Hopelessness—approaching the downed bridge

I do not remember the first time I felt it. I am not convinced it feels the same way every time. Hopelessness feels like being at the end of the rope, end of the line on a long express train that took you from joy and happiness…through brokenness…and settled you on resolution.

Resolution because you have come to terms with the situation and believe it will never change as it cannot ever change. It is no longer something to fight for or fight over.

Imagine being in a long white room with no doors or windows, just you and the air surrounding you, you and the sound of your own breathing. You are unsure if it is a dream or if it is just a feeling. And instead of panicking, you adapt, you get used to the surroundings; you must to survive. You have resolved to accept where you are because nothing can get worse, but it also cannot get better.

You have now arrived at resolution.

It was a normal weekend. It always baffled me how a weekend could begin normal just as every weekend before it, but it could quickly spiral out of control for one small reason or another.

It started out normal, then spiraled.

I was angry at circumstances out of my hands. I had no say in what was being done, how treatment was being dulled out or what words were being said. I was by no means a bystander, I just could not change the situation for myself.

It went downhill at church. I had driven myself that day as I had developed a habit of doing so. On the drive home I would have 20 minutes of uninterrupted time to simply exist. But there was a tug. It was a beautiful day; did I really need to drive home where I would sit on the couch for the rest of the day and not do anything? The fresh air deserved to be breathed in. The clear day deserved to be enjoyed, if only for a few minutes.

Almost as if I was on autopilot, I continued on the freeway past my exit. My phone vibrated in the center consul and the text waiting for me only confirmed that running away for a few moments was the right thing to do.


Clearing my head was the most pressing need.


I drove up and around Moreno Valley and got off the freeway at Pigeon Pass. I could follow that road all the way up into the hills. Box Springs Mountain Reserve Park overlooks the city of Riverside. On a clear day I could see for miles up there. As the cars on the road dwindled in number, I rolled down my window and kept driving. The road rose and rose until I got to a good lookout point.

Parking my 4Runner on the side of the road, I unbuckled my seatbelt and made a point to leave my phone where it was. I walked around the car and leaned against the passenger door, and took my first deep breath of the day.

From my vantage point, I could see every part of Riverside. I could see for miles. I could see all the way to the mountains. I could see the intricate interchanges of the 60, 215 and 91 freeways. I could see the campus of UCR below me. I could see countless baseball and football and soccer fields. I could see every car on the freeways, yet I was far enough away that it was still quiet on my perch.

I would never say it was peaceful. It was simply a feeling of resolution.

It felt as if I had spent the previous seven months on a speeding freight train on tracks that went up and down mountains and around sharp turns and through dark yet short tunnels—like the videos you see when researching tourism spots in Switzerland—just with the destination in mind of “unknown.” And it seemed the destination was finally coming up. But instead of approaching a physical stop on the line, it was just a point where the tracks ceased—a bridge that was out, if you will.

All in all, I still felt as if I had plenty of time. The train would not reach the bridge for some time so I could still enjoy the benefits of being on a nice train. Right? I could enjoy the plush chairs and the view going by. Yes?

Thinking about all of this up on my perch in Box Springs Park brought an image to mind…the sinking scene from “Titanic.” Especially the part where the orchestra decided to keep playing. They were helpless; the least they could do was play their instruments until the end. They knew the end was coming and they just kept playing.

For me, there was nowhere left to go. There was nothing left to give. The downed bridge was coming up and all I could do was prepare myself and enjoy the moments of peace I would have until then. I had become the orchestra on the Titanic, just waiting.

There was no anxiety. There was no uncertainty. Just an arrival at resolution. I was resolved that nothing would change, nothing would get better or worse. I was resolved that the train would eventually crash, but I did not know when.

There was no heat in my chest as there was with sorrow. There was no ultimate sadness as there was with discouragement.

Just resolution.

I climbed back in my car, turned it around and began driving home. I did not feel better. I did not feel worse. Simply felt at the end of my rope, the end of my line. Nothing more, nothing less. The world was a numb place and I had learned to accept it.


The World was a numb place and I had learned to accept it.


