Camp.


So I’m at camp again.

The Lord is funny.

I never thought in a million years I would ever again be pulling long days, late nights, and super early mornings. Wearing matching t-shirts with 27 other people. Driving a 15 passenger van across the country. Mic-ing up and acting ridiculous on stage in front of hundreds of people every week. Having timed Walmart runs. And proclaiming Jesus to thousands of students and leaders.

But here I am. And my heart is so thankful.

The healing process has been long, slow, and hard these past several months.

I looked at my teammates through flowing tears and apologized that all I had was a shattered heart. It was in pieces. I only wanted to give them my whole heart. But I felt I didn’t have a whole heart to give.

Thankfully, God uses broken things. He still shines through the cracks of our brokenness. To the praise of His glorious grace.

And sometimes His grace and His mercy and His healing come in the form of camp.

In the form of 27 beating hearts that surround me daily and love me.

I struggle with love now. I struggle with “real.” I struggle with “true.”

But every day those 27 souls make me laugh until it hurts. Every day those 27 encourage me, build me up, help me, serve me, listen to me, walk beside me. And every day those 27 love me. And every day the Lord uses those 27 to mend the cracks. To pick up the pieces. To ease the ache. To remind me and reteach me what is true.

And sometimes it is in the form of students.

A camper walked up to me last week. She was maybe in 8th grade.

She put her hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Hey, Shara. I felt like the Lord was telling me to come tell you that He loves you. And that you are valued. And that you matter.”

The words caught me off guard. It took me awhile to register them. To let them be real.

How I have fought with “matter” these past months. How I have wept uncontrollably over “matter.” How the lies have screamed and shouted and ripped and torn away at me. How I have struggled to fight back. How I came incredibly close to losing that fight forever.

And the Lord whispers to a student to remind me of the truth. To reteach me what is true.

It has often been in the form of the men on my team.

They truly are men. And I’m proud to know them. They love and serve hard. They don’t want anything from me. They affirm me and encourage me. They tell me that I’m beautiful. And they aren’t lying. And through them, the Lord is reminding me what is true. He is reteaching me what is true.

I am slowly relearning what is true. Rejecting the lies that still fight to fill my mind. I am slowly relearning to breathe again. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe at all. Every breath hurt. Every breath was agony. Every heartbeat unbearable.

And the Lord’s mercy came this time in the form of camp.

And He is using camp as a stepping stone to healing. To teach me to breathe again. To ease the pain of each breath. To remind my heart to beat. And that it is not a wasted heartbeat. That my life is not a wasted life.

I am so thankful. The lessons are still coming every day. Grief is still there. Life is still hard.

And God is so good.

Psalm 34:5 “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”

Those who look to Him will never be ashamed.

Whatever may come. Whatever the Lord allows to come. Trusting Him. Looking to Him–I will never be ashamed. His way is perfect. His Word is true. I will never be put to shame when my trust and my hope are placed in Him.

Through it all

Through it all

My eyes are on You.

And it is well with me.

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Naked. 

 

I sat down in front of a mirror in my room naked.

I have never liked being naked.

Naked was for showers. Then quickly back into clothes.

I never liked to look at myself naked.

I didn’t want to see the flaws. The seemingly endless imperfections tattooing my body as the years went on. The skin I lived in was not the skin I wished for. The skin I lived in was not desirable. The skin I lived in was marked. And veined. It was scarred. It was imperfect.

How often I have worked to cover my nakedness. Many times in the name of modesty. When in actuality, it was my shame I was covering. My skin that I hated. My body that was not beautiful. My body that was not perfect. Not perfect like it ought to be.

In my mind I assumed people were staring. Scrutinizing. Laughing at my nakedness. Laughing at my skin. Comparing in prideful glee theirs to my own.

So I hid. Hid my nakedness from others. From myself. From mirrors.

And I thought about the other kind of nakedness that I hide. The nakedness of my soul. The nakedness of my sinful flesh that wages war against me every day. The nakedness of complete vulnerability with struggles and sin that are still part of me.

I think the Church is okay with certain kinds of nakedness. Okay with certain sins. We have measured them out and some have come out far worse. We have made them gender specific. We have made it okay to struggle with some but not others.

We have made it hard to be naked.

So we hide. We hide behind filters and “authentic” lives. We hide our nakedness from others. From ourselves. From mirrors.

We don’t want people to see the real us. The flawed us. The imperfect us.

Yet we long for people to see the real us. The flawed us. The imperfect us.

And we want people to love that us. We want people to love the naked us.

We forget that Jesus does. We forget that the gospel frees us to be naked — to be vulnerable. To sit exposed. Because Christ bore our shame.

