Joy comes in the morning—what Christmas is teaching me

Cold. Dark. Lonely. Waiting.

The shepherds did not know what was coming. They tended and guided and loved their flocks as they did every day. A promise made centuries earlier had likely not made a dent in their thoughts in quite some time. Maybe it came up every once in a while, but it brought sadness rather than hope.

The waiting period had become intense, they began questioning if anything would happen at all. The feelings deep in their guts told them the hope their ancestors had was misplaced, misguided, but still the promise of hope—no matter how unfounded—was always strong enough to pull them back in. It was simply always on the waning side rather than the full side.

That dark night, the shepherds were cold, working, solitary and lonely with only their sheep to care for, waiting for a promise to be fulfilled—one they stopped counting on long ago.

Finally, one night as it was ordained to happen, the angel finally appeared to the shepherds.

And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:9-11)

Just imagine going about your life, lonely and hopeless, then suddenly an angel appears, telling you the very thing you and all your ancestors placed their hope in so long ago finally happened.

In 2018, I gained an understanding of these feelings and so much more. The waiting, the anticipation, the hope, the fear that it would all account to nothing.

It’s natural to believe that since Christmas is at the end of the year it means the end of something has come.

Maybe somewhere out there in a world that celebrates Christmas, someone uses December 25 as a measuring stick, a way to remind themselves the end is coming. Or maybe someone is out there on the opposite end of the spectrum, someone who sees Christmas for what it is:

A symbol of new beginnings.

This is just as true now as it was for the shepherds all those years ago.

For the last few weeks, I have ventured into the depths of vulnerability. I followed the Spirit’s leading to confide and confess what fire I have been walking through. When I started, I didn’t know what the reaction would be. I didn’t know if it would make me feel better or worse, less alone or more alone. I was counting on the waiting and the loneliness to persist for quite some time. My hope was waning more often than abating.

Loneliness is a solitary journey. That is the sole reason I wanted to write about it. I have experienced it, and I know I’m not alone in it, yet it always felt that way. There is a certain amount of relief that accompanies loneliness when confronted by community.

Loneliness has a cruel way of leaving you feeling isolated, forgotten. As if you are being forced to live life and all its nuances alone.

Even those I know who are introverts and thrive on spending time alone, at some point they go crazy and need at least one person to interact with. Being alone is tough. It exasperates the simplest of emotions and leaves you feeling jumbled, stressed, confused and hopeless.

But back to the shepherds…I think they learned a lesson that fateful night, and I believe it’s a lesson I am learning myself.

Loneliness promises a new beginning.

Loneliness causes you to stop, as it only can, and evaluate what’s going on beneath all the layers you put on for everyone else. It forces you to look beyond your current dark and dim circumstances to formulate a plan. How are you going to get through this? It makes you realize you need something deep on which to stake your faith and hope, and it takes little to no time at all to realize Who that foundation is.

Loneliness causes you to stop, as it only can, and evaluate what’s going on beneath all the layers you put on for everyone else.

I am a processer—one who processes the complexities of life at all times, especially when they pile up and become muddled, difficult to understand.

I had to process my loneliness out loud and among the few I trust. It made it feel conquerable. It gave me the assurance it would not last forever. Trusting my people, and even you reading this, with a tiny piece of my heart brings a small reprieve with every ounce of effort. Choosing to trust and let someone in removes the loneliness for such a prolonged moment that I have no choice but to be reassured—it will end someday soon; the new beginning will come.

Someday, just as the fulfilled promise brought light and hope and a new day to the shepherds—after all, the promised Child was finally born—joy will come. You may feel hesitant to grab it for fear that you’ll lose it again. When the pain of enduring life alone dims for a moment in time, you want the dimness to continue to fade more and more and more. And that’s what joy feels like—a promise fulfilled bringing prolonged dimness against the loneliness that has had you in its clutch for too long.

The lesson I am learning—the lesson I believe the shepherds learned—I believe applies to Christmas.

Loneliness can make you hesitant to trust when joy finally comes in the morning with the dawn of a new day. Maybe it was difficult for the shepherds to believe the angel’s words, but I am positive they are glad they put their faith in them.

But loneliness also makes the joy that much more meaningful and touching and full. It deepens the impact immensely. It puts everything into perspective. Once you allow yourself to feel the full breadth of that joy, it becomes a tad easier to accept and enjoy.

This is a lesson in refusing to let the past further define the present and future. The pain had its season, and now hope must take its place.

Pain is in the past, redemption is in the present, strength of faith is in the future. I’ll tell you now: loneliness is a gateway to a new beginning. Keep hoping. You are allowed to believe you don’t have any hope most days. The shepherds had plenty of hopeless moments. But they believed at the end of the day, and that’s what we should push for—everyday hope in anticipation for a new beginning, the chance to put away the darkness for light, the cold for the warmth, the loneliness for the joy and the waiting for living in the moment.

Pain is in the past, redemption is in the present, strength of faith is in the future.

When powerful words are used for good

One Sunday in October felt different. All year long, the feeling that God has been working on something big has never lost its presence. This one Sunday felt different. The feeling was more present in my mind, almost inescapable. As I walked to the high school room for service at Shadow Mountain, I tried to let its presence comfort me.

After all, I had gone weeks, if not months, begging God to let me feel something again.

I have the tendency to settle into routines. Without one, I feel unhinged. Sunday mornings, though still part of the weekend, is a moment in the cycling seven days that should have no schedule at all (at least every once in a while). However, this Sunday I stuck to my routine. After sitting in the high school service to be close to my students, I made the solo trek to the adjoining building and climbed the too-long flights of stairs to the second floor. Young Adult Café had become my place to go at church where I could build a community for myself. The pastor and his family do a great job of noticing the people who come and go from this community.

I was noticed on this day. He approached me and asked how I was doing, a loaded question for me. But I said I was OK.

