Faith

Clarity

Earlier this year, I shared a little about how I was reading through the Old Testament and how it really resonated with me and the journey I felt I was on as I began this year. Much like Moses’ journey with the Israelites into the wilderness, my walk at that time was very much in a transitional and “in-between” place. Not yet to point B but not all the way back at point A.

When I wrote of this back in March, I felt that I knew the general direction that God was taking me. I’d spent the past 2.5 years working towards a career as a child life specialist – preparing myself to move into either full-time grad school for two years or into a full-time child life internship for four months. But then, the plans changed. These two things that I’d a spent so much time praying over and preparing for were no longer in my immediate future. To be perfectly honest, as someone who plans for every possible outcome, I wasn’t completely prepared for this one. My answer to people who asked me what I planned to do if neither grad school or an internship panned out was “I’ll just stay here and keep teaching,” but there was a part of me that really didn’t think I’d need to consider option #3.

I think most of us have been in places like this. Surprised, anxious, and a little confused as to how we ended up here when we expected to be somewhere else entirely. It certainly isn’t a fun place to be in the moment, but when viewed in hindsight it is one of the most beautiful of spaces. Uncertainty forces us to face head-on this unpleasant reality that we are human and that we have a limited view of the world around us. It forces us to make a choice, even though I think we often fight against the obvious one. It’s the choice that we make to look to and rest in the One thing that is certain in this world. The One who created the world and everything in it and therefore knows exactly what we can’t see or decipher.

I don’t share my stories with you because I’ve figured out the secret to all of this and have navigated the uncertainty and fear that have been near-constants in my life perfectly. I truly have not. Many of my prayers in the wake of these changed plans looked and sounded a bit incredulous. I had to spend some time reconciling with God this new reality and why He didn’t give me some sort of heads up that He was switching things up on me. This was about two weeks of my life before He shared some powerful words with me.

Disappointment shouldn’t make me desperate and hard seasons shouldn’t put me in denial. Denying myself of hope, of joy, or of just simply the opportunity to trust my Creator fully and completely is exactly what the enemy wants. The enemy wants us weak and fearful and so easily crumbled when things don’t go our way and life gets tough.

Somewhere along the way within my story this truth become sort of the backbone of who God is shaping me to be, I think. He still has to stop and remind me of it along the way, as He did recently, but with every new page of this story it becomes easier to choose God over whining or desperation. Sometimes I think faith is like a muscle – we have to put it to use and actively work to strengthen it or it just becomes wasted. The person I was before God transformed my heart and my life through a season of loss and uncertainty was someone who saw disappoints and hardships as anything but the perfect opportunity to give it over to God.

There’s been several moments over the past few months when I felt like other people didn’t quite understand why I was doing what I was. Why I only applied to one grad school program and a small handful of hospitals for their internships programs. Why I was prepared to move to a small town in Illinois, where I knew absolutely no one, if I had gotten accepted to graduate school. Why I moved away from option #3 to pursue option #4 – realizing I needed a change of any kind and applying to several job openings in North and South Carolina. The simple answer is that I was just simply doing what God told me to do, even though it didn’t make complete sense to me either. A slightly longer answer is that I’ve learned that loving and following Jesus often means moving boldly forward, even (especially) when you don’t actually know what He’s moving you toward.

But just as God carried the Israelites through the wilderness and into the Promised Land, He has carried me to a place where I can finally say that I do know what the immediate future holds. And He so beautifully paved the way for this to come to fruition.

In early May, I accepted a teaching position at a new elementary school in Wake County, NC and I will be moving to Raleigh in July/August 2018. The area is a familiar one with many extended family members nearby, but also my older sister who has lived there since college and who will be my new roommate! These past few weeks have truly been humbling as I think about how God wove things together, answered prayers, and provided clarity that had been lacking for more than two years. Humbled and overflowing with gratitude as I pray and prepare for this new chapter!

The Big Plan

I struggle with what exactly to say here that isn’t super dramatic or super cliche. But lately that’s what the pendulum that’s been swinging in my mind.

On March 23, I learned that I did not get accepted to grad school in Illinois. And in the past two weeks, I have learned that I have not moved forward in the selection process at 4 of the 6 hospitals where I applied for an internship. Even typing that leaves a sort of sour taste in my mouth and I’m realizing that I haven’t really spoken the words aloud very much just yet. Maybe it’s a little bit of embarrassment or maybe just disappointment, but yeah. My thoughts have been swinging back and forth from the super cliche “God works all things together for good”-type of thoughts to the super dramatic variety that has me questioning everything from how could I have misunderstood God to do I even still want to pursue this career. (I hear myself being dramatic, don’t you worry. I’m working on it!) Now, that’s not to say that I don’t think that God actually works all things together – He totally does and I believe that He is doing that here too – it’s just a verse that is used so often in comforting others that it has started to become a little cliche at times.