He died for our shame. He died for all the ugliness and all of the imperfection that sin has wrought and wrecked within us.

Do we believe that the gospel is big enough for our nakedness?

Do we believe that Jesus’ substitutionary propitiatory death is big enough to cut deep into the very marrow of our souls — the deep dark nakedness — the most horrific parts of us that cause us the most shame?

Do I believe that? Can I stand in front of you naked — with all the gory parts of my sin on display — proclaiming that Christ is enough and that Christ has paid the price for all the brokenness in me?

That there is grace. Unmerited grace. Grace that does not leave us as we are but beckons and insists that we come out of hiding and walk in the light. Grace that changes the broken us into something beautiful because He who is gracious is beautiful. The grace that says, “Be free.” For freedom Christ has set you free.

There is freedom in nakedness.

I sat there last night in front of my mirror.

I smiled at my tattoos. Then I tried to sit in a way that didn’t make my stomach look as fat. But then I stopped. Sat the way I had been sitting. And let myself learn to tell those rolls they were okay. And I let myself stop sighing over the spider veins and the scars. And the cellulite and the acne. And I just sat there for awhile. Until it was okay. Until I didn’t hate that I was naked. Until I didn’t hate the image bearer of God in front of me.

And I think in sitting there — exposed — I felt free.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

He stayed. 

It was word vomit.

My counselor wrote quickly as more and more words were spat out and choked back.

The room. The air. The notepad. All filled with my words.

She looked at me with those kind, understanding, and heartbroken eyes. I appreciate this about her. I know she is genuinely grieved for me. And she said, “Shara, you touched on it earlier, and I agree. Eventually, you have to stop processing through this. You aren’t ever going to understand.”

I knew she was right. I have to stop processing or else I can never move on. But I want to understand. My mind has searched tirelessly for logic. But there isn’t any.

My mind went to Job. Job never saw why he suffered. God never explained it to him. Understanding “why” is not a prerequisite for faith.

Faith is hard.

I walked down and sat in the spot where it all ended. When I had no idea what was to come. And I said out loud all the things I’ll never understand. And I told the invisible him that he has hurt me worse than anyone ever has. And that I forgive him. And that every day I ask God to help me to keep forgiving him. And I said that I was leaving him and all of it there. And I have to let it go. All of it. Understanding. Wanting answers. Wanting justice. Wanting resolve and reason for all the pain. I have to let it go. And I prayed for God to somehow make something profitable out of this pain and mess. And then I walked away.

And the thoughts still come. The lies still fight. And I just keep reminding myself (so many times a day) that I let it go. Stop processing. Think about other things (Philippians 4:8). I left it there. It has to stay where I left it. I have to keep going. I have to learn to be okay again.

I sat in the Good Friday service at my church last night as we meditated on the cross.

Have you ever felt like God doesn’t love you?

It’s something I know is true. Like how I know my jeans are blue and my shirt is white. But I have often struggled to feel like God loves me.

I think it’s because I struggle to see love as sometimes being the allowing of pain. I think I often believe love is giving me what I want, fulfulling my dreams and desires, and making my life easy and pain-free.

By that definition, God doesn’t love me.

My pastor looked at us and implored us to look at the cross. Because of the cross, we can never dare to say that God doesn’t love us.

Jesus was despised, rejected, betrayed. And for the first time, I felt those words with Him. I felt them deeply. For the first time I shared them, in a small part, with my Savior.

His body broken and destroyed. Annihilated. Nailed naked to a cross. Suffocating. Battered. Beyond recognition. And He drank the cup. The wrath of God.

And He was innocent. He didn’t do anything to deserve death. But I have. I have done so many things and not done so many things I ought to have done. And I deserve to die. And He knew that. So He died instead. Ultimately to satisfy God’s character, and ultimately for love. He loves me.

He loves me.

Tears fall as I try to let that sink into the cracks of my brokenness.

He loves me. 

Charles Spurgeon said, ‘Jesus Christ was up on the cross, nailing, bleeding, dying, looking down on the people betraying him, and forsaking him, and denying him, and in the greatest act of love in the history of the universe, HE STAYED!’

He stayed.

Tim Keller writes,

“If he wouldn’t abandon you then, he wont abandon you now. If he wouldn’t abandon you when Hell itself was coming down on him, if that didn’t separate his love from you do you think you having a bad week is gonna do it? Do you think there is anything that you can do that could destroy his love for you when that couldn’t do it? Or when bad things are happening to you all over and you say, “I must be abandoned!” If he didn’t abandon you there, he isn’t going to abandon you now. He spared not himself. The Father spared not his own Son. … He gave us the ultimate gift, and you think somehow that he is going to let your life go off the rails now? He’s not going to deny you anything you need. This is the love you’ve been looking for all your life.”

