Day eight – Life.

“I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.”
Psalm 118:17

I just said this to a friend here in Virginia… Writing is how I share with the world what Jesus is doing, what He’s up to right now. So it’s always good, even when I don’t feel like it, because I always walk away remembering oh DUH… God’s got this. I mean, 2019 was my impossible. It was the thing that I wanted so very deeply and in a way like nothing else.

There’s nothing quite like God answering a prayer after years of waiting, after having given up even praying and asking for Him to move because you’ve just lost all hope that anything could ever be different.

As I said, 2019 was my impossible. And since 2019 happened? Like, really happened? Now anything is possible.

I’m actually a little surprised that I haven’t heard more 2020 jokes of “new year, new you, now you have 2020 vision!”. But that 2020 vision… I think in some ways we can equate the person who is able to hold great faith that God will move and that miracles WILL happen to someone who has 20/20 vision. I mean really – if I can only have one kind of 20/20 vision? The vision that allows me to have faith would absolutely be the kind of vision I would choose.

That great faith, God moving mountains, 2019 being my impossible that became possible because of Jesus…

I think it’s great to have multiple “life verses” from scripture; I know that I have so many that mean different things. Some are more biographical, some are more missional, but some are just plain and simple a very broken down explanation of my life and what I want it to be moving forward.

“I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.”

So the gift I want to celebrate… I want to celebrate life. I want to thank God for the life that He has given me, for how many times He intervened and spared me when I really was so close, when death was straight up knocking on my door.

There are so many statistics out there regarding mental illness and suicide and risk factors and diagnoses… I could actually do some research and look into what it might be, but given all of my circumstances, all of my symptoms, given how much I’ve been to hell and back in recent years… when I say that statistically I probably shouldn’t be here, I’m not kidding. I never really concretely had a major plan in place, but I have a feeling that God was intervening through all of it because He knew that if I ever did get to the place of having a plan, I might not have made it.

But… I’m here. And I never thought I would live to see ANY day that I would wholeheartedly and down in my bones be grateful to be alive, let alone that I would see nearly eight months of that confidence in our Perfect Peace.

On top of all of that, though… I never could have dreamed that I would knowingly walk into the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and that as that season would progress some of my symptoms would return, some of them even returning with a vengeance… but that in the middle of all of that?

I never could have in my wildest dreams imagined that I would spend so many nights in my apartment with the loneliest broken heart, crying my eyes out…

… and that I would still be grateful to be alive.
For this beautiful gift of life we have in Jesus.

Talk about a juxtaposition! Oh my goodness. But as I just wrote about, so many things I’ve been learning have to do with that beautiful dichotomy, that it’s okay to stumble and have heartache and to question why. And that in all of that, we can still be grateful for this life. We can still be a perfectly beloved child of God.

One of the many aspects of mental illness… trauma. Many people define trauma as any event where you fear your life is in danger. That’s very simplistic and could be too narrow or basic of a definition, but for what I want to share… it works.

Shortly after my plane landed in May, I started experiencing what I eventually would refer to as “trauma responses”. It was pretty much PTSD symptoms… flashback kind of stuff. For me it was a lot of really intense “what ifs”, but thinking that would lead to significant anxiety and almost panic in a few cases. There were only ever a few very distinct and major episodes of that trauma response, and in looking back, both cases were triggered by something that was once a significant suicide trigger for me.

Example – the Golden Gate bridge. For anyone here in Virginia reading this (or anyone not in Sonoma County!), the bridge is only about a 50-55 minute drive from my home back in California. Anytime I did an airport pickup at SFO? I would cross the bridge. Giants game? More than likely it involved driving across the bridge. It never got to the point where I got out my car and walked out to jump, but for a long time I would call someone if I knew I would be driving across… just to be on the safe side. Just to make sure.

This particular instance, this past July, was actually on the way home from a Giants game. The route we took home took us down across the marina, driving along the north side of the city down at water level. I think it was largely due to that angle, being down at water level and looking up at the bridge. But all of the sudden I was in the middle of a trauma response, full blown anxiety, wanting to jump out of the car. I thank God that I was with a safe person at that moment, someone who loves the Giants as much as I love the Cardinals but who also knows that a) baseball is amazing, and b) that there is far more to life than just our team or even baseball itself.

Why do I share this story, though? As I said… trauma can often be defined as an experience where you feel your life was in danger.

… and I could say that about most of the last seven years.

I’ve actually had to learn to start processing and viewing so much of that time as trauma. Not only for the PTSD type moments, but also for what happens to our brains when we are suddenly – and finally – removed from prolonged trauma.

It will be eight months next week. Eight months since my life changed forever, since I finally started walking into a season in which I can be grateful for my breath each morning when I wake up – instead of angry when I wake up still breathing and still alive.

Coming back to that verse in Psalms that I used to open… I first heard the verse in a recent Louie Giglio sermon on mental illness. I want to relisten, but I first watched it when I was in Chicago for my training for the job here in Richmond. And in the middle of talking about suicide, about that pain and that darkness… He quoted this verse. I remember almost sitting up in bed as I watched it, because the verse it just so… simple. Straight up. Real.

And now that the second half of that first phrase has come to fruition in my life? Now that – yes, I WILL live?

