confession

Georgia, you are not my experiment.

Hi.

It's been 15 weeks since I pulled into my driveway that first night in Georgia.

A few people have asked if I've settled in and I recognize this usually means: do you like your job, are you happy, have you made friends yet? I have an aversion to chitchat so my answers take on an unintended intensity. Two minutes during church meet-and-greet or over iMessage is probably not the time to detail my "settling in," so here it is. 

An informal, scattered update for the curious.

It's been a fast road and God's faithfulness has not made any stops.
How can I contain my praise? 

-

Leaves would crunch like corn flakes beneath my feet as I wandered around my new neighborhood and now, at the end of February, I'm chasing down cherry blossoms. Pops of pink, white, and maroon already line the streets and if you're stuck in traffic on I-75, you'll notice them there too. 

Over these 3+ months I've borne witness to seasons rapidly turning over and it's been the clearest reminder of how there is a time for everything. I'm convinced even our bleakest winters have purpose and yet, thankfully, they also have an end. Spring always comes.

I've fallen in love with being outside. This is a reality I couldn't even consider in 2016 when bedridden and housebound. Remember that? When circling around the perimeter of Target was too tiring and when my skull felt pierced by sunlight? Now I can't slip on toe socks and Nikes fast enough. I'm working on building endurance and can currently walk a handful of miles just 'cause, which is crazy to me. 

My body and spirit are invigorated as the breeze pushes me forward and it is all a gift. When I'm playing outside and surrounded by nature, I'm most aware of God's presence and voice. For years I've been unable to meet with him in this way. These moments are sacred and beautiful and even hilarious. I recently noticed squirrels moving to a staccato rhythm, perfectly synced to the song playing in my headphones. I fell over from laughter as I shared this silent disco with rodents in the woods. Promise I'm working on making friends but hey, I've got Jesus and some squirrels.

On Thursday, I finished up some yard work, dressed up, and took myself to my first ever concert. The venue was in a part of the city I'd never been to but I found it and settled in the parking garage with no problems. (Baby Driver ruined parking garages in Atlanta for me. Also, I've been driving down the up-ramp by mistake...) It was a lovely night, chatting with strangers before the doors opened and listening to prophetic words of hope and beauty and reconciliation sweep through the air. Josh Garrels' artistry is brilliant, his live show even better than the albums. There was enough applause to lift him off his feet, but instead he sang with conviction and humility, firmly planted in the sweet mercy of God. 

The concert was one of many events I've shown up to alone and in relative anonymity. I hear Garmin's voice on every solo drive to church, classes, and bookstores. Wandering by myself hasn't bothered me. I expected it here. I guess what I didn't see coming was how true the old adage—out of sight, out of mind—would feel. Perhaps hopping off Facebook at the start of the year made this feeling more prevalent. Nevertheless, I am okay.

My new therapist is leading me through the Boundaries book and it's helping me see the pseudo and codependent relationships I've clung to over the years. There's a healthier way and I look forward to loving freely and not out of obligation. This will take practice and failure and grace. Hard for us perfectionists. In time, I trust friendships will be formed and they won't be rodents or GPS robots. 

Sundays have become my favorite. If you're thinking church, then you're right. I'm not only going again, but I'm fully for God's covenant community and want to be with his family. There have been some real rifts and shady actions in previous local churches I've attended but none of my bitterness, judgment, or arrogance towards Christ's body can be justified. I am no better, even and especially when I think I am.

"It's just me and Jesus," was the mantra since 2015 (or maybe earlier) and I'm now learning how wrong and impossible that statement is. "Jesus died for a people, not a person," my pastor tells us. Why have I not considered this more? How long have I been centered on myself and my private relationship with God? Though I've desperately aimed to follow and obey him, I'd removed myself from living on mission with the very brothers and sisters he'd given to be my family. I'd been severely missing out because of hurt, pride, fear, and ignorance. There is a kindness that leads us to repentance and I am turning that way now, towards God and his beautiful transcultural church.