No matter what this life brings, there is the cross. 

I have to keep telling myself that I left it. I have surrendered my desire for understanding into His wise and sovereign hands. I have to remind myself this constantly for the thoughts keep resurfacing no matter how busy I try to keep myself. 

But I also have to keep the cross at the forefront of my mind. Not only is He wise and sovereign, He is loving. He loves me. Even when life screams the antithesis of love. He loves me.

When life screams at you the contrary, remember Good Friday. Remember Easter. God loves you so much. With a love that does not fail. Does not fluctuate or change. Is not based on your performance or the way you look.

It is a love that does not spare pain. But it is a love that broke into our pain, took our pain, and died to free us from pain. A love that hates our pain. A love that holds us in our pain.

A love that will never end.

The proof of this love?

He stayed.

A Better Dream.

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When I was 9 years old, I dreamed of being an Olympic figure skater just like Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan. In awe I watched them on the old TV screen in my childhood living room. And I believed with all my heart that I could do that too.

As a little girl I would place cassette tapes in my Karaoke machine and sing into the attached microphone, proudly recording original songs–lyrics scribbled in scented milky pens in my journal. I dreamed of being a Christian pop star. And I believed with all my heart that I could be one.

I began performing at a very young age. I won the scholarships. And I went to school to become an actress. Broadway was the dream. And I believed with all my heart that I could be on a Broadway stage one day.

I’ve had many dreams.

Some dreams faded quickly. Like being an ice skater. Some dreams, the Lord asked me to walk away from. Like being an actress.

Some dreams, I’ve had to learn to grieve.

More than any other dream, I’ve always dreamed of marriage. I’ve always dreamed of being a wife. I’ve always dreamed of being a mom. It has always been my greatest dream.

I do not know if I will ever marry. I hope I will. But the Lord has never promised marriage. With recent, oft unbearable heartbreak, that is a hard pill to swallow.

But even if I marry one day, I realized recently, that there are still dreams that I must grieve.

Never would I have ever imagined that I would be single at 28. Ever.

I will never be the 24 year old bride.

I will never be the 28 year old holding her newborn in her arms.

That isn’t my story. And that was my dream.

There is the life we thought we would have. There is the life we dreamed we would have. And there is the life that we have.

Perhaps, the life you dreamed you would have and the life you do have, align. Or, perhaps, your life is “more than what you dreamed.”

But perhaps, like me, your life is not at all what you dreamed it would be. Maybe your life has been marked by suffering. Perhaps you have lost a loved one unexpectedly. Perhaps you have struggled to find financial stability, or the job you have is not what you want. Maybe you received a frightening diagnosis, or are enduring life with a chronic illness. Perhaps you are weeping through infertility, a struggling marriage, depression, anxiety, an aging parent, or various broken relationships. Perhaps nothing is going as you always dreamed it would.

John Piper writes,

“Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”

 

Weep. Grieve. Grieve what is not and will never be. Grieve the losses.

Then.

Then trust.

Trust God for a new dream.

Elisabeth Elliot writes,

“My heart was saying, “Lord, take away this longing, or give me that for which I long.” The Lord was answering, “I must teach you to long for something better.”

 

There are dreams that create a deep longing within me. There is nothing wrong with these dreams. There is nothing wrong with my desire to be married. I believe that God created us to long for marriage and to be married. Like Elisabeth Elliot, I have prayed for God to give me what my heart longs for or to take away my longing because it hurts too much. Hope deferred indeed makes the heart sick.

But He graciously reminds me that He must teach me to long for something better–to long for someone better. To long for Him.

To long for a new dream.

To allow Him to teach me to find my greatest dream fulfilled in Him.

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The famous Philippians 4:13 is often quoted wildly out of context. Paul writes, beginning in verse 11, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Paul is writing about contentment. And notice a word used in verse 11 and again in verse 12: learned.

Contentment is learned. And like most things that do not come naturally and we have to learn, contentment is hard. Especially in a social media filled culture of “authentic” lives and intense comparison. Finding contentment in whatever circumstance has to be learned. And I would argue that it is something that, through discipline, must be continually learned every day for the rest of our lives. But contentment, graciously, is something that is empowered by the strength supplied by Christ. And true contentment is ultimately only found in Christ.

Through Christ who strengthens, we can grieve our dreams. We can grieve our losses. Trusting all the while in His unchanging character.

And through Christ who strengthens, we can take hold of a new dream.

