When we plan, God laughs.

They say that when we plan, God laughs.

It’s important to have forward motion to motivate us towards our goals and dreams, yes. Absolutely. But it’s important to remember that ultimately, God knows what’s best for us, and therefore it’s best to not hold onto those plans too tightly.

Twelve years ago I was a senior in high school in the middle of college applications, trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life as well as where I wanted to study. Over the course of the next several months, I made a decision – I committed to attending Concordia University in St. Paul, MN. I was planning to sing in the choir (I even auditioned in person for a music scholarship) and study vocational non-pastoral church ministry. As my senior year of high school was coming to an end, my mental health – due to a wide variety of factors – was beginning to unravel. In May my parents and I made the difficult decision to wait an extra year before sending me to Minnesota, but five days after graduating high school I was placed on my first psychiatric (suicidal thoughts) hold and hospitalized for the first time. At that point any small spark of hope that I could still go that fall was extinguished, and over the course of the next year and a half I was hospitalized three more times. It quickly became clear that I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And not only that… but throughout the next several years, almost every attempt to take college classes – in any setting or context – failed miserably as a result of my poor mental health.

During that season of my life people tried their best to encourage me when it came to my college journey (or lack thereof). I was reassured that college isn’t for everyone, that not having tens of thousands of dollars in student loans isn’t a bad thing… and those are helpful and true reminders, sure. But those reasons for not attending college had very little to do with why I never went. I WANTED to go. I WANTED to learn. So while those reassurances certainly helped, there continued to be a big college sized hole in my heart. One that has healed over time, but one that has never really gone away.

So much happened between then and now, and if you want the beautiful God story of how He rescued me and healed me enough to finally leave home in 2019, you can read about it here.

Interestingly enough, over this last summer I had the chance to talk with a staff/faculty member from Concordia St. Paul who I had met during my college visit there over 11 years ago. I (re)introduced myself, and I had the chance to share the story of why I never went, everything that has happened since then, all of the beautiful miracles God has given me… and the grief that has never fully healed. If I’m being honest, I don’t entirely remember what exactly we said in that conversation, and I don’t remember feeling an overwhelming sense of resolution or closure. It was definitely helpful, though, and I am grateful we had the chance to connect. Little did I know what God had in store within a few short months…

We came home from family camp, I continued recovering from shoulder surgery, and a couple of weeks later Nicholas and I came down with COVID. We came out of our COVID isolation just in time for me to start my new job at Concordia Lutheran School here in Peoria. Going into the job, the idea that I might decide to pursue becoming a teacher and have a classroom of my own was on our minds, but we both knew that in order to do that, I would need to do something that up until now has never been hugely possible…

I would need to go to college.

Even before I had my first day at CLS, we were talking about and discussing various options for me to get my bachelor’s and teaching credential. After my first day, though, the research and conversations about how to make it all work became much more intentional and timely. I came home that day with a renewed sense of hope and drive and joy. Ask my husband sometime… that day changed me, and I haven’t been the same since.

The specifics of how our original timeline got moved from next fall to January to two weeks from now may be its own blog post in the near future; included in that would be the story of how we decided on a specific school and (online) degree program. For now I will share the title of an essay I had to write for acceptance into my school and program addressing my low college GPA, why it happened, what I’ve learned, and why things are different now.

“The Beautiful Story of an Eleven Year Delay in Becoming a Concordia Church Work Student…”

The short version? Concordia University Wisconsin has an online program for a bachelor’s in Elementary Education with the option to add the Lutheran Teacher Diploma – the piece of this whole thing that makes my career ahead of me truly church work. The beauty of going through CUW means that I won’t have to go back and do the added certificate specifically for Lutheran teaching after the fact, and it also pretty much guarantees that they are willing to work with my current employer – one of the many incredible Lutheran schools in our national Church body – so that I can complete as many of my observation and student teaching hours as possible at a place where I already know the students, teachers, and administration. In fact, I’m already enrolled in my first practicum class, and I’m able to count work hours towards my observation hours as long as they overlap (which they currently do for at least part of my day). The rest of my classes this semester start two weeks from Monday on October 23rd… four days after my 30th birthday and six days before our first anniversary.

In some ways it’s still sinking in that I’ll finally be attending a Concordia to study in a church work program. Recently in a closing prayer my therapist gave thanks to God that my dream of college and vocational ministry never died and that I never gave up on it. As soon as we finished I looked up at him and very quickly corrected him – no, I gave up on that dream a long time ago. Thankfully God never gave up on it on my behalf. But that’s the kind of God we serve, one who refuses to give up on us in so many beautiful ways.

So, to summarize the announcement and update, TL;DR…

Mrs. Farley, Lutheran Teacher, coming to you fall 2026!

