When Victory Costs You

Two days ago my final divorce papers showed up in my mailbox. I knew they were coming. I had the experience of divorce court a few weeks ago so it wasn’t shocking when they arrived. I opened them up, did a once over and threw them on the never-ending pile that somehow accumulates on my kitchen counter.

In the weeks leading up to the official end of my marriage, I thought a lot about the last fifteen months. What I’ve learned in a separation, what I wish I’d done differently, how I’ve changed.

I wouldn’t say I came out a winner. No one wins in divorce. It was hands down, the most devastating, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking experience of my life.  It is something that has shaped me, but I’ve chosen to not let it define me.  But, I would say I found some victory. That victory wasn’t free. Is it ever? It cost me. Not so much in a sacrificial way, but definitely in a giving up, a surrendering.

great surrenderI had to surrender so much of my pride. I laid down my desire to be right and for the world to know just how right I was. Coming from a family of divorce, I was determined not to be “one of them.” I had a pretty black and white view of the whole thing. One thing I’ve learned is that it takes two people to say yes at the end of the aisle. It only takes one to walk away. Every story is different, nuanced, and really not for me to judge. I think marriage is holy. I think it’s worth fighting for. I don’t think it’s something that should be entered into lightly. But, in the same way most people don’t know all the intricacies of my story, I don’t know it all. I laid down a lot of my judgment.

I found victory in my identity. I learned, more than ever before, that I am strong. But that strength doesn’t have to mean you’re harsh. I also learned that I am soft. And that staying soft doesn’t mean I am weak or that I’ve got to open myself up to be walked all over. I can be both. This victory meant I had to lay down my victimhood. On days it would have been easy to “poor me” myself I had to fight through that. I had to lay down the momentary comfort of self-pity for the greater work of defining my true self.

It. was. not. easy. 

This season, in so many ways, has come to an end. Legally, it’s wrapped up. Emotionally, I’m ready to move on. Spiritually, the Lord has given me so much peace. It wasn’t fun. But, I’m proud of how I walked through it and of who I am on the other side.

The thing is, there’s still more victory for me to discover and more things to surrender. Unrelated to divorce, there’s stuff the Lord is chipping away at.  Trauma has a way of opening us back up, arms raised and hands open.  When we’re desperate, it often seems He’s the only place to turn. As I walk out of this chapter and into the clearing, I want to maintain my sense of desperation for Jesus. I want to be better about surrendering the things that make me less like Him and run towards the victory He has. It’s better.

In what areas of your life do you need a victory?

God’s kindness will lead you to surrender as you pursue it.

But Will He?

My issue with faith and with the Lord has never been whether or not He can do something but if He will.

I know He can heal. I know He can redeem. He can fix and mend and provide and show up in a million different ways. But will He?

Will He redeem my marriage? Will He offer provision? Will He give you a baby? Will He heal the illness? Will He answer the prayers?

The thing is, I don’t know.

My evangelical faith told me for a long time that if I stood on a tall enough chair and declared things long enough and loud enough that He would. He had to. And then my marriage unraveled, basically in a matter of days. I spent months screaming and declaring and hoping against hope. And then I just kind of gave in to the reality in front of me. That sounds so depressing but it was actually kind of freeing. I found myself in this place where I had to decide to believe God for who He is and not just what He can do.
I had a disappointment this week. I’ve been house hunting for quite some time and I’ve fallen in love with and lost several homes I was trusting God to give me. I got my hopes up (again) and was disappointed (again). Losing a house isn’t the end of the world. But losing a marriage sure felt like it. Losing a baby, losing a job, losing a loved one. Why doesn’t He just snap His fingers and wave the wand and fix the stuff?

I’m still not sure.

I’ve been in Niagara Falls the last two days. I happened to be up this way for work and decided to make a trip of it. This morning was crisp and cool. I grabbed a coffee and wandered down to the Falls and just marveled. It is more beautiful and majestic than I thought it would be. I was prepared to be unimpressed but I wasn’t. I stood over the rail and watched a boat full of people in their red ponchos get closer and closer to the Falls. They looked kind of miserable.