He is the greatest dream. The dream that will not end. The dream that will not fail. The dream that will not abandon or betray. The dream that will satisfy. The dream that heals. The dream that mends what is broken in us.

So occasionally grieve your dreams.

And by God’s grace, take hold of His hand.

And by His grace and through His strength, find in Him a new dream.

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red lipstick.

I never wore red lipstick until I got sick.I was 25.

I had just gotten back from church and I hopped in my bed to finish a 24-hour rental of The Fault in Our Stars on ITunes.

Then I got out of bed, and my life was never the same again.

My world began spinning. Literally. As the days progressed, my health quickly deteriorated — spiraling downward as my symptoms worsened with every passing moment. I always felt like I was moving, even when I was standing perfectly still. The pressure in my head was unbearable. The spreading neuropathy felt like insects crawling mercilessly all throughout my body. My hands weakened. Objects within them often fell to the floor. I began to lose the ability to walk. The nausea thought little of ever subsiding. Relief from any of it was nowhere in sight.

Within a few short weeks, I was bedridden.

It would be a year before I received any relief from my debilitating illness — an illness deemed a mystery to the countless doctors and specialists.

It’s almost been three years since that day. I am still not well, and I do not know if I ever will be again. I am an “Invisible Illness” fighter, and the Lord has taught and continues to teach me so much through my struggle with health. Maybe one day we can sit and chat about it over a cup of coffee.

Three years ago, I lost my health. And three years ago, I started wearing red lipstick.

I was never a very brave person. Never bold. Even during my years as an actress, my closet was filled with plain black tops. I owned two trusty pairs of flats — one black pair and one brown pair. Practical enough. My makeup was muted. I always tried to look nice, but color was never in my comfort zone. I always felt self-conscious. I rarely, if ever, felt beautiful. And I preferred not to stand out.

Then I got sick.

I had no control over my days. I was at the mercy of my symptoms. Days became labeled as “good days” and “bad days.” I laid in my bed most days — all day long — physically incapable of doing anything but.

But, every morning, no matter what, I got out of bed and took a shower. Some days I could barely stand, but I determinedly, often praying desperately, would take a shower every day. Then I would get dressed, do my hair, and put makeup on. Because that is what I had always done — every day — for most of my life. Then, if it was a “bad day,” I would crawl back into bed and stay there until I could get out again.

And one day, I bought a tube of red lipstick.

And every day I would put on red lipstick. Even if it was applied with shaking hands. And every day I would lay in bed donning bright red lipstick.

It was something I could control. It was some sort of “normal” that I could hold onto. I had lost “normal.” There were so many days I felt like a mere shell of who I once was. I had lost so much of what made me “me.” And I didn’t know if I would ever get “me” back again. I had to learn to say goodbye to that which was and take hold of that which is.

So I got out of bed every day — no matter how hard, no matter how painful. And every day I put on red lipstick.

And slowly, I began to feel beautiful. And bold. And much stronger and braver than I was.

The colors in my closet began to broaden and expand. And I had a new favorite color — yellow. I filled my room with yellow — a bright yellow bookshelf held all of my favorite books (many of which had been converted to audiobooks because my illness made reading nearly impossible), colorful photos filled my walls, and fresh sunflowers sat on my lampstand. Yellow became a source of joy and light in the midst of incredible pain and darkness.

And, of course, there was red lipstick.

Sometimes that’s all you can do — put on red lipstick. Sometimes all you can do is choose to get out of bed. And choose to keep getting up. No matter how tough that is. And choose to keep putting on that favorite outfit. And to keep putting on that perfect shade of red lipstick. Choose to keep going.

My life has not been what I dreamed it would be. The past several years have been filled with disappointment, unimaginable pain, incredible heartache, and great loss. I have not always felt like getting up. I have not always wanted to keep going. I have thought seriously many times to not keep going.

We will all go through dark seasons in this life. We will go through storms — through pain, through suffering. Believers in Christ are not immune to suffering. But God promises His sustaining presence throughout life’s brokenness. He does not promise us health, wealth, and prosperity. He does not promise to give us all of our dreams or even our deepest longings. But He does promise to give us Himself — the greatest good. The true satisfier of our souls. And He promises to work all things together for our good and for His glory. Even the unimaginable things — the things that make us cry out to Him, pleading and weeping as we ask, “How is this love?” Yet He is loving you perfectly in all things.

Author and pastor, John Piper, writes, “It is utterly crucial that in our darkness we affirm the wise, strong hand of God to hold us, even when we have no strength to hold him.”

I confess I have had no strength to hold Him. But He holds tightly onto me, leading me on, guiding me forward, and whispering sweetly: “Keep going.”