Painfully closed doors and unexpectedly open windows…

Today was my “first day of school” working as a teachers’ aide at Concordia Lutheran School here in Peoria. For those that are familiar with Lutheran schools, Concordia is unique in that it’s sponsored by three churches – one of them being our home church, Trinity. It also has its own (totally separate) campus in Peoria. For those not familiar with Lutheran schools, most schools are K-8. Education is one of the many things that Lutherans do well, and after just one day at Concordia I can see that it’s yet another example of that excellence!

For now I will still be working at Chick-fil-A. If and when my time there ends it will be a hard decision for me; I absolutely love it! God has made it clear that my time there is not yet done, and He continues to prove Himself faithful by answering prayers and making a way for the logistics of these two part time jobs possible.

My journey to Concordia started off slowly. I saw the job posting and knew they had the need. However, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that it wasn’t time yet to leave Chick-fil-A. It all began before I knew I was having shoulder surgery, though by the time I finally reached out with my first email I knew the surgery was happening. After that things happened fairly quickly – I interviewed three days before surgery and got offered the job about two weeks afterwards. With everything else going on, I haven’t had a chance to share with too many people yet about this incredible opportunity that the Lord has dropped in my lap!

Those of you who’ve known me a while probably know the struggle that college and finding a career has been for me. I’ve attempted many times and have struggled every single time… much to my disappointment, heartache, and even grief. You guys probably also know that I love kids and that I love teaching, and those things about me have remained true through thick and thin over the last 10+ years!!! I don’t know exactly what God has in store for me by way of this job, but when I first expressed interest in the job it was also with the intention of getting my feet wet and seeing if becoming a teacher is a direction that God might be calling me. Seeing as how it’s been a busy several months for us, a decision to once again attempt college – this time with a different format/style of classes, which is another answer to prayer – will not be made quickly or taken lightly. However, after just one day back in the classroom, a day that was also my first day ever in a Lutheran school classroom, I may or may not have found a new calling. I have no idea what exactly that might look like (there are lots of things to do besides being an actual teacher!), and I have no idea what timing God might have in mind for all of this. What I do know, though, is that we serve a faithful God – one who is not only good and faithful to give us all that we need… but one who is also faithful to, when we delight ourselves in Him, give us the desires of our heart.

And, well… a way to serve the Lord that combines both classroom education and ministry in a very real and tangible way? I’ve been told about that reality by many called Lutheran teachers over the years, but seeing a beautiful example of it today blew whatever expectations I had out of the water. To say that ending up in that place would be a dream come true and a beautiful and healing homecoming for me would be a vast understatement! That all being said, the idea of what God might be up to with this over the next several years is one of the few things that as of late that has left this writer speechless.

As Nicholas and I continue in this journey, we would appreciate your prayers. Discerning whether or not the pursuit of this as God’s best for me (and for us!) is no small thing, and it’s not something we want to rush. We ask for your prayers for both discernment as well as a continued passion to keep serving well where God still has me at Chick-fil-A. That job and the family I have there is a miracle in its own right, and I’m so excited to get back to work there in a few weeks!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you. So many of you have supported and encouraged me with your prayers in an incredible way – whether we’ve known each other for a few months or you’ve been in my life for many, many years!!! I wouldn’t be here without you all, and I’m so grateful to be able to share what God is up to in all of this.

Nicholas and I will continue to keep you posted as much as we can, though it may be several months before other decisions are made and finalized regarding any next steps. In the meantime I’ll focus on recovering from shoulder surgery, continuing the long term healing work God is walking me through right now, serving well in both of the roles God has for me right now… and counting down the days until our first anniversary! Looking back I know we’re going to have an epic story about our first year of marriage, but man… it’s been a lot. We’re exhausted.

God is good, and He is good all the time. He’s been good even through the dark days and weeks I’ve had since surgery, not to mention all of the years it took for Him and me to get on the same page about me being alive and the reality that He’s not done with me yet… He is good as He carries my husband and I through trial after curveball after trial right now… He’s still good as He opens up some new doors and windows that I didn’t see coming… and He will always be good, regardless of exactly how it all plays out.

God is also a God of healing. And even when we still don’t know entirely how it’s going to look, when we least expect it He chooses to revisit a door that’s been painfully closed by opening a window that you never knew was there. We can still grieve the hurt and the pain of the years spent behind that slammed door while also giving thanks for the newly opened window. After all, God sometimes opens the window because He knows it’s exactly the healing that we need. And just when we think we have it all figured out, He swoops in and catches us off guard – because whether or not it’s what we think we want, He knows what’s best for us and for His glory.

Thank you, Lord, for the reality of that truth, even on the days when we don’t get it. Sustain us through those days until we’re able to once again see some light, have some hope, and see a glimpse of Your glory through the plans and purposes you have for us.

