o death, where is your sting?

they say the hardest part of grieving comes months down the road. now, i don’t know who “they” are or what authority “they” have to speak to such an intimate, excruciating thing such as grief, but i do know they are right. i know they are right because i am months down the road, and this is the hardest my life has ever been.


on my birthday, two short months after i said goodbye to my mom, my friend marie wrote a long facebook post. in it she said, “when your world came crumbling down around you that day, i was prepared to fight the devil for your faith. i was prepared to spend hours trying my best to convince you of God’s faithfulness, goodness, and love for you in the midst of your pain. but i didn’t have to.” the other day, seven long months after i said goodbye to my mom, marie sat next to me at starbucks and said she was prepared to fight for me, and that she would. because now, seven months later, she has to.


i’ve been trudging through the book of exodus lately. i’ve been walking with the israelites on their journey through the wilderness. and when they start on their way out of egypt, God takes them on the less-conventional course. there’s a shorter way, but that way is paved with battle. God shows His mercy is taking them through the wilderness instead because they aren’t ready to fight, and God desperately does not want them to turn back to egypt. so, he takes them through the wilderness where He can show them that rather than fighting through them, He will fight for them.

it seems to me now that that is what the wilderness was really about–experiencing God fight for His people.

is that what my wilderness is about too? you see, i look for my story in the stories i read in the bible now in ways i never have before. i look for my story there because i am grabbing for that assurance that i will be okay. i am clutching for that assurance that there is redemption in my story too. and just maybe if i could see it in those pages, then this hope might not be quite so hard after all. so i think about the wilderness. and maybe i’m not ready to fight. maybe this is a season where i can simply experience what it looks like to have a God who fights for me. and maybe that is exactly why marie sat next to me and said those words. maybe she is one of the ways that God is showing me that He is fighting for me.


a few sundays ago we sang “Christ is risen” in church. well, i only managed to sing part of the song because i was left silent by the words “o death, where is your sting?” i know the song has nothing to do with me or my circumstances, but let me assure you that when you have come face to face with death in the way that i did seven months ago, there is no question about where the string is. the sting is here. it is with me. it is in me and through me and all around me. it is there in the morning when i wake up. it says with me through the day. i feel it with my friends. i feel it with my family. i feel it when i read the bible or when i read for class. i feel it on my hardest days. and i feel it when i get awards and experience the sweet taste of good days. and i feel it when i lay in bed at night, tossing and turning. there is no question mark for me. no, i know the string of death; i know it well.

and let me also assure you that i would rather feel that sting than all of the apathy and loneliness that seems to come with it all of these months later. you see, the other thing that really struck me from that post marie wrote for me for my birthday is when she said that her favorite thing about me is my relationship with God. in light of that, i’m sure you can only imagine the way my heart sank as i sat next to her at starbucks and told her that i feel nothing toward Him. reading the bible for me now is so unlike what it used to be. i don’t miss it when i don’t. and i, in some way or another, manage to dread it when i do. i felt the tears fall down my cheeks as she told me not to give up even if i felt like giving up. and i guess it wasn’t until that moment that i realized that is exactly what i feel like doing–giving up.

i wonder what there is for her to love about me now in this.
i wonder if that will ever be her favorite thing about me again.

what do i do now? i can’t express in words the ways that it hurts to feel like i have let her down in this after all of the years she has invested in me preparing me for dark days such as this. i can’t express in words the ways that it hurts to feel so little toward my God who loves me so richly and deeply and passionately even in dark days such as this. and i can’t express in words the ways that it hurts to know i have to ask for help.

i need help in this.

because it was my favorite thing about me too. and i feel so lost without Him. and as that day seven months ago rolled over me, all i wanted was to suffer well. all i wanted was to glorify Him, even in this. and i haven’t been suffering well. and i haven’t been glorifying Him in this.


and i guess that leaves me back in the wilderness with the israelites and experiencing what it looks like to have God fight for me. because i have to trust in the midst of this pain that that is exactly what is happening now. He is fighting for me, and He won’t stop. He’s taught me so much about prayer in these seven months; He has prepared me to ask for help from Him. He’s taught me so much about the church in these seven months; He has prepared me to ask for help from them.


i, at some point in the past seven months, wrote a post about how i didn’t feel like this was a period of dissatisfaction, but that it instead felt like a period of disconnect. it wasn’t about not being satisfied in God; it was about not feeling like i was connecting with Him (hearing Him, feeling Him). i’d go back to find the post and put a link to it, but it’s not good for me to look through those posts. not yet. the reality is, however, that this has become, if it wasn’t before, a period of extreme dissatisfaction. i’m not satisfied in my relationship with the Lord, and that makes this the worst season i have ever walked. john piper says people who don’t delight in the things they praise are hypocrites. maybe i’ve become one of those in the past seven months. or maybe i just haven’t been praising God in this. i want to. i really want to figure out how to do that, even in this.


so i’ve been dwelling on 2 corinthians 6:10: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” i think i’ll keep dwelling on it for awhile.


i’ve also been dwelling a lot lately on this idol i’ve developed of productivity. i think it started when i needed a break from grieving. i took up busyness as my form of coping. and it helped for a time. it let me catch my breath in some regards. but i realized recently that it had become about more than coping for me. i turned to school work because i could produce something, accomplish something, feel the reward of something. and i wasn’t getting any of that in my time with God. my time with Him felt wasted, useless, and unrewarding.

