around the world regardless of denomination, is different than the little church communities that meet in buildings on Sunday. They are all connected to the bigger idea of Church and I would think that would make it easy to slide into a community and find a home. After all, we believe the same things. Death, burial, resurrection and all of that. Yet it doesn’t seem to be the case in my experience.

A favorite author and blogger of mine, Rachel Held Evans, posted this on Facebook yesterday:

Image

I appreciated it. I appreciated the admission of loneliness because it finally gave me the description of what I felt as I left churches. The thing is the loneliness doesn’t come from a lack of a connection with God. It comes from a lack of connection with God’s people, with my Christian family.

When I started in at my University I would have said that church was about me and God. It was about me going and connecting with God and then leaving until the following week. My view of church was narrow and consisted of me and God. Sure, interaction with other people was nice but it wasn’t a requirement. As long as I was on good terms with God I was fine.

Then I learned something very important: church isn’t about me it is about connecting with fellow believers. It is about joining into something bigger than just me. It is about communion and collective worship. God is seen in his Church, where ever his people gather together he is there, and I think this is by design because He knows that we need each other. His people need to be with other members of the body in order to grow, mentor, flourish, and change.

So when I walk out of a church building on a Sunday and feel lonely it isn’t because I didn’t get something out of God, or that I feel my connection with Him is lacking. I feel lonely because I felt like an alien, a foreigner, and someone who didn’t belong in that particular church.

I won’t give up my search for a church family and already have an idea of where I will go from here, but I wanted to share because I think what Rachel said is important. Any person – Christian or non Christian – who walks out of a church feeling lonely isn’t alone in that feeling.

You’re in good company. 

Go and do

There are days when I’m very critical. I get mad at the world, angry at political commentators, frustrated with the general state of our country and other countries. I sit around and fuss about the government and about people and I come up with a list a mile long of all the things everyone is doing incorrectly.

The government shouldn’t have to be the one we turn to in order to help the poor, people should.

Controversial words slapped on pictures hold way too much sway on the current generation.

No one fact checks.

Everyone hyperbolizes.

The rich don’t give enough.

The poor don’t do enough.

See? I could go at this all day, pointing out everything that other people are doing poorly. I could probably create an entire game plan on how to fix everything and submit it to the President if I wanted to. There’s a problem though: sitting on my rear end being critical doesn’t do a single thing. Nothing is going to change because I sit around complaining all day.

It comes down to a phrase that the Christian writer, activist, and hugger Bob Goff uses and I always come back to:

Love does.

The love I have for this world isn’t going to be expressed through a detailed critique of everything other people are doing incorrectly. The love I have for people isn’t going to come through the more I sit around yelling at the government or yelling at the wealthy to help people. My love isn’t even truly expressed through writing these words and posting them on a blog. The love I have for this world and all of the people in it can only be expressed in doing.

Maybe I write well, maybe I’m good at pushing through logical fallacies and calling people out on their bull, maybe I’m really clever and smart and can humiliate those who disagree with me. Ultimately none of these things matter because I’m not actually doing what I’m called to do. See, I’m not doing and that is the key.

So instead of lobbying for a certain political position or piece of legislation, maybe I should put that money and time toward helping families. Instead of complaining about the failing education system in this country, I could jump into it and reach into the lives of kids who are struggling. Maybe instead of condemning young women who have had sex and are pregnant and looking for an escape, I can come alongside them and walk them through the process and whatever process they choose let them know that they are loved through it all.

Why do all of this? Because Jesus has walked with me through my hardest times, through my darkest patches, and continues to pick me up when I fall.  He does. His love manifests itself through the people that step into my life with encouraging words, who come alongside me and tell me that it is okay to not have a job and that God has a plan, who tell me I will kill it in graduate school, and who insist that I can be a powerful force in the world if I just let myself be.  

I don’t think my life has ever been genuinely impacted by anything less than the people around me doing something. Actions speak louder than words and I believe actions carry the message a lot further. 

You’re Beloved

It is amazing to me how one minute I am going about my day and the next I’m struck by a simple, kind phrase.

On Twitter today I was bantering with an actor whose work I enjoy. Me and a few other fans were chatting with him as usual, bouncing back and forth, posting pictures of our pets, and being goofballs. It is fun to brush elbows with the people who entertain us week after week on television.

He had posted a bit of a trivia question, wondering if any of his followers knew the answer. No one seemed to know as his fans refused to Google it (at his behest) and honestly replied. Jokingly I tweeted him saying that we as his fans had failed him, and his tweet back stopped me in my tracks.

No, no, you’re beloved. No failure possible.

I actually looked up the definition of the world ‘beloved’ and got these:

1. Dearly loved

2. Greatly loved; dear to the heart.

In other words, it is a fancy way to tell someone they are worth something. That they are loved. It made me stop, not because of who the tweet came from, or the context of anything on Twitter, but because I realized how little time I take to stop and fully comprehend just how loved I am.

