A God-shaped hole

We were driving to my house late one night. I could feel the dull ache of my heart as Alex talked about working overseas. It was a feeling I was familiar with. At some point, I had just gotten used to it.

But when I volunteered, it would fill up. For that brief amount of time, I felt whole again. Alex and I, along with a team of college students, spent many Saturdays filling food boxes, babysitting foster kids, playing with children in Mexico and wrangling a gaggle of sassy refugee children. It helped me feel okay, when I would otherwise wrestle with an ache so deep I didn’t know what to do with.

I had never told anyone that before. Until that night. I waited for Alex to say something about how I just needed Jesus. He didn’t say that. He said he felt that same ache in his heart.

I remember what it was like to fall for him, blissfully. I had never met anyone before who made me feel so connected and understood. I trusted him, respected him. I asked him for advice. I followed his judgment. I don’t follow a man unless I like him. I’m simple in that way. So when he suggested that I go on a mission trip to Ireland, I obliged. Soon, we discovered he would be going too.

I was ecstatic.

Now, I won’t lie. That trip was awful for a lot of reasons but there were moments where God counseled me through the missionary family we stayed with. I saw what my life could be. I saw this quiet, powerful life on mission. I saw dirty dishes and old clothes. We ate expired food too precious to throw out and warmed ourselves by a portable stove.

My mind goes back to the church we visited, housed in a storage unit with no electricity in the middle of nowhere.

And my heart didn’t hurt once those almost two weeks. I was doing what I was made to do.

We came back and I confessed my feelings to Alex. And he cried. He told me he loved me. He loved my heart for the gospel. He loved the passion I had for the hearts of other people. But he couldn’t be with me.

I didn’t understand. It’s been five years and I still don’t understand. Why isn’t my heart for the gospel enough? How could you love someone and not want to be with them?

Mind you, I am okay that it didn’t work out. I just have questions that will never be answered.

I never did become a missionary. God closed every door I tried to open. At some point, I thought He had taken away that ache in my heart but recently, I’ve come to realize I had just numbed it with complacency, food and shopping.

Somehow, God has to fill this hole in my heart. He did it for Alex. Someday, He’ll do it for me.

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Mean.

You ever really, really like someone?

You love talking to them.

You think of them when they’re not around.

There’s that small smile that creeps on your face when they walk into a room.

You like everything about them.

And then one day, the glass shatters.

They’re bossy.

They’re always late (or early).

They make dorky jokes.

If you’ve known them long enough, you start to see them in different seasons of their life.

You see when they’re frustrated or drained.

You see when they’re trying too hard or they’re insecure.

A lot of people back out when they start to see the fractures in a person and sometimes, there are really good reasons for that. And sometimes, it’s really stupid.

I love the moment when I realize I don’t like everything about someone. It’s real. It means you’re secure enough to stay with someone’s mess.

***

God is mean.

Here’s the thing: God is good. True good. His ways are perfect.

But as I was driving home in my car yesterday, sobbing over how frustrated I am, I told God He was mean.

Why do you hate me so much?

Why did God tell Joseph his family would bow down to him and then imprison him?

Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his only son after promising to make him a great nation?

Was it fair, that David could have a dream to build a great temple for God and God said no? Why let him dream in the first place?

Paul had a dream to go to Asia. God said no.

God told Jacob he would become a great nation. Jacob never saw the promises God showed him.

The Israelites were promised the Messiah and waited hundreds of years, dying before they ever saw the promise.

These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. – Hebrews 11:13

I’ve had God speak two promises into my life and neither one has come true.

What happens if the job He promised me never comes to fruition?

I still remember walking down those halls. I remember how I felt. I was there by mistake, by chance but it didn’t matter. Every door I’ve tried to open God has closed. Eventually, I became so bruised by the experience, I licked my wounds and gave up.

What happens if the husband He has been preparing and making right for me decides I’m just too much? What if I’m just too damn much for him?

I really want to say that God can’t be that mean to make promises and then not let me see them come true but we know that’s not true.

We know God makes things really difficult for our ultimate good. And wrestling in that reality of His character makes our relationship with Him real.

I just wish God wasn’t so good all the time. Sometimes, I just want Him to be fair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When the story changes

Ten years ago, I was fresh out of high school, ready to take on the world. I had a dream to go to business school and start a business…or a nonprofit. I wasn’t really sure. By the time I was out of high school, I had already invested three years of my life in the nonprofit sector. I had worked with sexual assault survivors, lobbied for disability rights, been invited to hear the President speak, served on a committee to promote the arts and mentored young teens.

