The Story of Our Engagement

Five years ago today Nathan asked if I’d marry him. We came home from college for Pumpkin Festival weekend to see family and friends (our hometown’s annual fall festival). We took the train from Chicago on a Friday night, and we stopped at the Morton high school football game to watch the marching band perform their halftime show. Nathan was on their drum line back in the day, and the band was a huge part of his life. We caught up with some friends there and enjoyed the crisp air and nostalgia of home.

I remember people being a little weird around me. I thought maybe I looked funny, or I had done something odd, because people kept whispering to Nathan and giving me looks. After the game, we left for his parents’ house.

As we pulled into the driveway, there stood our families and close friends holding lit pumpkins that read “Megan, will you marry me?” carved into them.

Oh my gosh, I was so surprised!

 

When I get emotionally overwhelmed, I tend to shut down externally. So I remember kind of blanking out as I got out of the car and watched Nathan get down on one knee with a ring in hand. I remember I barely whispered a yes, and then hardly contained my excitement the rest of the night.

(Oh! While we were dating, we had decided we wouldn’t kiss on the lips until we were engaged. Apparently Nathan expected our first kiss would be right after I said “Yes” that evening, but I was waaaayyy too embarrassed for that. Today I’m just embarrassed at how spiritually mature we thought that decision was for us! Haha! We were so young!)

People had made pumpkin pie and lots of coffee, and we celebrated with our family and friends.

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It was all the things I love, and people I love, in one room together. It was wonderful. So perfectly us.

Later in the evening, when everyone had gone home or gone to bed and it was just Nathan and I, I asked about the ring he chose for me. He told me he had designed it himself. When I asked how he knew I’d like it, he said “I just thought about who you are, and then tried to replicate that in a ring.”

 

WHAT. You guys. He completely captured it. I’ll always remember his intentionality and thoughtfulness when I look at it, which makes it even more beautiful to me.

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I’m sure we’ll feel this way five years from now, but we look back at who we were then and think, “We were just babies.” We had no idea who we were, or what we were doing in life. Our ideals of marriage, our careers, our goals, and our personalities all feel so different now.

At the time, I was in Moody Bible Institute’s English as a Second Language Program, and Nathan was studying to become a pastor.

We still had two years of college left (which turned into 2.5). That fall Nathan would decide he didn’t enjoy the full-time student on-campus life, and switched to an online program and finished early, while also taking a part-time job in Moody Radio. This became a full-time job not long after, and ultimately led him into what he’s doing today.

In a few months I’d decide I didn’t enjoy teaching like I thought I would, and I would switch to a counseling program that would set me on a journey of healing and personal growth.

Engagement was hard. Moody had strict rules about how ladies and guys could interact, so we were never alone together on campus. I remember one specific rule about being fined for kissing on campus. So we’d walk the streets of Chicago almost every night to have time together, even when it was 10 degrees outside in the winter. We traveled home almost every other weekend that year just so we could spend time together.

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Planning a wedding while in school was not one of my strengths, and I regret some of the choices we made because we were still a bit immature, and/or because we had never planned a wedding before and had no idea what we were doing. Even so, our wedding day was one of the best of my life.

I pulled out our marriage vows a few years ago, and we realized that even our theology of marriage has changed. I know some people take these vows so seriously, hanging on every word, but I believe that marriage isn’t built on a day, and I’m so grateful for the journey God has taken us on in these five years. The words we’ve spoken to each other since that day are just as important as the ones we spoke in front of our friends and family in our wedding.

We got married young – at 19 and 20 – but without a doubt it was the right time for us. We needed each other then, and God has used our marriage to grow us.

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I hope that in another five years we’ll look back to today and think, “We were just babies when we got engaged!” because that means we’ve been growing and changing still. I pray that never stops.

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Starting Again

Seven months! That’s how old Maleia is today, and how long it’s been since I’ve written anything. Babies aren’t predictable. Why isn’t that in the instruction manual? Oh wait, there isn’t one? Oh yeah, that’s why I have no idea what I’m doing and why I haven’t written in so long.

Now that I’ve unburied myself a bit after having Maleia, I’ve been poking my head up and looking around. I have a little more space to breath and to notice what habits I’ve formed since she’s joined us.  And I’m convicted that I’ve become addicted to my phone.

I think it’s taking time and energy away from being a more productive and engaged mom, spouse, and friend. I waste so much time on it because it’s easy. Maleia isn’t engaged enough to crawl, sit, stand, walk, or talk yet, so our home is quiet (except for 40% of the time when she’s screaming about something). To fill that quiet, I’ll grab my phone to look at pictures, go on Instagram, check Facebook, refresh my email, scroll through forums, and browse websites for the latest baby items that all of a sudden I feel the need to own.

Maleia already knows how much I value my phone because she watches how often I stare at it. She’s already reaching for it to play with. I treat my phone is like it’s another person that gets to take up space and conversation in our home and family.  If Maleia learns her values from us, right now she’s learning the value of technology, and specifically, the value of not being present with people. When I stare at my phone instead of interacting with her, she’s internalizing that my phone is more valuable than her, and years from now, she’ll believe her phone is more valuable than other people too.