I’m far more likely to spend the day thinking of all of the ways I have failed, or all of the things I should have done but didn’t, and don’t take any time to sit and feel loved. To stop and be loved. To love myself and to be thankful for all of the people in my life who love me.

It also made me realize how often I neglect to let the people in my life know that I love them. That they are beloved, no matter what they’ve done. When my niece, who is a toddler, does something she is not supposed to do we scold her…but then tell her that we love her. Her mess up, her mistake, her disobedience does not negate the love we have for her. It is not the “failure” we want her to focus on. We want her to know that she is loved even when she’s at her worse.

We take this approach with kids but lose it as adults. More often than not, at least in my circle of influence, when an adult messes up we tease them. I tease them. Sometimes I even bring it up later in the week and we all laugh about it again. Sometimes I’m the butt of the joke. I had a fact or belief that was proven to be incorrect and it is brought up again and again, laughed at every time, until it becomes something I cringe about.

I don’t like when that happens, so why on earth do I do it to other people?

Pointing out mistakes is not inherently bad, but when people are only told how badly they are screwing up without the understanding that through it all they are loved, it begins to take its toll. Guilt or embarrassment suddenly becomes shame.

I imagine when we’re at our worst and beat ourselves up over one failure or another, God just shakes his head and says something similar to what I was told today:

No, no, you’re beloved. No failure possible.

It is funny how those seven words can have such an impact.

So this week (and for the rest of my life) I hope I can be a person that makes her love clear, even when people screw up. I also hope I will be someone who can accept love from others even when I screw up.

Let grace and love abound. 

Borrowed Thoughts

I was reading an interview with Kerri Caviezel (wife of Jim Caviezel who played Jesus in the Passion of the Christ) and her answer to the last question struck me as profound. In a few paragraphs she manages to sum up a lesson that I am continuing to learn about what it truly means to be in the moment with God and let everything else fall away. You can read the rest of the interview here. 

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

A: We have this plan for our life—and it doesn’t include any of the challenges. And yet every life at some point, whether at the beginning, middle or at the end there is some challenge. Suffering is universal. What God asks—He puts us on earth at that special time for a special purpose—we have to be present in that moment, not in the past and not in the future.

And we can’t know these things are going to happen. If we did, we wouldn’t have accepted any of them. But He gives us the grace we need at the time we need and asks us to live in that moment. When I have done that I’ve seen amazing things happen.

We all think we’re supposed to do these amazing things—that they are valuable and important—whatever we’re doing at that time, like “when I get married,” or  “when I have a child.” We focus too much on what we think needs to happen and we lose what we’re supposed to do at that time.

We have three children we adopted. My husband and I used to say that if we had had three or four children like we thought, we might never have chosen to adopt. And we would say to each other, “Can you imagine not having them?” We cannot understand God’s plan for us. It’s too immense.

Just some food for thought.

The story doesn’t end with a single chapter

Through the years I have looked at the phases of my life and considered them chapters. When one chapter is done it is time to close it out and move on to the next one. Yet tonight I’m staring down my college graduation date and have realized something: I’ve been working off of a misunderstanding of chapters.

You see, I like to package everything up in a nice little box, stick a bow on it, and call it done. When one chapter ends I move on to the next and try to conceal what happened in the last. I finished high school and then started college as if high school never happened. I ignored the events of four years of my life simply because I had considered the chapter to be complete and believe it to be the only way to move on with my life.

Tonight, though, I’ve realized that chapters are not about endings and beginning. After all, if each chapter of an overarching novel were its own contained book, the story would not make much sense. Rather, chapters are connected by lessons, memories, and character development. They are woven together by relationships and meaningful conversations. The things that happen in the last chapter often carry over into the next. So why, for so many years, have I boxed up each season of my life and tried to separate myself from it?

What am I running from?

As I prepare to go back to the Oregon drizzle and leave sunny Southern California in my rearview mirror I have realized that this chapter is not over, it is just going to be continued in the next. I do not have to run away and separate myself from everything and everyone I have learned to love in Southern California. I do not have to ditch the memories and seal them away never to see the light of day again. The end of a chapter does not mean the end of the story, and I still have a lot of pages left to fill.

My story is a finely woven tapestry and each chapter blends into the next as I grow, change, mature, and learn.

When I leave Southern California I will take with me all of the things I have treasured up in my heart. I am a different person than the one who showed up on my university’s doorstep that first, fateful August day. That different person does not end here. Rather, the person I have become will go with me to the next destination, and the next one after that, and even the next one after that one, and along the way my chapters will continue to be woven together to create a beautiful story filled with all of the things that make good stories.

The chapter is ending but the greater story isn’t, and God and I still have a lot more to write.