the current writings

Day two – fully known AND fully loved.

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

It will be six years in January.

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

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

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

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

God did not design our hearts for permanent goodbyes.

He did not design us for death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day One – Perspective.

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

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

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

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

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 days {gifts} of Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas Eve.

How big is our God?

Get out of the boat and walk on the water
Get out of the boat and take His hand
Get out of the boat and walk on the water
He will be with you in whatever you may do
He will help you stand
On the blue waters of life, my friend
He will help you stand

For last night and most of today, I’ve had this song stuck in my head. It’s a Sunday school song that I remember singing years ago – it could be the catchy melody, it could be from remembering some of the actions, it could be since it speaks of such a well known story… but it’s a song I’ve never forgotten.

Earlier today I sat in on the final week of a book study – “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat” by John Ortberg. Today we discussed the final chapter, chapter 10 of 10, entitled “How Big is Your God?” And, oh my goodness… how timely for me right now. I was able to read it last night, and I am so grateful I did. It’s such a good reminder that the moment we think God is anything less than He is, the moment we start to doubt or question His power… that’s when we put God in a box, and that’s when things start to, well, not work so well. It also talked about how worship of our God and Creator is really the only appropriate response; it reminds us just how big He really is.

I think so many of us have heard the phrase or expression to “put God in a box”. But do we know what that really means? Can we know what that really means until we’ve lived it, until we hit rock bottom and realize that the only way back out is to take God out of the box?

I know that’s what it took for me.

So I think it’s no accident that last night, prior to reading this chapter, I decided to rewatch a sermon at my church in California from back in May. While watching it I also took a peek at the notes I wrote that day, because it was the following day that my plane landed, that I finally started to internalize God’s love for ME, and that my life changed forever. Upon going through the notes and watching the sermon, a phrase I wrote stuck out to me…

“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?”

Wow. The sermon that day was titled “Power vs. Pretending”. And that quote? Those were the last words I wrote in my journal that day. The following morning, less than 24 hours later, after weeks of struggling and questioning and upon the return of such devastating hopelessness… It all changed. And I got it.

It’s been over six months, and now I’m living in Virginia. The whole move has been a testament to God’s faithfulness and goodness, but six weeks in… to say things are going differently than I expected would be an understatement. I anticipated difficulty upon moving, sure. After all – it’s not every day that you pack up and leave behind everyone and everything you’ve ever known and move 3,000 miles away. But while I anticipated difficulty… I couldn’t have predicted this. No one could have, really.

Due to some factors that could be within human control as well as some that are most definitely NOT within human control, I’ve experienced symptoms and even relapsed and regressed far more than I would like to admit. In the last few days I’ve been able to see it for what it is and even start seeing why things may have happened this way.

But that doesn’t take away the pain.
The heartache.
The frustration.
The questions.
The… the shame. Yes, the shame.

It’s been hard to know how best to move forward. Well… to start moving forward.

But then I read my words last night for the first time in over six months, for the first time since I wrote them.

“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?”

Wow. God knew I needed that, and He knew I needed the chapter and discussion this morning. It’s helped me to get grounded again, grounded in perspective – His perspective. That’s one of the biggest gifts and take aways from this spring… perspective.

As I’ve been pondering all of this, last night a dear friend commented on how much she loves the peace God gives me, that she’s having a hard time with it herself right now. So, being a writer, I immediately began pondering how I could put my peace from the Lord into words.

And, well… it’s basically this. Wee shouldn’t trust God instead of ever fearing, questioning, or worrying. Of course He calls us to move away from these things – He wouldn’t tell us not to fear so may times if He didn’t! But to use my word… it’s about shifting the perspective.

What if it’s not about trusting INSTEAD of fearing.
What if it’s about trusting IN SPITE of fearing.

Basically to say… yes, I’m worried. I’m anxious. Any rational human being would be in this situation. But I’m going to spend all the energy I have looking to Jesus, and to Him alone. I’m not going to spend energy trying to get rid of my anxiety… no, that’s God’s job. Not mine.