As my train approached the no-longer-there bridge, I knew the fall would be frightening, I knew the landing would be painful. But I had to believe the fall would be the right thing, because it would bring the next journey, it would end the numbness by way of intense pain. And I was OK with that.

I was resolved.

Embracing discouragement—Finding strength to overcome

Discouragement feels like Murphy’s law. “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

This day was one of those days. It passed while I sat at my desk staring at the same piece of paper the majority of the day. When I looked up on occasion I would look at my computer screen or I would turn my head to the right to stare out the distant window. I yearned to see the outside world. To connect with something, anything outside of the physical corner I occupied at work.

When I looked at my computer screen, it displayed a familiar video that had always brought comfort. On this day it was only bringing restlessness. There is a beach city in San Diego called Coronado. It is a peninsula even though most people call it an island. And on this peninsula is one of the most historic hotels—Hotel del Coronado. In spite of its historic age and status, it offers restless souls like me a piece of happiness—a live video feed of the ocean view from the hotel.

I stared at that view for hours on this day. And as the clock struck 5:00 p.m. I knew what I had to do. I drove home, fed my dog, then promptly left. I endured some sadness over leaving Lottie at home so I could sit on the beach by myself for a couple hours.

Armed with my purple Knapbag, a quilt, my journal, a pen and my headphones, I drove the 25-minute route to Coronado. There was not much on my mind except the mission at hand: Get to the beach so you can breathe.

The clouds had rolled in since 5:00 p.m. Even though it was late August it was chilly. I trudged past the groups of high schoolers at the bonfire pits out celebrating the last days of summer freedom before school started again. I tried recalling a time when I felt as happy as they looked, especially at that age. I could not clock a specific moment.

I set up camp 15 feet from the tip of the tide as it rolled onto shore. Reclining in my Knapbag with my quilt snuggly wrapped around my shoulders and my left toes in the sand, I took what felt like my first real breath all day.

Not sure of the purpose I had at the beach that night, I just sat for a long time. Forced myself to slow down. Allowed the discouragement access to my heart. Denying it any longer had become impossible. A result or a way out was unknown. I just had to be there in the moment.

Unsure of what I could do beyond breathing, I took a tentative move toward my journal. Writing, journaling would be good because I could not seem to form adequate words in my thought prayers. Written prayers would suffice.

Everything felt heavy—my breath, my chest, my bones, my heart. It all bore a weight I was struggling to stand underneath. It felt as if I did not have a choice in how or what I was feeling. On the surface, what I felt was loss. I had put up a valiant effort and lost. And now I had to forfeit completely. But in the meantime, in the time it was taking me to get there, I did not understand the emotions rolling through me.

I opened my journal and I began to write. I wrote for a long time. I poured my heart out to God in my words, asking my questions and getting no answers. I stated the things I was struggling to understand, and I still struggled to leave them at His feet after I said them. I confessed how bad everything hurt, and I cried.

After a while, it felt like there was nothing left. I sat there and wondered if anything in any realm of life could get any worse. I wondered, Did I take the right first step? Or would I be doomed to flounder in discouragement forever?

As I deflated my Knapbag and grabbed up my stuff, I let my thoughts wander. The walk back to the car was steady, not fast or slow. The road that was filled with parked cars on both sides when I arrived had slowly emptied out. After unlocking the door and dumping my stuff on the front seat, I sat there.

I had taken the right first step. I ran to Jesus with the cries of my heart overflowing. And now I was left with some waiting. Waiting felt void, like it held no substance. I think I just had to be OK with where I was.

So in concrete terms, what does discouragement really feel like? Do you remember when you would swim as a kid, then get out of the pool and change back into regular clothes, then go swimming again later on it the day? Was your swimsuit still damp? Was your towel fully dry to be used for the second swim?

Discouragement feels like going for a second swim of the day after the temperature has dropped, then deciding to get out of the cold pool, endure the cold air with the hope that your towel is going to be warm and ready. But it is damp and cold. The towel never finished drying after the first swim. I imagine that’s what discouragement without Jesus might have felt like to me.

But discouragement with Jesus walking beside me feels like all the hope for that warm towel is valid. He is the warm towel. He will dry me off, He will warm me up, He will comfort me and shield me from the cold air.

