the unexpected welcome home

“A wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.” This is how Dictionary.com defines the word “nostalgia”, but a look at the original Greek roots behind the word give us an even better glimpse into the idea of nostalgia and home. The earliest origins of the word can be traced back to two ancient Greek words – “nostos”, meaning to return home, and “algos”, meaning pain or ache.

In one of the recent sermons at my church, one of our pastors shared this information behind the world “nostalgia”, and as you might imagine, it has stuck with me tremendously. Given what my life has been for the last (almost) year and a half, knowing that – at least at some point in time – people have recognized homesickness to go far beyond a “feeling”, that people have seen the deep grief and ache that it can cause for a person… in a strange way it has actually brought some comfort.

Since 2019 I have on occasion developed my own succinct catchphrases to describe either a calendar year or a particular season, and a phrase I have for the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 can reveal why learning the origins of a word like “nostalgia” brought so much comfort.

“I never knew just how much the human heart could break for little reason beyond being lonely and missing home.”

Part of the reason why leaving home has been so hard on me? I didn’t just “leave home” or “move out”. I didn’t even just move from California to Virginia. In the blink of an eye, all that I had come to know about life, everything that was just there as I knew it… it was all gone.

What most of us faced last March when COVID-19 halted life entirely for all of us – that feeling of disbelief, of not knowing what “normal” is anymore, of deep grief for things and places and events that were suddenly no longer there… I think you get the idea…

Well, that’s exactly what it was for me as well – in October of 2019.

When I moved from California to Virginia.

When my parents moved from California to Idaho.

When I no longer shared a home and everyday life with two of the people I love the most.

When my parents were no longer serving the Lord at the church that had been in my life for as long as I can remember.

… when everything about life as I knew it essentially ceased to exist. Just like that.

Now, for someone who even by that time in 2019 had begun to see extensively that living life on God’s terms – and NOT our own terms – is really the only way to truly live… it’s been a hard reconciliation and adjustment.

If I’m being entirely honest? It’s still hard. It’s still really, really hard.

But what’s tricky here… the idea of nostalgia and of longing for home… it can become dangerous.

If we get so hung up on the life that doesn’t exist anymore, the life that we would give anything to have back – we’ve begun to idolize our past. And if we imagine our life as driving in a car (yes I know, God is always in the driver’s seat, but bear with me here), I think we all know that we need to spend most of our time looking forward through the windshield. That an occasional glance in the rear-view mirror is okay to make sure we remember the past for what God has done can be – and should be – a part of our lives, but that anything more than that begins to become harmful.

A thought and question that I have in my notes from that recent Sunday morning…

“Nostalgia becomes harmful when we are discontent with our present circumstances, when we idolize the past… do we even know what we truly long for?”

The short answer? No.

The not as short answer? Also no, but God does – for our home in heaven, yes, but also for here on earth.

And the moments when that nostalgia threatens and begins to morph from just a soul ache and into even more darkness, more pain, more physical afflictions… those are the moments when God steps in to do His thing. As only He can do – beautiful, miraculous, and perfectly timed.

Let me take you back to just a couple of short months ago, when God proved Himself faithful yet again to provide perfectly, even when we don’t even know ourselves what we need.

I had just cooked my first Thanksgiving a few days prior… Thanksgiving entirely for one, because I had a fever and needed to self-isolate just in case it was actually COVID-19. Over the weekend I thought I was clear… then I still had a fever, so more COVID tests and urgent care visits… regardless – I was exhausted. Worried about needing to work the next week, because even if I didn’t have COVID, I was in no shape to try and work four 10s out on the ramp. Not with the way life had been… since July…

Monday morning I woke up to yet another difficult work situation, and after getting in touch with my mom, she asked if I had thought about transferring, maybe seeing what else was out there.

“Like… you mean moving? Like MOVING moving?”

“Yeah. Dad and I have talked about it, and especially since you’re going to work part time and take classes full time, the work need and opportunity that brought you to RIC isn’t necessarily there anymore.”

“Okay… I mean, I could. I could look. But I just don’t know. It’s moving again, plus I don’t even know if people are hiring with all of the furloughs that just hit.”

“Well, it wouldn’t hurt you to look.”

“Okay. Fine. I can look, I’ll let you know if I see anything interesting.”

