He is good.

The front door shut behind me, and the warm breeze ran slowly across my face – a reminder that I wasn’t in California, that I was in Virginia. Running a minute or two late, as is so often the case for me these days, it was a rush to get out the door and on my way. I plugged the address for the church into my phone as I walked down the steps outside my friend’s house, and once in the car, I was on my way.

Once in the car, I realized that my headphone jack adapter for my phone – the tiny piece of equipment that allowed me to listen to my music in the rental car – was still inside my friend’s apartment. Not having time to turn around, I saw that the drive wasn’t all that far anyway.

It’s a large city here, I thought to myself. Finding a Christian radio station shouldn’t be that hard.

And it wasn’t. Soon enough I had the local station pulled up in the rental, and soon enough I pulled into the parking lot of what would become my church home out here in Virginia. At the time I could kind of sense the imminent change, yes, but everything was happening so quickly. So much change, SO fast. It was happening so fast that I barely had time to hang on for dear life each time the Lord took me around another hairpin curve on this roller coaster called life.

Lunch on that particular day was good. Great Mexican food, especially considering we’re in Virginia. Good company, beautiful conversation. I could tell God was up to something, but I couldn’t see much of it yet. I mean, trying to catch up on the last 20 years in 45 minutes is a little tough, especially when your move to this community – 3,000 miles away – is imminent.

I remember walking away from that lunch meeting just absolutely in awe of what God was doing. Overcome with emotion. Excited for the adventure, terrified for the adventure. Virginia… it’s just, so far… I remember thinking to myself.

But then I looked down at my left forearm.
Then I remember.

Each time I look down and am taken aback with the reminder, I take a deep breath. In those moments last September, I thought back over the last five months, and all I could think of? He’s not about to stop now.

I got back into the car, ready to drive back to my friend’s apartment where I had been staying. Ready to rest some – seeing all that God was up to, the emotion was exhausting! As I was following the GPS on my phone closely, trying not to get lost, the Christian radio came back on in the rental car. You know, because I had forgotten the adapter for my phone.

I know I heard other songs on that drive as well, but there’s one that I still remember. One that will forever be etched into my brain as part of the soundtrack for that season in life.

“You are good, good. You are good, good.”

As I heard those words and that tune, a song that’s incredibly familiar, I couldn’t help but also think of all the times I’ve heard that song over the years.

One of the first times I heard it in our worship service. A dear friend and sister was leading it, a sister who I know has seen the same darkness as myself. Someone who knows the struggle and battle in ways like my own, someone who knows the deep and intense battle it can be some days to sing those words and truly mean them…

“You are good, good. You are good, good.”

I remember telling her that day how much that song – and her being the one to lead it – meant to me, how it spoke to me and my heart.

Then I thought of the times more recently that we’ve done the song. Another dear friend (and sister, these people are my family!!) had been the one to lead it in recent months. Someone that means a lot to me, and a song that speaks to my heart in ways that few others do. Someone that, in that moment, I knew I would miss terribly should this whole Virginia thing actually happen. Someone whose words of encouragement I can still hear tonight, nearly a year later.

(Spoiler alert, I do miss her terribly – and SO many others!!)

The version of this song playing on the radio was a different one, one that I had not heard before. But I fell in love with it. In part because it was the one that happened to be playing in that sacred moment, yes. But also because it includes a part of the song that many recordings and versions do not…

“And when the night is holding onto me, You are holding on.”

I mean… I couldn’t have said it much better if I tried.

An incredible brother of the faith and someone I respect so much, he puts this idea so very eloquently.

“What I’m most deeply grateful for is that God’s love for us, approval of us, and commitment to us does not ride on our resolve but on Jesus’ resolve for us. The gospel is the good news announcing Jesus’ infallible devotion to us despite our inconsistent devotion to Him. The gospel is not a command to hang on to Jesus; it’s a promise that no matter how weak and unsuccessful our faith and efforts may be, God is always holding on to us.” – Tullian Tchvidjian

It’s not about us holding onto Him.
It’s about Him holding onto us. Even when we can’t see Him or feel Him, even when we want nothing to do with Him… He’s still holding on.

Over this last year, we’ve gotten to sing the song at my Virginia home church a number of times. And each time we do, it’s so very special… after all, if there’s one song that is the soundtrack to God’s miracle of the move out here and that whole season… this is it.

Each time we sing it, I think of all the times I sang it back home. I think of my beloved friends that I miss so much.

But most importantly, I’m reminded that we have a God who is good. Who loves us. Who never, ever lets us go… even when we let go of Him.

As I was gathering information and looking into a couple of things before writing this post, I looked at some old posts to confirm – “King of My Heart” was in the set list for my home away from home church in California THE DAY BEFORE I moved out here. As I saw that post, that photo, as those memories came flooding back, as I’m thinking about it all now… I get a little choked up. Not gonna lie. I would give ANYTHING to be able to worship alongside those people back home right now. To be at my church there, in that place where God worked so many miracles in my life.

But then I hear the words again…
“You are good, good. You are good, good.”

And I remember – God is good no matter what the circumstances in life throw our way.

He’s good in the joyful times, sure.

But He is good even when life is not. When the diagnosis comes, when the money is drastically short. When we face everyday battles with our minds and our health. When the relationships crumble and when bridges are burned. When miles separate us from people and places that mean so much…

And yes, even when COVID-19 runs rampant in our world.

Through ALL of that, and whatever else life may bring… He is good.

He’s never going to let us down, ever.
And when the night holds onto us, when it feels like that night will never end… that’s exactly when He is holding onto us so tightly. Even if we can’t feel it or see it… He’s there.

And because of that, dear friends…

He is good.

Yes, it’s okay to feel.

It’s a disconcerting feeling.
Longing for a former version of yourself.
Wishing that the drive, passion, and zeal that you had a certain amount of time ago… wishing and longing that you could have that again.

Asking yourself what happened.
Where did that passion go, how did it disappear so quickly and unexpectedly.

We could spend way too much time thinking about that past version of ourselves that we miss.
We could stay in that mental and emotional place, stuck, angry at life.

We could also completely ignore the feelings of grief, confusion, and puzzlement.
We could stuff those feelings, never dealing with them, ignoring them until… something happens. It blows up in our face. And then, as much as we would love to continue avoiding those emotions… we have no choice but to deal with it all.

Over the last few weeks as I’ve done a lot of rearranging and cleaning in my apartment, I’ve come across (and had to find space for!) my stash of Korbel champagne. Some context for you all… before I moved, this wine country girl decided to make one last trip to the winery for some pink champagne. Not that we can’t get it out here, not that it’s THAT special to me… but it’s a fun, novelty thing, and saying I bought it actually at the winery is something fun. A piece of home.

That one last trip out to Korbel, one of my all time favorite (BEAUTIFUL!!) drives… I made it the day before I flew out and moved to Virginia. That Sunday, October 6, 2019. I still remember it, too. There were so many things left on the to do list, but this was one thing that I really wanted to make happen. And I did.

So in the recent days, as I’ve seen the Korbel bottles here in my apartment, 3,000 miles away, almost a year later… it’s all been hitting me hard. Today is the 1st of September, so that means next month – I will have been here one year. A WHOLE FREAKING YEAR, GUYS. Like, where has the time even gone! Oh my goodness. It’s crazy.