I was trying to pay attention to what God was showing me. Everything pointed to the nonprofit sector. And business school seemed daunting and out of my element. Conversations with trusted allies later and I was on the path to social work.

Ten years into nonprofit work and I was falling apart. Women were coming in crowds to my office with stories of sexual assault. They sobbed over their experiences. The worst was the women with intellectual disabilities who would describe their rapes in detail and shake because they couldn’t understand what had happened to them.

There were girls who were suicidal and women who did not believe they were worth being loved by a man. I was not a counselor in any sense of the word. I was ill-equipped to handle the grief and loss being thrown at me.

I was seeing a counselor myself at the time who, after months of listening to me wail about my life, suggested that I find a different profession.

I was indignant. My identity was wrapped in social work. I cared so much. The nonprofit world needed more of people like me.

But eventually, I quit. I searched for jobs in other fields. But God said no. He brought me back to the nonprofit world. I was grateful for it. The work suited me. For a while anyway.

Have you ever found a beautiful dress that was in your size but still didn’t fit right? I love online consignment stores and recently, I bought this dress that was in my size. But when I tried it on, it was really hard to put it on. The fabric didn’t stretch at all; the zipper split several times; it was itchy and a little too hot. It fit eventually but when I looked in the mirror, it wasn’t the most attractive thing I’ve worn. But I was stubborn. I had bought this dress, in my size, and I was going to wear it all day.

I didn’t feel pretty.

I didn’t feel ugly.

I just felt like another dress would be better.

Sometimes, I feel that’s how nonprofit work looks on me. Like it fits but there’s other work that would look better.

I could do this work for the rest of my life and it would feel like wearing that dress. It fits but that doesn’t make it right for me.

When I had this dream for a business, I actually wanted to get into fashion. Not designing clothes because I can’t draw to save my life but I wanted to be a personal stylist/shopper. Especially for women with disabilities. Depending on the type of disability you have, clothes can be tricky. Fabric can be tricky. I have multiple disabilities so I’ve had to play around with clothes for a while. I always feel a little shallow when I say this but I actually love fashion and clothes a lot. I think it’s important to be as comfortable as possible while still looking good. Especially when you have a disability, comfort is everything.

When I first found out I might have cancer, I looked at my life and was like, what the heck am I doing?! My life has been going nowhere for quite some time and it’s because I’ve been too scared to rock the boat. All of the sudden, I was very clear about what I wanted. Marriage, a family and a job where I could have a lot of fun. But with a possible cancer diagnosis looming over my head, I felt immobile to move forward.

And then I found out I don’t have cancer.

I get to take this epiphany and run with it.

“‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”
Jeremiah 18:1-4
I don’t know what I’m being shaped into becoming but I’m excited to find out.
Photo credit: Robert Linder

 

The First Kiss

So I’m still waiting on finding out if I have breast cancer or not but in the meantime, it’s been interesting to see what things have come up for me.

Of all my biggest regrets, it’s been my dating life. I’ve had one relationship that lasted eight months but the rest have been a series of first and second dates. I’ve never dated anyone I’ve been super passionate about.

I’ve been in love once with a guy that I didn’t date. He said he loved me too and hoped that I would meet someone that loved me as much as he did. He just wasn’t ready to date and by the time he was, he didn’t want me.

Sometimes, I wonder if he was full of it. I say yes. I hate to admit it but I used to put up with an obscene amount of bullcrap. The more I have learned to love myself, the less crap I tolerate.

So I’ve dated a lot but I haven’t dated well. The one thing people really don’t know about me is that despite the fact that I dated someone for eight months, I have never kissed anyone.

Never.

I’ve never even held hands with anyone.

My longest relationship was with someone who was not affectionate.

Before last week, I hadn’t told anyone that before. I’ve been really ashamed.

Here’s the thing: I never intended to wait to kiss someone. Before you start in with how honorable it is that I’ve waited, know that it wasn’t on purpose.

And I was doing okay with it until it hit me that I could die before I get a chance to be loved by someone. I wasn’t okay with that.

My married friends have all told me the same thing. They tell me how lucky I am that it hasn’t happened yet. They say I’ll be grateful if the only man I kiss is my husband. They told me that being affectionate with other men can lead you to feel less satisfied when you get married.

But is it awful that I don’t care? I feel like an alien. I am almost thirty and I’ve never held hands with someone. What if I die before that happens?

I know. I know. I know. Christ’s love needs to be enough. Heaven needs to be enough. But is it terrible that I still want to experience romantic love before I die?