Choose to keep going. Choose to keep getting up. Choose to keep choosing faith and hope and trust in the God who will never leave you or forsake you.

And never forget to choose an incredible shade of red lipstick.

I don’t trust God anymore.

tumblr_mfmzchjtyd1r8wbceo1_250I write to process pain.

Hence the influx of blog posts over the past few months.

I wish that, as I typed, the pain would lesson with every typed word.

I have not been afforded that.

The past couple weeks have been filled with incredible darkness. Heavy. Suffocating darkness. The permanent ache in my heart returned. The nausea. The cloud. A thick cloud. Refusing any sunshine. Darkening every crevice of my mind. Destroying light. Obliterating peace.

And I realized something this week that frightened me. I realized this week that I don’t really trust God. Not really. And I realized, through sobs, that I am afraid of Him.

The past 5 years have progressively gotten worse. Pain followed by pain. By more pain. By worse pain. I will, likely, never be a “healthy” person ever again. I will more than likely be sick for the rest of my life.

I have continued putting one foot in front of the other. As best and as weakly as I could. Trying to keep going.

But there was no happy ending.

No ‘best life now.’

I crawled from one pain to the next. Each one harder than the one before.

And I realized this week that I don’t trust God anymore.

He did not protect me from pain.

He did not protect me from chronic illness.

He did not protect me from destruction of my heart.

I feel as though I have been beaten to a pulp and I am still expected to stand. To keep going. To keep boldly moving forward trusting the Lord for all that comes next.

But that’s what horrifies me. All that comes next. Because I can’t do it anymore.

I am afraid of what comes next. I am afraid He will keep allowing everything to get worse. I am afraid the rest of my life will be pain. 60 or so more years of pain. Unending pain. Heartache that won’t subside. Disappointment at every turn. Rejection. Life repeatedly and continually reinforcing my (false) belief that I do not matter. That my life is not worth anything. That I am nothing. That my life is just going to remain a compilation of shattered dreams.

And I sat in my car and wept. And I screamed. And I heaved as I yelled at God that I didn’t trust Him anymore. That He had torn me to shreds and that there was nothing more left to rip. But rip He continues and I wanted out. That I gave up. That I didn’t want to keep going anymore. That I didn’t want to keep crawling anymore. That I didn’t want this life. That I didn’t want His plan for me. That I hated it.

That I hated all of my books on Christian suffering. That I hated how I feel sick whenever I read verses on suffering. That I hated how all the verses and passages I have clung to as I have poured over my Bible that is, literally, falling to pieces, are just words now. That they offer no comfort. No consolation. They just make the pain worsen. Because they feel so untrue.

I told Him that I hated that He let me be lied to. And used. And thrown away. And that He won’t make the pain go away. That it only intensifies.

I told Him that I hated that every day is hard. And I get no relief. And that I have to keep going.

And I told Him that I hated that I don’t trust Him.

That I hated how I don’t trust God anymore.

The truth always remains the same. No matter what I feel. That God always does what is right. That His way is perfect. That He is always loving me.

Yet my heart feels like it is bleeding. The tears continue to fall. The nausea intensifies and my heartbeat quickens by merely the thought of trusting God with what comes next. Even writing that made a chill come across my body.

Because I can’t do it anymore.

I don’t know what the lesson is in this blog post.

I don’t know how to wrap it up in a bow. Because I am still in the muck. I pray one day I will write the blog on the other side of this one. But that’s not right now.

“I can’t do it anymore.”

Perhaps that is part the “other side of things” blog. That I can’t do it anymore. That somehow God is going to have to work in this brokenness. Because I can’t. And perhaps I’ve been trying and trying. And trying and trying. And perhaps that’s the problem. To cease trying–to cease striving. To pray for, as one of my professors always says, “A heart at leisure from myself.” A heart at rest.

I do not know. All I can say right now is that God is worthy of my trust. That He is always faithful. That there is truth that will always be truth despite every feeling in this sinful being. Truth does not change. And I still know wholly and truly that that is true.

But right now there is a war waging inside of me. My heart is in constant physical pain. Serving as a constant reminder that it is broken. And right now I am afraid. And right now it hurts every time I open my Bible and read it. And right now it aches whenever I pray because I am afraid to talk to God. And right now I am so so so sad because I don’t trust Him.

Because I don’t trust God anymore.

And yesterday I began asking God to help me trust Him. Not by proving His love. He has already done that on the cross of Christ. Not by giving me what I want. Or even taking the pain away. But to somehow help me hold my quivering hand back out to Him. To somehow keep taking another step forward. To believe His promises are true for me too.

To not be afraid of what comes next. Even if it is more pain. To learn to be okay with that because I trust the One who holds my world in His hands.