But what’s been getting to me… the girl who got on that plane in Santa Rosa at 6am last October? That girl is VERY different than the one sitting here, in Virginia, today. Now we might say, of course I’m a different person, that’s to be expected. And sure, I will agree with that. But that girl last October, she had a sense of excitement. Uncertainty, sure, but there was this passion and drive in me that’s unlike much else I’ve ever experienced. I think back to all that this year has brought, I think about how quickly that beautiful passion was just… gone.

Immediately after moving I began learning what was essentially an entirely new job. As that all was happening, fire once again threatened my loved ones back home. It resulted in the largest evacuation orders we’ve ever experienced. Because of those evacuations (and some pretty incredible first responders!), most everyone was okay.

But I was also dealing with the fact that my sense of “home” was disappearing faster than I could turn around and ask what happened. I remember that as Christmas approached, people asked me over and over if I would be going “home for Christmas”. I replied with a comment of “well, I’m not really sure where home is. But we will be gathering at my parents’ in Idaho in January.”

Then you throw in that one of my biggest unresolved battles is an unhealthy coping skill that is trademarked by its uncanny ability to appear when a person’s life feels out of control?

Well, recipe for disaster is an understatement.

I am so incredibly grateful that the Lord has continued to provide exactly what I need and when I need it. Oh my goodness, He is good and He is faithful.

But I would be lying to you if I said that I no longer miss the girl from last October. The one who knew conceptually that the adventure and road (and runway…) ahead would be by far the most difficult thing she would ever do… but who was still protected from the intense heartache and heartbreak that was to come.

2019 brought many beautiful and life changing moments. I have a list of quotes that describe my life at various points during the year, and one of them – one of the not so happy or cheerful ones – is the following… “I never knew how much a human heart could break for no other reason than missing home and missing their people.”

Regardless of a healthy perspective, if we’re going to be real for a moment… that statement will always be true. I had no clue how hard it would get purely out of loneliness and heartache and missing my people.

When faced with the desire to grieve a past version of ourselves, it’s easy to just over spiritualize it. It’s easy to say “oh, we don’t want that person back because the difficult experiences we face help shape us into the person we are today, the person God wants us to be.”

Okay, yes. That is true.

But I miss her. I miss my people. I miss that season, that season of excitement and expectancy. Sure, it was also a season of fear and uncertainty. A whole lot of uncertainty. But there was still so much beautiful excitement for what God was going to do, for what He was already doing.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’s a wise use of our time to berate ourselves for missing and grieving for a past version of ourselves. We don’t want to get stuck there, but we can’t ignore all of those feelings.

Instead we can take a quick glance in the rear view mirror and then return our gaze to the road ahead. We can ask ourselves, what must I do to begin returning to that place? How can the Lord help bring back that passion and zeal and excitement? Because He can do all of those things, all of those things and so much more! And if I’ve one learned one thing in life… it’s that, whether we see it or not, the pain is ALWAYS worth it. Ephesians 3:20, that God can do – and does on a regular basis! – FAR more than anything we could ever ask for or imagine.

So as we grieve that past version of ourselves… what if we make it our goal to return to that place of excitement and passion… but ALSO bringing to the picture all of the things we have learned since that first moment? Because as hard as it is to say it… I think we can all agree that the more life we live, the more we can learn from all of our experiences. The more we can grow as a person, the more we can grow in our relationship with God.

I think the desire to grieve a past version of ourselves is something to which most of us can relate. Some in small ways, some in big ways. But at the end of the day, I think it’s a natural part of the human experience.

The next time you find yourself there… take a deep breath. Remember to breathe. Allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel.

But then remember that we have the God of the universe on our side, and that in Him we have mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

In Him, we can find a way back to the place of zeal and passion and… joy. He’s in the business of restoration and redemption, I can promise you that. But know that when you do finally find yourself back in that place of joy? Because of the life experience we’ve gained between then and now, because of how God has continued to work in our lives… the new place of joy will be infinitely more beautiful than the last.

And that, my friends, is more than enough reason to celebrate, remembering that one last Sunday afternoon drive to Korbel.

Remembering where we have been.

And far more importantly, looking ahead – in expectant faith – to the place where we know, with His help, we will be.

The (Un)believable Comeback

We all love a good comeback.

A favorite sports team, a first-generation college graduate, the former addict turned recovery counselor.

The human spirit, in its very nature, is drawn to the comeback.

In looking up definitions of the word, there is a whole host of ideas and information. But a definition that stuck out to me is one of “comeback” as a verb…

“To return to life or vitality” (Merriam Webster)

Thinking of a famous comeback by a sports team is perhaps one of the easiest and most common examples of “comeback” that come to mind. There are far more examples that play out each and every day, yes. Far more many purposeful and meaningful examples than that clutch comeback victory in extra innings.

But sometimes the most cliché – and seemingly lighthearted – examples of a comeback are those through which we can see God most clearly.

It was October 27, 2011. The Cardinals had left for Texas tied 1-1 in the World Series, they returned to St. Louis down 3-2. It was a do or die situation, a must win. If they didn’t, their season would be over. If you ask any baseball enthusiast today, Cardinals fan or not, about some of the greatest comebacks ever played out in the game… especially in the World Series? Game 6 in 2011 would be right near the top of the list. Twice the Cardinals were staring elimination in the face, and twice they overcame it.

Now, I could sit here and give the play by play of those final moments. And we will get there, at least a slightly more detailed summary, anyway. But for now, one more small piece of background.

After the Cardinals went on to win the World Series in 2011, my dad – being the ever faithful Cardinals fan – purchased game 6 on Blu Ray. The entire thing, even without commercials, is nearly four hours. While living in California it became this family joke, if we couldn’t decide what movie to watch, either my dad or I would say “WE COULD WATCH GAME 6!”, often to get an eye roll from my mother (or my father, if I was the one saying it). So when I visited my parents back in May, being so bummed that baseball was on hold due to COVID-19, I told them before I even arrived… if there’s ONE thing I want to do while in Idaho? We need to watch game 6.

So, well, we did.

And oh my goodness – was it worth the wait.

Back on that night in October, the three of us were busy earlier in the evening… meaning we were unable to watch the game from the beginning that night. So when we did, seeing it from the very first pitch all the way through? In some ways I would say it was life changing.

Baseball is great, sure, but not because of anything directly related to baseball.

Watching the game in its entirety was so moving because the entire time… my parents and I?

We knew how it ended.

Now for a team that plays well all night, doesn’t have any errors, holds a sizable lead for most of the game… knowing the outcome wouldn’t be such a big deal.

But the game that night couldn’t be FURTHER from what I just described above. At the end of the 1st inning the Cardinals held the lead. But immediately after that, they proceeded to fall behind the Rangers not once. Not twice. But THREE times. And after that first inning, they did not take the lead until they won the game in the bottom of the 11th. Not only that, but they had multiple errors throughout the night (and more that were questionable). David Freese, who by the end of the night became an icon for Cardinals baseball and a huge hometown hero… he had plays earlier in the night that undoubtedly left him wondering if a comeback was possible (more on him specifically and this night in another blog post to come!).

Now, sure, it’s just baseball. It’s just a game. But to be down THREE times, each time to only tie it again (not take the lead back)… I don’t know about anyone else, but I would be pretty discouraged. These Cardinals, though? They never gave up. They set record after record in that game, and as a result, they’ve gone down in history for one of the best World Series comebacks of all time.

