God, My Questions, and a Stranger

I stared at the foam of my cappuccino as her words broke through the thick fog I’d been walking through since we first landed in Israel. This woman, who just an hour before had been a total stranger to me, was telling me her story and showing me some pretty raw places of her past.

She sighed, but sat with such peace. “I was struggling so much. I was believing so many lies… but God still used me, you know?”

I leaned in and watched the corners of her mouth turn upwards in a smile,

“God is so big, He doesn’t mind.”

As soon as they hit my heart, I knew those were the words I’ve been waiting years to hear.

It took me back to a few years ago, to a day that I’ve heavily carried. My face was soaking wet, my eyes were bloodshot; I was angry, I was afraid, I was barely breathing. I was five bodies deep in grief, and the sixth was being prepared to be put in the ground. I remember standing in that church building with clenched fists and shouting to the top of my lungs, “If God is so big, He can handle my questions!”

As soon as those words left my mouth, I broke. I fell straight to my knees and sobbed on the floor. Countless people passed by me, but I didn’t care how it looked. This was me and God on the battlefield and this was me slinging every last shot I had. I was firing all of my ammunition, this was my win or lose moment. This was the moment when God would either walk off and leave me or lean in and grab me tighter. I was giving Him every reason to finally turn around and walk away, I was pushing Him with every bit of force my tiny fists could muster. I thought for sure that He’d leave, if He hadn’t already.

So flash forward, years later, sitting in Israel across from this stranger. She whispered those words with such peace, such certainty: God is so big, He doesn’t mind.

It felt like I was finally hearing Him respond to that moment, “You were right, I could handle it. I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind that you were weak. It didn’t change anything.”

He’s that big. He isn’t the least bit altered by my anger, weakness, frustration or questions. I’m not a big enough bully that I could make Him walk away.

I think that was Israel for me. All throughout the Bible we see that Israel rejected God, gave Him a million reasons to leave. They hated Him, they pushed Him away, but He stayed and He still stays. He’s there and He has such mercy, even in the war and chaos, even in the grief and in the misunderstanding.

Everywhere I stepped it was a reminder of Him saying, I don’t leave my people. 

I think most people were expecting some kind of post about adventure, climbing mountains, walking on water, exploring ruins of an ancient city. Maybe you thought I’d have some kind of life lesson about enjoying every moment, about living an exciting and free life.

What this post is about is God pressing the play button, after feeling like I’ve been on pause for a really long time. It was His reply to the banging of my fists all those years ago. It was the moment of me finally looking up from weeping on the floor and seeing that even though so many people left, He stayed.

I walked down the Via Dolorosa last week (the road Jesus walked to the cross). I thought a lot about the men who were beating Him, swinging over and over again while watching His body crack and tear. Later I realized that some of the swings they made were for the day I fell screaming in that church floor.

He handled my questions, then. It was finished on that day. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t yet rammed my fists into the floor or shouted furiously, He handled my questions long before that day. God is big enough, that He didn’t mind. He didn’t mind my questions, because He died to give me the answer.

He doesn’t leave, that’s really what Israel gave to me. The reminder that we all have years spent in the desert, years of giving Him a million reasons to go. No matter how long we spend wandering around and walking in circles, He’s big enough, He can handle it, He stays.

When My Neck Is Sore and My Feet Are Tired

The whole thing started on a blue piece of construction paper. I was sitting in the lobby of one of my favorite places and furiously scribbling for my next blog post.

I kept getting distracted. Something that has been grabbing at my heart lately kept pulling on me. I would write a sentence, pause and let my mind wander. The next thing I knew I was playing a long and tiring round of “what if?”

Suddenly, I would remember that I was supposed to be focusing.

I leaned my head back against the wall, “Did they look down, God?”

I was thinking about The Wise Men. The ones who had direction, but no details. They knew what they were headed toward, but they didn’t know what it would take to get there. Follow the star and you’ll find the one who will save your life, that’s all they’d really been given.

Did they look down? I wondered if they ever got tired of holding their heads up and looking at that star.

“Did you use it, God?” That was my next question to Him.

“When their heads got tired of looking up and they felt the need to make a plan, to figure out places to rest, to find food. When they stopped trusting and tried to figure it out, did you use it?” 

When trying to figure out the timing of their journey and when they would arrive, did God factor in all the stops along the way? Did he plan for all the moments they’d get in an argument about whose turn it was to feed the camels?

