Friday, January 11, 2019

On Finding Peace Again

The past two years.

The past two years have taken me to the end of myself.

How do I find words to begin? Are there words that describe the darkness that can be eating you alive on the inside when from the outside you're still putting on your smile and using every ounce of strength you have just to function? When people who see you think you're fine, tell you that you seem to be doing well, but from behind the glass of your eyes you're dying even as you say you're ok?

Someday I will share the specifics of our story. Someday. But for now, for reference, two years ago we discovered allegations that my father is a sexual predator who has been preying on young and vulnerable children and teens for my whole life. Based on our own experiences and the turmoil we had been in privately for years without speaking out, we believed wholeheartedly what we learned. Every single detail added up and resonated with our own horrifying experiences. We carried so many secrets... so many heavy, isolating secrets. Learning that he was capable of what we believed him to be was strangely a relief. Now I knew I wasn't crazy, I had been right to protect my children from him. And the feelings and bizarre situations that had plagued me my whole life had an explanation. But the explosion that errupted within my family as we exposed the truth has been and continues to be absolutely devastating. When you are a child you believe that your parents are your protectors. The reality that neither of my parents were my protectors, and that one of them was actually the perpetrator of unspeakable evil has shaken me. To my core. It has triggered every vulnerable place in my heart... rejection, abandonment, feeling as though I was orphaned. It's a special kind of pain when the place your life came from not only turns on you and rejects you but purposely slanders your character. We had everything to lose by exposing what we did.. we have lost so much by speaking out. But my children are safe from him. And I hope yours will be too.

It's so hard and vulnerable to share the depths of how bad it's been. But how can I celebrate the victory without acknowledging the battle?

There have been ups and there have been downs over the past 755 days. Days when I felt strong, and full of fight and passion and purpose, days when I stood wholeheartedly on the strength of Jesus and felt the warmth of the light.

But then there were other days. Sometimes weeks. When I was afraid I was being swallowed alive and felt like the earth was closing over me. Days when the tears wouldn't stop... when I couldn't find my way out. Days I felt like the weight of the burden I was carrying on top of mothering and now working might crush me. In those moments of feeling alone under the weight of it all the spotlight turned even more onto the absence of my mom as a support in it all. The first summer there were days when Shaun would come home from work and I would be laying on the sofa, trying with all my might to find the strength to get up and make dinner. There were grocery shopping trips where I would come home and carry everything inside and just begin crying because I didn't think I had it in me to put it all away. It was like the force of gravity in those moments had tripled. Every movement and effort required three times the strength. It is like trying to function at the very bottom of the ocean. It's absolutely paralyzing at times. Like the breath and very life were being sucked out of me. How long can you go on like that, feeling like you're scraping the bottom of the barrel of your will power to find just a scrap of strength to muster up and push through with?

The couple of weeks leading up to Christmas this year were the worst it's ever been. It was already bad feeling overwhelmed by all that Christmas requires of you and having a house to stage and trying to mother my kids well. Then tragedy rocked my best friend's family too, right at the end of November. I could feel my anxiety becoming out of control. I felt like my heart might explode my chest hurt so bad. The smallest things broke me. One afternoon, with a long to-do list ahead of me I went to quickly open the curtains in our living room and a curtain rod bracket pulled out of the wall as I opened them. Havilah slid the step stool over to me so I could climb up and hold it in place to keep the other bracket from being pulled out of the wall too. I sent Jaden to find the tiny tool I needed to loosen the rod from the bracket that was still in the wall. Bless his little heart, it took him probably 15 minutes and multiple trips up and down the stairs to find the right tool. And as I stood up on the step stool holding up the curtain rod and feeling completely helpless and so, so exhausted, hot tears were streaming down my face and I was saying curse words in my mind I'm so not proud of. My chest was aching with electric anxiety and I was doing my best not to just scream and let it all fall and collapse on the floor in my pain. A curtain rod completely un-did me. But it wasn't the curtain rod at all. It was the out of control, helpless, unpredictable mess of life. Holding the rod together felt as difficult in that moment as trying to hold my life together. And my weakness was so painfully evident and in my face...