“Are you sure?” he replied. “You look like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

I had to stop and consider his words. Here I was on a day when I felt OK considering the previous Sundays, previous whole weeks when I felt as if my best efforts were not good enough. I wondered about my perceived appearance.

I think about that day sometimes, those words, and it conjures an image in my head.

Atlas. Not the map. The mythological Greek god.

He was condemned to hold up the world. Every depiction you see of him shows a staggering man, one struggling to bear the burden he has been given.

To carry the world on your shoulders is a heavy order.

But the depiction of him standing alone with the world on his shoulders is how most of us feel at one point in our lives.

It is how I have felt for some time.

If Atlas was a real man given the impossible task of bearing the world, preventing it from spinning out of control or falling apart, I wonder how he would handle it. Would he need his friends and family to stand near and offer support, even if they could not take the full burden from him, to lend a short break every now and again? Would he need words of encouragement, words of comfort, or words of humor and sarcasm to distract his mind?

If I were Atlas, my globe-sized burden would be loneliness.

As much as I would love for someone to take this burden away from me, I have a more immediate need for support, particularly through words.

Words are powerful. I did not fully realize this truth until I was in college, spending nearly every waking hour—and some sleeping hours—learning about storytelling. The key component is words. Used in a powerful way, words can describe a scene, evoke emotion, move people to action, offer comfort. On the opposite end of the spectrum, words used incorrectly can cause deep feelings of pain, unworthiness, disappointment, uncertainty…fear.

Words used correctly toward me can inflate me just as easily as deflate me. I need words of compassion, understanding, kindness, humor. I need words of distraction. Occasionally I need silence. Words I do not need to hear cause me to feel like the problem. I, as the problem, need to be fixed, rather than the problem itself being fixed. Sometimes this treatment implies I did something to cause this problem. In these moments I realize I have to do a good job of standing up for myself even under the pressure loneliness causes.

Just as it makes me want to stand up for myself, it also makes me realize I must be willing to communicate clearly to my people. Lately, this has manifested itself in a lot of texts and emails venting my frustrations with this disclaimer: “I know I sound childish, I just need you to offer some words of encouragement.”

Occasionally this has to be done after something has offended or caused hurt, but I have learned to trust my people through this time and they know how to be sensitive.

This learning on my part and on the parts of those I trust most has caused me to wonder: What words are most important to me?

After some careful thought, I narrowed it down to a few categories—

  1. Encouraging words. These words reach in and take a firm hold of my feelings, my hurt, my dissatisfaction, and assures me I will be OK.
  2. Sarcastic words. These words are humorous. They offer an excuse for laughter. They prove to me how well my people know me.
  3. Reassuring words. Sometimes a grown woman just needs to know she is not crazy and is not perceived as crazy either.

These categories have shown me something invaluable:

Needing words is never something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.

Words are a love language. They have the power to build and encourage. They have the power to speak truth and life. They have the power to probe our feelings and unearth our burdens. They have the power to comfort and love.

Words can also be a weapon when not delivered wisely. A wise man once told me, “It’s not words that affect you so much as the delivery of those words. So it’s not what’s said, it’s how it’s said.” The challenge is to remember that not every delivery is meant to harm. Knowing this is simply one way to be aware.

There is a reason the Bible is called the Word of God. It is a compiled list of books written by multiple authors that all collectively tell the same story of the God I worship…it even records His own words. And it tells us that His Word is sharp and living and active. It is powerful.

God knows I am blessed by the ones who provide those exact kinds of words.

I do not know how Atlas’ story ended. But I do know that perhaps his face would not look as strained as it does in all of his depictions if he had the words of his people encouraging him, offering a distraction, giving him a reason to laugh, offering to help shoulder his burden.

God knows I am blessed by the ones who provide those exact kinds of words.

How to trust God—especially when it is hard to do

“Do you trust me?” Have you ever been asked this question and been stumped? Do I really trust this person? If I say ‘Yes,’ is it just because it’s expected? Or is it true—I really do trust this person?

Trust is defined as having a strong belief in the consistency and dependability of someone, and it creates a safe place to flourish, especially in relationships.

Think of the ones—or one, if your immediate answer is “Jesus” to every prompt—you rely on the most. Do you trust them? Can you say with certainty that you believe they are dependable and reliable? Do you have a safe place with them?

What would you do if that trust was gone, ripped away so abruptly and left you reeling, wondering if you will ever be able to trust again?

This is where I found myself earlier this year. I had to take a good chunk of time to evaluate the nuances of my heart and life to figure out if my inability to trust God and man could in fact be healed, restored.

I felt like an archeologist who just uncovered the bones and remains of an ancient city once buried under feet upon feet of dirt and sediment. The only catch was my life was under the soil, just waiting to be discovered and restored.

So, I dug. The dig took weeks, months to do. With tools in hand—prayer, my Bible, my journal, needed and hard conversations—I examined what I excavated

Broken pieces were scattered everywhere, and I had to eventually put them back together. I saw all those individual pieces as a puzzle, and there was a protocol of sorts to follow. In other words, I had to find the most valuable, most precious artifact and reassemble it before I could move on to everything else. It did not take much more digging to find what was most precious.

My trust in God was shattered. This had to be the first thing restored if I wanted to heal.

Before my trust in Him was broken, He was the one who could ask, “Do you trust Me?” and the answer always was, “Yes.” Without hesitation, yes.

After I discovered my trust was in danger of disappearing, He asked me again: “Do you trust Me?” I had no answer for Him. “OK,” He seemed to say, “I can fix this, but here comes the irony: You have to trust Me.”

That was the equivalent of being asked to climb Mount Everest with no climbing experience.

Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. Anger. Frustration. Just a few of the immediate emotions I felt. I screamed at Him, telling Him He could not ask me for this. Trust was sacred and had to be earned. Even by Him.

The season He has me in right now has me leaning into trust more and more every day. I will come right out and say it; the best way to encourage honesty is to be honest.