My mind was all over the place and and I was feeling really guilty because I knew that if I had been on that journey, I would have tried to make maps and schedules. 

I would have tried to make sure all our needs were met, the camels were rested and fed, the path was safe, the other guys did their share of helping out.

I wouldn’t have always believed the star was enough. I would have looked away to draw my maps and make my plans. I get so easily distracted because I so desperately want details.

“Do you use it, God?”

Do you use the moments that I think your guidance seems vague and distant? The moments where I’m just stumbling around out in the desert and trying to figure out if I’m actually any closer than I was yesterday?

“I knew the men I had chosen.”

Suddenly, I felt really free. I didn’t feel Him scold me to rip up all my plans and maps. I just felt Him smile and let me in on an ancient little secret. Yes, He uses it. He uses even my distractions, my moments of distrust, the days that I get tired of looking up at the star and complain that my neck is sore and my feet are tired.

Though wise, those men were not perfect and God had always known that. He didn’t choose the The Perfect Men. He chose the worshippers, the ones who were willing to seek Him out, those willing to offer Him something they valued.

And when they left, God made sure He told them which way to go. He gave them a dream, He made sure they heard Him.

He knew the men He had chosen.

The Wise Men weren’t just wise because of their title, or even because they perfectly followed the star. They were ultimately wise because when God needed them to change the path, they were flexible to change their plans, they were ready and listening. They didn’t just trust the star, they trusted the One who put it up there in the first place.

He chose you and He knows you.

Just come, exactly as you are.

With your arms full of maps, schedules, poorly wrapped gifts. Just come. With your holiday frustration, your to-do list, the feelings that the star isn’t enough and that you’d like a few more details. Come, just as you are and bringing whatever you have.

Just come looking for Him. Keep coming, even if you yelled at Balthazar this morning for not brushing the camels.

Keep walking even without all the answers, and know that the proof of your trust is not in your perfection, but in the way you keep coming.

What Have I Lost Along The Way?

I was up to my elbows in household cleaner and water when God said something that nearly sent me to the floor,

“It’s good to see you in sweatpants again.”

It sounds so ridiculous, but I knew exactly what He meant.

I practically ran out of the building. My chest started pounding, my eyes were about to spill over. I drug the hem of those sweatpants through the mud and got quickly into my car.

The next two hours were spent with me driving, crying, and my ears filling with all the things that I’ve forgotten about over the last eight years.

All because I asked him one simple question this morning, “What have I lost along the way?”

I never expected Him to answer me. I never thought He’d come that close again, sound that sweet, I never expected him to not condemn my sweatpants.

That was one of the things that had gotten lost along the way: the belief that He would always come, and that when He did He would have something good to say.

I’ve been waiting for that exact moment for the last three years.

I waited for that moment in the darkest nights, in places I never should have gone to, with people that I don’t even know anymore. I waited for Him, I waited for one little sentence that I could have never formed on my own.

I didn’t know it, but I wasn’t waiting for some earth shattering revelation. I wasn’t waiting for the right things to line up. I wasn’t waiting for a person or a place. All this time, I was waiting for Him to talk to me about my sweatpants.

Because a few years ago someone stood in front of me and told me that it was a terrible thing to see a human wear sweatpants. They said it was lazy, unattractive, they said it made a person look worthless.

Though they probably didn’t intend for it to, that idea dug itself inside of me. Not because I have a love obsession with sweatpants, but because the words the enemy made me hear were, “it is a terrible thing to be comfortable with yourself.”

This was said to the girl who lived most of her life in jeans, t-shirts, with her hair pulled back. For me, it had never really been due to laziness. Honestly, I was just child-like for most of my life and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me exactly as I was. I thought I looked just fine. I thought I was pretty cute (and I was).

Even though sometimes I cringe at my bad haircuts, high-water pants, or rolled socks, I was a darling little child. I was innocent, pure, and beautiful, as all children are. I was unashamed of a plain face, I was unashamed of the clothes that I chose. I liked them and that was really the only reason I needed to wear them.

I let the enemy tell me that was a terrible thing, and that line grew until all the little demons whispered and said, “oh you, you have no value for yourself.” 

So, I stopped wearing sweatpants until about six months ago.