But for anyone who knows me… my heart in this is about far more than baseball.

As I said, the experience of re-watching this game was so moving because we knew how it ended. So each time we saw looks of anxiety and worry on the faces of all of the Cardinal fans? Even the players? Out of humor we said a few times “it’s okay! We know how it ends, it’s gonna be okay!” But I think all three of us knew how poignant it was being able to say that now, looking back, knowing how it ends.

Shortly after coming back home, I actually watched game 6 again myself. And when I did, something the announcers said in the bottom of the 9th really stuck out to me…

“These Cardinals fans are wondering if they have one more comeback in them…”

In the Christian walk, it’s often said that our testimony is one giant, beautiful comeback story. Jesus overcoming the grave? THAT is the ultimate comeback story in all of eternity. But in all seriousness… it’s far more than just baseball that makes these two situations different.

That Thursday night in October, Cardinals fans were wondering for over four agonizing hours if their beloved Redbirds had one more comeback in them. They worried. They wondered. They waited.

Friends, brothers and sisters… I know the times we live in have been difficult. Incredibly trying and heartbreaking is an understatement. But unlike those Cardinals fans that October? With Jesus, we are never left wondering. We KNOW what happens. We know that He wins. That He already has.

As I said, every time there was a bad play or a swinging third strike, my parents and I wanted to reassure all of the fans – we know what happens! Just wait! It will all be okay!!

I know that in the moments of difficulty and pain we face each and every day, it can be so easy to forget that our Lord has already won. But with as challenging as these days are… it is absolutely imperative that we remember. I mean… there’s a reason the theme of “remember” can be found all throughout scripture.

Turning to the end of Revelation, we are given a beautiful reminder of the ultimate comeback that awaits all the believers…

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End…
Revelation 21:3-6a

Nobody knows the day or the hour, scripture promises us that.

But it also promises us that the mystery is over.

Spoiler alert… God wins.
And as Christians, we win.
Because Jesus is alive.

Trials, unhealthy coping, and a God that’s still good.

Music has always been an avenue through which God speaks to me in some pretty incredible ways. Whether I’m singing, listening, playing, worshipping, or anything in between… my life is often manifestation of the phrase “when words fail, music speaks”.

This week has been no exception to that.

Early Tuesday afternoon I got word that I’ll be playing in church again this Sunday, and that meant rehearsal would be in just a few hours. Two of the three songs I was very familiar with, so I was able to spend my afternoon in a frenzy preparing for my work week. Rehearsal was good, I was able to figure out exactly what I would need to practice. But there was something else about Tuesday night… I mean, as I told a few friends, “I really needed this rehearsal tonight, and I don’t just mean to practice the piano”.

One of our songs this Sunday?
No Longer Slaves.

It’s been a favorite for many, many years. And the last fourteen months have been no exception. But as I’ve spoken to so many times… just because I’m able to get out of bed each day not wanting to die anymore, that doesn’t mean my chronic illness has disappeared.

One of the reasons Tuesday afternoon was so emotionally draining… there’s been some difficult situations for me at work lately. Now isn’t the time to go into detail, but it’s been a lot of stuff that has made me question my worth and value as an employee. It’s made me question who does and doesn’t support me at work, it’s caused me to doubt that I can do my job and do it well. Last weekend and this week it has all come to a climax in many ways, it’s gotten to the point where I can’t ignore it anymore. And while I can’t control what others think of me or how they judge me, what I CAN control is how I respond. What I CAN control is my own self image, how I view myself and my worth… ultimately a daughter of the most high God.

This week as I’ve been able to remember who I am… whose I am… I’ve felt better about my work than I have in weeks. When I remember who I am and that I can do this job? I finally start to become the employee I know I want to – and CAN! – be.

I love how the chorus of No Longer Slaves is exceptionally simple…
“I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God!”

Whether or not we qualify for a diagnosis of clinical anxiety, fear is something to which ALL of us can relate. I mean… 365 commands in scripture of “do not fear”. I think it’s safe to say God knew it would be a struggle for us!

Over the years I’ve had many “moments” during worship. Not to say that we need them to truly worship – not in the least. But for those of us who hear and see God through music, these moments can become lifelines. In all of my years, though… I have yet to have an experience like I did on Tuesday night during a rehearsal (as opposed to during a service or concert of some kind). But oh my goodness, did I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Wow.

A few short hours later, I was in the car driving to work. Early on Wednesday morning, it was my Monday, and the work week was just beginning.

I had the song on repeat, not just to practice the vocals, but because it was quickly becoming a lifeline for all of the fear and insecurities I was having at work. As I listened, I remembered… something I wrote last spring ended with the quote of the chorus – “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God!” It took me a minute to locate which piece of writing I had used it in, and when I did? I could feel my eyes roll into the back of my head.

For a long time now I’ve felt strongly that the Lord is continually calling me to a deep level of transparency. Some have expressed concern over the years for how much I share, and I do appreciate the feedback – because I know they really do care. I continue to learn when I should and should not share, how much to share depending on the situation, so many things. But the way that I see it? If I don’t share, if I’m not transparent about the battle with mental illness and how it can relate to our faith in Jesus… who will?

Over the last few years, my transparency has become deeper and also much more intentional. However, last spring I discovered that while it was easy for me to share about some things… other aspects of my struggle? Not so much. I’ve come to learn that really it’s a few specific things that are much harder to share. And some could argue that maybe I shouldn’t share if it’s that much harder. But… this side of heaven, we are all a work in progress. Harder doesn’t have to mean unnecessary.

So when the Lord seemingly drops something in your lap, making it SO clear that now is another opportunity to continue shining the light in the darkest places… by now? I’ve learned to just say yes.

With that being said, I would like to share with you a letter that I wrote last April. It’s a letter to the sharp objects that ruled my life for so many years, written on the day that I said goodbye for good.

“A letter to my blades…
For the last seven years, you have served a very distinct purpose in my life. Our relationship has not been steady since that first cut during my senior year, but you have always been there in some kind of way, just in case I needed you.
Well, I never really did need you… my brain just fed me the lies that I did. Yes, you did provide a release, but it was a very sick and twisted release. It never lasted, and all that you ever really did was drive my shame deeper and deeper.
So on the one hand… in some weird and backwards way, I guess I could thank you. Because of your sick and twisted nature, my shame kept getting worse and worse until I had no choice but to face it head on.
I hope you… somebody already bled so that I would never have to. That somebody is Jesus, and He gave His life on the cross so that I could be free of all my shame and all my darkness.
So, my sharp objects, because you have such a habit of perpetuating the darkness as long as you continue to have even the slightest presence…
This is goodbye. I am done with you in my life. I am removing you from my life absolutely, completely, and entirely – both my physical blades as well as the option to ever go back.
After all… I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God!”

I have to admit, the day I wrote that letter and threw it all away… I was terrified. At that point in the 68 days, the darkness and shame was still suffocating. Throwing them away was an act of faith, it was my way of saying – God, I still don’t really see how, but I know you WILL bring this healing.

And He did.
Oh my goodness, He did.
He still does, really.

So earlier in the week, as I needed the reminder not only of who I am, but of whose I am… these words, this song… it was a healing balm to my weary soul.