How heartbreaking. I talk about the value of being present with people, but I’m not living it out in my own home. I want to change that. I want her to know she comes first, and real people come first. Technology (for the most part) isn’t necessary to live a full, enjoyable life. It can be good and helpful, for sure. What would I do without Amazon and Google? And I will never stop taking thousands of pictures of our children and family either. These are necessities. But life is not lived well when it’s spent looking at other people’s lives digitally. Most of the time, I’m looking at posts and pictures that don’t add value to my life. It takes me down trails that lead to feelings of being less than, other than, or not enough. Too often it makes me feel discontent.

Maleia will grow up with more technology than any previous generation. She’ll have more opportunities to engage with it from the start of her life than we did. I’m afraid she’ll miss the opportunity to learn how to be creative, to fill quiet spaces with stories, games, people, and play. Life is better when we’re present with the people and spaces in front of us. It’s good for the soul to be bored and undistracted. It gives us opportunities to create, think, and breath.

This is a hard decision for me. I’ve considered deleting all of my social accounts in the past, but I hesitate to disconnect myself from family and friends who live far away. I wonder, though, how much more I’d reach out to engage in real relationship if I’m not engaged digitally? A real relationship isn’t dependent on liking each other’s Instagram’s and Facebook posts. It’s based on real conversations through phone calls, face-time talks, texts, and face-to-face quality time. In the end, I think I’d place higher value on having a deeper relationship by disconnecting from these digital, shallow relationships.

I’m still considering what this will look like. Should I keep my phone charging in the kitchen so I’m not tempted to look at it all the time? Will I totally disconnect from social media, or limit myself to 20 minutes at the end of the day? Unplugging, to any degree, will be a positive change. I’m sure I’ll go through some form of detox because I’ve been living like my phone is necessary. I carry it around with me 95% of the time, even throughout our small apartment. How sad.

Maleia will grow up learning from our natural ways of living life. The words we say, shows we watch, our habits, our way of forming relationships, the people who fill our home, how we deal with boredom, the places we go, what we eat, how we pursue our passions, how we live out our faith. Through these, our home culture is formed. In this space of home, of safety and nurture, she learns what to value. She learns everything here first.

I know we’ll make mistakes as parents. We already have. Being a parent is choosing to give ourselves over to a lot of raw feelings like fear, pain, loss, anger, regret, and unknowns. It’s constantly vulnerable. Vulnerability is so hard, but it’s work worth pursuing. It’s where love begins and where it grows. My hope and prayer is that through this change of leaving my phone alone, our children learn the value and necessity of community lived in real relationships with people face-to-face.

Wandering with Jesus

“God’s will is not for you to be confused or lost.” This is what a friend told me as I described how I’ve been feeling lately. I’m not responsible for much these days, and in some ways it’s amazing. Like being on vacation full-time. But I’m not sure it’s always good for people.

I think there’s something about the human spirit that needs something to take care of. We are a people who like to produce, create, and maintain. Without that, we feel a sense of purposelessness. We are created to work. A garden, kids, pets, job responsibilities. Something to keep us occupied, busy, and moving forward. Right now I don’t have any of those.

I’m still in limbo with what’s next for me. I’ve been unwinding and rebuilding over the past few months (Read this post to find out why!), and I feel like I’m ready to take on something new. I’ve rested. I’ve been silent. I’ve listened. I’ve taken care of myself. I started working out, eating healthier, and created healthier habits. I’m reading books again and am starting to explore new avenues of interest.

There are still bits that I’m working through from this last year, like mild anxiety and depression, but as I look back on what I was writing about at this time last year, I see a stark contrast to today. I feel like a different person. I’ve come so far and fought so hard to get here. I’m so thankful to be here.

I’m ready for the next “big thing.” Maybe that’s too eager? I have a feeling that there’s still a lot of waiting ahead for me. Which is, in all honesty, annoying. I just want answers, but God has been very silent.

What I have been learning, though, is to trust Him more. I feel a more desperate need to pray in the mornings and lean on Him for patience, strength, and endurance. I feel more need to pick up my Bible and soak in the word for encouragement, joy, and peace. I have seen God come through my casual, everyday conversations with people, and the things I write about. These, friends, are good signs.

In this continued season of waiting, I think this is what I’m being called to. To persevere in patience and prayer. To learn how to trust God deeper with my hopes and dreams.

It’s hard, friends. Oh my, is it hard. When I think of the future, it looks like a giant black, bleak, never-ending tunnel of nothingness. But I’m being called to claim something different, and it’s stretching my faith. God knows my heart, my skills and passions, and what my future holds. He knows what is best for me, and is inviting me to lay all that I am and all that I have at his feet. And just trust. 

I’ve noticed that a lot of people my age experience similar feelings: post-grad/early adulthood angst. “What do I do with my life?” “How do I get started?” “Is this really what I want?” We want to make a difference in the world. There’s so many opportunities out there that it’s easy to get paralyzed by fear and indecision.

Maybe these questions will continue to follow us at any age. To anyone who can relate, use this time to be silent with God.

Even if he isn’t clear about his will for you and when opportunities seem to be waving goodbye, he is still good. He still loves you. You still have a purpose, and you still matter. There’s still much to learn.