And may we remember to turn to You through the pain and darkness of all of the in-betweens.

– – – – – – –

How long will I have to hear the stories
Of how you were able
How long will I have to celebrate
The miracle that’s not my own
How long will I lift my voice and sing again
That you are always good
When I’m feeling all this distance
I thought I never would
How long

As long as it takes for my heart to find its song
As long as it takes to know I’m still not alone
And at the end of the day
I’ll stand right here and say
I know that you love me miracle or not

How long will I give myself
Before I give up waiting
How long will I have to hide behind this smile
That says that I’m okay
How long will I hold on to the promises
I thought I heard you speak
When every passing day
Just leaves me broken down and weak

As long as it takes for my heart to find its song
As long as it takes to know I’m still not alone
And at the end of the day
I’ll stand right here and say
I know that you love me miracle or not

I will sing it ’til my broken heart believes it
I’ll declare it ’til I smell the smoke of faith
And with my hands held high
I’ll scream it to the darkness
‘Til hope is finally louder than the ache

As long as it takes for my heart to find its song
As long as it takes to know I’m still not alone
And at the end of the day
I’ll stand right here and say
I know that you love me
I know that you love me
I know that you love me miracle or not

Miracle or not

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.

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. 

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.

the RVA post…

So, you remember that one time when I decided to pick up everything I’ve ever known and move clear across the country? And when I decided to do so in only about 30 days?

Yeah, well, I figure it’s time that I put the whole story down in writing as best that I can. Seeing as how I miss home terribly right now and am having a hard time not being there to walk through this trial with everyone, I figure it wouldn’t hurt to a) distract myself by writing, and b) finally write out the story of coming to Richmond. After all, I know that as I write and reflect on the journey God has had me on in the last couple of months, I will be able to remember again just how much my coming here was ordained by Him.

Well – here goes.
I’ve learned a lot over the recent weeks. The first one I will share is perhaps the funniest and yet the most poignant and telling for where I’m at these days… I first flew out to Richmond on a Monday, 10/7. It was a long and lonely week, so when church came the following Sunday I was thrilled to finally start meeting some new people. Sitting at lunch after church, I said to myself and to my housemates/hosts/long lost neighbors (more on that later!), “Remind me next time I leave everything I’ve ever known and move across the country to NOT do so on a Monday!” We laugh, but it’s true… that first Sunday could not come soon enough. And now that I’ve had three Sundays here, I could not be more thrilled to have found such a wonderful family of faith.

Now let’s back up a little bit, back to why I ended up moving in the first place. Sometime in August it became official that my parents would be moving to Idaho. My dad had accepted the call to serve as pastor at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Boise, ID. And, well, what that meant for me is that my free rent was leaving my Northern California hometown of Santa Rosa. My health had greatly improved earlier in the year thanks to God’s miracles in my life, and so lots of options were realistic possibilities. I looked into everything… work transfer, finding new work somewhere else, finding something in Boise (but still living on my own), and even staying put in Santa Rosa. For the first time I would have been thrilled to stay local for a little while longer. But God had other plans, and I had no idea just how much they would blow my mind. (Side note – I’m still laughing at God’s irony, and I don’t think that will ever go away.)

One possibility on the list that I mentioned? A work transfer. I was constantly checking out my company’s website for new listings of available positions. I had decided that I wasn’t going to apply to another city unless I had a specific reason – a friend local, some kind of connection with the area… that kind of thing. Richmond was on my radar due to the fact that I was here last October for my dear friend’s wedding, so when I saw the post, knowing she and her husband are still local here… I applied. I was hoping to transfer somewhere and continue working customer service, but I guess I was open to anything.

Fast forward a bit, and my manager in Santa Rosa got word that they needed lead agents in Richmond. I emailed the manager here almost immediately, but when I heard back I learned that they didn’t need anyone for customer service… they really just needed some lead agents to work ramp. She told me right away that if I was willing to work ramp that we could talk, but that they didn’t have anything available upstairs. I was hesitant at first, but then thought to myself that this could be the perfect opportunity if I want to start moving towards a career in this industry.

Shortly after that I applied with a “sure, let’s talk…” well… that was maybe September 5. I had a video interview with management the following Wednesday (9/11), and then Sunday the 15th I flew to RIC to see the airport and meet everyone. By Tuesday the 17th I had an official transfer date of Monday, October 7th.

Woah… that all happened fast. Like – really, REALLY fast. Especially since a) I’ve never really moved, b) I was moving over 2500 miles away, and c) my parents were simultaneously trying to sell their home and move to Idaho. I mean, the term logistical nightmare? It’s the understatement of the century.

But… we did it. Actually, God did it. We’ve just all been along for the ride. But before I go any further, I need to share how God provided for what is perhaps one of the biggest needs with a move – initial/immediate housing. And not only that, but through the circumstances surrounding my accommodations He revealed to me just how much this move is NOT just about me and NOT just about my job at the airport.