This Georgia life is not a trial run. It's not an experiment to see if God is able to sustain me. It's not to prove I've reclaimed adulthood or independence, either. I pray and pace the length of my room, overwhelmed as thanks pours through tears and words. Then it hits me. This is the place God miraculously guided me to—an oasis in a stretch of hard desert years. It's where I'm supposed to be. It's becoming home.

I'm living on a question mark.

I'm living on a question mark. 

I don't think I'll ever forget that day, that dreadful first of March. I'd just returned home from a job interview when I received the news that struck down my family. There's hardly (if any) preparation for such things, is there? A longstanding nightmare turns reality, then what? You try to make sense of it but you can't. In words taken from Hamilton, this has been a "suffering too terrible to name."

A bold line distinguishes life before crisis and after. I'm living in the eleventh week following and each week since has been sad, intense, and exhausting. My heart still bleeds out. I've heard life after trauma shapes into a new kind of normal, or something like that. The alterations are significant.

So now, I'm living on a question mark. The surety has faded. I'm less willing to face the pain straight on. Each step on the bridge to healing is a timid one. These feet are dragging and the days are too. Who talks about this?

It's hard to find someone who won't try to fix and direct your pain with hopeful platitudes. And it's even harder to find someone who won't avoid you or your suffering. Lately, I'm uninterested in any of the Christian clichés. Do we toss them around to convince each other we still love and trust Jesus? Is it okay to confess: I'm broken, I'm grieved, I'm struggling? And to say back: I'm broken for you, I'm without words, I'm sorry?

Oddly, I want to push everyone away and hold everyone close. I want to keep myself shielded from further misunderstanding, betrayal, disappointment, so I isolate. I want to be remembered, looked after, supported, so I overshare. I'm not at all graceful in this process.

Trauma changes people on both ends of relationships. It's hard, I know—for both the griever and the griever's friend. Pain is a complex, giant web and we're never the only ones caught in it. How do we choose to stay when leaving looks so easy? 

-

I'm afraid to write publicly because I'm afraid of accumulating more hurt. This suffering is shared, a pain not just my own. Several hearts have been twisted and turned, deceived and diced. To honor them, I can't use details. When is it better to stay off the screen and keep words only for yourself? And when is sharing worth the possible gossip, rejection, or silence?

Along with that, I fear people can sniff out self-pity. I certainly have no use for collecting pity from anyone, including myself. But it's obvious, I do hurt a whole lot. I'm still shocked, not ready to forgive, and only beginning to grieve. What if it's too early to write and I regret it?

-

Just now, I read this paragraph by Rainer Maria Rilke, the poet and novelist:

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Maybe I'll stop trying so hard to understand. Maybe we don't need reasons for a March first kind of news. Maybe those things will come, but maybe instead there will be God's peace and a certainty of His presence. Could that be enough for all our bleeding hearts? 

Answers are few in fragile times.

Answers are few in fragile times.

I walk up to the register with four sympathy cards in hand, each meant for a different person and loss. The cashier asks me what all good cashiers ask—did you find everything you were looking for? I tell him yes (does anyone answer otherwise?) as he totals the purchase. He hands me the receipt and plastic bag, finishing his routine with a warm "come again." I know I will because bookstores are my oxygen, but I hope for a return under other circumstances. Not one involving death.

But pain is pummeling into those I love. All at once? I don't get it. I speak with a friend this morning who has experienced another tragedy. These are fragile times. Treading in pools of sorrow suddenly turns familiar, and it hurts.

-

There's another problem with my health, so before bed, I scour Google's results for answers. The quest for healing resembles an addiction and before you know it, it's 5 am and I'm exhausted from riding on fear through the night. I close both the laptop and my eyes at last, unable to find what I was searching for.

Counselors say there are multiple stages of grief, with denial being one of the first. Each addition to my list of symptoms is a loss. I make good movement emotionally, then I'll notice another ailment and end up in denial all over again. I have a disease (several, actually), and sometimes loss will come quicker than progress. Strength and hair and memory are not promises. Can I not accept this reality in bulk? Will I have to unravel with every change? 