You should have seen the first pair I chose to put on. They are the most atrocious pants that have ever existed. They are frumpy, oversized, covered in paint, and an awkward length.

My friends (as they should have) told me they were terrible and I should never ever wear them again.  I waited for pain, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was laughter. I told them that I was going to keep them forever and wear them shamelessly.

Because it wasn’t about the pants. Even this morning, scrubbing that countertop, it was never about the pants.

It was about picking back up all the things that I’ve given up, that I once so deeply loved. It was about the years I spent changing myself to please someone else.

It was about that moment that I let someone try to make me a whitewashed tomb. That I let someone tell me my outside was more important than the inside.

It then became about the times that people told me to shut up when I spoke the truth; when people told me to skip past the pages with the Jesus who turned over tables.

It became about all the times that I believed sweatpants made me ugly or that telling the truth made me cruel.

God never said or thought those things about me.

While that shouldn’t have surprised me, it did. Though it seems like basic Christianity to know better, I had never realized it before. God never hated my sweatpants and He loves when I tell the truth. 

This morning, God did the thing I’ve been waiting for. He did a miracle, one He promised me years ago that He would do.

A bush did not catch on fire today. I did not walk on water. No lepers were healed.

But today, some things that were dead came back to life. Early this morning, a girl who’d been wrapped the grave clothing of expectations, condemnation, and words of hatred finally heard a loud voice. And He called her forth and unwrapped from her all the things the darkness tried to make her wear.

They Say a Good Man is Hard to Find…

“I just can’t seem to pick my battles. It seems like I get upset about something every single week. I need to get my life together and handle things better. I’m so emotional.”

Knee deep in one of my final papers, I got that text. I closed my eyes and my heart went running 277 miles away to the girl who’s wondering if she’s the only one.

I’ve been there. It’s the life of many women.

A lot of the men in our lives, try as they might, they cannot seem to always understand where we’re coming from.

Thinking back to when they first met, it didn’t take long for me to see that they were a good match. They fit, it makes sense, their relationship is wonderful in so many ways. He’s a good man. But it isn’t perfect and it isn’t always easy.

It’s the age old story of a girl who has some wounds and scars because she’s been down this road before. Once again, she’s given most of her heart, but if you look down deep, she’s holding back just a little. Because if he turns out to be like the rest, she can at least pride herself on not having lost it all.

That’s where the emotion and the fighting of battles comes in.

It’s the protection. It’s the need to defend ourselves. It’s the need to make sure that the person next to us has the right grip on our hearts. Don’t let it fall. Please, don’t let it fall.

Every battle we pick, even the smallest ones, are the ones where we’re taking our hands and trying to force others to tighten or loosen their grip on our hearts. We’re trying to tell them how to love us; and when they don’t hold it just right, we either fight or run.

It’s the plot of almost every movie sitting on my shelf. It’s the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan specialty. 

I’ve built my expectations precisely through the years. I have drawn the perfect blueprint. With the help of Hallmark movies and Nicholas Sparks novels, I’ve figured out what this whole thing should look like. So, if you follow these directions, if you put the exact pieces where I expect, and say the right thing at the right moment, you’ll heal where the others have hurt.

But men are not God.

If there’s one thing I’d like to tattoo on the arms of girls everywhere it’s that truth. They will not heal you. They are not your redemption. 

It took God shaking me hard and staring me down for me to get this. People cannot be each other’s redemption.

Men are not God, they will disappoint you. They will say the wrong thing. They will forget the thing you told them to bring. They will make a bad joke. They will be late. They won’t send flowers every week. Men are not God, they will not read your mind or hear the cry of your heart.

Men are not God, they will not make right all the things that have gone wrong.

But we think they will. Somewhere in the heart of most women is this deep rooted belief that finding “the one” is going to make it all okay. We will deny it, we will say that we know better and that we’ve learned to be content on our own. We will flaunt our independence and tell God that we know He’s enough.

Then we crumble when someone disappoints us, or when we find “the one” and it doesn’t entirely fulfill us. Then we run to ice cream and Ryan Gosling. We cry and ask “why is it never my turn?” or “why don’t things ever work out for me?” or “why am I not happy?”

Even when we have good men in our lives, we secretly ask, “why can’t he be a little better?”

Even the best of men cannot make us content.

We pick our battles all based on the little expectations we’ve built up since we were little girls. And the little disappointments become the big ones because we were taught to believe that men worth waiting for wear always wear suits, always say the right things, show up at your door at 2 am, and write you secret love notes for 365 days.

