Wednesday, January 8, 2020

in between


i've never liked the words "in between."

because when you're in between, you don't fully have either option.

"hey, can you commit to this project?" "sorry, I'm in between one job and another right now."
"did you decide what color you want to paint this room?" "no, I'm still in between grey and tan."
"can you come over right now" "no, I'm stuck in traffic, in between 440 and 40."

in between.

in between where you are and where you're going. in between one option and another option-while being kept from any other options not included in the two.

it seems like life gives us seasons of in betweens.

the hot-red overhead light made the deep-black, leathery heavy bag with TITLE boxing club sewn look extra ominous. I "one!" jabed, "two!" crossed "three!" uppercutted "four!" jab, uppercut, cross, hooked in time with the trainer's shouts. But the thoughts still interjected in between the words and my punches. "one!" you've been coming for six months, and you're still not strong enough "two!" you're probably spending too much time here anyway; you're being selfish "three!" you just don't know enough about how to train, and it's your fault "four!" you're tired, you should give up; giving up is all you do.

in between one negative thought and the next.

my troyathalon quinoa veggie burger complemented her lettuce wrap turkey sphere and the next's sweet potato fries. one youth pastor's wife, one high school leader who'd become a dear friend, and me, a third. elizabeth had asked us what was going on in our lives, and we were opened-up catching up. my co-leader was co-mingling the truth of God's word with the pain of her current reality: getting hit at home, getting hit in her heart, but knowing in the home of her heart that God is still good. "I've been seeking this and asking for it for so long; and it seems like everyone is having it; so why? why has God not given it to me?"

in between hopeful expectations of a good Father and fearful unease about what might never come from His hand.

the yellow, porcelain squirrel peeked up at me. he was sitting by the upper left corner of my cubicle's sit-down-or-stand-up adjustable desk, right next to the blue-glow and dark-grey rectangular charging receptacle. things have been getting so much better. one step at a time, I had been getting my steps in line with work: learning how to tackle the project management tasks so they didn't tackle me, learning what data and financial areas were worth the effort to push for information, learning how to vary the day to maintain focus. but my inbox. the emails. the bane of my work existence since day one. my little porcelain squirrel of encouragement was given by a friend on one of the hardest weeks, one where I almost called in to work because I was not in a mental state to walk in those doors. instead, I brought her squirrel, a yellow orb (the color of quantified joy), a sign of her quantified support. in my cube, i now sat, staring at the emails.

in between what I'm called to do and what I feel like I lack ability to do.

it was then after my cube-working time. i was going to a bingo rally (don't ask). i pulled up directions and checked my friend's location on Find My Friends. Just as she'd thought, she wasn't going to be done on time. I checked the group message; someone else was going to be late. The original inviter I knew would be there, but I was uncertain who he'd be with. So I delayed, not wanting to be there alone, have a 1:1, even when a part of believed that this was what my subconscious wanted most.

in between what I thought I wanted and the ability to start chasing it.

in between.

It seems like life is a series of in betweens right now.

I'm-
in between the reality that my job is a daily, mud-walk-through-struggle that hasn't improved substantially in a year in a half and the reality that this job has so many blessings and perks
in between my heart-fire desire to mentor all my students at church and my heart-deep insecurity that I am maybe the worst mentor alive
in between a desire to devote maybe the rest of my life to tutoring kids and working against community crime and poverty and the tugging thought that I am not the person for this, my time is better contributed elsewhere

I'm-
in between belief that I'm serving the Lord as He wills and a belief that I am a chaotic failure.
In between a faithful daily surrender to the Lord and a faithful daily bout with guilt and regret.
in between a conviction that God is sovereign and in control of my destiny and a crippling pressure that I must control my life and do everything right to end up glorifying God.

I'm in between the perpetual inaction of trying to figure out how to obey and the reality that this desire might be keeping my from costly, maybe risky (ooo, ah) obedience itself.

in between.

But my co-leader co-mingled truth in her heart-bearing: maybe she didn't need the answers right now, as much as I would fight through 10,000 strongmen to give them to her. Maybe her not having answers now is part of the answer: maybe it's part of the cross she's called to bear in this season. Maybe it's an act that's bringing her to the feet of Jesus, surrendered to a future that seems loomingly unknown and living out a daily that feels like it's taking daily loads of crazy-lots strength to make it through.

It's not like we are abandoned here, in our certain uncertainity. God hasn't left us forgotten, but He might be witholding the answers as we see the answer behind what our heart-longing-for-answers have us crying out for: He is the answer Himself.

I want to know what direction I should take in my career (and I'm not going to stop seeking), but I have the answer that whatever career I'm called to, He is going to have ways for me to serve. And I can do so now.
I want to know who the heck I'm going to marry or even date (still waiting), but I have the answer that my deepest security and source of love will never be less than Christ Himself. And I can learn more about this love now.
I want to know if I can finally give up writing words and words or if I'm called to do and stay (only one way to find out), but I know that I must be faithful to obey Christ with the next thing and trust He'll give the strength to keep doing until the time to do is done. And I can be faithful in each task now.

In the in between, we are in between some of our worries, sin, doubts, and Christ's truth. It's in the in between that we see our deepest: all we have is need, and all we need is You.

Post-bingo, I cried in the car. So sick of me getting in the way of loving people. So tired of people trying to show me love that I seem unable to receive. So caught in between where I think God might be leading and the certainty of feeling like I am actually heading there.

Maybe obedience isn't taking the next step in the "answers" of what God has for us or where God is leading us. Maybe it's a commitment to trust and wait and do the next right thing, to learn to seek and sit savoring the beauty of Christ even when.

