A Month of Grief


CLP_5340
My dad died at the end of August.

I feel like I need to write these words down to help me continue to believe them, because honestly, I’m not sure if I do yet. I’ve pulled up his obituary online several times since as a reminder, to see his picture next to his death date because it all still feels like a terrible nightmare, one that I desperately want to wake up from.

The past month has been a blur. In the first moments especially, it took every ounce of strength just to breathe my next breath. I’ve sobbed uncontrollably in people’s arms and on the two hour flight to Chicago the morning after we heard, and I’ve felt deeply sad, well, a lot. In some moments, it was hard to stand, and I physically shook for days after hearing the news. But in a lot of moments, I’ve felt ok; I’ve even experienced more periods of joy and peace and normality than I expected since coming back home to our new apartment and church and jobs in DC. In fact, I’m struggling with this tension grief is bringing me– the tension between what I think I’m supposed to be feeling and what I’m actually experiencing. It’s all just so complicated, and I’m trying my best to keep up and lean in and be present. I’m learning there truly is no formula to this thing, even though I really want there to be.

Losing my dad launched me out of a strange season. For the past nine months, I’ve felt dry and uninspired and complacent. After years of such fruit and joy in learning and Bible study and writing and teaching, January 1 brought forth a lack of interest in any of it. I’d been trying to fight it, but I spent a whole lot more time scrolling and consuming rather than learning and creating. But even in the midst of not feeling like it, I still opened my Bible most mornings. I still sat in the pew every Sunday and recited the readings and sang the songs. I still muttered inconsistent, ramble-y prayers and trudged my way through some books and turned on worship music in the mornings because that’s all I knew how to do. And you know what I’m realizing? It mattered. It didn’t change my salvation, because that’s secure regardless of my efforts, but I’m realizing that the Lord grew in me even though I didn’t feel Him.

And now, even in the midst of walking through this hard thing and coming out of a strange place spiritually, I feel rooted. I feel rooted in the Lord and I’ve experienced his provision and his peace in the most real ways, even though it’s been right alongside the start of some deep anguish and extreme anger. Our people have loved us well, and we’ve been reminded through the care and words of others that pain is ok, and also temporary. That in the Lord, there’s an end date to all the sadness and that Jesus is grieving this death with us, and with all of you. Because this is all just a lot, I’m doing the thing that I know works for me, which is to come back to the page and write.

I started this blog in college, motivated by a breakup, but really because I was ready to practice writing as a craft and because I needed a place to process and discover who I was in the Lord after a lot of years trying to conform to the people around me instead. I was so afraid to start this project, especially because I didn’t know what people would think. But one of my primary champions from day one was my dad; he loved this blog and always encouraged me with each new post. So it feels fitting, both because I’m walking through a hard thing again and because he loved this space, to start writing once more.

I am incredibly passionate about sharing real stories with each other, especially the ones that aren’t neat and tidy. I’m processing in this space for a whole host of reasons, mostly because I know that writing is one of the things the Lord uses to help me heal and to practice a skill I love, but also because I truly hope, deep in my bones, that these stories and ramblings in some way resonate with you as you walk forward in your hard things, in your faith, and in your ordinary moments.

This month has been impossible and beautiful in so many ways. It’s been strange and hard as we all figure out a new normal, but I’m learning to keep putting my hope in Jesus because I’m finding a lot of life and comfort there.

 

How to Grieve a Good Thing Gone

Anna got married to Ben last week in a chapel where people were sharing seats to make room and the homemade wreaths hung on the doors and Kiersten and I handed out programs with smiles on our faces even though our extremities were frozen from the abnormally chilly May wind.