Someone told me recently that I should desire Christ alone and that I should disregard my desire for marriage. I think there’s this sentiment among Christians that in order to be Godly, you must forsake the desires of your heart. I disagree with that. I actually think that’s a very Buddhist mentality, this idea of releasing your desires. I believe it’s possible to have a hunger for things but at the same time, seek God first. And I think it’s a balancing act. I think both the desires of your heart and your love for Christ can coexist.

I think it’s important to grieve heartache and rejection, grieve the life you don’t get to have. Just don’t stay there. I said in a recent blog post that I used to ask people their love stories and how I saw recurring themes. When people suffer real rejection, a lot of times God has already opened another door. You’re just not paying attention. Stop beating down a closed door expecting that if you knock hard enough, it’ll open. That rarely happens.

I don’t know what’s next for me but I know things usually become darkest right before a breakthrough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Big C

I spent the morning inhaling a microwave breakfast burrito and a large Diet Coke with watermelon flavoring from Sonic.

Maybe I should be eating something a little healthier.

The truth was that I was pretty nervous. You see, I had spent the weekend having discharge come out of my left breast. I had talked with a friend, who suggested that it may be a tumor on my pituitary gland. Non-cancerous but still scary.

****

When I was in high school, my stepdad was diagnosed with two forms of cancer, kidney and testicular. I still remember that time in my family’s life. We were moving upward. The family was bustling with busyness. My stepdad in particular had been working two jobs and going to school full-time. He was stressed but managing.

****

I had made this big decision to be a foster parent. My life had reached a stabilized point. I was comfortable and honestly, I felt a little bored. I was in school but it was only one class at a time. I had a good job, solid relationships. Everything was going well.

And slowly, I started adding more to my plate. I started volunteering for a ministry. I joined the prayer team at my church. I took on a second job. I got promoted. I took foster care classes.

It all became too much. I had friends who told me to slow down. Friends who told me I had taken on too much.

But I didn’t listen. I could do it all. I was the girl who had survived losing her family. I was the girl who had been through church excommunication and broken friendships. I had held my own through a diagnosis of schizophrenia. I could handle a busy schedule.

****

Cancer does something to a person. My stepdad had always been this tough, self-reliant person. But cancer made him rethink his life. He spent his days talking about his life. He and I had a fractured relationship but it was during this time that I got to know him. I heard his stories. He stopped fighting so much. He was gentle.

And it made him slow down.

****

The doctor scrunched her face. “It could be hormonal. But I’ll be honest – stress doesn’t cause discharge. It could also be your medication but you’ve been on your meds for so long. It shouldn’t be happening.”

I sat there, calm as a cucumber.

She was quiet for a moment. “I’m going to schedule a mammogram for you. It could be breast cancer, particularly because there’s a family history.”

The words breast cancer hung in the air.

Had I not just told God a week ago I was tired? I was done. Come down and show me your glory! Had I not just screamed this through tears a week ago?

And now, days later, I am sitting in the doctor’s office and she is telling me I could have cancer.

Am I scared?

No. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I do not have time for cancer.

I don’t understand. Maybe she is wrong. Maybe the doctor is mistaken. Maybe I am so stressed out that this is why I have breast discharge. Maybe my meds are causing the problem.

And maybe, this is God’s way of trying to get my attention. I will know in about two weeks if I have cancer. Literally the longest two weeks of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saying Sorry

When my sister and I were young, we fought all the time. Between groundings and spankings, nothing seemed to work. My mom decided that she would try a different method. She separated us and had us write nice things about one another.

Apologizing has never been easy for me. I’m pretty prideful and carry a lot of wounds. I have operated under the idea that if someone hurts me, it cancels out my sin. If we’re honest, we all operate that way.

My relationship with my sister taught me how to lay down my pride and apologize. There were times I hated her but when my mom would force us to write nice things about one another, I realized I had ample things to say.

I’ve alluded to it in past blog posts but haven’t dared to say it out right. Two years ago, I was excommunicated from a church. I was asked to leave and never speak to anyone in the church again.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember sobbing on the rooftop of my work. I remember the shock. I remember going back to work after I received the phone call from the pastor.

I was very sick. I have high-functioning schizophrenia and this was before I was diagnosed. I was out of control. In the span of three months, I had become obsessed with one of the pastors, removed from my community group, freaked out said pastor’s girlfriend and harassed the church with incessant emailing and texts.

I needed a doctor. I needed treatment. What I got was being removed from the church.

I felt too dirty, too broken to step foot in another church. Excommunication will wreck you. It will mess you up. It will terrify you of other churches. Even now that I stand on the other side of diagnosis and treatment, I am too afraid to fully submit to the church I’m in now. I’m getting closer though, which is reassuring.