If my kids got too loud- even if it was happy loudness- it was like too many circuits to my brain were being fired and bombarded between the noise and my thoughts and all the effort it took just to accomplish ONE small task. I would be trying to put makeup on to go somewhere and fighting to keep the tears from falling from my eyes just so I could get make up on without it being undone before it was even complete. By the time I made it to my car I'd shut down. Shut it all off. Detach from my feelings and become robotic. It was the only way I could survive, kind of like floating. And for me, when my capacity to feel is such a part of my identity, detaching from my feelings in order to survive really felt like another slow death. About all I was capable of was looking "normal" in public. As long as I didn't talk below the surface level, as long as nothing forced me to access my feelings I'd be ok. At my boys Christmas program I couldn't even manage that though. In the dark, with the lights in the gym turned down low and my babies up front singing Joy To The World, I sat in my seat near the back and my tears silently fell, and fell, and fell...... With all my might I tried to keep my chin from quivering with the fear that I'd never climb out. Never be ok again. My throat burned with the pain I was stifling down, the dam of tears I was holding back.

 If my surroundings and home were chaotic it sent me over a cliff. But the effort it took to clean them up left me in tears. Shaun was trying to work on making more progress finishing the room over the garage the week before Christmas and as he started sawing through the drywall to make the access bigger and I saw the dust clouds coming into our house I started having a panic attack. Standing there in the hallway of our upstairs, holding onto the railing, trying to breathe in a whole breath, the more I tried to breath in the harder it got... the harder it got the more scared I became... And then tears... falling, falling.... that dust clouds could reduce me to gasping for air, that this is me, and how did life become this? Why could I not climb out? Where was the strength to fight? It was dark, and isolating, and scary, and I was afraid to even tell anyone how bad things were inside me. I was begging God for peace. Begging to come back and to be alive again, to not constantly feel like I was drowning. I couldn't seem to rescue myself. I needed Him to come for me. I needed Him desperately.

Three days before Christmas He came. He came in all His mighty, mysterious, unexpectedly humble  glory. He came and He pulled me up.... in a rush I came up from below and that first fresh intake of air when gravity became light again was so full of life and hope and peace I can not explain it. He used a series of events looking for bunnies to give to Jaden for Christmas to give me a chance to take a ride in the car all by myself. That all by itself was calming and helpful. I had no idea that car ride that seemed to be down back roads in the cold was really forging straight upwards, pressing up through the cold weight of the ocean waters, toward the surface again. My journey down dark backroads led to pick up Jaden's gift from a woman who has survived absolutely horrific trauma herself... and has come through it. And she has not just come through, she has used it all to glorify Jesus. She didn't even have to talk about anything. Just her presence exuded so much peace. There she was, the trauma years behind her, standing in the midst of the new life that she has built, genuinely happy again. By the grace of God. Being around her was like opening my eyes to my future and finding hope waiting for me there. On my car ride back home tears fell again. But they weren't tears of desperation or grief or pain. They were tears of joy, and of deep, deep thankfulness. I could sense that something was breaking inside me... something was being lifted, and I was starting to feel light again. When I came inside I told Shaun I didn't know what had happened, but something had shifted.

I tried to explain more to him over the next few days as I was noticing the depth of the change that had happened inside me. I was standing in my chaotic, messy kitchen and for the first time I wasn't screaming on the inside because of the mess. I was perfectly at peace. My kids could be loud and out of control and it wasn't undoing me and making my chest feel like the heart inside me was a bomb about to go off. The future (and by future I mean something as simple as the next day) didn't feel like a looming place  that was crushing me with all it expected of me where I would surely fail. It started to feel bright. It started to feel like a place I could welcome without terror. I started telling myself that I am strong. I have something to offer. I will not be buried by my grief. I can face the terror and reality of this world and not have it suck me back under its currents of anxiety. I can be a voice of truth and hope. Basically, my peace became internal instead of external. Instead of my peace depending on my surroundings, or my kid's good behavior, or things going perfectly and smoothly, my peace became something that just was.It was His peace that passes understand, and it was on the inside now, and the things on the outside couldn't shake it anymore. The grief couldn't swallow it. The noise couldn't drown it. The expectations couldn't shake it. It couldn't be lost in the mess or buried by the pain. It was rising, surfacing, breaking through the waves, shining in all its precious sacredness. And I am hanging onto it as though my life depends upon it. Because it does.