But right now, I’m not there. Right now I am wounded–afraid. Hurting. Weak. Grieving.

He continues to rip. And I struggle to trust His ripping. But one day. One day.

One day I will trust God again.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt…Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment…I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . . .”

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 

The Depressed Christian.

 

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I’ve been sad for a very long time.

At the height of my struggle with illness and consequent intense decline of my health, I sat numbly in a counselor’s office as I spoke the words, “I don’t know how to not be sad anymore.”

Over the past several years, I would come to describe myself as a very sad person.

I like to write out prayers. I have stacks of journals filled with them. I’ve always processed life better through written words. Which is one of the reasons I feel I have poorly chosen my degree’s intended profession.

I was sitting in the back of the classroom today and began writing out a prayer. And I told God that I was sad. That my heart is tired. That I am worn to my core. That I have nothing left.

I know He was not surprised by these words.

I taught my littlest ones today about the Psalms. I had them write their own. I fought back tears when I heard them read them.

I love the Psalms. The Psalms are God’s way of letting us know that it’s okay to be sad. He looks at the brokenhearted and He says, “I know.” And He doesn’t scorn our tears. Or tell us to feign happiness. The Psalms see this broken world and allow us to weep. They allow us to scream out, “Why?”

The past several years of my life have been really hard. Depression is a common symptom of chronic illness because your body was not designed to be in constant pain. The physical side alone can rob your brain of endorphins–not to mention the emotional toll it takes on your body and mind. There have been days–weeks–months, when I thought I would go insane from being trapped inside the torture chamber that was my own flesh.

There has been much disappointment throughout these past years. Loss and brokenness. The past few months have been hell to process through. Deception and mistreatment of such intensity is impossible to understand. The sadness emanates throughout every crevice. Not wanting to leave. Filling me with more lies–lies like, “Well, you were treated like trash because that’s what you are. And, guess what? No one cares.”

Lies are easier to believe when you are sad. Because lies make more sense with your reality than truth does.

Lies say “I don’t matter.” Truth says “I do.” Life says “You don’t matter.” God says “Yes, you do.”

As a sad Christian, I live in this tension–the tension between lies and truth. The tension between my reality and the hope of the gospel. The tension between everything I feel and everything that is true. And it’s really really hard.

I am afraid to hope because life keeps destroying me. I am afraid to dream because they never come true. I am afraid of receiving gifts because they get ripped away from me.

As they say–it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to be sad. But there’s always the added–“Just don’t stay there.” But what happens when you are stuck there? When the sadness will not go away? When you have been sad for years?

You keep going. By His strength. You keep believing. By His grace. You keep walking, or crawling. By His power. You keep choosing Him every day because, despite every sadness you feel, His Word holds true.

I am thankful for the joy the Lord gives me in the midst of my sadness. My joy is not feigned.

But this exhausted heart yearns for relief. I long for the darkness to lift. People tell you it’s only for a season. But when the season is 7 years and counting, I truly empathize with those of you who want to give up. I know I do. I don’t feel like God loves me. I don’t feel like He is with me. I don’t feel like He gives a crap about anything in my life. I feel like He left me a long long time ago. But, as always, feelings do not define truth. None of those things are true.

I pray the Lord gives you joy in the midst of sorrow. I pray He lifts the pain from your chest. I pray He lifts the fog from your eyes. I pray the sadness goes away.

But if not, He is still good.

I will praise Him in the sadness. By His grace, I will keep going.

Eagerly awaiting the day when He will wipe away every tear from my eyes. And sadness will be no more.

 

Life after heartbreak.

Our Keep Going print is letterpress printed by hand on antique machinery. Black ink on bright white, extra thick archival paper. Fits an 8 x 10 inch frame.

I am still breathing.

Somehow you can still breathe after your heart has been broken. Doesn’t really seem fair.

There have been times I would have done anything not to feel–not to breathe.

Doesn’t seem fair sometimes that you have to keep going.

That life just keeps going, and that you’re expected to keep going along with it.

Grief is weird.

I think I’ve gone through all the stages…several times. Out of order. At random.

I am careful not to think I’ve finally gotten through it. It seems whenever I think I’m out of the woods, there always seems to be a surprise wave of ache, anger, nausea, or depression that knocks me over. I wept in my car for a solid 20 minutes the other night. 

But somehow I keep breathing. And life keeps on going. Keeps moving. .

It doesn’t wait for you to be okay again.

