In the wilderness.

Four years ago, I found myself at something of an impasse. I had just gotten out of an abusive relationship and in speaking up, alienated myself from friends and my church. My job environment was quickly deteriorating into something I no longer wished to be part of, and a job prospect with my dream NGO was set aside due to an unexpected coup in the country.

I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had been stripped of everything I found my identity in back in those days. I couldn’t sleep. The nightmares that had started the fall before after I spent one hellish week watching my grandmother die, death rattling all the way,  just wouldn’t stop. My family was struggling. The gym no longer brought the comfort it once had. I couldn’t breathe. I was wound up and burnt out.

Over the course of the last four years, I have held five jobs and moved eight times. Eight. Even adding all those up just now makes me shudder. I don’t mind change. I dread chaos. And chaos is what it was. I lost more friends than I can count. Walked away absolutely broken from a church I have been a part of since I first returned to the states in 2006. Became too well known by my doctor. Turns out they don’t make medicine for broken hearts.

Somewhere in the middle of the last four years, I found a church I loved after I moved for the last time. Solid theology. Solid people. I found a state I loved. My darling Texas. It took me a long time to get here, but I’m glad I did. I found a job I love with students I absolutely adore.

And yet. I’m still wandering. Still waiting for answers to prayers that feel so long dead I’m not sure why I bother speaking them out anymore. I still feel amped up. I sometimes liken myself to a gun with one in the chamber and that’s about how it feels most days. My stuff sits in two states because there’s nowhere to put it in this one room. I miss my kitchen table and having a front door to call my own. I miss my massive desk I refinished myself. I miss my coffee mug collection, one that is much too large for any sane person to own.

I miss quiet nights and long talks with deep thinkers. Because for all the goodness of this place, I have no community. And I miss that. I miss a tribe close enough to touch. Hugs and cheek kisses are two of my very favorite things. Things I haven’t shared with anyone in a long time.

I’m in the wilderness. And yet…for all the silence and loneliness and feeling like too much and not enough all at once, my God has been so incredibly near. Closer than breathing, as they say. I cannot adequately describe how He has rescued me from myself over these past four years, how He has made me endure and come out stronger on the other side, how He has made Himself known in grand gestures and ordinary bits both.

I want the wilderness to be over, but I don’t want the lessons I have learned here to be forgotten. I am loved. I am redeemed. I am not forgotten. My identity, the one I lost some years ago, is found in this incredible God who has been with me my whole life and wrecked my world some twelve years ago. In Him, I am found. In Him, I live and love and laugh with wild abandon because I’ve been on the other side of that and I wish that hell on no one.

So I’ll wander a little longer. Because God is with me. In the brightly lit, people-filled days of the past. In the wilderness, four years long, too.

 

 

Advertisements

I love you.

If I tell you I love you, I mean it. All the way. No restrictions. No conditions. I know people use it wrong and say it when they don’t mean it and those experiences have caused you to question its validity each and every time.

Not me. I mean it.

I didn’t used to. I didn’t know what love was. I didn’t think I was loved. I didn’t know how to love. I thought love was fake if it existed at all. It was just something people talked about but didn’t actually believe in.

I was 23 before I knew love. Love that crashed over me like ocean waves, literally and figuratively. Love that passed all understanding, defied all odds, and exploded every expectation.

So hear me when I say I love you. I write it in birthday cards, speak it at the end of phone calls, whisper it in ears. I love you.

Because I do.

Because I am loved.

Because to not turn around and pour out what has filled me up would be to waste a good gift.

I am learning to say it more often now, despite a culture that declares it all a farce. We need more love. We need to stop assuming our loved ones know it and start living it and breathing it out day by day.

We only get a little time on this earth. I hope we fill it with love and fill one another with love while we’re here.

We need to start telling people we love them and mean it. Family. Friends. Lovers. Church. Enemies, even.

I love you. No restrictions. No conditions.

Too old to be single.

I am an outcast, an outsider, a person on the fringe. I often feel that I do not fit in anywhere well, and I write about that feeling a lot.

I am too tattooed and traveled for the church.

Too much of a prude for the world.

Too loud for the social escapees.

Too quiet for the extroverts.

Too educated for the college-less masses.

Too uneducated for academe.

Too absentminded for the practical.

Too practical for the dreamers.

Too wounded for the naive.

Too hopeful for the cynics.

Too honest for the narcissists and play-it-safers.

Too reserved and held tight for the verbose exaggerators.

Too much. Just too much.

To add insult to injury, I am single and 35 in the south. My Facebook feed is daily filled with friends on first and second husbands, third and fourth kids, and new houses and jobs galore. I am not in a rush for the aisle and I have yet to experience a ticking biological clock and comparison is not my thing, but I am quite done with the single season. I’m over it. I am not expecting perfection, I just really want to travel this wild life and its sorrows and joys and serve others WITH my husband. I was made to be part of a team. I was born wanting to be a wife and mom and to participate in something greater than myself. I know the promises the Lord has made. So I wait.