Backing up to Tuesday, September 10th. I had just gotten home from a Disneyland trip, and within minutes of being home my mom kicked me out due to an afternoon showing. I went to St. Mark and spent some time upstairs just relaxing and killing time. Little did I know, though, that my random idea to check out the LCMS national directory for the churches in Richmond would lead me to a housing arrangement, my parents to a beautiful reconnection of some former friendships, and ultimately to me seeing that God is up to SO much in this whole moving across the country thing.

See… as I went through the list of churches in the greater RVA (Richmond) area, all of the sudden a name looked familiar. Like, really REALLY familiar. I was vaguely remembering my mother asking me sometime recently “hey, is North Chesterfield near Richmond?” knowing my other connection already here. But I didn’t fully remember, so I started calling my parents. I called my mom’s cell… no answer. I called my dad’s cell… no answer. (I still laugh at that one because I was at church upstairs and he was there downstairs.) Then I called the home phone, and my mom picked up. I told her what I had been doing and then asked, is this who I think it is…? She confirmed, and I pretty much immediately began the process of getting in touch.

Who are these people, exactly?
My dad went to seminary from 1996-1998 in St. Louis.
The pastor of a church here in Richmond, who’s been at the church since he left the seminary in 2000, two years after my dad… he and his family were our next door neighbors both years in seminary. OVER TWENTY YEARS AGO.

A mere month and a half later, here we are. And God is STILL proving Himself faithful – over and over again. I still remember when I went out to lunch with him (long lost neighbor) on my visit here to RVA mid September. I was admittedly anxious that morning, having to find a church in a new place and a new city, interacting with new people. I knew this family years ago, yes, but it had been over 20 years. And then on top of all of that to be facing the fact that this may be home for me in the near future…? It was a lot.

Back to that Tuesday lunch meeting. We didn’t have a whole lot of time that day, but I didn’t need much time at all to start sensing that God was up to so much more than I could have imagined. I had a chance to hear about his heart for ministry along with some of the heartbeat that this church has for its surrounding communities. I was able to tell almost immediately that these people get it, and that they get it in a very big and very real way. I knew then and there that I was going to be surrounded by like minded people, not only in this family but in this whole church.

I left lunch that day and was nearly in tears as I drove back to my friend’s house. I was actually rather exhausted the rest of the day – you know, God had basically knocked the wind out of me! Though I couldn’t tell you why in that moment, I just knew that I was meant to move. I knew that God would have amazing opportunities waiting for me here in RVA, opportunities both to learn but also to give back to the people here in a variety of ways.

Only three weeks removed from California, that could not be more true. God is already teaching me so much, and I am honored to be in such a position. I am excited to see what is to come. And though I know it will not be easy, I know that the Lord will be with me through all of it and that He will provide in the ways He feels best.

The last three weeks have been some of the hardest three weeks I’ve ever had to face. And yet, it is already such a beautiful season and I cannot wait to watch as things continue to unfold. As I write this, my hometown and home county is in crisis mode due to devastating wildfires. I lived through it there in Santa Rosa two years ago, and now that they’re all walking through it again… and I’m not there. I’m here, in Virginia, about as far away from California as you could get. I’m not going to lie, that’s been really hard the last couple of days. But as I finally am writing out the story of God bringing me here, I am reminded that His direction and timing pointing me to RVA was so abundantly clear.

Ending up in Richmond, with the people and community that I have begun to find, is such an answer to prayer. It’s an exciting opportunity, and it’s a chance to start fresh now that I’m learning how to live free and how to live fully known and fully loved. My heart is constantly so full of gratitude for the people that I have already met here, but most importantly for my God and my Father for His love and grace and guidance as I take this next step on my journey.

Happy Reformation Sunday, dear brothers and sisters. May we always remember that Jesus came for you and He came for me, and that He came to rescue us from the darkest of nights and to set us free from the most impossible chains.

So… what brought me to Richmond?
God.
I mean, work was the catalyst.
But God brought me to Richmond, and I could not be more grateful.

fully known & fully loved

If I could thank Dr. Jillian for just one of the many things she left me with? One lesson, one gift? It would be the gift of a life living fully known AND fully loved. She was only able to give me that in human form, emphasis on the temporary part of human form. But… as a result, she has impacted and touched my life in a way that no one else has.

“To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever….”

I found that quote credited to JK Rowling tonight as I was looking up quotes on grief on Pinterest. Some reading this may find it odd that I start a post with this title by sharing a quote about grief. However, anyone who knows my story well knows that an experience with grief ties in very closely with the idea of being fully known AND fully loved.

Continue reading “fully known & fully loved”