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It was cold and wet and they were being blown all over the place. If I only looked at the boat and what was happening to it, it looked like they were caught in a storm in the middle of the sea.  I’m sure it felt like that, too. But from where I was standing, when I looked up, I could see the whole picture. They weren’t in a storm at all. They were actually smack dab in the middle of one of the world’s greatest natural landmarks.

How much of my life do I feel like I’m standing in the middle of a storm being thrown all about. A good bit of it.  What if all the while I’m just in the middle of whatever God is doing?  I know, that sounds really churchy and nice. But, really. What if we changed our perspective to see the beauty that’s on all sides? It may change the way we ride the waves.

On Mother’s Day

First, to the Bonus Moms. Throughout my life, I’ve had so many different mamas who have taken me in, loved me as their own and helped fill gaps I didn’t even know I had. They’ve laughed with me, cried with me, put me in my place; celebrated and grieved alongside me. And they’ve prayed for me. Oh, how I know they’ve prayed for me. Bonus moms deserve all the celebrating and I hope they know how much they mean to me.

Second, to my friends and soul sisters who are moms or on the cusp of motherhood. Thank you for sharing your babes with me and letting me aunt so hard. You’re amazing heroes in your own right.

Third, to the ladies in my life who, like me, took Jen Hatmaker’s advice and stayed home this morning. I see you. I see you missing your mamas. I see you wishing desperately to be a mama; waiting for babies or waiting for husbands because you’d like one of those before you have some babies. I see you single mamas who are just doing the best you can.  I see you wrestling because you’re not sure you want to be a mama (that’s okay!).  Know you are seen and loved today. It’s okay to feel all the tension today might bring. Have an ice cream, buy a new outfit, take a nap or drink the wine. Care for yourself.

And finally and most especially today, to my mama. For all of the women who have loved me, you are the only one who gave me life. Thank you for giving me that beautiful gift. I love you to the moon and back!

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When Disappointment Knocks

I know a little bit about disappointment. It’s something I’ve faced quite a bit in my life. Jobs I thought would come, opportunities I hoped would come my way, relationships I believed would be restored. We’ve all felt it one way or another. Even though we all experience it, we often don’t give ourselves the permission to feel it. It seems that in Christian circles there is so much shame that comes when we question or doubt or have feelings that are less than our Sunday best.  We stuff it and keep it secret. We do and say the right things. But if we don’t acknowledge it, it just festers.

Several months ago I was stuck on those few verses in Romans 5.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint.”

I sat down on the soft, brown leather couch across from my counselor (and new best friend) and told him about this verse.  The disappointment over my divorce had been sitting heavy for awhile but I was afraid to admit it. I thought if I expressed how deeply disappointed I was that somehow meant I didn’t trust who God was.  My disappointment, I believed, was directly equivalent to my lack of faith.

And then it all came tumbling out.

“But you know what,” I said. “I think that’s a load of garbage*. For months, I’ve done nothing but hope and here I am dis-a-poin-ted. Every expectation I had has been shattered and I did the right things and prayed the right prayers and I hoped so hard. So I just think it’s a lie. It feels like some kind of bad joke. Like, I’m supposed to hope for something that I’m just never going to get.”

I cried big tears that day because even as the words were coming out of my mouth I didn’t feel hopeless. I hadn’t lost all faith. I knew God was close. And somewhere deep down I believed He could be trusted. But, I needed some time to sit with my disappointment. I had to experience the tension (again). It was important for me to feel it and wrestle with it and give it up and dig through the stuff to find hope again.

Being disappointed is not the problem. Staying disappointed is the problem.
LISTEN NOW

We aren’t very good at sitting with our stuff. We’re told to be strong and take heart and be positive and pray harder and yada yada yada. It’s all good stuff and, for the most part, usually comes from a kind place. But there is a time to feel the disappointment. There’s time to feel the grief and anger and sadness and hopelessness.  Feeling disappointment doesn’t mean you’re faithless or entirely void of hope or that you don’t trust in God’s goodness.

They aren’t mutually exclusive.

Feeling disappointed just means I’m feeling disappointed. 

The hope we have in Christ doesn’t disappoint us. It never has and it never will.

