Though the Winter is Long

I have eight half written blogs begging to be finished along with at least a dozen more floating around in my head. Lately, it feels as if I have a lot of things to express but no way to articulate it. Over the past few months, I’ve felt the gamut of emotions – as one does when walking through grief.

Frustration. Confusion. Sadness. Hopelessness. Loneliness. Happiness. Joy. Trust. Anger. Exhaustion. Gratitude. Contentment. Unsettledness. Pressure. Freedom.

I’ve felt all of it. Usually, every day by 11 am.

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 9.39.04 PMOn Repeat. All Day. Every Day.

It’s hard to feel and think about so many things at one time. It’s not easy to live in the middle of so much tension; it’s overwhelming. But, it’s most of life. Most of life is not lived high atop the mountain or at the very bottom of a valley. It’s lived in the middle. The thing is, I hate the middle. I always have. For as long as I can remember I have struggled to be in the here and now. Even in the best of circumstances, I catch myself wondering what will come next. I even have a hard time settling into good seasons because I get so afraid they will end. I tell my counselor this is fear comes from historical data, not my crazy. He doesn’t buy it. I digress. Anyway, you can imagine how someone like me might do in the midst of some pretty heart-wrenching circumstances.

I’m doing my best to embrace what this season has to offer. By trying to embrace, I mostly mean I’m trying not to kick and scream my way through it. I’m also trying to limit my ice cream intake because, as it turns out, my metabolism has not gotten better with age. If this season of heartache can be compared to a cold winter, I’d love it to be a mild, quick one like in Florida.  Grit your teeth and just get through the short period of awful. There is a reason I live in the South, after all. But, this grief feels more like I need to buckle down in Montana for eight months. The only way to get through a Winter like that is by leaning into the cold, lighting a fire and making the season work for you. Embrace what it has to offer by whipping out your favorite cozy sweater, heating up some cider and using the time to hibernate and rest. I’m doing my best.

The thing is, Spring always comes.

It hasn’t sprung here yet. But, most days the snow is melting, albeit slowly. I’m trying to see the Winter for what it is. A time for not yet seen growth. A time to learn patience and faith, believing the harvest will come. When I choose, I see glimpses of goodness every day. The Lord has been faithful in provision, in relationships, and in His kind patience towards me.

And, I won a raffle at work a few weeks ago, so THE TIDES ARE TURNING, PEOPLE.

A Reclaiming.

For most of my life, I allowed myself to be defined by my circumstances. I fit into a lot of categories that were not glamorous or exciting. Many experiences in my life were, to put it bluntly, devastating. That’s not to say I didn’t have good things or amazing people around me – I did. But, the lows of life seem to have a greater effect than the highs.

And I was the girl who had a lot of lows.

I was the girl who grew up in a home that was marked by divorce, domestic violence, and substance abuse.

I was the girl who was abused and silenced and metaphorically put in a corner. It took me years and years to find the voice I lost.

I was the girl who never quite fit in but wasn’t all the way on the outside edges either.

I was the girl who tried too hard and did too much because she was so desperate for approval. I was the girl who made all of the right decisions.

I was the girl who didn’t invite friends over because of that one birthday party when the cops were called and all of those pre-teen girls were left crying, probably scarred for life.

I was the girl who felt like she was never enough and at the very same time felt like she would always be too much.

I was the girl who seriously contemplated ending it all.

I spent the first twenty ish years of my life walking around as a victim. I let every single circumstance mark who I was. I slumped and slouched and scooted through life – a shell of all I was meant to me.

And then I started to realize that, while I didn’t get to pick anything that happened to me I was actually responsible for how I decided to respond to it. It was up to me to make the life I wanted and to become the person I wanted to be.

By God’s grace, a tribe of beautiful people alongside me, years of counseling and a decent amount of wine, I grew up. I walked away from being a victim and decided to be an overcomer. Most of my freedom came from just deciding to claim it. 

I became the first person in my entire extended family to graduate college. I traveled the world. I moved across the country and made a life for myself. I started mentoring college kids. I met the perfect college pastor and fell in love.  I got married and started my life with someone else, anxious to start a family of my own. So much of where I’ve found myself the past few years has felt like a reward. I felt like I had finally arrived and everything I had been through was worth it because I was exactly where I wanted to be.  I had found my happy ending.