Discouragement feels like Murphy’s law because as I left the beach that day, I got lost. My normal route was closed and Google Maps did not know where to send me. But discouragement with Jesus beside me felt like an opportunity to spend a few more uninterrupted moments with Him.

Getting lost was not going to ruin the progress my heart just made. Regardless of Murphy’s law and my cold towel of discouragement, I laid down my emotions at His feet and I knew, and still know, that He cares enough to pick them up and turn them around for me.

How to enjoy the relationships meant for you

I sat at one of the picnic tables at work. It was hot outside. A heat wave had settled in the region and I was feeling it. But I was excited. I was going to catch up with a friend for a few minutes.

She excitedly hugged me before we sat down together, and quickly the conversation turned lighthearted as we recapped our weekends. Then it went deeper and what came out was a time of connecting, and we walked away with more common ground than we already had. But keep in mind, this person is not exactly like me. Looking at our personalities, we are opposites. But seeing that we can connect over a common desire and common lessons we are learning is encouraging.

Our lessons seem to be about relationships. And this is slightly where our differing personalities come into play: While she is fearful her people will leave her, I fear I am undeserving of my people, the relationships I have. Both stem from fear and both result in the potential to lose people who matter to us, yet the process we go through between the starting point and the destination is different.

The conclusion to our conversation was the reality that we are meant to be in relationships with others because we are meant to be in relationship with Christ first. And in the moments when our relationship with an invisible God is in jeopardy, it is the human relationships He uses to bring us back to Him.

A short part of my story has to do with isolation. During a turbulent time for me, I retreated from most interaction because everything caused pain. At times the pain was like an exposed nerve ending. Other times it was a dull ache. Still pain nonetheless. Coming out of that time of isolation made me feel as if my relationships could not survive much longer. How could they when I was holding myself back so fiercely?


Isolation made me think I did not deserve good and healthy relationships.


This was in complete stark contrast to the life I envisioned for myself as a young girl. Always knowing there was a cry in my heart for deep connections, I desired people from all walks of life to populate my life, my heart. I wanted to give myself to my people because that is what I wanted in return. But with age, the process of forming strong relationships seemed unclear. What worked for one relationship did not work for another. Nothing about connection seemed easy or wanted. Where did this leave me? Where was I supposed to go from here if I wanted that little-girl vision of full relationships to come true?

It has been a learning process. The past year has been spent relearning healthy relationship habits, reprogramming my thoughts and heart to trust and realizing relationships can be great, just as I always imagined.

Healthy relationships, in my experience, can just happen. But they take work to stay that way. When a relationship takes an unhealthy turn, it infects different parts of your life. Think of a habit you have, one you are not proud of. If you were to lay down that habit right now to replace it with a better habit, a healthy habit, do you know there would be a time of relearning healthy habits? You will need time to get rid of what was unhealthy to take on what is healthy. The same goes for unhealthy relationships. Be patient as you relearn what a healthy relationship is meant to resemble.

One part of my relationship struggle has been realizing that I find more reasons to keep my heart safe than I do to trust it to someone else. Broken relationships have been characters in the last five years of my life, and each one convinced me (in the moment of its breakdown) that trust is not something I want to do again. Earlier this year, I was so convinced trusting people was not worth it that it invaded my relationship with Christ. I could not even say I trusted Christ with my heart. But while it was scary for me to think about trusting again, it was even scarier to think of the alternative—an ever-hardening heart because I would not let anyone come in and change things. I could not live like that. So, I reprogrammed my thoughts and heart to determine it was OK to take a chance and trust. It has been a day-by-day journey, but God has not let me down; neither have my people.


So, I reprogrammed my thoughts and heart to determine it was OK to take a chance and trust.


What came next was a lesson about my community. While I would gladly step off a ledge for any of them or hunt them down in a burning building to pull them out or vow to protect them and take care of them to the best of my abilities, not all communities are perfect. They never will be. But that little-girl dream to have a group of loving, fearless, funny, inspiring, encouraging people to accompany me through life…that community can be real, even if not perfect.

