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

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.

Our God is an AWESOME God.

I can still hear her voice ringing in my ears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woah.

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

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

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

So powerful.

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

Not exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Father’s arms are open wide.

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

Just… there it is.

Staring you in the face.

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

I listened to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is calling

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

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

Finding our identity amidst a pandemic.

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

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

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

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

Identity.

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

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

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponder the following thought…

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

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

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

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

Wow.
Let those words sink in for a moment.

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

We are Children of God.

Be blessed today, friends.

But… is it well?

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

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

This is one of those times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy happens.
Peace happens.
Jesus happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Love… it already is bigger.

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