However – I am going to choose to trust. I’m going to put more energy into trusting than into worrying. In fact, I’m going to put ALL of my energy into trusting. And eventually… we might just forget about that fear and that worry. And besides, if we have any part at all in getting rid of that anxiety? Well… we won’t, because as long as we’re trying, the anxiety is not going to budge. It’s not until we let God fight our battles FOR us and not WITH us that He starts to move our mountains.

So as I’m here in Virginia, seemingly more questions than answers right now, I would be foolish to say that I don’t have questions or that I’m not anxious. I would be foolish to say that I haven’t started to ask God why He brought me all the way out here just to feel like I’m nearly back where I started. But I would ALSO be foolish not to look to Jesus. To worship Him for His goodness and faithfulness and mercy and love… to thank for Him for all that He has done. Because in doing all of that? I remember just how big He really is. And when I remember how big He is, I remember what He has done in my life, and how on so many different occasions He’s come through with far more than I could have asked or imagined!

Both last week and this week, the pastor leading the book/Bible study has asked the group, “Where is God calling you to get out of the boat?” I haven’t said anything, but I’ve wanted to raise my hand with an “Umm, well, I’m here, aren’t I??”. Because really, me moving to Virginia has been a big step out of the boat. And as this pastor put it when he talked about his own take-aways from the book, “The point of the story from Matthew 14 is not that Peter was bold enough to walk on water. The point is that Jesus rescued him when his faith faltered”.

Wow.
So as things have gone differently here in Richmond, as I’ve questioned and asked why and just been so confused… I remember Jesus’s promise that He will ALWAYS be there to stretch His hand out, to lift us up, to rescue us.

I remember that this big, amazing, incredible, awe-inspiring God of the universe has given us the promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us – even if that means going all the way to the cross.

And it did. He went to the cross not just for everyone else in the world… but for me, too. He went for Mary Rachel.

And if that’s not a reason to worship Him with not just our songs but with our lives as well… I don’t know what is.

Be blessed and be loved, my dear friends.

the RVA post…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

reflections from a girl who wanted to die (but no longer does)

It’s no secret that mental illness is becoming more and more common. We are being told new statistics all the time, high schools are becoming more and more active in the fight against teen anxiety and depression, and some days it seems as though everywhere you go there is some evidence of this darkness – this demon – called mental illness.

So there’s a lot of awareness, yes. But as someone who walked the road for so long and who still does in many ways… awareness does not always equal the support and the community that we need. Sometimes it does, yes. But depression in its very nature seeks to isolate you. It seeks to take away all the things you hold dear and it seeks to truly terrorize you. I’ve had to learn so much about reaching out and communicating my needs, and much of that has come just in the last few months.

It’s interesting, though. Because when you live nearly your entire life with one normal, one constant battle, one thought and demon that seeks to destroy you – the thought of wanting to end your own life – when that’s all you ever really know, what happens when one day you wake up and everything is different? Granted, mine was maybe a two month process (from realizing what needed to happen until the day it all started to make sense). But still – when you’re comparing that time frame to seven years, if not closer to fifteen years – it seems like no time at all.

So, back to the question – what happens when you wake up one day and everything is different? Well, first of all, you learn even MORE just how important it is to rest and to take care of yourself. You learn to be gentle with yourself and to appreciate that your body, for the first time in probably close to fifteen years, can finally relax and leave that constant state of hyper-vigilance behind.

Then as you begin to move forward… you realize that the phrase “nothing will ever be the same” could not ring more true. I mean, just looking at my symptoms – they haven’t gone completely away. Not even close. But it HAS been vastly different because now I feel worthy of using the coping skills that I do have. The symptoms have been here… I’ve been exhausted and experienced depression and this last weekend even started to feel a pull to some old negative coping skills… but yet, things are different – because I didn’t give in, because I’m still here. Because I let God help me through it.

And the biggest difference? Yes all of the same shit still happens. It does – that’s just life. But the biggest difference that is still present? I no longer have the desire to die.

HOLD UP.
WAIT.
WHAT DID MARY JUST SAY??!