Because we do know some. We can pray, praise, rejoice, bear each other's burdens, give, take every thought captive, meditate on the word, abide in Christ. We're always in between a chance to remain self-soaked and sulking or to obey the simple commands in the source of truth.

I'm not giving up on seeking clarity and direction in all that God is bringing me through -- through the mental chaos, through the constant fighting against myself every time I sit down to the yellow-squirrel cubicle, through the freezing and awkwardness many times I enter a conversation with a guy, through the discomfort of learning how to mentor, through the daily drudgery of having to do dishes and wash laundry -- but I'm going to choose to focus on the things He's already led me to and called me to devote my life to: to loving Him. to loving people. to crying out with open hands of surrender even connected to deep hands of action. For, I'll pick up my cross and say yes to the unanswered todays in the temporary permanence because the answer is--I have a chance to get to serve Him: here, now, always.

even if I'm ever in the in between.

Monday, January 6, 2020

darkness


I've never liked the darkness.

I mean, I think most people don't. Or at least a solid 65%. I remember, as a kid, reading The Stone King from Dora. This stone king hid behind monuments in the darkness. He'd pop out and turn people into stone when they least expected it (which really could be anytime because who expects a zapping stone king to be waiting around a corner?).

I was convinced he lived in my basement: but only when the lights went off.

The basement lights in my childhood home were divided into two sets with separate switches. The majority of the chair-molded, white and green room was controlled by the first switch, which when hit, left only about 20% of the room--the area right before the stairs and the stairs themselves--in light. Whenever I'd hit the first batch and shroud the room in darkness, I'd run, skipping stairs two at a time to get away as fast as my small feet would carry me, convinced the stone king was at my heels, or (maybe better) the flying eyebrow man from Veggie tales who would turn me into a unibrow. Either way, my fate hung in precarious balance.

I didn't like the darkness. The darkness that opened the door to the stone king and the flying eyebrow man. Or maybe, the darkness that opened the door to the fear deep inside of me.

Fear. I really couldn't think I felt it many times until recently. I was in Florida running the Tough Mudder obstacle race with my dad, a current roommate, and a few of my dad's friends. We came to an obstacle that required us to submerge ourselves in water and slide underneath one of many gigantic black, circular tubes a mere four inches above the water. Uncertain of water and chronically claustrophobic, I tried. I made it to the third black tube before freezing up, feeling terror, and backing out.

At the climbing gym mere days later, I with a self-protorted cerebral fear of heights, felt it not come into my mind but into my heart. I was only climbing a 5.9 at the time, and I froze, three-fourths up the wall. "Katie, can I come down now?" Deep breath. Pause. Repeat with increasing intensity. "Katie, I want to come down." She'd recognized my fear and knew now was not the time to keep pushing often-quitting me. I then climbed a 5.8, enter fear, and I didn't make it to the top. A 5.7, and that was the worst yet.

I was walking back from a spontaneous tip to Opryland to see the lights with my sister, after I'd chickened out of climbing, pulling into the parking lot and pulling out because I couldn't bear to walk in alone, with all the people watching me have to face my fear and fail physically, too. I was telling my sister about the fear and the frustration. It took me back to another recent fear incident as I'd been going to meet a friend who my mind was running with if-this-was-a-step-in-the-direction-of-more-than-friend, and I walked towards the doors until I saw his car and my feet involuntarily turned around and my mouth muttered "I can't. I can't. I can't." in rapid fashion.

I told myself then that I can't also stay pacing the sidewalk forever, so I found something bright: a little yellow sidewalk patch, bubbled, light, and supposed to serve as my source of strength to walk through the doors and be a normal human. Plot twist, it didn't work. But, in my moment of darkness, in my moment of Deborah-brain-frantic-fast-fear of what is he thinking, what am I thinking, I feel dumb for no reason, I'm making this too big of a deal, I like him and want to trust him, ah I don't know how to trust I feel scared, run away go away be away I tried to find the light: light in the form of a yellow sidewalk.

I came home today. Home from church and humans I love, but home after a conversation the night before about a season of friendships not ending but morphing into a very different state. I was full of heavy, darkness-cousin
thoughts of how it felt when I was multiplied out of a very meaningful community group, of when I was leaving Minnesota and being ripped from those I love, of when it seems like God has given good things and then suddenly they shift. It felt like some of the things that had kept me sane were now fading away from me, extending beyond my grasp when I didn't ask for that. Things that were good, things that kept the black dark fear from seeping into my soul.

I got home, and I knew I was going to be alone for hours. The last time I was alone for a long period in my house, I faded into one of two most intense episodes with depression I've ever experienced--both of which had ended in humans who loved me coming to show love to broken, humbled me. And I felt a bit of that panic-gripped fear. The sun was outside, but the house felt trapping, like darkness.

I've never liked darkness, and I wanted every light on.

So I went into every room and turned on the light. The Christmas tree light, the additional tree lights, the low lights, the main light, the strange spotlight in the hallway, the recess lighting, the middle island lighting, the paneled lights, even the bathroom light and the light in my sister's room that you couldn't even see unless you rounded the corner. And it felt better. It seemed more safe.

I'd told my sister, post Opryland and auditory processing, that I'd started to feel again, something I'd been working towards. And I feel deeply. But I told her that I saw it now: I'd begun to feel what was beneath the pain and yellow-excitement and joy that people see and tell me they see when they see me. It was fear, dark-heavy-panicked, back to little three year old Deborah hiding behind her mom in the hospital office fear.