It was fairly early on the day on Monday, and I had no idea what was about to happen. But – I don’t have to know, God did. He does. He always knows.

After looking on our company website, I saw two intriguing possibilities. One of them? Peoria, IL. PIA. I had known our company has the contract here, but it’s a small airport, so true full time could be tough. But now that I needed part time…

I called my mom to tell her, because if this really was true, that PIA was looking for people… we might have something.

Some context: much of my dad’s extended family is still in the area here. He grew up here. I grew up visiting grandparents and relatives here, I grew up visiting their church with them. There was already a certain… nostalgia…

She and I chatted about it, and later that evening we chatted along with my dad. And two weeks later, my mom and I pulled out of my apartment complex, headed to Illinois.

But it’s something that happened in that first day or two of discussing the potential move here that speaks to why God knew I needed to come. It speaks to the idea of nostalgia, to the idea of home.

For much of my time in Virginia, it was hard to know where home was. I was able to create some kind of a home there, yes, but it was so hard to do that in a brand new place. And when you can’t even tell people where “back home” is… when your hometown and everything familiar and all you hold dear is in one place, but the two people who have remained your constant and closest friends are in a whole other place… it messes with your sense of home. When I visited California at the end of October, I was getting there. I was coming to terms with what home is and what it isn’t. But upon traveling back home to Virginia life just continued to throw me difficulty after difficulty, so by the time I made it to early December… I was exhausted. Defeated.

I was ready to have some sense of home again.

Sitting on my couch during the day that Monday, I had sent the thought via text to my mom. But after waiting for a little while to hear back, I called her… the thought was too beautiful to wait any longer, I wanted to share it with her.

“So… you know how California doesn’t feel quite like home right now, cause I’d be there with everyone and everything else but where’s my house and where are my parents… and you know how Boise wouldn’t feel like home right now cause here are my parents but why are they in this strange city…”

“Yeah…”

“Well. I don’t know it THAT well. We visited more when I was younger. And I haven’t ever had the chance to get to know the family there SUPER well. But it’s familiar people… still in the familiar place… I don’t want to get ahead of myself, we’re just talking about the possibility… but mom, moving to Peoria/Washington… it just might feel like going home.”

… you know when you have those tears that are from deep in your soul, the ones that are full of heartache and pain but that are the very first tears after that first glimmer of hope and relief?

Needless to say, the move was official just a few days later.

Between those first conversations about coming here and when I got the official word from my work, I discovered a song by JJ Heller (“You Already Know”) that so beautifully and perfectly captured the season of transition for me. It has become a reminder that we don’t have to know or have it all figured out… God knows, and He has us in His perfect plan. I can’t tell you how many times it brought me to full tears (not just the wet eyes we get when there’s some “dust” in the room but nearly UGLY cry) in the two weeks between my first inquiry about PIA and actually leaving town.

“Everything around me seems uncertain
My weary heart can’t take much more surprise
I wish there was a point on the horizon
Something I could see with my own eyes

“I need to tell you that I’m scared
I feel completely unprepared
And nothing’s what it was two weeks ago

“But you already know
You already know
Everything I’m scared of
Everything I hope
You hold my tomorrow
And all tomorrow holds
You already know”

This four-letter word and the ideas behind it have come to mean so much for me over the last year and a half. God has taught me so much about Himself, His perfect timing, and His perfect plan. Has it all been easy and pain-free? No. Would so many things have happened differently without COVID? Probably. But as a friend from Virginia described it shortly after I arrived in Illinois… Richmond was a diversion, but now I’m at my destination.

The thing about diversions? Sure, they’re a pain for everyone – the ground crew who gets the phone call. The passengers who arrive late to their destinations. The inflight crew whose schedule gets all thrown off. The crew schedulers and flight ops and airport ops personnel that have to adjust as a result of the diversion. But… diversions don’t just happen because somebody feels like it. They are always intentional and deeply necessary.

So, after I began looking at everything that way, I began to see it.

And as people would ask me how I liked Illinois, how I liked being here…

The answer I gave (and will still give!!) is one that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to give again. In my final few months in Virginia before moving to Illinois, the hopelessness of ever regaining even the slightest sense of home had really snuck up on me.

Thank goodness we have a God who knows our hearts, our needs, and who loves to come in and sweep us off our feet with the gifts we never knew we needed…

“So, Mary, how do you like being in Illinois?”