I think there is a certain sense of mourning, a transitional period, when this vision that you held and felt so strongly turns out not to be the path forward at all. It’s a little jarring, to be honest. For months, I felt so called to Illinois for school. Even my family felt strongly that this was where my next steps would take me. I applied to six hospitals also, sure, but I felt so sure that grad school was in my immediate future. But I am reminded of the words found in Isaiah 55, “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 (v. 8-9, ESV).”

While it’s easy to think that we know something because we are humans and small-minded, we serve a God who is so much bigger than what we can imagine. A big God who dreams big dreams for us. I think we (meaning me) can get so caught up in knowing the next step and knowing exactly what is coming our way when that is just simply not how life works. Just recently, in a perfectly timed message I might add, Bob Goff shared on Twitter, “What if we found out that God’s big plan for our lives is that we wouldn’t spend so much of our time trying to figure out a big plan for our lives? Perhaps He just wants us to love Him and love each other.”

But truthfully, even as cliche as the typical,comforting verses can be, I still wholeheartedly believe them to be true. As disappointed as I feel and as foggy as the road ahead appears to be, I know in my heart and soul that God is not done. I know that He is good and loving and faithful and that the future is beautiful, even if I no longer have a vision of what or where it will be. A dear friend of mine says often that “if it’s not good, than it’s not done” and this isn’t done.

I still have a few more weeks to potentially hear back from the two remaining hospitals where I applied for their child life internships. These next few weeks will be full of prayer and active listening to God. Lately, it feels as if I’m being directed to make a change in my work environment so that is something I am praying through as well. As someone who plans and thinks (usually overthinking) every detail of something, I think this is why this season and this experience is so jarring. But I can’t plan everything, no matter how much I think I am capable of it.

The big plan for our lives can only be directed by the One who can see the big picture, and that places me (and all of us, really) in the most steady and capable hands.

Courage

In the past few weeks and months, I feel as though I am finally coming to a place where I feel like I can hold the things in my life – my career, my stability, my relationships – all with open hands. A place where surrender is the initial response, rather than this clamoring for control whenever a change occurs or something bad happens. But it’s not as though the journey to this place has been easy – or that I’m necessarily great at surrendering to God’s will all the time.

It’s been a hard fought road to get here. And I’m crazy grateful for the growth, the bumps and the bruises, and the faith that has led me to this place.

When my life was turned on it’s head by a two year season of sicknesses, losses, and significant anxiety – my surrender was only born out of necessity. When life began spiraling out of control, I hadn’t stepped into church in months and was honestly the furthest from God I think I’d been up until that point, but I was in desperate need of something to cling to. I couldn’t control the things that were happening around me and I couldn’t make these terrible things go away but through the nudging and whispers that only God could give, I gradually found my way home to Him.

I’m not the same person that I was back then, but still I fight every day to remember exactly how that season of my life felt. I fight for that, not so that I can wallow in sadness but so that I can be revived each day by the pure joy and peace that God granted me through all of it. Because if I don’t remember how I felt, if I don’t remember the promises that were whispered to me as I stood in the front yard of my grandmother’s home, just 48 hours after she went home to be with Jesus, as the paramedics attempted to resuscitate my Aunt Shelia – than I will forget them. And to forget them is to forget the absolute miraculous way that God moved in my life and in my heart that morning.

We have to remember the way it felt to be utterly and wholly broken before we ever knew what it felt to be healed, fully and completely.

Which brings me to today. The present. If there’s anything that God is using this current season of my life for, it’s to teach me and show me the redeeming qualities of both presence and stillness. The gift of stillness has come primarily through the practice of mindfulness and meditation in recent weeks and has been incredibly grounding. God has shown me the gift of presence that has come in the form of both my active presence in my daily life in this season as well as the presence of specific people that God has sent to me in recent weeks. My cup surely runneth over these days….

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Love + Ashes

There’s something that continually sticks out to me when I read the Bible, particularly when I read the stories of mourning and of repentance and that is sackcloth and ashes. When we read through stories of tremendous grief and sorrow, those two things are almost always associated.

Bible Gateway says this about sackcloth and ashes, “Sackcloth is a coarse, black cloth made from goat’s hair that was worn together with the burnt ashes of wood as a sign of mourning for personal and national disaster, as a sign of repentance and at times of prayer for deliverance.”