I am lonely.

This season, this constant feeling of loneliness, has a way of making me feel as if I am looking at the world through gray lenses. Everyday life is simply not as colorful. Yet there is an everyday decision I have to make to not let the dimness permanently discourage and sideline me.

Not long ago I began to believe there has to be people out there who feel the same way, which led to me asking myself, Grace, what can you honestly say to encourage someone else in this season when you’re struggling to trust God with your loneliness?

How do I know I trust God, then? How do I know He can be trusted?

I had to evaluate if I really did trust God with my loneliness. Here we are in the trenches of the rebuilding process, and loneliness is tossed in the middle of it.

How do I know I trust God, then? How do I know He can be trusted?

Think about your closest relationships. Do you have a deep, abiding, almost unexplainable connection? The kind that lends itself to being able to call on that person for anything, confide the most troublesome issues, anticipate how they are going to respond?

If my relationship with Christ were a pie chart, I know which slices I easily trust to Him and which ones I do not.

One huge area I trust to Him with no problem is my writing. I wrote the outline for this post well over a month ago, then filed it away in my folder until today when I took it out to write these words. Yet I am writing still—only because I trust God to bring the words to mind regardless of the time in between outlining and writing.

I do trust God. Where does this leave me in my season of loneliness? If I trust Him, what am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do?

He has revealed two things to me, two basic guidelines to use when excavating something sensitive and breakable.

First, I have to be willing to take care of myself and my relationships in the midst of the loneliness. The odd thing about loneliness is it makes you feel isolated because you are not sure anyone can relate to how deep the feeling goes. When I feel isolated, I retreat. If I am not careful, I unintentionally create a cave in the mountains for myself and stay there, going crazier by the day.

I have to be intentional about reaching out in my loneliness, not out of desperation but out of trust. And the first person I reach for is Christ. I have to talk to Him first, I have to trust that He knows how I feel, I have to trust He can lead me through this. Yes, other people play a role in this season, but if I constantly go to other humans first, I am not doing a good job fostering a stronger trust in Christ.

Second, I look at the areas of the pie chart where trust is easy. Then I try to replicate the ease in other areas. If I can trust Him with my writing—my passion, my talent, my gift, my form of communication and art, the one thing that contains the biggest parts of my soul—then why do I have a hard time trusting Him with my loneliness? Or with work? Or with leadership? Or with family?

I have to ask myself the hard questions here while realizing this is going to take time. This is an ongoing step, and the encouraging part is I keep working at it every day. I never give up. He roots for me.

In the days leading up to writing this post, I read Psalms 36 and 24. Verses from these two songs inspired lyrics I have listened to since I was a small child. I’m holding onto these Scriptures in my loneliness just as much as I am holding onto the songs they inspired—“Your Love O Lord” and “King of Glory.”

“Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the great mountains; Your judgments are a great deep; O Lord, You preserve man and beast” (Psalm 36:5-6).

“Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory” (Psalm 24:10).

By no means does this knowledge take away the deep sting of loneliness, but it does strengthen me for the future. He carried me through the excavation, and He is faithfully helping me fill in the pie chart of my life a little more every day. And every so often when the gray lenses are abandoned for the full technicolor of laughter and joy and community, I get a glimpse of what God is trying to accomplish in me. I pray you do as well.

To end every day with thanksgiving

Sometimes a year ends on a bad note. Or simply a challenging note.

The last five years of my life stand out starkly against the preceding 20. More than half of the last five years ended with my knowing that the challenges would not be resolved by the time the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve.

However, 2017 ended with resolution; 2018 started with intense purpose. It was a knowing deep in my soul and my gut that something of large significance was going to unfold.

The belief is still present—big things are coming. There is no doubt I will be waiting long-term for everything to fully be in my line of sight. I have accepted this.

Ten months ago. I sat in the early Sunday service when this feeling was set off by a simple moment in time. I shamelessly cannot recall what the whole sermon covered; I can tell you the one thing my pastor said that still sticks out in my head now.

While standing at the pulpit and looking out at the congregation he has faithfully led for more than 30 years, he pulled out a small notebook from his pocket. It could not have contained more than 100 pages in it. He said it was his thanksgiving journal. He confided that most days have hiccups, things that stop us in our tracks and have the potential to change the day’s activities from something we could remember as good to something we remember as horrible. On those days, and every day, we have the power to cement them as good because we have something to be thankful for every day.

He shared this journal as being the one place where, at the end of his day before he gets into bed, he intentionally writes down three things he is thankful for from his day. He said sometimes the only thing he could think of was a meal he ate, and other times he would rejoice over the I-can’t-fully-wrap-my-head-around-this significance of others.

The intended purpose: to foster more thanksgiving in his life by intentionally writing down those things for which he was grateful.

When I got home that day, I scoured my drawers for a journal. Considering I keep a stockpile of blank journals it was not difficult to find a small one in which I could write my gratitude.

I wanted more thanksgiving in my heart and my life, and I felt it appropriate and needed.

I felt God telling me I would need to lean on thanksgiving and gratitude because the coming year was going to be a roller coaster.

Indeed, it has been. And something tells me I am nowhere near the stopping point.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, an entire day dedicated to being thankful. But it is more than a day; it is meant to be a habit, something we do as often as we can think to. Being in the habit of writing down what I’m grateful for every night from a kneeling position next to my bed, I know there are many things I could place on my list.

Now, digging deeper than I do at 10:30 p.m. every night, here are three broad gifts for which I know I will continue to be thankful for through many years to come.

  1. Growth—personal, professional, spiritual.

Growth is the epitome of being uncomfortable. When we are children, we experience growing pains. Our bones are literally lengthening, our skin and muscles are stretching to meet the need to cover those bones. Suddenly our skin has tiny stretch marks on our knees and hips. It is an uncomfortable but natural and needed process.

It never stops. Even when we cease to grow physically, we go the rest of our lives growing as people.