God never promised us an easy life, but He did promise to be with us no matter what.

Brothers, sisters, friends…
We are no longer slaves to fear.
We are children of God.

Our God is an AWESOME God.

I can still hear her voice ringing in my ears.

“Mary, I know you’re hurting. I know it’s hard. Here’s what I want you to do. Pick an attribute of God and study it. Tell me what you find.”

I can even still feel my eyes rolling into the back of my head.

Countless times these words were spoken to me, and countless times I resisted. I would refuse to take her suggestion and would instead just sit there and wallow in my own pain. I may never know how or why she refused to give up on me, but here we are – and her patience and persistence with me is just one example of many.

Now what feels like an eternity removed from those days and conversations, I get why she would give me that suggestion. She had pretty much become my mentor, and though I don’t think either of us could see it at first… God was working in amazing and beautiful ways for both of us.

But now, this eternity and 3,000 miles away… I get it. When our eyes begin to shift their focus towards God and away from our problems… somehow, they just slowly fade away. Not in an invalidating way, but in a “you know what, my God really is bigger than all of this” kind of way. And when we feel completely lost, when we are barely hanging on for dear life, choosing an attribute of God to study and focus on is a very tangible way to begin that shift in focus.

This idea of studying the attributes of God has come to mind numerous times since moving to Virginia. And each time it makes more and more sense. Each time it’s able to help in the moment a little bit more. As I said earlier… I get it now.

Right now I’d like to talk specifically about how this idea came to me on Saturday.

Here in Virginia, summer storms with powerful thunder and lightning are just… normal. They’re a part of the normal weather here. It is taking some getting used to, that’s for sure, but I think before long I’ll really come to love them. After all, what better way to see God displaying some of His incredible handiwork??

Saturday as I was out on some errands after work, we were getting a little bit of thunder and lightning. For one of the first times since moving, I was… dare I say… enjoying it, especially the thunder. I mean, walking to your car outside and hearing the loud CRAAAACK thunder in the clouds overhead? Talk about some incredible handiwork of our amazing creator God.

In that moment, hearing some thunder while outside, I thought of a song…

“Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above. With wisdom, power, and love, our God is an awesome God.”

I couldn’t get to my car fast enough to play the whole song. I’ve managed to find some pretty cool recordings, everything from the original Rich Mullins version from 1988 to a Hillsong recording, just repeating the chorus over and over again in praise and awe of our God. As I was listening to the original recording on the way home, a couple of different lines from the verses stuck out to me…

“There is thunder in His footsteps and lightning in His fists. Our God is an awesome God.”

I remember being a kid, hearing that line, and not having much context with which to pair it. In Northern California we get the occasional rare thunder crack and lightning bolt, but it’s by no means a regular occurrence like it is here. (Ask me about the ONE time recently that there was thunder in Santa Rosa at 5am, I was home lying in bed and Facebook BLEW UP!) But here in Virginia? We’re starting to have thunder and lightning so often now that in just another month or two, I’ll have so many more experiences and memories to associate with this song.

But it’s a line from the second verse that’s really prompting me to write and share another piece of my heart today.

“I hope that we have not too quickly forgotten that our God is an awesome God.”

Woah.

I heard that yesterday, and I just… wow. No words.

With everything that has happened in our world lately… from COVID-19 to a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and everything in between… I feel like so many of us (myself VERY much included here!!) so easily forget the God that we love and serve. The God that loves us, the God that gave up His one and ONLY Son JUST so we could have a direct and intimate relationship with Him.

I can’t say why exactly this song took on so much popularity. When doing a little research prior to writing this post, I saw a quote from Rich Mullins that he always felt that this song was NOT one of the better ones he had written technically/musically. But the chorus is just so… simple. So profound.

So powerful.

I think also we are so often concerned with our words or actions when we are talking about God. He’s the creator of the universe, He is the I AM. So… we have to always speak about Him in a super proper and perfect way… right?

Not exactly.

I mean, let’s not be disrespectful. He’s God.

But when we think about “attributes of God”, any of us who have grown up in church might start a list that sounds something like this…

Powerful
Faithful
Just
Forgiving
Gracious
Omniscient
Omnipotent
Omnipresent
… and the list could go on.

Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are true. They are all incredible, beautiful things that make our God who He is. But in our pursuit of learning more about this God and building our relationship with Him, let’s not forget that He died and rose again so that our relationship with Him could be one that is so much more personal.

And so while we want to be respectful, sure, we can also be personal. Honest.

And if I’m going to be completely honest with you right now? In thinking about my life this last year and a half, in thinking about all of the ways that I continue to see God at work… not trying to over spiritualize but just to have open eyes and ears… guys, our God is pretty freaking awesome. There’s really no better way of saying it.

That eternity later, feeling like those conversations with my mentor were a lifetime ago… now I get it. Because when I start thinking about how awesome this God is, everything else doesn’t just POOF disappear, like it’s some magic wand. But by remembering how awesome He is, how big He truly is… everything else just starts to fade away. The everything else is still just as real, yes. But it pales in comparison to this God.

Let’s say it (or sing it!) again, one more time…

“I hope that we have not too quickly forgotten that our God is an awesome God.

“Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above. With wisdom, power, and love, our God is an awesome God.”

Friends, let us not forget today just how awesome this God really is. The same God that carried the Israelites out of Egypt, the same God that came to earth as an infant child, the same God who raised Jesus from the dead…

It’s the same God who lives in us and with us today.

Through COVID-19.
Through social unrest.
Through economic uncertainties.
Through any challenge, question, heartbreak…

We have the same AWESOME God who promises to be with us. Always.

This post is dedicated to a dear friend, brother in Christ, and as my mother described it back in 2010, a “church uncle”. He lost his battle to cancer in the fall of 2010, and today he is singing with Jesus. He and his wife were on both the winter retreats of my middle school years, and it was on those retreats where I first began sharing about my struggles with mental illness. Barry was always so open about the demons he had faced; I have memories of him sharing that nearly every time he was in church, he would end up crying. Having grown up with Jesus I never really understood why or how someone could have that much emotion during just a normal church service…

When I posted on Facebook last night that this blog post was on its way soon (I had just written the rough draft), I was reminded by his wife that “Awesome God” was Barry’s favorite song. It got him through the cancer treatments, we sang it at his memorial. It’s funny… Saturday as I had begun listening to the song on repeat, they were on my mind. I wasn’t sure why, because it was a different song that broke out spontaneously at the end of his memorial.

Well, now I know why he came to mind. And as I began recalling all of those memories of Barry and Jan and junior high snow trips (LET’S MOVE ANOTHER FIVE FEET, WOOHOO!!), I remembered so many things that he shared with us during those years… including how he would always cry during church.

And what I can say is this… I get it now. I get how someone could be so moved during just a “regular” service. I get how even just the mention of God and His goodness and graciousness (and AWESOMENESS!) could bring out so much emotion. Why? Because I’m now that person. I’m now the person who was just so far lost, so badly hurting, but the person on whom Jesus never gave up. The person who now knows that they are fully known AND fully loved by one amazing and awesome God.

In thinking about what life has brought me since Barry went to be with Jesus, there are so many conversations I would love to have with him now. So many things… the good, bad, difficult… so many things that I get now that I didn’t then. Unfortunately those will have to wait, because since I’m still here on earth and still alive and breathing… there is still work to be done. There is still Love to be shared.