-

I've been asking God lots of questions. Partly because I'm curious, mainly because I'm disappointed. The last 14 months in my life have appeared small and inconsequential. I used to be useful—what happened? Why is He keeping this disease in my body? Doesn't He know what I would do if I was healthy and whole?

There are families hurting, and I want to help. I hope to serve children who have special needs. I hope to work hard, giving money and resources away. I hope to move to Japan and help plant churches. I hope to do this and that for a greater good, but I fear I can't unless I'm well.

So if I'm never healed, then what? 

The splinters in my theology and identity are being exposed. I'm in this new place, a low place, where I see sprawled before me my failed attempts and crumbled relationships and unbiblical perspectives and storage of pride, and, and—I'm not at all who I thought I was. It's terrifying to be made aware of my shortcomings like this. I made myself the savior of the narrative and now I'm here, pressed to the ground and empty-handed.

I'm shocked by how little I've trusted Jesus, the God-man who knows suffering best. How does He respond to the tragedies we face? 

-

I have an afternoon to myself, and I'm tempted to numb with Netflix but I cry out to God instead. I wonder why He would still want to love me and love others through me. I've lost sight so many times and I know so little. In my foolishness, doubt, brokenness, and disease, why does God remain? I don't know what He's shaping through the losses in my life or those around me, but this is my prayer:

God, may You be all we ever go searching for.
And let us weep with those who weep today, just as You do for us. 
Amen.

If you had not come along.

I traveled north before Thanksgiving and had an appointment with my doctor. He ran tests and administered treatment, confidently reporting improvement in my health. This was comforting to hear at the time, but now that I'm home with more fatigue and inflammation in my brain / body than usual, I'm confused. Lately, I've felt like the Tin Woodman from The Wizard of Oz—neck immovable, joints rusted over, heart elsewhere. 

I think mornings can be unforgiving to many, including the chronically ill. With half an eye open today, I went over roll call, assessing which body parts came to attendance. These first moments of the day are so fragile. I'm aware of it, and want to choose rightly. I want to set my full mind on things above. But to be honest, before I open the dusty blinds, fold the mustard yellow quilt into quarters, or crawl to the bookshelf with twelve bottles of treatment lined up, I feel defeated. 

Here I am, stuck in a body fighting an unyielding disease in a place I do not thrive. I tell people I'm applying to jobs! trying to move out! praying about ministry locations! and that is all true, but then on mornings like this one, I wonder how any of that could unfold. I mean, I didn't even want to make breakfast this morning. Too exhausting. Feeling sorry for myself never brings good, so to stand against such pity, I peeled a banana, buttered some toast, and scrolled through job postings anyway. 

After the brief search for work, I searched for deals on Christmas gifts and pinned a few wish-list items for myself, totally immersed in my own world. Then, I see news of the devastation in Aleppo and the thousands of refugees who are in need—and how can I ignore it? How can I click away? To do what? Return to coupon codes and uploading résumés?

There is so little I feel I can offer to a world that is hurting, but there are people near and far who are desperate for help, for hope. A friend who knows I've been struggling this month called me, listening to my every word. I told her I wanted to be noticed in my need—and isn't this true of us all? Aware of my tendencies to isolate or check out, my friend challenged me to do just the opposite. To keep showing up instead. The truth made me cringe a little, but she is right. 

This is the same message I'm reading from organizations responding to the Aleppo crisis. They need people to step in, to help Syrian families by giving meals and sleeping bags and more. They need us to show up. It feels small, too easy, even, to push a button and give from the safety of home—but the outpouring of help and prayers and funds will not be wasted. It never is.

Several hours later and feeling somber, I picked up our beautifully illustrated copy of The Wizard of Oz. Since I'd told my family I felt like one of the main characters, I figured I should refresh my memory of his story. I flipped to pages 38-39, straight to the rescue of the Tin Woodman.

Dorothy, upon finding the tin man, responded to his groans for help. His joints badly needed oil. All he desired was to be free to move—away from isolation and rust and pain.

