Seen. Known. Loved

A few months ago I was a mess.  My world was being turned upside down, I felt like I was losing my friends, family, home, job and purpose in life.  I was allowing myself to live in darkness instead of light.  I saw truth but chose not to believe it.  I wasn’t getting out of bed in the morning.

I – Was – A – Mess!!

I say this all in past tense because in the last few weeks God has shattered the darkness, as only he can do, and has delivered me into freedom from the chains that kept me in this horrible depression.

This is my journey into joy…

I guess it starts with hitting absolute bottom in the worse spiral of depression I have ever experienced and making some very difficult choices to begin the process of healing.  In doing so, without realizing, I also made a choice to allow God to begin his work of healing.  For many weeks, I was running to him and clinging to him and yelling at him and begging him to bring healing, but despite this all, I hadn’t actually let go and surrender my heart to him.  I was still holding on and I was still trying to make sense of the mess and I was still trying to put the pieces back together.  It was not until I surrendered and gave up trying to heal myself that God was finally able to heal me.

In these early stages of restoration, I read Ann Voskamp’s newest book, The Broken Way, and a transformation slowly began in my heart.  The book dives into the beauty of good brokenness and the danger of bad brokenness.  Voskamp proposes the idea that “all the bad brokenness in the world begins with forgetting…forgetting God is enough,” while good brokenness is demonstrated by Jesus, our ultimate example, who broke himself to bring us into community with the Father.  She makes the point that true community, what we are designed and created for, is only possible when we not only break ourselves for others but when we expose our wounds and share our brokenness, allowing others right into the middle of our broken.

Apparently, when it comes right down to it, we are all a mess but more often than not, are trying so desperately to look put together that we lose out on the joy of shared life.

This was God’s ground work, preparing my heart to share my brokenness so he could put me back together in community.

A few days after finishing the book and realizing the importance of being broken (isn’t God’s timing amazing), I was heading to Colorado for an “Internissionary” retreat – a time to pause; an intermission in life to refocus on Christ and who I am in him and what I am doing with it.  A time to process with other overseas workers what “transition” really looks like.

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I mean, if this location didn’t springboard me into joy, I’m not sure if anything would have.   But more so than the beautiful location were the beautiful people and their stories and a week that was about sharing our broken lives and common pain and supporting one another in true, intimate, broken community.

Being in this environment, surrounded and supported by other broken, healing people, I began to realize that the root of the pain was in believing lies from the enemy about who I am; or rather, who I’m not.  While at Worship on the Rocks, Todd White said, “Don’t let Satan tell you who you’re not.”  There is so much wisdom in these words.

For too long I was trying to fight only by listening to who Jesus said I was but the father of lies is loud and if he is drowning out my Savior, then he is still winning.  It is a conscious choice to not believe what the enemy is saying about me.  It is a fight to not only believe truth but also to stop believing lies.  And yes, these are two separate things.

Before I left Colorado, I made the decision to let go of the darkness and to stop letting Satan’s accusations overpower my status as a daughter of the Most High King.

I literary burnt them up, in a crockpot.

photo credit: Lisa Long

For the first time in months when I asked God to take the pain, I believed he would.  I wasn’t sure how long it would take but I knew restoration was on the way because I was fighting to take away Satan’s power.  I also knew that the freedom from pain was going to be found in joy.

Fast forward past a few days of crazy adventuring

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and roadtripping through the entire corn crop of the United States (yes, there is more to Indiana than corn.  Soybeans), and I found myself on a farm, in Tennessee, alone with God and surrounded by wonderful people to complete the restoration God was orchestrating in my life.

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And just like that, JOY.

 

I’d like to say a miracle took place on this farm.  I did not think joy was possible, at least not this quick, but in those days on the farm God spoke to me in very special words and very specific verses:

  • Joy (Hebrews 2:10-11; James 1:2)
  • Peace (Psalm 29:11)
  • Glory (Psalm 73:21-28)
  • Love (Psalm 23)
  • Rest (Psalm 72:18-19; 1 Kings 8:56)
  • Fullness (Revelation 4:8,11)

Suffering does not negate joy, in fact, we are to consider trials as joy ∗ Peace is a blessing that God has chosen to give to his children.  I need to choose to live in the peace God blesses me with ∗ God has taken me into his glory. Amen and Amen ∗ Everything in life displays God’s love for me – everyday, all day ∗ Rest is from God and in God, only ∗ Restoration comes when my fullness is made complete in Christ.