I want nothing more than to proclaim all that God has done, in all of the moments for all of my days.

Day seven – 2019.

Four digits that – when placed together – represent a year in all of our lives.
Four digits that represent a year that will forever be etched in my brain in a very real way, for very significant reasons.

Most of the people in my life have been along for the ride of 2019 with me in some form, so I don’t think I need to sit here and give a play by play of all that God has done this year.

But I do want to take a moment to step back and reflect on this last year. I mean, I distinctly remember the January First Wednesday service… January 2, 2019. I don’t remember the details as to why, but I remember that I showed up for church that night in just a horrible place. Depressed, discouraged, overwhelmed… I legitimately wasn’t sure what to do next or where to turn or how on earth I was going to get through that night – let alone the next hour, the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year…

Then my two favorite words happened…

It would be another couple of months before I would hit rock bottom. God would bring me to a place that I had never been before, a place in which I was so beyond angry and apathetic towards life. I was even so apathetic and done with caring that it was almost MORE scary than if I had had a specific plan and intention to… well, you can imagine.

I think back to that girl of a year ago, the one walking into Spring Hills with knots in her stomach and tremors in her hands. She had no idea the journey that God would take her on in 2019. And in retrospect, it’s probably good that she didn’t – I’m not sure I would have believed anyone if they had told her what was going to happen, even God Himself.

Driving home after work last night, sometime between 2am and 3am, I was listening to the Spotify playlist containing all of my most played songs from 2019. One of my tattoo songs came on (I think I have three now?), and like… oh man. I almost started crying. The song started to hit me in a whole new way, and it’s already done that once before – the day that God intervened as I was planning an attempt on my life. As I listened to the words last night, though, I couldn’t help but think of wanting to sing this song to the girl of twelve months ago.

That girl had no idea where she was going to turn.
That girl had no idea how she would ever live any kind of “normal” life.
That girl had no idea how she would ever live apart from her parents and apart from all she’s ever known.
That girl had no hope.

But in all of that?
That girl had no idea just how much she would come to cherish the gift of life.

I’ll share the chorus of this song – “Sparrow (Under Heaven’s Eyes)”, by Tenth Avenue North.

You see the sparrow
You see me here
With the pain of my past
And the depth of my fears
You see my future
One day I’ll rise
My hope is secure
under Heaven’s eyes
under Heaven’s eyes

God sees us.
He sees you, and He sees me.
He saw me a year ago – brokenhearted, lost, hopeless.
He knew all of the beautiful things that were up ahead, the beautiful healing that would take place. I can picture and hear Him now, whispering to that girl…

Just hold on. I’m here, and I see you. I see your future – that one day you WILL rise. You will rise when you meet me in eternity, yes. But you will rise in the context of this life, too. You will be able to go, to live your dreams, to live a life free from the bondage of self hatred. I know you can’t see it now, but you will. I promise.

Your hope can rest secure in Me – the hope of eternity, yes, but the hope to live this life in freedom. And in peace.

The second verse of the song repeats the phrase “take courage, dear heart”. And if I could say one thing to that girl, that very well might be it.

Take courage, dear heart. Our Savior promises that His hope does NOT disappoint.

Not only will the Hope never disappoint, but it will deliver in ways far above anything we could ever ask or imagine…

“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…”

Ephesians 3:20 has very much become my life verse, and for good reason. 2019 has been a monumental and life changing – and life SAVING year for me. And these words, this promise in scripture could not do a better job to describe all that has happened.

I had stopped praying for a miracle and for healing from my depression and from my bondage because I legitimately believed that no healing could ever happen.

Oh man was I wrong! And I’ve never been so happy to be proven wrong.

Friends… dream big this year. If God can do this, if He can remove the years of bondage to suicidal thoughts in my life… Friends, our God can do ANYTHING.

May that be the case for you in 2020.
May God show up this year in ways far bigger and grander than anything you could ever ask for or imagine.

But as we pray that prayer? Buckle up. Because I can speak from experience – it’s going to be one wild and crazy ride.

And praise Jesus for ALL of that.

Day six – beautiful dichotomy.

Earlier this year, shortly after the moment that life began to all make sense, I finally started to sense a little more direction for my life. It was weird at first… I mean, as this quote from Tumblr describes it, “growing up suicidal is kinda weird cause I didn’t think I’d still be alive right now so I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my life or where I’m going because I never planned on being here for it.” And for much of late May and June, that’s the place in which I found myself – a whole world ahead of me, but zero idea what to do or where to go. Think about a horse or a giraffe, how moments after it’s born the mother helps it and expects it to stand up, but the poor thing has legs that barely know how to work so it just stands there confused and cautious and scared… that was me.

Slowly, though, that direction started to find me. And while I finally know WHAT I want to do with my life, in many ways I’m not sure I’ve ever known less about HOW that can best be accomplished! But that’s okay, because that is God’s job. It’s His job to lead us and guide us and teach us… it’s our job to be willing and to say yes.

So as I’ve had beautiful conversations with so many people about life and about how strange it is to know the WHAT but not the HOW, I’ve described that “what” by way of what one could almost consider a life mission statement, or mission theme. It’s something that for so long I had zero idea could exist and be a thing, and it’s something that I see lacking in the world and especially in the church in some pretty significant and often scary ways.