Yeah… you heard me. I don’t want to die anymore. It’s crazy, because in all honesty I never thought I would be able to say that – just ask those who are closest to me. But I mean, not only can I say that… I’ve been able to say that now for almost five months. And if that’s not a miracle of God, I don’t know what is.

September is national suicide prevention month, and for the first time I have walked through this month with an entirely different perspective. For once in my life I can say and truly believe that it can and it will get better. Even looking back, knowing what I know now… I don’t know if I would ever say that to someone in exactly those words. Because it was those same words that had me bitter and angry and resigned and that would honestly leave me more and more hopeless every time I heard them.

I want to come back to the question… what happens when you wake up one day and everything is different, when for the first time in fifteen years you don’t want to die? Well, one result is that you’re now walking through life with a different kind of burden. You’re walking through life with a burden that is hard to describe and that is so hard for others to understand. For myself, I have found that since that Monday morning in May I just view the world so very differently. I mean, when you have a near death experience that lasts that long (on and off, but still), it leaves you scarred. So when I say “nothing will ever be the same”… I don’t just mean the changes that have come from realizing and being able to internalize that I am fully known AND fully loved by our God of the universe. That is a big change and that is life changing, yes.

But I will also never see people the same. I will never not hurt for someone who is hurting. I will never be able to look at my own life without getting overwhelmed with gratitude, with “what ifs”, with the “almosts”… And, coming back to a point from earlier in this post, that can leave someone incredibly isolated and lonely. It’s a different kind of loneliness, yes… I no longer want to die, and being able to say that gives me so much joy. But I am walking through each day with a different kind of burden. Life is a process, and so I will forever be working on giving this burden over to the Lord. But it still just blows my mind that I was so close so many times. I tell people all the time that more than likely, per statistics, I shouldn’t be here. Plain and simple. I should not be alive.

So tonight, I close out suicide awareness month having walked through it with a completely different perspective. I am preparing for the move out to Virginia (another post to come soon), and God in His just absolute awesomeness has orchestrated it all so that there is a community “Out of the Darkness Walk” through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Richmond in just a few weeks. But not only that… It’s on my birthday. You guys, it’s on my birthday. I get to celebrate all that God has done by bringing me out from the darkness of a life colored by suicide ON MY FREAKING BIRTHDAY.

God is good. There’s just no other way around it. Life hurts, yes. Sometimes it really sucks and even starts to hurt like hell. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t good or that He doesn’t love us.

And being able to proclaim those truths over our lives – God is good, loving, kind, so many others – in no way negates the realness of our pain or the fact that life this side of heaven is just plain hard.

All it means is that He is here… with us, in the muck, and in the pain.

What a paradox, yes. But what a beautiful, life changing, and life SAVING truth.

if I told you my story…

The song came out about four years ago. I was working at Family Christian bookstores at the time, and I remember that I really liked the song at the time. I bought the CD, it played a whole lot in my car. It spoke to me then… it speaks to me now. Little did I know, though, just how much it would speak to me four years later – August 2019.

The song in question? “My Story” by Big Daddy Weave. It’s off their album “Beautiful Offerings”, released in September 2015. As I mentioned, I was working at Family Christian at the time, so the song was on our store soundtrack for a while. My life until that point had been difficult, and I had already faced some incredibly dark moments. When I think about the seven years after high school, I mentally divide it into three loose sections… 2012-2014 was the first hard section, 2015-2016 was the “middle” section – still dealing with the dark demons of mental illness but making it through okay – and then 2017-2019 was my never ending hell that, praise Jesus, ended with His miraculous intervention in my life.

So, operating off of that, the song came out when things were relatively… okay. I mean, that Christmas season was difficult. I remember that on more than one occasion I had to ask my manager at Family Christian to lock up the box cutters, but she was such a gift… she would do so without asking any questions, and I always knew that she was praying for me on those days that were especially hard. Over the last few years I have remained aware of the song, but when I heard it again today on the radio (and mind you I hardly EVER have the radio on in the car anymore!)… it hit me. In a new way, in a beautiful way. In a way like never before.