But culture suggests that because I wait, there is something wrong and so people ask dumb questions and set parameters and suggest actions I can take to “fix” it. And the church, the site of my most painful human experiences but which I choose to love anyway, just keeps cutting away at my excess of self. Like this morning when I went to sign up for a city-wide singles Bible study. I was perusing their ministry page and discovered I was too old and would not be allowed to attend. My age had long since been removed from the registration drop-down box. It felt like being told I don’t fit in. Again. In my exhausted state this week from no close community and long days and little sleep, it cut like a heated knife into old wounds. Hence, instant tears, which had to be shed quickly and disposed of so I could start my drive into the city for another long day.

In a world where I simply want to listen and love and extend compassion and grace, I am too much. Just too damn much.

Winning.

As I move ahead in my life and my career, I find that I define success different than most of those around me. Many of my colleagues define it by the number of degrees on their walls or the amount of meetings they get in with the upper echelons of administration. Sometimes they define it by their salary or where they live or who knows their name. Some of my friends define success by social media followers or who in their lives gives them street cred to people they admire.

I think my life would be easier if I were like that, if I gave real weight to the things society tells us we need in order to be winning at life. Alas, I like the long, winding, sometimes scary, back road to a destination. I despise attention. I care little who knows my name. I blog publicly because I feel like I have something to say and our world lacks vulnerability and, surprisingly enough, a few other people think so, too.

I hang up the degrees and certifications on my office wall begrudgingly. I do it because I am supposed to at this point in my career. Some people are impressed, I guess. I get some “world wins” here and there. Like today: I had to make some tough decisions which were met with respect I wasn’t expecting. And I laid new ground for new things to begin. But what I really wish I could hang up were names. Names of people I come across, people who feel loved and welcomed and heard and seen when they are around me. Some are students, some are colleagues, some are family. I want people to know love. I had the privilege of helping out a student yesterday and was rewarded this morning by news that all will be well in her world. I would like to put her name up. Not even where anyone could see, necessarily, but just as an Ebenezer stone of how far the Lord has brought me so that I might be of some service or blessing to others.

The last 35 years have held a lot of losses, more than I should know. The last four especially have been fraught with days I do not want to relive for any amount of money. But I got up yesterday and faced the world. And the day before that. And today. And someone else benefited from the sometimes monumental effort it takes for me to show up and speak love, live love, be love. I’m winning today. But for the grace of God. Amen.

winning

35.

I am 35 today. Relatively speaking, it is quite young. Not even half my life. (I hope). But my heart tells a different story entirely. I feel old inside. Tired of nonsense and people who do not value others. And yet experiencing a growing sense of compassion towards people who are doing the best they can with what they have. Because one time I was on a dark road on a different path and it was the people who offered me compassion, grace, and tough love that got me through. People put there, I believe, by the God I seek to serve, whose heart I hunger for.

If you know me, you know I should not be here. I have no experience or action that should have led me to where I am today. I deserve nothing. Absolutely nothing. My life should be very very different than what it is. And here is what it has been the last few days: fresh flowers, time well-spent with a dear fellow traveler who listens as intently as he talks, long talks with people I love driving down back roads, written words, having a frou-frou morning and enjoying mimosas and pedicures in a chandelier-lit spa with a lovely soul, reveling in a new frilly wrap dress and heels, stealing a few moments alone with the azaleas and sunshine this afternoon, and getting more birthday messages than I know what to do with.

I want to make sense of the goodness of my life, of the goodness of the last few days. It is impractical, beyond all imagination, evidence of answered prayers like you would not believe, and wholly undeserved. I do not mean it as a boast, I mean it as a “I cannot believe this is my life or my heart. I am in awe of how the Lord has brought me here and that He brought me at all.” If you only knew me twelve years ago or four years ago or even just a year ago. Life has carved deep ruts in my too-tender heart and my too-thin skin. I am too much for most people, bleeding heart that I am.

For the second year in a row, I forgot to steal away to watch the sun rise this morning, to remember a very particular morning twelve years ago, to trace the fading tattoo on my wrist that serves as a reminder of what I have survived…and what I have been forgiven. And yet, evening has come and I think it is okay. Because I whispered a lot of gratefulness today, even in the midst of imperfect moments. And if you know my story, you know I do not deserve even that.

Not a birthday goes by that I do not remember grace. Not a day goes by that I forget it. Somehow, in some way, the God of all creation in His goodness reminds me EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. that I am alive. I am breathing. I am laughing. I smile at the most mundane, ordinary things because they speak grace to me. A baby’s laugh. A sweet story. A sunrise. A sunset. Holding hands. Shared smiles. Whispers. And this is grace. All of it. Every bit. Even in the most awful of days, the days where I do not think I can possibly go on, days where the people who are supposed to love me hurt me most, days where I get caught back up in my old habits that threaten to destroy…there is grace. Wholly undeserved. Freely given. Wildly thirsted for.

I have been dreading turning 35. I do not mind the getting older and the passing of time, but my expectations for this season in my life have been unmet. My prayers unanswered. My hopes seemingly unaccounted for. But I was reminded yesterday evening that all is truly as it should be in this time. I do not know what is ahead. But I know where I have been and I know I have never, not for one moment, been alone in any of it. It is fitting this year that my birthday fell on Holy Saturday, tucked between the darkest day in history and the brightest day in eternity. Happy birthday. All is grace.

birthday cake