I've been working through what that fear is made of and what it means for my feet that quit and run and hide but want to be secured, certain, and held. (Sneak peak, it has to do with loss and love and control and equations and worth). But I noticed, later today, what I did, involuntarily.

I turned the lights on, all of them.

I needed something to reassuringly hush my soul and the fear of falling back into introspective depression. I needed something to bring light into the dark-fear place of losing close relationship with those I love and the hollow of aloneness that left inside. I needed a weapon against the darkness of piercing terror that I've messed up this whole thing called life, entirely, quite possibly for everyone.

So I turned on the lights.
And I think it may be as simple as that.

In order to need light you have to recognize darkness, and I'm finally doing that. There's these dark places inside of myself that are sinful or afraid. And I need the light to come and transform them. The light does not negate the reality that the darkness exists, it just strips the darkness of the power of its effect. And I need to surround myself in the light as much in my mind as in the walled-rooms we call the Kermit Casa.

In the still darkness-thick places of fearing relationship, I need the light of people who show me love.
In the yet darkness-coated places of fearing failure, I need the light of moments that show me grace.
In the evermore darkness-encrusted places of fearing loss of all things I love, I need the Savior to remind me that I am centered in His love that was hard-won and never-lost.

I need to turn on the lights, to hold onto the light, to trust that light pushes the darkness away from the bay. To take the small moments to text that friend who shows light-wrapped love. To hold onto the moments where I was shown more grace at work than I deserved. To remember the Aslan-lion who holds my tears and is the Savior I can run to when it feels like a season is closing before I had a chance to realize it was here.

So hold onto the light, my soul. Turn on all the lights when darkness feels here-already. Realize the sidewalk looks even yellow-brighter when you're running to it out of I-just-can't-fear-driven steps.

For maybe this act of obedient defiance is what starts to shift the fear of darkness to the realization that it's only because of the darkness that we grow to appreciate all shades of light.

Monday, December 30, 2019

even when He doesn't


yet again. i was sitting on the deeper than denim blue couch in our living room, in the southern state feeling like my internal state was heading south.

twenty-four hours before had been great. one of my nashville highlights of a human said it: we should go to michigan. i was going to learn to stand on two feet on a board on a lake, riding waves while we explored where child-her called home. 

post climbing up rock walls at 6am, we were in her white pickup by 7:30 while I cranked out 1) work with a wifi hotspot 2) jams, so many 3) conversations, so deep--as usual when our two souls open up and spring forth what the Spirit’s been doing.

but this learning-how-to-surf-trip turned stepping-on-metal-in-the-water-and-ending-up-with-intense-stictches-and-crutches. our michigan plans shifted as I learned to shift my balance from two feet to one, not able to put pressure on the jagged laceration for about a week.

by the time we returned home, i’d been hobbling for a few days. the distance between my house’s door and the bathroom seemed like a trek. pulling my pant leg over my foot seemed almost insurmountable. but more insurmountable were the piles of piles of work i seemed to need to do (that i never could seem to get ahead on), the fact I had an outside-of-work team meeting in just a few hours (but which I never seemed to be giving enough time), that the laundry was piling up so high (that i had to schedule time to put it away… a week from now because that’d be the first chance I'd get), that my sister was coming home later (and I’d neglected her and been not enough support for her entire life basically), that I had daily things like grocery shopping and finding a financial advisor and communicating with friends in minnesota (that consistently just seemed to be slipping through my grasp), that here i was again stressed out and burning out (but not?) adrenaline fueled but adrenaline drained, trying to not do too much and to be enough but feeling I was too much and wasn't doing enough.

and it came.
it came like it hadn’t in a long time.

i’d learned. i’d put in a lot of hard work on the depression that started over a year ago. October 2018 - December 2018 was rough. but i’d learned how i needed to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, simple things like the power of turning on music, tangible things like switching activities and taking small wins, practical things like reading. i’d learned that my mind, yes is a mind palace, but the layers deep down that i live in don’t help others if i never come out. i’d worked through roots and been digging deep. and, i’d learned that sometimes, now—when it’s so much better—it will still try to spike and strike me. and i just have to surrender to what only Jesus can do, and take the steps to fight it.

but this time, it wasn’t working.
i sat, denim blue couch down and panic rising.
my heart started beating faster, my mind was racing: empty, a lot, not enough.
i pulled up my yellow email inbox again, then had to get up because my mind froze up, and i just couldn’t.

my meeting was now a half an hour away, but I was miles away from being in a state to go. so, i left a (probably kind of terrifying) voice message for one of the team members, telling her I couldn't come. then, i called my mom, and tried to be talked out of it.

mom, it’s not working like it usually does. mom, i was talking to my friend this past weekend of how much better i’m doing. mom, i don’t understand. mom, why hasn’t God taken this completely away by now?

she didn’t know exactly what to do either. but she knew i couldn’t be alone, and i was learning to admit that, too. i sent a text to a dear friend: “hey, i’m not doing super well, work has been really hard to focus on today, and there’s a lot going on in my mind. would you be willing to come over and just be here? if not NO worries at all!! just checking” reaching out: that's about the last thing I tend to do, and such a “causal” text, for me, was my mind and heart sending an SOS call.

i’d let my roommate know, and she—working—couldn’t come home, but she knew how bad it was and called my friends to send them over. they: super willing to come. me: having to be humbled to let them in to the unfinished chaos, the nonsensical parts of my life that just feel like they’re stuck in a process of spinning wheels.

their words and hugs were so helpful, to quiet me and reassure me that ground was beneath my feet and oxygen was in my lungs, to help get my out of the layers in my head. but i was so frustrated. why, Abba? why, when You are such a good Father, do you not just take this away? I’m seeking You. I’m following You. I’ am Yours, and I almost obsess too much over obeying Your will because I want it so badly. So why?

