Thoughts for 36

Today I turn 36 and although I haven’t blogged in quite some time, I still consider myself a writer and with that comes a lot of reflection as I head into another year of my life. As is custom I like to flip back through past journals to see what I was saying on birthdays past. When I look at my journals in my 20s, I am filled with fierce hope and enthusiasm at the life I was living, always making the most of it and writing out goals for the new year. On the night before I turned 30, I wrote with great expectation that my 30’s would be the best decade of my life. I was just starting out with my family of four expecting to build a life together with my husband, buy a house, do great things in ministry and change the world. Yet all those dreams came crashing down just a few months later and has left me still trying to pick up the pieces all these years later. 

Emotional. Exhausted. Depressed. Failing. Stuck. Purposeless. Weary. These are the words that have been on repeat in my journals over the last 6 years. For 6 years I have been living a life of a single mom caught in a windstorm of trauma trying to navigate what it looks like to move forward, serve others, love God, hold on to hope, be a caring teacher, parent my kids with grace, succeed in graduate school, lead in ministry and the list goes on. Its a constant juggling act that I am sure everyone who is reading this can relate to. How can we do it all, when at various times grief sweeps through like an unsuspecting thief trying to steal any resemblance of joy and purpose it can? People say time heals, but they don’t always prepare you that actually sometimes the pain lingers. It doesn’t always get better as fast as we plan. Christians love to use a lot of analogies of coming through the valley and getting to the mountain top, like its a final destination for us in this life. It sounds good and can be true for some. As a believer in Christ, I do believe that glory does wait for us in another life with our loving and beautiful savior. I believe that we will get to that place where no more tears are shed and sorrows cease. It is in this, that I can find a deep resonating peace that hope is possible to hold on to no matter what is raging on around me. However, I have found it important to leave space for when our journeys of suffering in this world may not vanish overnight, or even may last over a lifetime.

I learned pretty quickly that people are uncomfortable sitting in someone else’s pain, especially if there isn’t a way to fix it. Growing up I can remember so many Christians talking about the Christian life as one of success and happiness. Any sort of emotions that showed you were struggling were not always welcomed and often came with judgment or shame. There was godliness put on your outward behavior and how you showed yourself a person who never questioned God and his ways. If only I had heard more sermons on the godliness of sorrow and grief. What if the church had preached more on the doubts and the confusion of David when he felt abandoned by God than on his victories in battle? What if we talked more about the time Elijah was alone in the wilderness begging God to end his life, shortly after he just won an epic fire from heaven battle and raised a child from the dead? What if we stayed a little longer on the part about Jesus weeping at the death of his friend than just always fast forwarding to the miracle that followed that grief? What if we preached more on the intense grief that Mary and the disciples must have been feeling at the feet of Jesus on the cross, than on the empty tomb 3 days later. If I had heard more sermons on lament and heartache and how the Bible is full of people who lived lives of deep suffering, maybe I would have spared myself of the years of shame for still being sad about the way life was going. Maybe I could have felt not so lonely or ashamed when dark thoughts came my way. Maybe I would have felt like I fit right in to the kingdom of God and his people better than I thought. Sorrow is the one thing that often makes me feel like I don’t belong in the American church, yet might just be the one thing that unites me with the saints around the world and throughout church history.

KJ Ramsey writes in her book “This Too Shall Last” this quote. “When the church amplifies stories of healing and overcoming without also elevating stories of sustaining grace, she is not adequately forming souls to hold on to hope. If the majority of stories we hear are tales of triumph, we will question the worth of our stories when healing doesn’t come. God, in his wisdom, in his hidden purposes, allows some of our suffering to linger, and the church unintentionally turns hearts away from the heart of God when she does not hold space for the sacred mystery that weakness reveals God’s strength.

Oh how this quote resonated with me as I am in the middle of my 5th year of being a single mom and coming up to the 10th year of surviving an assault. There have been 10 years of waves of sorrows crashing on many sides and just when I think I have gotten to that mountain top, I am swept back down into the valley once again. Have I questioned the worth of my story over this last decade? Absolutely. Where is the redemption? Where is the pretty bow to wrap up my story and show that God is going to restore everything to me tenfold? It is hard to find on a daily basis when life looks like chaos. Last week I taught in our international student ministry the difference between happiness and joy emphasizing that we won’t always be happy with our circumstances, and it is okay to be sad if life looks different than we expected. Our emotions can go up and down and that’s the way God made us. However, joy is that long lasting, internal act of the will that is found in our heavenly Father, no matter what comes our way. It is deep and resounding in our soul when nothing else makes sense. Fighting for that joy is our goal, not a constant need for pursuing happiness.

I am thankful to have had a few friends who have joined me on the journey of life and can be real with one another when our emotions are out of control and life is pulling us under. There is a beauty to those who allow space for others to not be okay all the time and yet can appreciate the authenticity of a faith that isn’t perfect, but is being perfected through the trials. Pointing people to joy and allowing their tears to flow beside you without judgement is a sacred act.

As I start year 36, I am honestly weary and wonder how much longer I can hold on to the hope I believe in. Yet, when I lean into Jesus I feel at home in that weariness. He promises to give me rest. It doesn’t mean he promises a release from my reality, but a safe place to land. He is the man of sorrows acquainted with grief. He is not going to reprimand me for validating that this world is broken and things are not as they should be. He will walk beside me. Yesterday I sat in a kayak, beholding the beauty around me while tears fell down my face. Struggling to find hope in any circumstances around me, yet acknowledging that God is in control and that He sees me. I don’t want to be fearful of hoping for good things in the future, so I still dream, still make plans and still pray for things to change. I still look for beauty, find the laughter, delight in creation, live with gratitude, and embrace the adventures. I still jump off the diving board, wear silly glasses, dance in the kitchen, play on the trampoline, and sing loudly in the car to embarrass my boys. For now, I rest in JOY that is steadfast through it all and will lead me in the days to come.

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