Soak in this time to draw near to God and trust that he is preparing you for what’s next. It may be months or years away from now before you feel like “This is what I’m meant for!” And that’s okay.

Take every opportunity to grow, to be sanctified, and to learn about who God is and who you are in him.

In times when the future seems unclear and when you don’t know which way to turn, stay close to Jesus and find refreshment from him alone.

How do you respond in times of uncertainty?

 

 

Pursuing Passion

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means. What does it look like to be passionate? How do you take those small ideas and make them into something grand and meaningful? Can your passions change?

I’ve got post-graduation blues. Meaning, I’ve had Big Dreams that I’ve been pursuing for a long time. I decided to attend school to fulfill them, and this is the plan I’ve always communicated to people when they ask what I’m studying and how I want to use my education. “Well, I want to _____ for _____ and I can’t wait! It’s going to be amazing.”

Now that I’ve graduated, I feel a little lost about my future. I’m unemployed – whaddup –and still not sure what kind of job would fulfill me. I’m not ready to jump into ministry, counseling, or social work after coming off of a draining year.

What I have wanted to pursue, now doesn’t seem to fulfill or excite me in the way I expected. And other things that have been small passions in my life are becoming more dominant.

My passions are changing. And right now I’m in the ambiguous arena of figuring out how to pick up these new ones, and decide what to do with the ones I’ve carried for so long.

1. Hold plans loosely. Making plans keeps us moving forward. Setting goals helps us make the most of our time here, and can pull us out of difficult situations to propel us into a better, more fulfilling future.

But it’s easy for us to put all our hope in those plans and goals. And when things inevitably change or look different than what we expect, we get disappointed and angry at God, ourselves, and people around us. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t pursue our passions, nor that we shouldn’t make plans for our lives.

But as we plan, we should walk faithfully with Jesus and keep our lives in his hands instead of our own. As we plan, we give up our desires and seek his instead. As we pursue our passions, we use them to glorify him more.

He sees our future and knows what’s ahead. Even when the future holds dark places, we must walk through it with Jesus or we won’t make it through well. We won’t be changed for the better, softened to love more, strengthened to challenge each other, and marked for his kingdom. Let us make plans, pursue our passions, and give them to Jesus. 

We do this by being in prayer. By committing our skills, abilities, and passions to be used for his glory. This means sharing Jesus with others in our network of influence. It means being vulnerable about our difficulties, our sins, and our weaknesses, as well as our victories and joys with each other so that we can grow together. It means making wise choices for our future and our families. It means committing to a spiritual journey to become more like Jesus.

2. It’s okay when our passions change. I used to make fun of sayings like  “changing life seasons” or “chapters”… but now I don’t care, and I thinks it’s a really great marker for how life really feels.

Life inevitably brings unexpected things our way, and that may mean we have to make changes in regards to what we pursue. This might stem from financial blessings or difficulties, illness, loss, moves, jobs changes, marriage hardship, or mental health decline. Whatever it is, different seasons of life bring unique sets of challenges.

For me right now, it’s that I graduated college and now have no idea what I want to do next. I’m still passionate about people, but I don’t know if counseling is the field for me. I’m interested in missionary work, but this doesn’t seem to align with both my husband and my future together, at least for now.

My biggest dream is to someday have a home with a big garden, kids running around, and hosting missionaries, students, bands, friends, and family in our home to bless them with a retreat from hardships they might be going through. Obviously, this one will take a long time to establish. With time, we’ll get here, but for now this one is just out of reach.

Instead, what I’m finding is that I’m falling in love with something new. Writing and reading. To be honest, I think I’m a terrible writer. I know I have a lot to grow in and work on. But I love it.

A long, long time ago, I used to devour novels and biographies. I used to write poems and stories, and journal about the things I was learning. As I entered school, these fell to the side because I didn’t have time or capacity to pour into these outlets.

Now that I have time on my hands, I’m doing them more. And as I pursue these, I fall more in love with them. My passions are changing. It makes me confused about the future, knowing it will probably look very different from what I was expecting. It makes me question what kind of job I should be looking for, at least until I see where this pursuit takes me. But all of that is okay.

3. Cultivate Newness. I think cultivating passion starts with chasing those things that make you happy. What makes you excited and invigorated. The things that you keep coming back to. Big or small, “if it’s still on your mind, it must be worth the risk.”

That’s where you’ll find me. Chasing those little things, learning as I go, wading into the uncharted and unknown, with lots of room to grow. Happily pursuing the things that I love and creating new passions that might offer clearer direction moving forward.

While I still want to pursue those Big Dreams in the long run, I also won’t be disappointed if my plans change and I don’t end up getting there, specifically. And I won’t be upset if God takes us in a different direction and sends us into something completely uncharted.

May we seek to align ourselves with Jesus and find the deepest joy in pursuing what he has for us.

What are you passionate about? How do you incorporate Jesus in your plans and goals for the future?

 

What to Say When You Feel Like Nothing’s Changed

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“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different?” – C.S. Lewis.

If we are truly human, we are constantly changing. Whether it’s subtle or monumental, we are affected, moved, and challenged by the things we encounter every day. This will affect future decisions and encounters we face, like a collection of rules and standards by which we live.