 

Over the past year, I have been in a fight to make God’s affirmation of my identity enough and to stop seeking it from people while still desiring intimate community and trying to figure out how this all balances out.  And all of a sudden on this farm, I not only heard God confirming my identity as loved and worthy, I felt it by everyone around me.  How was this possible?  Why did this happen?

It was more than seeking my identity and value and worth in Christ alone (which is important above all else); it was choosing to no longer allow Satan’s voice to drudge up insecurities.  In listening only to Jesus, I silenced the voice that was telling me those around me didn’t love me long enough to realize and believe and see they did.  On that farm I felt seen.  I felt known.  I felt loved.   Not only by God, which ironically was finally enough, but also by people.  For the first time, in a long time, I felt unhindered joy and it was beautiful.

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When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,

I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…

But as for me, it is good to be near God.

I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;

I will tell of all your deeds.

Psalm 73:25-28

 

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Loneliness

“To believe I walk alone, is a lie that I’ve been told.  So let your heart hold fast, for this soon shall pass, like the high tide takes the sand.”  Let Your Heart Hold Fast – Fort Atlantic


 

A few years ago I was told that loneliness is part of the human condition and somehow it brought comfort to know that we all feel alone together.  However, while the concept is probably true, I’m not sure how helpful it is.  Sure, there are periods of loneliness that we all go through but when I am living in loneliness and it is in my power to do something about it, shouldn’t I?  I have lived a good portion of my life in a continual state of loneliness but should I just accept that as part of life or should I try to change it?

It’s important to understand what loneliness is and where it comes from.  I think there are at least two kinds of loneliness:

  • Loneliness when you truly are alone
  • Loneliness when you have convinced yourself you are alone.

The first one is pretty self-explanatory – you are physically isolated from people or at least the important people, the ones who know you intimately; the people who you want to be around.  This can be due to a move or life event that physically changes the community around you but unless you are suddenly in Antarctica or a space station, with some effort, it should be temporary.  The world is full of people and who knows which one is going to be your next kindred spirit.

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The second is a little more complex and more individual, but I believe loneliness is often born from insecurity.  “To believe I walk alone is a lie that I’ve been told” – unfortunately, more often than not, I’m the one spreading these lies to myself.  I often find myself thinking that nobody wants to be around me.  I feel I’m too needy or too much of a burden.   I believe I’m too messed up to deserve to be in anybody else’s life.  These all lead me to a lack of initiative in seeking people out or trouble maintaining relationships I already have.

This kind of loneliness is the result of deep hurt, history and insecurity – too many outings I wasn’t invited on.  Too many birthdays nobody wanted me at because that’s obviously what it means when you aren’t invited, right?  Too many nights spent alone with no plans.  Clearly there is something wrong with me.

Deep down, I know this isn’t true.  I know it is a lie that I have chosen to believe.  I know it is from Satan.  In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Luna Lovegoodsays some truly insightful words to Harry: “If I were [the enemy], I’d want you to feel cut off from everyone else.  Because if it’s just you alone you’re not as much of a threat.”  So many of these things are born from little lies that Satan plants that my own insecurities and past hurt grow into an entire hedgerow.  But it works and I am rendered useless.

I desperately long for people to know me but fear being hurt.  Last week I wrote a whole blog about how I crave intimacy but lack trust.  I work against myself, shutting people out, never giving them the chance to know me then fear losing the ones that are on the inside and the result is usually the same – depression.

How closely are these two related – depression and loneliness? From what I can find they often go hand in hand but are two distinct conditions.  In my life, loneliness has led to depression.  Isolation both physically and mentally have led to sadness and worthlessness which in turn is a downward spiral of self-doubt and depression.

How do I get back out of it? What is the antidote?

This past Easter I was struck at how lonely Jesus must have felt on this earth.  Nobody understood him.  Nobody knew who he was.  Most people did not believe him.  In the end, in his deepest hour of need, he was deserted by the people who were supposed to be closest to him.  He was hours before death and completely alone in the garden.

However, in this moment, he did not falter in faith.  He did not waver in his identity.  He did not throw in the towel and crumple into a heap of self-doubt.  In this moment, he sought the Father’s love and clung to the promises he knew to be true.  He prayed.  (Read John 17, it is beautiful).  He held fast to the truth of who he is, and his purpose and the joy of restoring his family – us, me – to the Father.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.   –Hebrews 12:2

So what is the antidote?

It’s Jesus.  It’s my identity as a beloved daughter of my Heavenly Father.  It’s the body of Christ, community.