But the disappointment you feel over the promotion you didn’t get, the house you didn’t win, the relationship that fizzled out…you’re allowed to feel that. And the fear that comes when you have to choose to hope again. You’re allowed to feel that, too.

The Lord can handle it.

So, the next time disappointment knocks? Let it in. Sit in it and feel it and allow the Lord to meet you there. There is freedom in being true to your feelings. And then. Let hope rise. Reject the fear. Remind yourself of who God is. Be encouraged that He is for you. Remember that He is good.

*There may have been some choice words other than “garbage.” It’s fine. That’s why I pay him.

Until the Barren is Beautiful

Right after graduating college I put my new marketing degree to good use and traveled for a year while I lived out of a backpack. It was amazing, but not quite as glamorous as it sounds. You can still read about that adventure.

Five months in, my team and I found ourselves in Israel. Because we were good Christians we went on a “media fast” for the entire month. No iPods, internet or Netflix bingeing. Was there even Netflix back then? Coupled with our great sacrifice was the fact that we really didn’t have much ministry to do. Our contact set up a few things here and there but for the most part, we were left to our own devices.

Smack dab in the middle of the Negev desert and bored out of our minds.

CaptureIn the middle of it, that time felt kind of pointless. It felt like a waste of time and I would have much rather moved on to the next country.

I’ve been thinking about that season a lot lately. I’m no longer surrounded by actual sand and dust, but I’ve been in the proverbial desert for coming up on a year. It’s so easy to wish it away. Bring on the next thing, Lord. Take me out of this place! Where is the promised land?

In the kindest of ways, the Lord reminds me that the barren can be beautiful. It can be full of purpose and it can be enjoyed now, not only in hindsight.

When I was in Israel my team and I learned a lot about Jewish culture. We practiced Shabbat every week. We woke up early on Saturday mornings and made delicious breakfasts. I sat on a cozy balcony, drank coffee and read a dozen books that month. We had beds! It was a refreshing time, after what had been a tumultuous month. We were able to see the sites and explore the surrounding areas. We celebrated Christmas in the birthplace of Christ. I have a lot of good memories from that month. It was anything but wasted time.

This song has a line in it that has become my prayer in this new year. “Melt the ice of this wild soul, until the barren is beautiful.”

Wherever you are, whatever you are facing, I hope you will find the grace to see beauty in the barren and dry places.

Dear 2017, BYE.

It’s 10:48 am on Sunday, December 31st, 2017. I’m sitting on my couch with candles burning, sipping a fresh cup of coffee. I woke up with an expectation I haven’t felt in quite some time. Tomorrow a page turns. A new year. A new beginning. I’ve never been so ready to say farewell.

There’s not an easy way to sum up what 2017 has been for me. It’s been terrible and wonderful. It’s been full of heartache but also full of friendship and community. It’s been lonely, but I’ve started to find a sense of peace in the stillness. It was the year I experienced some of the greatest rejection of my life. But, it was also the year my people showed up and showed out. It was a year of unwelcomed personal change but one that offered long-awaited growth and advancement professionally.

Two thousand seventeen is the year I lived in tension.

There was a constant push and pull. It was all of this and all of that. There were incredible lows, but I didn’t live there. There were moments of great joy and days of sorrow. I laughed and I cried. Sometimes I laughed so I wouldn’t cry and, more than once, I cried from laughing so hard. There was a lot of processing and a fair amount of accepting. It was a year of broken promises but quiet reminders of the promise that God is always good and He has not forgotten me.

This year was heavy, but it feels like I’m walking into 2018 a bit lighter. I’m not full of hope, but I am hopeful. I don’t always feel strong, but I feel stronger than I did a year ago.  I’m not full of expectation, but there is an expectancy for what is on the horizon.

I’m not naive enough to think my grief will suddenly come to an end when the clock strikes midnight. I know a new year won’t erase my current season or magically help me fast forward to what might be next. I will still wake up tomorrow morning in the middle of a divorce, in the middle of finding my place in a new city, and in the middle of wondering what in the world the Lord is doing in me, for me, with me.

It’s possible that 2017 will be a defining year in my life. It’s also possible that it’s just a blip on my radar. At the moment, I’m just grateful for the goodness it offered and glad to leave the rest behind.

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.

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.

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.