the reality is that we live in a culture that values productivity. and when i put my value in that, i managed to miss out on the most valuable thing that there is — Him. i had managed to become a martha after so many years of being a mary. and i know now after months of sadness mixed with awards and honors that even productivity at its very best fails to satisfy too. and i know now after months of sadness mixed with awards and honors that it is best not to miss out on Him, even for all of that.


i realize this is scattered. that’s how i feel most of the time. that’s how i feel now. i want to work through this. but the working through will be messy too.


my stepmom told this story at dinner about people who do back to back iron mans. she said they were people in a small, elite group. they gave their lives to that end. and all i could say, despite how absolutely incredible of a feat that is, was “that sounds so . . . satisfying.” i said it sarcastically because it didn’t sound satisfying at all. i mean, once they accomplished it, what more was there to do? i wonder what those people do now. i wonder what new goals they set. and in my scoffing, i can’t help but realize that maybe they are just searching for the same thing i’m searching for. and i can’t help but realize we are all searching in the wrong places.


in quiet trust i will march bravely on.
in quiet trust i will not give up.
no, i will not give up.


today’s margin note: living in grief is learning to be helpless. trust through the pain that God is fighting for you. trust through the pain that God is surrounding you with fighters for the days when you are too weak to fight. don’t give up in the hurting. and don’t waste time searching in other places for things that only He can give.

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2015: a year to be prayerful

“you have officially made it through the holidays. how are you holding up?” those are some of the words that came through in the text marie sent me this morning as i sat down at starbucks after a short walk through the rain. i settled into my table by the window with my hot chocolate, bible, journal, and new book on prayer. i settled into my table committed to having an answer to her question by the time i moved from this table. so i got to reading and writing and reflecting–all of the things i can’t help but do on a january 1 of any year.

of any year. any year, including 2014–the hardest, most painful year of my life. the year i watched some of my dreams come true and the year i watched my mom die. the year i cried more than i laughed. the year i loved God and hated Him. the year i was forced to trust Him and the year i doubted everything about Him. the year i saw the worst parts of myself and the year i wondered if i’d ever see the best parts of myself again because i think it was my mom who brought those parts out of me. 2014, the year i decided i’d write down one thing i was thankful for each day without knowing just how hard that would be (2014: a year to be thankful). 2014, the year i did that anyway. 2014, the first year i have ever dreaded the holidays.

but i have officially made it through. so how am i holding up?

at the end of november i sat at lunch with a dear friend of mine, casey. she asked me how i was doing and i told her the real answer because i know that’s the answer she really wanted. as i shared she cried. the thing is, this is the friend i have been most surprised by since the day my mom died. she sent me such purposeful texts in the days following. i got a lot of texts in those days, but i really only remember hers. and she sent me a card when i finished my first week of school without my mom to say she was proud of me, which is exactly what mom would have said. and she prayed. how she has prayed for me. so as i shared and she cried, i was struck by this love that she has for me that i never knew before. and after i shared she asked me if i had written about one particular thing that i shared with her. i hadn’t. so i think i’ll do that now.

you see, for the first time in my life i experienced true suffering. i call it my first true suffering despite the heartaches and disappointments and tears that have riddled my life. i call it my first true suffering because for the first time in my life i was not getting anything from God, and i mean anything. through all those heartaches and disappointments that had riddled my life before, i walked with at least a closer, more intimate relationship with Jesus. in a way i longed for those days of suffering because i longed to be closer to Him. but this, this suffering in light of losing my mom, was different. i felt far from God. He was silent. i couldn’t see Him or hear Him or experience Him. i was surrounded by darkness and i wrestled through that verse that said light would never be overcome by the darkness. but where was my light? through those sleepless nights and seemingly endless tears, where was my light?

it was in those days of getting nothing from God that i was faced with a choice: would Jesus be enough for me without the experience of His love? would i love God for God alone even when i wasn’t getting any of His gifts? would i keep reading the bible every day knowing that the words i would find there might just break my heart a little more? was He still worth it in the face of true suffering?

i woke up each of those dark, dark days and said yes to each of those questions. i think my friend casey wanted me to share that part of my journey because she felt that it is in those times that people walk away from God. honestly, i understand now why people would walk away from God. it is hard to pursue God when you get nothing from Him. but if this is your story, please do not walk away. i urge you and implore you–do not walk away. answer yes, anyway. your suffering is doing something for you. my suffering is doing something for me. so, please, let me plead a case for why i think you should answer yes, anyway.

for five months and one day i heard nothing from God. i screamed at Him and i begged Him and i cried before Him. and i got nothing. i felt much like job from the many chapters of silence in his book. and the silence was overwhelming. i wondered how long i could keep holding on. and then i read this quote. i read this quote and after five months and one day of silence i heard God speak.

“her sufferings were her ‘shield’–they defended her from the illusions of self-sufficiency and blindness that harden the heart, and they opened the way for the rich, passionate prayer life that could bring peace in any circumstance.”

suffering does something for us and in us and through us. one thing it does is allow us to pray like we have never prayed before. and what i am learning now is that the sweet, special relationship with God that i have mourned the loss of along with every day i have mourned the loss of my mom is not the sweetest, most special relationship i can have with Him. and although i would still trade anything to have my mom back, i think what i have now with God just might be something more special than i have ever had before. there can be richness and passion here that i simply could not have experienced any other way. that’s what God told me when He spoke after all of those months of silence. there will be richness and passion here.

the story of thomas reminds us that there is a blessing to believing without seeing. and i believe there is also a blessing to believing without hearing. and i believe that blessing is coming for me.