So now, one more time to remind us all…
“Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above. With wisdom, power, and love, our God is an awesome God.”

The Father’s arms are open wide.

It’s a beautiful thing when a song you’ve known and sung for over four years just wrecks you. Comes out of nowhere, totally blindsiding you.

Just… there it is.

Staring you in the face.

I knew the song right when it first came out. Elevation Worship was newly on my radar, and it was one of their more popular tracks from their latest album (Here As In Heaven).

I listened to it.

I sung along to it in the car, at church, even at a concert later that year (2016).

But while I have a few distinct memories of singing the song, I don’t have distinct memories of singing the specific words. These lyrics. These beautiful, life giving truths.

Sitting here, summer of 2020, years later, and now even 3,000 miles away… I can tell you exactly why.

Everything that this song proclaims. Every drop of truth that it brings… it is EVERYTHING that I needed for so many years, but it’s also everything from which I was unknowingly running as fast and as far away as I could. Having grown up in church and grown up loving Jesus, I couldn’t possibly be the one who felt unforgivable to the point of suicide… could I??!!

Long story short, not only could I possibly be that person… I undoubtedly WAS that person. And I HAD been that person for so many years, I just had no idea.

I was that person even long before this song was released early in 2016.

So… I figure that’s why I don’t really remember singing any of the specific words in this song. Even though I didn’t really know it yet, my subconscious heart and mind was doing everything it could to distance itself from the brutally hard truth. I didn’t know it, but I was running.

Listening to this song, now a lifetime away in 2020, it gives me this picture of someone who is weary. Someone who can’t take another day, who can’t face another moment. They’re so tormented by their failures and shortcomings, they fear that one more moment and they’ll take a solution for that pain into their own hands and get rid of the darkness in the only way they see how.

I hear this song, and I picture God speaking words of healing directly to the heart of that person… and that alone is enough to wreck me.

But then listening to it some more, I am reminded that our God will stop at NOTHING until we are safe in His arms. Even as we run, He is chasing us. Waiting patiently for us. Loving us. Never once giving up on us. 

The specific timeline of this song and my own journey is the final piece that gets me.

Long before I could even BEGIN to see it myself… my Heavenly Father was there. With His arms open wide, waiting for me. Waiting patiently for me.

So, dear friends… just when we think nothing good could ever come from our lives again… Remember. There He is. Turning those ashes into something far more beautiful than anything we could have ever imagined.

Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well
Jesus is calling

O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today, there’s no reason to wait

Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes, a new life is born

Jesus is calling

Oh what a Savior Isn’t He wonderful
Sing Hallelujah, Christ is risen
Bow down before Him For He is Lord of all
Sing Hallelujah, Christ is risen

Bear your cross as you wait for the crown
Tell the world of the treasure you found

Finding our identity amidst a pandemic.

It’s no secret that we’re living in unprecedented times. Wearing masks nearly everywhere we go (including the bank – imagine that!), much of everyday life cancelled… many of us out of work completely, and for those of us who do still have work, it looks completely different in multiple ways.

While so many different opinions on how to handle everything and reactions to what is happening are filling our news feeds, thankfully there’s still a good amount of humor regarding it all. One such thought that I’ve seen now multiple times – asking for a hard reset on 2020. You know, turning it off and turning it on again (typically the first step in troubleshooting electronic devices). Unfortunately, though, such a reset is not really a realistic option.

In the weeks leading up to the major shutdown, my church was in the middle of a sermon series regarding “faith at work” – how we can apply and live out our faith in the workplace. There was a lot of really good stuff, and much of it has been helpful for me as I continue to seek the Lord’s direction and calling on my life.

One of the last few messages, I think perhaps the first Sunday in March, has been coming to mind again lately. And the theme from that message that I have really been pondering, the theme that I want to share with you today?

Identity.

Most of us would freely admit that some of our identity is tied to our job/occupation/profession. Some of us might even admit that much of our identity is tied up in what we do for a living, perhaps at times even more than it should be.

But as our pastor challenged us that Sunday with the following question, so I will challenge you, reader, today.

Who are you?

Anything short of the honest, gut reaction answer wouldn’t be doing us any favors. In this setting, sure, we might think to answer with something other than “I am a teacher”, or “I am a banker”. But when we’re not at church, when we’re not reading some random blog post about where to find our true identity… how would we answer?

I know that I struggle to answer initially with something other than my profession. I think that in our society today, it’s just the natural way to view that question. There’s nothing inherently wrong with answering that way, no. It’s okay for a part of our identity to be tied to what we do for a living, especially if it’s something to which we truly feel called.

Even just two short months ago, when I first began thinking about all of this, there wasn’t nearly the danger or harm in correlating the two that there might be today.

Why is there (potentially) so much more harm today than there was two months ago?

Well, as I said in opening this post… many people are either out of work or working in a drastically modified way. Many other aspects of life right now are especially difficult and challenging, and so if we have our identity tied up in the work that is now vastly different… well, we can all imagine the emotional effect that could have on a person.

Right as this all was beginning, a co worker and dear friend shared with me some very real concerns regarding our work (commercial airline, ramp). Apparently it’s been said that individuals who work successfully in aviation (particularly ground crew) have a hard time finding work in other industries. Working ramp is so different than almost any other work, and it’s something that those of us working it absolutely love.

It also has been hard at work watching the things we love just kind of… disappear. Into thin air, and seemingly overnight. Yes planes are still flying, but hardly any. And for the last month or so, the few planes that have been flying have been going out incredibly empty. The flight loads are starting to increase, sure… but we still have a long road ahead of us.

That’s just a small glimpse of the emotional difficulty we have experienced at work, and I’m sure many others could tell similar stories within their professions.

So when the message from my church came to mind the other day, particularly the loving challenge of how we answer the question “who are you?”… I knew I needed to share this truth.

More than our professions, more than the jobs we work.
More than the families we have, the people we love…

We are children of a Living God.
Chosen.
Loved.
Forgiven.
Redeemed.

No matter who you are, what you have done, what you haven’t done. No matter how far we have run from God in the recent days, months, years, our whole life…

He loves us.
And He came so that we could have a relationship with Him.

Galatians 5 is some of my favorite scripture that speaks to this…

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law…. For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’…” (v. 1, 13-14)

Paul is reminding us here that, because of Jesus, we have freedom to live as children of God. We have freedom to be human, we have freedom to love others around us because we know that – no matter what – we are deeply loved by the King of Kings.

It has been clear in my own life for many years, but especially in this last year, just how much the idea that “loved people love much” really is true. I make it my goal in life to love other people fiercely because I want them to know just how deeply and passionately God loves them.

This season of life is likely teaching all of us so many things. And as painful as it is, I think it can be a good thing to face the reality that our identity might be wrapped up a little too much in our job title.

Ponder the following thought…

“Our true identity does not lie in what we do or even who we are… but in WHOSE we are.”

Friends, we belong to Jesus. And through the strength that can ONLY come from Him and His gift of the Holy Spirit, we have the strength to make this our main focus throughout these crazy times.

After the idea for this post came to me, one song came to mind… and it has remained what I feel is perhaps the most fitting for this truth.

“You split the sea so I could walk right through it,
You drowned my fears in perfect love.
You rescued me so I can stand and sing…
I am a Child of God.
I’m no longer a slave to fear…
I am a Child of God.”

