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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When You’re Not The One Getting Married

I’m a Christian.

Christians get married. Young.

Younger than I am now.

Lately, everyone seems to be getting engaged, married, in the baby-making phase of life.

And I’m over here lucky if I remember to eat dinner.

One of my biggest shames has been my dating life, speckled with commitment-phobia and just ongoing cases of dating the wrong guy. I have often said that this is where I am most like the world.

I’ve known sexting and drunken dials to boys who broke my heart. I have looked the least like Jesus when I’ve dated.

And two years ago, I told God I was done. I surrendered my dating life. I told God that I wanted the right guy to ask me out. We were done with dating for the sake of dating.

Of course, I failed immediately. There was online dating, which was dumb. Such a joy-thief. And then of course, there was the one who got away. The one I told earnestly how deeply I cared for him and he responded with a “God’s not telling me to pursue you” to which I responded with indignation. Surely, he was wrong. But I lost the argument and two years later, I still wish the conversation had gone differently. I still wish he wanted me.

So I surrendered my dating life to God but wrestled Him for control.

This wasn’t about kissing dating goodbye. Surrendering my dating life had everything to do with the condition of my heart while I was dating.

Somehow, God got through to me. I laid down idols I didn’t even know I had. I sobbed in groups over fears of marriage and commitment. And God fought for my heart. He fought for the desire in my heart to know and be known by someone who would honor every messy part of me. Everything in me grace is working to change and grow.

And it’s beautiful, friends. The girl who told her parents at 19 that marriage wouldn’t be a part of her story now desires a God-honoring commitment to another person.

But….it’s hard. The waiting is hard. Each day that goes by, I think that maybe it won’t happen. Maybe 19-year-old me was right. And those social media posts of all the engagements, marriages and baby announcements start to feel like the devil tempting discontentment. Some days, I don’t want to be joyful for the one that has a different story than me.

Maybe I won’t get married. Maybe that wasn’t the point of this two year journey. Some days, it aches in me that possible truth. But the beautiful thing is that more days are coming that I’m not so discontent. That’s just Jesus, embracing me into the woman I’m meant to be.

Tender hearts

When I started blogging 3 years ago, I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go in. All I knew was that I had a lot to say. I had left an tough, emotionally draining environment that was riddled with alcoholism and volatility.

I didn’t know much about God either. Honestly, I didn’t think God was capable of much. I didn’t think he could heal my family, let alone my stepfather.

Bottom line: I didn’t think much of God.

But I was obedient in spite of my doubts. I chose to walk away from my family and follow Christ. And it has been an exhausting three years. It’s been gut-wrenching, walking through counseling and mentors, battling demons I didn’t even know I had.

It got ugly but I began to see more of who God is and what He does. I saw the way that He destroys things in order to restore them to what they were meant to be.

A few weeks ago, I agreed to go see my family for a few days. There had been so much brokenness in the last 3 years that I wasn’t sure what I would see when I got there.

My stepdad was sober. He had been since I left. I saw someone who God pursued, someone who made choices to take care of himself. I saw a man who reminded me to trust God when all I felt was fear.

It was redemption. Not the kind where everything was perfect and easy. It was redemption that was fought and paid for on the cross. Messy and full of unsaid apologies.

We’re trying now, to have a relationship. I notice differences in how my stepdad talks to me that shows he’s changed. He’s growing too, just like I am.

Some days, I still don’t think much of God. I think He doesn’t care or notice all the things that I carry heavy on my heart. But somehow, I’m still growing up. He loves me a lot more than I love Him.

And for that, I’m grateful.

Hard to Love

I’ve prayed a lot of weird prayers in the last thirteen years. Like a lot. Like things I would never say to another person but I’d tell God because He already knows.

Perhaps one of the weirdest prayers came at a time when I was a complete hot mess. I had come out of an incredibly traumatic household and was knee-deep in the thick of counseling. If you’ve ever experienced what trauma does to a person and what happens when you’re finally free, you already have a picture of my behavior in your head. I was abrasive, decisive and pushy. Of all the things to come out of my relationship with my stepfather, it was this recurring thing he used to say to me when he was angry.

No one would truly love you if they really knew you.