So when the goofy, tired, messy-haired men in our lives don’t call or would rather watch football than talk about their feelings, we come unglued.

That doesn’t make you crazy. It doesn’t make you irrational.

It makes you one of the billions of people who was lied to about what love really looks like.

And so his laundry becomes a battle.
His light-hearted, but poorly considered joke becomes a battle.
Football games become a battle.
Him forgetting your Mom’s birthday becomes a battle.
His hair in the sink becomes a battle.
His night out with the guys becomes a battle.

His humanity becomes the battle. Because you’re longing for God and he can never be that for you.

I waited a few minutes before I responded to her; more or less this is what I said,

He’s going to mess up and hurt your feelings, but know when it isn’t purposeful. That’s how you pick the battles. When you love someone, and he’s a good-hearted man, you can easily forgive his actions when you’ve learned to trust his intentions.

They say a good man is hard to find, maybe so, but the fictional ones are impossible. Tom Hanks, Richard Gere and Ryan Gosling are not who they portray on a screen. They are scripted and their wives would live disappointed (and may actually live that way) if they expected them to be the leading men we throw our affections towards.

We throw our affection at fictional men because they portray the qualities of a non-fictional God; someone that will go to impossible lengths, impossible depths, to show you the love that you were always born to know.

I think it’s time that we choose to look at people’s hearts and not at their ability to meet our lists of demands.

I think it’s time to stop loading up the shoulders of the good men in our lives, or the ones we’ve yet to meet, with expectations that only God can fulfill.

The Road In-Between

God asked me the one question I prayed He wouldn’t.

It was a sweet moment, though my knees were knocking and my shoulders shivering. The winds were cold, the roads daunting, the trees sprinkled with fresh snow. I took a deep breath before I answered Him, not even sure what would come out of my mouth

But He knew my answer before I did and that was the reason He asked; He knew I had to hear myself say it out loud.

I leaned against the car, my back pressed hard against it, staring up at the mountains. She told me this would happen. This complete stranger, who when she looked at me, smiled like she’d known me my entire life, told me: “He’s going to give you perspective up there, when you’re standing on top of that mountain.”

I knew she was right. Her words stayed nestled in the pit of my stomach and the whole drive up I just kept wringing my hands and shifting in my seat. He would be there, He would have something to say.

I saw and heard exactly what I hoped for and everything I prayed I wouldn’t.

I’m learning that’s the pattern of the road in-between. It’s a mix of hope and intimidation; something wonderful might be waiting, but the way there might require some uncomfortable and unnerving things.

The night before, I was in one of the most terrifying situations of my life. One of those moments where you choose to trust God, or to just lay down and give up. It was one of those moments where I wanted to run away; everything inside of me wanted to be rational, to make the safest choice and call it wisdom. But safety isn’t always wisdom. Safety isn’t always God.

And that’s never been my outlook on life. I’m cautious. I am cautious to the point that I make most grandparents look dangerous and reckless.

But cautious is not a synonym for right. I’m not always right in being cautious, I’m actually seeing that I’m more often wrong.

I made it.

And the next morning held my favorite kind of laughter, the kind that shakes your entire body, that leaves your eyes with tears and your gut in pain.

I’m realizing that’s also the way of the road in-between. It’s a lot of risk and praying. It’s a lot of crying out and holding steady, even when you just want to stop right there, and never move again. And you keep thinking there’s no way you’ll get through this and laugh again, but then somehow you do–somehow you get there. 

And it wasn’t safety that necessarily got you there, it wasn’t because you constructed the most cautious plan. It was because you did what you had to, you trusted, you prayed, you realized that your own cautious plans wouldn’t have ever guaranteed your safe arrival anyways.

Sometimes, you’re required to pry your hands from controlling the outcome of everything around you.

You can’t control it, even with all of your best and carefully laid plans. Nothing teaches you that more than the road in-between. You’ve already left where you were, you’re going somewhere else and you get three choices: stop and give up, turn around or move forward.

You’re already moving, you can’t change that. Once you move, you have to make some hard choices. The best choice for me was to move forward, even though everything inside of me shouted “turn back!” 