2019 has brought about a turn in my story that I never expected. I never even thought it was possible, so why even think about it? But, as a result of God’s incredible intervention this year, so many doors of opportunity have opened for both myself and for my parents. And, not to say that those doors weren’t there at all before, but… with all that has happened this year, let’s just say some of the doors that were there before are now FAR more realistic. For instance? The door that leads to my parents and myself no longer being a household of three.

See… my whole life is about to change. And this is probably going to be the hardest and most significant change I have ever walked through. My parents are moving to Idaho, and I am hoping to stay here in Santa Rosa. That, or I am hoping to transfer somewhere with my company… but we don’t have any availability in Idaho. So, even if I left Santa Rosa, I more than likely will not be following my parents up to Boise. I’ve lived with my parents as just the household of us three for thirteen years now… that’s about half my life. Six years of school and then the seven years after high school. And not only have I lived with them by myself for so long (older sisters moved out), but we are all very close. The three of us have walked through some hell together, mostly surrounding my battle with depression and mental illness. We haven’t always gotten along, no, but they have always had my back. They have always supported me in ways I never could have imagined. They have always been my own personal rockstars.

Back to my story… actually, well, HIS story. Him being Jesus. Since my plane landed in May, and since things have continued to unfold and show that there might be something to this plane landing, I have wanted nothing more than to share with others and to love others as He has loved me. I have begun having maybe even LESS direction about my career and my future, less tangible direction. I know now more than ever that it is my heart’s desire to do something with my life that brings glory to Him in a beautiful way and allows me to love and support others with the wisdom He has blessed me with. I want to be His vessel of grace, His instrument of peace.

So… what exactly does the future hold? I honestly have no idea. I’ve never had less of an idea! But at the same time… I’ve never had a peace like this. An excited, “I cannot WAIT to see what God does because even though it’s going to be hard it’s going to be beautiful” kind of peace. And if my parents had planned to move even nine months ago? I would have felt so differently. So as I still sometimes get anxious about my future or what’s going to happen, all I have to do is look again at my story. HIS story. The story of His beautiful rescue and relentless pursuit of a daughter who was hurting and lost.

If I look at the lyrics of the song, so many phrases and words convey so beautifully what my heart wants to share. “If I told you my story, you would here hope that wouldn’t let go… love that never gave up… victory over the enemy…” WOW. All of those things have shown up in my life this year, and they have shown up in some big ways. Because we have a big God. Two of my favorite words, two words that appear in scripture at least once… “but God.” BUT GOD! Ladies and gentlemen, just when we think all hope is lost, God shows up. And more often than not, He shows up in some pretty incredible and miraculous ways.

I could go on and on and ON about the small ways that I have seen God just this year, but for now I will just say this… my story is HIS story, and it is His now more than ever before.

I knew I wanted to close this post with a scripture, and given the subject of my post and the timing and all that is happening in my life… there is really only one option. It is a verse I have grown up hearing my dad say from the pulpit – actually a prayer I have heard him pray from the pulpit – as he begins every single sermon. And given that, more than likely, I am drawing towards the end of having pastor dad in my every day life… I felt it was an obvious choice. Psalm 19:14…

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Amen.
It is so.
It is so yesterday, it is so today, and it will be so forevermore.
Amen.

If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine
If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

If I told you my story
You would hear victory over the enemy
And if I told you my story
You would hear freedom that was won for me
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life overcome the grave
If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

This is my story, this is my song
Praising my savior all the day long
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my savior all the day long
For the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck… it’s a fishbowl?

I’ve wanted to write this particular blog post for quite a long time. In fact, I came up with my creative title nearly a month ago – on the night I hit a deer in Wisconsin. Don’t ask me why; don’t ask me how I remember all of that. But the reality? Even long before I had my title, I had been wanting to write this post and share this piece of my heart. In very recent days, though, I’ve come to realize that there has been a lot of fear involved for me in putting this out there. I’m not entirely sure how some people might respond, and the LAST thing I ever want to do is hurt someone. But when a lesson, a truth, a lightbulb moment… when it’s burned and ingrained into your heart in a very deep and passionate way, there comes a point when you decide that, enough is enough, and you take that step of faith knowing that the Lord will be with you.