I genuinely believe this one sentence sums up every last damn fear I have ever had. Every isolation, seclusion, tarnished relationship and inability to commit to another person could be traced back to this one sentence.

I’ve absolutely sucked at community. My dating life was a mess of leading men on and walking away before I could be rejected. Or I would swing the other way and pursue men because I never thought I was worth being pursued.

To this day, the idea that a man could be thinking of me and want me is still so farfetched. It’s not that I think I’m a terrible choice. There’s just this part of me that still operates under this one sentence.

In the midst of all this darkness and shame, I asked God for a favor. My heart was starting to open up in this new way that I wanted to love and be loved. I asked God if He would let the man I marry see me at my worst and love me anyway. I wanted my stepfather to be wrong.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Timothy Keller

There’s times I’ve regretted asking for such a difficult request. I’m convinced that’s why now every man I could have been interested in has seen ugly parts of me. I’ve scared away more men than I can count just by continually screwing up.

I think it’ll mean more when the guy sticks around. When he pursues me because he sees who I am becoming through Jesus rather than just who I am now.  He’ll see past the mistakes I make. I’m going to keep telling myself that I did not, in fact, make my dating life exponentially more difficult.

But you know, maybe less weird prayers in the future.

Dearest Ruth,

It’s no secret that Ruth is one of my favorite books in the bible. It was the first book in the bible I read as a little girl just so I could say I had finished a book in the bible. Each time I read it, I get something different.

Probably the most gut-wrenching part of Ruth is the night she proposes to Boaz. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, instructs Ruth on what she should say and do. Ruth dresses up and travels this walk to Boaz’s home to ask him to redeem her. At this point, I’m with her every step of the way. I feel her anticipation, her fear. She has no idea what’s going to happen. Ruth chooses obedience when Naomi tells her to ask Boaz to redeem her. I love that leap of faith into the unknown. And then she asks him the big question. She asks him to redeem her by taking her as his wife.

He doesn’t say yes. He doesn’t say no either. He says wait. Because he’s a decent guy and wants to make sure he does things right. There’s another guy who can redeem her before Boaz can. If this guy says no, Boaz will take Ruth as his wife. And Naomi is so sure everything will turn out okay. Boaz will take care of things so Ruth won’t have to.

Scripture doesn’t say how long Ruth had to wait before she got an answer (Spoiler alert: Boaz redeemed her) but we can take an educated guess and say it took awhile.

I recently took a trip to Washington DC, this big, life-affirming trip, and it was on the plane trip back that I sensed a shift had happened in that week. For the last few years, I’ve been weeding through some pretty broken relationships. God stripped me of things I wanted, things I held over Him. Of all the relationships most damaged, it was walking away from my family and the abusive situation I was in that changed me the most. It has seemed like there is no end in sight to wreckage caused by conflict and pride. And yet, I was sitting on this plane heading home and I felt like my life had shifted directions. Like restoration and reconciliation was finally on the agenda.

And in a matter of days, it seemed like things were starting to move in that direction for multiple situations, including my relationship with my stepfather. In a matter of days, I could see God leading me down this path of restoring what He allowed to be broken in the first place. But as the weeks go by without restoration, I’ve realized just how much time this season of healing will take. I have to hold fast to the process of waiting in a way I haven’t before. It will be at least a month before the process of restoration even happens with my family and there is no foreseeing of when other relationships will be mended. It’s during this time that I’m reminded of Ruth, resting in fellowship with a woman who carried a lot of baggage and had to wait for her redemption.

I’ve learned that God usually makes us wait when He knows what devastation awaits us if He gives us what we want when we want it. He cuts down the weeds that threaten healing so that we can be restored on good soil.

Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out. – Ruth 3:18

Unspoken dreams

A year and a half ago, I made a bold decision to quit my job and enroll in vet tech school. I was going to work in a zoo.

Until recently, I never told anyone why I would make such a drastic career move.

I gave plenty of explanations. I needed to follow my dreams. Animals were my passion. Nonprofit work was too draining.

But I never told anyone what kept me up at night. The church. That beautiful bride of Christ. I prayed over her, wrestled over her. I prayed for pastors and churches I had never been to and gave to ministries I had never volunteered with. The church had been this burden on my heart since I was eight years old. I used to dream of what the church could be, this unified body of believers all worshipping together.