We shouldn’t always listen to that. Yes, there are times to trust your gut, but there’s also a time to shut it up, to tell yourself that your past experiences lied. Just because you’ve seen a road that looked like this before, doesn’t mean you’ll end up at the same place.

I write all of this, my bags still packed, my hair unwashed, my eyes stinging. I write this after just telling my roommates, “my experiences are my truth, that I have to make my choices based on past outcomes.”

But I knew on that mountain and I knew an hour ago, here in my living room, that to live believing every road lined with grass and trees takes you to the same destination is absurd.

The roads might have similar markers, but it doesn’t mean your destination is the same.

The road in-between isn’t easy for any of us, and it will likely require you to answer the hard questions and to choose to hold steady when you’re determined that the only way to survive is to stop or turn around.

But survival was never the goal in the first place.

And what would it matter if you made it back, but never got to hear the whisper that was waiting for you if you had just gone a little further.

Sitting across from two complete strangers I started to yell…

I’ve been replaying this memory in my head.

A while back, someone walked up to me weeks after we’d met and said “You may not remember me…”

I was stunned, absolutely speechless. I just kept quiet and went along with it. The whole time this person was talking and reminding me of that first introduction (one that was relatively significant), all that kept rolling through my mind was, Do you… do you actually think you could be so easily forgotten?

Looking back, I wish I had grabbed their shoulders, stared straight in their eyes and said, “You are better than multiple introductions given with a shaky voice, and thinking someone wouldn’t remember your golden smile.”

But those aren’t things we say to people, especially not on our second interaction. We smile politely and ask about their hometown, career, or where they went to college. We don’t drown them in words of value from the first second. We just go through the motions and keep to ourselves all the things we immediately love about them.

We restrain ourselves. We’re always holding back. We’re always trying to do what’s proper, because reservation has become synonymous with dignity. But when did hesitancy and suppression become virtues? Who decided that it was unbecoming to exuberantly and extravagantly tell someone how wonderful they are as soon as you meet them?

I met some amazing people over the weekend and it shook me.

It happened after I was thrown into a room of middle-aged parents, people who are in entirely different stages of life than I am. And there I was, trying to hold myself together. I didn’t want to speak too loudly, express myself too extravagantly. I wanted to appear poised and collected.

And then suddenly, sitting across from two complete strangers I started to yell, “Where did you come from? You are my people! You’re amazing! I love you!”

For a second, I felt exposed and childlike. I felt like I had just belched at a banquet table in The White House.

Until their faces spread into the widest grins. They laughed and both gave me strong, lengthy hugs and words of equal affirmation.

It was then that I realized that no other words could have been more valuable, more remarkable. I had in one swift outburst, burned the bridge of detachment that I had always been told was mature and professional upon meeting someone.

I immediately went back to that memory I’d been mulling over and whole-heartedly wished I had handled it in that same manner. I wished that I would have grabbed that person, the one who had put on a name-tag that said Stranger. Oh, that I would have excitedly pulled them in and called them Known.

We keep letting people in our lives label themselves Stranger. We wait…sometimes months, sometimes years. After numerous surface-level interactions, we might then graduate to a casual compliment or vocally acknowledge their value. We give nods and half smiles, feeling uncomfortable to go beyond that. We don’t know them, after all. It would be weird to say something of actual consequence.

But how odd it is that we have to give ourselves pep-talks to interact with people we see daily, weekly, monthly. Isn’t it disheartening that using terms of endearment for other humans takes years, when using them for pets is an instant reaction.

We generously use our most meaningful and affirming words on puppies or kittens, but hold them back for years from the people across the street or down the hall.

Our craving to appear impressive and eloquent leads us to being neither. I’m learning that there’s nothing impressive about my holding back from others my pure and joyful adoration for them, the delight I feel when they are simply themselves. Even if I’ve only known them a few short moments.

The world has enough dignified people who paint inside the lines, fold their hands, and craft their words. What the world really needs are the finger-painters who might make a mess, but whose words are ones of love unrehearsed and love unreserved.

It Won’t Be the Stage

I joined a grief group soon after I moved to Georgia.

It was completely unlike me, but I was so broken and desperate for healing that I was willing to do something that I would have previously labeled as mortifying.

I showed up to a few of the meetings. I was the youngest person, the quietest person and the least certain that I wanted to be there.

It took maybe three sessions before I walked out a changed person. It had nothing to do with the discussions, people, videos, etc. (although they were all good things). I think I walked out a completely different person because it took choosing to become a different person to ever walk into that meeting in the first place.