I think a part of grief is the false belief that you will never be okay again–that this pain couldn’t possibly ever fully go away. In this sense, grief is a lot like fear. I am afraid this will never stop hurting. That I will always live in a perpetual state of heartache. That I won’t ever get through this. My struggle with worth has been magnified intensely from this–it all plays over and over in my brain like a broken record. I want nothing more than to break the record of the past six months into a million pieces. 

Fear is unbelief. I am battling unbelief. I am battling believing God can really heal my heart. I am struggling to believe that God truly has my best interest in mind. I am fighting to believe that God loves me–for how could this be love? Nothing about this feels like love. It feels like hatred. 

I wish this grief had a shorter timeline for me. But I have not been allotted that mercy. And I wish I had more control over it. But the Lord tells me to trust in His control, humbly relinquishing mine.

And part of me wishes that life didn’t keep on moving. And that I didn’t have to keep on breathing.

And a small part of me is thankful that life keeps on moving.

That I had to pack up and move to another city for student teaching. That my alarm goes off at 5:36AM (because…extra minute) and that I groan my way out of bed and into the shower. That I gather my things and drive to an elementary school. That I stand at the classroom door and say “Good morning” to tiny people with gigantic backpacks on. That I have to teach. That I have to make sure kids don’t die during recess. That I have to hold my eyelids open as I pour over lesson plans in a nearby Starbucks. That I collapse onto my bed at 9PM.

That I have to keep on going.

Some days have been unbearable. Some days I feel as though I’m counting down the seconds until they are over–pleading with God for a better tomorrow. But they are getting easier. A little. The permanent throbbing ache in my heart is easing up slightly. I am unapologetically not okay. And, honestly, I’m so tired of not being okay. I am so exhausted of being sad. I feel like I am walking around in a fog of sadness. Everything in my life is clouded by sadness. And I long for it to go away. But I am not walking around defeated either. At least, I’m trying not to. I have been deeply wounded, and I am not okay yet. But I will be. Maybe never fully. But I will be okay again one day.

And until that day I will keep moving.

I will keep breathing.

Even when I don’t want to.

Lately, I haven’t wanted to. There is little to no part of me that wants to keep breathing. 

I don’t have any strength left to hold onto the Lord. But He is holding onto me. And He will see me through. For some reason, way beyond my understanding, this was for my good and for His glory. I rest in that. Otherwise I would lose my mind. I feel as though I already have. 

I must remember the cross. When Jesus was on the cross, people were likely thinking (and saying) –what good could come of this? They had no idea that the greatest of all good was coming. Salvation. In the worst possible situation, God was working for our good and for His glory. These events have left me standing, looking down at all the shattered pieces of my heart and I have cried, “What good could come of this?” I don’t know what the Lord is doing, but neither did the people staring at Jesus on the cross. I am learning to trust in what I do not see.

I am learning to keep breathing.

I am learning to keep moving.

Learning to keep moving on.

Grace has carried me safe thus far.

And grace shall lead me home.

 

Grace Upon Grace:

 

God doesn’t owe me a boyfriend.

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People mean well.

And the inspirational memes on Pinterest mean well.

It is a common sentiment.

It is often said to me that, because I have been through and am going through so much hardship, that it’s because a bigger blessing is coming–something spectacular is on its way.

I’ve been told this for four years. And I always respond the same way.

The “good” in Romans 8:28 is found in Romans 8:29. God works all things together so that believers might be conformed into the image of Christ. Therefore, yes, I will be blessed as a result of my suffering. But, no, it will not (necessarily) be what is often meant by a blessing.

Walking through this breakup, people have told me that it is all to prepare me for someone better. As if some “perfect” man is waiting just around the corner to sweep me off my feet, wipe away the tears from eyes, and to whisk me away, causing me to forget that my heart was ever broken.

I appreciate the sentiment.

But I disagree with it.

If 2017 is harder than 2016 and 2015 and 2014…that is my blessing. Because, in some (painful) way, the Lord is conforming me into the image of Christ. If I know Jesus more and I am more like Jesus at the end of 2017, then I have received a great blessing for my suffering.

Honestly, that is a hard pill to swallow at times. I believe that is because I, so often, have a far too high view of man and so low view of God. I think far too highly of myself and, somewhere inside of me, I feel entitled. I feel as though God owes me for allowing me to go through so much pain. But God owes me nothing. He doesn’t owe me perfect health because I have suffered for 2 1/2 years. And He does not owe me a boyfriend because He is allowing me to suffer through this painful breakup. He doesn’t owe me anything. But He has given me everything in Christ.

I know people mean well. However, it is not encouraging to hear that something “huge” is waiting for me around the corner. My something “huge” might be more hardship. It might be a really tough final semester of grad school. It might be unemployment or a cancer diagnosis. As far as relationships, it might be years more, or a lifetime of singleness.