I am thankful for growth.

It has been an uncomfortable year so far (pain, frustration, restlessness, loneliness, all the rest), but I am thankful for the growth. It came through difficulty, and difficulty lends itself to an increased supply of compassion and empathy. Compassion and empathy lend themselves to stronger relationships, the determination in the face of the unknown, fearlessness when seizing new opportunities God places in our paths. I am thankful for growth.

  1. Honesty—promotes health.

This year, healing had to happen. I have read it and heard it said that the healing hurts worse than any painful experience at the moment of occurrence. I can attest to this.

Healing is the opportunity to stop, take stock and admit that you are not OK.

It is an interesting place to be, when you know you are not OK. You want to go to someone, confide the burden, share your doubts and fears, but you end up holding back. The admittance is only heard by you: the fear that your not being OK will reflect poorly on Christ or your faith, or the burden will be too much for anyone to bear with you. You will be alone.

I am thankful for the honesty the brings healing.

Honesty was difficult for me. I realized I had let a lot of my relationships decay. I wanted to be honest with everyone, and at the same time, I did not want to burden anyone. There has been a crash course in this so far in 2018, and I am thankful for it. Regardless of how much it hurts to be honest in the short-run, I know it will only bring benefits in the long-run. I am thankful for the honesty that brings healing.

  1. Trust—when rebuilt, it makes you stronger.

An interesting thing happens when trust has decayed. That interesting thing is a click, a moment in time when a thought enters your head—led in by the Holy Spirit, no doubt—and it tells you this painful season will recur. The severity or the circumstances will be different, but it will be painful nonetheless.

I’m thankful for rebuilding trust…

Rebuilding trust, especially trust in Christ, means you will stand firm in the future. I’m thankful for rebuilding trust because I can only build more.

Rebuilding trust is painful but priceless.

Tonight…tomorrow…the next night…every night for the rest of my life, I commit to adding more entries to my gratitude journal, making it a pointed habit to implant thanksgiving every day while I have breath.

My gratitude journal is filled with these and so many other things I am thankful for, but I wanted to acknowledge this holiday by asking you: What are you thankful for? And more importantly, how can you foster growth in thanksgiving for yourself?

Be implored and encouraged as Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5;16-18).

In the waiting room—waiting well in loneliness

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him” (Psalm 34:8).

I have heard it said that the world is a waiting room for Christians. We wait here until our spot in heaven is ready for us. The argument could be made that our mission here is to wait well.

The doctor’s office. Even before I was a teenager, I developed a healthy distaste for it. Each office has a designated waiting area. Depending on the news you expect to receive, the tiny room with uncomfortable chairs and air conditioning that is too cold can either be just another room—or the last stop on a train heading for a life change.

The argument could be made that our mission here is to wait well.

In my way of thinking, the only thing worse than enduring the waiting room—at a doctor’s office and in life—is having to experience it alone.

I was diagnosed with scoliosis—curvature of the spine—when I was 11. My mom, being the diligent researcher she is, did not want to accept a diagnosis until enough doctor opinions matched one another. She felt there was something at stake if we settled for the first diagnosis and prognosis. For the entire summer of 2005, I was shuttled to different doctor appointments, some with pediatric surgeons, others with orthopedic specialists.

Throughout this time, I did not know what to feel or even what to be afraid of. I simply had to lean into the one who was shuttling me back and forth.

One appointment was in San Diego.

I was upset I had to go in the first place. This was the third appointment since my initial diagnosis, and in my estimation, each appointment brought me closer to the operating table.

As I climbed into our pickup truck to endure the long drive to San Diego with my mom, I thought there was a chance she would not notice if I decided to just stay home.

I squashed this idea and buckled in. But I was nowhere near prepared for the long day ahead of me.

Long drive. Even longer wait in the waiting room. We sat in the waiting room for hours. We watched patients come in, sit down, get called back and then leave, all while my name was never called. I remember looking at one family who was there with their daughter. She had scoliosis like me, but she was post-op. She held her corrective brace in her hands and her parents told what I’m guessing was supposed to be an encouraging story about their daughter’s road to surgery and recovery.

I was not encouraged. Their words struck fear in my heart already rattled by nerves. I turned away and refused to listen to more.

While the family continued to talk to the other patients waiting to be seen, my stomach rolled and I was sure I was about to bore a hole through the door with my eyeballs. This door was the dividing line between my life as it was—as crooked as it may have been—and what my life could potentially be. I could not see past the possible surgery ahead of me.

I told myself if I could just be OK with living my life in that waiting room, then I would be fine. I would not have to go to the exam room, I would not have to see how curved my spine was, I would not have to endure anymore pain or discomfort on any level.

I could have stayed and continued to wait, but I knew I would feel trapped. We needed answers, my mom and I.

The moment finally came. My name was called. The long wait was over. At some point I had convinced myself I had to move in order to get to the other side, a time when this condition would no longer be an issue. I had to choose to live.

Loneliness feels like a long stay in the waiting room of life. But instead of waiting well, you feel strapped to the chair you occupy.

By no means was I lonely in that waiting room in San Diego. Though I was not talking or interacting with her at all, I had my mom. I had her presence. That was enough for me. My faith was in her ability to communicate to the doctors and nurses what I could not communicate myself.

Now, at 25, the illustration of waiting in that room feels real and lonely. I feel I have done something to deserve this station in life though the rational and faithful side of me tells me otherwise. When I was 11, my mom’s presence was enough to keep me from loneliness. Now, in my philosophical waiting room, God’s mere presence is no longer enough, and I must break my silence. I have to talk to Him, share with Him how I am doing. I have to force my heart to remember that God is my companion—all while feeling generally unfeeling toward Him.

Because the reality has to set in at some point. I did not do anything to deserve this, and the chair I occupy in my waiting room is not a punishment. It is not because God wants to prevent me from messing anything else up beyond repair. It is a simple season of waiting. In the meantime, the enemy would love to sidetrack me. He would and does take great pleasure in knowing he can use my own loneliness as a tool against me.