Sometimes, we have to choose to do the things we never thought we would.

We have to be willing to walk out the path that we once labeled ourselves too good to tread on.

I was a pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps-and-deal-with-it kind of girl for most of my adolescence. I didn’t need grief groups, counselors, or cry sessions. I was too strong for that, too proud for that.

But it wasn’t until I chose to do the things that sent my knees to the dirt that I learned how wrong I’ve seen the world.

I learned the value of doing things that are hard, that require me to sit among other broken people and say maybe we’re all really the same. Maybe I’m not better than anyone else. Maybe I am a poster child for weakness and that’s not as bad as it always seemed. Maybe weakness is where I always needed to start.

The world is going to tell you who you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to wear.

They’re going to tell you that you’ve got to be the loudest, the funniest, the crowd-drawer. They’re going to expect you to wear dresses, suits, ties and pointed shoes. They’ll tell you that’s what makes a leader, that’s what makes a world changer. They’ll tell you that the behind the scenes people are important too. “There are no small parts,” that’s what they’ll say.

And what they’ll never know is that some of the greatest leaders, greatest world changers, some of the bravest people are those who pull the curtains and cheer for the people on the stage.

What they’ll never tell you is that Mother Teresa wasn’t a show stopper and she didn’t go looking for microphones and monuments built for her name. But she was a force; she wrestled hatred with her bare hands, and she won. At age 87, she lifted her arms in victory and heard the words, “Well done.”

They told us, “Leaders don’t go to grief groups, and world changers aren’t quiet. Difference makers don’t mop floors and brave people don’t wait for anything. Leaders push, they’re the people who build something and make things happen (even if what they built doesn’t last).”

But what I’ve learned of lasting change is from the people who choose the hard things, whose names aren’t the first among the credits. They learn how to listen first, and speak carefully. They weigh their words, bend their knees and know what it means to wait, to truly wait for something to grow.

They are not afraid of the platforms or the microphones, but they have no appetite for them, no fascination with them. They do not shrink at truth, but do not speak for the sake of being heard.

I took a journey of becoming the person I want to be when I stepped through the door that led me to that grief group. When I chose to become the person that I saw as weak, I started to do the things that actually make me stronger.

What I really needed was to step into a little back room with a few people, where I didn’t need to be liked, or to get a round of applause. I needed to sit among people who knew my kind of loss and admit that it was hard, but I was going to try. I had to decide that I was willing to do the work it would take (even if it took forever).

It was the little step that led to a change that has lasted.

It won’t be the stage, the fame, the applause, that will make you the kind of person you really want to be, or help you change the world in a deep-rooted way.

Mother Teresa’s don’t come by way of popularity.

It’s when you let go of the need to have anyone know your name, the need to be seen as strong or brave; that’s when you’ll change the world in a lasting way.

It Happened and It Changed Me

A few years ago, I learned how to really cry.

I cried buckets of tears until I was drained. They stopped coming after that; the saddest songs and movies only caused a shrug of my shoulders and the shaking of my head. Nothing seemed to move me quite the same after those months that left me dry.

Then came New York City,

with her tall buildings, her strong coffee, her firm presence and undeniable strength. She made me cry again, she brought me face to face with my drought. And she brought freedom for me when I realized that there are some things still big enough to stir me, to remind me that none of us are immovable.

There now sits a memorial, a museum, and a tower that knocked the wind right out of me. A reminder of New York’s own kind of Titanic. We never thought it could sink and yet the walls fell. On that day, a lot of life sunk beneath piles of debris and rubble.

In all of her stability and power, a strong part of her crumbled on that day. 

But there now sits a memorial, a museum, and a tower. They don’t replace what was lost, but whisper, there are still things we can build.

She taught me that. It’s not about replacing, it’s about rebuilding.

Because we won’t ever get back what we lost. It can never be the same again.

They didn’t try to bulldoze it all and pave over the loss, leaving no traces behind. What a betrayal that would have been. They left reminders, and built beautiful things around it.

Sometimes it feels like a betrayal of myself to try and pave over the past. It happened and it changed me. Still, I’ve tried to just replace it all and erase my memory.

But New York grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me hard and said, “Build around it, girl. Build beautiful things around it and let it push you to fight more fiercely for your freedom.”