For some reason, the imagery that this practice of wearing sackcloth and ashes in response to mourning and sorrow and in the midst of repentance gives invokes in me this deep-rooted feeling – this deep stirring in my belly that is difficult to put words to but the closest I have is love.

Love + Ashes

It is when we are in deep mourning or deep repentance that we can more fully appreciate the love that is lavished upon us wholly undeserving people. It is when we humble ourselves, die to self, and repent that we can see just how much grace God pours out as a gift we never did anything to earn.

Ash Wednesday falling on the same day as Valentine’s Day could not be more perfectly planned, I think.

At the start of this Lenten season, the ashes that are being spread on foreheads today symbolize to me repentance. They symbolize this incredible sense of humility and smallness and sorrow that comes when we actually force ourselves to confront our sins. When we look at ourselves in the mirror long enough to see all of the ways that culture and society and the enemy have wedged themselves between us and God. And friends, to confront that and stand face to face with this demands our repentance. It demands our grief and our sorrow for all of the ways that we turn from God day in and day out – whether we mean to or not.

But on a day when culture and society are spewing out all of these manufactured tokens of superficial love and spreading guilt and shame to those without “true love” in their lives, Ash Wednesday adds some much needed perspective to the mix that is setting my soul on fire today. When we look at this day and at this season with a Lenten focus and remember why we reflect and repent during these 40 days – this Valentine kind of love just seems so obviously lacking. Lacking in substance, lacking in meaning, and lacking in the perfect love that came at the expense of Jesus on the cross.

The customary practice during Lent is to give something up until Easter and growing up, this was a practice that I truly never gave significant thought to when I was growing up in the Catholic church. My go-to was usually giving up soda or something like that but in recent years as I have grown in my faith, God has really laid it on my heart to consider not just what I could give up to draw nearer to Him but what I could potentially add in order to achieve the same result. That could be adding in the habit/practice of reading the Bible daily or meditating, two things I do already, but I think it also comes down to our posture. Sure, I’m already doing some of the things that can draw us in closer to God but where is the posture of my heart when I do these things? Am I doing them to just check it off a list or am I actively listening and actively quieting my mind in order to be more in tune with God?

As I write this, I’m also reading some excerpts from Pope Francis’ homily earlier today during the Ash Wednesday service at the Vatican and his thoughts perfectly echoes the cry of my heart lately.

”Pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children, with grandparents, and time as a gift…time with God,” he said today, before continuing with, “Pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing, that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence.”

Silence and stillness have the power to amplify God’s voice and truth and it is my prayer this season that I am able to instill this into my own life. The kind of love that this day marks is not one that can be found on a store shelf or in the boxes of chocolates being passed around. No, it’s not a coincidence that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. May we all draw nearer to the source of the purest and greatest love there is in this season.

Two Years

On this #tbt, I find myself struck by beauty and grace that have overflowed since this day two years. Since the day I snapped this photo of snow falling in the distance on the San Bernardino Mountains in California just steps away from where my sweet grandmother was being laid to rest along with her husband and her son.

A few weeks ago, Mo Isom Aiken shared some thoughts on time in her Instastories that have stuck in my heart ever since.

(Side note: I highly recommend following her. She is hilarious but such a woman of profound faith. Her Instastory talks make me feel like I just sat down in church).

She said, “It’s not that time heals wounds but time has the power to sculpt our hearts, to grow us and to comfort us. God does all those things through time. He’s the orchestrater of time.”

Though I didn’t know it at the time, this day two years ago would more or less be the “end” of a season that was marked, yes, by profound loss but also by more grace and joy and growth than I ever could have imagined. But it’s been in these days, weeks, and months that have followed that I’ve really been put “to the test,” I think sometimes. That I’ve woken up and chosen to fight almost daily to remember some of the deeper and most painful moments of this story of mine, not so that I can wallow in sadness or anything but so that I can be revived each day by the pure joy and peace that God granted to me. Because if I don’t remember how it felt, if I don’t remember the promises that were whispered to me by God in His presence, than I will forget them. And to forget them is to forget the miraculous way that God moved in my life and humbled my heart through the story that He has had me step into.

It is through this season of my life that I have been led to this life I lead now. This life of nervously and joyfully stepping out in bold faith to do the things that He is asking me to do both spiritually and professionally. When I take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what God has done, it nearly takes my breath away. The ripples that were made by events from two years ago are still felt today and help recount the ways that God has moved and woven every part of this present reality together.

We have to remember our pain, I think.

We have to remember the way it felt to be utterly and wholly broken before knowing what it felt to be healed, fully and completely.

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