So why does it leave me feeling like God is not enough for me?

I am in fellowship, I am reading my Bible daily, I am talking to Him and praying every day, I take all my questions to Him, I do my best to obey Him.

Why do I always feel like nothing is enough to fill the voids inside?

While my heart and my brain know He is enough for me, the need is still there, and left unmet it leaves me feeling alone.

When senses are overwhelmed with the mayday message flashing a big red sign that reads “ALONE,” what truth is there in which I can seek solace? How do I know it will fill the voids even in the smallest way and for the smallest amount of relief?

In Isaiah 65, the prophet called God the “God of truth” (verse 16). It says in 1 John 4:7 that “God is love.”

That is truth. It is taken straight from the Word of God.

If loneliness is a season of waiting, not a punishment or God’s way of sidelining us for a while, what can we learn here? What can we hold to?

Just as I had to hold to my mom’s presence when I was 11, I have to hold to God’s presence in my waiting room of loneliness as He tells me to wait well. As I sit here, desiring more in one simple area of my life, I realize that God is actively working things out in every other area.

This season, while difficult, has caused His work in my life to become more evident. It has boosted my faith, reminding me that He is working in every moment.

In the doctor’s waiting room, I had to convince myself that on the other side of that door was something I needed—a straight spine. Sure, it would take time, but it would lead to that ultimate conclusion.

In the same way, I have to believe that beyond this waiting room is something God knows I need. Every single day I knock on the door, just to make sure He has not forgotten about me. Every single day, He assures me He is still perfectly aware of where He has me. Every single day, I muster the courage to keep trying.

He is in control. He is my companion. He is my faithful healer. He knows my needs. His Word is true. He always has a purpose.

Keep knocking on that waiting room door.

Confessing loneliness—a prelude to eventual redemption

Imagine you have been stuck in a densely packed forest and you finally found your way to a clearing. Imagine being rescued from that clearing only to be told by the rescuer to leave something of yourself behind—maybe a precious possession or something sentimental that gave you strength in the forest. You had planned on keeping it, taking it home, cleaning it and putting it in a safe place. When the future day would eventually come, you had planned to take it out and share the story attached to it. But instead of being able to take it home with you, you had to leave it behind without knowing if you would ever see it again.

It feels unfair to go through such a place of fear and uncertainty and what feels like impending death, then get to the clearing and hear God say, “You’re going to have to wait for a little while before this part of your story is redeemed too.”

That’s what this season of loneliness feels like. It is not a matter of being ungrateful for what I have, what parts of my story have been redeemed, how close I am with my people, how my story is being used. Those are all things I thank God for daily. No, it’s about the yearning I have inside to see parts of my heart be redeemed which cannot be completed in a solo lifestyle. It is just not possible.

So, I wait.

And in my waiting, I’m evaluating. I’m processing. I’m examining. And waiting some more.

I’m embracing vulnerability even though it strikes fear. Taking the honest road down the highway of loneliness.

An awful lot of what I have gone through lately has been part of a redemption journey. In part, it has been about learning to be vulnerable again. Previously, when I had an inexperienced life story, vulnerability seemed to be something people were afraid of rather than something people embraced.

Experience has offered understanding. Because vulnerability is hard. It is the deliberate act of opening up to people without knowing if you will feel better for it. You could be rejected, criticized, so much more.

In a sense, it is the deliberate act of putting yourself on the chopping block at the mercy of an executioner without knowing if he will have mercy on you or not.

These words, this post, are my deliberate act. I could easily keep everything wrapped up inside, refuse to share, waste my story, decline to take a risk in favor of the safety anonymity offers. I do not always want to share what I am going through, but if I do not share then I reject the story God has been faithfully redeeming thus far. He is not even done yet, and I have to restrain myself to keep from pumping the brakes because I desperately want Him to slow down. I have to resist pulling the emergency stop cord on the train I am not even conducting. He is driving, He is conducting. And He keeps telling me, “Grace, be vulnerable. I gave you this story for a reason. Trust Me.”

So here I am, in a holding pattern, but still being obedient.

While this post is not long, and maybe a bit scattered, it is introducing what I will be examining over the next few posts. I am fearful about being vulnerable. Loneliness is not fun and it messes with your thoughts and your heart, and it is something I would not wish on anyone.

So here I am, in a holding pattern, but still being obedient.

I was rescued from the forest, and it feels like I had to leave a piece of my heart behind. But the hidden part of that story is the keeper who has that part of my heart. I know He is taking care of it, taking time to properly heal it and fill it to overflowing. And someday when I ask for it to be returned to me, He will place it lovingly in my hands so I can then trust it to someone else.

By no means is this series going to be a “Woe is me” storytelling session. Rather it will be a honest time of sharing the beautiful if not frustrating lessons God is teaching me while allowing me to cling a little closer to Him every day.

Come with me on this journey. If you find yourself in this season with me—a simply complicated season of waiting and feeling more than a little lonely there—then take comfort in knowing you are not alone. At all. Ever. There are plenty of moments when I cannot feel God near me, and those are the moments I lean on my people who are with me in this season. Do your best to lean today.

Loving a controversial holiday because of the people

The date was October 7, 2009. I was part of a friend group—a rather large one—from church. My sister, her boyfriend (now husband) and friends we had all known for years all constituted this group.

One Tuesday in September of that year, a trip was planned as we all sat in a Del Taco for taco Tuesday. Knott’s Scary Farm would be our destination.

Growing up in Southern California lends no excuses for supposedly not knowing about this particular event. A normal theme park—and a historical one at that—by day, and a haunted theme park by night during the Halloween season.

I do not even take in an occasional scary movie. What business did I have going to a park where I was about to pay people to scare me as I walked—intentionally not running—through 14 different mazes?