for five months i just wanted to see God, to hear Him, to touch Him, to taste Him. i just wanted to encounter and experience Jesus in the darkest depths of my grief. and i didn’t, and it was the hardest five months of my life. there was the absence of my mom and the silence without her incessant texting. there was my every moment that i wanted to share with her. and yet there was this other loss that i didn’t even realize i was grieving. it was the loss of that very special relationship i had with God that i felt so strongly that most other people never experienced. there was His seeming absence and unbearable silence. there was my every moment that simply hurt too much to share with Him.

in that suffering and silence i felt the kind of heart desolation that augustine believes is the first necessary ingredient of praying as we ought to pray. so this year, in light of my loss, i want to make it a year to be prayerful.

i long to pray as i ought to pray. i long to pray like that despite that time when i prayed harder for my mom to be healed than i have ever prayed for anything, and God chose not to answer my prayer. you see, i had this dream a few nights before this day when i finally heard God speak. i was sitting at a table across from someone (probably marie), and i was weeping. i was weeping over this thing that someone said in the bible study i go to through my church. he talked about how in heaven our feelings will be redeemed, made right. one of the hardest things about following Jesus in the midst of suffering is all the things we feel that feed us lies about God. but, one day, we will no longer have feelings that contradict who God is–the exact feelings i have felt for every moment that has passed since i said goodbye to my mom for the last time. those feelings will be no more, and as a consequence, we will be able to worship God fully and perfectly. and in that dream, for the first time since my mom died, i was weeping for something other than my overwhelming loss. i was weeping for my overwhelming love for Jesus and what He has done for me. and even though it was just a dream, i can’t shake the feeling that that day is coming for me. a day when love will finally eclipse my grief. a day when i will feel Him and hear Him and see Him and taste Him again.

so how am i holding up?

in short, the first line in my journal from 2015 is “i never thought i’d sit at the start of a year and be amazed that i still love God, but today that is exactly how i sit.” i am still so very sad, and i still miss her so very much. i always will. yet. yet today i sit amazed. i sit expectant. i sit grateful. i sit hopeful.

today’s margin note and my prayer for the year: “i launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year, with Thee, o Father as my harbor, Thee, o Son, at my helm, Thee o Holy Spirit, filling my sails. guide me to heaven with my loins girt, my lamp burning, my ears open to Thy calls, my heart full of love, my soul free.” may your year be full of that faith and following and freedom too.

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i carry this book of questions around school most days. in fact, it is literally called “the book of questions.” when i was on the verge of a new friendship, that person came up to me after class and asked about the book. i asked her a question from the book in lieu of an explanation. after she answered, she said something along the lines of “maybe we could do one every day.” i can’t really pinpoint the exact moment we became friends, but i think that moment around that book marked the start of our commitment to give this friendship thing a shot. since then i’ve asked her a lot of questions, some from out of the book and some from out of my own desire to get to know her. it started with a question, and now i can’t really imagine this semester without her.

the thing is that for the past three months i’ve lived in fear of questions. i’ve lived in fear of questions because i thought they meant my faith was less than it used to be. and every day i have a certain question that spins around in my mind through every minute of every hour. i can’t shake it. at best i can distract myself from it, but even in that i usually come up short. and more often than i’d like to admit, the question draws out the tears i try so hard to keep safe inside.

why did He have to let my mom die?

the reason i thought my faith was less is because i used to be able to read the bible with the kind of delight that i don’t think most people ever experience. i would read the words and trust God without ever thinking twice about it. between His immutability and His faithfulness, i was convinced God was incapable of doing anything other than sticking to His word. He had proved Himself faithful, and it is impossible for Him to change from that faithfulness. so i savored His words like they were the sweetest thing i had ever tasted because they were. for me, they were.

i trusted Him when He said He works all things together for my good.
i trusted Him when He said He is kind in all His works.
i trusted Him when He said He was powerful beyond words.

but, on this side of grief and sorrow and loss, my time with Him is different. my pleasure in Him has been replaced by confusion about Him. i don’t get out of bed with ease at the thought of reading my bible first thing in the morning. instead, i struggle to even get out of bed, and when i finally do, i approach the Word with hesitation. i approach the Word with hesitation because i just don’t know what verse i’ll read that will make me doubt who He is or what He promises to do. i approach the Word with hesitation because all of those things i believed so easily before are now qualified by the same question: what about mom?

this past weekend i decided it was time to start talking about all of these doubts and questions and hesitations that i’ve been carrying around for weeks now. so when my friend steph asked me how i was doing, i decided to give her a long, honest answer. i trusted her because i’m pretty sure she’ll be standing next to me if i ever manage to get married one day. and i trusted her because she’s seen me at my worst and never looked at me any differently. and it was in the safety of her living room that i was met with a glimpse at my first step forward out of all of this darkness.

you see, another thing that makes it really hard for me to read my bible now is that my bible has all these underlines and notes in the margin. i can look through my bible and see all the passages that meant something to me over the years, and i can see in the margins all the things God has taught me along the way about His character. and as i’d read through those pages in this season, it crushed me to come up empty, to feel nothing, to sit in silence in those pages. now i feel like i have to relearn Him. i feel like i have to relearn Him because i came out of those pages with a misunderstanding of His goodness towards me and His love for me. i have to see Him again now on this side of sorrow. and i have to let Him show me that He is still good and worth trusting even though i don’t feel it at all. and i just didn’t know how to relearn Him in those pages full of reminders of all we used to be.

so, without realizing she was doing anything groundbreaking, steph suggested i get a new bible. i pushed back at the thought of it because i didn’t really know what i’d do with a new bible full of blank space in the margins. i told her i thought all i could really do now in this particular season was fill that blank space with question marks. and she told me she thought that that would be okay. and it was then that i realized that she might be right. it just might be okay to have a bible full of question marks. and it just might be okay for me to be having all of these questions.