It's only been a few weeks, but things are different this time. Instead of feeling like I "just can't" I feel like "I CAN"... I'm telling myself I can. And even if I try and fail, so what? My peace doesn't depend on always succeeding! This is translating to a million things that I wanted to do but was so busy maintaining the things that had to be just-so to keep my anxiety at bay that I didn't have time for anything else. This means things as simple as scheduling an eye doctor appointment for myself, or letting my kitchen be a mess so I can spend a day cleaning out my closet. It means being able to vacuum out my car or clean out my purse without feeling so overwhelmed by the task that I feel unable to start it. It means sitting down today to write again, without being so paralyzed by the fear of what people will think of our story that it keeps me from sharing the hope and faithfulness of God THROUGH our story.

I'm ready to climb out of the pit of grief and begin building my life again. I'm ready to stop looking at what I've lost, and do the best I can with what I still have. I'm ready to just let the lies and slander of my character roll off my back. They aren't true. And I don't need to take my focus off all the good that is in front of me to do and waste my time defending myself against irrational and evil people. I'm ready to accept that this is my story. It can't be changed. And honestly, I wouldn't want it to be any different. There is purpose for me in this place. Yes, I've suffered immensely for standing up for victims and for the truth. But I count it a privilege and an honor to suffer it for Him, for them. The healing and beauty and freedom and vindication I'm witnessing far outweigh the suffering. So many places in Scripture we are told we are blessed for suffering for Christ. Suffering for Him is an inevitable part of the cost we must count when we choose to follow Him. But what a beautiful place it is to know Him in His suffering, to tell Him, even in this dark place, that I love Him this much, that I love Him til the end, and that I'm honored to bear this for Him.

2 Timothy 3:12-13  In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,  while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

1 Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Romans 5:3-4 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Hope. Hope for the future. That no matter what happens or what it looks like, He's holding me in it. He has a plan. It's bigger than me. It's bigger than my lifetime even. I am a small piece in the huge story that is unfolding. Having hope that the plan that's unfolding can be trusted brings me peace. I am so so humbled and honored to be a part of what's happening right now, where sexual abuse is being exposed and spoken out against, especially in the House of God. How many years has He wept over what evil men were doing to children in His name.... and now He is dealing with it. Ripping back the lid on the darkness and shining the light of truth that begins to bring healing. It's a privilege to be a voice in this day, and this time, and to stand up for these precious souls who have endured so much at the hands of men who claimed to be "men of God." 

If you are a victim of sexual abuse, you are not alone. You are worth so much, you are precious, you are loved. What happened was not your fault. There is Hope ready for you to take hold of, and Peace that is waiting to come live inside your heart. Use your voice. Don't let the pain bury you. You have so much to offer. You are part of an army. 

This song has helped put music to my feelings. It has allowed me to grieve and to declare that I will not drown. I hope it can be the same for you. 


Friday, February 23, 2018

Unoffended Love

There is a lot that needs done around me, but my heart is burning to write. And so letting the mess stay this morning and sitting down to type is what makes me feel alive on the inside. (there are two really beautiful songs linked at the bottom of this post if you want to scroll down and play them while you read)

"Unoffended Love" are the words that are on my mind. They are the words that are in the forefront of my mind most every day now. They are the words I chose for this year, and what Jesus has been revealing to me, the layers He has been peeling back from my eyes and my heart because of these words are changing me more than anything ever has. I have spent the past year in grief and pain and betrayal and hurts and wounds I will likely never fully wrap my mind around for the rest of my life, even though I will try with all my might. And as most messy things in life do, these circumstances involve relationships at the heart of it all. At times these circumstances that are completely outside my control have paralyzed me. At times I've felt angry. At times it has all felt so overwhelmingly "unfair" I wanted to scream (and sometimes did). At times I've felt like I've been on an unstoppable rollercoaster ride that has whiplashed every emotional fiber of my being and caused me to question the core of what I believe about what love is. Navigating the line between unconditionally loving someone when that person continues to hurt you over and over and over and over is a very fine one, one that can't be walked without feeling like you are on a tight rope. But staying on that tight rope is the only safe place to be. If the emotional pendulum swings to one side where you "unconditionally love" someone who only wants to harm and manipulate you without any thought or concern for your own safety or emotional needs, you will fall to a deep, dark place. But if you swing to the other side, where in order to protect your heart and safety you cut off love altogether and close yourself off from all emotion, you will fall into a different, yet equally deep and dark place.