The Brick House was reunited, but everything was different this time. Kiersten is in grad school and taking summer classes and Kayleigh is in Colorado, doing what she does best– adventure and hospitality. Audrey is also in Colorado, but doing the hard work of teaching young minds to care about words and each other and not running in front of cars during a field trip. I sat in the tent in a much different place than I expected, confident in my job and community and with a man who loves me and whom I love deeply and who filled in for the ushers even though he didn’t know the bride or groom and who took care of me when I felt my worst that day. And Anna, beautiful Anna, is married to her person– to gentle, kind, loving Ben. She filled each space with calm and grace and poise and beauty because it was so evident she had found rest in where the Lord brought her this year and it ended with this celebration.

For one of the first times this year, it hit me that we’re never going to get the Brick House life back. I knew that last year- in the months and weeks leading up to graduation and as I sat in the Von Maur parking lot ugly crying the day after because that beautiful, restorative, safe year was over. And so was the season of living with the most incredible women I ever had the privilege of doing life with. Gone was my safe bubble of dancing to Beyonce while doing dishes and singing the Doxology as a prayer before dinner. Gone was walking out of my room to a living room full of women graciously willing to let me externally process the hardest year of my life-who let me lay my head on their laps as I cried in frustration and sadness while I unraveled the past two years and waited as God created a new thing in me. Gone was doing life with my people, all under one roof in a safe place.

That year was sacred because the Lord was so evidently there. We all knew it. We felt Him in the quiet moments following a prayer or a Scripture reading at dinner. We felt Him when we gathered with each other for movie nights and house breakfasts and lunches and dinners and porch times. We felt Him when we ran and biked and then sat on the dock one last time, knowing that the sacred year, our year of safety and rest and restoration, was over.

I think it’s natural for humans to want to hold on to these sacred moments. I remember struggling knowing there was a defined end to this good thing- how were we ever going to find anything like it again? How do we cope with a looming new season of hard and danger and lonely and inexperience?

How do we grieve a good thing gone? A thing that always had an end date?

As I sat in church last Sunday, in my exhaustion, I worshipped Jesus in my new place that the Lord so abundantly provided. It was one of those rare moments where I felt completely raw, without the strength to bury the things that hurt, like the reality that although I was with my best friends last night, it just wasn’t the same because we’ve all changed in the past year and because we aren’t all sharing the same space anymore. We’ve moved on to where the Lord needed us to go.

I stood next to Matt and looked around at my new community and up at him and felt a small twinge of guilt- guilt for enjoying this new thing that is so different than my Brick House community last year. But even more so I felt sad because my best friends, the ones who walked me through some of the hardest, ugliest moments, weren’t here to share with me in this good new thing and I wasn’t there to share with them in their new things like we had done so well in the Brick House.

As I sang the words on the screen on the verge of tears, I realized that we grieve a good thing gone by believing and knowing and trusting that Jesus is always better than even the best season. That the sacred moments are just glimpses of His glory, pockets of heaven that He allows us to experience now, moments that hold eternal weight and hope because we’re promised a forever of these heavenly moments when we leave our last season here on this Earth.

Even when the season ends, even when that good thing is gone, our Father promises us an eternity of good things. What a beautiful hope to cling on to.

So, my dear Brick House friends, I feel so honored to have lived life with you and experienced glimpses of heaven with you, and even though we won’t ever share that Brick House on First street again, I’m excited to share in new moments with you in new spaces when life allows. I think it’s taken me this past year to process through our safe haven year, and I don’t entirely think I’m done yet, but thank you for that year. Thank you for exemplifying Christ’s love and servant-heartedness and helping create one of the safest places I’ve ever known. Thank you for sharing your beautiful lives and hearts with me, and thank you for becoming my forever friends. I miss you deeply and love you even more and am rooting for you as you flourish in your new pockets of the world.

 

When New Year’s Resolutions Fail the First Week

It snowed last night. The weather app said it wasn’t supposed to snow today, but it did. I woke up to the sound of the snowplow and people scraping the ice off their car windows, but it was Instagram who first told me how much snow there was because I checked it before I got up out of my bed and and looked out the window.

As I was scrolling through my feed, I remembered that I’ve already failed at many of my newly made New Year’s resolutions, including the one not to look at social media first thing in the morning before I had my time with Jesus. I sat up, disappointed, and started another day angry at myself.