That theme, the theme and lesson that drives everything I am and everything that I do? It’s today’s gift, the sixth gift on this journey. Basically… it’s the driving concept behind Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, the concept that two seemingly opposing and conflicting things could simultaneously be true.

I will pause here to dispel any concerns or worries – I’m very familiar with the concept of relative truth and absolute truth and what I am talking about is absolutely NOT that.

What I’m talking about is the principle and truth that I can talk about and address the spiritual component to my battle with depression WITHOUT invalidating the fact that my depression is a very real and even physical illness.

What I’m talking about is the idea that life is messy and backwards and broken and painful, but that in every one of those things it is also simultaneously so incredibly beautiful.

What I’m talking about is the permission to be human. God did not tell us “do not grieve”, He told us “do not grieve as those without hope”. He told us how to grieve in a healthy way, not to skip the process entirely.

I’m talking about the truth that it’s okay to feel our emotions, even the pain and the frustration and even the anger. It’s okay to be angry when we face tragedy in our lives – tragedy is so far outside of the life that God intended for us, but it’s a reality of life on earth.

I’m talking about the truth that tells us it’s okay to feel those things – but that doing so never once invalidates our faith, how much we trust Jesus, or the validity of our claims of Jesus being Lord of our lives. We can be just as much in love with Jesus as we question and wonder why things happen and even cry… sometimes we might even be MORE in love with Him in those moments.

See, dear friends… it’s this truth and this concept that pulled me from the depths of despair what is really still just a few short months ago.

I say in full faith that being able to realize all of this, the concept of “beautiful dichotomy” as I like to call it… it’s what saved my life. It’s what has allowed me to continue living and breathing and loving Jesus.

So if you take away nothing else from my exploration of all these wonderful gifts, remember this one – day six. Remember that it’s okay to feel the emotions that we were created to feel. It’s okay to hurt, it’s okay to be angry.

But in those moments of pain and darkness? It’s also okay to lift our hands – with tears streaming down our face – in praise to the One who created us and who holds the universe in the palm of His hand.

For so long I would hear people talk about how praise is such an incredible antidote to anxieties and fears and to the dark of depression, but I was always so scared to walk towards that posture because I feared that in doing so I would somehow invalidate the realness of my illness or the intensity of my pain. What I’ve learned in 2019, though, is that nothing could be further from the truth! Because when we lift those hands in praise, tears and all, something starts to happen. We start to remember who we are… and Whose we are.

God is so good, you guys. In early March as I began to enter into this season, finally realizing all that I needed to face, I was terrified. I was still terrified for so long that somehow I would end up invalidating the realness of my own depression. But what actually happened? Almost the exact opposite. As I began to finally internalize Whose I am, that He chose me and that He loves me and that He forgives me every single day for every single thing… did the depression disappear? Not at all. In fact, here in Virginia I’ve seen some pretty dark days. But walking into this beautiful dichotomy… for one, it unlocked my toolbox of tools that I’ve learned in therapy. After years of learning tools but never ever using them because I didn’t believe I was worthy of anything good or that I deserved any relief ever… that toolbox got unlocked. Now I can cope, now I can live a life for Jesus.

As I’ve said… this is the gift that I’m perhaps the most passionate about, at least as far as a passion for sharing it and all that it means with the world. When I get talking about this, when I have an opportunity to share it with someone – especially someone for whom the truths are like healing balm on the wound of a broken heart – that’s when I feel most at home, like I’m living out the purpose God intended for my life.

This past Saturday I was out running a few errands, and I was hoping to find some black dress pants (because church in the winter… brrr!). I happened to score this crazy flash sale on an AMAZING pair of pants… $20 for something like $90 pants. It was crazy, and I was super stoked. Who doesn’t love a good deal??! So, knowing the information might come useful, I texted both of my sisters to let them know. I hadn’t talked to them in a while, so it was nice to say hello, but it was also kind of… random, just texting them out of the blue about this random sale.

Over the years I’ve heard people share stories like that in regards to sharing Christ and sharing the gospel with those who don’t know Him. And not going to lie, this past Saturday when I texted my sisters, this was running through my brain a little.

But now as I sit here… writing this post, sharing another piece of my heart with the world… it’s that exact same situation.

I lived as a Christian with saving faith – the salvation through Christ – for most of my life. But despite that, my life still came far too close to being tragically cut short from a battle with mental illness. So moving forward, as I continue to ponder the WHAT and the HOW of what I do with my life… I know that sharing this gift has the power to transform and even save lives. This gift has Jesus at the center, absolutely. But it goes so much further than just being saved from an eternity in hell.

This truth and this gift allow us to live our lives more free than ever before. It gives us the space to be human and still be loved more than we could ever comprehend.

I think about the heartache, the darkness… the hell of the last seven years. I hope and pray all the time that I’m able to continue living a life free from that bondage. But it is living through that hell that allows me to see and experience the gift of beautiful dichotomy. And because of that? I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Be blessed tonight, dear friends. And be loved – more than you will ever know.

Day five – eyes for the hurting and the broken.