She gave me permission and I didn’t even know that’s what I needed.

But when I stood next to that tower and watched the people who still fearlessly get on subways, planes, and walk the streets alone, I knew I was being given an invitation: it’s time to remember how to be free again. 

New York is still loud, still loves bagels. She doesn’t apologize for her size, for the space she takes up.

She didn’t cut her hair, change her clothes, become someone new. She just kept going, kept being herself, kept her arms open and her streets full. She didn’t have to convince anybody that she would be better off. She just daily grew stronger and proved that freedom comes through rebuilding, in not letting the pain take the best of you.

It won’t be easy.

I’m figuring that out. Through tears and decisions, it’s been me and some of my closest friends sitting knee to knee and saying, “It hurts to look at all the pain, to not deny it, to experience it fully and try to find some sort of peace with it all. “

What does it look like to rebuild? Where do we even start?

For us, we start with prayers, a cup of tea, and laying one brick at a time.

“We’ll get there.” That’s what we tell each other with bloodshot eyes and runny noses. We’ll see the good things, they’re closer every single day.

We’re beginning to rebuild and it will take time to see results, but I know we’re going to get there.

I Hope You Know He’s Got Us

This morning, I tried to find direction.

I went searching through the Bible, tried to write down some plans. But the pages stayed blank and I just ended up just sitting there, watching the sun hang between the towers outside the window.

I didn’t figure anything out. I knew that God has places He intends me to go, but I couldn’t figure out what that looked like, or where to even begin to find a map.

They say seeing someone you know walking around New York City is pretty rare.

After a directionless morning, I went exploring, unsure of where I wanted to go or what I really even wanted to see. I just planned to wander and hoped I would stumble upon something worth my time.

So, it was pretty unexpected to run in to one of the friends I’m staying with. It took me off guard entirely and yet, I knew it wasn’t coincidence. There was something I was supposed to see.

He asked if I’d been to the seaport yet and pointed me in that direction. There I was, wandering aimlessly on the streets of New York City and out of nowhere came the guidance I never expected to hear.

This morning, I had the strangest feeling of wanting to give up on this city.

It’s so big, so busy, and so restless. It seems like everyone has it all figured out. It’s like they know where they’re going and how to get there. The way I’ve been feeling in this city is the way I’ve been feeling in my life. I’m just out here making everyone believe that I know the plan like the back of my hand. I’m not lost. I know where I’ll end up. I’m good at that; I’m good at seeming certain.

I heard God laugh when I reached the seaport.

“I can always find you. I will always get you where you need to go.” 

In a city with more than 8 million people, God put me on the street He wanted, at precisely the right time. After two days, I know a total of about 12 people that live here, and so the chances that I’d see my friend right there and that exact moment isn’t just coincidence.

God dropped me in the biggest city I’ve ever been to and made me realize how incredibly small it is in the palm of His hand.

We walk through life thinking we’re going to miss it.

The elusive it: the calling, the dream, the person, the place that we were meant to find. We think that if we make a wrong turn, leave too late, move too quickly that we’re just going to be lost among the skyscrapers; we act as if we’re just a little speck in God’s eye view.

I hope you know He’s got us.

We won’t miss it and it won’t be our big plans that get us there. It will be our trust that pushes us to move. And once we get out there, God will always show up and point us where we need to go.

But even if you can’t get out there, even if you’re feeling stuck inside the walls you’re sitting between,

He will still get you there.

Today, the seaport convinced me that God always finds a way.

These streets are so full that I could easily sit down and believe that there is too much standing in His way.

But despite eight million people, the lights at crosswalks, the minutes I could have wasted, or the fifteen directions I could have taken, He made His point loud and clear.

I’m never too small for Him to know exactly where I am, and never too lost for Him to get me exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Today, I Met the One

To say that yesterday was a bad day is the understatement of a lifetime.

It started with my bank account being hacked, all of my money was taken and somehow I ended up thousands of dollars in the hole.

That was bad enough. The phone calls I had to make to try and straighten things out were worse. So much waiting, so much frustration, so much of the worst of Ashlin put on display.

Finally, I decided to act like an adult and make some decisions. I decided to go and open a different account with another bank. I was going to stay calm, and move forward. Somehow, I was going to trust that it would all work out in the end.

Which was going okay until about ten minutes later when I managed to run over something and get a massive hole in my tire.