And then.

In one evening, weeks before my 30th birthday, everything changed. My marriage, my ministry, and life as I knew it was flipped upside down. “I want a divorce,” he said. “I don’t think we should be together.”

[I won’t share all of the details surrounding my impending divorce here.  While it is certainly my story – it is someone else’s as well.  It’s layered and messy and devastating and confusing and the people that need to know the nitty gritty do.  Please don’t try to come to conclusions or make assumptions. This story is still being written, and only two people have the right to tell it.]

So, here I am. In a place that feels so uncomfortable and foreign and at the same time, familiar. I can sense the victimhood trying to find a crevice to sneak in to. The temptation to throw my hands in the air is great. It might be easier to just admit defeat. It feels like I have a constant cloud of disappointment resting over my head. Most days, it’s as if I am staring at a wall that’s eight foot deep and the only tool I have to dig through it is a toothpick.

But. I refuse to spend twenty ish more years as a victim of my circumstances. I refuse for more time to be wasted, to be stolen. I will not be defined by one more disappointment. I will not define the Lord by the choices others have made or by the unfortunate things that happen. He is good. He is good. He is good. I refuse to slouch, slump and be silenced again.

I haven’t had to actively decide to be an overcomer in quite some time. In the last several years, life kind of just settled down and my new identity came fairly naturally. But, now.

Now is the time for reclaiming. 

I’m reclaiming my identity as an overcomer. I’m reclaiming my independence. I’m reclaiming dreams that had died. I’m reclaiming my feminity. I’m reclaiming my voice. I’m reclaiming my faith that God works all things together for our good and for His glory.

Oh, it hurts like hell. I’d love nothing more than to push rewind and go back about six months. It’s painful in ways I didn’t know life could be. There are days when I swear I’ve run out of tears to shed and still they fall. I’m learning that grief is not a friend, but a necessary nuisance that you can either invite to the table or have him interrupt your dinner party…either way he’s coming to stay for a bit.

This is not an easy “glory hallelujah I get to learn something new situation.”  I don’t want to do any of it. It’s hard work. It requires more of God’s grace and more of leaning on all of those beautiful people. It requires more counseling and it certainly requires more wine.

But the decision is mine.

I can give in to my circumstances or I can decide to learn, grow, trust, hope and believe.

Now, please pass the Chardonnay.

courage on display.

a few years ago i found myself at a conference in ireland with a few hundred other crazy people.  i’d just gotten home from that time i traveled the world and i didn’t have a clue what i was doing with my life.  i remember being in that room; confused, angry, heartbroken and overwhelmed all at once.  transition was happening so fast around me i felt like i was spinning.  one morning during worship the lord prompted someone to do some declarations.  one declaration in particular.  “i am a woman of courage,”  i stood on a chair and screamed.  over and over and over everyone in the room chanted.  courage.  courage.  courage.

i was laying in bed tonight thinking of that moment.  i was thinking about how i am certain i became more courageous in that space.  as i was reflecting i decided i don’t think it came from some big announcement to the world.  courage took hold inside of me because of the small act of standing on the chair and opening my mouth.  it’s in the day to day things.  it’s in the moments when we quietly choose.

lately, i’ve seen courage on display.

courage

but it hasn’t looked like giant gestures and loud proclamations.  nope.

it’s looked like telling roommates they are settling in that relationship.

it’s looked like the middle of the night text messages that say “i messed up.  again.”

it’s looked like circling yes on the survey and admitting for the first time “that happened to me.”

it’s looked like speaking up in a meeting and stepping out of your comfort zone.

it’s looked like accountability and repentance and the receiving of grace.

it’s been saying yes to that date and no to that ice cream.

it’s looked an awful lot like emails that just say “help.”

it’s looked like break ups and changing majors.

it’s certainly looked like hard conversations scattered with tears and laughs and sighs.

lately, courage on display has mostly looked like a new bunch of crazies.  a slew of incredible, beautiful, wide-eyed college women.

how blessed i am by them.

2013 : a recap.