Since my plane landed back in May, since the day that everything started to make sense in a way like never before… nothing has been the same. I don’t see myself the same, I don’t see other people the same, I don’t see the world the same. In conversations with others I have spoken many times about this difference, how it’s almost like there’s just this… weight, this burden that is along for the ride now. It’s not anything bad or anything that I think that needs to completely disappear – I think much more it’s about learning how to most effectively carry it with me as I walk through life.

The gift of perspective has brought along with it many other incredible and beautiful gifts, and one of them has been the ability to have eyes for the hurting and the broken. I’m still learning all that this means, including what it means to use this to my advantage rather than let it rule me and paralyze me. I’m still learning how to move from having eyes for those who are hurting to how I can most effectively be motivated to create action and change. But ever since my journey and years of pain started to make sense in light of the bigger picture of my life and even the grand picture of God’s story, I’ve had this view of life that very few others have. I see the world in ways that most people do not. That is in no way to ever cast a judgement on the way that I choose to walk through life versus how someone else operates – please hear me on that. I would never want to judge whether or not someone’s walk has “enough faith” or “enough works” – that is never, ever my place. All I can worry about is myself and how I answer God’s call to love the world each and every day.

This perspective, this view, this burden… it can get very heavy, especially because so few others operate the same way. I mean, I think we’ve all heard the phrase “hurt people hurt people”. Because of the road that I have walked up until now, I’ve learned just how much this is true and just how much life is messy and not perfect and so often backwards. So many people have shown me grace over the years, though, and so I can’t imagine living my life in any other way.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

This passage from Galatians (Galatians 5:13-14) can help describe why I do all that I can to carry myself in such a way that keeps my eyes open to what is around me. Not only is it just so helpful and healing to take our perspective off of ourselves and then move that energy towards helping someone else, but scripture tells us to do this very thing… and it tells us WHY it’s so important to live this way.

As I mentioned yesterday, it is so hard to love someone else well if we’re uncomfortable with ourselves or if we’re harboring self hatred and self judgement. When we’re able to internalize and live our lives in light of the cross, though, our ability to be a good friend and partner grows exponentially – after all, at that point we have Christ in us in a brand new way. So in keeping in mind the passage from Galatians, I think the same could be said here. When we truly realize the freedom that we have – the freedom that we have had all along through Christ and His death and resurrection – we live our lives each and every day with this new freedom and lightness about it. A deep understanding of this freedom also allows us to see other people the way God sees them… someone who is valuable, someone who is loved. Someone who, particularly if they are acting in a way that it is destructive and hurtful towards others, is really just hurting and lost and in need of a Savior.

A piece of my personality that has become more and more apparent in 2019 is that it really takes a lot to genuinely upset me, to “knock me off my rocker” so to speak. When it does happen, there’s typically an element of injustice involved – that’s often a big trigger for me. But even in the rare cases when this happens, it doesn’t take me long to come back to center, to start seeing people that are just hurting and broken and who need Jesus.

I don’t share all of this as a “look at me and how good I am”. That’s never my intention, and besides – it’s not even true. I see my need for Jesus more and more every moment of every day! Rather, I share things like this to talk more about how God has just brought about so much beauty from the ashes of my life the last seven or so years. And I mean, when your life operates in this way, you stick out from the rest of the world even MORE – subjecting you that much more to isolation and loneliness and even persecution because others are unable to relate.

But as with everything else of the last seven years, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I really wouldn’t. I can’t imagine viewing and carrying myself through life in any other way, and I know that I would not have any of the gifts I’ve been discussing if it were not for the pain and strife that has surrounded me for so long… the heartache, the hopelessness, the seemingly constant state of living on the edge of death for so long.

It’s left me with a lot of scars, yes. Some of the scars I will be dealing with and sorting through for many years to come. But the beauty, the moments of closeness with God, the deep understanding of what it means to be loved and forgiven by a Creator God who died to know you… I wouldn’t give that up for anything.

Be blessed today, my friends.
And may you know just how loved you are… just how loved you have always been.

Day four – relationships.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

I think we’re all familiar with these words – a few verses from 1 Corinthians 13, otherwise known as the “love chapter”. We’ve probably heard them at least a wedding or two, and by now there’s even a possibility that we’ve heard the reminder that in context, these words were NOT spoken explicitly about a romantic relationship – they were spoken to a church by the Apostle Paul.

I’ve heard person after person remind us of the true context of these words, sometimes to the point of invalidating their meaning for a romantic relationship. But I think that we could learn a lot by viewing these words as applicable in BOTH contexts. I think it can tell us that while a romantic partner CAN often be an essential part of life, it should never be the end all, be all – that should be God. I think it also can remind us that our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ should be treated with as much importance and care as that of our romantic partner, our spouse. Should every relationship be that deep and emotionally intimate? Of course not. But the level of “deepness”, per se, does not need to correlate with the level of care, authenticity, or realness in our relationships.

The gift for today, day four – relationships. Or as I have kept in my notes, “true, deep, real relationships”.

Following the post yesterday regarding the people God has brought into my life, I want to address something that goes hand in hand – the relationships we have with the people God brings to us. And while the two gifts could be looked at synonymously, I very much think they can be seen separately. I mean, I’ve had some pretty great relationships as a result of the amazing people God has brought my way. But more important than that, the struggle I have had to walk as a result of my depression and mental illness… it has also taught me about relationships. I have learned so many lessons, and I have learned the value of finding and having and cultivating those true, deep, and real relationships.