as my favorite movie states, “we may not be as happy as you always dreamed we would be, but for the first time let’s just allow ourselves to be whatever it is we are, and that will be better. i think that will be better.”

yes, i hope this will be better.

because it was also then that i realized i didn’t need to live in fear of questions. i don’t need to live in fear of questions because my faith isn’t less now that i have them. in fact, i think the opposite just might be true. because i’m learning that faith isn’t the absence of questions. faith is moving forward in spite of the questions. i have hard questions now. i have unanswered questions now. and i think i have this faith now that is greater than any faith i ever could have imagined because although i am still so very sad and my heart is still so very broken, i am still moving. yes, i am still moving.

the thing is i’ve got this new friend now. i’ve got this new friend now, and i think all of the questions have been good for us. i think they make us closer. and i find myself kind of missing it on the days we don’t get around to opening that book i have that is full of them. because i feel like on those days i really miss out on getting to know her better. because the better days are the days i just take out the book of questions and ask her one. and if it seems like the time or if it seems like my place, then i ask her some other questions. and sometimes i really can learn a lot about her just by taking a little time to do that. and sometimes i really wonder what i’d be missing out on about her if i was too afraid to ever ask a question. in fact, i wonder if we’d really even be friends at all. like i said, i don’t know when our friendship started, but i think it’s all these questions that are keeping us growing. and i really like the thought of that.

so i can only hope that this will be like that. i’ll just start by asking God some questions. and i’ll see if He answers — i’ll wait for Him to answer. and when the time is right or when it’s my place, i’ll ask some more. and i’ll just try to get to know Him again instead of feeling like i’m missing out on Him and all we used to be. yes, i’ll just try to get to know Him again.

and i’ve got this new bible now. and it’s turning into my new book of questions. and i’m okay with that. because my faith is stronger now than it has ever been. and i have a feeling God just might meet me in those margins somewhere between all of the question marks. and i plan on taking my pen to the pages until He does.

today’s margin note: faith is not the absence of questions, but moving forward in spite of them. don’t be afraid to ask God questions because He wants us to get to know Him. and don’t be afraid to ask your friends questions because He wants us to get to know them too. and you just might be surprised with how much goodness is on the other side of some of your question marks.

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grief [pt. 4]

i read this article depicting one girl’s experience with grief. she talked about how she gave up blogging for that season. i figured it best if i do the same. in fact, i wasn’t sure i would ever find myself back on this page again. but, as i sat distracted through yet another sermon at church, i found myself scribbling some thoughts on the church bulletin. and i guess i want to take those scribbles and try to make some sense of them…

i remember the moment when i realized that it happened. i remember the space on the floor i was sitting. i remember the way the tears felt slipping from my eyes despite how hard i tried to keep them in. i remember the way i kept looking out the window like maybe something out there could take this all away from me. i remember the song that was playing. i remember feeling like the best was behind me, and that i just didn’t know how i would ever have the strength to start over again.

before my mom died i had the most special relationship with God. it was beautiful and whimsical and oh so intimate. He was my best friend. He was my greatest delight. He was my treasure. there was no ebb and flow for us. there were no seasons of dryness followed by seasons of joy. there was rich and then there was richer.

but like i said, i remember the moment when i realized that it happened.
i remember the moment when i realized that all of that had changed.

since that moment of realization for me, since that moment of how poor i felt in the absence of all that richness, since that moment there has come a lot of thoughts from others about what this season might be about. one of those thoughts was that this just might be a season of dissatisfaction. i believed her when she said it, but as i sat in church this morning i couldn’t help but think i’ve walked around for weeks feeling terrible for thinking i’m dissatisfied in God, and i really don’t think that’s what’s going on at all. no, i don’t think that’s what’s going on at all.

because the thing about all this is that if i was dissatisfied, then i would go about seeking satisfaction in someone or something else. and i haven’t done that. sure, i’ve looked for moments to catch my breath. and i’ve looked for ways to feel something–anything–else. but i still sit at the table with Him every day. i still read His word. I still press into community. i still talk to Him. i still wait and listen, even through all these weeks of silence.

so no, the difference that i experience now in my relationship with God is not dissatisfaction, it’s just a disconnection. there’s a thick, dark space between Him and me, and in that thick, dark space I am finding it really hard to hear Him. and how, in the midst of all this deep sadness, could i really expect to experience anything else?

you see, it’s not just in my relationship with Him that i feel this disconnection. i feel it in my friendships in this season as well. it’s like people are walking on eggshells around me. if i share about how i’m doing, no one ever seems to want to follow that. most people’s bad days are prefaced with an “i know it’s not anything like what you’re going through, but….” i guess the thing is, i just don’t have any friends who don’t have their moms anymore. and it all feels pretty isolating and lonely. and a lot of people seem to kind of keep me at a distance. and i feel every inch of that distance and then some.

but not all my friendships are like that. i’ve still got some friends who let me in anyway. there are the friends who share about their hard days with no qualifiers. there are the friends who cry in front of me even though they know i am always crying too. there are friends who still ask me to pray for them. there are friends who seem to want to keep me close, even on the days when i don’t feel a whole lot like staying.

it’s the keeping when i don’t feel like staying that seems to be the only thing i am learning right now in the midst of all of this. because it’s that keeping when i don’t feel like staying that seems to allow just the slightest bit of hope to permeate every inch of this sadness. let me try to explain.