Maybe it’s not so much of an “if” but of a “when.” Not if one day we aren’t going to understand why God is letting us walk through what we are walking through and not taking it away immediately, but when we face trials of various kinds (James 1: 2-4). Not if God ever calls us to surrender our desire to be “free” from the things that plague us and to “have the answers” we want--why He's calling us to endure, why we are experiencing things that don't make sense. These times will come. It's a when, not an if.

I’d read it in Keller's Counterfeit Gods. He was talking, simply. Asking for us to examine what in our lives we think is necessary that, in reality, is not. I feel like being completely freed of this chaos inside of my mind, these depressive type moments, that is what is necessary in my life. That’s even what’s necessary for God to use me. And, I do believe the Lord sees my pain and is fully able to heal me utterly, completely, immediately. And I’m still earnestly praying that He will, and do so soon.

But, what if this is a struggle that He calls me to walk through, for the foreseeable now? Not once, but multiple times? What if this is a part of my cost of discipleship? That my honoring of God looks like a trust in Him even here?

It’s an even-when-He-doesn’t.

An even when He doesn’t take the depressive panic attack away in the moment, a choice to believe that He sees His children.
An even when He doesn’t bring immediate freedom to the crazy thoughts in my mind that want to discourage and paralyze me, a choice to praise Him regardless of my “state.”
An even when He doesn’t give me the clear answers I think I need, a choice to keep following Him with each next step.

It’s an even when He doesn’t that looks to even what He always does. He is always the Sovereign Lord. He is always the Supreme King. He is always a loving Father as much as a just Ruler. He is always worthy of praise and surrender and following, even when what my life looks like doesn’t seem like the “freedom” that many tell Christians it always should.

Because even when He doesn’t, He already has. He’s gone to the cross, and I get to choose to fix my heart, mind, soul, strength on the Gospel again, again, and again. And what a small price that is to pay.

For when He doesn’t, He has. So? I will. I’ll take the next step, and the next, and the next.

Friday, September 27, 2019

wonder woman


"How do you spell racism?" 

The wooden, extra sharp #2 pencil was cradled in her light-blue-chipped-nails hands. She was responding to the big brick community center content table's writing prompt for this Wednesday: "If you could meet any famous person--past or present-- who would it be and why?"

I'd finally sat down at the table. Before, I stood by the edge as yellow-shirt boy and blue-shirt little man spewed out idea cradled by question pushed into competition. "I have Spiderman!" "I want Thor." "Black Panther is mine" "No, he's mine!" "Wait, who has the Hulk?"

Fueling their superhero subdivision, I found myself energized by their energy and energized them right back.

How did I get here?

Well, in a car. A classified luxury sedan little infiniti. I'd had a quick phone call with the founder while slipping away from my corporate marketing job to the podcast room to fit in time to talk. He'd had twelve kids over to his house for dinner the night before. He'd had four show up on his doorstep who he'd impacted in pre-K, who disappeared for years, who now returned and remembered him well into elementary. He'd warned me of the "hard" I might be walking into tonight, and I'd echoed that if it wasn't hard, I'd question if it was real. I'd told him a very tiny bit of my background. Of pastor's kid kid ministry. Of Toxic Charity. Of When Helping Hurts.

The kids were coming back to his house that night. I was walking back through the podcast doors to my cube and a sea of white faces making full-time salaries, a sea I am a wave within.

A while ago, I'd started a phrase. Cynical, yes, but with some truth behind it, yes. I can't stand rich white people. More. I can't stand rich, middle aged blonde white women. Dichotomy much: I am one day likely going to be one.

But she looked up at me, and asked how to spell racism.

To get to the community center, I had to drive my infiniti twelve minutes from my office. About four minutes in, I looked outside and did not see a single rich, middle-aged blonde white woman. I saw people, lots of them. But none shared the shade my skin was born harboring.

Me, who during high school told people--whose fear of being shot kept them from my church's doors--that they were crazy. Me, who rattles off "opulence and excess, American consumerism, and white privilege" as a mini-mantra multiple times a week, who had written and directed a short film called "high-heeled classism," who had culture shock going to my mostly-white college, felt something. It was different this time. Fear. Fear because I was young, driving a rich person car, looking "pretty," alone, and white. I was the only white person I could see. This used to bring me comfort. Now, it brought me unease.

And I was ashamed, immediately. And shocked I had come to a point in my white, churched, cocooned life that I felt discomforted by being a minority.

I told her how to spell racism, and I was wrong. 
But I thought I had spelled it right.

She'd already written other words on her page. She wanted to meet certain people because they brought change in the world. Now, turning away from my distraction as I'd been discussing the levels of achievement belts in plastic recorder school and how many people fit on the brown wood performance stage, was surprised by her question. She'd started on her second sheet and was writing how she wanted to meet Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "because he'd help fighted racism."

And I'd driven here, full-time salaried, in my blue luxury infiniti, scared and uncomfortable.

Lord, I knew I'd needed this.