Let’s take tonight for example. I finally got myself up and out of the house for something social/with other people OTHER than church or work for the first time in, well… let’s not talk about how long it’s been. I went dancing tonight, and I met some pretty cool people. A lot of the conversation tonight was the “small talk” kind of conversation, but that by no means limits me from being real and authentic. Authenticity does NOT have to mean spilling my guts and my entire life’s story to every person I meet the minute I meet them. What it DOES mean? It means doing all I can to keep honesty present. It means listening to the other person. It means making small talk because it’s appropriate for the context, not because you’re trying to avoid a needed conversation.

Something else I’ve learned about relationships, an experience that has been a gift for so many different reasons…

Over the years, developing and maintaining two-way relationships has very much been a struggle for me. I’ve done a lot of taking over the years, and that has largely been due to my depression and my other emotional needs. In the last year or two, I’ve seen and experienced a little bit what it’s like for the roles to be reversed.

But those true, two way relationships… not necessarily 50/50, because life is messy and it ebbs and flows, but relationships in which there is the desire to give just as much (if not more!!) than there is desire to have needs met.

For whatever reason, those have continued to be difficult. I’m not entirely sure why – some of it could be awkwardness in my own mind because of some kind of age or generational difference with a person, maybe some other reasons. Who knows. But these amazing people God has given me… they have all had so much grace and patience with me; they’ve given me some incredible space to practice and continue growing.

There’s one circumstance, though, one moment that I’d like to share surrounding all of this. A dear, sweet, wonderful friend and I finally had a chance to start reconnecting a little while before I moved to Virginia. And when she and I FINALLY sat down for coffee – a coffee date that we had been planning for no joke, months, even before she moved back to Santa Rosa – she shared something with me, a vision and hope for our friendship. And it shook me a little bit, in all the good and beautiful and also difficult ways.

She shared that she has seen our relationship in the past as very much one of her being in the mentor role, mentoring me, but that she would love to see our relationship move much more into a two way friendship, more of a peer relationship. And like I said… it shook me a little. In part because I suddenly felt horrible for never being that friend back, but also because it was suddenly very clear that another person genuinely wanted a friendship and peer relationship. Now, why did that shake me? We’ve often heard it said that we can’t be ready for a serious romantic relationship until we can fully come to terms with who we are and can have a healthy view of ourselves.

Well… I think this was very much along those lines. Growing up, and even in the years since high school, friendship has been a struggle. So to have someone deliberately say that they would like to cultivate this, that they would love to see this happen… woah. Like, I know that God has done so much healing in my heart this year, but like… really? ME?

So the gift of relationships. And all of the wonderful and beautiful and even painful lessons that go with them. It’s all been a gift. Because that principle is true, that you can’t fully selflessly (in a human sense, anyway) love another person until you’re comfortable with yourself.

That all being said – the gift of the last seven years led me to a place of coming face to face with all of my self doubt and self hatred in the mirror. It left me with no choice but to confront that self hatred head on and to remind it who’s boss – the King of the universe who loves me and died for me and rose for me and who still forgives me, day after day after day.

And now that I have confronted that in a way that was needed for far too long… well, I’m by no means perfect. Not even close. But it’s left me able to love in a way and with a capacity I would not have otherwise. Not only that, but it’s allowed me to be a little more okay letting other people love me. We all have our own baggage, and we all need each other. But if we can’t let others love us? And if we can’t love them selflessly in return? It’s going to be a long and lonely life.

Praise Jesus, though… because He loves us. And He reminds us each and every day that, yes, it’s okay to be loved. And it is okay to love in return.

Day three – people.

So I’ve known writing this post was on the horizon since the project began… after all, I am the one that made the list! One would think that I would remember and be more prepared, but yet here I am. Yesterday when I checked the list for what would be up today… I half wanted to roll my eyes and half wanted to slam my computer closed and throw it against the wall.

Diving right into today’s gift… it’s something that has been evident to me from the very beginning, going back to even before I graduated high school. I remember thinking that final semester, now nearly eight years ago, that God was providing for me in some pretty beautiful ways by way of the people He brought into my life. During that final season in high school and into the years beyond, God brought some pretty incredible people into my life, and He did so in some pretty crazy ways. Some of my closest loved ones back home are people who I just happened to meet in the most random of ways.

Today’s gift is one that I’ve probably been able to see for the longest, and yet it’s the one that has probably been my biggest struggle since moving out to Virginia. Today’s gift is all of the wonderful people that God has brought into my life. Friends, mentors, loved ones, teachers, everyone. I do all that I can to never take a single person for granted, because every single person is a beautiful gift from God.

As I just said, since being here in Virginia, I have struggled FAR more than I anticipated to create community and build relationships. I remember telling someone before I moved that the fear of creating a new community after the move paled in comparison to the fear of the heartbreak from leaving everyone behind. And while I was right about the heartbreak from leaving everyone behind… how wrong I was about building relationships here. I’m not sure if it’s because of the timing (moving so close to the holidays), if it’s because I’ve never had to start from scratch in building a community and a village and thus don’t know how, if it’s due to a difference in culture and thus a difficulty to connect… who knows. It could be any number of things. Regardless of why, though, I’ve found myself questioning everything far more than I thought I would. And why have I been questioning, what’s been the most significant factor driving that question? The struggle to even begin building the kind of relationships here that I had back home.