For me, change is difficult to recognize. I often plow through weeks at a time without stopping to reflect on how I’ve grown and changed. Often, I get down on myself for where I am in life because it feels like I’ve been the same person I’ve always been.

In a practice of remembrance and vulnerability, this morning, I am articulating just how much I’ve changed since graduating a few weeks ago.

1. I let myself experience emotion.  This past Sunday morning, I was driving home to pick up Nathan and attend our church’s 2nd service. Without even a polite hello, tears started overflowing my eyes and spilling onto my face. I spent the whole drive home wiping the tears aside, and trying to explore what was happening in my soul. I couldn’t think of anything that sparked these tears, but surely there was something.

When I got home, I threw a blanket over my head, laid on the couch, gave myself 10 minutes to cry it out. After the tears dried up, I was able to articulate that I have a lot of fear about what’s next for me. This transition is not easy, and there are so many unknowns that I’m overwhelmed.

My body was responding before my mind was able to articulate it, and by letting my body release it, I was able to process it emotionally and work through it.

This has happened several times. The first day after my last college final, I stood in the shower listening to a version of “Good, Good Father” and cried for 20 minutes, praising the Lord for his goodness to us and weeping over the sadness and anger I’ve carried with me over the last few years.

Emotions are cleansing for the body, soul, and mind. I’m done with stuffing them away. Instead, I’m giving myself the capacity to feel, no matter how strange, confusing, or silly those feelings might be. With time, they won’t be so fresh or unexpected.

Through this, I’m allowing my soul to be sanctified, cleansed, redeemed, and made into something new, prepared for something new.

2. My capacity for spirituality is increasing.  I’ve vigorously avoided spiritual conversations. I anticipate avoiding the Christianity section at Barnes and Noble for a while, and the Wish List of commentaries and theology books I created on Amazon will remain untouched.

If you read my post Overloading Our Souls, then you know I’ve been overwhelmed by the “spirituality” of my college’s community. It has been poison to my desire for seeking spiritual things. Sad, I know. But it’s true.

Even though there’s a lot of hardness towards spirituality, Nathan and I have been praying before meals again. And we started praying together before bed again: for each other, for our family and friends, for our present and our future. Each word is a drop of fresh water on my parched soul.

Part of living life as a student means you don’t have a lot of time. For me, it meant I couldn’t give very much to our church or community at home. Back in high school and my freshman year of college, I actively led bible studies, met with people on a weekly basis for discipleship and study, and volunteered in our community. Since then, I haven’t been able to be as active.

I’ve felt the contradiction in learning about how a Christian should speak, live, and give, while simultaneously not having the time or capacity to give anything at all. I’ve been so worn out and beaten down that I haven’t had anything to offer (or so I felt). It’s a backwards lifestyle. Not very fulfilling either.

Now, I want to pick these up again. I want to volunteer, I want to participate and be engaged in our church home. I want to meet with others for prayer, study, and building relationships. I miss worshiping in a body of believers.

The very thing that my soul has ached for is what I’ve been pushing away. But I feel this heavy burden dissipating, and my soul is picking up the pieces of wholeness to learn how to thrive again.

3. I have more energy.  When’s the last time you worked out? For me, it was…. 4 months ago? Or is it 6 months.

Not only have I not had the time, but I’ve had no energy to even leave our house in the evenings. When you only have 2 hours at home in an evening before you go to bed and it starts all over again, you hoard it like a wild, hungry dog that finally caught the stupid squirrel it’s been chasing for weeks. (Gross….)

We ate extremely unhealthily this semester because we got home so late. Dinnertime was “what’s the fastest thing we can make that still tastes moderately okay so that we can shove it into our bodies immediately?” So, we lived on pasta and rice dishes most of the time.

With all the stress and overwhelming nature of this semester, I wasn’t sleeping very well. I spent many nights tossing and turning on the couch until 2-3am, only to wake up at 5:30 for a new day.

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I was chronically exhausted, with no outlet for my physical or emotional tension. But I feel this changing.

This week I went to our local fresh market and bought enough fresh produce and meat to stuff our entire fridge for the week. I actually have time to prepare healthy meals for us that will make us feel better.

While I’m not as active because I’m not out and about as much, I feel more rested. I’m not aimlessly shifting between classes, commuter lounges, the campus coffee shop, the library, and a thousand other places I went to for peace and quiet before I could go home for the evening.

Lately, I don’t have as much physical anxiety. I’ve been able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. I’ve let myself sleep 9+ hours because I think I’ve really needed it. And while I still have to pry myself out of bed, I feel so much healthier.

And you know what’s hilarious? Me trying to do yoga. As someone who has recently gained about 15 pounds, with little to no strength in any part of my body, doing yoga in my living room consists of me falling over 70% of the time, and the other 30% of the time is me scoffing and laughing at how wonderfully inflexible I am.

But it’s something that I’m working towards: being more physically active. Just this morning, I thought about taking a run around the neighborhood sometime today. I will definitely look lame and it only last like 5 minutes, but it’s something.

