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.

A year later? He still does wonderful things.

A year later, He’s still doing Wonderful Things.

I remember that morning like it was yesterday.

The navy dress pants and light blue button-down shirts seem like a lifetime ago, having been in Richmond and working out on the ramp for just over seven months.

What also seems like a lifetime ago? Waking up every day and wanting to die. Not just the random, fleeting thought that comes on occasion because life is hard. I’m talking about the all consuming depression that bleeds into daily suicidal ideation. The hopelessness that, no matter what you do, how hard you try, or how things might look like they have changed… they really haven’t. You still can’t be around sharp objects, you still want to die. All the time.

But while so much about life in Santa Rosa – including that debilitating aspect of my mental illness – seems like a lifetime ago… I remember that Monday morning in May like it was yesterday.

Let’s take a visit for a moment…

Having gone home to sleep a little more after working a 4am shift for a 6am flight, pulling myself back out of bed felt the usual impossible – like lead blankets were willing me to stay under the covers. I changed back into my work uniform of a blue top and navy pants, I pulled my long blonde hair back into a tight bun, and made my way downstairs.

Hunger was slowly starting to eat at my insides, but time only allowed for breakfast on the road this Monday morning. Again, it was the usual, typical Monday – cold cereal to take with me. The moment I sat back down in my car, clicked my seatbelt, and started my fifteen minute drive to the airport, I took a deep breath. Getting going in the mornings might be tough for me, but I could at least have the few minutes between Woodsage Way and the Santa Rosa Airport – no stress or running late could take those minutes of peace away.

That particular Monday morning, as I was pulling out to go work our Denver flight, I played the new worship song that was quickly becoming a favorite. “Wonderful Things” by Highlands Worship had been in my church’s set the previous day, and already it was speaking volumes to my soul. There was something different about that Monday morning… a hope that hadn’t been there in a long time, if ever. Our pastor’s words and sermon the day before stirred something in me. Like I said, it was a new kind of hope. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something about it felt… different. I was hoping, willing with everything in me that maybe it really would be different this time.

As I pulled from highway 12 onto 101 north, the typical Monday morning traffic, the inevitable merge and slowdown threatened to make me late for work. My focus on the road never wavered, but I also did all I could to continue singing those words over my spirit.

“God of all power, King of all glory… You do wonderful things.”

The speed of my red Toyota Yaris began to pick back up as the traffic thinned out. I pulled forward, merging fully to head north towards the airport, and the song continued…

“God of all creation, King of our salvation… You do wonderful things.”

I knew this song would forever be a part of my story, though I had yet to fully understand or see how. As I listened to the words continue, I began thinking to what I had written in my journal the day before.

“God, it all still feels really foggy and confusing… the idea that it is Your power and YOURS ALONE that will break my chains… like, relying on You to help me accept Your love and grace in a very real way? Letting You rescue me in regards to my relationship with You? It feels weird… like, how does that even work?

But… You’re God. I’m not. And if your power can raise the dead to life, who am I to do anything but simply trust?”

After I had penned those words listening to the sermon in church the day before, in many ways I had started to ask myself – “what do I have to lose?” Taking that first step out in faith, saying “okay, I’m not sure how this is gonna work, but I have to trust that You’ve got it, God”… what’s the worst that could happen as a result?

This was all running through my head, and as it did, I imagined what it would be like if I could actually live life each and every day as if this was all true – that yes, God loves and forgives me, Mary Rachel.

As I passed exit after exit as I did every time I drove north to the airport, an image regarding all of this popped into my head. Say I really did believe this… say I really started to believe it in the depths of my soul, so much so that it might as well be tattooed on my forearm as a permanent reminder…

“When You move in power, a miracle can happen. We believe You do wonderful things. You are here with us, and anything can happen. We believe You do wonderful things.”

I began to picture a tattoo of this truth. Someplace where I could see it all the time. A tattoo… something permanent, that never changes, that can never go away – no matter how hard I might try.

What’s so crazy… as I began to picture this tattoo, as I continued asking myself “what do I have to lose” in letting God in, in living my life and making choices each and every day like I believe it’s all true…

The Airport Blvd exit came, and I pulled off and turned left off of the highway with a green light. I was almost to work now, thankfully I was going to have a few minutes to sit in my car before I would have to go inside and start my shift.

Thank goodness – because as I held that mental image, the image of the tattoo, of something permanent and irrefutable… I felt it.

Now before I go any further, a caveat. I know that God’s truth is God’s truth, whether we feel it or not. Our feelings, while perfectly valid and having a true need to be acknowledged, should never dictate fully how we live our lives.

But guys… I felt it.
Like… really, really felt it.
It was the briefest moment, so mundane. But as I said… I remember that morning like it was yesterday. Why? Because it’s the morning that everything changed.