2013 was a weird year.  i hadn’t spent much time reflecting on it until this morning because i wasn’t sure there was much goodness to see.  but as i started to remember everything the last twelve months have held i was taken aback by how full of life it really was.  i believe there is value in looking back because it helps you look forward.  i want to be a person who is thankful for where she has come and yet believes the best is yet to come.

here’s to everything the lord did last year and to all of the abundance and learning and grace and hope and goodness that is surely in store for this year.

542539_646336356098_1567168782_n

traveled to hawaii with my grandparents and cousin.  it was the best vacation of my life.

544400_650057863168_1116735749_n

a week after i got home from hawaii i flew to south africa to spent four days with this group of crazy, amazing, faithful and courageous group of college kids.

923160_10151644381076694_1312376390_n

i spent most of the spring selling jewelry, applying for “real” jobs, and playing with the best friends a girl could ask for.  i also spent a lot of time on the stretch of highway 85 that goes from gainesville to atlanta.

419083_669424572128_971104371_ni accepted the position at anderson and planned to move to south carolina.

1002418_673145166028_1603834660_n

spent a good part of the summer romping around with this bestie.  we celebrated my birthday in greenville, ate our way through asheville, took an epic roadtrip to colorado and back and made solid plans to get ourselves to rio for the 2014 olympics.

1011239_674888502368_62172548_n

i bought at new car (and received a giant bag of popcorn as thanks).

946688_680254992878_1925841795_n

met new co-workers who have become friends.

1267764_371460139653456_1381460358_o

i acclimated myself to a new job, fell in love with my staff and students, spent a few nights in the hospital, had a million questions and a few days where i wondered if i could do it.  i planned events, learned a new sleep schedule, sat in a lot of meetings, sent a bunch of emails and had a few weird conversations.  basically, i’ve learned a lot about myself, my leadership and what i’d like to adjust moving forward.

994026_696600980388_1956726239_n

saw the lord’s redemption, grace, faithfulness and goodness in a way i could have never imagined when this one walked down the aisle in october.

1544956_712162984008_1265115347_n

loved spending twelve days at home celebrating christmas with my amazing family.

it was a good year, indeed.

 

when the land is not flowing with milk and honey.

my friend kelly has been posting words of truth on her blog.  she’s posting for 31 days this month and has been writing mostly about being in the wilderness.  she’s been camped out in exodus for the last week and so i’ve been thinking about my own wilderness season.  i can relate to most of what she’s saying about feeling lonely, the pain and practice of waiting and what it feels like when god takes you the long way around.  except here’s the problem.  i feel like i’m not supposed to feel any of those things because i have apparently entered my proverbial promised land.

in the months leading up to my move i had a perfect picture of what life would be like here.  i wasn’t completely naive to the fact that it would still be transition and there would be bits that would feel hard.  but the job.  the job was going to be everything i’d ever hoped for.  life would be good.  students would be in and out of my apartment constantly, my staff would always want to be together.  we’d drink coffee and talk about the deep things of our hearts for hours on end.  i’d be the cool one who took trips to fro yo at midnight and retold war stories from my time abroad.  i’d find friends easily, join a small group, help hold babies on sunday mornings.  ministry would be vast and easy.  the sun and would shine, the birds would chirp and i’d finally see the abundance i’ve been claiming.

i expected to bring the glory clouds and manna from the wilderness with me to the promised land.

instead, i live alone and miss having roommates desperately.  ministry looks like fire drills and discipline meetings and 80s skate nights.  most of my staff doesn’t like coffee and we have not once traipsed about town for fro yo.  i send emails and plan meetings and give feedback.  i’ve traded the manna for caf food and the glory cloud for a permanent indention on  my couch.  i spend most evenings alone and watch more netflix than i care to admit.

i like my job.  i am grateful for it.  but life looks different.  outside of leslie knope and my co-workers [who i am beyond thankful for] i don’t really have friends.  i’ve struggled to find new community.  the boxes are all unpacked and my apartment is decorated but i don’t always feel settled.