“It’s really great. Honestly… it’s just so wonderful.

“I’m finally… I’m finally home.”

this is my what

The familiar catchphrase rings in my ears…

“Yeah, I know what I want to do with my life, I’m just not sure how God will choose to best accomplish it.”

Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself developing a few catchphrases that represent events of the year. I had a handful of them in 2019 and a handful of them last year, 2020. There’s been some overlap, yes, but not a ton. However – this is one of the phrases from 2019 that was lost over the past year… but that I’m wholeheartedly committed to bringing back to the forefront of my mind.

Since the last couple of years of high school, I’ve thought about and researched nearly every type of career known to mankind (just ask my parents!). Everything from vocational ministry to teaching to healthcare to commercial airline… if the career exists, I’ve thought about it. At times it has been a total pain, feeling like I have zero focus at all and like I’ll never be able to make a decision and get on with my life.

But now that I have a much clearer picture of what I want my life to be about, of my life “mission statement”… I can see why God wired me to NOT settle on any one career in particular.

I think for most of us, the “what” of our life often relates closely with the “how”. The two are tied together, sometimes even mutually exclusive. But for someone with such intense struggle and pain and life experience in her short 27 years… what I want my life to be about, the ways and messages I hope to share with the people around me… it becomes infinitely more important than the job that I work.

It’s no secret that mental illness is becoming a bigger and bigger issue here in America. It was already bad and turning to much worse before COVID-19 shut everything down, but now that people have spent months in isolation, living on a reduced or even nonexistent income, their routines and daily lives thrown completely upside down… well, I think we all know where things are going.

Sometimes I wonder why I spent so many years focusing on little else besides recovery, self care, and healing. I’m grateful for the opportunity to put such time and focus into it, yes. I’m grateful for all of the therapy and groups and treatment. But… why couldn’t that have happened concurrent with so many other things? Why did it take until age 26 or 27 to feel like I’m finally beginning my adult life?

Well, for starters, things overall would have played out far differently. No one can know what would have happened if I had in fact moved to Minnesota for college in August of 2012.

Here in 2021, though, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that God has given me experiences and equipped me in such a unique way to tell His story of love and grace and redemption… and to tell it as it relates to mental illness.

When I think about every single person out there who wakes up to fight these demons of darkness on a daily basis, it’s easy to feel so helpless. But in that helplessness, I remember this amazing God we have, and I remember that it was when I turned to His power and His power alone to finally break my chains that the change and healing actually came.

Coming face to face with the reality that it was my inability to believe that God’s love and forgiveness could cover the mistakes I’ve made was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

And yet… admitting it was the best thing that ever could have happened.

Why? Because the moment we begin to shine the light in the darkest places is the moment when change and rescue and redemption can finally begin.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be that person. I grew up in church, I knew Jesus, I knew this whole bible and Jesus loves me thing. But deep down? I really was that person.

It was that season of my life, a season of calling out and acknowledging just how unforgivable I had been feeling for so many years, that helped clarify what has now become my “what” in life. As I spent time sitting with the reality of feeling unforgivable, feeling ashamed and embarrassed but grateful to finally be walking towards freedom, I began to understand what I had heard so many people describe. I began to fully appreciate just how hopeless a person could become as a result of feeling outside the reach of God’s love and forgiveness.

It’s something that never once did I expect to become such a cornerstone part of God’s work of healing in my life. But… sometimes it’s those unexpected things that can become the greatest gifts.

Since that season of healing there has been no shortage of the Lord at work in my life. Five months after everything changed He called me to pick up and move across the country to Richmond, VA. It was a move with work, yes, but the nature of my new position meant that I was essentially beginning a brand new job. It’s been a crazy fifteen months since I left California, and it’s been some of the hardest times of my life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Why? Because every moment along the way – even the moments of pain and heartache and questions and tears – pushes me further into the “what” of my life. Each experience further equips me to minister to anyone around me through my listening, my speaking, and my actions.

When I walked through the healing in 2019, I became even more acutely aware of the Church’s struggle to acknowledge two things simultaneously if they seem to oppose one another. What do I mean by that? Well, the idea that I could be human and question and be that person who felt unlovable and unforgivable even by Jesus Himself… and yet NOT have that invalidate my worth as a daughter of God?? Woah. Talk about an earth shattering truth there.

