Seasons

Just as we experience seasons with the weather, we experience seasons in life. Just as with the weather, some seasons we enjoy more than others. But every season has a purpose.

As this winter and this holiday season set in, I can’t help but think back to where I was last year. Not physically, but mentally. I know I’m different now, and I know God has changed me.

All last year I felt I was in the middle of a hurricane or tornado or some other severe weather pattern. I was on shaky ground. My world had been turned upside down. I was being batted around by negative thoughts and crippling anxiety and depression. I prayed that I could just find shelter and stay huddled until it was all over. Maybe if I closed my eyes, plugged my ears, and screamed it would all go away.

God answered that prayer, but not in the way I anticipated. Nothing changed overnight, and nothing has happened in the way I had specifically asked God for it to happen. But I had prayed to find shelter in the storm, and I did: in Him.

At first, I started with prayers of desperation and heartache. Every prayer was a literal cry for help. In every prayer, I begged. I attempted to bargain with Him–“if You do it this way, I’ll never ask You for anything again.” But as time moved forward, those prayers transformed from “change this” to “change me.” And when I finally admitted–to myself and to Him–that I couldn’t do anything, I gave Him room to move.

And move He did. I have a better sense of identity now. I know more about not only who I am as a person, but also who I am in Christ. I have a better sense of my calling and my passions. I know what I can and can’t do in a variety of circumstances. Above all, I’ve realized I cannot expect another human to fulfill a hole or a longing they could never realistically fill anyway.

What felt like a long, cold, stormy winter has transitioned to what feels more like fall. Yes, I know that’s not the real order of seasons, but that’s the best way I can describe it. I still hope for things. There are good things that I can see, but there are still things I feel are missing. So, maybe then it’s more of a very early, dreary spring than fall.

Don’t be deceived. It took me a long time–about a year!–to get to this point. A year of introspection, of crying, of wanting to sleep it away, of reading, of therapy. And I’m not still not 100% okay, still not perfect, still not exactly where I want to be. I’m still a work in progress.

It’s the most difficult season I’ve had to navigate, but, while I would never wish it on anyone, I can see now that God will use it, and has used it, for a purpose. It’s really the first time I can say that I know God works things for good.

And that’s why today, on this last day of the thankful challenge, I’m going to risk being thankful for something that may be controversial: this season. But being thankful for a thing and being thankful for what it has taught you are different things. I’m not thankful that it happened. What I am thankful for is that God has used it to make me a better person and that He continues to use it to show me, and others, that brokenness doesn’t define you or scare Him.

. . . . . .

What is your favorite season?

Do you need to be thankful for a particular season in your life?

Have you ever been grateful for something out of the ordinary?

Is there a difficult circumstance you’re facing where you need to see God’s goodness? Or did you see His goodness on the other side of a difficult situation?

A Sudden Realization

I woke up today realizing I no longer wanted to teach.

It’s been coming on for a while, really. One thing has led to another, and I just feel it’s not for me. Now, with a full time job, I don’t feel I can give teaching the attention it deserves. But it’s more than time management abilities. It’s desire. I woke up today wanting to go into my writing and editing job–to the office–and do that work and see those people. In that moment I realized I found what I am supposed to do.

I’ve been praying about this for a while too. Do I completely stop teaching? Or do I just limit what I’m willing to take on? Today felt like a clarification from God about my next steps.

I went back to teaching when I left my previous job and this storm started. It was something I knew, and I was desperate to get out of the job I was in. In a time of complete turmoil, I needed a comfort zone. Since my second year of graduate school, I have enjoyed teaching, but I always felt there was something missing. I think I know what that is now, and I’m going to go after it.

I’ve also been praying about beginning a new project. I would not have time to devote to this project if I continued to teach, and this project is something that has been on my mind for a long time. (I will reveal more when it is solidified and I have taken the steps to make it happen, but keep an eye out.)

I feel like God is leading me in a direction I have waited a long time to be led in, and I am really looking forward to what is next.

These sudden realizations can be scary, but if you have been talking to God about a potential change, it may be a sign from Him. I’ve learned it’s important to stay in prayer, even about “the little things.” He may use the little things to begin moving us forward.

So if you have a decision to make, big or small, ask God. He will provide you an answer.

The Thing About Goals

What does reconciliation look like? How long will it take?