On that chilly night in October, nine of us piled into a Suburban and drove the hour and fifteen minutes to Knott’s in Buena Park. My heart started pounding before we even got into the car. One of my traits when I’m nervous is lack of speech. Hardly more than 10 words escaped my mouth during the drive. Even fewer escaped as we waited in line to buy tickets.

Looking back now, I realize in those moments as I passed through a metal detector and had my ticket scanned and walked into the park, the opportunity had risen—I could either face a fear or run scared.

I faced my fear. But I did not do it alone.

Grabbing the arms of the two people closest to me at that time, I walked into Ghost Town—the most intense part of the park with lights shut off and visibility reduced by fog machines—on edge, constantly looking around and anticipating a monster popping up to scare me. My countenance resembled that of a fugitive on the run.

Then the moment finally came. The first maze of the night was before us and I was not ready for it. The theme itself was enough to strike fear. The Doll House—who does not occasionally get freaked out by an old porcelain doll?

“I was thrilled,” I say now as I roll my eyes.

Relying on my group to get me through, I had absolute confidence in their ability to guide me through this maze, so I kept my eyes tightly shut and hummed to myself.

When we finally exited, I was proud of myself. I only had my eyes open for a few seconds in the previous 10 minutes, yet I was proud of myself.

In an odd way, the night got easier from there. As we encountered each section of the park, I braved moments of opening my eyes and trying not to scream as monsters slid on the ground at my feet and made weird noises.

I ended the night by dance-walking my way back to the Suburban.

But something did not make sense. I began to love this holiday even though I grew up dead-set against it. How did this happen?

I grew up in the ‘90s. In a Christian home. Raised by parents who only got saved a few years earlier. Homeschooled my whole life. And my only friends were gained through church.

Sheltered is not a word I would use to describe my childhood. Rather I would say it was protected.

If you grew up in the ‘90s, you know that there was a sudden realization that the world was more evil than it was 20 years prior. Suddenly it became of paramount importance to protect the children being reared in the church by making sure they understood the enemy, Satan himself, is present in even the most minuscule.

Like Halloween.

Dressing up, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins were ignored traditions in my home. My parents had their reasons. Growing up I would encounter peers who were raised on the same side of the aisle as me—ignoring traditions—and I would also encounter peers whose Halloween skills were a passion unrivaled by much else.

As a child, when confronted with the reality that not everyone lives the same way as me, I was the one who argued and tried to convince them that their parents lied to them. Naturally, it was a sin to dress up on Halloween.

I wore my first costume when I was 22 and calling it a costume is a stretch—I already owned all the pieces of clothing I wore. My first pumpkin was carved the same year and I can say with confidence that I had no idea what I was doing. Maybe this particular tradition was withheld for practical reasons. I never went trick-or-treating. No, I went to church and earned my candy by playing games all night.

All this being said, how did I, a now grown ‘90s Christian kid, learn to love a holiday that is just as controversial now among conservative Christians as it was back then?


An experience I once regarded as holding the top position on a list of scary things I would never do, became a cherished memory. No, not because this could have been a form of rebellion considering my upbringing. No other reason I could think of compared to the group of people I experienced it with.

Halloween became characterized by an annual trip to Knott’s Scary Farm. Each year brought a new opportunity to face a fear with the encouragement—and occasional force—from my people.

Halloween is not a holiday for me. It is just another day. Yet it holds such precious memories because of the people I have spent that day with since I was a young teenager. This season holds some of my favorite stories I still tell every year, and it has taught me the value of moving out of your comfort zone in order to experience something new.

[Halloween] holds such precious memories because of the people I have spent that day with since I was a young teenager.

Because if you think about it, who wants to get scared as a way to move out of your comfort zone? I did not. But it was a valuable experience.

In spite of the view I had of this holiday growing up—it was evil incarnate in my child mind—I grew to love this holiday for this simple fact: It was another opportunity to spend time with my people.

The greatest compliment—SPECIAL EDITION

“You’re a territorial mother bear. Just like me.”

This is the greatest compliment anyone has given me, not because of the words, but because of who spoke them.

My mom has been a confidant always, especially in the last few weeks. In my intermittent seasons of restlessness, she is the one who gets the phone calls at random times of the day and week. She listens and tries to convince me to stop crying. I know she wishes she could be near me in those moments. She listens and responds when I’m yelling and screaming, mad at the world for this injustice or that unfair treatment. Sometimes I just want her to laugh at how childish I can act in my most vulnerable moments.

Last week, before my lunch break, I vented my frustrations in short, clipped texts to my mom. The number of blue text bubbles increased by the second. Her response, in white, was the greatest compliment I have ever received.

“You’re a territorial mother bear. Just like me. Lol.”

Then as I drove home for my lunch break, I called her. Angry, frustrated, cornered and already crying, I poured out my heart to her. She tried valiantly to fix the problem until she had to lovingly admit defeat. The problem could not be fixed. At least not in one phone call.

“You’re a territorial mother bear. Just like me.”

Work was frustrating me. My writing goals were making me restless. My loneliness was exasperating every emotion coursing through me.

She listened, and with a calm voice she told me,

“Be confident. Be strong. You’re here for a reason.”

The compliment then the encouragement. They are the subject of a good amount of my dwelling over the last couple of days. And since it is her birthday today, I wanted to write something for her.

If you ever meet me, or if you know me, then there’s a good chance you see pieces of my parents in me—specifically, you’ll see my dad’s influence.

I can recall the time when my coworkers told me their first impressions of me. I made my presence known early on, I guess you could say. I intimidated some, came across very strong and steady to others. As some got to know me on a personal level, they learned how I protect others at all costs, how opinionated I can be, how I stick to my guns on the issues I am most passionate about, how I fight for what’s important.

Once they got to know me, they asked about my parents. I told them as much as I was comfortable sharing. They safely assumed I got all these traits—protective instincts, strong opinions, fighting spirit—from my dad.