I’m getting things done. On Monday, I spent the whole day doing things. I spent an hour scraping off 4-5 inches of solid ice from our car’s windshield (seriously, it was ridiculously difficult) and replacing the windshield wipers. I cleaned the kitchen, planned weekly meals, went grocery shopping and to SAMs, cooked dinner, put away all our christmas decorations , reorganized our second bedroom closet (a huge project), and did the dishes. That’s more than what I’ve done all semester. It might seem trivial, but to me, it was a mark of change.

4. I want to read again. When you have to read 100 pages of a ridiculously uninteresting text book in one night, you have no desire to pick up another book. Your mind was murdered by boredom.

Lately, I want to read again. Books, magazines, blogs, research, newspapers. I’m finding myself more inspired, challenged, creatively sparked, and fulfilled as I’ve done so. I love it. It’s so good for me.

These random pieces of reflection are so meaningful to me. I hope I never return to the state I was in just a few months ago. Deteriorating, withering, suffocating. Instead, I’m embracing change and striving towards healthiness and wholeness again.

This sacred remembrance shows me how much I’ve already changed, and how much more I have to go. It pushes me forward into the future, with clear foundations to stand on.

Thank you, Jesus, for this change.

Giving Space for the Transition: Accepting the Not Knowing

“One step at a time.” This is my mantra as I prepare to graduate in a few weeks.

There are lots of big questions for us right now. And honestly, there aren’t a lot of answers.

Maybe I should be more clear… We have literally no idea what we’re doing next. 

Somehow, making our next decision feels like one of our biggest moments. Like it will be life changing. Nothing will be the same from now on.

For now, it seems like we have to figure out our whole lives. Come up with a 1-year, 2-year, 5-year plan. Consider every implication of every option. We’ve got it get it right. We need to know with certainty. “Now is the time! This is what we’ve been preparing for. This is our moment. Let’s change the world. Let’s do something big. Let’s do it now.” 

Ha.

Hold on, self. 

Let’s just throw that idea away right now. Because it’s just unrealistic. What is all this pressure?

As I reflect on this stage of life, I’m realizing that there’s not a lot of space for transitions.

I don’t think we don’t give ourselves grace for the process. We pressure ourselves to solve for our… everything. It has to be a yes or no, in or out, up or down, here or there, instead of being okay with the weird, unresolved places with no answers. 

When we don’t have the answers we want in the timing we want, we get anxious, scared, and angry. (Trust me, I fight these feelings all the time. God, why haven’t you given us any direction, at all?)

Not knowing is strange. As I talk about this with people around me, this creeping feeling of needing to justify our story arises.

But our story is different. Different than what I thought it would be. Different, in ways that many people around me seem to not understand. “What do you mean you don’t know what’s next? I mean, you guys are talking about it, right? How could you not know what’s most important for you? Where are you looking? What are you going to do?!”

Transitions are normal. The places you transition to and from will always be different than anyone else’s, and sometimes we don’t know where we’re going next. And that is completely okay. Better, even. 

Because Jesus is still Jesus. And our lives are still his. And we’ll know with time what he’s leading us to next. And for now, we have lots to grow in here.

Call it our decision making process, but our lives look a little bit like this right now: We laugh together. We listen. We communicate our thoughts and feelings. We share our dreams, our goals, our ideas. We encourage each other. We stand for each other. We are growing together. We are learning more about ourselves. We’re deepening our love for Jesus. We drink coffee with each other. We cook together. We eat together. We make fun of each other. We fight with each other. We apologize for our wrongs. We challenge each other. We explore together. We get excited about the possibilities before us, and fight feelings of fear that we might make the wrong choice.

Our plans fluctuate by the day, by the hour. And that’s okay.

We’re thriving where we are. And that’s more than enough.

When We Care

To care for another person is to meet them in their pain and suffering in such a way that, together, we encounter Christ more deeply. As we meet others in their vulnerability, we become learners of the soul and of Christ.

I’m learning that we all need face-to-face. Our brain is wired in such a way that we grow, change, and develop as we are mirrored by others. This mirroring helps us monitor our behavior, thoughts, and emotions and be challenged when we get stuck in unhealthy patterns of living. This means that when we isolate ourselves and seclude from relationships, we are stunting our own growth and development into maturity. And no matter what age, we are built to be learning, growing, developing, and becoming.

I firmly believe that we are all called to care. Whether it’s caring for a disabled spouse, parent, sibling, or child, discipling or mentoring a friend, or simply being a parent, spouse, or friend, we all care for someone.

And if we find ourselves alone with no one to care for, we need to take a hard look at ourselves. What’s keeping me from caring? Why have I isolated myself? Who is it that cares for me? While we will encounter times of loneliness in life from circumstances within or beyond our control,  there’s something to say about finding yourself in a position where you care for no one and aren’t cared for by anyone. Is it difficult for me to receive love from others? Do I keep people at a distance because I’m afraid of being hurt? Why is it that I don’t have anyone in my life to care for? How can I be more involved and intentional to build relationships with other people?  These are important questions to ask. And important things to pray about.

We were not built to be alone. 

The very first thing we receive in life is presence. Being in relationship with others is a constant reminder of who we are. It challenges us in ways that we can’t challenge ourselves. It pushes us outside of ourselves.