All this to say that no amount of relationship struggles will ever kill my desire to have great relationships. If nothing else I am a fighter for my relationships because I know this one thing: I was made—we all were made—to be in relationship with Christ, and that is meant to extend to relationships with others. But here is the thing: The enemy wants me to think relationships are not worth it, or rather I am not worth being in relationship with. This is a lie. A lie I have to fight against every day. And this fight takes on three facets I am going to share with you and I hope it encourages you.

  1. Be the fighter God created you to be. Take up your belt of truth. The truth is God created you to be in relationships and has many precious plans and promises for you, for us. When we stand on that, we are fighting.
  2. Be confident in the relationships you have and the relationships you are working on. Each is accomplishing something in you, making you into who God created you to be.
  3. Enjoy them. A wise man once told me that connections with people are intoxicating. It is true. I enjoy my relationships with the hope they will all last a lifetime. I pray you have the same enjoyment.

Another Year Gone, Another Year Coming

At this time last year I wrote a similar post. May is a significant month for me as it marks two anniversaries: graduating from college and starting my dream job. Though they both occurred on the same day (May 2) there was an entire year that lapsed between the two.

I’m a sentimental person at heart, and I intentionally take note of important dates in my life; it helps me keep track of what’s transpired in the year prior. So every year on May 2, just like I would on a holiday or my birthday, I take stock of what the previous year taught me, and how it has changed me and deepened my walk with Christ.

A couple weeks ago, I closed another year with this conclusion: my job saved my life. Or more accurately, God used this job, this place, the people here to reach in and save me. It was my stability, the very stability I needed, when life was chaotic.

That sounds dramatic, but it’s true. To look at my life and who I was on May 2, 2015, then 2016, then 2017, and finally 2018…the growth, the ups, the downs, the hills, the valleys, the brokenness, the redemption…none of it could have happened without God orchestrating the entire timeline.

On May 2, 2015, I sat in a cushioned chair at Citizen’s Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California, waiting for my row to be led to the stage. Walking across that stage, getting my diploma and shaking my school’s president’s hand was an odd feeling of stillness. I can’t even remember hearing my name announced. It felt as if my brain was on autopilot.

My educational career spanning 16 years had just concluded. I had been in a mode of formal learning for almost as long as I’d been breathing and suddenly that comfort zone was gone. I was sad to be leaving the environment I knew so well. And I knew the steps before me wouldn’t be easy to take. Finding a job, paying off student loans, harboring a desire and a passion to go to the mission field…all of it joyfully swelled in my heart and confused me at the same time. I was anxious to simply see where God would lead me, and how He would somehow reconcile all these passions He put in my heart.

On May 2, 2016, I walked through the doors of Turning Point, ready to begin my new journey. I had formally accepted a position as a copy editor for this ministry. I saw it as my dream job because here was this opportunity to combine my love for writing and copy editing with my love for and desire to share the Gospel. For the first time in a year, I felt this sector of my life get a solid footing, as if the previous 365 days had felt like floating adrift on a raft before finally stepping onto solid ground again. But all the while, other parts of my life were in chaos, roiling with turmoil on a minute-by-minute basis.

Even on my first day at this new job, this opportunity to start my career, gain a new community, find new footing, I knew the coming year would be difficult.

On May 2, 2017, I celebrated by going on a hike with friends. Then I stopped. I took stock. I looked back, and I could clearly see God’s handprint on every part of my life. My predominant feeling for the year had been that of being stuck, misunderstood, mistreated, unappreciated, unworthy of equal effort, yet I was still somehow growing. But I wouldn’t see the full bloom of that growth for quite a few more months. I had to hold on, hoping and praying God was holding me, keeping His promises as He said He would in Hebrews 10:23.

My 2017 anniversary was a pivotal moment for me. I wanted the next year to be about setting myself up for whatever the future held. Because you can pray and hope for opportunities or blessings all you want, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to handle them when they come. I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to handle everything life brought me with faith, confidence, steadfast trust. I didn’t want to let my Savior down anymore; I didn’t want to grieve Him. I wanted Him to look at me and have joy on His face.

So changes needed to be made. And He saw me through each change when the pain nearly consumed me.