I was asked these questions a few weeks ago, but they are questions I don’t have solid answers to. By definition, reconciliation means: (a) agreeing to an amicable truce; (b) resigning to something not desired; and (c) the process of making consistent or compatible. Of course, in the case of which I am speaking, Option C is the definition I am going with.

For the first time in a few months, I had the opportunity to express just that. I had the opportunity to say I have changed and that, basically, it means knowing our individual needs and being able to work through this difficult path together.

I was told it doesn’t seem our goals are compatible “still,” and there was clear frustration. And it was that moment I realized I had said my goals without really expressing them. I’ve spent a year in my own head, evaluating and re-evaluting my goals–for life, my marriage–but I had never had to express that process to someone who had been absent from it for so long.

Really, my goal is to make this work. However I need to. I know what “sacrifices” I am willing to make. I know what I need. I know myself a little better. But I’ve also realized other things.

My goals are flexible. This doesn’t mean I am a doormat. Instead, it means that my goals, and the processes, change as my needs and desires change. And that’s completely okay. As long as I do not feel I am being untrue to who I am, then having flexible goals is fine. For instance, I want to travel. At first, the thought process was something like: “I am determined to find a job abroad and experience that location.” Now, it’s something like: “Oh, I can go on vacation there and eventually return to the territory I am comfortable.” Same goal–traveling–different process to get there.

Ability to do what I need to do. This actually boils down to my anxiety and depressive symptoms. If I feel an episode is coming on, I need to be able to “get out”–of the specific situation, of the location temporarily, of my head–somehow. I need to have the flexibility to do this. I’ve also realized that it’s completely okay to travel, visit family, or go do something without my husband. I relied on him for companionship and to fulfill emotional needs, and I’ve realized it’s unrealistic to expect a human to fill a spot only God can. I need to be able to get outside with Belle or write when I need to or when I am called to.

My marriage. This is plain and simple: I want my marriage. This relationship overrides everything except my relationship with God. I let other people come in with their concerns and their help, and I stopped listening to my husband’s valuable input. Pick your battles. Not everything is worth having an argument over. Compromise will be important. But, all in all, this relationship will win over everything else in life.

Employment. I need a job. Not only is that a financial fact, but it’s a personal need. I can’t not work. Of course, I would prefer to be a writer full time. If he is willing to allow it, then I will, of course, take it. If not, though, I know what sort of jobs I want (and don’t want). I know what sort of sacrifices I can make in this arena. I know what I hope to be.

Really, these things–these realizations, these conversations–take time. And I’m not sure how much. In the end, I said I realized what I am willing to do, and that I will do whatever it takes.

. . . . . .

The next few days are big. I hope to be able to properly express my goals. I pray for the wisdom to be silent when needed, but to also speak the right words. I pray for the Lord’s guidance and grace. I pray for His favor. I feel ready, and I pray He finds me ready too.

Through all of this, my goal has been to get to know the Lord better. I have prayed more. I have found an amazing church and community of believers. I have written more, thereby working toward fulfilling the calling He has placed on my life. My goal has been to get to know who I am in Him.

My prayer is that this is part of that.

Brokenness is Real

…and God is for the broken.

. . . . . .

This was today’s message at church. It seems like a difficult thing to admit, and it is. It is hard to acknowledge that just because we are Christian doesn’t mean life will be perfect or all happiness. It can be even more difficult to believe God is for the broken, especially when we experience brokenness and it feels like God is silent.

The message today was based on Luke 7:11-17—the funeral of a widow’s only child. The pastor gave 3 points that really struck me. (So far, it seems this church has some powerful and meaningful messages for me. Maybe that is God working…)

The first: sometimes life is hard. Like I said, just because we are Christian does not mean life will not be hard. Sometimes our brokenness comes from choices we have made, and sometimes it isn’t our fault at all. We all sometimes walk away from the alignment of God, trying to make choices we think would be better for us or others.

Just this made me realize that my brokenness is a mixture of the choices I made, choices I thought would be better for me and my family, and the choices he has made. As such, I can only take responsibility for my portion of it all. And I do. I acknowledge that perhaps it was not what God had designed for me, perhaps it was out of His will.

But brokenness is not a punishment. And I have spent all this time feeling like it is, feeling like what I am going through is God punishing me for being so stupid. Really, I am punishing myself. I realize now I can only do that for so long.