This past week, filled with the hope of new beginnings, didn’t go the way I planned in regards of following my resolutions. As I was preparing for the week last Sunday afternoon, I wrote goals and to-do lists on my shiny new notepad. I couldn’t wait to get back in the classroom and be with my students, to start my new running schedule to prepare for the half-marathon I signed up for, get back into eating healthy, and spend consistent mornings in the Word.

But during the teacher work day the next morning, I began freaking out because I didn’t know everything about Greek mythology and I started teaching The Odyssey the next day. How could I effectively teach this story if I didn’t know every single detail about the background information and Ancient Greek culture?! Cue panic attack.

And then on Wednesday I had to go home early from work because I started to feel terrible, which was probably worsened by my panicking about what would happen if this led to being super sick, because the rest of the week was packed and I couldn’t trust a sub to make sure my students got all the information they needed to understand this new text. The rest of the day at home, I proceeded to chastise myself because I didn’t feel that bad and have gotten through much busier days and weeks feeling much worse—I could have dealt with it and been fine.

The rest of the week I was continually irritated at myself for failing. I had to skip the rest of my planned runs because I still didn’t feel 100%, spiraling angry thoughts towards my body. I ended the week spending too much time poking and prodding and hiding my body because it didn’t look or feel the way I wanted it to.

I once again fell into the rhythm of believing that my worth and credibility as a human were based in how efficiently I crossed things off my to-do list, how skinny I felt in the morning indicating that I ate well and worked out the previous day, and how consistently I stuck to my goals.

I already failed at accomplishing these things and it hasn’t even been two weeks into the new year.

Have you been here, friends? Have you fallen in to the all-too familiar rhythm of criticizing yourself when you don’t meet your own standards? Of falling back into this destructive thought pattern after you’ve promised yourself that things were going to change tomorrow but failed?

Because that’s where I’m at on this snowy Sunday afternoon. I woke up most mornings this week pounding myself into the ground because I already failed the first week at being consistent in the healthy things I know I’m capable of—of eating well and working out and being organized at school and not checking social media before having Jesus time in the morning.

But instead of staying angry, I’m choosing to rest in the truth that my worth is beyond any kept New Year’s resolutions. I’m choosing to remember that I am loved deeply by the Lord and that my actions don’t earn my salvation, His grace is enough for that. I’m choosing to reflect on the all the things the Lord provided this week in the midst of my failure.

Because while teaching a story I wasn’t yet comfortable with, I fell back into the rhythm of being in the classroom and was reminded of how passionate I am about teaching universal themes expressed through beautiful words to almost-adults and how powerful it is to learn alongside my students.

And while I wasn’t feeling my best, I experienced the Lord’s provision and love through my co-workers covering my classes, my boyfriend bringing me soup from my favorite place, and my mom answering my seven phone calls that day asking what medicine I should take.

And although I spent most of the week angry at my body, I’m remembering all the moments it supported me in doing the things the Lord needed me to do, like carrying me through a day on my feet with a textbook in my arms reading words that hopefully teach my students something important.

I love New Year’s resolutions, and even after this week of failing at mine, I’m not throwing them away yet because I think they’re important guidelines to living a healthy life. But here’s the thing to remember—they’re guidelines. Failing at them isn’t the end of the world or the crumbling of our worth. Through grace and love, the Lord gives us the freedom to start over in every next moment.

If you failed this week and have been hard on yourself, let this moment be your next moment. Regroup, find your place in the Lord’s grace, and move forward. Recognize the beautiful, redeeming moments that happened in the midst of failure and self criticism, realizing how fully the Lord provides for you and how deeply He loves you.

new.