We randomly got into the spelling thing, you see. Spaghetti, billionaire, kilogram, elevation, caterpillar. We'd basically covered it all. When I asked her if she knew how to spell philanthropist (she didn't, but gave it a valiant fylantrophyst try). I told her that these were people who had lots of money and gave it away. I asked her who she'd give away her money to if she had a lot. She said to the homeless, here in Nashville and then everywhere. Then she'd help give more people money so they could have homes too. And then help them go to college. We reviewed what a philanthropist was again, and she blinked her eyes up at me. Paused. "Are you one?" I'd like to think it was because I appeared giving, but my counterthought tells me it's because I appeared stereotypical white-rich.

They loved. Little speller playing with my hair, purple shirt boy with the Vans like mine and yellow-shirt superhero friend continually coming back to me to recall the names in his superhero clan. He finished his paper, closed it, wrote a name, and proudly looked up at me: "It's for you, Wonder Woman." And he meant it.

Wonder Woman.

A woman who appears like a wonder -- a young white face in a blazer and high-top Vans in a sea of chocolate. A woman who probably represents a lot about the world that makes them wonder-- the demographic of paper-shade humans who don't know how to spell racism, who drive infinities, who lock their doors when they're on streets they usually avoid.

A woman wondering-- wondering how she got back to the place where she stopped giving out. Where she stopped purposefully putting herself in situations of discomfort. When she just frankly became too busy to engage with the real, "hard," tangible needs of kids who might show up on your doorstep after years and who might just end up joining you at dinner that night.

I had an hour before I had to go to my church for high-school ministry, as usual. A church thankfully not fully white and privileged. But I drove in my car, and prayed a prayer.

I'm more busy now then I've been hardly ever, but I've been praying that the Lord would give me the time and energy for what matters. And His peace is so here.

Lord, break my world.
Lord, break into my world as you break my heart for what breaks yours.

Because I can't unsee it. And I've seen it before, but I live a privileged situation where I can avoid it: need, real need. Pain of people living less than ten minutes away.

"Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did" (1 John 2:6).

That's been yellow sticky-noted to my mirror for weeks. That's my true impetus. I want to be where Jesus would be. I want to walk where He walks. I want to love like He loves. I want to fight for change like is in the heart of our good, good Father. I want to live a life that screams I love Jesus so much that I can't help but love people that much too.

But some things I know. We're not "the saviors," and they're not "the needy." We don't have "the answers," and they have "the problems." Why do we even "we" and "they" so much? We're all humans; and we all need. We miss out on so much of life if we miss each other.

And this isn't about a quest for a white girl to find out about black people and brown people and yellow people. I don't have answers, and I don't want to feed my "do good ego." I want to love. I want to spend my life. I want to go be about Jesus-work. And Jesus-
work does not let me remain any longer in my bubble. I want to chase God's heart.

God, make me uncomfortable.
God, shatter my comfort.
God, show me more of your heart and craft me into being more of your hands.
God, let me feel the hurt.
God, I repent.
God, I have so much to learn.

A woman wondering, I'll be.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

love(d)




I didn’t see it coming.

Her sweet and strong voice through the FaceTiming phone had become a regularity in my irregularly sporadic existence. But this time, she was extra persistent in the texts.

“Debbie, when are you free? When will you be off work? How much time will you have?”

I answered later that day and showed her the clothes pile on my bed. Lightheartedly, I talked about how we, the previous roommates, hadn’t seemed to completely lose our “wow, we’ve exploded” tornado-ly clean and not clean ways. I was packing. Packing for another trip and expecting another one of our normal, generally light and deeply encouraging conversations.

But I stopped folding the denim and reaching for hangers.

“I called your parents and sister to make sure I should tell you.”
“What? What’s going on.”
“I just wanted to be sure, you know…”
“Yes, but you’re starting to scare me. What happened?”

She then told of a not-ex ex of mine who was the tip of the iceberg of pain that had led to many painful conversations and tears over the past year and a half, that sent me pacing back and forth till 3AM after crying and crying out because I wondered if the pain of ending, of leaving, of not having his existence exist with mine for hours every day would crush me. It was a piece in the post-grad seven months of healing, processing, grappling, praying, his present absence one of many large broken shards the Lord was using to make something new in the albeit breaking process of who I was, who I had been, where life was heading.

“Debbie, he asked to date me.”

And I felt a rush. Logical: Yes, yes, if the Lord is leading you two to date, then I will stand with you and pray for blessing. If you want my opinion, I don’t think it’s a good match. But do not let me stand in the way. Yes, yes, I just told you that I have worked through this, in a way God could only have done. And that’s still true. Yes, yes, I have compassion for him. Yes, yes, I understand why you don’t want to talk to him again. But reactionary: What is going through your mind when you pick up the phone, call Deborah’s best friend, and so casually try to start a relationship? Why did you think you could have this conversation without it hurting her and me? Deeper still: Why didn’t you call me? You could’ve, but you didn’t. Why am I never enough? What is it about me that makes people come in close and then pull away? Then, anger flaring, my hurt’s residual healing-tenderness jabbed. Then, sadness seeping in, stigmatic memories and the exhaustion of it all.

Not surprisingly, she didn't want to date him.

I texted, this time. Some of my closest Tennessee friends who knew the situation. Their responses were balm, but I was still a little caught off-guard-raw. I finished folding denim and grabbing hangers, packed into a personal item and put inside a Lyft with my roommate to lift us to gate B11. We sat beyond the gate in empty, sticky-blue, July-heated chairs, and I told her, she who knew it didn’t take a label to start to fall in love, that our egging house jokes now really might become a reality.

But she knew deeper, too.