Truth is…yes, I got them from my dad, but my mom refined them…and added even more to them. She taught me how to have these perceived masculine traits with a ladylike attitude to back them up.

Moms. Everyone has one. The relationship that exists between a mother and her daughter can be a difficult one to navigate at times. For some it is a connection containing pain and heartache. For others it is a friendship between two likeminded people. Still for others it is a link requiring constant repairs or upgrades.

The connection I have with my mom…it feels like it fits all the mentioned categories. Rather, the evolution of it fits the categories.

The only way she could have had the ability to temper and refine such traits as mine is through her superior mom skills.

Growing up, I always wondered what it would be like to have a creative mom, or a mom that loved to go out to the beach all the time, or a mom who found all the fun things to do around town. I simply did not know what it was like to have a mom different from the one I had…obviously.

She was organized. Maintained schedules properly. Always had some wisdom to share. She parented from caution rather than recklessness. Fostered responsibility in her children. Practiced patience when we just could not understand or apply what she was saying. She worked to attain balance even though I am sure she went to bed most nights feeling like a failure and questioning her decisions.

She loved us according to who she was and is.

Looking at my own life now, I clearly see I still maintain my protective nature and my fighting spirit, but it is now tempered with my acquired mom skills.

Her organization has rubbed off on me. I get excited when I get to vacuum my home. I can relax a little easier when I have all the clutter in its place and it is no longer congregating on my dining room table. I enjoy my weekends more after I clean my bathroom and kitchen on Friday nights. I take pride in maintaining my home as my mom was a consistent top-notch homemaker.

Her caution and wisdom come out when I counsel and encourage others. It taught me to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in my relationships with others.

Her patient spirit complements my fighting spirit, because sometimes those you want to fight for require a bit more patience than the rest. Mom had to endure the balance between these two for each of her three kids at one time or another, and it consistently taught me. I fight to find the balance on this scale every day.

Balance has been the biggest lesson. A fighting spirit paired with patience. A free spirit paired with organization and pride. A growing relationship with Christ erring on the wise and cautious side. These traits comprise who I am, yet this would not be a true statement without my mom.

Her teaching, her example, her instruction and her wisdom led to receiving the greatest compliment.

Thus, it is only fitting that the greatest compliment I have ever received came from her.

When restlessness catches you off guard


I have many. They possess me. I am a dreamer, a visionary.

At no other time do these dreams kick and claw to get out than when I am at my most restless depth, somewhat stuck inside myself.

With dreams come change. With change come seasons of transition. With transition comes growing pains.

The growing pains are not what I am afraid of—though it would have been nice if I had quickly realized what they were when I first began feeling them. They are simply a component of this chaotic season of life.

Yet I have the audacity and misplaced perspective of being upset when the growing pains steadily increase.

I think if I backtrack, I can trace this season’s beginning to a late-night, redirected, luggage-losing flight from Houston to San Diego the day after Christmas. With nothing else to do, I sat in the darkened plane cabin and used my phone light—to prevent waking my sleeping seatmates—to write in my journal. I recapped the ending year. I wrote down every goal I wanted to achieve for the coming year. All of them had a difficulty level of extreme. But my soul was restless. And I knew then 2018 would be difficult, but in the long run it would be beautiful.

The growing pains started immediately. Yet I had a deep sense something big was coming. It was the same feeling I got the first time I rode Xcelerator at Knott’s Berry Farm the first time—heart-pounding nerves at the beginning, pride in myself at the end when the train returned to the station.

Patience, required. Endurance, needed.

Distractions galore. Loneliness abounding.

Discouragement, constant.

But I keep walking, remembering the goals I wrote down months ago, even as these 12 months march toward their collective end and the dominant feeling is one of realization—all those goals may not be crossed off the list by December 31.

And that is OK.

So what can I hold on to? What is going to keep me going? Of course, God is my sustainer. He keeps me breathing, gets me up in the morning, protects me throughout my day, calmly listens to my outcries. He never stops loving me.

I simply always have to ask, How can I face my fears today in a way that will not only strengthen my faith and encourage me, but do the same for someone else?

Simple answer: I will follow God’s leading to write, to encourage, to explore, to find, to discover. This means accepting the challenges to be more visible at work, put my writing out into the world more frequently and consistently, find the encouragement in the discouragement.

I have heard it said that the dreamers in this world are the most restless souls. Always searching for more, always finding something to improve, always picking up and championing this cause or that mission. They are the ones who champion change, or at least the change they want the most.

Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Princess Diana…all visionaries. All dreamers. All restless. All strove for more than what their discontented hearts wanted and needed.

I guess if I had to be counted in a group, these names are not bad company. The sad reality is they passed too soon, but I believe that does not dimish how fiercely they chased contentment with everything they had while they were here.

So many of us are similar to these souls. I am similar to them. To this day I can’t watch a Princess Diana documentary without tearing up, because I understand what her heart so needed and wanted. It’s what I so need and want.

It can be boiled down to wanting to be understood, wanting to be a fighter but feeling unable, wanting to be an instrument of change but always doubting I can be used.

It is a difficult, even deadly, balance to strike. Too many expire before it is achieved.

Now, why am I saying all of this?

Because I am a dreamer. It’s not a dream state where people have five eyeballs and seventeen limbs. Rainbows don’t make up the whole sky or even one part of the sky. Unicorns don’t frolic. The grass doesn’t smell like cotton candy. I don’t have scary people chasing after me. And the worst, I’m not flying to China without my passport or visa—a real dream I once had.

Because change and improvement are coming, especially on this blog, and I am preparing myself for it.

Because my dreams are going to come true someday.

My dreams are concrete: To be a writer known for conveying the difficult things, for telling the honest stories, for encouraging her readers. To be a relationship master, to lay down at the end of every day able to say I was a good friend to even one person. To be the glue for my family. To be a good leader. To be able to travel someday and make a home closer to my family. To communicate with love and passion about what matters most.