And not just that – I also had to come to terms with and begin to articulate the idea that our negative emotions… the grief, the anger, the pain… those also can never, ever negate our worth as a Christian or separate us from God’s love.

The example I often use for that one – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. We are told that we should never grieve as those without hope… But we are not once told we should never grieve at all.

The Church’s relationship with mental illness and with those of us who deal with it on a daily basis still has a long way to go. Even in my lifetime I’ve seen the improvement, and please believe me when I say it’s so very encouraging. But just because we’ve seen a little improvement… that by no means should indicate that the work is done.

If anything, it’s only just beginning.

Even under the umbrella of this already specific topic, there are so many different things and changes that could help so much. One such example is that the church would do well to realize that the idea of “mental illness” goes far beyond what most of us think of when we hear “depression and anxiety”.

But perhaps even a more impactful change, the thing that I truly see as my “what” in life…

The reminder and truth that all of our emotions, all of our chronic (mental) illnesses, all of our anger and our questions… all of our humanness that comes from living in a broken world… well, I’ll let Romans 8 finish the thought for us.

“So now I live with the confidence that there is nothing in the universe with the power to separate us from God’s love. I’m convinced that his love will triumph over death, life’s troubles, fallen angels, or dark rulers in the heavens. There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that can weaken his love. There is no power above us or beneath us—no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from God’s passionate love, which is lavished upon us through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One!”
Romans 8:38-39, The Passion Translation

Most of us have heard that scripture passage and that truth. But how much have we actually thought about it? How much have we internalized what it means specifically to us, specific to our sin and our mistakes?

How much have we thought about it in the context of the struggle and pain and heartache that comes from living with mental illness?

As I’ve been walking more and more towards the “what” that I feel God has placed on my life, I don’t think I’ve found too many who challenge this truth. But as someone who grew up in a wonderful and healthy church, who grew up surrounded by some of the most amazing people and believers… it wasn’t until I was at absolute rock bottom that I was able to learn and internalize all of this for myself.

It was at rock bottom that Jesus came to sit with me in the ashes… to pick me up, carry me out, and walk me into this beautiful life of freedom with Him. It’s not a life free of my chronic illness. Believe me, that’s still alive and well.

But it’s a life of freedom… freedom to feel and hurt and to be human.

And yet, deep in the middle of all of that, freedom to be a child of God.

So that’s my “what”. Reminding all of us (myself included!) that it’s okay to be human and to hurt and ask to questions… but that even through all of that, we are beloved sons and daughters of God. And that, particularly as it relates to mental illness, nothing could ever change our worth as a Christian or separate us from the immeasurable love of God.

The Day After Christmas

It’s now been two holiday seasons that I’ve spent away from my beloved hometown, my people, my home churches, and so many things that I hold dear. Not that Christmas was a huge deal before I moved… growing up with extended family out of state and two sisters that are quite a few years older, the family gathering part of December 25th has never been all that significant for me.

The other thing that makes the day so special? The fact that we get to celebrate the gift of baby Jesus, come down for us as a human, to fulfill the law and redeem us as His children.

So two days ago as I was able to begin my day with Christmas morning worship, I was thinking about all of this and reflecting on why Christmas often just isn’t… special. It’s not this big deal, YAY JESUS, extra excitement just a few times a year kind of day. Not that the day isn’t incredible, that the gift of baby Jesus is one to overlook. It’s more just that, for me, it’s not really MORE special than most other days. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I try and live my life in a way that every day is a YAY JESUS kind of day.

Over the last year and a half now I’ve had no choice but to do everything in my power to remember that awe and wonder found on Christmas morning as much as I possibly can. The joy and gratitude we find on Christmas… it’s something that happens for me all throughout the year. After all, when God comes in for an impossible rescue and then continues to prove Himself faithful again and again and again… it’s hard to avoid the joy.

My writing doesn’t often take the form of more structured poetry, but as I drove home from work on Friday night the idea for this poem came to me. As soon as I got home I sat down to write it all out, and I hope and pray that it can serve as a reminder to all of us that the celebration and hope of Christmas can happen the other 364 days, too.

“The Day After Christmas”
an original poem

The day after Christmas
Say goodbye to the cheer
But why must we celebrate
Just one day a year?

The carols are beautiful
Church services, too
But once that’s behind us
Must we forget You?