The self-criticalness that had stayed with me even after I separated from him. The doubt that I should have could have needed to have done something better so that the result was true difference. The lingeringly suffocating insecurity that I’m too much and just not enough. And the fear, the deep ice-cold wind-gone fear that, since I struggle to let people into the deepest parts of me, that I’ll do my habitual, almost unintentional avoidance of connection, sitting in the backseat, letting others do the driving, running from relational risk subconsciously, and then having to live with the conscious effects of hating that I run but watching myself run repeatedly.

I knew deeper, too.

That this fear is long-seated. That I don’t feel good enough to be chosen. That when someone sees my intensity they’ll leave. That I present myself as misunderstandable. That I make people turn away. That I don’t know how to let them in. That I’ll be second-choice and back-up-plan till the cows come home.

I’m afraid. Afraid that not only will I maybe never be loved but that I keep myself from love and do not know how to love in return.

Back from the post-flight trip, I was sitting in the warm almost-globe-lit-warm room, me and two other student leaders and one student. Though our ration was 3:1, I was being hit maybe the hardest. What does it mean to be fully satisfied in Jesus? What does it look like to acknowledge the hardness of some seasons while also recognizing idols manifesting during that season that are making it harder? What does freedom mean?

I got in my blue infiniti and pray-cried again, something I hadn’t done in a long, long time. What if my heart fixated on and was fixedly satisfied in the love of God to wash over these insecurities? What idols—of even good connection—have I made? Abba, I’m in pain. Abba, I’m so heart-cry-deep tired of being alone. Abba, I’m scared, so so scared.

I’d written, the night before. “For love is the flipside of pain, dependence is the exit slide of doubt, and courage couples with trust.”

And maybe I’m learning just that.

We must be willing to feel the pain if we want to be rushed with the love. And love doesn’t just leave a deficit of pain but ushers in forgiveness and shields from fear.
We can’t truly depend if we don’t acknowledge the doubt of our tiny capacities to make our life be independently right: our haunting doubt that maybe we’ve messed everything up, that we could have done and been so much better. Dependency is a rushing release.
We can’t hope to move in the direction of relational connection unless we learn to trust enough to be courageous. To trust that people are pain-inflictors but worth the risk, so we courageously step toward them anyway. To trust that if all goes wrong, our core will not be shaken because it’s hidden in the cleft of the rock of Christ.

Simple, really, but I really simply didn’t see it coming.

Didn’t realize that a FaceTime conversation would bring me again closer to the feet and face of the Savior, crying out that I want to learn to love and be loved but am such a fumbling, broken being, crying out that I want to love the Lord with not just my mind but also with my heart, seeking for the idols I’m chasing be chased down and crushed, wishing for the transformation and breaking of these wall-barriers I’ve erected to keep me from not only being loved but pouring that love riskily out onto others.

Able to bring the change? I am not. But seeking? Here I am.

Father, ground me in your love so I’m not afraid of love. Refresh me with your truth so that your truth is all I focus on. Give me a heart of worship so that I can be fueled by love of You. Only You can bring the true transformation.

Maybe this love is what I’ve been searching for all along.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

persist


Barefoot and verbally bare-hearting, I paced under the guest-house awning, just outside the door that became mine and three other humans’ temporary home less than a week prior. In the Oklahoman dusk, I sent a torrent of excited, heart-searching words through the phone to my dad.

“Dad, it’s so much. It’s like my eyes are being opened again. I’m settling into these questions. What does it really look like to live not as an individual ‘pursuing my calling’ but under the greater having a role in the body of Christ?”

I was spending my summer surrounded by stories. Raw accounts of actual humans on this planet. The girl tortured in a Chinese prison camp because of Christ. The mother who spent over twenty years laying her life down on the other side of the ocean for the lost. The one smuggling Bible after Bible into “dark map” places where no one had gone because: the Gospel.

But to me, they weren’t just “inspiring stories” anymore. They were faces. Previously imprisoned Jenna she was the woman sitting to my left in the post-conference restaurant, asking about what Pad Thai actually is and describing her magazine preferences. Overseas missionary became Tammy, offering a ride to church and photographing my roommate and I laughing in front of her house’s bench-stool. Bible-smuggler became big-hearted Dad, talking about his kids’ shyness over Tajin-ed tacos. The faraway became near. The extraordinary merged with the normal. But the juxtaposed dichotomy of these similar dissimilarities still haunted my mind.

Do we have these compartments? Moments when our calling is being clearly lived out. Moments of crazy mission, and then Pad-Thai, photographing, family-focused sub-moments? How do we justify anything we do in reality of the pain and hurt in our difference-needing world?

I always thought big. Reading 10 Girls Who Changed the World as a ten-year-old, I’d heard the missionary stories, depicting living out God’s call. I was the little girl, taking denim-blue, pink-raised, embroidered-flower shoes off my feet at age five, sitting on the church step on my daddy’s lap as he left for another trip to Mexico. “Give these to a little girl like me.” I believed she was there, a mirrored version of my littleness. I knew she needed things, and my tiny heart felt compelled to give as much as I could: clearly, my blue-denim shoes would do the trick. I felt for her, and I felt moved to action.

But as time grew, I didn’t know what to do. So I talked, talked about these things. And Kasey talked back. From her young, single, female missionary perspective, I was desperate to hear counsel. Sitting in the dark brown, plastic wicker chairs under the fading Panera outdoor seating umbrella, I remember one snip bit she shared still so clearly. “When I came back from my first missions trip, I was moved. I wanted to do anything. I decided to sleep on my floor because the people I had been with didn’t have beds. So I wouldn’t either. But then, I realized sleeping on my floor would do nothing to help the kids hurting overseas. Really, it would just hurt my back.”