But even as I say that, I think to myself… how can I compare the two scenarios? I mean, two geographic locations for starters. But then I need to think about the context off of which I’m building the community. I’m a far different person now than when I graduated high school and switched churches in Santa Rosa. Different needs, different things and perspectives that I can give.

It’s so interesting, too, because while I’ve never felt so lonely and isolated and even at times rejected… I’ve simultaneously never been more excited or grateful for my church. Being in a very liturgical church, we celebrated Advent this year to the full extent, and oh man – was it beautiful. The music and the decorations and all of that, yes. But the messages. The hope. The promises.

I’m not sure if it was just my heightened awareness this year being so lonely and filled with heartache all of the time, but one of the themes that really stuck out to me this year? Immanuel, God with us. Irony, for sure, because I’m learning and experiencing the dire necessity of this promise in a way like never before. I’m needing to rely on that promise, and I’m having no choice but to figure out exactly what that means and what that looks like – even if I have zero idea how to do it.

In rereading my journaling/notes from the Christmas Eve sermon – one that continued that beautiful promise of Immanuel – a thought that I put on paper that night is continuing to jump out at me. I wrote about how I’ve been feeling so much that, because of the promise of Immanuel, I shouldn’t be allowed to feel lonely, especially that gut-wrenching loneliness and isolation that isn’t abated by mere physical human presence. But… I don’t know about you… any time I hear the phrase “shouldn’t be allowed to feel”, I immediately know that whatever someone is trying to say to me, it’s just total BS. Because God created human emotion, He created us to feel. Now, what we do with those feelings – that’s a different story.

But if I feel lonely and isolated and even rejected because despite the best efforts that I can muster, I still feel like I’ve made zero progress in building any lasting relationships (which by the way is also BS because I have already met some beautiful people)? I’m allowed to feel lonely. And as I’ve said so many times… our messy – and in this case our lonely – is exactly when God loves to step in.

All throughout this Advent season, I’ve been grateful for the Immanuel message, but if I’m honest I have really been struggling to feel it. To get it. To live my life as though it’s true, to live my life changed as though it is true. But just now, as I’m pondering all of this and rereading notes, and just sitting with it… there’s some kind of peace. We don’t have to get it, and we don’t have to feel it. But God is still there, and He will always be there. And then going a step further, what if we can start to live our life as though the promise is true, what if we make deliberate decisions to live like God is always with us, even though right this second we can’t feel it and experience it down to our bones? How do we even DO that?

Well, I know that for me, loneliness and isolation and rejection create depression, which then zaps any motivation to put myself out there or to be social or to do things. Almost the self fulfilling prophecy of “I know I’m going to fail at this so why even try”. So, what if – despite feeling that – we do the opposite action, we start to live as though the promise of Immanuel is true? I just know that God so often doesn’t ask us to understand it all or to get it all… He just calls us to trust.

So the gift of people, the gift that historically has been so incredibly apparent but that suddenly is so incredibly absent… I’m grateful for its presence, and dare I say I’m grateful for its… shall we say, slow start here in Richmond.

Because that slow start? It’s been teaching me so many things. It is helping me to remember what it’s like to hear the Lord call you to Himself, to hear Him whisper your name with open arms, reminding you that you don’t have to get it or understand, that He will always be there anyway.

I think back to one of my four poems from early this year, “Poem Four”.
God’s most wonderful orchestrations
His most beautifully personal
displays of power
happen when we least expect.
When we have lost all will to live,
when we are so debilitatingly surrounded
by the deathly weight of hopelessness –
it is then that He works the most.
When we can’t see Him,
when we can’t feel Him,
when we can’t hear Him.
When we can’t imagine life any other way,
and when we cry out and plead,
is our dawn ever fully going to break.
It is then
when we are flat on our face
that God works His miracles.”

When we can’t see or feel or hear Him. Because I’m not going to lie… I have experienced FAR more of that in the last two and a half months than I anticipated. I anticipated that this would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, yes, but I still didn’t think it would be quite so difficult. And in saying that, I’m not quite sure what I expected, what I could have expected… but it certainly wasn’t this.

I didn’t expect that Christmas Eve 2019, a few months into a new life nearly 3,000 miles away, would be the first time that I would ever shed a tear during a sermon, let alone legitimately and fully cry. And as frustrated I am over the heartache that led to that, as frustrated as I am that I spent a long time texting with my mother last night about everything, exhausted from spending such a long time with tears streaming down my face… I’m grateful for it.

See, without these times? God’s presence would never be so real.

When I planned this gift as a part of the twelve, I envisioned it as the gift of the abundance of people God has given me over the years home in California. What I did not anticipate, what I could not have anticipated, is that the opposite would also be true. That I would also be grateful for the gift of the struggle, for the gift of the season of having no choice but to rely on Him. Even as I write that, I feel like I’ve done an awful job of truly relying on Him to be the presence and the peace that I need.