All of what I'm learning goes so deep in me but is hard to put into words. Especially in an order that makes sense. But I will try my best. I've heard so many times that you can't love others unless you love yourself, and I never really quite connected the dots of the Why behind this principle.

I want to preface this with so many things... But I'll start with this. The principles I am about to share are ones that you can apply to normal relationships. By normal I mean ones that are not emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually or sexually abusive. I am talking about offenses and problems that happen in relationships with non-psychopathic people. Maybe that is a disclaimer that doesn't need to be made, but if you know my story, you understand why I feel I have to make that clear.

Ok, here we go. I have found that the point at which offense takes root is the point at which it becomes difficult for me to continue to love someone. This is what led me to start asking myself questions. Why does offense take root in the first place? What does it usually stem from? What are the things that most easily offend me?

We might have different answers to these questions, but I have a suspicion that for many of us the answer is the same: We get offended when someone does not love us in the way we want or expect them to. We get offended from unment expectations.
You wanted him to get you a card for Valentines Day and he didn't. Offense/Hurt takes root. It becomes difficult to love. You wanted your friend to be on time for your girls day. She was late. It made you feel like you weren't important or your time didn't matter. Offense takes root. It becomes difficult to love. You told them something very vulnerable about yourself and asked them to keep it private. They said they would. They did not. You feel betrayed/offended. It becomes difficult to love. You thought they'd remember your birthday. They forgot. Offense. Difficulty loving. They said they'd always be there for you. You are hurting, and they're nowhere to be found. Offense. Difficulty loving them. You made plans to go out to dinner. They double scheduled and forgot about you. You feel embarrassed and unimportant. Offense. Difficulty loving. You had expectations for a romantic date night. He spent most of the time watching/talking sports. You feel let down, unfulfilled, unconnected with. Offense. Difficulty loving. (These are all based on random, made up but familiar scenarios)

It's the same cycle over and over. We have expectations on people we care about. When they don't meet those expectations and we feel unloved, we become offended and breakdown in the relationship begins. Our offense can eventually turn into cutting off our love and hearts from those who have offended us. Often, people that mean the most to us.

This is the point at which I began to have a major revelation: If I can't keep loving someone through unmet expectations, then my love is conditional. If I can't keep loving an imperfect person in the midst of their imperfections, it means my means my love is limited by their flaws. It means I depend on others loving me well in order to feel ok, and if they don't, my self-worth begins to spiral. It means, in effect, that I have absolutely no control over my love, and that it is entirely determined by the actions of others.

Of course, we all like to feel in control. And so if we feel entirely out of control of whether we feel loved or not, and in turn, whether we feel capable to give love or not, then we search for something we can be in control of. That is the point at which offense becomes our weapon of choice, our way to stay in control. If I get offended by her not showing up to our coffee date on time, and in turn vow not to waste my time offering to meet with her again, I now feel in control. Now I make the rules. I will not be hurt again. I will not be stood up again. But the only way to shut down and hold on to offense that way is to dial down our love. So we feel powerful, but lonely. In control, but unconnected.

This is also the point at which unhealthy "boundaries" develope. There is absolutely such a thing as healthy boundaries, but what determines the difference is the intention or motivation behind creating them. Unhealthy boundaries are rooted in offense, in vowing to take back power. They are not rooted in love. I'll explain healthy boundaries in a minute. (But as you can guess, they are rooted in love.)

This cycle, to be quite honest, sucks. And it is such a familiar one. It is the natural human way of feeling in control in an uncontrollable world. The life changing, heart transforming, mind altering part of this whole journey came when Jesus began to show me how to break this cycle and climb out of this pit. It has brought me freedom like I cannot describe, freedom like I've never tasted before in my life.