Having a few minutes before I needed to go clock in, I pulled out my phone and wrote down a few thoughts so I could remember the moment…

“Monday, May 6, 2019
10am - Santa Rosa Airport parking lot

I think I might be starting to get it. Like, really get it.

The sermon this weekend was powerful. And the realization that, despite my hesitancies and doubts and walls and despite how much I have been pushing away and distancing myself... I have EVERYTHING I need to experience the healing I need in Jesus. The healing I have needed for even longer than I can remember. I am free to lean into the true power of the cross and the empty tomb to break down my walls of fear and doubt. And, what amazes me so incredibly, is how God has been letting that happen even before I came square in the face with the realization that I did yesterday.

As I type this, my heart is pounding. I’m a little shaky. I’ve got my current anthem on repeat, Wonderful Things... when God moves in His power, a miracle can happen.

And boy, is it ever.

As I drove down Airport Blvd just now, I thought to myself... is this what true freedom in Christ feels like? The freedom to say, okay, I’m downright exhausted. Dare I say even feeling a little bit of the depression. But simultaneously, I know that I can never do ANYTHING to make God love me any more, and I can never do ANYTHING to make Him love me any less. And maybe, just maybe, believing that.

The cross and the empty tomb are the biggest, most mind blowing examples of that love. And what if I rest in that love? What would happen?

Well, this might happen. This... this feeling of my heart pounding and my hands shaking because never in my wildest dreams did I think I would feel this free. This free to struggle... this free to hope... this free to live. To live despite my human failures and stupidness, despite my human sin, because all along I have had everything I will EVER need in the true power of the cross... and the death defeating power of the empty grave.

I’m still in shock at this whole thing. And now, like, how in the hell am I supposed to go inside and clock in and work??! All I want to do right now is cry and sing and praise Jesus. Because, my goodness...

He really does do Wonderful Things.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father... [that you] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints... the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge...
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us...”
Ephesians 3:14, 18a, 19a, 20”

Most of you who know me that my idea behind the tattoo from that morning went on to become a reality. It has been affectionately nicknamed my “permanent post it note”, because that’s essentially why it is there – to remind me of what I know to be true. To remind me that am fully known and fully loved. Let me tell you, it has done its job many times. And it continues to do its job, sometimes daily. I tell people that I got the tattoo for a reason, that it’s actually a quite practical piece!

But in all seriousness for a minute. As that Monday continued to play out, and as days turned into weeks… something really was different. I was at cautious at first, so very cautious. I had thought something was finally “different” far too many times, only to have my hopes come crashing and burning down to the ground. I had grown so weary of hope because things would always go back to the way they were… if not even worse. I couldn’t afford that crash and burn again, I really couldn’t.

Thankfully God knew that. Because that Monday morning… things really were different.

Even though I could actually feel it, though? I don’t think I had ANY idea just how different they really were.

Because here we are, a year later.
I’m working as lead ramp agent in Richmond, Virginia.
I live in my own apartment.
My parents live in Boise, Idaho.
… and God is continuing to blow my mind day after day AFTER DAY.

Now I want to go over that list again, explaining why each statement is just beyond insane, even a full year later.

  • I’m working as lead ramp agent in Richmond, Virginia. (At the time all of this healing began in March 2019, I had been applying for SSDI – permanent disability. I didn’t think I would ever work full time again because of my mental illnesses. Not only that, but I’m living somewhere other than Santa Rosa – where all of my people and churches and doctors and everything familiar… I left it all behind when I moved.)
  • I live in my own apartment. (Up until a year ago, perhaps even more recently, I had always written off this possibility because I felt it would be a huge safety hazard, that there would be to much of a suicide or self harm risk. Well, not anymore.)
  • My parents live in Boise, Idaho. (My single two biggest supporters, cheerleaders, rockstars. I still don’t know how all of this is still moving forward with them 2,000 miles away, but God promises to supply our EVERY need – and He is doing just that, day after day after day.)

In recent sessions my therapist has asked me what it would be like to think about my life a year from now. I know that he is probably referencing goal setting, having a healthy balance between looking back and looking ahead, that kind of thing. But every time he asks me, all I can reply with is “okay, let’s not break Mary…” … and then I laugh. With joy.

Because I think back to a year ago. And yes, a year ago that was a week after that Monday morning in May. Even at that point I don’t think any of us could have imagined what God was going to do, how He was going to move, all of the beauty that He would bring our way.

And yet… here we are.

As I say regarding that precious tattoo on my left forearm, “there’s a reason I got it tattooed, and there’s a reason I got it there”.

And there’s a good reason that Ephesians 3:20 continues to be a life verse for me.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…”

Brothers and sisters, friends… may you always remember just how loved you are, and that in that love, we are free to live – loved. Deeply, deeply loved. 

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.

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 seven – 2019.

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…
BUT GOD.

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.