Jesus died to restore us so that we have freedom to fellowship with one another in the Spirit of Christ.  This is a community unlike anything in this world.  It is a community that is real.  A community that will look past the insecurities and feed truth to the lies.  However, it is up to me to find it and fight for it.  Yes, loneliness is part of the human condition but I’m starting to think that it is also a choice.  It is up to me to choose to believe truth, choose to believe who I am in Christ and choose to fellowship with those around me.

 

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who are you hiding from?

hiding

Who are you hiding from?

Friends, family, yourself, God, nobody, everybody?  I have a tendency to hide from everything and everybody. It’s a natural instinct but an unhealthy one.

My problem: I crave intimacy and lack trust.

It is an interesting place to be but I have a feeling I’m not alone. Both of these things are pretty natural human emotions – one is from God; the other is from the enemy.

We are designed to be intimate with God. We are created in his image and his image is relational.  However, we are also created to be intimate with one another.  This is not just physical intimacy.  We are designed to know one another deep enough that we can share not only our strengths but also our struggles.  Even the most independent, single person has weaknesses. We are all created to function in community; to build one another up and to fill the gaps in the people around us.  Unfortunately, this is pretty hard to do if we are hiding from the people around us.

We are all sinful and damaged humans built upon broken relationships and hurt.

We come into this world having to rely fully on other people to take care of us and there isn’t a question in a newborn’s mind that this will happen. It is expected and it is self-preservation – I cry, you answer.  As we grow, we learn distrust through hurt and disappointment, some much sooner than others, and the concept of self-preservation that is within us begins to define who we are and who we let in.

 

The result – walls

 

Some people hide behind a façade only showing parts of who they really are.  Some people hide behind a callous exterior pushing away anybody who gets too close.  Some people hide behind denial, blocking out what emotions are rising up.  Whatever it may be, we all hide behind some wall or another.  These walls are designed to protect ourselves and like any wall, it fulfills two purposes – it keeps others out but it also keeps us in, separated from the intimate community that can be found in the body of Christ.

So what is the answer?

How do we build trust not barriers?  How do we conquer the enemy and prevent him from robbing us of the deep, intimate relationships we were created to function in while not setting ourselves up to be utterly wrecked by a sinful world?  How do we protect ourselves from the hurt of this world while letting others in?  How do we guard our hearts without building walls?

I’ve heard this “guard your heart” warning many times within Christian community, mostly in the context of girl-guy relationships, but does anybody know what the heck it actually means?  If anything, the concept always encouraged me to build walls.  Don’t let people get too close – guard your heart.  Don’t let people see the real you – guard your heart.  For the love of God, never, ever let a guy in to the deep parts of your life who isn’t your husband – guard your heart.

However, I’m starting to think the whole concept is BS, so here are my two cents (and a slight detour) on the phrase “guard your heart” and some uses of it in Scripture…

Proverbs 4:23-27

Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.  Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk from your lips.  Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.  Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.  Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

I would like to argue that in this context, a believer is guarding his heart from Satan by not giving the enemy a foothold through sinful thoughts and actions.  We are to guard our hearts by protecting ourselves and abstaining from the things of this world.  Nowhere does this imply putting up walls to keep other people out or ourselves in.

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

While in Proverbs, Solomon instructs us to guard our own heart against things of this world in order to prevent sin and death, here, Paul teaches that in matters concerning the soul – the deep anxieties of life which trouble us and keep us up at night – in these times, we are to bring the concerns to God and let his peace guard our hearts.

I still struggle to find the balance between vulnerability and being shielded, intimacy and distrust, but I have realized that it isn’t necessarily my responsibility.  “The peace of God…will guard [my] heart…in Christ Jesus.”  When life is chaotic and people are getting to know me in ways that scare the bejeezus out of me, I am not responsible for guarding my heart.  Neither am I supposed to build walls and push people back out or run away screaming and hide behind the last fragments of a barricade that are still standing.  I am asked to give my heart to God and his peace will guard it.

 

The peace of God will guard your freaking heart.

Peace – this is the very opposite than hiding scared behind a wall.

 

I’m not saying I know how to do this or that it is easy.  Submitting my deepest fears and anxieties to God while letting other people into my life and trusting him to protect me is a lot easier said than done.

I like control.  I like to be the one who lets people in or forces them out but maybe surrendering my heart to God and allowing him to guard it will work better.  He designed us to function in intimate community, orchestrated and ordained by him (our heavenly Father) who will protect us in the midst of the hurt, discouragement and disappointment by giving us his peace.