I kept telling myself to breathe, it wasn’t the end of the world.

So I called my dad, and that was pretty much all it took. I heard his voice through the phone, remembered he lives 267 miles away and instantly started sobbing like a child.

I was frustrated. I felt helpless. I was angry. I was poor. I was ready to give up entirely.

When that tire blew, so did everything inside of me. All the worries I’d been stewing in for the past several days came exploding out of me. I was exhausted. I just wanted to eat a milkshake, drive home to North Carolina, and cry to my parents.

But I can’t eat sugar, and had a blown tire (and responsibilities), so the first two things were out of the question.

So, I went with the only option I had… cry on the phone with my dad like the world was ending.

“I can’t even buy another tire because some terrible person stole all my money and put me in horrible debt. I don’t even have a dollar to my name!”

Of course, my parents told me they would help me and tried to calm me down. They were there, despite being hundreds of miles away. I wasn’t entirely alone. I acknowledged it and thanked God, but I was still distraught.

Friends came to my rescue. They changed my tire, loaned me tools, comforted me when I looked like a train wreck.

I kept reminding myself to be thankful. I wasn’t alone. There was goodness, even in my misery.

But even so, last night, I laid down and with the last bit of strength I had, I asked God for some kind of redemption. I told him that I needed some sort of hope that I wasn’t going to feel stranded and poor for the next 7-10 business days (don’t even get me started on my reaction to that). I needed to know there was something good that could come from all of this.

Today, I went to the bank to close my previously hacked bank account.

I was fired up, ready to defend my reasons, ready to tell them that I was greatly dissatisfied with their over-the-phone customer service.

But before I had the chance to really get rolling, I was put at the desk of a well-dressed man who had the kindest smile and the most patient disposition.

I wanted to tell him of all of my troubles and how I thought their way of doing business led to nothing but heaps of injustice. But I couldn’t.

I just waited patiently and responded politely to the questions he asked me. Where did I work? What was I in school for? What did I want to do longterm? 

We joked. He told me I should be a lawyer, and I told him that he’s about the 90th person to say that. He asked about my job. I asked about his kids. And then, as He always does, God found His way into the conversation.

Before I knew it, this man, his wife and his kids had found a way into my heart. I suddenly wanted to know everything, to hear more details, I wanted to meet the rest of them. I wanted them experience a lifetime of joy.

I was floored. There I was, looking lazy with my sweatpants and insane hair (please ask me to demonstrate in person how it looked because it’s absolutely laughable). My clothes and hair conveyed apathy, my shoes cheap and falling apart. My eyes were showing my body’s exhaustion, but my heart was exploding. He was the one. He was the one I would meet because of it. The love I would get for this man and his family became the reason for it all.

The timing of it all had led me to this moment. If I had come at another day, another moment, another second, I could have been working with someone else entirely. If all of yesterday’s events had not played out the way they did, I would have probably ended up having a verbal sparring match with someone else in the bank and walking out whispering prayers of repentance.

But there I was, God hitting me straight in the gut, me being totally unprepared for it. I was instantly overwhelmed by the fact that I would do the whole thing over again.

I would go through that horrible day of weeping all over again to sit across from that man and feel the kind of love that God started drowning me with.

Yesterday I kept wondering why I was the one whose money was stolen. Why was I the one with the worst bank ever? Why I was the one sitting on the side of the road sobbing? Why me? 

And today I realized that it was because I was the one whom God was preparing to meet the one: the one who needed to be loved, heard and whose family might need a few extra prayers.

Sometimes, we’re privileged to have what I’m terming a great exchange. My bad day for someone else’s good one. My present frustration for someone else’s future joy. 

Sometimes, it’s just not about me. I’ve got to get that through my thick head.

Because that’s the kind of thing I’ve asked God for. I’ve asked Him over and over again to teach me how to love. Therefore, the thing He often teaches me is sacrifice. And I’m learning that I don’t want to offer God or other people something that doesn’t cost me anything.

The opportunity to love that family, to hear that man out, to be deeply challenged by the things he said, cost me some things. The price was my temporary sanity, my tire, hours of my life, my pride, my selfish desire to yell at everyone inside the bank.

I had to lay down my needs, my rights, everything I felt was owed to me. It was then that God made my heart soften so that the needs of the one in front of me became far more important to me than my own.

 

photo cred.