I’m not talking about buildings
Or sharing what we saw
Or even just worship
But excitement… and awe

It’s no secret life is hard
All our dreams torn asunder
But this Jesus we celebrate
Can revive them with wonder

With liberty for the captives
Good news for the poor
Broken hearts become comforted
And yet – there’s still more…

A bright light in the darkness
That breaks chains of the slaves
And the hardest of hearts?
He can raise from their graves!

So while one day is special
December 25th every year
All the other days, let’s remember
This baby Jesus is always near

His birth was so marvelous
Yet so humble, so mild
Through the year He is with us
Our Lord, the Christ child

If we treat all days like Christmas
Not with carols or special meals
We might meet a God so real
One who rescues, one who heals

So let’s celebrate on Christmas
As we will always do
But what if we ALWAYS celebrate
The God who makes us new?

Our lives may not be easy
And trials might still destroy
But the gift of Jesus Christ our King
Will turn sorrows into joy

somewhere in our silent nights.

The debate is never ending – do we begin the Christmas season in November? Or do we wait for all of the decorations and the music and the lights and the cookies until after Thanksgiving? I understand both sides of the debate, I really do. On the one hand, we don’t want to forget about Thanksgiving. I mean, a holiday where we just get to be grateful and say, “thank you, Jesus!”?? You don’t have to tell me twice.

But on the other hand – all of the decorations. The time and effort that goes into putting it up on beautiful display. The amazing music that we only listen to for a small part of the year. SO much beautiful music, too!!

I think we can all do without the crazy early consumerism approach to Christmas. (Artificial Christmas trees at Costco in July anyone?) But WHAT IF – what if we started Christmas in November… not to neglect or forget about Thanksgiving, but so that we can enjoy “Christmas” for more than approximately 30 days a year?

I’m not sure about you guys, but that’s what I’m doing this year.

Here’s the thing, though… for me, this year, for Christmas 2020… starting “Christmas” a little bit earlier this year goes deeper than a few extra days to look at my Christmas tree and listen to “O Come O Come Emmanuel”. Many of the things that make the holiday season so special – songs, sights, smells, traditions, decorations, cookies – are the very types of things that can bring with them extremely potent memories… and extremely strong emotions with those memories.

In order to have this all make sense, let me share a little bit of background with you all.

Christmas 2019 for me was… different.

It was all of the things on the BOTTOM of our lists for what we want Christmas to be each year.

I was fairly fresh on the heels of a 3,000-mile move. Having never really moved before. In the same breath as moving that massive distance, I was beginning what was actually a brand new job. Yes I took a transfer with work, but the job here at RIC was entirely and completely brand new. Not only that, but it was a job that brought with it a steep learning curve for me. (Side note, a year into this I’m finally coming to my senses and realizing that just because you love something, that doesn’t make it the best thing for you… more on that at some point.)

On top of all of that, I had also said goodbye to two of my favorite people, my closest friends, my biggest supporters.

It was the first time I was living apart from my parents.

AND NOT ONLY THAT.

But at Christmastime, there’s often this nostalgic sense of “home for the holidays” that so many of us instinctively carry. It’s especially strong for college students or young adults, in particular their first year away from home.

Throughout the month of December, countless people asked me if I was going “home for Christmas”. Most of the time I tried to reply something like this, as light heartedly as I could… “well, I’m not really sure where ‘home for Christmas’ would be this year, but I’ll be gathering with my immediate family at my parents’ new home in Idaho sometime in January.”

At the same time that I had moved from California to Virginia, my parents moved from California to Idaho. It was just days before Christmas that they got into their new home in Boise, but regardless… not only did I walk through a holiday season in a brand new place without any of my familiar people and places, but I did so having no sense of “home” whatsoever.

That Christmas season, the theme of “Emmanuel – God with us” came up over and over again. It was God’s way of reminding me… “hey Mary – I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m still here. I always will be.” As grateful as I was for the reminders, yes… the human heart was not made to be alone. It was made for connection. So, by the time we got to Christmas Eve church, almost losing it before the service after someone’s caring and well intentioned question about my holiday plans… hearing the reminder of Emmanuel one more time during the sermon that night?

In all my years of knowing Jesus, with all of the crazy and beautiful things He has done in my life… there remains one and only one time that I have actually cried while listening to a message.