i’ve spent a lot of time driving this semester, and in all that driving i have done a whole lot of thinking. on one of those drives i had another realization. for the first time since becoming a Christian i understood why people who know about Jesus walk away from Him in times of deep suffering. it’s one thing to think bad things just happen. it’s another thing to know about a God who has the power to prevent them from happening. it’s one thing to think that everyone’s mom dies eventually. it’s another thing to have prayed harder for her healing than anything else i’ve ever prayed for, and to sit here in the loss knowing Jesus could have healed her at a breath, and yet He didn’t.

a breath. what i’d give for a breath.

so as i drove along i couldn’t help but think how in the midst of deep loss over a mom who was too young to die, and i too young to bear the grief, Christianity feels like some kind of sick joke. to speak of a God who has infinite power, a God who heals at a word, a God who loves us unconditionally, a God who is here with us…that kind of knowledge just isn’t very comforting on this side of that short, terrifying goodbye. and as i drove along i understood how that kind of knowing mixed with this kind of feeling can make someone walk away from Him.

and then i started to wonder where i would be if my relationship with God in this season was contingent on my staying, contingent on my not walking away. the thing is, i don’t just know about Jesus. and this–my relationship with Him–isn’t just about knowledge. i don’t just know about Him, i know Him. i know Him as my best friend. i know Him as beautiful. i know Him as my deepest treasure. i know Him intimately. and i still believe Him when He says that no one will snatch me out of His hand. and therein lies my hope for this season.

this isn’t about me staying; this is about Him keeping. the keeping when i don’t feel a whole lot like staying…

He will keep me through my kicks and screams and tears and sleepless nights. He will keep me through my doubts and frustrations and anger and dislike. He will keep me always. no one will snatch me from His hands. and neither will this grief and sorrow and darkness.

no, i’m not going anywhere. and in that truth i have found the freedom to process before Him honestly. and in that truth i have found that it’s okay to say the kinds of things that i am saying in this post. because faith is so much more than a feeling. and my knowledge of Him is so much more than knowing about Him. and He still loves me. yes, He still loves me.

and i still love Him too. yes, i still love Him too.

today’s margin note: when suffering comes, find rest in the reality that being a Christian with steadfast endurance is far more about faith in His keeping than it is about your strength to continue staying, especially when you don’t feel a whole lot like staying.

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at the beginning of my adventure to DC this summer, i prayed for courage. i prayed for courage, but i didn’t have any idea why i prayed for it. i wrote a blog post stipulating a few reasons why i might have prayed for it. i thought i had it all figured out. little did i know then of the news that would bring me to my knees by the time i left DC. little did i know then of the fear that would haunt me now all these weeks later…

oh, how i could use that courage now.

over the past two months (tomorrow marks two months exactly from the day i said bye to my mom for the last time) i have learned much about grief, mostly that it is unpredictable and exhausting and excruciatingly painful. but over the past two months i have also learned much about fear. to be honest, i don’t know that i had ever experienced fear in its fullness before two months ago. and since then i don’t know that i’ve experienced a day without it.

i was afraid to book a flight home from DC because i was afraid it would mean i needed to leave.
i was afraid to board that plane because i knew i’d never be the same by the time i got on another one.
i was afraid to walk down that hallway in the hospital my mom was because i knew it’d be goodbye.
i was afraid to go shopping for a black dress because i felt too weak to stand in it.
i was afraid to leave my family and go back to DC because i felt so very alone and so very broken.
i was afraid to come back to school because i didn’t know how to tell people about my summer.
i was afraid to move back to my own apartment because it would be the permanent start to life without her.
i was afraid to do my work because it would remind me that i can’t do what i used to be able to do with ease.
i was afraid to get out of bed on my birthday because i thought the day would cripple me.
and it did.

after i got back from DC and before i started school, i lived with my friend marie for a few days. on my final night in her house, i felt a certain degree of fear i had never felt before. i wasn’t sure i could go on and function on my own, and i’d be on my own the next day. so from that bed, i cried and i cried and i cried.

another day a couple weeks ago we sat in that same bed and talked about moving forward in this together. she asked me a lot of questions i didn’t have answers to, and as things would go, she didn’t have the answers to the questions either. for the first time in the four years i have known her, when i needed guidance on how to move, when all i could say was “i don’t know,” all she could say was, “i don’t know either.” so from that bed, i cried and i cried and i cried.

well, it wasn’t that long ago when i was reading a friend’s blog (that same friend i wrote about in my last post) and she had written the following:

I want him to know that fear is normal and appropriate and even necessary, but that it doesn’t have to win.

fear is normal. appropriate. necessary.
but it doesn’t have to win.

so what do i do with all this fear i feel? how do i not let it win today or tomorrow or the day after that when i feel just as scared as i did that first time i felt fear, i mean really felt fear?

you see, when i cried from that bed in marie’s house for the first time, i felt very afraid. and before that day i thought that to live by faith meant to live without fear. i didn’t know how to reconcile the presence of both fear and faith. i thought they were mutually exclusive. but i was afraid and i wanted so desperately to live by faith. so i prayed for faith through those tears i cried that night. but i woke up the next morning and i still felt very afraid. and as i drove from her home to mine, i was struck by the realization that just because i was afraid didn’t mean i wasn’t living by faith. i was struck by the realization that walking by faith for me, in this, isn’t walking without fear; walking by faith for me, in this, is continuing to walk into all those fears that i have anyway. 

i walked into my own home that day. and even though most days bring me to my knees in that same sadness i felt from that plane and that hospital and that black dress, i am making it. and it is messy. and i still don’t have the answers to all those questions marie asked me about how we are going to move forward in this together. and i still feel all this fear of the uncertainty that lies ahead on this path of healing from this brokenness. honestly, i even fear that there isn’t healing down this path because God might choose not to heal me from this brokenness the same way God chose not to heal my mom, the choice that led me to this darkness in the first place.

but i am going to continue walking into all those fears that i have anyway. i am going to continue walking anyway. because even though my birthday crippled me, it also reminded me that i am so very loved. and last night, the same friend whose arms i cried in at my own birthday party held me by the shoulders, looked me square in the eyes, and called me her brave, strong friend.