So, now you’re probably pretty curious. A random, albeit creative, title… talking about fear behind finally sharing this piece… what on earth could this be about? Well, dear friends, today I’m going to address what is commonly known in the church as the “PK fishbowl effect”. For anyone who isn’t familiar with this term, the first thing to know is that PK refers to “pastor’s kid”. So, yes, my dad is a pastor. And while he became a pastor after I was born, I was so young at the time that I hardly remember any different. The fishbowl effect then is basically referencing how, very often in a church, the pastor’s family is known very well by pretty much the entire congregation. Sometimes TOO well. In some cases it can become an extremely negative thing… bringing with it large doses of legalism and forgetting the true heart of the gospel, the grace of Jesus Christ.

But in my story, thankfully I did not have to endure growing up in such an environment. My home church (St. Mark) has been nothing but wonderful and supportive to me and my parents over the years, even in the years after high school when I slowly began attending the church that I am now at every Sunday. People have been and still are offering so much support by way of prayer and encouragement. So when thinking about St. Mark, legalism is the LAST word that comes to mind.

However, when I graduated high school and began to experience the extreme darkness and intense struggle with mental illness, I also began to feel uncomfortable worshipping and being around St. Mark. I can’t tell you why – as I said, everyone there has been so amazing over the years. But as much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t do it. Since I’m the kind of person who will do whatever it takes to be in church one way or another, I began attending another church in town (not my other current one) with some family friends from high school. They helped to provide me with a safe space to worship and just be and to ask God about why this was all happening. Eventually, thought, I got more and more connected with what is now my regular church – Spring Hills.

Time kept moving, and over the years I went back and forth. Slowly, more and more, Spring Hills has become my “home away from home” church. I’ve been very involved there and I have met some amazing people there. For the longest time I thought the primary reason for my church shift had to do with the music and the worship style. Last November, however, that all changed. And as that all changed, I began to ask myself some questions, and eventually that led to a lightbulb moment that played a critical role in landing my plane… yes, a lightbulb moment about that PK fishbowl effect.

When I was in South Dakota last November, I decided that I would attend a nearby Lutheran Church for my weekend worship. There were a variety of reasons, one of which being the small world and homey feeling that the LCMS has provided over the years. (At this particular church I didn’t manage to find a personal connection, but had I been there long enough, I have no doubt something would have turned up!) The first Saturday night I attended, I was a bit caught off guard by the traditional worship. I’m not sure what I was thinking… after all, this is a Lutheran Church in South Dakota. Traditional worship is probably the norm there. Regardless, though, that first night really struck me. I actually enjoyed the hymns and traditional worship, and maybe even in a way like never before. I even felt like that church could be home if I ended up moving. My time in South Dakota ended up being very abruptly cut short due to my health, so I was only at this church one other time. But even in such a short amount of time, it left its impact on me. If left me wondering and questioning, is the music truly the biggest and main reason for my migration to attend regularly at Spring Hills? Or was there something else?

Fast forward, and we’re gearing up for Easter this year (2019). Having realized in South Dakota that I was actually missing the hymns and traditional worship, as soon as I saw on Facebook that a local ELCA (Lutheran) church was putting on a beautiful cantata with traditional music on Good Friday… I knew I wanted to go. I knew I needed to go. I talked about it with a few people ahead of time – including my high school choir director who would be singing that night – but I didn’t make a definitive decision to go until that night. More specifically, I didn’t tell my parents until that night. The thought of going to another church on Good Friday, a church that is NOT Spring Hills AND a different Lutheran Church??! … as weird as this sounds, part of it just felt wrong. Like I was somehow being dishonest, or that I shouldn’t. Or to go to the extreme that my mind was trying to tell me… that doing so would be a betrayal to my heritage.