“Today, look for the unfamiliar. Find where God needs you”

I remember sitting on a dark brown wooden bench, looking at the other members of my team circled in our main meeting area in Yetebon, Ethiopia. We had been there almost a week and so far nothing had gone as planned. But every moment remained beautiful and rich, especially once we learned to let go of the expectations and plans we had for our time at Project Mercy. I remember this day well. Our plans to go into the classroom to teach fell through again and our leader, Solomon, sat in the circle that evening and reminded us in his quiet, contemplative way to look for the unfamiliar ways we were to serve, love, and enter into relationship with those who crossed our path the next day. Never mind our thwarted plans, God had spaces for us to fill, we simply needed to seek them out to serve and love those God placed alongside of us.

These words have stayed with me during the past several months since returning from Ethiopia, often bubbling to the surface of my thoughts. These simple words ignited something within me, quietly challenging me to seek out new ways to serve, love, and enter into relationships wherever I find myself today.

And as I find myself with a fresh perspective in a familiar place, these words come to mind. I have transitioned into a new rhythm, adapting to yet another new, unfamiliar routine that comes with my final year at Taylor, student teaching, and living in a house with a group of dear, beautiful friends. When I have a moment to really dwell in the newness of where I am right now, following the moments of panic from the unknown, I find hope in the promises of a good Lord who loves us and cares for us, a God who is glorified while we live the lives He calls us to.

Right now I am choosing to really take in this transition, experiencing the moments of pain and fear that are thankfully accompanied by the moments of excitement and truth and the giddiness of a new adventure. While I think about this new space and rhythm, I am reminded of Isaiah 43:19:

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

I want to perceive this new thing; this new year and routine and opportunities. To recognize the beauty of new rhythms and new hopes, new dreams and aspirations and relationships and travels. I want to learn and grow and be aware of where I am at right now, seeking the unfamiliar ways to serve and love those around me.

In the coming months, this space we have been sharing for a short while is going to be changing a bit. See, I have this passion for simplicity and intentionality, especially as they relate to faith, daily living, and relationships. I find myself in a small brick house with four other women committed to living with intentionality to do the Lord’s good work this year. This house provides us the opportunity to learn how to live simply and practice and dwell in the richness of hospitality, creating a safe space for those who walk through our door. This, right here, is the space where I will be chronicling and reflecting on this process, sharing stories of our life together and how we are choosing to live well right now. I hope you visit this space this year, either online or in person, learning alongside of us and experiencing the life that dwells within the community we are called to live in together.

 

 

 

 

presence.

God is big. We know that, right? He is constant and Holy and sovereign, His presence fully with us always.

But how often do we forget about his presence? The fact that He goes before us in every circumstance, struggle, day of work, and conversation. A dear friend of mine from school who is working in Memphis this summer called me over the weekend. As we chatted and caught each other up on our summers, she expressed her realization that God is already working in the schools she is working in, despite the challenges and fallenness. These were such refreshing and needed words to hear, how God is before us and already working in the places we are,  the places we long to see redeemed and fulfilled through truth and salvation.

I started to think about how different my time at work and interactions with my coworkers, my main community at this moment, would be if I walked through the doors everyday knowing God was already there, working in ways I couldn’t begin to imagine. How differently would my conversations look? How differently would my attitude be knowing that it wasn’t my responsibility to bring the presence of God into whatever space I occupied because He was already there?

God calls us to be in the world and not of the world, to engage with those around us and create community where we are in hopes to share the life and truth of the Gospel. I feel like so often I take this command to be and share the Gospel as the responsibility to bring the presence of God into whatever space I’m in during that moment. I forget that God already fills that space, that he is fully aware of the work that needs to be done. I simply need to recognize and submit to the work already happening from a Power much higher than I.

One main way to recognize and engage in God’s presence is to be present. I believe He calls us to be present where we are at and to engage in the understanding that He is working. This concept of being present is simple, but significant. It can cause us to let go of our bitterness towards a corrupted environment motivated by our perceived responsibility to save. It can cause us to take a step down into reality, to love others without grumbling, and to bask in the reality that God’s presence is there. Once we start believing that it is not our job to save others or our responsibility to make sure God’s presence surrounds the places we are at, we can then lean into the reality of God already working and do the transforming work we are called to do, love others.