“O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.”
Daniel 10:19

there’s something about being greatly loved by God that makes it possible to press into fear anyway. and i am learning that perfect love creates room for courage in even the deepest fears and the darkest rooms. i guess it’s one of those things where if God was everything that He is but He wasn’t loving, then He is to be feared in the rawest sense of the word, like i feared that plane and that hallway and that black dress and the path that lies ahead. but, if God is everything He is and if He is loving, then we can be courageous in the face of our fears because He is for us and He loves us.

He is for us.
and He loves us.

today’s margin note: remember that fear doesn’t have to win and that living by faith doesn’t mean you can’t be afraid. instead, living by faith means you can keep on walking into all those fears anyway. my friend, if you are scared — please, keep on walking anyway. and know, my friend, that if you are afraid and if you are still walking, then you are brave and you are strong.

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in this season

it’s been weeks since i’ve been on this blank page that holds the space i write these posts. it hasn’t been for lack of thoughts, but it has certainly been for lack of time. i am busy this year, which is exhausting. and i am grieving this year, which is exhausting. so i’m writing this from my evidence class because i didn’t do the reading last night (due in part to the busy and in part to the grief), and i have no idea what is going on anyway. and there’s this thing i’ve been wanting to write about for awhile now…

you see, the week before school started i did this thing. i did this thing, and it took a lot of courage for me to do. over the summer i felt God prompting me to switch churches. that’s a long story for another time, but i felt the prompting so i obeyed. but i didn’t want to just switch churches, i wanted to go all in. so i took a friend’s recommendation and joined her old bible study. and just like that her old bible study became my new bible study. 

the thing is, this kind of thing would have taken courage for me in any season. i’m just not all that big on letting new people in. i’ve got a handful of very close friends, the kind of close friends that i will sort through with exceptional difficulty if ever comes a day i get married and need to pick some others to stand beside me at the altar. it took me years to really let most of those people in. now they are there, and i’d be fine just keeping things that way. but in this particular season, this kind of thing (joining a new bible study) took an immeasurable amount of courage because in this particular season it isn’t just about letting people in. it’s about letting people into my worst, not my best. i’d have to let them into my saddest days and my messiest days. and those days happen every day. so in this season, it’s about trusting that people will love me, even in this, because i need that love, especially in this.

now, i had a plan for my first week at this new bible study with this group of strangers. i knew they were going through a book, and i knew no one would expect me to contribute because i didn’t have said book. i could sit there silently, and just ease my way slowly into this new community. in fact, i considered how many weeks i could really go without ever saying anything at all. i had a plan that first night, and God, He had another one.

because as we finished dinner that first week, it came to my attention that the general discussion about the book was getting postponed. the next thing i knew i was in a circle full of women i didn’t know, and it was time to share about how we were doing and some prayer requests.

wait, what?

i thought to myself, “self, this cannot be happening.” my thoughts went spinning round and round in the same way that the turns were going in our circle. it was getting closer to me and i had a decision to make: do i share about mom? because my mom passed away about three weeks before this bible study, and it’s not really the kind of thing you bring up when you meet someone for the first time. but how was i supposed to honestly share about how i was doing without bringing her up? and how was i supposed to ask these new friends to pray for me without bringing her up? i mean, i didn’t even know what i needed prayer for at that point, and i was having to trust them for that.

so i brought her up. i brought her up because i felt confident that God led me to this group. and i brought her up because i felt that God led me to this group for a purpose. and it was after i shared about mom that it happened. this thing happened and whenever i tell people about my first time in this new bible study i always, always tell this part.

i shared about mom and then i spent what felt like an eternity going from looking at the ground in front of me to looking around at all these new faces looking back at me. and one woman sitting across from me in the circle said this thing, and this thing kind of took me by surprise.

i don’t even know you, but i want to walk through this season with you.

wait, what?

didn’t i need courage to do this kind of thing because of how hard it was to let people into this season? but this woman wanted to walk into this season with me. and when she said that i knew i was right about God leading me to this group for a purpose. and when she said that i knew we would be friends.

one week later that same woman shared about a blog she writes. and i found myself sharing about this blog. and, for an undisclosed reason, for the first time since my mom died i laughed and it didn’t hurt to do so. i laughed until i cried, and i didn’t cry about it. it was then that i had a pretty good feeling that this new friend was particularly placed on my path to healing. so we talked about getting together to write. and i think, because it was so early in our relationship, that we were both kind of joking about it because we couldn’t tell if the other person was really serious about it. the thing is, i think we both really wanted to get together to write. or maybe we just wanted to get together. 

we haven’t gotten together yet, but i’ve been learning all about her from her blog.

the week after that she told me she had been thinking about our friendship. she had been thinking about our friendship and she had been thinking that it might be kind of fun to email each other. and with that, she hesitated. she hesitated because she felt like maybe she was being too forward. the thing is, she just didn’t realize how desperately i needed someone to be so forward. 