when the israelites crossed the jordan into the promised land they rested for a hot minute, thanked the lord for bringing them so far and set remembrance stones for what he’d done.  then they set up camp and looked at the walls of jericho.  the walls they’d have to go tear down.  the walls they’d have to march around until they finally fell.

they were in the promised land but they still had to fight for the inheritance of it.  

no one ever told me this part of the story.  i had no idea what i was getting myself into.  and instead of marching around my own walls with belief that they will indeed crumble i’ve been camped out, staring at them; looking backwards to the wilderness.  i’ve been missing the manna and glory clouds and people i was wandering with.  the truth is, i don’t want to fight for anything anymore.  i don’t even want to acknowledge walls are in front of me, let alone march around them and believe they’ll fall.  i just want the milk and honey to flow.  i just want to pitch my tent, hang up my hammock and enjoy.

but that is not the option.

the option is to, one more time, face the thing in front of me.  the walls of loneliness, bitterness, wondering and second guessing.  the walls of discontentment and negativity.  the walls of what ifs and if onlys.

my jericho walls are not an indication of defeat, but a chance for the lord to prove himself faithful again. 

so i’m standing up.  i’m getting out of the camp i’ve stayed in and moving towards the land that has already been given but has yet to be won.

home again.

homei left friday morning to make the two hour trip to atlanta.  there wasn’t much on the agenda.  i just wanted to be with my people.  oh, how i have missed my people.  i pulled up to the familiar house on branch bend road.  i’ve worshipped, cried, slept, laughed, dined and celebrated in that place.  it’s familiar.  greeted by hugs and how are yous i sunk into the couch.  patti made me a sandwich and mike insisted on checking the oil in my car.

exhale.

it felt good to be home.

 

 

i invited myself into a previously planned dinner.  we squished seven people around a table and enjoyed a meal.  we reminisced on what has been, speculated on what’s to come.  decided to be thankful for what is now.

exhale.

it felt good to be home.

“brunch in the morning?”  yes.  i sat across from one of my dearest friends for nearly two hours.  conversation came easy – there was no getting to the real stuff because it’s just there.  laughing about the imperfections that surround us and exist within us, sharing about work and our lack of social lives.  brunch turned into a few more hours of snacking on popcorn and continued chatting.  it was just what i needed.

exhale.

it felt good to be home.

birthday celebrations with favorites and ones who happened to be around.  walks in the park with hundreds of lantern holding friends.  a perfect summer night.  a breakfast of cinnamon rolls on that all too familiar red couch.  laughing and crying.  the crying comes on that couch one way or another.  a slow morning of goodness.  lunch with the birthday girl.  a quick trip to see a new home.  the place they’ve been waiting for.  one more time, helping to unpack a box – at this point, we’re all pros.  we sat in the garage for two hours because i couldn’t make myself leave.  hugs and see you soons and holding back the tears.

exhale.

it felt really, really good to be home. 

i’m glad to be here.

to say the past few weeks have been busy would be an incredible understatement.  we sure did go from zero to a million miles a minute in no time.  three weeks ago the student development staff drove to north carolina for a few days of working, getting to know each other, and casting some vision over this year.  i’ve been on a lot of work retreats.  this one was definitely at the top of my list.  when we got home, it was officially go time.  we had a few days of prep before the RA’s came which looked a lot like running around an office, making copies of different things, talking through schedules, planning sessions, ordering food, and so on.

and then they came.

all nine of my girls made it to campus and training began.  sessions, hang out time, praying, planning, decorating, more sessions.  somewhere in all of it we started bonding and i fell in love with each of them.  they’re a funny little crew.  but they’re my funny little crew.  and i’m obsessed.

i got three hours of sleep friday night. i was up at 4:30 am to put on my best professional face, cook breakfast, and get a group of fifty plus staff and volunteers motivated to welcome in hundreds of new students by filling out paper work and carrying their stuff.  in the rain.  mostly i made coffee, smiled, shook hands, hugged crying mommas and ran from floor to floor making sure all was well.  and it was.  no major issues.  no angry parents.  no day one roommate drama.

there is a god and he does love me.

classes started today and the campus is bursting with people.  i’m often mistaken for a lost freshman.  i used it to my advantage to get a free cup and ice cream last night.  i’m beat.  but my heart is full.  i’m still navigating the balance of this work here/live here/play here life.  i still need friends off campus.  but i’m thankful.