“One of the most tragic things about our time is that we know more than ever before about the pains and sufferings of the world and yet are less and less able to respond to them.” – Henri Nouwen

Not only do we constantly hear of horrific situations happening all over the world through the news, we also have more information available to us through the Internet. When someone we know is in pain, grief, or trial, this is an easy resource to turn to, for better or worse. In many ways, I see our culture turn to this resource as an escape for truly caring about the person experiencing pain. Instead of sitting with the person, we try to help them diagnose their disorders. Instead of visiting, bringing meals, or providing help with housework, we might post about it through social media instead to ask for prayer or to tell that person we are thinking about him/her.

We have become detached.

Deep down, I see us all grasping for authenticity and vulnerability, and yet we squelch it and are afraid when we encounter it face-to-face. This is especially true in care-giving situations, when a person needs genuine support, empathy, and love, and all of the surface-level, fluffy aspects of life and relationships are naturally pushed aside. What’s left is, simply, realness.

People in pain and in need of care draw us into the reciprocal need for realness. Too often we avoid or distract from this raw meeting place. We do this because:

  1. We become preoccupied with parts of life that seem more important. We want people to view us as put together: well-behaved, clean, efficient, productive, and successful. Without those, we feel anxious.
  2. It is not “normal.” It is a rare treasure when we meet someone who is their full, authentic self, and even further, in which relationship we are fully free to be our true self without judgment, guilt, or condemnation from ourselves or other people.

How can we, as a culture, grow in intimacy, vulnerability, and authenticity with each other? Vulnerability is necessary. It is the starting place for joy, love, happiness, as well as grief, sorrow, pain, and sadness. When we suppress sadness, hurt, or grief, we also suppress our positive emotions and simply become numb.

I think the slow solution begins with an individual, with me. As I have grown in being more vulnerable with other people, I have seen them grow in vulnerability too, in sort of a “me too!” way.

The truth is that we all have pain, and instead of suppressing or avoiding it, when we embrace our story and willingly share it with others, we invite them into the necessary space for healing, true friendship, and genuine love.

True love for other people comes in the form of vulnerability and authenticity. Instead of seeking to fix or diagnose each other’s problems, how much sweeter and powerful is it to simply be with each other. In silence, anger, sadness, joy, happiness, and in everything, as we meet each other and honestly care for each other, we allow space for Christ to work in our lives and heal our pain. He alone is the healer and redeemer of the brokenness of this world.

As caregivers, we can shine this hope and light into others lives. And when we allow others to care for us, we are giving ourselves and others a great gift. A gift that can continually wash our souls and minds to shine shine Christ more deeply and integratively in our life.

We can’t fix each other, but we can love with Christ’s love. We have been given a great purpose and reason to love each other well. 

*This post was written as a reflection on  “Spirituality of Caregiving” by Henri Nouwen. 

When We Struggle to Trust that God is Still Good

What is our life in the grand scheme of things? The more that I study the Holocaust and the Crises of Evil, the more questions plague me like a shadow I can’t shake.

My mind, trying to process the horrific stories of Jewish life in the ghettos, death camps, labor camps, and the straight-up slaughter of over 6 million people, doesn’t see how God could just “let it happen.”

The oppression, suffering, and pure evil of it all feels like too much to bear. That people could be fully convinced that, deep down, Jewish people were the root of all evil and needed to be “liquidated” to preserve the “better, pure human race.” Following orders from a powerful man was easy because, well, we’re capable of being convinced that these acts of torture and murder is okay? How weak are we.

This leaves me questioning myself. My abilities for evil. My lack of love, compassion, and kindness to others.

As I try to process this event and these stories, at the core, I’m struggling to trust that God is still good.

When I look around me, I see that everyone experiences some level of suffering in this earthly life. From illnesses, accidents, and death, to deceit, manipulation, abuse, fear, and rejection. Sometimes as a direct result of someone else’s decisions, but sometimes as a result of… nothing? It seems that we are born to struggle. Or at least, that we should expect to suffer.

Today I wonder, wouldn’t it have been easier to never have existed in the first place? Why are we here?

As I’ve read through the book of Job, I read how he curses his own existence. He asks God why he was even born in the first place. Why he couldn’t have just died in the womb and avoided the horrible suffering he was now experiencing. After losing all of his children, all of his possessions, and experiencing horrible, physical pain, he sits in his own crap and curses the day he was born. And I would do the same.

I haven’t experienced much suffering, but I’m so impacted by the lives of others. The more that I study a doctrine of suffering and hear from others, the more I prepare myself for when the shit hits the fan in my own life. Sometimes I think about if we could have just skipped the process of having to learn, to grow, to struggle, and to undergo pain, what our life would be like.

But the thing is, I know that I’m missing the point. I’m asking the wrong questions. I’m focusing on a smaller part of the grander image. 

Maybe it’s because I don’t have first-hand experience of deep suffering, and for that you might discount what I’m about to say. But I think however much suffering and pain we experience, there will always be a reason for joy. When we press into the suffering, and turn to the Father for comfort, we are met with hope. Pure, unadulterated, hope. A living hope.