But we have to go back to the beginning to enter into a different cycle. If all my offense seems to stem from the fact that someone doesn't love me in the way I want/need them to, then what does that tell me? For me, it tells me that I am deriving my entire sense of self-worth and stability and value from other people's love. Breaking the cycle means backing up all the way to the point of where I find my self-worth, where I get the feeling of being loved from. The whole point is that we find all our love and fulfillement in Jesus. If my sense of self-worth and value are coming from any other source than Jesus, then it will be lacking, because humans are lacking. We are imperfect and flawed and selfish, and we cannot expect other flawed human beings to fill the void of perfect acceptance and faithfulness and belonging and love that we all crave so desperately. As a friend of a friend said so beautifully to me the other day, we have to "Stop living FOR acceptance/approval and start living FROM God's acceptance/approval of us"... To find that deep within our soul our only desire is to live for the approval of One. To know and believe that we are loved, valued, longed for, worthy, treasured, by the one from whom limitless, perfect, beautiful, immeasurable and unstoppable love flows forth forever and ever more. Love that will climb any mountain, swim the seas through the most violent storm, light up the night sky, and come relentlessly and recklessly to chase us down and pursue us, to rescue us over and over. To hold us tenderly and to say "I see you, I know you, I choose you, and I love you. I want all of you." The love that Jesus has for me will never fail to reduce me to tears that come from the deepest part of me. Tears of gratefulness, of  joy, of trust built on a history of His unfailing faithfulness to me. When I was all alone in darkness and everything felt stripped bare, every joyful piece of innocence torn from me, and I could not bare the weight of all that was lost, the only thing left in the windblown gray with me was Jesus with His arms around me. Holding me. Crying with me. Cradling every tear as it fell from my eyes... His heart broken with mine. He said He would be there. And He was. He said He would never leave me. And He didn't. Every wound in my heart from the beginning of my life, the crippling fear and insecurites, the feeling of having to perform to be loved, of being ripped apart privately with words if I wasn't perfect, the hurts of having my flaws paraded in front of my face and hung over my head... they disappear with Him. He tells me He is proud of me. That He wants to be seen with me. That He cares how I feel. That He wants to listen to me. That He has time for me. That His love is not conditional to my performance. That He made my body and it is not a cause for shame. That He has wept over my little girl heart and all that it endured before I ever even understood what it meant. That feeling of relentless pursuit that I have craved all my life is Him. He wants me, loves me, tears down every lie and battles every enemy to find me and stand for me. He is my defender, my vindicator, my every heart beat. He is my all, my everything, He is what consumes me and breathes life into me and makes everything worth it. He endured brokenness, betrayal, rejection, and pain unfathomable to prove Himself to me. To live from the perspective that there is One and One alone whose approval I seek, who I want to make proud, will change everything. When I come from that place, I find I am standing on such solid ground and such an unshakeable foundation that someone forgetting about me, someone betraying my confidence, feeling unloved by someone I care about... it doesn't shake me. My self-worth is no longer a fragile house of cards that can come crashing down at the tiniest puff of hot air and leave me curled in a ball on the inside, crying, feeling broken and alone. My self-worth found in Jesus becomes a rock solid castle that will shelter me from the cruelest storms and fiercest winds that could ever be dealt by human hands.

I pause here... so moved by His love... so deeply experiencing and remembering His goodness to me... I could not go on if it were not for His love.

From here, Jesus led me to more questions about how to keep loving even when unmet expecations are part of the equation. The key word He gave me is ACCEPTANCE. We have to be able to accept who someone is. We have to stop wishing they would be who we want them to be, and accept who they are, flaws and all. History and all. Annoyances and all. Past hurts and all. We take the good, and we accept the bad, knowing we do not have the power to change it. It is in this spirit of honesty that we can begin to analyze the relationships where offense has begun to cut off our ability to love those who are most important to us. What is it about that friend that has hurt you most? Is it that you have told her secrets and she has shared them? Maybe this has happened over and over throughout the years. It's felt like banging your head against a brick wall. Every time you open up and trust again, she hurts you with betrayal. Ok. Lets accept this. She is not a safe vault for you. BUT! You have so much fun with her. You laugh together. You like similar things. You both love to cook and share recipes. (Again, made up scenario) But here you have a complete picture. There are things you love about her and would miss dearly if you never spoke again. But there are places you are not safe and have been wounded. Often there is grief involved in acceptance... grieving what you wish you could have and accepting what you do have. So how do you keep loving her? This is where you construct boundaries in love, to protect a relationship and give it a place to survive and grow. You wouldn't take a shade plant that needs lots of water and stick it in the ground in the desert and expect it to flourish would you? The same is true for people and relationships. We have to create an environment in which relationships can thrive and be nourished. We can't take a person who is immature in keeping confidences and expect them to handle delicate information properly. But that doesn't mean we can't still stand side by side with them laughing and chopping up veggies to make a bunch of freezer meals together. You can construct a boundary, made in love, to protect the relationship. You can say to yourself, we can get together and talk about our meal plans and tell funny stories and have a great time. But I can give myself permission not to pour out the vulnerable details of my heart to her that make me feel unsafe. You protect the relationship by accepting the person, flaws and all, and making adjustments in order to keep yourself in a place where you are not continuously wounded, and where you are able to continue loving them. It's hard to accept, but often, in a relationship that feels impossible, we are the one who needs to change. Getting to a place where we are loving without an agenda, where we are loving not because we need something back, but just because we want to give, is the most pure and beautiful place I've ever been.