But I think about the few things that HAVE gone right in the last few months, and with all of the external circumstances what they are, it can only be attributed to a faith that has already stood the test of difficult trials. A faith that calls me home over and over and over. And over, because His love never runs out.

A faith that has been and continues to be strengthened by so many of His faithful followers, near and far.

Thank you, God, for the gift of people and community. Thank you for how it has carried me in the past, and thank you for all the beautiful ways in which you will continue to demonstrate this gift – both expected and unexpected.

Thank you for being the ultimate presence… Immanuel. God with us.

Day two – fully known AND fully loved.

Shortly after I moved here I thought it might finally be time to write the letter. A letter that I’ve talked about writing for close to six years now, but a letter that has somehow always managed to escape me, many times despite my best and concrete intentions. Call it what you will – I’ve had a lot going on, denial, I’m just not ready yet… but regardless, I still have yet to write this letter.

It will be six years in January.

Six years since my heart broke in a way that a human heart was never designed to break.

Six years since whatever goodbye I previously had was suddenly painfully staring me in the face.

Six years since the night I heard the news, since so many things were forever ingrained in my memory – holding tight onto people we both knew, holding on for dear life. Shaking. Hoping. Wondering how on earth I would get through life knowing that you wouldn’t be there if I ever needed you.

It’s been almost six years, Jillian. Some days I still can’t believe it. Because even though you were just my therapist? Off the record, between the lines… you were so much more than that. And sitting here, in Virginia, a world away from all of the times and things we did share… I still miss you so much it hurts like hell.

God did not design our hearts for permanent goodbyes.

He did not design us for death.

I think it’s so incredibly vital to remember that scripture tells us to not grieve as those without hope… it doesn’t say “do not grieve”. But that’s another post, another story, another lesson.

Why do I bring up Jillian for this post? Why do I start it with such a painful memory?

Today’s gift is the gift of being fully known AND fully loved. And in all of my journaling and soul searching earlier this year, I came to the realization that Jillian left me with such a beautiful gift. She was the first person with whom I felt genuinely and truly fully known and fully loved. It was in a human way and not in a supernatural Godly way, but it still happened. I still felt it, quite possibly for the first time in my life. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, that lesson and gift she left with me would start paving the way for the most important lesson and gift I could experience… See, when we are fully known and fully loved by our Creator God? We can rest assured in that love because that love is unconditional. It comes with a promise. And on top of all of that? Scripture tells us that God knows us better than we know ourselves.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! …Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether…. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” Psalm 139:1,4,15

These are just a few selected verses from Psalm 139, but they speak to how God knows every single part of us – both the good and the bad.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Here we turn to Romans, to the first verse of arguably one of the most beloved chapters in the entire Bible. Romans 8 is all about, well, exactly what this verse says… there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I know that so many of us in church have heard this verse so many times. But I want you to read it again, and to really ponder it.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Okay… now I’m going to ask you to read it one more time with me (don’t worry, I need to hear it over and over and over myself!). But this time, think about it in the context that Christ Jesus, the one with whom we have no condemnation? Think about it knowing that it’s the same God that David spoke of in Psalm 139, the same God that knows every little detail about us.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Wow. I mean, when we find those people in life that can demonstrate fully known and fully loved to us in human form… it’s a gift, truly. And for some, it’s even a first time gift that helps a person to see that they DO have worth, even if they’re unable to see it until years after the person is no longer in their life.

But when we can see it in the context of a God who still chooses to love us, every day, perfectly, despite knowing all of the horrible human things about us?

That, my friends, is a priceless treasure. One that I want nothing more than to share with the world.

And it’s a gift so valuable that we still celebrate it’s arrival every single year, now over 2000 years later.

Merry Christmas, my dearly loved friends. May you know just how much you are perfectly known and yet desperately loved in this new year.

Day One – Perspective.

Merry Christmas, dear brothers and sisters! Today is a day in which all around the world Christians celebrate the birth of our Savior and of our King. But today – and every day, really – we don’t have to stop at the celebration of His birth! I personally feel that every single day is reason to celebrate not only the birth of Jesus but also His life and ministry on earth, His death on the cross and resurrection, and in some ways perhaps most importantly – what all of that means for you and for me today, December 25th, 2019. And tomorrow. And the next day. And EVERY day until we meet our Savior face to face.

Since being here in Richmond I’ve been attending both services at my home church – traditional worship and contemporary worship. And while I know that I don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why I attend both, when it does come up in conversation… well for starters I love both worship styles. But beyond that and deeper than that, when you’ve seen God radically transform your life in such a beautiful way and in such a short amount of time? Wow. I would love to spend hours worshipping Him in communion with fellow believers on a daily basis if I could, and I’m not one bit kidding. Unfortunately our society doesn’t work like that, but I think you get the idea.

A quote from a dear friend and pastor and author comes to mind… “What happens when you believe you are loved by the Father? Have you noticed? When you believe you are loved by the Father, joy starts to bubble up. You already had an abundance of joy in you, but it wasn’t bubbling up as long as you forgot you are loved”.