We live in a fallen world filled with sin, corruption, death, and emptiness. I promise that I don’t know all the answers. But I do know that God is here and He has significantly more knowledge and understanding of the happenings of this world than we could ever begin to fathom. I know that He is working and that He takes the responsibility to fill every space with His presence, it is simply up to us to be present and love those he has placed around us in the hopes that they, too, will recognize the perfect, beautiful, healing, and glorious reality of God.

letting go.

Letting go of what we love is often an incredibly painful process. To deny what once gave us pleasure and joy can be the most difficult act asked of us. In the rhythm of life, losing what we work to cling so closely to is often necessary in order to be welcomed into a new beginning that we may or may not have known we needed.

Recently I have found myself having to let go of expectations. Expectations I had for myself and expectations I had for others. I created this world inside my head, this world that included a version of myself I was trying so hard to step into. I had it all figured out, the kind of life I was certain I could be fulfilled in. Now it was just time for me to mold myself into that person, to start wrestling my desires and thoughts into this tiny box of where I was sure God needed me to be.

Instead of finding purpose and meaning, I found anxiety and a severe lack of self confidence because I wasn’t created to live up to the expectations in my head. I found myself micromanaging situations, relationships, and conversations to fit this perceived version of myself, worrying incessantly about future decisions and forgetting that whole trusting God thing. It’s draining not being able to live up to your own expectations because then you actually become your own worst critic.

My expectations had manifested into a messy reality and it was only through the death of this reality that I could experience freedom and peace and hope and contentment in being who I was created to be. I had to deny my own expectations and desires for the relationships and life I thought I wanted, finding myself humbled and broken in the moments proceeding this loss.

But in the space left over, I found hope. A lot of it. And excitement has been bubbling up within me as I am learning to trust my place in the overall Story of the Gospel. As I meditate on the life of Jesus and the life we are called to, the more I’m recognizing the idea of letting go being reiterated throughout Scripture. Several times throughout the Gospels, Jesus calls us lose our expectations and ideals for life and instead to find it in Him (Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 17:33). This idea of letting go is not new, but it certainly is revolutionary in our daily lives.

I believe that starting to let go of our lives in the way Jesus calls us to starts with letting go of the expectations we create in our minds. The expectations that we aren’t meant to live up to, that will create disappointment and failure. It is through the death of these expectations, and the messy realities that come with them, that we can start to truly live. We are promised that we cannot comprehend what God has promised for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9). Our expectations and perceived scenarios of what we want cannot measure up. We are called to be. To live moment by moment in the life and expectations God created and to rest in the assurance of the Gospel of grace, joy, peace, and hope. God promises us a full life, but we must deny our own expectations and adhere to His in order to find it.

 

enough.

I am enough.

It’s difficult to wake up every single morning and believe those words. In the midst of a culture where excess reigns, having enough is almost nonexistent. Being enough is almost nonexistent. There’s always more to strive for, more to have, more to want. Money, food, relationships. More, more, more.

Life slows down during the summer. It provides a different and slower rhythm. Even while juggling three jobs, I have significantly less to distract me now than during the school year. I am no longer living in a residence hall with thrity-seven other women and I don’t have the hefty tasks of schoolwork consistently available to turn to. There isn’t a hallway filled with people and conversations I can pace up and down or spontaneous 10PM runs to Taco Bell to constantly fill my time at home. It’s slower here, quieter here. And although I love my time and crazy rhythm at school, I know I need this break to slow down.

And even though I know I need this, slowing down can be harder than keeping up with a crazy pace. Slowing down means that I have to face what hurts and where I fall short. To dwell on what has changed in the past year and in that dwelling space is room for bitterness and resentment to grow. There’s space for the notion of not being enough to creep in and slowly fill the gaps until I can barely move.