My dreams are going to come true someday.

I want to be out there. I want to be content. I want the restlessness to cease. And the only way through, is through. No shortcuts, no going back, just trusting God to carry me.

If you can relate to any of what I just said, then stay tuned in the next few weeks as I fearlessly explore restlessness, discontentment, loneliness, and a few other topics. For each topic I will be trying a different method of storytelling, and I pray I gain some feedback and you gain some encouragement.

I almost left—heavenly purpose for negative emotions

Revelations seem to happen when we need them most, but at a time when we’ve stopped counting on them.

I walked into the room where the young adult café meets on Sunday mornings at church. I went to the same water fountain to fill my water bottle. I went to the same people to say hi. I went to the same table I had been going to for a few weeks. I sat next to the same friend.

I needed something, but I had stopped counting on that need to be met. I didn’t think it would happen.

The service follows a schedule. For 20 minutes we have connection time at the roundtables. Two questions are discussed. I normally don’t give answers; I listen to everyone else. It’s my way of keeping my guard up. This day was no different.

I normally don’t give answers… It’s my way of keeping my guard up.

I listened and let my eyes roam around the room. The floor to ceiling windows gave me a view of the sky and hills surrounding the church grounds. The lights made the room open and welcoming. The young adults at every table were engaged and conversing. And then there was me.

Waiting for the sermon to start, I impassively listened to the last few minutes of conversation. Then the pastor finally began. And he immediately posed a question that made my guard go up even further. In a sermon called “Why Sorrow Matters,” he began by saying, “Our emotional well-being is not always God’s number-one concern.”

Coming from my own story, those words felt like a slap in the face. I’ve experienced my own sorrow, my own turmoil, my own heartbreaks. The last thing I ever want to hear on any level is that my emotional well-being isn’t God’s number-one priority. It begged this question: If that’s true, then what do we say to victims, to the depressed, to the anxious? How do we assure them and ourselves that God still cares? How do we assure them there is still a purpose behind our sorrow? Behind all our negative emotions, regardless of how long the seasons last?

In the moments after the pastor said those words, I fought the desire to get up and leave. I couldn’t see the value of sitting there when someone was trying to explain something I didn’t agree with.

But I stayed. And I’m thankful I did. A revelation came from it.

There is always a purpose of godly sorrow, and it is found in the hard truths we learn. Hard truths lead to repentance, a change in behavior. A change in behavior looks different for everyone, but each of us can look back through our struggles and find that one part of the story where God stopped everything and yielded a needed change.

After the purpose comes the knowledge of who the source is: the Holy Spirit. My experience with negative emotions is that it makes it far too easy to ignore the Holy Spirit, but I have also experienced His faithfulness. The better I got at ignoring Him, the louder He became in trying to get my attention back. He pursued me like the hound of heaven. I believe God allows us to venture as far away from Him as we want to, and for some perhaps it gets to the point where He stops calling them back and lets them be. By no means does this mean He doesn’t want them back—He does—but He also wants it to be their choice. I’m thankful I never got tired of having Him after me.

The better I got at ignoring Him, the louder He became in trying to get my attention back.

And then there are all the opposites of godly negative emotions. Because while we have and always want to know the heavenly purpose behind negative emotions, we can’t be ignorant to what the world and what the enemy wants us to believe about our negative emotions. Here are two purposes I am sure of even though I’m positive there are more than just two…and I’m sure they become more personal for each of us.

Purpose 1: Godly negative emotions challenge me to be transformed. Worldly negative emotions challenge me to conform.

Purpose 2: Godly negative emotions challenge me to change my character (who I am). Worldly negative emotions challenge me to change my behavior (what I do).

So many of my own negative emotions have led me to discontent. My loneliness makes me feel alone even though I know I’m not. My sorrow had its moment of holding me down so far in myself I never thought I would come up for air. My deep discouragement made me feel as if there would not be another bright day for some time to come. And all these emotions made me ask this question: Can I move through this? How?

There are two methods I have been putting into practice to move through these seasons: Fellowship and Scripture.

That day at church, the day I wanted to give up and leave, the pastor shared two verses from 2 Corinthians 7—“Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted” (verses 9-10). Paul wanted the Corinthian believers to understand their sorrow was for a purpose and God would restore them, and in the meantime they wouldn’t lose fellowship with their fellow believers. He wanted them to believe the truths found in Scripture—that while God cared for their emotional well-being, there were still things higher on the list He cared for more, like their salvation and repentance.

And the very fact Paul was providing these crucial biblical truths for the believers implies he wanted fellowship with them because he knew it would boost them up in their time of need.

I came so close to leaving service that day because my feelings were hurt. I needed to be told that God would always love me, that I could rely on Him and the people He placed in my life, that I could love people as He made me capable to do so. I didn’t want to hear that my emotional well-being wasn’t at the top of His priority list.

Imagine if I had left. I wouldn’t have had the revelation I had—that negative emotions have a heavenly purpose. I wouldn’t have walked away armed with the knowledge that God cares for me on all levels, not just the levels I care about the most. He sees me as a whole person, a growing person, when I can so easily be narrow in how I see myself.

Negative emotions still exist. Discontent still exists. Loneliness still exists.

So does fellowship. So does Scripture. So does repentance and restoration.

So does God’s plan to help each of us grow and see the changes and challenges in the right light, to see our sorrow backlit by its true purpose. And to someday use our godly negative emotions to love someone else through them.

Revelations can take place anywhere. Mine seem to happen in church. They seem to happen outside of the categories a human mind operates in. They happen in high school service even though I’ve been out of high school for years. They happen in the young adult service even when I feel more like a child who wants to be left alone. They happen at home during a small group session. They happen, and I have to hold onto that because sometimes every area of life doesn’t make sense. And that’s OK. Because in the meantime, God has me, has us, in His hands.

And soon, the heavenly purpose behind the negative emotions, the painful seasons, will be revealed.