 [This might be a rabbit trail for another post, but another piece to this equation is learning to speak truth in love. Maybe you feel like you can't just pretend to be ok again with someone who has hurt you over and over. Maybe a conversation needs to happen to open up that doorway to relationship again. Using "I feel" "I think" and "I want" statements to lead out the conversation (Totally borrowed from a wise friend) helps so much. "I felt hurt and betrayed when you shared xyz that I asked you not to" Instead of "You betrayed me and hurt me and I can't trust you anymore..." You still can't expect them to change even if you do tell them what hurt you and even if they do apologize. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. It's still ok to create a loving boundary that will help your relationship to survive. Sidenote to the sidenote, my personal biggest challenge is learning not to share too much vulnerable information... I love to feel close and connected and have realized that I often try to mend relationships by sharing vulnerable information about myself. As you might guess, this has often backfired and left me feeling even more hurt and wounded then where I started.]

To jump back into the real post... Unoffended love has set me free from carrying wounds with me, walling myself off, shutting down my heart, and feeling out of control or unable to love in relationships. I have realized how fully I lived for the approval of others and how dangerous and unhealthy that has been for me, and in turn have begun to taste the fullness and richness of the pure love of Jesus, my truest, most faithful, and best friend. It is a daily tight rope walk, one that is full of tension, but it is the safest place to be. When I find myself spiraling into old familiar feelings, I start asking myself questions. It always starts with asking myself where I'm finding my worth. Then reminding myself who I am to Jesus, and asking how I can honor Him in that moment. Then accepting who the person before me is, and asking myself if I need to lovingly construct boundaries in that relationship in order to protect us both. Beyond even accepting people is accepting circumstances, and then asking the Lord to reveal the good in it, how to make the best of it, and how to honor Him through it.

When Jesus commanded that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, He wasn't giving two separate commandments that exist apart from each other. We literally are incapable of loving someone else if we do not love ourselves... If we're not accepting and believing Jesus love for us, then we're expecting others to fill that need. And if they don't do it right, then we can't love them well either. At the core of our being is the fundamental need and desire to know that we are loved. Accepting Christ's love for us as the only source we need for fulfillment is what unlocks us to be able to pour out unconditional love for others. Love for others cannot survive without being loved by Him.

 "We love because He first loved us."1 John 4:19. 


Reckless Love

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Is this really my life?

I've been quiet here for awhile, writing mostly in my private journal or just letting my thoughts turn over and over inside my mind before they come out in quiet conversation with my husband or closest friends... But I miss this space so much. Sometimes fear holds me back from sharing, from being vulnerable or honest on this type of more public platform. Fear of man... fear of being misunderstood, fear of being judged. Fear that people with no context for what I'm going through right now will make assumptions and judgments that only hurt me more. (Truly almost no one knows the scope of the multiple situations that all exist simultaneously in my life right now.) Or the biggest fear... that people will misread or misjudge my character. But when something really stirs on my heart I don't want fear to keep me back from what I'm called to. And I've seen over and over again that when I share (or when others share) from a place of vulnerability, it brings connection and hope. I see the beautiful souls of other people walking their own roads of heartbreak and pain and suffering, trauma or tragedy, but with the common thread of finding something good in the ashes. Coming together in brokenness to find healing. To find growth. To find community and freedom and to see the bigger picture that God is working in us all. Watching beauty slowly unfold itself in the midst of the mess, watching joy come in the morning. I see the souls of people who have walked these kinds of roads in the past and have come out on the other side already, standing up and cheering us on, or holding out their hands to offer hope even while we're still in the midst of the valley. And if I focus on that the fear slowly recedes, and the courage to share begins to surface. Because I don't write for my critics. I write for my comrades.