By this truth, I think if relationships are built on honesty and trust, in Christ, and we take the anxieties that come with these relationships to him, he will guard our hearts with his peace.  This is not to say that there will no longer be hurt; we are, after all, still living in a broken world but these relationships, no matter how painful, are from God and he will use them to better us.

I have started to let more people in and sometimes I still get wrecked, but in the process I can claim the fact that these relationships are a gift from my Father and if my heart is truly in him, he will give me peace and protection through the discomfort.  I can live in the truth that these people who made it past the walls have helped me grow and have filled the gaps in my life.  I can live in the truth that this is a picture of the body of Christ and know that one day, we will function in intimate community without the hurt but until that day, there is peace in Christ.

 

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do you trust me?

Three years ago I started listening to God regularly.

Before that time, I had always (like most believers) gone about my days reading my Bible and praying, not expecting God to speak into the mundane but usually relying on his direction for big decisions or problems or things that I thought I couldn’t handle. What I figured out in a state park in East Texas three years ago was there is never a time God is not going to speak if we are willing and expectant to listen. Plus, I can’t handle life – period – so why am I not listening to God’s voice every day?

That day, I started listening to God speak to me as much as I speak to him, or at least trying to. I gave his voice its own color in my journal so now I can flip through the pages of my life and see what God has been telling me…

 

Trust me

Big bold letters.

Almost every time he speaks, it’s repeated over and over and over because apparently I don’t trust him. I followed him to a tin box in Africa, how can I not trust him? That was comparably easy. That was the plan. That was something I wanted. In fact, it’s the only “long term goal” I have ever set for myself.

So now, as I sit and hear God ask, ” Do you trust me?” I am ashamed to answer no, but he already knows that so there is no point in lying or trying to hide it.

I don’t trust God because I still think I know what is best for me. I see a future that looks easy and I try to make it happen. I see what I want, not necessarily what I need. I don’t let him put the pieces of my life together so instead I’m falling apart or perhaps in this mess I am falling together but if that’s true, I have yet to see what the picture is.

Have you ever met anyone who tries to put a puzzle together without looking at the box? I feel like I’ve met these people before – they claim to “like the challenge.”  Personally, I think it is complete idiocy.  How can you put together a picture if you don’t know what the picture is?  I guess that’s life though, isn’t it?

We don’t get to see the box. We know the artist, but if we try to put the pieces together on our own we could end up with Picasso instead of Rockwell.

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We are asked to trust that the artist of our life knows what he is doing and to listen when he directs the pieces.

In these moments I am humbled by the patience and love and grace and mercy that I can come before the Sovereign God and act like the stubborn child that I am. I can be angry before him. I can yell and curse and tell him I don’t trust him to be good because what I want he hasn’t given me.  I can be broken and messy. I can be ignorant of my life up until this point and claim he has done nothing for me in the past.

I can be weak. I can be unreasonable. I can be human.  Because he is God and he is always good.

And when I’ve calmed down enough to once again listen and hear his still voice whispering in my ear “Trust me” I can remember and testify to his faithfulness in every step up until now

So maybe right now I’m not trusting or believing it, but I can rest assured that God has written my future and it is a good one.

 

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you; You hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you take me into glory

Psalm 73:21-24

 

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when leaving is harder

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I never doubted that God was calling me to leave the ship.  I knew if I stayed it would only be out of fear of what was next.   The ship was comfortable and known.   The ship was family.   The ship was home.   But I knew I had to choose faith, not fear, in response to the unknown and leave even though I had no idea what I was heading into.

I am almost 30 and for the first time I do not know what is next.   In the past, even if the path was a little uncertain, I always had a plan or goal or something that I was moving towards but not this time.  For the last few months I’ve been mostly excited for the unknown; the adventure of open possibilities that were going to be in front of me.

Who am I freaking kidding?

I am almost 30, unemployed and essentially just moved in with my parents.  I’m still in denial on that last one.  If I don’t unpack my bags am I really living here? No, right?  So instead I’m continuing to live out of a heap of wrinkled clothing strewn about my brothers old room so I don’t have to see it in mine – that is if I can muster enough motivation to even get dressed in the morning.

It’s hard to not just stay in pj’s when there is nothing I need to get dressed for.  It’s hard to get out of bed when there is nothing to get up for.  It is hard to get out of the darkness when I can’t see the light.

For the first time home doesn’t feel like home.  It feels like a prison reminding me that I have no idea what is next, how long I’ll be here, and that I’m alone and apart from community.  For the first time I was not excited to be flying into Boston because I didn’t know when I’d be flying back out again.

