What REALLY happens when we say yes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… Immanuel.
God with us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t. But He can.”

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

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

somehow, He keeps making a way.

It’s been a week now since the PTSD first appeared at work, and nearly a week since I reacted in any significant way. The ten hour shift on Sunday came and went, and I felt… dare I say it, relatively unscathed.

I’m walking to my car, having a conversation with my co worker. The co worker who has expressed to me that he’s against religion because of all the hypocrisy in the church, the co worker with whom I’ve had some tension, but the co worker who just now wanted me to wait for him so that he would have company walking to his car at 1am.

I’m just about there… and then I hear it.
LOUD.
… a train.
The horn.
It’s really, really loud.

The walk to my car is maybe halfway over when I first hear it. As soon as it sounds, I’m not immediately triggered – I’m just pissed. Really, really pissed.

Why did it have to come? Why did I have to hear it now, as I’ve almost made it through the night unscathed?

I hear it again.
The anger in me rises.
I can’t handle it.
I just can’t.

I continue the conversation like nothing is wrong. I don’t say anything about it to him. In all honesty, it’s probably a good thing I was with someone when I heard it.

The long, cold walk is over, and I get into my car. I sit for a bit… reflecting. Stewing.

As I said, I’m angry.
This whole thing has left me incredibly angry.
Why does my safe place, my workplace, the place that brings me such JOY… why does it have to go and get spoiled simply because the train nearby is making noise?

The phrase repeats itself in my head, the phrase that’s been swirling around since this all began last week…

“That is who You are.”

Okay God, but this is just so… so stupi-

“That is who You are.”

It’s just so frustrating, nearly everything that formerly was a suicide trigger now triggers a very real trauma response. Textbook PTSD.

“My God… that is who You are.”

Fast forward nearly another week. Preparing for my work week, I’m grateful to be feeling… normal again. I haven’t felt this much like myself, this depression free in weeks.

But as my last night before I work again draws to a close… the anxiety sets in again. Perhaps because I’m thinking about it, reaching out and asking people to pray. Is this all in my head? Am I making it worse than it needs to be?

“That is who You are.”

I can’t get over that phrase. I don’t know why, but it just will not leave my brain.

So I ask myself… who is God?

  • Way maker – when there is no way, He does it anyway. He makes the impossible… possible. 2019 was my impossible, and yet it happened.
  • Miracle worker – after what God did a year ago, I firmly and fervently believe that He is still very much in the business of miracles, they just might look different than when He walked this earth.
  • Promise keeper – what He says, He will do. It’s as simple as that. I could look at just a small portion of my life and I would be able to tell you so many ways in which He has kept His promises.
  • Light in the darkness – even in the darkest of rooms, the darkest of nights… the flashlight or candle that, during the day, seemed incredibly dim? Suddenly that light is brighter than anything I’ve ever seen. He is the light that wants to shine in on our darknesses.

As I write, thinking to myself about how all of those names and titles for God apply in my own life… am I still anxious for work? 

Yes.
I don’t want to hear that train.
I really, really don’t want to hear that train.
I don’t want to get triggered.
I want to just… get over this.
I want to enjoy my job, I want to continue finding great joy in it.

That joy… the joy that, a year ago, I feared would never come.

So my heart still beats a little faster when I think about work tomorrow, yes.

“That is who You are…”

It slows again.
So does my breathing.

“You are here…
Touching every heart.
Healing every heart.
Turning lives around.
Mending every heart.”

God doesn’t promise that I won’t hear the train tomorrow.
He doesn’t promise that I won’t react, that the trauma response won’t come.

I will carry Immanuel with me to work tomorrow.
And I will be okay.

Because my God?
That’s who He is.

when the wordsmith loses her words…

speechless
adjective
1. unable to speak
2. not speaking
3. not capable of being expressed in words

This past weekend I traveled for the first time since moving to Virginia, and in preparation for the time on the flights I found some new (old!) playlists on Spotify. In the process I re-stumbled upon a song off of an album that I listened to when I was young… and as so often can happen, the song hit me in a whole new way.

“And I am Speechless
I’m astonished and amazed
I am silenced by your wondrous grace.
You have saved me
You have raised me from the grave.
And I am Speechless
In your presence now.
I’m astounded as I consider how
You have shown us the love that leaves us speechless.”

The song is “Speechless” by Steven Curtis Chapman, off of his album of the same name that was released in 1999. I’ve always loved the song and the album (youth group jams to “Dive” anyone??!), but given my recent life experiences… well, to put it plainly, I now know what it’s like to be genuinely and completely speechless in light of God’s miraculous rescue and grace.