I dreamt of the day I could work in full-time ministry, where I could use my gifts to bring the body closer to reconciliation with God and man.

Satan had fun with that dream. I encountered sexual abuse in the church, unfit pastors, slanderous leaders and favoritism. From church to church, I ran into sick, hurting congregations. I became suspicious and fearful. Was the problem me? Did I just have a radar for unhealthy churches?

And then there was me. I was rarely allowed to volunteer in the church. At any given point, the church reminded me that I was not qualified.

First, it was that I couldn’t drive (at the time). Then, I was too young. Too feisty. I asked too many questions. I was a woman. It got darker. I had endured abuse. I hadn’t gone to enough counseling (I had been attending counseling for ten years by the time I was told this).

But every time I was permitted to do what I felt God was calling me to do, I knew they were wrong. I walked alongside young girls who struggled with the very things I had battled. I sat with girls who came to me because of the very circumstances that the church had always pushed back on.

They wanted to hear there was life past self-harm, past abuse, past shame. They wanted to believe that they could one day look in mirror and not hate their reflection.

Because of the circumstances God had allowed to happen in my life, I could do what someone without my baggage could never do.

But the church didn’t want me. Ministries turned me away. So I chased the safer dream because I was tired of crying.

Somehow, God brought me back. He brought me back to the dreams I ran away from. This time, I fret even more. This time, I’m not just the disabled girl with an abusive past. God has thrown schizophrenia into the mix. I feel even more unqualified than I did before. My dreams have me more humbled than they ever did before, because only God can take this mess and make it true. I often feel immobile to do anything.

God only allows that which will glorify Him the most to happen in our lives. It’s oddly comforting.

Reconciliation from the girl who always says sorry

About a year ago, I started to feel like it was time to start praying about peace and reconciliation with my family.

I’ve been estranged from members of my family for the last three years because of the embittered relationship I had with my stepdad.

It was around August that I started to experience that feeling that the season of estrangement would come to an end. I didn’t invite the idea or try to interfere. I figured God would place the desire in my heart when the time was right.

***

It was the pastors who got me frustrated over this idea of reconciliation. During the months leading up to my mental health diagnosis, I did some pretty terrible things. Things that got me excommunicated from a church.

I didn’t understand. More honestly, I couldn’t understand. There’s few things worse than being trapped inside your own brain.

But God is faithful, no matter what. I began to research what justice is, what justice does. Primary justice, the act of living in right relationships with others, or tsedaqah, captivated me.

How differently would a person burdened by this idea of justice live?

***

March was a particularly rough month as I found myself sitting across the father who left me as a little girl, hearing his explanation and apology. I’m still not entirely sure how we ended up there, in that bowling alley.

I said I forgave him and I meant it.

It was the first time I saw what justice could look like. Justice looks a lot like compassion and forgiveness, not condemnation and punishment. It’s not easy or convenient. I wasn’t great at it.

The pastors’ refusal to seek this kind of justice irked me.

***

To whom much is given, that much more will be asked of him.

Every speaker I have ever heard teach on this topic has talked about how this means how much we are blessed is directly correlated to how much God will ask us to give.

But the most generous people I know are often the poorest.

I think every speaker is wrong.

The more suffering I am given to endure, the more grace God expects of me.

The pastors’ denial of grace towards me begins to make more sense. You can’t give what you know so little of.

***

I’m staring at the wreckage of the last year of my life. And while I’m driven to despair, my heart is turned towards grace. Grace for my stepfather. Grace for my mother. Because they both have their own mental health illnesses.

It doesn’t make anything said or done okay. Grace doesn’t excuse behavior. It just says that there is something more significant than being right.

Reconciliation is an act of God. It is how He demonstrates His love for us on the cross.

People will know us by the love we demonstrate.

We should always be reconciling with one another. Not silent or bitter. The striving to live in right relationships with others should be of more significance than being right.

I think back to the pastors. I know you can’t give what you’ve never experienced. I also know God is bigger than pride or shame.

This year of suffering is directly correlated to the amount of grace I will have to extend.

He will make things right.

He always has.