But as I said… I knew I NEEDED to go. So I did. And about an hour before service times at both St. Mark and this other church, I finally told my mom what I was planning for the evening. I tried to be honest with the feelings of uneasiness, and she reassured me that it was fine. She also threw out the “fishbowl” word, and fairly nonchalantly at that. But as soon as she did so, it stuck with me. And it got me thinking. Both in dialogue with her for the next minute or two before I left as well as on my drive over to the church. And what it helped me realize that night is something that has freed my heart and spirit perhaps more than anything else next to finally believing that God’s radical love and forgiveness is actually for me.

Basically, I started to think more and more about that PK fishbowl effect. See, as I have slowly transitioned to Spring Hills and have continued to struggle making St. Mark a place of worship for me, I have always assumed that because everyone there has always been so loving and wonderful… well, with the disconnect more and more apparent, the blame has to fall somewhere… right?

The short answer? Yes. But not in the way one might think, especially in a situation like this. That night, Good Friday 2019, I slowly began to realize just how much I was internalizing the disconnect, and I slowly began to realize just how much I believed that the disconnect was a result of something I had done wrong. That it was yet another result of the failure of a person that is Mary Rachel, and that I was letting everyone down because I wasn’t able to respond and make it work in the way that I have wanted to.

As this was all running through my brain, I began to wonder something else. What if – what if sometimes the fishbowl effect still happens, even when the church is healthy and filled with wonderful people. What if just the reality of being a PK really is difficult and that no matter how amazing the home church is, there might always be an element of the fishbowl. This is a fallen world that we live in, and sometimes these frustrating things just happen… not as a result of anything that one person has done wrong, but because we live in a world that is not perfect.

Woah. My life was changed, I kid you not. I remember one distinct thought I had that night, something that I wrote down. Basically, I spoke to the crazy feeling that comes when you’re finally free of a burden that you never even knew you were carrying. It was crazy. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me or expressed concern about growing up as a PK and I have responded by simply dismissing any negative effects because my home church is totally amazing. Well, yes, St. Mark IS totally amazing. And while that is true and will always be true, it can ALSO be true that there have been times where I have just needed space. Where, particularly because of my depression, I have needed to be somewhere separate where I can blend in if needed. The possibility of BOTH things being true and okay simultaneously had never occurred to me. But as soon as it did? Like I said, my life was changed.

As time has moved forward from Easter and from my plane landing a couple of weeks later, I have continued to see God work in the craziest and most beautiful ways. I am learning and growing and healing in ways I never thought possible. This particular lesson that I learned has continued to peel back layer after layer of the chains and shame surrounding the issue that held my heart captive for so long. And between this lesson and so many other things, I have never felt more free than I do now.

So… that PK fishbowl effect. I’ve always had an empathetic and compassionate heart, but with all the events of this year, that has only grown more and more. With what I’ve learned in regards to this, then, is something that speaks straight to the depths of my heart for people. If I had the opportunity to sit down with a fellow PK, particularly with one who is struggling or hurting in some way, I would want to hug them and tell them that it is OKAY to need space from their home church. And it is STILL okay even if the church is healthy and wonderful and lovely. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with them as a person, it just means that sometimes life is messy and complicated and that we have to work a little harder to have grace with ourselves.

But it’s going to be okay. Because Jesus is Jesus, and it doesn’t matter which church we’re in or when we worship Him or even what songs we sing. What matters is that He loves us with a love that we can’t even begin to comprehend. What matters is that we are free to live life messy because we can rest in His grace to carry us through life’s darkest moments. And what matters in such a big deal and joyful way? He has won. He has overcome.

… it is finished.
Now and forevermore.

So, dear fellow PKs, if you need to step outside the fishbowl? It’s okay. I promise. No matter what. Jesus will be at a different church, too, and He will meet you right where you are and will carry you fully and perfectly to where you need to be.

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.”

coming to you from 36,000 feet

Well… to say that it’s been a week would be quite the understatement. After changing my plans on Sunday to not only fly to Chicago through a small airport (instead of direct) but ALSO to rent a car and make the five hour drive up to Minocqua… I thought THAT was a wrench in my plans for this vacation. Now, though… oh my goodness. That was nothing.

Continue reading “coming to you from 36,000 feet”