Hungry, Angry, and Sitting With God

My life these days is sunshine warming my face in my childhood room, mid-morning coffee, memories of soggy streets in South America. Silence lulls me to sleep, along with the smell and burn of menthol on my back and legs. This is home, with its cold autumn air and slow traffic on the streets that never seem to change.

I tell myself that I am not angry, but I am angry.

Anger for me is like a pair of well-worn blue jeans. It fits in a comfortable but sloppy kind of way. I’ve never figured out why I keep shoving it back in my closet.

Hollow is another word that comes to mind. It sounds scary and dark, but it’s not really that. This kind of hollow is just quiet and achy.

I am fumbling for pill bottles, waking up countless times, checking my weight to make sure I’m eating enough. I sometimes lie awake and wonder if God is still around to hear the million sighs I make during the night.

“It could be worse,” is what I say through clenched teeth and a smile.

Those words are true. I am trying to be grateful. It could be worse, so much worse.

But it hurts and is painful and the thing I’m most afraid of is that one more person (including myself) will keep saying something like it’s going to get better. It doesn’t help.

Because right now, I have to sit with God in this.

I have to sit with Him. I just have to sit across this table from Him until we’ve finished this thing He’s preparing for me. I just have to sit here until we’re finished and He picks up the tab. I have to fight the urge to walk off in my impatience. I have to fight the urge to ask someone else to bring me an appetizer to fill this hunger. I have to wait on whatever it is that He says is on the way. It will get better, but I have to stay here for however long the space it between those words will get and better takes.

It aches and it carves its way through my heart in a way that I don’t always know how to talk about. I am disappointed. This place doesn’t have a menu. When I walked in, I didn’t see what I could expect posted in a bold and elegant font. I’m here and the fact that He’s brought me to this table tells me that He intends to fill me, but I can’t really give you much else. I can’t really tell you what that means or how long it’s going to take.

And sometimes my hollow hunger makes me angry, makes me frustrated, makes me wonder if I should have gone elsewhere. Sometimes I bang my fists and tell Him that I don’t even smell anything, that there’s no sign anything is even coming.

But He’s here, we are here and that has to be enough. If we finish 2017 in this booth with mediocre coffee cupped in our hands—it has to be enough. Even if Christmas lights look duller this year and my breath is still labored after simple tasks. If that fortune cookie is a liar and I cry on my twenty-sixth birthday, it has to be enough.

Breath lodged in my throat, shoulders heavy with truth, it has to be enough. Because He invited me to the table. He invites us all and somehow I saw the invitation in the middle of the darkness. Not everyone does and not everyone comes. Not everyone chooses this table and I’ve seen the pain in both His and their eyes when they sit somewhere else.

There is a table and we are here. For now, for both of us, I think it is enough.

 

 

 

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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.

That Was The Night That Broke Me

Honestly, I didn’t think I would make it out alive.

I remember that the sky was black, the darkest I’d ever seen it. One hand on the steering wheel, the other holding the back of my neck. I was screaming and sobbing. I was fighting for my life and at that point, I felt it could go either way.

The streetlights were blurred by the ache in my head and burning tears in my eyes. My vision went in and out of focus. There were moments when the pain pushed through me so fiercely that I’d find myself leaning over the middle console, praying from the depths of my soul. There’s no earthly explanation for how I kept my car on the road.

My tiny foot ramming into the gas pedal, I was racing down I-85. All I knew was that I had to keep going. With every mile marker I passed, the pain grew worse and fear tightened his grip.

My phone battery was blinking, just a few minutes and my phone would be dead. I turned it off, trying to save what little life it had left. I just kept telling myself to get somewhere safe: anywhere but there. If I could just find a safe place, I could call for help.

I remember pulling into that restaurant parking lot, picking up my phone and shakily dialing. “This is where I am. I’m in this town. It’s at this exit, please come.”

Immediately after those few sentences escaped my mouth, my phone died.

That was the night that broke me. I convulsively wept until I was choking and gasping for air. I waited. For hours, I waited and I cried. I slept a little in my car. Then, I went inside the restaurant and I ate yogurt, drank coffee, laid my head on the table and mumbled a prayer of very few words.

I’ll never get that picture out of my head. The image is burned into my brain: the look on her face when she got out of her car. The pain, the worry, the relief on her face when she finally grabbed me in a tight hug.

When my eyes opened the next morning, I only laid there in my childhood room and stared at the blank white wall in front of me. For hours, I just laid there.

There were a lot of mornings after where I did the same.

In the months that followed, I remember mostly one thing: everyone just kept telling me to move on.

I’d tell my heart, my limbs, my head to listen to them, to strengthen themselves and to get up, to move on. But they didn’t and I couldn’t. And every single time I saw those old friends again, they’d say the same words: just get up and move on.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about my ribs hurled over that console, my head screaming at my body not to stop fighting. I just kept thinking about how no matter how hard my foot pushed, I couldn’t go fast enough. I kept remembering her face, that look that said, I wish I could have gotten here faster. 

It took a while to recover from that.

But there was one thing that never helped, that never eased my pain: someone telling me to “just get over it and move on”.

Yes, I know they were trying to help and that it killed them to see me in such grief and pain. I’m not even saying they weren’t right, but the truth is it didn’t help. 

So, I’m not going to tell you to get over it and move on.

Because I wasn’t there.

I wasn’t there when you went through your darkest moments, your longest nights. I wasn’t there when you felt your deepest pain, gave your hardest fight.

And maybe you’re like me, and you have a story that only you, God and a stretch of highway will ever really understand. Maybe there are some things you’ll never find words for, moments you’ve lived that you’ll never be able to whisper out into the world.

I’m not going to tell you that you have to tell that story.

Because you don’t. It’s yours, to hold and to give. You get to be the one to hand out permission slips, invitations for someone to walk in and know the details of your pain.

But what I will tell you is that,  I hope the day comes when you let someone in.

In the core of my being sits this certainty that every little thing we’ve gone through has powerful potential. If we use them, they can bring light to someone who is now sitting in that same place of darkness.

Our songs may never be the same, but the fear, the pain, the fighting and the rescue all have the same tune. We all, in some ways, live ours lives hearing the same melodies. Sometimes, we just need to sit together and share the different words.

So, I’m not going to tell you to get over it, move on, let go. Because I already know that day will come. You’re a fighter and grace got you this far. I’ll just grip my coffee mug and clench my fists and pray that the same God who undoubtedly drove my car down the highway that night, also grabs ahold of you in your grief.

Sometimes, it takes weeks before we can walk again. For some stories, it takes years to heal. I’m not going to be the one to give you an expiration date for your pain.

But our stories, if we let them, have light to give. When people come broken, I don’t want us to simply tell them to get over it and let it go. My hope is that we grab ahold of them, and that for whatever stretch of time they limp, we let them lean on our shoulders.

May we be unafraid to tell our stories, and may we use them as a light. May we selflessly help others through the dark places in which we ourselves have already been.