Wow.
Let those words sink in for a moment.

Fear does not have to rule our lives.
A lost or missing identity doesn’t have to rule our lives.
This song says it so plainly and beautifully, over and over and over…

We are Children of God.

Be blessed today, friends.

A year later? He still does wonderful things.

A year later, He’s still doing Wonderful Things.

I remember that morning like it was yesterday.

The navy dress pants and light blue button-down shirts seem like a lifetime ago, having been in Richmond and working out on the ramp for just over seven months.

What also seems like a lifetime ago? Waking up every day and wanting to die. Not just the random, fleeting thought that comes on occasion because life is hard. I’m talking about the all consuming depression that bleeds into daily suicidal ideation. The hopelessness that, no matter what you do, how hard you try, or how things might look like they have changed… they really haven’t. You still can’t be around sharp objects, you still want to die. All the time.

But while so much about life in Santa Rosa – including that debilitating aspect of my mental illness – seems like a lifetime ago… I remember that Monday morning in May like it was yesterday.

Let’s take a visit for a moment…

Having gone home to sleep a little more after working a 4am shift for a 6am flight, pulling myself back out of bed felt the usual impossible – like lead blankets were willing me to stay under the covers. I changed back into my work uniform of a blue top and navy pants, I pulled my long blonde hair back into a tight bun, and made my way downstairs.

Hunger was slowly starting to eat at my insides, but time only allowed for breakfast on the road this Monday morning. Again, it was the usual, typical Monday – cold cereal to take with me. The moment I sat back down in my car, clicked my seatbelt, and started my fifteen minute drive to the airport, I took a deep breath. Getting going in the mornings might be tough for me, but I could at least have the few minutes between Woodsage Way and the Santa Rosa Airport – no stress or running late could take those minutes of peace away.

That particular Monday morning, as I was pulling out to go work our Denver flight, I played the new worship song that was quickly becoming a favorite. “Wonderful Things” by Highlands Worship had been in my church’s set the previous day, and already it was speaking volumes to my soul. There was something different about that Monday morning… a hope that hadn’t been there in a long time, if ever. Our pastor’s words and sermon the day before stirred something in me. Like I said, it was a new kind of hope. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something about it felt… different. I was hoping, willing with everything in me that maybe it really would be different this time.

As I pulled from highway 12 onto 101 north, the typical Monday morning traffic, the inevitable merge and slowdown threatened to make me late for work. My focus on the road never wavered, but I also did all I could to continue singing those words over my spirit.

“God of all power, King of all glory… You do wonderful things.”

The speed of my red Toyota Yaris began to pick back up as the traffic thinned out. I pulled forward, merging fully to head north towards the airport, and the song continued…

“God of all creation, King of our salvation… You do wonderful things.”

I knew this song would forever be a part of my story, though I had yet to fully understand or see how. As I listened to the words continue, I began thinking to what I had written in my journal the day before.

“God, it all still feels really foggy and confusing… the idea that it is Your power and YOURS ALONE that will break my chains… like, relying on You to help me accept Your love and grace in a very real way? Letting You rescue me in regards to my relationship with You? It feels weird… like, how does that even work?

But… You’re God. I’m not. And if your power can raise the dead to life, who am I to do anything but simply trust?”

After I had penned those words listening to the sermon in church the day before, in many ways I had started to ask myself – “what do I have to lose?” Taking that first step out in faith, saying “okay, I’m not sure how this is gonna work, but I have to trust that You’ve got it, God”… what’s the worst that could happen as a result?

This was all running through my head, and as it did, I imagined what it would be like if I could actually live life each and every day as if this was all true – that yes, God loves and forgives me, Mary Rachel.

As I passed exit after exit as I did every time I drove north to the airport, an image regarding all of this popped into my head. Say I really did believe this… say I really started to believe it in the depths of my soul, so much so that it might as well be tattooed on my forearm as a permanent reminder…

“When You move in power, a miracle can happen. We believe You do wonderful things. You are here with us, and anything can happen. We believe You do wonderful things.”

I began to picture a tattoo of this truth. Someplace where I could see it all the time. A tattoo… something permanent, that never changes, that can never go away – no matter how hard I might try.

What’s so crazy… as I began to picture this tattoo, as I continued asking myself “what do I have to lose” in letting God in, in living my life and making choices each and every day like I believe it’s all true…

The Airport Blvd exit came, and I pulled off and turned left off of the highway with a green light. I was almost to work now, thankfully I was going to have a few minutes to sit in my car before I would have to go inside and start my shift.

Thank goodness – because as I held that mental image, the image of the tattoo, of something permanent and irrefutable… I felt it.

Now before I go any further, a caveat. I know that God’s truth is God’s truth, whether we feel it or not. Our feelings, while perfectly valid and having a true need to be acknowledged, should never dictate fully how we live our lives.

But guys… I felt it.
Like… really, really felt it.
It was the briefest moment, so mundane. But as I said… I remember that morning like it was yesterday. Why? Because it’s the morning that everything changed.

Having a few minutes before I needed to go clock in, I pulled out my phone and wrote down a few thoughts so I could remember the moment…

“Monday, May 6, 2019
10am - Santa Rosa Airport parking lot

I think I might be starting to get it. Like, really get it.

The sermon this weekend was powerful. And the realization that, despite my hesitancies and doubts and walls and despite how much I have been pushing away and distancing myself... I have EVERYTHING I need to experience the healing I need in Jesus. The healing I have needed for even longer than I can remember. I am free to lean into the true power of the cross and the empty tomb to break down my walls of fear and doubt. And, what amazes me so incredibly, is how God has been letting that happen even before I came square in the face with the realization that I did yesterday.

As I type this, my heart is pounding. I’m a little shaky. I’ve got my current anthem on repeat, Wonderful Things... when God moves in His power, a miracle can happen.

And boy, is it ever.

As I drove down Airport Blvd just now, I thought to myself... is this what true freedom in Christ feels like? The freedom to say, okay, I’m downright exhausted. Dare I say even feeling a little bit of the depression. But simultaneously, I know that I can never do ANYTHING to make God love me any more, and I can never do ANYTHING to make Him love me any less. And maybe, just maybe, believing that.

The cross and the empty tomb are the biggest, most mind blowing examples of that love. And what if I rest in that love? What would happen?

Well, this might happen. This... this feeling of my heart pounding and my hands shaking because never in my wildest dreams did I think I would feel this free. This free to struggle... this free to hope... this free to live. To live despite my human failures and stupidness, despite my human sin, because all along I have had everything I will EVER need in the true power of the cross... and the death defeating power of the empty grave.

I’m still in shock at this whole thing. And now, like, how in the hell am I supposed to go inside and clock in and work??! All I want to do right now is cry and sing and praise Jesus. Because, my goodness...

He really does do Wonderful Things.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father... [that you] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints... the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge...
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us...”
Ephesians 3:14, 18a, 19a, 20”

Most of you who know me that my idea behind the tattoo from that morning went on to become a reality. It has been affectionately nicknamed my “permanent post it note”, because that’s essentially why it is there – to remind me of what I know to be true. To remind me that am fully known and fully loved. Let me tell you, it has done its job many times. And it continues to do its job, sometimes daily. I tell people that I got the tattoo for a reason, that it’s actually a quite practical piece!