the following sunday she sat in front of me at church. she noticed i was sitting alone, and she offered for me to sit with her and her family. well, i was only sitting alone for a few minutes while some other friends were on their way to fill the seats next to me, so i didn’t take her up on that offer. i didn’t need to sit next to her then, but i would need her by the end of the day. because there’s this other thing that i need to do that is also going to take a lot of courage. and although i’m not ready to write about it yet, i  really needed her advice about it.

wait, what?

i don’t even know her and i found myself flipping through the contacts in my phone in search of her. i texted her and we arranged a phone call for the next day. and one of the final things she said to me via text that night was thanks for trusting me enough to ask for my feedback.

she doesn’t know it, but there she was making another statement that really took me by surprise. it really took me by surprise because i felt like she knew me in that moment. i felt like she knew me because the people who really know me know that i have a really hard time trusting people.

well, we talked on the phone the next day, and i was on the verge of tears through the entire conversation. in the beginning of the conversation i was on the verge of tears because we were talking about a personal thing, and it’s the kind of personal thing i’m really, really sensitive about right now. in fact, the thought of it could about bring me to tears right here in my evidence class. but by the end of the conversation i was on the verge of tears because i felt so overwhelmingly loved and cared for. i felt so overwhelming loved and cared for because she talked about how she wanted to get together. she talked about how she wanted to get together, not because she felt obligated to, but because she wanted to. she talked about how strange it is to meet someone who is walking through the kind of thing i am walking through.

i feel like i would miss out on knowing you if i didn’t get to know you in this.
and i don’t want to miss out on knowing you.

i think highly of friendship. relationship matters to me maybe more than it matters to most people. and i spent a lot of time learning last year what it looks like to be a good friend when it costs you something. and now i’ve got this new friend who is willing to pay the costly price of pursuing friendship with me in this season.

and the gratitude is endless. 

it means everything to me in this season to have someone pursue me. it means everything to me in this season because in this season, more than any other season, it feels very much like God has left me. i know He hasn’t, but i am talking about feelings. so yes, it feels very much like God has left me. and yet i know that this new friend and her pursuit of me is God reminding me that He hasn’t left me after all. He hasn’t left me and He isn’t going to. the truth is, feelings aside, He is pursuing me, too. 

today’s margin note: if you are walking in darkness, let people in. let people in and trust that God just might let them bring light to your darkness. and if you know someone who is walking in darkness, be willing to pay the price of pursuing friendship with them, even in that, especially in that.

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grief [pt. 3]

“though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet i will rejoice in the Lord; i will take joy in the God of my salvation.” habbakuk 3:17-18

maybe it was on this same day last year while working through my bible reading plan that i journaled about what these kinds of circumstances would mean for a person back in the times of habbakuk. so much for all that hard labor. you would have no food and possibly no source of income. and this wasn’t the kind of thing that lasted a week. you would have to wait for the next harvest season, assuming you could even acquire more seed to start over again. and who knows when you would ever have a herd or flock again. maybe never. maybe you’ve managed to lose not only your source of living, but also your livelihood and purpose in all that suffering.

the thing about following Jesus in seasons like that kind of suffering is it isn’t just a call to choose joy in God when things are bad. what i’m learning in this mourning that i’m going through in the loss of my mom is that this kind of following Jesus in seasons like this involves a call to choose joy in God when things are bad and it doesn’t look like things will get better anytime soon.

choosing God when things are temporarily bad really isn’t that hard because there isn’t really time to weigh your options. you choose joy in God because He is the obvious option and the suffering is usually over before you’ve had time to think about choosing anyone or anything else. maybe that kind of thing, that kind of joy in suffering, is just some illusion of choice. like going to a vending machine when you don’t have time to eat something better and being told you can have whatever you want — knowing that what you can really have is anything you want that is in the machine. it’s not a choice really. you just choose what you can in that little bit of time you have to spare. it’s like that in temporary moments of suffering. you choose God because you can and because there is no time to consider anything else. and maybe, if we’re all being honest, there’s that part of your heart that thinks that in choosing Him you will find the end of that temporary suffering.

and maybe you will.

but what if there are more choices and what if you have more time to choose? what i mean is what if the suffering lasts longer? there’s something deeper and more sacred about choosing God even though you know that that choice doesn’t make things better. there’s something deeper and more sacred about choosing God for God, not for the end of the darkest days. in those seasons of suffering long it becomes about knowing that suffering awaits, not relief. and that suffering will endure day after day. do you choose God then? i do.

because even then He is worthy of rejoicing in.
even then the God of my salvation is worth taking joy in.

and i feel like it’s that kind of season of suffering long that i’m up against. i’m up against the hardest year of my life with no real promise of reprieve. it’s been a little over four weeks since i said goodbye to my mom and in so many ways this is just the beginning. you see, i started school and i didn’t realize how much of my love of learning was wrapped up in my love of my mom. it feels so different to learn now knowing i can’t share any of it with her. and in about four more weeks i will have my 25th birthday. and on that day i won’t get a text from mom at midnight even though she always, always stayed up until midnight for me. and a few days after that her birthday will come. i think i’ll go to the store and get her a card and write about how much i love her. but i’ll never be able to give it to her. and then will come the holidays, that time of year that i consistently got to spend the most time with her. and well, that’s just the forecast for the next four months.

looking out at that i have a daily choice to make. daily, knowing that awaits and so much more sadness and sorrow and hurt and tears, i will choose to rejoice in the Lord and to take joy in the God of my salvation. because He is worth it. still.

today’s margin note: it’s in suffering that you will learn if you love God for God. choose joy in the midst of suffering, even when that choice won’t bring about its end. choose joy because God is worth it, even in the darkest days.