Self-inflicted back pain at no benefit to them. What a world we live in. But how, how do we act? How can we actually make a difference and justify anything we do when time is short and hell is real and we are really accountable for how we live our lives?

None else seemed to be struggling this hard. The rich kids at school simply talked about where they were going next on vacation. The poor kids at church talked about their cousin’s Big Mac eating back-stabbing ways. My friends focused on the next episode of New Girl. My extended family just cared about extending their eyes to politics. Some churches only seemed concerned with the production value of their Easter services.

I didn’t understand. Where was the Gospel-passion? Where was even daily mention of this person we said we were giving our life for? Why weren’t these the questions we talked about at church? Why did no one else seem to be bothered by this, and if they were, why weren’t they talking about it? Was I wrong? Do they know something I don’t know?

I found the urgency I had grown hopeless to ever truly find at Urbana. In a room more packed than possible, David Platt entered. And his voice cracked as his heart was clearly moved. But it wasn’t emotion without action. It was compassion from experience. He described seeing burial piers and bodies throw in the river. From a conviction-wrecked-heart-shell raw with the Lord’s work, he asked us: if we truly believe that every day, people are living and dying without ever hearing the name of the Lord, how are we not burdened and doing more?

And I didn’t have an answer.

Now, I sit, frustrated that I’m still asking these questions. I’m frustrated at how this deep restlessness has been undergirded my subconscious, something that’s even been twisted to make me critical of everything I do, disengaged from my life because I’m convinced that my life should be more for Jesus and that what I do and pray is never enough, critical of every choice I make and critical of my own criticalness. Initially burdened by the lost but now burdened by feeling like I’ve lost years of my life not living “good enough” as a passion-driven follower of Jesus. I went from passionate to floundering-to-find-what-to-do to critical because I hadn’t gotten it right to now tired, tired and directionally answerless, and struggling with the reality that, sometimes, I just don’t care. I don’t want the discomfort and disruption the answer might bring to my life.

Staring up at the persecuted church map that has been a part of my sleeping chambers no matter where I live and crying out on my knees by my bed for clarity for what to do next, I’m convicted. Who am I to carry around my frustration of not living my life for the Gospel “enough” when I’m not fully seeking permeation by the Gospel with my days? How can I live holding onto my lack of living-enough-for-Jesus instead of actually holding onto Jesus Himself? How can I continually bear these questions as an idol instead of accepting the love and forgiveness of the Lord and clinging to that as lifeblood?

The things is, I don’t have crystal-clear direction right now. I just have a lot of internal stirrings, but stirrings that feel like the wind of change.

And I don’t have an answer.

“What are you going to do with your life? What’s your five-year plan?” I don’t know, and I just don’t think it matters as much as people seem to think it does. I don’t want to plan my life as much as I want to be fully present and obeying Jesus in my days. I don’t want to work towards ‘self-improvement’ as much as I want to let go of my “good” desire to please Jesus and my hyper-critical-trying-to-figure-it-out-analysis and, instead, whole-heartedly focus on loving Jesus with my mind and daily actions. I don’t want to be the ‘best version of me’ as much as I want to lose myself in obediently serving others.

And I don’t want to overcomplicate things anymore. So I start today. Still restless in these questions? Yes. And still seeking, actually more profoundly than I’ve been able to before.

What does it look like to live on mission, spending each day for Jesus, knowing that Hell is close to us all but Jesus can be closer?

I’m starting here, where the season has brought me: in my deep need for Jesus because I no longer pridefully think I can do this in my own strength or rely on my own wisdom. I’m starting here, at the feet of Christ, steeped in my desperate need for Him. Praying, first:

Father! Center me in the center of you.
Father! Help me to focus on what matters.
Father! Teach me how to number my days.
Father! Show me how to spend my hours.
Father! Increase my urgency and keep me from inaction.
Father! Remove my stagnation.
Father! Renew my burden for Your people.
Father! Increase my passion for Your name.
Father! Expand my hunger for Your word.
Father! Help me to come to You first and give me Your eyes to see what to chase next.
Father! Widen my perspective.

Because I don’t know the answers, but I can know the one who does. And seeking, here I persist.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

worship


My ­black long-sleeved, long-panted bodysuit leotard encapsulated my bony six-year-old legs as I seemed to be the encapsulated essence of motion. I couldn’t stop. And I sure didn’t want to.

Two things captured my heart as a child. Okay, maybe four. 1) Penning tiny cursive e’s onto any scrap of paper I could find. I told my mom I was writing books, of course 2) Any sound of “worship Jesus” music. It could be the swell of the bongos and acoustic guitar at the light-dirt colored brick church or the sound-waved vibration spewing from the pink Hello Kitty CD player my sister and I maintained joint-custody over 3) My mom. The bond is special, ya know. 4) Chocolate milk, drank with a straw, blown into to make a cup-internal avalanche of bubbles.

My young heart truly had a lot in its life to love. And my affectionate passion for worship didn’t stop in my heart but compelled my feet to dance.

I look back, now, ay the home videos my parents recorded during those worship compelled motion days. It amazes me. Little Deborah’s feet would twirl for hours to songs like Joy William’s “Falling on my Knees.”