The second point was that Jesus hurts when we feel brokenness. This seems hard to wrap my head around, but the truth is He loves us, so of course He hurts for us. Luke 7:13 says “His heart went out to her…” He felt genuine compassion for her, He felt for her in the pain she was experiencing.

The third, and final, point was this: Jesus can overcome the pain of our circumstances. In the story in Luke 7, Jesus raises the son. That in itself is a pretty powerful illustration.

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. . . . . .

The pastor chose to read out some stories of brokenness from church team members. The stories were of deep brokenness, and I could feel the pain these people have suffered. Although their names were, of course, not mentioned, I couldn’t help but admire their bravery to not only admit their brokenness but to share it. That’s when I realized something.

I am afraid to admit and share my brokenness to others.

Notice I say “to others.” I willfully admit to myself I am broken—I know it, I feel it every day—but I am afraid to express it to others, even within a church. And the reason is because I have been burned. I am afraid to share because I am afraid of a lack of support. I am afraid of people trying to tell me what to do, of unwanted advice. I am afraid of being told I am being stupid or that I should just move on. I am afraid of judgement. All because it has happened to me before (at least, that is my perception).

And as I came to this realization, I also saw something else: that this brokenness had been coming for some time. The episodes I can now point out as having been depressive or anxious episodes; the feelings of worthlessness, because I felt like he was doing something so much better than me, that I wasn’t making a difference and he was; the loneliness, even when I wasn’t physically alone…I can see now it all pointed to brokenness in me, and it was inevitable for that brokenness to make an outward appearance.

While brokenness isn’t God’s punishment, I want to think He will use it to show me something, to teach me.

I know now I wasn’t supposed to take that job. Yet, God used that experience to point me back in the direction I had veered from. I know I made a mistake, but I think He is providing me an opportunity to take a step back to have a chance to examine my faults and my mistakes and decide who I want and need to be.

. . . . . .

I’ve decided not to give in. I know where my heart is. I know how I feel.

Recently, it feels like God has been silent, but maybe that’s because I’ve refused to open my Bible and pray and admit my brokenness. I can’t expect Him to speak to me if I’m not willing to speak to Him and open up.

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The only way to combat brokenness is to seek God, is to pray. It doesn’t guarantee that life will be perfect. It doesn’t mean that, poof, suddenly all the problems will disappear. What it does mean, though, is I acknowledge that God is on my side and has compassion for me in my brokenness.

I am broken. But I won’t give up.

Burned

The church I have begun attending encourages what they call “Try 5,” which means to try 5 weeks of the church (so 5 Sundays) to see if it is for you. Well, today was my 5th week, and I’ve decided to make it “my church”. It was also the 4th week of the series God for the Rest of Us, and the message, like the past 3 weeks, resonated with me. The topic was those burnt by the church.

Have you walked away from a church because you felt you were being judged? Did you walk in feeling broken and leave feeling even more so? Were you told you couldn’t share your story to seek guidance?

This is for you.

. . . . . .

I wasn’t burned by my previous church necessarily, but something went wrong along the way that I began to feel unworthy. My husband and I were continually asked about when we would be having children, because others who had been married for a similar length of time already had at least one child. (We were in no place to have children. When we expressed this, people seemed disappointed, and I could see some sort of judgement in their eyes.) When I expressed anxiety or depressive symptoms regarding anything, even before all this happened, I was continually given the verse “be anxious for nothing.” (While that can be a peace-inspiring verse, it felt like I was being dismissed.) When things did begin to happen, I sought advice and the advice felt judgmental; no one offered up their story to establish their credibility with me (which, for me, is huge), and when stories did seem to begin being shared, it was “we shouldn’t focus on our past.” When more things happened, I was flat out told to give up, and it didn’t feel like it came from God; it felt like it came from that individual. No hope was offered, and nor was prayer.

I became disoriented and lost. I had trusted these people, and now I felt they were abandoning me in my time of need, in the time I most needed to hear and feel God.

. . . . . .

The message today focused on Matthew 7:7-12:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

What came out of this passage was the message of the 3 ways the church should respond to those who are asking, seeking, and knocking.

The first thing is that anyone who wants to find Jesus should be able to. Simple as that. Individuals or church-specific rules should not get in the way of allowing and helping others to find Jesus.

The second thing is the church should not throw stones. Again, simple. We are all broken in some way, and no one person’s brokenness is better or worse than another’s.

The last thing is the golden rule: the church should do to others what you would have them do to you.