May 2, 2018. It was a day that passed with little fanfare (I was swamped at work). But it was a moment in time that marked another year (obviously). One of those holy-crap-it’s-been-a-long-four-years-of-growth moments. So I’ve been looking behind me for the last few weeks, replaying memories in my head, letting long-ago-learned lessons come to the surface in my heart. The conclusion I’ve reached is: wow, I’m different.

When I was 20, I honestly thought I had stuff figured out. How could I not? I had an awesome and active family, I had a growing relationship with Jesus, I was at school which was my comfort zone (anywhere I can learn is comfortable for me), I had a few close friends, my future was totally figured out (lol), and I felt blessed to have that life. But God was stretching me. And now, I look back and almost cringe…no, I do cringe…at how naïve and young and idealistic I was. Deep on the inside I’m just as idealistic now as I’ve always been, but boy have I gained, and lost, and grown, and shriveled away. Boy, have I been confused and felt dumb, then felt redeemed and back on my feet again. Boy, have I felt so far away from Christ and alone, then felt His arms come around me right when I needed it.

But here’s the main takeaway for me from this past year. Redemption is painful at times but it’s a beautiful process. Relationships are difficult and sometimes you find yourself making too many sacrifices, and you have to make a tough decision for distance. Community is invaluable because that’s where Jesus will meet you when the silence of loneliness is too much to bear. Self-care can only come in handy when you know yourself well enough; knowing yourself can also be the difference between a wise decision and a not-so-wise decision.

The world has touched me in ways I never anticipated. It gave me experiences I now wouldn’t trade because it led to many amazing things. Going forward, all I want is for more and more people to join me here and experience redemption of their own. Because God is capable.

With each passing year He reminds anew that He is my steady ground and my solid foundation. When everything else is chaotic, He is not. And though I only have a feeling that big things are coming this year, I will continue to hold fast to Him and the confession of my hope without wavering, because I know He is faithful no matter what.

Reassurance

Reassurance feels like this.

God, your unfailing Father, stands before you with your heart in His huge hands. You are almost shocked. Why would anyone, least of all the most perfect person in the world, want to hold that old thing with all its bandages and bruises and scars? Yet there it is in His hands. And He cradles it as close to His chest as He can. Then He tenderly holds it out in front of Himself, between the two of you. Where you are on your knees in front of Him, it is cold, and the cold runs deep. He reaches out His hand and lifts your chin. On His face you see a bright yet soft smile, like a sunset coming through the clouds to soften the harsh light, but somehow it still retains its power and beauty. His warm smile makes you wonder if the warmth you suddenly feel is emanating from it. He draws you to your feet and He says the words you need to hear.

“You are My child. Look at this,” He says in reference to Your heart He still holds in His hand. “I made this. Look at this beautiful, soft, sometimes-hard-to-understand-by-man, beating mass of cells and ventricles and blood and systems working together to be something uniquely you.”

He wipes away the stray tears streaking a path down your cheeks then continues.

“When I look at this heart, I see everything. Look at it yourself.”

You look down, hesitant. You do not want to see the ugliness.

“Look at your pain, and look at your sadness and sorrow, look at your mistakes. But look at your joy—even if it only lasted for a moment—and look at your growth, and look at all the mountaintops you’ve been on, and all the hurdles you’ve jumped over. You may see only all of the difficulties sometimes, but here’s what I see: My child who conquered, My child who won every single one of her battles, My child who was in the trenches of her own life and is now on the other side of pain, regardless of how brief the resting periods last. You, My precious child, are strong and beautiful no matter what. Do you want to know why?”

You do not even have the power to nod your head. You are too focused on His words, spoken so gently to you, like being wrapped in a warm blanket after wandering around in the freezing cold for a day.

“It’s because that’s how I made you, and you’re beautiful just like that. I’m proud of you. And I love you. I’m going to give this back to you now, and I will always be here to pick it, and you, back up again.”

He gently takes your heart and cleans it once more before placing it back inside of your chest, His creation.

He knows you well, and He knows what you need right when you need it.

Oh, Mom…

There is a song I like to listen to. It is called “Love Remains.”

If you listen to country music, you know who Lady Antebellum is. And if you know the names of the members, you know that Hilary Scott released a worship album with her family, and it is composed of old and new hymns and worship songs. And, you guessed it, “Love Remains” is on this album.