I’ve always known I was meant to live and serve overseas.   So why am I back in the US, God?

That is a question only he can answer and only in his time.   I know all I can do is trust.  He has gotten me this far and he won’t fail now.

I knew I wasn’t supposed to stay on the AFM.  God called me into the next stage of life, whatever that stage is.  My heart was completely sown into community and life there but it was time to go.  There is nothing drawing me to this home.  Nowhere feels like home.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” C.S.  Lewis

I am made for another world but I am here, now.   So I will sit and wait and pray myself into truth and light.   I will get up in the morning.   I will get dressed.  I may even unpack one of these days.   And I will trust.  Trust that God has already written my future.   Trust there is a reason I’m back in Maine.  Trust there is community here even if it doesn’t look like what I think it should.   Trust that no matter where I end up, it is temporary, for my home is in heaven.   And trust that all he wants from me is an obedient heart.

Here’s to the next step in this journey.

 

Dark Days/Light Days

 

dark days

  • Tired
  • Exhausted
  • Drained
  • Overwhelmed
  • Stressed
  • Pager
  • Missed laundry slots
  • Sick of a tiny bed and an 8 week menu
  • Can’t sleep

Bad Days

  • Shawarmas
  • Move nights
  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Depth
  • New songs
  • Ice cream
  • Community
  • Laughter
  • Good conversation with good people at any hour of the day or night

Good days

  • New friends
  • Goodbyes
  • Joy
  • Heartache
  • Don’t want to leave
  • Ready to go home
  • Being supported by community
  • Being trapped by community

Confusion

I don’t know where to begin to process these emotions.  All of these things can be felt and experienced at any time on any given day.  In less than five weeks I will be back in the US with a completely blank future staring me in the face.  I truly am in love with this ship and this community but I know I cannot stay.  I know God is telling me to leave.  I know it is time to “go home” but where is home?   What is home?

I have spent the last three years calling this pressure cooker of an environment home.  Here we experience emotions to the max and sheer proximity accelerates how often and why we interact with one another.  All that is to say, especially now as I am trying to exit gracefully which I’m beginning to think is impossible, that a good day can turn into a bad day with one brief encounter or vice versa.  Patience is running low, emotions are high and we are all messy, complicated human beings (or in the words of Van Halen – humans being.  Shine on).

However, I have started to look at my days in terms of light and dark instead of good and bad.


A dark day is one lived apart from the light of truth.

A light day is one lived in truth in the midst of hardship and struggles. 


There can be good things in the midst of darkness just like there sometimes has to be bad circumstances in the light.  But more importantly, light is the cure for darkness.  Light shining, truth exposed and gloried in, this is the antidote for the darkness in my life.

Looking back on life, there were plenty of instances when I had a smile on my face, was enjoying life but was secretly enveloped by darkness on the inside.  Now, as I’m nearing the end of what has become “normal life” and am preparing to leave a home which I dearly love, I am being run over with more feelings than I have ever experienced and am desperately trying to stay above the emotionally stable surface.  I’m not going to lie, there have been a lot of dark days recently, but I have to stop and ask myself, why am I not living in the light of truth? 

What is making my dark day dark?

Is it people?  Circumstances?  My perception?  All of the above?  Whatever it is, why am I letting these things shadow my life in darkness when I can run to the source of light?

God never promised this life would be easy.  In fact, more often than not in scripture the opposite is true, but Jesus commands the weary and heavy-laden to go to him for rest.  I am to find shelter in him.  I am to cast my anxiety on him.  I am to trust him.  I am not to be afraid or terrified.  He is my friend.  He is my Father.  He will comfort me.  He will protect me.  He will provide for me.  He will trudge with me through the mess of this life, shining light into the darkest corners of my soul…if I let him.

I am not saying that the goodbyes and the grief and the confusing bits of this transition should not be felt and experienced or that any of it is easy.  I am saying that the difference between my light days and my dark days should be how much I’m living in Christ and not the good or bad events surrounding me.  We will all have bad days, that is the reality of this life, but bad days do not have to be defined by darkness.

 

I guess the hard part now is actually living in that truth.

 

 

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

Great Are You Lord – All Sons & Daughters

 

 

(Matthew 11:28-30; Psalm 91; Philippians 4:6-7; Joshua 1:9; John 15:15; 2 Corinthians 1:3-5; Philippians 4:19; Hebrews 10:23)