So with that said.... here I go.

Sometimes there's a wrestling match that takes place in the human heart. It's born out of a deep tenacity and pre-disposition to fight for control in a sometimes uncontrollable world. Sometimes situations and circumstances beyond anything within our power to change or predict or mold with our own two hands come into our lives, and our microscopic humanity becomes painfully visible to us. In these moments we wrestle. We ask questions. Why? What did I do to deserve this? What could I have done to prevent this? How do I move forward from here? Why can't this all just go away? It's natural to search for answers. It's natural to want to understand why something happened to you in the first place. The questions are normal. The push back to get some feeling of control over your own life is almost automatic. But it's also a place we can get stuck.

I have found myself here. Faced with decisions I'd rather not make. Faced with choices where none of them feel good. Faced with obligations I would never ever ask for. Situations that feel like lose-lose. Wrestling with God... asking Him why me? Asking Him what I did to deserve to be born into this situation. Asking Him why I can't just run away from it all, or why He can't just make it all go away. Feeling angry, broken, lost, confused... acting like my life is mine and feeling like this is all just so unfair. On my knees.... "Jesus, why have you given this to me???" Crying in the dark of night. Waves of panic attacks... Inability to control my breathing... fighting for my life to protect my heart and not let one more dagger pierce... feelings of rejection spiraling out of control... fighting not to let the walls come back up, forcing myself to stay open, to not become cynical... to just breath in, then breathe out... to calm down... to wait for the pain to subside... Can anyone relate?

It was at about this point in my desperate sad frustration and wrestling that God met me. And He asked me a question.....

"Why do you think your life is yours anyway?" 

Eyes open. Tears standing poised on the edge of my eyelids but not quite spilling over anymore. That wave of chills over taking my entire body. That fresh life breathed into my spirit. That voice. That beautiful voice of truth and clarity when all else is chaos. Why do I think my life is mine anyway? Really, why? ...... I might not be able to control the situations and circumstances that are taking place in my life. BUT I CAN CONTROL MY RESPONSES TO THEM. I might not get to choose all of the events that take place in my life. But I can walk them out in a way that builds my character, with integrity, that gives glory to Jesus. I might never have an answer for why I was born into something that I would have no choice but to face, but I can choose to become better for facing it.

Then the next question, I asked it to myself. What do I deserve anyway? ...... I am vapor, I am dust. Every single breath I take is a gift. If these situations are included in the life He gives me, so be it. I will bear them with honor. In Job's darkest days He was asking questions and wrestling too. Turns out God had some questions of His own. I can't even read this passage without the booming and thundering power of His holiness and majesty completely gripping my heart. He asks me these same questions:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone
 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?
 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
 when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?
 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
    or shown the dawn its place,
 that it might take the earth by the edges
    and shake the wicked out of it?
 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
    its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light,
    and their upraised arm is broken.
 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know all this.
 “What is the way to the abode of light?
    And where does darkness reside?
 Can you take them to their places?
    Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
 Surely you know, for you were already born!
    You have lived so many years!"

An eternal perspective will change your attitude in a heart beat. God doesn't condemn my wrestling, in fact, He invites it. He invites me to step in an grab hold of the impossible, the messy, the imperfect, the broken, and to embrace it and fight with it and to find the good in it. It's when I wrestle, ask the hard questions and cry out for the reasons and the answers that my humanity is met with His holiness. It's when my finite is met with His infinite. It's when He looks at me with His head slightly tilted and a gleam in His eye, and meets my tear stained, defiant gaze and says in that soft, loving, slightly teasing way, "Do you really think you know more than me?"

And that brings us full circle... Is this really my life? Maybe. And maybe not. My life is not my own. And yet the way I walk it out is fully my own. I believe the answer is this: Even though I don't have control, I still have choice. I can run from my situation, but that will not make it go away. Or I can embrace my situation, wrestle with it even, fully walk it out and make it a part of my story. And something beautiful might grow up in my heart because of it. That's what He promises us, after all.

It's ok to be the one who wrestles with my creator all through the night, til the dawn breaks and the sun begins to rise, and who shouts at the top of my lungs, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me!" Maybe I can walk away from that fight choosing not to focus on the limp, but choosing instead to focus on the fact that I have been marked by my maker, that I have wrestled with God and with humans, and have overcome. (Genesis 32:22-31)