It makes me think of my family, the love my parents show me every day. But it also makes me think of my mom. The song begins by talking about how we are all born, and our parents react to seeing us for the first time: “Momma smiles, and Daddy cries.” The song goes on and talks about how a boy will grow up and take a bride: “She stands faithful, by his side.”

When I think about my 23 years on this earth and the constant presence of my mom, I can say I saw her do primarily two things: She smiled (at us and because of us) and she stood faithful (by my dad’s side and by our side).

Over the last couple of months, I thought of my dad a lot. He has so many characteristics and traits (hard working, loyal, sacrificial, consistent, loving, respectable, etc.) and he works hard to make sure his children possess those traits as well. But my mom…I cannot begin to tell you how many of her traits are amazing and precious, and how I desire to have those same traits.

If I could use only one adjective to describe both of my parents, I would say this:

Dad is consistent, but Mom is steady.

I can honestly say that she has been a steady and faithful foundation my entire life. While Dad had to go make sacrifices and take care of the family outside of the home, Mom was with us, providing everything we needed. She is the picture of steady love.

At this point, I just want to write something personal to my mom so I am going to change up this post a little bit, but keep reading.

Mom, I am thankful for our relationship. I remember being a teenager, and if there was ever something bothering me it was rare that I talked to you about it. I was Dad’s girl no matter what. I remember you asked me about it one Sunday on our way home from church. I remember where we were on the freeway (driving under the Nuevo Rd. overpass). I remember what car we were in (the truck). I remember where we were going (Sam’s Club). I had a bad day at church, and I was beyond frustrated, and instead of talking to you about it I chose to sit in the passenger seat and cry. I stared straight ahead and refused to be talked to. You got frustrated because I think I told you I only wanted to talk to Dad about what was bothering me. You were quiet after that. It occurred to me that it did not make much sense that I was not taking advantage of your listening ears or your heart of love, and it hurt you every time I preferred Dad over you. Somewhere in my heart that day I made a commitment to start talking to you more. Our relationship grew from that point forward, and now I am just as close to you as I am to Dad.

And now that I live on my own, the lessons you poured into me have taken root in whole new ways. Dad worked tirelessly (and still works tirelessly) to teach me and Matthew and Chelsea how to work hard and respect people and earn respect in return and defend ourselves and fight for what is right and prioritize others over ourselves and how to make sacrifices and be smart and be wise. He always taught with the right amount of love and strength so we would get it. But your lessons were so soft and subtle that I did not really put much thought to them until recently.

You taught me how to use my time wisely. If there is something that needs to be done and you have a few minutes to do it, get it done. You always told me, “The things you love, you will make time for them.”

You taught me how to plan and how to be wise with the gifts I have been given. Whether that gift is financial stability or time spent with people, it takes a certain amount of organization and wisdom to use them.

You taught me how to be faithful. You have never let me question how much you love me and how deep your love for me runs. And even in those moments when I think I might have reached the bottom of the deep love you possess, you always assure me that there is more to be found.

You taught me how to be quiet and let things play out. I bet if anyone who does not know you could use one word to describe you, it would be “quiet.” You are quiet by choice. You choose the right moment to speak and the right moment to keep your words to yourself, and so much of that wisdom comes from how well you know me.

You taught me how to fight (in all aspects where a fight is needed or required). I still think of how hard you had to fight for me against insurance companies and doctor’s offices, and if you had not fought who knows what my life would have turned out to be.

You taught me how to love in small and detailed ways. Everything you have ever done for me, it has stemmed from the detailed love you show me. You know me well and you taught me to show that same love to others.

You taught me how to cling to the Lord every day of my life, and you taught me that He will communicate with me in a personal way, a way He does not use with anyone else. I am special to Him, and that will show in every part of my relationship with Him.

Most of all, you taught me how to put my characteristics into action. You taught me how to get to know myself, and surrender my gifts to God so He could use them the best way He sees fit.

Mom, the song “Love Remains” makes me think of our family. If there is anything more difficult than being a parent to a toddler, I would think it is being a parent to an adult child. But I think you and Dad have done a good job always showing us that love remains. So for that and so much more, thank you.