I think it’s rather ironic that as I’ve moved through a season of becoming truly speechless in my response to God’s forgiveness and love, I have also been leaning into the piece of Mary that is a writer and a wordsmith. One such clue is how, as I’ve come more and more to realize that my primary love language is words, any time I make that comment to someone that knows me even a little bit… I’m met with one big, “no DUH!” and a laugh.

But really. What can we make of the moment when the wordsmith and the writer is left utterly speechless? For one, I feel in some ways like a fish out of water. I almost don’t know what to do. I mean, my number one skill and trade with which God has gifted me to tell my story, HIS story?

Words.

So learning how to lean into that posture of, well… speechlessness… it’s a bit of a paradox.

But then I think about where I was a year ago. Because the Mary of early 2019? She was genuinely unsure of how much longer she would be alive. There were never any concrete plans made on my part to… well, you know, put an end to my pain. But really, the headspace I was in? It was even scarier than if I had had a plan, because I was just so bitter and resigned and angry.

So… to be here. In Virginia. A year later. Not only not wanting to die, but wanting to live. To really, really live. And then on top of all of that? being excited for this crazy, beautiful life God has for me.

I mean, if that doesn’t leave a person speechless and breathless in gratitude and awe, I’m really not sure what else would.

The second verse of the song ends this way…
“To know you rejoice over us
The God of this whole universe.
It’s a story too great for words…”

And I think this can be a beautiful reminder. Because while I can lean into and utilize the gift that God has given me – words – to continue telling this incredible story… there’s something to be said for what those speechless moments can do. Whether they are just between us and the Lord, whether they are as we minister and love someone else, whether they are when someone is showing us the love and presence we need… the concept of “the ministry of presence”? It’s good stuff. There’s a reason that it’s demonstrated to us all throughout scripture.

Sometimes, even for the wordsmith and writer, the speechless moments can be the most beautiful. So as I move into this next season of my life and this next season in Richmond, I will try to remind myself that it’s okay to not know how to respond. I know and trust and believe that we really do have a God that, more than any good work or eloquent prayer… He just wants us. A relationship. He went all the way to death on a cross for that relationship, and He would have done it for just one of us.

In less than a month here I will be hitting all of the “one year ago…” milestones.

One year since that conversation when I finally said out loud what I had been wondering for so long.
One year since I finally started to have clarity on the demons and bondage that really needed to be addressed.
One year since I last took a sharp object to my skin.
One year since I broke up with those sharp objects once and for all.
And, ultimately, one year since I woke up with a spirit that was characterized by intense darkness and heaviness…
One year since I woke up and genuinely wanted to die.

In conversation with my therapist later I mentioned how I’m thinking it will be good to set in place safeguards and support in the coming months as I anticipate a possible increase of some kind in the trauma symptoms (trauma of nearly losing my battle with mental illness so many times). He challenged my “maybe they will happen” with a “they WILL happen”, and then reminded me that it’s all about how we prepare and then respond. So… I guess I can start with the reminder that sometimes it’s really okay to be left completely speechless. In the good times and the bad times, it really is okay to just sit with the presence of the Lord. To let Him have it – the anger. The overwhelm. The questions. The fear. The gratitude.

All of it.

Because… He’s heard it all. Really.
All of it.

And despite the fact that He’s heard it all and knows everything about every single one of us?

Despite all of that, He loves us.
We are His.
And NOTHING could ever change that.

Full lyrics to “Speechless” by Steven Curtis Chapman

My words fall like drops of rain.
My lips are like clouds.
I’ve said so many things, trying to figure you out.
As mercy opens my eyes, my words are stolen away.
With this breathtaking view of your grace…

And I am Speechless
I’m astonished and amazed
I am silenced by your wondrous grace.
You have saved me
You have raised me from the grave.
And I am Speechless
In your presence now.
I’m astounded as I consider how
You have shown us the love that leaves us speechless.

So what kind of love can this be
That will trade heaven’s throne for a cross
To think that you still celebrate
For finding just one who was lost.
To know you rejoice over us
The God of this whole universe.
It’s a story too great for words…

Oh how great is the love
The Father has lavished upon us,
That we should be called the sons and daughters of God

We are speechless
(We stand in awe of your grace)
so amazed
(We stand in awe of your mercy)
You have saved us
(We stand in awe of your love)
from the grave
(We are speechless)

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 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.

freedom… and not just the political kind.

freedom
noun
liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another

It’s the 4th of July today, so naturally the subject of freedom has been on my mind most of the day. Most people speak of freedom today in the context of the freedom we have here in the United States. Some people have no idea the gravity of the religious freedom upon which this country was founded, but I think some people do still truly appreciate the religious freedom that men and women have fought to gain and keep for the last 200+ years – and that they still fight for today.

Continue reading “freedom… and not just the political kind.”