I know I am not alone in this. I know that I am not the only one who struggles with being enough, especially during transition periods. All too often we cope by focusing on the next. The next job, the next season, the next relationship, the next school. While this might help us cope for a short period of time, there is danger in putting our hope and source of healing in the instability of what we’re not promised.

God hasn’t promised us a new relationship or job or school or even tomorrow. God promised us Himself. All of Him who loves all of us. We are enough because He is and we are. We aren’t entitled to what He has given us, they are only tools to live as humans on this earth and to glorify our God. He’s given us enough to sustain from sunrise to sunset.

I believe there is a significant correlation between the moment we start becoming truly grateful and start believing we’re enough. To be thankful is to understand we have been given enough. Bitterness and resentment lose their power when we stop giving it to them. We have the ability to make that choice, to offer thanksgiving during the moments we feel inadequate, unproductive, and worthless. We have the ability to recognize all the good around us. The good that comes in the forms of community and books and conversations and creation and the amazing truth that we are alive and that the Lord has chosen us to breathe on this earth today.

It’s unpopular to be slow. It’s difficult not to be distracted in a culture that prides itself on the ability to go, go, go and do, do, do. But there is life in the slow moments. In bringing our repressed shame and fear of not being enough to the light, we can then be grateful for what we have today. The slow moments allow us to remember that the Lord has always given us what we needed in the past and although that may not be what we need today, we can trust that He will give us what we need today because He cannot fail those He created and loves.

I am choosing to be thankful and believe that I am enough today. I am enough because Jesus is. God is simply all things good and powerful and majestic and just in the most complex, mysterious way. And in these complexities that we cannot understand, we find worth and love and grace and the firm truth that we are enough. Transitions are hard, but this one marks the beginning of my recognizing that I am enough in every season and transition and space I find myself in. I am enough regardless of yesterday or tomorrow. God gives us what we need. He gives us enough to sustain in every moment. I am grateful.

 

alive.

“Grace is not gentle or made-to-order. It often comes disguised as loss, or failure, or unwelcome change.” — Kathleen Norris

I stumbled upon this quote yesterday and I am so thankful I did because it allowed me to recognize that the moments of loss and change and pain and joy are direct results of God’s grace. See, I recently entered into a season of unexpected loss and singleness. I have the security of knowing this season is very much from the Lord and for this, I am thankful. The pain and grieving over what is lost remains, though, and there are moments that hurt so much. But, it is because of this grace that came in the form of loss and unwelcome change that I have been able to recognize and dwell in the freedom and joy the Lord has provided. The hurt and pain are often present, but the moments of peace and excitement and freedom have trickled their way in and it is in these moments that I find hope.

For the first time in a very long time, I am letting myself experience feeling truly alive because I want to, not because I’m trying to impress or please someone else. For so long I have done this, enjoying something in order to share it on some kind of social media or with some person I care about with the hopes of ensuring their love and want for me. I would not enjoy something because I was simply created to enjoy it for myself. It was easier to connect myself with others, to put my identity and wants in their hands so I wouldn’t have to do the dirty work of figuring it out for myself.

And now, in this unexpected season of crazy beautiful and authentic and difficult grace, I am starting to face who I am, who I was created to be, and what makes me feel alive. I believe that humanity’s purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. When I am enjoying life and dwelling in the moments that make me feel alive simply because I was created to enjoy them instead of trying to impress those around me, My God is glorified.

So here’s to figuring this process out. I know that it will be painful and that suffering is inevitable, but I also believe that that’s where life truly lies. Today I am thankful for grace and moments of loss that lead to moments of life. For supportive communities and teachers and leaders and writers and friends. I am thankful that we serve a God who desires for us to enjoy what He has provided. I hope you learn that what you want matters. That you were created to enjoy this life and find passion that will glorify our Great God. That even in the midst of pain and loss and unexpected change, the grace of our God is truly leading the charge in order for us to become closer to Him, glorify Him, and enjoy Him forever. Amen.