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grief [pt. 2]

i wrote a post a few weeks back about unpredictability. it was about how one of the greatest blessings of Christianity is its unpredictability. i re-read that post this morning and was struck by something. over the past few days since my mom died, days that have felt like a moment and eternity simultaneously, i have said over and over again that one of the greatest horrors of grief is its unpredictability.

unpredictability. a blessing. and a horror. that seems like some kind of paradox to me. and that paradox seems to be my only way of describing what has been almost two weeks (certainly the longest two weeks of my life) since my mom passed away.

you see, i could go on and on about the sadness. the loss is overwhelming and crippling at times. it puts me in bed too early most nights because i have not the strength to keep going. at other times it leaves tears streaming down my cheeks at some show on tv or character in a book i’m reading or when i check my phone to find no text messages, when i used to always have text messages from her.

i still can’t get over the reality that i will never hear my mom tell me that she loves me again. and my mom, she was one of those moms who told me every single day.

but for every moment, which seem endless, that i could spend talking about the sadness and the horror of this grief and loss and whatever else this is, i could also spend that many moments, which seem endless, talking about the blessings of the love of the Lord through every second that has rolled over me since i walked out of the last room in which i will ever sit with her.

and maybe that’s how i know i am going to make it. because God has been loving me so perfectly through this. He has held me close to Him when most people would have gone running in the other direction. He has made me desire His word every morning and crave it every evening. He has helped me praise Him although sometimes proclaiming truths about Him feels a bit like walking down the beach against 20 mile per hour wind. and He has surrounded me with the richest community – the kind of community that has helped me hold up my hands and the kind of community that has walked into the darkness so bravely with me.

the grief is unpredictable. and in so many ways it is indescribable. but so is the love of God. and i am grateful for that love today.

today’s margin note: believe that God is loving, even in the darkest of times. i promise you He is.

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grief [pt. 1]

i put one foot in front of the other today. and i will keep doing that. i will keep doing that. but let me clarify — i am moving, but i am not moving on. the grief is suffocating and overwhelming and at times that one foot in front of the other seems impossible.

it has been a week since she apologized for having to leave me through the first tears i ever saw her cry. it has been a week since the last time i will ever hear her say she loves me.

it has only been a week and i miss mom indescribably.

today’s margin note: “circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins.”

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He’d choose me any day

i normally have ideas for these posts brewing in my mind for a day or more before i put my fingers to the keyboard. i’m such an internal processor that i don’t keep this blog to process things like maybe some people would. instead, i keep this thing to share all the processing that goes on in my mind all the time. it’s for you in that i share it. it’s for me in that i can’t contain it otherwise. but tonight…

tonight i read this other blog post, and i was struck by the final words in it. so struck that i had to get on here and write about it. because those words moved me in a special way tonight. in a very special way. well, i haven’t had time to think this through and i’ll be long since sleeping by the time i’d have it all internally processed anyway. so tonight, just this once, you get the raw product.

i enjoy you.
if you weren’t mine, i’d adopt you.
i’d choose you any day.”

it was a blog a mom wrote about her three year old son. she spent her space of white writing about all these things that make him him, and all these things she doesn’t want to forget about him as he grows up. it was a sweet read about the love of a parent for her sweet little boy. but those words, those final words, they overwhelmed me.

it was a love running deeper than a mom loving her son just because he was hers. let me explain…

if you haven’t gathered already, i’m a words person. i believe in words. i believe they are powerful. i believe they can make dark things light. i believe they can make inanimate things come to life. i believe in words.

consequently, there are few things i respect more in a person than the ability to use words wisely and to use words well. that mom, she used those words well.

and i’m starting to believe that there’s just something about having a child. i’ve thought that ever since i started going to church regularly because pastors always have a way of connecting some story with their kids to something they are trying to teach us about God. i think there must be all kinds of new things you learn about God when you have a kid of your own. actually, i know that’s true because i learn all kinds of new things about God from parents.

like those words in that post.

i enjoy you | if you weren’t mine, i’d adopt you | i’d choose you any day

you see, life’s been hard lately. and i mean really, really hard. i may have just come out of the hardest week of my life, and i don’t have any promise that this week won’t be just as hard. and in the midst of this, i have experienced God richly. but what i have been struck by about Him the most is how far above me He is. i don’t mean a matter of distance, because you better believe i have felt Him near through every second of all of this. what i mean is that it’s been one of those weeks that i really just don’t understand. and when i don’t understand i am always reminded that God’s ways are simply so far above mine. they are higher, and they are better. and that all leaves me in awe of Him.

but there’s more to Him than His supremacy in that. there’s also something supremely intimate about Him. it’s more than that He knows more than me and that He knows better than me. it’s that He loves me more and He loves me better. He loves me more and He loves me better than this mom loves her sweet little boy. He loves me more and He loves me better than my own parents love me. He loves me more and He loves me better. He loves me infinitely and unfailingly and unconditionally.

and isn’t that just the thing about those words that mom wrote?

i mean, God enjoys me. when i wasn’t with Him, He adopted me. He chose me.
and He chooses me over and over again every morning.

that’s why those words overwhelmed me. they overwhelmed me because they were more than some description of the way a mom loves her son. they were this small little glimpse at the way God loves us.

i think i read that post today because He wanted to tell me just that – that He loves me.
and i scarce can take that in.

today’s margin note: think on God’s love for you until it overwhelms you. i promise you it will.

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