So they oiled his legs until he could move them freely; and he thanked them again and again for his release, for he seemed a very polite creature, and very grateful. "I might have stood there always if you had not come along," he said; "so you have certainly saved my life. How did you happen to be here?" 

This story, it turns out, was more than a passing metaphor for my physical condition. It was one I needed to read today, a day I wanted to only look inward and sit on a pile of my own pity. I read the words another time and another time, drawing biblical parallels and continuing to think on things like our need for a Savior, what it looks like to assume solidarity with the suffering, how to respond well to others and do life together, and what it means to have eternity set in our hearts.

I play four newly-learned chords on the piano, with friends and strangers on my mind. Mornings are definitely not just hard or painful for me. I play the simple line from a simple chorus—don't lose hope—and think about those in my neighborhood and those on the other side of the world who are facing mornings and days and nights more heartrending than I could ever know.

Oh Father, don't let those who are hurting, defeated, or overlooked stand there always, with no one to come along.

I don't know where to go from here, I don't. But I cannot look or click away.

if you had not come along

To my body.

mirror reflection

Dear Body,

I began writing this letter at 3:30 this morning, because what I suddenly ached to tell you could not be concealed for a moment longer.

Since our waltz into womanhood, there has been a strange tension between us. I remember being ambushed by the dreadful understanding that your bushy eyebrows and bushy mane were not exactly attractive.

This had not occurred to me before.

I remember being told at fourteen you were only needed for one thing—to lend yourself sexually to a man. This disturbed me. I stood up for you, maybe sheepishly, but my convictions ran deep. I am thankful for this.

Even with my desire to honor God, a future husband, and you, I have not always had purity leading my intentions. I have edited you, Body, both offline and online, to help me garner attention and popularity.

This is deceit and I have used you.

For some people, confidence dashes through their veins. They speak of being comfortable in their own skin. I thought I was one of those people, but the names I have spoken over you while staring in the mirror say otherwise.

Although you have housed me all my life and will continue to do so until the day I die, I have not always loved you well. In retrospect, this tension has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with me.

Body, I have been wrong. Remarkably wrong. And I am so sorry.

You presented yourself as a mystery to doctors five years ago, and I became angry with you. I stopped taking care of you, because I saw few reasons for me to fix what could not be seen.

I am sorry for neglecting to notice how you give organs and cells and bones a place to be themselves—just as planets whirl in a system entirely of their own.

I am sorry for telling women of their beauty regardless of figure, facial features, or flaws, only to cringe at the sight of your uneven eyes, crowded teeth, bowed legs, and curvy hips. I have asked of you things which you were never meant to fulfill.

All these years, I expected you to be what others told me you should be.

But Body, you are a wonder.

You have been formed by the living God. He hardwired you, placing in you intricacies even educated doctors can't understand. You are nothing less than a dear creation and masterpiece. 

To mock you, dread you, or control you would mean I have done the same to the One who formed you. I am learning to speak words of truth. Please be patient as I try.

I cannot imagine the pressure I have heaped on you through the years.

I have demanded you to be marvelous—worshipping ideals and wanting perfection. I commit now to marvel instead at the Creator, for He is all that is perfect.

You have been gifted to me as my body here on earth. I no longer want to treat you as if you are what matters most in the end. To do so would be unfair.

You are serving your purpose well for me just as you are. You don't need to be the very best in looks or a cover up for my inner self. I need you for as long as I live, but not as much as I need Christ.

I want to tell you, Body, what makes you special to me. Listen closely.

You are beautiful with your dimpled grin, a mark which runs in the family. You are beautiful with your calloused toes, strengthened from dancing. You are beautiful with your poison ivy scars, telling a hilarious story of adventure. You are beautiful with your freckled lips, colored from the Hawaiian sun. You are beautiful with your eyes, shaped to show of your heritage.

It still feels contrived to say, but I will believe it to be true: Body, you are beautiful.

I want to respect and love you better in the days to come, so I may accomplish all God asks of me with strength, passion, and endurance.

Thank you for being mine.

*I am grateful to Aliza Latta, whose post inspired me to write this letter.