They were not tears of joy. And they were silent tears. The ones that you really don’t want anyone else to see, but that simultaneously you wish someone would see. Tears because you would give anything for someone to see just an ounce of the pain and loneliness you were carrying that night… that you had been carrying for weeks leading up to that night.

Coming back to the now, November 2020… It’s been quite a year. I think many of us can agree that time has just flown by, that it’s so crazy that Christmas and the end of the year is almost upon us.

But COVID-19 or not. Time flying by or not. Knowing that Christmas is really just around the corner. A season in which you will hear songs and see lights and feel sensations (the cold weather, anyone?) that will bring with it a lot of… not so great memories.

If this year had been nothing short of amazing and wonderful, if it had been filled with lots of positive things and happy memories and great things… if 2020 had been a year like that, then maybe I wouldn’t be as worried about the memories that will come up as we head into the holiday season.

But we all know that 2020 has not only fallen short of that amazing, beautiful kind of year… it has fallen FAR short. It’s a year most of us may care to forget.

As 2020 is drawing to a close, I’m finding myself in a place I couldn’t have predicted even if I tried. I’m finally face to face with the harsh reality about my current work, that this is likely not the forever option I thought it was. I’m face to face with a reality I probably could have told you months ago, but because I continued to deny it and be afraid of it, God just kept pushing me until I had no choice at all to stop entirely and begin picking up the pieces of the now shattered circumstances surrounding my job. I’m grateful for His continued refusal to give up on me, but it hasn’t come without hurt. My continued stubbornness means that the needed (albeit slow) transition towards other work now also comes with a whole lot of brokenness.

So to be entering a holiday season in which the most recent seasonal memories are ones of darkness and loneliness and pain and hurt… to be entering into this season with another fresh and current dose of brokenness and loss…

Well, in order to give myself the space and time I likely will need to process through it all enough to still enjoy some of Christmas this year, I started putting up Christmas today. I put my beautiful 3 foot tree up, I decorated my “mantle” with lights and garland and the mini stockings for my family members. I even hung up our family Christmas picture next to my tree, something I do to make all of the miles in between feel a little bit less.

And as I was doing this, I played Christmas music. The song that jumped out at me today… I think I’ve heard it before. It sounds familiar. But the lyrics caught my attention today, and now after having had time to sit with all of this, to listen to the song over and over, I have a couple of observations.

One, I’ve found my Christmas song for this year.

And two, I’m not quite so worried about the dark memories from a year ago anymore.

The song is “Somewhere in Your Silent Night” by Casting Crowns. I could write for days and days on the entire text of the song, but for now I will share the first verse and chorus.

All is calm and all is bright
Everywhere but in your heart tonight
They’re singing carols of joy and peace
But you feel too far gone and too far out of reach

Somewhere in your silent night
Heaven hears the song your broken heart has cried
Hope is here, just lift your head
For love has come to find you
Somewhere in your silent night

As I said, I’ve now listened to the song countless times. I even started learning it (playing piano and singing), because I feel so strongly about the beautiful truth of it that we all need.

I mean… talk about a sense of hope. And peace. What an incredible reminder that not only is the gift of Jesus at Christmas for those times when we feel like singing carols and making cookies and sharing a smile with our neighbors.

Our gift of perfect Peace is also for those times when we’re terrified because the work we thought we could make a career from is no longer viable long term. Or when we’re afraid of what the next test result or scan will show. This gift is also for those times when our health is failing just as much, only this time it’s not something that will show up on a scan.

The song reminds us that this Gift comes to find us wherever we are. When we’re worried about being the “buzzkill” this Christmas season because, even though there’s no good reason that anyone can see, we just don’t feel like singing carols or baking cookies… or even going to Christmas church. Guys if this Christmas gift was only for those who are physically present in a Christmas Eve church service each and every year, we would be in serious trouble.

But it’s not.

Not only is this gift for everyone, it’s even for the person who doesn’t make it to church for no other reason than they just don’t feel up to it.

Let me be clear about something… this Christmas gift does not mean that everything in our lives from here on out will be easy and peaceful. This gift is not the magic bullet that fixes it all. In fact, quite the opposite. But this Christmas gift DOES promise Emmanuel – a God who is with us.

And a God who will stop at nothing to find us… wherever we are.

Even in the most silent of our nights.

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