While my pastor spoke strictly from the perspective of this church and how our church, I felt it was a good message to take to heart for anyone in the church—anyone who is a follower of Christ.

. . . . . .

The first two verses of this passage tell us if we ask, if we seek, if we knock, we will receive, we will find, the door will be opened. Reading that, my initial thought it great! I’m asking for this thing, it’ll happen. Of course if I am asking, I desire that. Like now. I desire reconciliation above anything else, and I know God does not wish the destruction of marriage.

Here’s the thing, though, that keeps reverberating in my head: ask in faith, in honesty, to seek Him.

Am I asking, praying, having faith that God is a good God and is capable? Am I being honest in my prayer? Am I truly trying to seek Him and not simply satisfy my flesh?

The truth is, I’m not 100% certain. Not because I don’t have faith, but because I have been burned.

Because people have told me I’m too far gone. Because no one else offered the encouragement I needed. Because no one showed me compassion. Because I felt like I was just a problem to be solved. Because no one prayed with me to help me find the answers. Because I was left to do it all on my own.

And that’s what this message came down to for me: when you’re left to do it on your own.

. . . . . .

Have you been burned by a church? By people? Do you have a similar story to share?

Have you questioned your worth?

Have you loved God but hated Christians for these very reasons?

Unfortunately, people get in the way of a lot of things, and church and faith are no different.

. . . . . .

I’m glad I have found this church. I am glad I have been attending the small groups. The people seem open and honest. They seem willing to see and understand brokenness. They seem truly willing to pray with you and for you. They focus on their community, just eager to show love and compassion in any way possible. They just want the community to know there are people who care.

The last time, I became involved in church very quickly. This time, I’m going to take it slow. But I can feel God moving (I think), and I feel like something is about to happen. I can feel the excitement building for church things and these people.

I just hope I don’t get burned again.

Day 19: It Isn’t Over Yet

How did it go?

I went to my first Oakland Athletics game in (roughly) 5 years with my dad today, and, though I got a little sunburned, I was not disappointed.

We were playing the Minnesota Twins, and they had a good lead. Before the second inning had even begun, we were down 3 – 0. At the 3rd inning, we scored 2 runs, and by the end of the 8th inning it was a tied game: 5 – 5.

The game ended in the 12th inning with an Athletics walkoff home run. The final score was 6 – 5.

At the top of the 11th inning, my dad suggested we get going. We had been in the sun since we got there, we were burned, and it appeared the game may not end in our favor. “But it’s not over yet!” I told him, on the edge of my seat, hands clasped together, waiting.

He chuckled and told me, “alright, let’s give it one more, how’s that?”

Of course, we were glad we stayed. We saw that winning home run, got to watch the team rush the field, got to clap with the rest of the fans.

We got to see the end because we chose to just give it a little bit longer. We got to see the end because we decided it would be worth it.

What did I learn?

We have to stay faithful.

If we give in because of what we cannot see, we will miss the miracles God has in store for us. If we trust only the scoreboard of us against the enemy and forget about the capabilities we have, we will give in too soon, and we won’t be available for whatever comes next.

The Athletics could have given up. A baseball game is “supposed” to only be 9 innings. At the bottom of the 9th, the team could have decided this is pointless; we won’t be able to score; let’s stop doing our best. But they didn’t. They knew they had fans who had come to see them, who were cheering for them. Because they didn’t give up in outfield, they continued to perform at bat, and they eventually won.

If we feel defeated and we allow that defeat to take root, we will stop trying (outfield). If we stop trying, stop listening to God and communicating with Him daily (at bat), we will be unable to win any battle brought against us.

And know there are always others cheering for you. God, for one. But others, too. Strangers who are going through something similar and who also hope for freedom or answers. Family and friends who want to see you do more than just survive. Those people are not going to go home, no matter how late the innings go. Because they want what you do: hope, freedom, miracles.

As my dad used to joke with me, “it ain’t over ‘till the fat lady sings.”

Don’t let the scoreboard determine your fate. Don’t stop fighting for what you believe. Don’t give up on the dreams God has given you. It isn’t over until God decides it is.

Are you looking at the scoreboard thinking you won’t win? What battle are you fighting that God wants you to win? What miracle are you waiting on?

Remember: it only takes one really good hit for that ball to fly through the air and the stands and be a home run.

So let God guide your hit and you’ll hit it out of the park.