God is committed to my holiness. He is committed to making me more like Jesus. For me, that has meant extremely painful years. And it will likely mean many more. I am not promised health, wealth, and prosperity because I have suffered. God’s Word never promises that. I am not promised a better boyfriend who will cherish me and love me because I have suffered. God’s Word never promises that.

But He promises Himself–His presence. With me until the very end. Never forsaken. Holding my hand. Crawling along with me. Offering me His strength. Loving me perfectly through the pain. Then me with Him forever. He promises a day when there will be no more pain. There will be no bodies riddled with illness. There will be no more broken hearts. This light and momentary affliction is achieving for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all.

I am not saying there will not be joy. There will be joy. In His presence is fullness of joy. There will be so much joy, even in the ashes.

But God doesn’t owe me anything.

God doesn’t owe me a boyfriend.

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Singleness & Psalm 23.

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The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

    He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

    He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

    for his name’s sake. 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

 I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

 your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies,

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Today I remembered one of my favorite sermons by David Platt (I know, how can you possibly choose a favorite?). It’s a sermon on Psalm 23 found here. I encourage you to listen/watch it. The first time I heard the sermon I was sitting in a pew in Brook Hills.  The second time I listened to it, I was lying in my bed, struggling to sit up, and fighting to endure my battle with debilitating chronic illness. The third time, I was sitting in my bed again–this time with a broken heart.

Tears fell as I let the words sink in to every shattered crevice of my aching heart.

After I listened, I went back and prayed through my notes. And, as I was praying, specific fears I have stood out to me. Many of which I have wrestled with and continue to wrestle with on a daily basis.

But then those fears were, graciously, met with truths. 

In my singleness,

I never have to fear ending up alone.

The LORD is with me. I will never be alone. 

I often fear that. Ending up alone. The lonely old maid who no one wanted. But I can’t ever be alone. It is impossible. I will never be alone. My Shepherd is always with me. He has promised me Himself. He will be with me until the very end. I will never be forsaken. He will always be holding my hand–and, at times, crawling along beside me, offering His strength and His presence.

I never have to fear never being loved. 

The LORD loves me perfectly. Always. 

My heart often yearns to be loved by a man. I want to be romanced, desired, and cherished. But, if I never experience that kind of love, I will never not be loved. I am constantly and perfectly loved by the God of the universe. I often long for the intimacy experienced by a husband and wife. I might never know that. But I am known by God. He knows me. He cares about me. He loves me. And He is intimately aware of every detail of my life. I am His treasure. I am fully known and fully loved by Him. And His love will never fail me.

I never have to fear never (again) being pursued. 

The LORD will relentlessly pursue  me all the days of my life. 

Women so strongly desire to be pursued. I got a taste of relentless pursuit. But it was short-lived. And it was dishonest. God’s pursuit of us is not like that. He actively pursues. It is a constant pursuit that has no end. He will never tire of His pursuit. He will pursue with goodness and mercy all the days of my life. No matter what I do, no matter how faithless I am, He will never stop pursuing me with His love.

I never have to fear not being provided for. 

The LORD will satisfy. The LORD will provide my every need. I shall never want. 

The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want. My God will supply all my needs according to His riches in glory. He will satisfy my deepest longings–which are all really for Him. With Him, I have everything I need. With Him, I shall never lack.

I never have to fear living with a shattered heart. 

The LORD will restore that which has been broken. He will heal what has been used and thrown away. 

By His grace, He will continually refresh me. He will lead me beside still waters. By His grace, He will restore me. And, in time, He will heal what has been broken. He will not leave me in shattered pieces forever. And He delights in restoration.

To the praise of His glorious grace.

I never have to fear that it will come to an end. 

The LORD’s goodness to me is eternal. 

The Good Shepherd laid down His life for me. And He picked it up three days later. Because of this, I know that His love for me will never come to an end. He will never end His relationship with me. He will never change His mind, trade me in, or find someone new or better. His goodness to me is eternal, and my fellowship with Him will be everlasting. And one day, He will personally wipe away every tear from my eyes. There will be no more pain or suffering anymore. And I will dwell with Him forever.

 

 

I may never marry. I feel that I most likely will not. But, for however long I am single–whether 5 years, 50, or until the day I die, I will never want for anything. In Christ, I have been given everything. Everything I will never deserve. May I fix my eyes on Him–the Shepherd who will never leave me. The Shepherd who loves me. The Shepherd who pursues me. The Shepherd who provides for me. The Shepherd who restores me. The Shepherd who gave His life for me.

The Shepherd who satisfies.

In my singleness, I shall never want.

 

 

 

 

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

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