So I’ve known writing this post was on the horizon since the project began… after all, I am the one that made the list! One would think that I would remember and be more prepared, but yet here I am. Yesterday when I checked the list for what would be up today… I half wanted to roll my eyes and half wanted to slam my computer closed and throw it against the wall.
Diving right into today’s gift… it’s something that has been evident to me from the very beginning, going back to even before I graduated high school. I remember thinking that final semester, now nearly eight years ago, that God was providing for me in some pretty beautiful ways by way of the people He brought into my life. During that final season in high school and into the years beyond, God brought some pretty incredible people into my life, and He did so in some pretty crazy ways. Some of my closest loved ones back home are people who I just happened to meet in the most random of ways.
Today’s gift is one that I’ve probably been able to see for the longest, and yet it’s the one that has probably been my biggest struggle since moving out to Virginia. Today’s gift is all of the wonderful people that God has brought into my life. Friends, mentors, loved ones, teachers, everyone. I do all that I can to never take a single person for granted, because every single person is a beautiful gift from God.
As I just said, since being here in Virginia, I have struggled FAR more than I anticipated to create community and build relationships. I remember telling someone before I moved that the fear of creating a new community after the move paled in comparison to the fear of the heartbreak from leaving everyone behind. And while I was right about the heartbreak from leaving everyone behind… how wrong I was about building relationships here. I’m not sure if it’s because of the timing (moving so close to the holidays), if it’s because I’ve never had to start from scratch in building a community and a village and thus don’t know how, if it’s due to a difference in culture and thus a difficulty to connect… who knows. It could be any number of things. Regardless of why, though, I’ve found myself questioning everything far more than I thought I would. And why have I been questioning, what’s been the most significant factor driving that question? The struggle to even begin building the kind of relationships here that I had back home.
But even as I say that, I think to myself… how can I compare the two scenarios? I mean, two geographic locations for starters. But then I need to think about the context off of which I’m building the community. I’m a far different person now than when I graduated high school and switched churches in Santa Rosa. Different needs, different things and perspectives that I can give.
It’s so interesting, too, because while I’ve never felt so lonely and isolated and even at times rejected… I’ve simultaneously never been more excited or grateful for my church. Being in a very liturgical church, we celebrated Advent this year to the full extent, and oh man – was it beautiful. The music and the decorations and all of that, yes. But the messages. The hope. The promises.
I’m not sure if it was just my heightened awareness this year being so lonely and filled with heartache all of the time, but one of the themes that really stuck out to me this year? Immanuel, God with us. Irony, for sure, because I’m learning and experiencing the dire necessity of this promise in a way like never before. I’m needing to rely on that promise, and I’m having no choice but to figure out exactly what that means and what that looks like – even if I have zero idea how to do it.
In rereading my journaling/notes from the Christmas Eve sermon – one that continued that beautiful promise of Immanuel – a thought that I put on paper that night is continuing to jump out at me. I wrote about how I’ve been feeling so much that, because of the promise of Immanuel, I shouldn’t be allowed to feel lonely, especially that gut-wrenching loneliness and isolation that isn’t abated by mere physical human presence. But… I don’t know about you… any time I hear the phrase “shouldn’t be allowed to feel”, I immediately know that whatever someone is trying to say to me, it’s just total BS. Because God created human emotion, He created us to feel. Now, what we do with those feelings – that’s a different story.
But if I feel lonely and isolated and even rejected because despite the best efforts that I can muster, I still feel like I’ve made zero progress in building any lasting relationships (which by the way is also BS because I have already met some beautiful people)? I’m allowed to feel lonely. And as I’ve said so many times… our messy – and in this case our lonely – is exactly when God loves to step in.
All throughout this Advent season, I’ve been grateful for the Immanuel message, but if I’m honest I have really been struggling to feel it. To get it. To live my life as though it’s true, to live my life changed as though it is true. But just now, as I’m pondering all of this and rereading notes, and just sitting with it… there’s some kind of peace. We don’t have to get it, and we don’t have to feel it. But God is still there, and He will always be there. And then going a step further, what if we can start to live our life as though the promise is true, what if we make deliberate decisions to live like God is always with us, even though right this second we can’t feel it and experience it down to our bones? How do we even DO that?
Well, I know that for me, loneliness and isolation and rejection create depression, which then zaps any motivation to put myself out there or to be social or to do things. Almost the self fulfilling prophecy of “I know I’m going to fail at this so why even try”. So, what if – despite feeling that – we do the opposite action, we start to live as though the promise of Immanuel is true? I just know that God so often doesn’t ask us to understand it all or to get it all… He just calls us to trust.
So the gift of people, the gift that historically has been so incredibly apparent but that suddenly is so incredibly absent… I’m grateful for its presence, and dare I say I’m grateful for its… shall we say, slow start here in Richmond.
Because that slow start? It’s been teaching me so many things. It is helping me to remember what it’s like to hear the Lord call you to Himself, to hear Him whisper your name with open arms, reminding you that you don’t have to get it or understand, that He will always be there anyway.
I think back to one of my four poems from early this year, “Poem Four”.
God’s most wonderful orchestrations
His most beautifully personal
displays of power
happen when we least expect.
When we have lost all will to live,
when we are so debilitatingly surrounded
by the deathly weight of hopelessness –
it is then that He works the most.
When we can’t see Him,
when we can’t feel Him,
when we can’t hear Him.
When we can’t imagine life any other way,
and when we cry out and plead,
is our dawn ever fully going to break.
It is then
when we are flat on our face
that God works His miracles.”
When we can’t see or feel or hear Him. Because I’m not going to lie… I have experienced FAR more of that in the last two and a half months than I anticipated. I anticipated that this would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, yes, but I still didn’t think it would be quite so difficult. And in saying that, I’m not quite sure what I expected, what I could have expected… but it certainly wasn’t this.
I didn’t expect that Christmas Eve 2019, a few months into a new life nearly 3,000 miles away, would be the first time that I would ever shed a tear during a sermon, let alone legitimately and fully cry. And as frustrated I am over the heartache that led to that, as frustrated as I am that I spent a long time texting with my mother last night about everything, exhausted from spending such a long time with tears streaming down my face… I’m grateful for it.
See, without these times? God’s presence would never be so real.
When I planned this gift as a part of the twelve, I envisioned it as the gift of the abundance of people God has given me over the years home in California. What I did not anticipate, what I could not have anticipated, is that the opposite would also be true. That I would also be grateful for the gift of the struggle, for the gift of the season of having no choice but to rely on Him. Even as I write that, I feel like I’ve done an awful job of truly relying on Him to be the presence and the peace that I need.
But I think about the few things that HAVE gone right in the last few months, and with all of the external circumstances what they are, it can only be attributed to a faith that has already stood the test of difficult trials. A faith that calls me home over and over and over. And over, because His love never runs out.
A faith that has been and continues to be strengthened by so many of His faithful followers, near and far.
Thank you, God, for the gift of people and community. Thank you for how it has carried me in the past, and thank you for all the beautiful ways in which you will continue to demonstrate this gift – both expected and unexpected.
Thank you for being the ultimate presence… Immanuel. God with us.