Hungry I come to You, for I know You satisfy // I am empty, but I know Your love does not run dry // So I wait, for You // So I wait, for You // I’m falling on my knees // Offering all of me // Jesus, You’re all this heart is living for

With time, worship remained a thread, but its strong part in the OG four-strand chord became buried. Just as my consumption of dairy-filled dark milk subsided, so did some of music’s passionate pull towards me. I decided that response to worship should no longer involve pink glittery headbands, leotards, and dramatic living room knee-falling reenactments. And I was probably right about that. But worship is more than just the posture of our feet and arms.

My mom fueled another thread-addition: the Bible. She’d have her brown-leathered Key Word study Bible, spine down, pages sprawling alongside her faux-suede red and black colored pencil carrier. She’d be studying. Deborah, we need to renew our minds (Romans 12:2). Deborah, we need to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Deborah, only think about what’s pure and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).

My “mind battle”—or “Deborah’s crazy brain” as it later became endearingly referred to—was intense. Imagine an eleven-year-old who would tip-toe down the hard, cold staircase to her parent’s dark-green sleeping space. “Mom, I ate part of this sandwich my friend had already eaten at lunch today, and I know she’s feeling kind of sick, but she really wanted me to try it, and everyone was watching, and I didn’t want to not look cool or to make her feel bad, so I ate it, and now do you think I’m probably going to get sick, because we’re going to Minnesota this week, and I don’t want to be sick because I want to go to the State Fair and don’t want to ruin everyone else’s time, but now I probably will because I just was selfish and did something I shouldn’t have just because I didn’t want to look dumb, do you think maybe I’m going to die?”

Not even kidding. These types of pre-sleep induced frantic feet-motioned descents were bringing me down more than just physically. They were wearing on my mental peace. They were bringing me down into guilt that I’d done everything wrong and would hurt everyone I loved. They were ushering me into hyper-consciousness of everything around me instead of enjoyment of everything around me. They were making it feel as it wasn’t even safe inside myself.

As the years rolled on, I realized that just as chocolate milk had to become a habit that no longer had a home in me, this habit of checking-everything-with-mom couldn’t last. Somehow, I developed more or less of a kill-switch and attention-diverting options to try and get me under control.

My feet had danced to music. My feet had descended to paranoia. My mind and heart were moving towards disconnect.

I was so paranoid in my mind partially because I so wanted, in my heart, to live a life that pleased God. And I just had to check the shallow is-the-door-locked with my mom and the deep here’s-my-sin-oh-no-what-now with her, too. I needed the reassurance that it was all okay. But what wasn’t okay is that I took her answers of “Dad locked the door” and “There’s mercy and grace at the cross” and confined them to the corners of my mind, analyzing her analysis of my analysis, letting the fear-driven heart-pang of not wanting to disappoint God remain ruling, untouched in my heart but touching and coloring much of what I touched.

Eventually this separation of my mind and heart surfaced in other ways. I went from the music-dancing, flag-waving at church child to the cynical college student, more than knee-deep in a theology major, studying each Greek letter like it was vital to survival, internally scoffing at the healing prayers and “Holy Spirit” charismatic corner of the chapel space—even while songs in that same chapel moved even scoffing me to tears and made my feet want to remember their free, heart-engaged dancing days. I learned to live from my head because my heart held fear I didn’t want to acknowledge. I couldn’t trust others with it, clearly, but I also couldn’t trust myself. So headspace. Always. Disconnect the head from the heart.

Fast forward more years, and post-college Deborah is sitting in the therapist’s office. Alyssa’s fiercely kind eyes and incredible strong softness prodded with a gentle firmness. What would it look like if you learned to tap back into some of that deep care again?

My initial response was easy. It would crush me. My crazy brain hadn’t gone away. I’d been a little neglected, sometimes cared for, but generally turned off or turned on to run wild. If I cared, I’d collapse. If I reopened not only my mind but also my heart, I’d teeter back to the precipice of depression where I’d be strapped with all the ways I’m not helping others and the burden that I felt I was being to everyone and myself. I didn’t know how, I wanted to, I didn’t want to, I needed to, I should, I shouldn’t say should, I could, I might, I might not.

The feet that danced. The feet that descended. The head and heart that grew apart. The little girl who wanted to hope again. The hope who wanted the freedom of mature childlikeness once more. The one who wondered frantically wanting to turn back into wondering wonderously.

This is my desire // To follow You // Lord with all my heart, I worship You // All I have within me // I give You praise // And all that I adore // Is in You // Lord, I give you my heart // I give You my soul // I live for You alone // Every step that I take // Every moment I’m awake // Lord, have Your way in me

I started waking up, two hours before work took me, desperate to take myself back to the intentional presence of Jesus. And it didn’t take long. Worship. A space the Lord inhabits is the praise of His people (Psalm 22:3). And maybe it’s the key to reconnect. The words reached my mind, but they seemed to know a secret way to trickle down and sit quietly on near my heart, edging closer and closer with each beat

When I my mind can’t understand fully understand or justify what’s happening in and around me, I can still adore His unchanging goodness.
When my heart doesn’t seem like it can find the love for what and who is in my life, I can praise Him for Himself.
When I falter to reconnect my head and heart, I can trustingly worship Him to faithfully lead me there.

Always.

There is no fear, my heart, in loving the One who loves you beyond what your mind can grasp (Ephesians 3:18-19).
There is pure hope, my heart, in praising the One who can be trusted to lead you into all the places your mind can’t seem to discern to go.
There is a cure, my heart, for the restless brain frantics in worshipping the One who is above all.

And maybe this is the first and greatest step towards obedience. Worshipfully moving towards love again, with all our hearts, souls, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30 – 31). Any maybe one day my feet will remember how to dance.
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