But in all seriousness for a minute. As that Monday continued to play out, and as days turned into weeks… something really was different. I was at cautious at first, so very cautious. I had thought something was finally “different” far too many times, only to have my hopes come crashing and burning down to the ground. I had grown so weary of hope because things would always go back to the way they were… if not even worse. I couldn’t afford that crash and burn again, I really couldn’t.

Thankfully God knew that. Because that Monday morning… things really were different.

Even though I could actually feel it, though? I don’t think I had ANY idea just how different they really were.

Because here we are, a year later.
I’m working as lead ramp agent in Richmond, Virginia.
I live in my own apartment.
My parents live in Boise, Idaho.
… and God is continuing to blow my mind day after day AFTER DAY.

Now I want to go over that list again, explaining why each statement is just beyond insane, even a full year later.

  • I’m working as lead ramp agent in Richmond, Virginia. (At the time all of this healing began in March 2019, I had been applying for SSDI – permanent disability. I didn’t think I would ever work full time again because of my mental illnesses. Not only that, but I’m living somewhere other than Santa Rosa – where all of my people and churches and doctors and everything familiar… I left it all behind when I moved.)
  • I live in my own apartment. (Up until a year ago, perhaps even more recently, I had always written off this possibility because I felt it would be a huge safety hazard, that there would be to much of a suicide or self harm risk. Well, not anymore.)
  • My parents live in Boise, Idaho. (My single two biggest supporters, cheerleaders, rockstars. I still don’t know how all of this is still moving forward with them 2,000 miles away, but God promises to supply our EVERY need – and He is doing just that, day after day after day.)

In recent sessions my therapist has asked me what it would be like to think about my life a year from now. I know that he is probably referencing goal setting, having a healthy balance between looking back and looking ahead, that kind of thing. But every time he asks me, all I can reply with is “okay, let’s not break Mary…” … and then I laugh. With joy.

Because I think back to a year ago. And yes, a year ago that was a week after that Monday morning in May. Even at that point I don’t think any of us could have imagined what God was going to do, how He was going to move, all of the beauty that He would bring our way.

And yet… here we are.

As I say regarding that precious tattoo on my left forearm, “there’s a reason I got it tattooed, and there’s a reason I got it there”.

And there’s a good reason that Ephesians 3:20 continues to be a life verse for me.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…”

Brothers and sisters, friends… may you always remember just how loved you are, and that in that love, we are free to live – loved. Deeply, deeply loved. 

But… is it well?

There are times when a post or other piece of writing just comes. Regardless of how long from the initial idea to when I sit down to write… sometimes it just flows freely, straight from the Lord.

And then there are those times when I know what I want to write about, when I’ve been thinking about it for days… and yet I still have to spend time planning, preparing, researching. Finding the right scripture. Praying over the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, in these circumstances the words are just as much from the Holy Spirit – but they just don’t come as easily.

This is one of those times.

It’s been on my heart and my mind to write again for some time now. Not only is it a way that can help me grow and process and heal, I know it’s an avenue through which the Lord uses me to speak to others. The state of our world right now with the coronavirus is one that needs Jesus, and we need Him more than ever.

Over the weekend I discovered a new worship song, and I haven’t been able to get enough of it. It incorporates the chorus of the famous hymn “It Is Well”, and it does so through the theme of reminding us that God is still in control, no matter what.

Control – and the little of it that we as humans have right now – is a buzzword for sure. But not just in society and the world around me… it’s a buzzword in my own life. See, since moving to Virginia, I’ve been realizing that while I have grown and healed in some pretty incredible ways that can only point to Jesus… one of my, umm, unhealthy coping mechanisms of choice… one of them still likes to try and get at me. It likes to try and rent space in my head. I haven’t been able to shake it completely, and it has been the source of so much frustration.

That coping skill would be an unhealthy relationship with food.
That coping skill is an eating disorder.

Why do I share so openly, why do I name it… well, a few weeks back, sitting in therapy, I realized that the shame that surfaced a year ago… that same shame is wrapped up in this eating disorder. That shame is what’s keeping it around. And what’s the quickest way to start dispelling shame? To start shining the light in the darkest places, all in the name of Jesus.

This post isn’t to sit and talk about the eating disorder for days and days, but it is relevant to the overall theme I’d like to share today. Eating disorders are incredibly complex struggles, but one of the most common triggers, one of the most common needs that needs to somehow get met, one of the most common below the surface aspects to the whole thing…

… control.
An eating disorder, more often than not, is at least in part about needing a sense of control in one’s life.

So when I heard this beautiful worship song last weekend, and when not only it incorporated such a beautiful hymn but it did so by way of a theme that could not be more relevant in my life… well, one could likely understand why it has become such a favorite already.

But this theme of control. As I’ve wrestled with it in preparation to write, I wanted to find a scripture passage that could help convey my heart in all of this – a heart that ultimately wants to line up with His heart. I find it so ironic that the passage I decide on speaks so specifically to some of the themes and practices I share when talking about how I’m able to hold such peace and joy during this season… but then again, that’s just like God, isn’t it?

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:18-28 ESV

Some, if not all, of these words likely sound familiar. Romans 8 is one of the more famous chapters in the entire bible, and rightly so – it not only speaks to so many fundamental themes within the Christian faith, it also provides some pretty incredible promises that we can cling to throughout our lives here on earth.

I think it’s safe to say that these particular verses are incredibly relevant today. I mean, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the chaos that is all around us today. More unknowns than the world has ever faced. And yet… if we as Christians really stop to think about it, this life is temporary. There is suffering in front of us, yes. But our God promises us His glory, face to face, at the end of it all. As it says elsewhere in this chapter, if God is for us, who can be against us? He loves us so completely, so passionately… His love and God Himself is all we ever could need.

When I go back and read this passage in its entirety, I am reminded that in times of trial, in times of hardship, in times that just feel so out of control… the best thing we can do is turn our focus to Jesus.

Not to try and STOP being anxious.
Not trying to push away the fear and anger and questions.
But instead turn TO Jesus.

Whether it’s worship (music), reading scripture, remembering all that God has done for us… the best thing we can do in this season is to run TO Jesus. 

See, when we try and run FROM all those negative things… well, more often than not, we’re trying to run with our own power. And you and I both know that as long as we are the ones trying to move mountains… those mountains will never move.

I cannot tell you how many times, especially in this last year, that in moments of hardship or pain or anger I have said – you know what, these negative emotions and thoughts, they are what they are. But I’m going to turn my focus TO Jesus, to Him and nothing else.

And it’s amazing… when we stop trying so hard to NOT worry, when we just run to the foot of the cross? It’s amazing how the worry just… disappears. When we stop being worried about our worry, when we stop feeling like horrible Christians because we’re angry or because we don’t know where the money is coming from to pay the rent in April and May… when we let those things be what they are and say “Jesus, I need you”… it’s amazing what happens.

Joy happens.
Peace happens.
Jesus happens.

The song I mentioned is “Still in Control” by Mack Brock. The first verse is as follows…

“How can I say it is well when my voice can barely speak?
How can I sing You a song in the midst of suffering?
Jesus, will You meet me here? Let Your peace wash over me
I need You now more than ever, teach my soul to sing”

The words acknowledge that we cannot make the suffering go away. We cannot make the natural human emotions as a result of that suffering go away.