i’m thankful for a staff who loves me and supports me and works hard.  i’m thankful for co workers who are quickly becoming dear friends.  for an extra hour of sleep because my office hours don’t start until monday.  for the convenience of walking to the caf when i’m too tired to cook.  i’m thankful for the 262 women who looked at me tonight as we gathered as a community for the first time.  for the chance to pray blessing over them.  i’m thankful for another job in which i get to spend time worshipping and praying and believing.  i’m thankful for trips that are planned and friends who call to check in, just because. i’m thankful that, though it feels lacking at times, this life is full.  my life is full.

this is good.  i’m glad to be here.

and now i’m going to catch up on some sleep.

coming upon the seams.

i guess not all transitions can remain seamless forever.  if the seasons of our lives are patches, the quilt is woven together by many a seam.  seams that are made of heartache and tears and some kind of deep trust we’re not sure where exactly it comes from.  my quilt has lots of seams and a frayed edge or two.  it’s been fashioned with a lot of “whys” a few “are you kidding me’s” and i suppose some “yes’s” along the way.

i said yes to south carolina because i wanted to.  it is absolutely the promised land i [along with faithful friends and family] have waited for, prayed for, hoped and believed for.  i want to be here.  i want to do this.  i am thrilled beyond measure about the opportunity.

the transition felt relatively easy.  i packed, movers came, we drove eighty miles north and in a few hours i was mostly settled.  i was greeted with banners and gifts and a dozen people to help carry boxes.  i’ve never felt so welcomed into a new place.  i shed a few tears when they left, but mostly i was fine.  i enjoyed the few days of down time romping around town and catching up on my hulu.  i started working on monday morning and could hardly sleep the night before.  this.  this is what i have waited for.  i had lunch with new co-workers and began making plans for my staff that comes in a few weeks.

and then. i ran smack dab into a seam.  the frayed edge.

i started missing my friends.  i felt out of place.  lonely.  the job started to seem overwhelming, at best.  i lasted about nine days before the flood gates opened.  it was therapeutic if nothing else.  fifteen minutes of words spilling out.  things i didn’t even realize were bothering me until it all came out.

what if i don’t fit here?  what if they don’t like me?  i’m not as educated, qualified, etc. as they are.  i’m so thankful for this, i don’t want to feel this way.  why is this happening?  i feel like i’m having re-entry all over again.  and a few more um, slightly dramatic things, that i know aren’t true – but came out in the moment.

i thought about fleeing to atlanta.  to people who know and understand.  people i don’t have to try with.  but then i remembered how i used to have to try with them.  i tried really hard, actually.  and so instead of jumping in my car i invited new friends for dinner.  i cooked and set the table and enjoyed myself more than i have since i have been here.  i felt a little more in the right place.  a little more like myself.

so, i found some seams.  for a little bit, the excitement and gratitude and goodness was clouded by the hard.  the grieving of one thing and the wondering of another got the better of me.  i’m okay with that.  because things get shaken.  but i don’t stand in my shaken-ness.  i stand in steadiness.

and today, i’m womping around my apartment, standing on my couch and declaring greatness over this season.  because deep down, it’s what i believe.  i know it’s what’s really coming.  goodness and greatness exist in this place.  however unsteadily, i’m reaching out and grabbing them.  i am also drinking a lot of coffee, writing letters to my best friends, and contemplating getting out of my pajamas.  happy saturday.

thank you for all of your love, prayers and support during this transition. i am so thankful to be surrounded by such incredible people all over the place.  south carolina is beautiful – you’re welcome here any time.

setting the table.

i’ve been away from home for several years now.  i’m pretty much on the twice a year rotation for visits.  so it shouldn’t shock anyone that life kind of moves on without me for the fifty weeks that i am not around.  parties are had, birthdays are celebrated and grandpa grills burgers just because.  it never fails that whenever the time rolls around for me to come home i’ll be on the phone with my grandma and she’ll be talking about an upcoming event, one i’ll actually be around for.  so i’ll say, “don’t forget – i’m coming home.”  it’s my implied “save a place for me.”

i don’t have to say it.  there’s always a place for me.  there’s always room at the table.  and lord knows there is always plenty of food.