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’ and look on things as if man were the centre of them.” – C.S. Lewis

To those who have lost everything. To those who are confused about this little life we have. To those who contemplate giving up because it’s just too hard. To those who are so angry at God for their own existence…. In the very place of deep anger and anguish, we also find peace and comfort from a loving Father. A Father who mourns with us and grieves the sin of the world.

As I’ve talked with people about the weight of this, and wrestled with so many questions and confusion, I’ve been reminded that God is present with us. But if I’m being completely honest, sometimes it doesn’t feel like he’s here. Or that he cares. Or that he grieves the sin of the world that brings us pain. Because I don’t see him physically with me, next to me, or in front of me, I sense that he isn’t present. In part, I think it’s okay to be angry. God’s big enough for us to be pissed off. God’s big enough for us to question what the heck is going on.

But truly, we must confront the question of who and what we believe in. When faced with tragedy, we must determine how we respond. Along with our pain, will we reject the only good in the world? The only place for hope and comfort? Tossing it all out the window and cycling into a deeper pit of despair with no place to turn.

Or in our pain, will we choose to walk towards our Father and ask him to carry us through? To bind together our brokenness and fill us with is living hope. And then rightfully long for the day that we will be truly fulfilled in our humanity when Christ gathers us up and we enter into the rest of eternity fully in the Father’s presence.

Will we choose to be broken by it? Or will we turn to the Father and choose to rest in his loving arms and allow him to fill us with the hope that we need?

One of my professors recently said,

“We do not have a worldview, saints. We don’t. Only God has a worldview. He is the only one who can see the world and all that is in it. He is the only one who can bear the weight of what he hears, sees, and holds in every moment. He is the only one who can rejoice and grieve and be glorified through the entirety of the human race. And we should never, ever ask God to see the world from his perspective. Because we could not handle it. Rather, we should ask God to give us help us see what he would have us to see on our time here on earth.”

There are three things that have anchored me as I wrestle with this.

  1. Don’t compare. Your path of discipleship and growth will look different than others. You have been uniquely shaped and guided for a specific purpose, different than any other’s. And God will use it for his glory. Your amount of suffering with differ too. Following Jesus costs each one of us — and sometimes that cost is extremely high, while for others it’s relatively low. This may be where it’s the most challenging to continue to follow Jesus. Whether or not you feel like it’s worth it to continue following Jesus, the truth is that he is real. His kingdom is real. And it is only in Him that we will find hope and comfort. He is calling you into something, and with your own story, gifting, and measure of difficulty, follow the His call for your life and receive his goodness for you.
  2. Lament. Yes, God can handle your anger. He is big enough for you to lash out and cry out in anguish. But in our response, we must press into Him alone. So as we weep, we also worship. As we get angry, we also ask God to heal our soul and minds. As we despair, we ask Him to come near to us. We pray when we don’t want to, and we trust that He is good. We don’t give up. We don’t forget the Gospel.
  3. We need each other.  This is too much to process alone. When we face horrible suffering, we need people to help us make sense of the pain and show us how to integrate it into our larger experience. Find people who will pray with you. Find people who will listen to you. Tell others what you need and invite them into your experience to come alongside you and support you. Share what you’re working through, however horrible it is. Find help from a trained professional who can equip you with ways to process the pain. Don’t push yourself faster or farther than where you are. Invite God into your pain and know that he weeps with you, and offers peace and comfort.

I don’t write this post to say I have it all figured out. Absolutely not. But I write it as someone who is processing and is working through things that I see in the world, and is seeking to understand how to respond.

If you’ve experienced suffering, how have you handed it? Where are you at? What are you learning? Where are you turning now? 

The Process of Undoing

Today, I’m mourning something. I think I’ve been depriving myself of something over the past few years, and I wonder how many others are doing the same.

I’m ending my 5th year of Undergraduate school so soon. Looking back, I am burdened by how difficult it has been to get here. I’ve been saying the words, “I just can’t wait to be done with school” since before I even began. Without fail, each semester I come to a point of utter frustration at my lack of fulfillment in the life of a student. Through some combination of loving reminders from people around me, pure ignorance, and ultimately God’s hand, I’ve pushed through.

In this final semester though, this moment of frustration has stuck around. I think I’ve stopped trying to lie to myself that I like being a student, and finally let myself just feel that this process of education as been difficult. There are tears. There is anger. There is sadness. There is anticipation. There is mourning. I have never felt so tired, so worn-down.

Honestly, I’m not sure it was worth it.

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I sometimes feel guilty, put-down, and angry because I want to get all my crap together and stop whining about it. I see others who are “doing” so much more than I and are succeeding and flourishing in it. When I compare my life to others, I see that I have never faced much opposition in striving to follow my dreams. I’ve grown up in a loving home. I’ve known Jesus all my life. I’ve lived in a well-off community. I’m married to the most amazing and supportive man. Why should someone like me have a hard time, right?

But if I give myself the freedom to not compare myself other others, I see that something much deeper is going on.

I’ve forgotten what makes my soul flourish.

I’ve forgotten how to rest.

I’ve forgotten how to love.

I’ve forgotten who God really is.

I’ve forgotten who I am.

I’ve forgotten what I have to offer. 

I’ve forgotten the value of friendship. 