But… we can ask Jesus to come. We can tell Him just how much we need Him. And the moment that we do just that, He will be there.

As I share all of this, please know that I am still learning more and more every day how to live under this understanding. It has taken me years of hard work, therapy, seeking the Lord… it has taken me a lot to get here. I was talking with someone recently and they remarked how I have all of this great knowledge of myself and the world around me, how I’ve managed to learn everything at such a young age. I replied and reminded them that for seven years after high school, yes I worked for most of that time, but really… this path of healing and learning and growing was really my full time job. God works a different timeline for each of us, and for some reason that only He can know, He has allowed me the time and space to have the knowledge that I do today.

That’s why in this season, with all of this chaos and uncertainty, I truly feel He has prepared me for just such a time. And not only that, but with as clear as He made it for me to move to Virginia last October? I firmly believe that He has me here in Virginia very specifically during this season. He has prepared me and brought me here to be a light, His light, filled with a peace and with a joy that can only come from knowing Him.

If someone, even the most “religious” or “devout Christian”, in the middle of all of this COVID-19 stuff did NOT have any worries or questions or fears? I would wonder if they’re okay. No, really. These are circumstances that are so very trying for the human condition. We naturally want to have control of as many things as possible in our lives, and right now… right now that can’t really happen. Like, at all.

So my prayer for you, dear friends?
That you would know just how okay it is to be human right now.
That you would know how much you are not alone as a Christian in being human right now.
And that, more than anything else, you would know just how much there is a seat for you at His heavenly table.

He loves us.
He loves you.
He even loves me.

I say we let that Love be bigger than all of the fear that COVID-19 could ever cause.

That Love… it already is bigger.

That Love is waiting for you.
And His name is Jesus.

What REALLY happens when we say yes?

It’s been five months and two days since I moved.
Five months and two days since I left behind everyone and everything I’ve ever known to move 3,000 miles away – about as far from California as I could get and still be in the US.

Five months and two days since that plane took off in Santa Rosa, since the moment when I realized that life as I knew it was about to be turned upside down.

But… it’s also taken five months and two days for me to really start to see just how crazy this whole thing really is. I’ve done all I can to have grace with myself and be gentle with myself in this period of adjustment (thanks, momma!), but as crazy as it sounds… I feel like I’m JUST NOW realizing that what I did was kind of a big deal.

Over the last few days God has given me multiple opportunities to share again the story of coming to Richmond, a story that is ultimately His. I shared the timeline of everything with my parents and I and how God so beautifully wove it all together, and then when I talked about how I had to do something with my free rent leaving California… I explain it as that in the process of figuring out what was next, God made it abundantly clear that Richmond was it. And because of what had happened five months earlier, because God had done the impossible in my life… I wasn’t about to say no. I knew that He could do the impossible in whatever adversity we face in life – I mean, He had just done so for me.

So as I’ve put it so many times, especially again in the last few days… I said okay God FINE I WILL GO. I will forever call this season in my life “The one where God gets reeeeeally ironic” – I can’t tell you how many times I tried to move out of the area after graduating high school in 2012, and how every single time God closed the door. Some door closes were far more dramatic and emphatic than others, but He always brought me back to Santa Rosa.

During the 68 days last year when He worked the miracle, I finally realized why He had kept me there for so long. I still had things to learn about Him and about myself, and I honestly don’t know how that could have happened anywhere else. By the end of the 68 days, though… I was so content to still be living in Santa Rosa. And when my dad accepted the call up in Idaho, I looked into staying local – nothing would have made me happier.

Obviously God had other plans. I mean, I’m here in Virginia.

But that’s what I want to talk about… what happens when we say yes to Him. “Saying yes” can happen in small ways or in big ways, and it can be incredibly easy or incredibly challenging. I think for many of us we find that saying yes more often than not sets us on a path that will be much harder… but harder does not always mean bad. Harder just means that we have no choice but to rely on Him.

As I was taking notes during the sermon this past Sunday, a thought came to me that is radically changing how I look at the last few months. Going back to this Christmas/Advent season, the theme of Immanuel kept coming up… Immanuel, God with us. At the time I was honestly pretty over it… Since it’s now March I feel like I can talk about it some, but Christmas sucked for me this year. Big time. I’ve never truly CRIED cried during a sermon, but I did on Christmas Eve – and they weren’t tears of joy.

The thought from this past Sunday, though… It was a few weeks after Christmas when I began to see how bad the depression had gotten, when I began to see that I need help processing the fact that I don’t know how to be depressed anymore – I’ve only ever known depression with a desperate desire to die, and now… now that’s gone. Praise Jesus, absolutely. But it meant that the depression went fairly unnoticed by me for a good amount of time.

Around the same time that I began to see and realize all this, God started sending me small lifelines here and there, or as I heard someone say recently – He started sending me “God winks”. And what’s so crazy? So many of those God winks have come through work, through multiple co workers. One who has a clerical job for the state department of behavioral health… one who used to work as a counselor/therapist before joining the business sector… one whose husband was a pastor for many years… it honestly got to the point where I was like “OKAY JESUS I SEE YOU I GET IT YOU CAN STOP NOW”… but you and I both know that He doesn’t stop.

There have been plenty of other God winks over the last couple of months, but it caught my attention for sure that so many significant ones have come through work. So on Sunday as I was reflecting on it all, I wrote down that this season has been one of “the little things”. God has sent me so many reminders over the last two months that He is with me, no matter what.

… Immanuel.
God with us.

He hasn’t answered the prayers and cries of my broken heart in any one big way. But gradually, He has sent me more and more evidence of Himself, of Immanuel.

I think of the story that we all know – the man on his roof in a flood, crying out for God to save his life and rescue him. A rowboat comes by, a helicopter comes by, whatever else comes by, but he denies their help every time because he was waiting for God to save him. Eventually the man is lost in the flood, and upon entering heaven he asks God – why didn’t you save me??

God’s reply? I tried – I sent you a rowboat, I sent you a helicopter, but you said no to them.

As I mentioned above… the God winks have truly been lifelines. Not any one big one, but many little ones. And in thinking of His promise of Immanuel and seeing it played out in all the little things… nothing could be a more beautiful display of Him and His love for us.

I think I’m finally realizing what a big deal this move is… I mean, in telling the story over and over throughout the weekend, I had plenty of chances to hear just how crazy it sounds. Not just a move coming together in 30 days. Not even a move this far coming together in 30 days.

A move this far for someone who really has NEVER EVER moved… in 30 days.

So… what REALLY happens when we say yes to Him? We’re saying yes to a life and a path that is far more difficult, no doubt. This move and transition has absolutely played out as the hardest thing I’ve ever done, just as I predicted. And considering all I’ve had to endure in the last now eight years… that’s saying quite a bit.

But because that life and path is far more difficult… we have no choice but to rely fully and completely on Him. We have no choice but to press into Him and His promises, even if we feel like He is so far away and even if we feel like we’re doing a horrible job with it all.

As I think about everything from the last five months, one phrase comes to mind…

“I can’t. But He can.”

Five months and two days have taught me just how true that is.
Five months and two days have given me opportunity to put this faith into practice in some very real and difficult ways.

Five months and two days of a life FAR outside of my comfort zone… and a lifetime more to come. Bring it on.