Imagei’ve been invited to sit around many tables in my life.  from an early age i’ve always found myself in adopted families or with incredible groups of friends.  young life.  college.  the world race.  and now, georgia.  in this past season i’ve found myself a table to sit at.  i’ve been invited into something unique and special and sweet.  it’s been laced with tears and disappointments but it’s a table i’ve laughed at, screamed at, apologized and grew up at.  it’s one in which i’ve found myself celebrating, grieving, wishing, wondering, and praying.  i’ve been blessed, challenged, and sent out around this table.  i’ve dined with fancy napkins and plastic cups alike.  people have come in and out for different reasons or time, myself included.  but the table of grace, community, friendship and life exists here.  it’s a place i want to stay.

but i know it’s time to set my own table.  it’s time to be the creator of the space that invites people in, offers rest and life and encouragement and challenge.  it’s my turn to wash the napkins, dust off the china and get to work.  i’ve been partaking of a table for so long that this new task can, at moments, seem overwhelming.

but then i remember my place at the table doesn’t go away because i’m eighty miles further up the road.

around this time last year i was trying to make a decision about whether or not to go overseas for another season.  i was hot and sweaty running around at training camp.  my mind was spinning because it was not the plan.  i picked up the phone and through tears i asked for a blessing.  i needed to ask “if i do this – will you save a place for me?”  and through tears on the other end, i got exactly what i knew i would.  i don’t need to ask this time around.  partly because there is no conflict with this decision, but mostly because i know i have it without asking.

life is about to look different.  it’s something i’m not entirely sure that i am ready for.  but i know it’s right.  so i’m packing boxes and renting trucks and soaking up every minute with these people that i can.  i’m taking deep breaths and allowing my eyes to get wet.  i’m talking with people who i haven’t met but are soon to become new friends.  people who will come around a new table.  i’m pulling out every good thing i have to offer and preparing the table that is sure to be flooded in the coming weeks and months.

get ready, south carolina.  we are about to have one hell of a dinner party.

the next step? south carolina.

here’s how the general story of the last 18 months of my life goes.

i interviewed for what i thought was my dream job.  convinced i would get it.  so convinced, that i quit my current job.  i didn’t get the job.  but i left my job anyways because, well, it was time.  then i was asked to squad lead.  i said no.  but then i said yes.  it was the best decision i could have made.  i came home for christmas.  visited some friends and family.  went to hawaii and south africa and became very tired of plane rides.  i moved back in to my apartment and worked at finding a job.  job searching doesn’t pay very well.  i started selling jewelry.  i kept looking for jobs.  jobs that would allow me to do some things i’m good at along with some things i enjoy.  learned that people are bad at responding to emails and in the corporate world will rarely do what they say they will do.  applied for more jobs.  thought i had a certain one in the bag.  readied myself for that.  didn’t get that job, either.  cried a little bit.  drove to south carolina.  fell in love (with a job prospect, not a man – just so we are all clear).  begged.  hoped.  believed.  cried some more.  waited. waited. waited.

accepted.

celebrated.  thanked jesus for new opportunities and the lessons i’ve learned in the in between.  debriefed those people i came to love.  sold some more jewelry.  gave notice at an apartment.  and now, i’m just waiting again.

andersonin july i’ll be making the move to anderson, south carolina where i will be a resident director at anderson university.

i am beyond excited for this opportunity and could not be more thankful for the open door.  i interviewed on campus in april and came home thinking to myself, “if i get this job, everything else will make sense.”  i cannot articulate why, exactly.  but it feels like such a good fit for me.  i clicked well with the staff, loved the area, and was so impressed by the university as a whole and what the lord is doing.  i feel so blessed to be a part of it.

in the past season i have learned much about waiting.  waiting with patience and expectation.  waiting for the very best thing and not the first thing to come along.  my prayer has been that i would continue to be a person who waits well.  who trusts with full assurance but accepts with humility and grace.

it’s been a joy to share these last years as a world traipsing missionary with you.  i hope you’ll join me on the next adventure.