Wow. I read that for the first time just recently, and I immediately stopped in my tracks to thank both this friend for sharing the quote but FAR more importantly to thank the Lord for what He has done in my life. See, because of His relentless pursuit of my heart, because of His refusal to see me living a life without any of the joy described above… Because of that, I come to you today able to share my heart. I come to you today to talk about the first amazing gift – the gift of perspective.

“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 8:28

I remember the first time this verse showed up on my radar. I was 13, give or take, and I was seeing the musical Wicked in Chicago. Glinda, one of the two female leads, was being played by a woman of faith, one who loves the Lord. She included this verse in her short bio, and I remember asking my sister Samantha about the verse. I’ve never forgotten that Romans 8:28 is the scripture that this actress chose.

Over the years I’ve become much more familiar with the words. I’ve heard them spoken about many times in sermons and I’ve studied them over and over myself. And over the years the meaning that they have for me personally has changed and morphed, but where it stands today… I’m grateful for it. After all, it’s a great reminder for that perspective that can only come through a faith in God.

I remember somewhere along the way I heard it said this way… God doesn’t cause bad things to happen in our lives. He never intends for us to get hurt physically or emotionally, He never intends for things to break – tangible things, relationships, or anything else. But in His infinite wisdom sometimes He allows things to happen. And although we often can’t understand it, He does call us to trust Him. He calls us to trust that He WILL work things out to bring good from whatever the situation.

For instance – my car accident this summer, hitting a deer in the middle of the night at open interstate speeds. Was God sitting up in heaven ordering the deer to jump in front of my car so that my whole trip would go sideways, so that I would end up being injured and still finishing the rehab six months later? … while we don’t know for sure, I’m going to say likely not.

But because He is God? Well, because He’s God (and I’m NOT!!) and because of the promise of Romans 8:28… He used the painful (yes physically, too!) and backwards situation to help me learn and see some valuable things. I really didn’t start the bulk of rehabbing the injury until early August, and by that time things at home in Santa Rosa were entering full upheaval move. I didn’t have my direction from God to head for Virginia quite yet, but I knew that big change was coming.

And trying to recover from a fairly significant whiplash injury, including a fair amount of physical pain, in the middle of all of that? To say it kept me reliant on God would be an understatement. I mean, I remember journaling one day, super upset that the injury had to happen. Super upset by the physical pain, not to mention the timing of it all. But then I realized… because of all of the events of 2019, if it wasn’t for the injury, it could have been far too easy to take the credit for balancing everything and making the move to Virginia happen.

But throw in an injury? There’s just no way. There is absolutely NO way that I did any of that myself, let alone entirely by myself. So while the injury was still a big pain (quite literally at times), it has kept me humble. It kept things in… perspective. It helped me to see over and over again just how big God is and how much I’m… not.

It’s also perspective, though, that allows me to even see any good and beautiful things that may have come of this injury.

It’s perspective that allows us as Christians to remember – despite His humble appearance as an infant in a manger – the gravity and eternal importance of the holiday we are celebrating today.

This perspective is truly a gift, and it’s one that I can’t imagine my life without.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Yet one more example in scripture of how much God is God, and how much we are not.

Happy birthday, baby Jesus. Thank You for Your wisdom, including the wisdom You had to come to earth as a baby to fulfill Your perfect plan. May we always remember why we celebrate on this holy day.

12 days {gifts} of Christmas.

Well, friends – another year has just about come to a close and Christmas Eve 2019 is upon us. I know that most of the world keeps going nonstop until all of the stores and restaurants close later tonight, but to me that seems a little silly… Yes tomorrow – the 25th – is the actual Christmas holiday. But most churches have their big services and any programs tonight, the 24th. And since Christmas is all about Jesus anyway… I don’t know. I just wish we could have more than one 24 hour period to fully stop and breathe and remember the gift of perfect Peace that came to us so humbly in a stable so many years ago.

So wherever you are, friend, even if you still have three stores to hit and countless presents to wrap yet today… I invite you to take just a moment. Right here, right now. A moment to pause and to reflect and to remember that while the gifts and presents we give can be beautiful expressions of our love for someone… they are not the end all, be all. Christmas could still happen – and it would still be all it needs to be – without a single gift for our sister or for our in laws or even for our kids. So I invite you to breathe… and to remember.

Speaking of gifts, though, today’s post is actually an introduction to a writing project that’s been on my heart and mind for quite some time. As 2019 has progressed and I’ve continued to learn and see what it’s like to live a life free from unnecessary bondage, I’ve come to view the last seven years since high school as an incredible gift from the Lord. And, within that, I’ve come to realize that there are some specific gifts from Him that stick out in my mind. Gifts that would not have come if anything had been different in recent years, but gifts without which I absolutely cannot imagine my life today.

So I invite you on this journey with me… or as I might like to call it, I invite you to join me in exploring my own “12 days of Christmas”. I’ve got a list of twelve things for which I am daily filled with gratitude, and each day between now and January 5th I’m going to take a look at each gift individually. I’ll have some kind of wrap up post then on the 6th, on Epiphany… on a day where we can remember when the Christ Child received the gifts from the magi.

I’ll see you along the way, friend. Here’s to new beginnings, surrendering to Jesus, seeing the beauty in ashes… and, most importantly, here’s to the birth of our Savior all those years ago.

Merry Christmas Eve.