I shared the details of the story with my doctor in the hospital, when I was lucid enough to explain everything. I sat there in tears, asking him what he thought. What could I do to fix this? He explained that my behavior was not my fault. I had been very sick and could not have been expected to be well-mannered. He went on to say that the reaction the church had to me was irresponsible.

I became a victim that day.

For over a year, I had been angry, sad and frustrated. My heart has ached for an apology that they refuse to give. And man, have I sat in a pool of self-pity.

But God kept pressing into me. Something wasn’t sitting right with me about what the doctor had said. Schizophrenia doesn’t change your personality; it amplifies what’s already there.

And then I was presented with the same triggers that had set me off when I was sick. I resisted them all but I felt every evil bone in my body. I felt all the hatred and jealousy and malice and control and striving that ran through my body while I was in that church. The only difference was that, because of medication, I was able to resist the urge to give in.

That realization broke me. What did it mean that I could be a victimizer as much as I had been a victim? I sobbed deep tears for the hurt I had caused. Because yes, my illness denied me an ability to say no to temptation but the person behind the behavior was still me.

I told God how sorry I was. For the first time in two years, I experienced true relief from the pain I had from what had happened.

I know that, at one point, the pastor had been reading my blog. He doesn’t know I know that but I do. My heart is grieved over the fact that reconciliation and peace is not a possibility here. But in the off chance that he reads this, I want to say how truly sorry I am for the pain I caused. Nothing will change what happened but I can be repentant here. I wish someday we could apologize to one another in person but I understand that may be unrealistic.

I think we all believe that if we’ve been hurt, we can’t apologize for our part in the mess of things. But I think part of loving people is in the saying sorry.

In the moment I told God how sorry I was, He whispered gently in my ear, You’re now ready for the blessings I have for you. You’re ready for the life I have for you.

I don’t know what that means. All I know is that I have finally, finally moved on.

Easy.

Recently, I was talking with a friend about old loves and moving on.

It’s interesting. I’m in a season where I’m getting renewed clarity about my life, primarily when it comes to men. It’s like a vase that has broken and as I’m picking up the pieces of glass, I notice where the cuts are, the shine of the glass against the light and then I attach the glass back to the vase.

So we were talking about old loves and how difficult it is to move on. I’ve told her a few times about my first love but I made a point of explaining the process it took to move on.

Oh, man. I argued with God over him. I begged God to work it out. It got to a place where I would even take friendship over nothing.

It was during this time that I was on a journey of self-discovery. I had been in counseling, working through my issues with marriage and I decided that I would research the topic. Books helped but I wanted real world insight. I started asking couples their love stories and despite the vast differences between stories, I found recurring themes.

Every couple I spoke with had a oneness I had never seen before. And before you jump in and say, “well, duh, that’s a part of marriage”, I also interviewed engaged couples and saw this same occurrence. Elizabeth Eliot put it simply in The Mark of a Man, that a man will know the woman he is supposed to be with when he recognizes her as his rib, not that she is exactly like him but that she comes from him. This is obvious before marriage.

When I think back to past relationships, it was never like that. It was as if we were two pieces of a puzzle that almost fit but didn’t. And some puzzle pieces fit better than others but at the end of the day, it all felt like grasping at straws. Even with my first love, we almost fit. It was so close to perfect but I look back and see how hard everything was.

The other recurring theme was this idea of effortlessness. The relationships themselves may have had conflict and turmoil but it was like there was a magnet that kept bringing them back together. They weren’t struggling to connect or spend time together. One particular story that sticks in my mind was one I watched play out. These two friends started talking more and more and always seemed to find one another in a crowd. I actually remember approaching them one day and the girl gave me the dirtiest look. I promptly walked away. I laugh about it now. They’ve been married for three years.

I watched this girl recently trying to earn this guy’s attention. As I watched her talk herself up and honestly, grasp at straws, I realized you can tell right away if two people are going to get together. God really doesn’t make it a secret. I had flashbacks to past encounters with men where I thought things were headed in a certain direction but when I look at it now, it’s pretty obvious that nothing was going to happen. It’s like painstakingly obvious.

Because when a guy likes you, he makes it known. It’s not confusing or unclear. I think back to those times and realize how much time I wasted stressing out about guys that were totally friendly but interested in other girls.

Because there was always another girl. I was always late to the game and one by one, these guys dated and married the girl they had set their sights on. And I wanted so badly to be the girl that gets chosen. I wanted to be the girl he thinks of when he’s ready to date.

In the midst of getting over my first love, God told me He wanted it to be easy for me. He wanted dating to be easy. I fought Him so hard because I didn’t want easy. I wanted my first love.

But, as I told my friend, I am really, really grateful God is smarter than me.