I’ve been absolutely consumed. With things to do, ministries I’m required to be a part of, transitioning into new communities, commuting, working random jobs, and doing life responsibilities and obligations. And at the same time, figuring out who I am, what I believe in, and where I want to go next.

As my schedule gets continually crammed, my conviction gets deeper. When I reflect on my college years, I get angry at myself for letting my education turn into, truly, a life ruled by busyness. I’ve lost myself in this process of education. In fact, I struggle to even remember what I like to do in my spare time, because I never gave myself “spare time.” Today, spare time turns sour quickly because my brain is too exhausted to think, create, or read. My body feels too tired to want to go out and do anything.

Because I haven’t taken care of myself well over the last few years, I now find myself struggling for relief from the lasting consequences.

I ran myself into the ground. The warning signs of burn-out are all here. Sleeping more at night (10+ hours). Simple tasks became major, energy-draining projects. Any motivation to be social was squelched. I became jealous for personal time and I never felt like I had enough. My patience ran out quickly. Mentally distant from work or class. From the moment I woke up, I would review everything I had to do that day until I would be able to climb back into bed again later that night. The list goes on.

At the end of this summer, I came to a point where I was so over it. I recognized what had happened, and knew this was not the life I wanted to live. I decided to slow down. I quit my job, registered for less classes, and gave myself a break. I wanted a more balanced life, but had no idea how to start the process of overcoming this burnout.

Now that several months have passed, I think I’m seeing progress. I still have no idea what the “3-step plan for overcoming burnout” is, but it’s been my own personal journey.

I’m learning that God calls us into the simple. The quiet. The still. This doesn’t mean our lives won’t be busy, but it does mean we need to balance them. While I still have all the same obligations (work, school, ministry, internship, etc.), I’m learning to approach them differently. I’m taking steps to be more aggressive in saying no. I’m remembering to take time for myself — like reading an entire novel on Saturday morning instead of stressing out over school papers. Drinking coffee on the patio instead of fretting over finances. Catching up on my favorite TV show instead of pretending to study. I’ve adjusted a lot of my expectations to what I can handle. I don’t do as much as I could for school or ministry, but that’s okay.

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This process of undoing is so messy, friends. All of my emotions are bubbling to the surface and I have to actually face them. I can’t ignore them, organize them, or make them seem pretty. They just are. When we numb ourselves to feelings like grief, shame, anger, or fear, we also keep ourselves from experiencing the fullness of joy, peace, hope, excitement, and love. We become lifeless.

In an effort to grow, I’m walking confidently into this mess. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know where it will go. I don’t know how hard it will be or how long it will last. But while I unwind my stone heart, I know that my soul will look- straight up- chaotic.

I think that’s sanctification.

I trust that as I unwind and slowly deal with the crap that shows itself, God will continually heal and redeem what’s been so disfigured. I trust that he’ll lead me towards the next area of growth, to sanctify me more into his image.

Even though I feel so angry about so many things, and I want to either full-on panic or fight it, I trust that God is big enough, patient enough, loving enough, kind enough, graceful enough, and close enough to walk with me through it and help clean it from my soul.

So when people ask me about what I’m planning to do when I graduate in a few weeks, all I can think of REST. Practicing prayer. Giving more. Loving better. Growing deeper. Creating more. Dreaming bigger. Pursuing harder.  Letting Christ be my center, my hope, and my anchor.

I have no idea what that will be like. And I’m so excited.

Restart: Living More Intentionally

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetToday I quit my job. And no, I don’t have another one to replace it. I’ve been considering it for months, but I’ve been dreaming about it for longer.

Knowing how needed I was on my team, I felt obligated to follow through with my original commitment to December. And I honestly enjoyed having a part-time student position that was more than just the “same old, same old” everyday. I was a part of higher-level discussions and felt respected on my team. For that, I am ever grateful.

But since the beginning of the summer, I’ve started to notice a pattern. More and more, I felt like my life lacked a sense of purpose. I realized that I can’t squeeze myself into a work environment that doesn’t fit my personality and somehow find a way to still be happy. People just don’t work that way.

I was giving too much of myself to something that was not life-giving to me. I missed working towards meaningful relationships, being creative, dreaming about the future, and goal planning. All of my mental energy was being poured into trying to stay sane to the point that I had no energy left for the things or people I loved.

The next 6 months are about a restart. A step towards living more intentionally.

Building better relationships. Pouring into ministry. Resting my mind and body. Exercising. Reflecting on the purpose of my education. Cooking, baking, reading, crafting, and writing again. Remembering to live with joy and peace. Taking steps towards a more healthy spiritual life. Supporting my husband in his job. Planning for life post-graduation. And, what I’m most excited for, dreaming. I love to dream about the possibilities in life and take steps to make them a reality. Of all the things I’ve missed, this is the one I’ve missed the most.

Have you ever found yourself at a place in life that you didn’t want to be in? Whether it was through a series of your own decisions or through uncontrollable events, I think we can all relate. If so, what did you do? What do you wish you’d known or done sooner? 

If you can relate to my situation somehow, let’s talk about it. When people are open and honest about life, it allows other people to do the same. Realize that you are not alone. And that there is no shame in weakness. Let’s take steps towards being real with each other without judgement or guilt.