Thin Places

wpid-20150923_201246.jpgI went to a Celtic-inspired church celebration of the Autumnal Equinox tonight. It was called Ait Caol, which translates from Gaelic to mean, “A Thin Place.” I’ve been slowly drawn more and more to Celtic spirituality after my last trip to the Labyrinth, a labyrinth created by this particular church. I like the artwork and the designs, the symbolism, the connection to nature. I like contemplation and sacred space. I saw an advertisement for this church’s equinox service and thought I’d check it out. It was the first church service I had been to since Easter, and it was quite nourishing. This post will be a sort of stream of consciousness of my experience there. I’ll link to pasts posts as I write, because my experience this first night of Autumn has reminded me of my first Fall in Colorado, of the hope I held onto then, the I hope I need again.

Thin places… To me, thin places have always been scary: High up in the mountains where the air is thin, you may be closer to the heaven, but it’s harder to breathe. Thin places remind me of suffocation. They remind me of the small space of breath between death and life. Ait Caol is supposed to mean a time when heaven and earth come so close together that only “a thin space” separates them.. perhaps that’s still the same thing.

Tonight, I thought about Autumn. I thought about the Harvest, about this transition time between joyous thanksgiving for the bounty of before and steadfast preparedness for the darkness ahead. How the same God brings both light and dark, creation and destruction, life and death… I’ve always been fond of Autumn, but in the last two years it has struck a deeper chord with me, and perhaps all this time I’ve been noticing the thin place without being able to name it.

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I thought about lighting a candle while the dark tries to creep in through the windows. One small flame will stand against the dark. A Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot will not, shall not, overcome it.

“We invite you to celebrate this bittersweet time by being fully present in the now,” the bulletin says.

wpid-20150923_201329.jpgTonight, I thought about Communion. If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you’ll know I’m fascinated by the “big medicine and strong magic” of Communion. I’ve written about how eating the bread of Communion as my first meal of the day taught me more about the satisfaction of the bread of life. I’ve written about how drinking real wine taught me more about the surging power of the blood of Christ. This year, I got to receive Communion from a dear friend during a dark time. Tonight, the church gave Communion to each other.

We knelt at the altar in the middle of the room and passed the bread and the wine to one another. We each heard from one neighbor and said to the next, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” I knelt next to two complete strangers, but they were my sisters. It was so beautiful, so pure, so holy.

They read a psalm (126) that mentioned the Negev desert, and I was transported back to Israel in my mind. The desert helped me connect with such symbolism five years ago, and it still helps me to better understand the psalmists today. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like watercourses in the Negev.” Watercourses in the Negev-what an absurd notion! What a miracle! What life-giving power such miraculous streams would bring to that devastated desert… “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.”

A beautiful, meditative, spiritual space. I am thankful. If anything, tonight helped to remind me of where I’ve found those thin places before, of that space between death and life where, instead of despairing, I found hope – the candle against the darkness, the beauty of the dying sun. I want to dwell in the thin place.

on numbness and rekindling

wpid-20150803_154444.jpgI walked another Labyrinth today. I’ve written about Labyrinth walks before, and I know it’s a symbol symbol that doesn’t need much explaining, but I wanted to write about labyrinths again.

Lately my faith has felt… dead. This morning I realized how afraid I was that perhaps this faith that’s spurred me on my whole life has slowly and quietly gotten up in the middle of the night and left me. No big eruptions, no violent severings, just one whispered, final end. Gone. What if I didn’t even notice, and now it’s lost and I can’t get it back?

I took out my journal and I wrote two words: Lord, rekindle.

I finished Kathy Escobar’s Faith Shift today, and I think I may still be more in what she calls the “Unraveling” phase than I am ready to begin the “Rebuilding” phase. The last chapter of the book says, “That you are even bothering to read this book is a sign that your faith is most definitely not dead. It’s glorious that you are wrestling with cultivating a freer faith despite the costs.” I really hope that’s true. I need that to be true.

Which brings me back to the Labyrinth. The most comforting aspect of a labyrinth walk to me is how the winding path brings me so far away from the center that I feel like I’ll never make it. It’s comforting to me because it’s a false fear– I can see the path ahead and I know I will always make it to the center. No matter how far away I get, the path will always lead me back.

Another symbol I noticed in my walk today was how jarring some of the twists and turns were in the labyrinth. At times, I felt I was being jerked back and forth; I could hardly get my bearings before the path turned again, and I honestly felt a little dizzy. It felt pretty close to the path my life has followed recently.

I also noticed that there were times when the path brought me very close to the center before it shifted and went back out again. At those moments, I could have easily stepped over the stones to cheat my way to the center, but I had to trust that the winding path was the better one.

All of this sounds really nice, but the tough thing is truly believing it and letting it sink in and encourage me.

Escobar says the best thing to do when you’re struggling through a faith shift is to focus on “what works,” what brings you life, revives you, whatever leads you closer to the divine, even if it’s not what it used to be. Right now, for me, those things are investing in my love relationship, working with Grey Havens YA, walking labyrinths, sitting outside, watching the sky, reading (especially poetry), taking in plays and movies that make me think, playing with art and music and words whenever I can, baking bread, practicing yoga, laughing with my nieces… It’s not church right now. It’s not the Bible. But Escobar writes, “We must keep bridging the divide between the sacred and the secular and respect that God is always present – revealing, challenging, reminding, healing, inspiring, convicting, and loving. Instead of seeing things as spiritual only if they have a Bible verse, God, or Jesus attached to them, we can notice God’s Spirit moving in our hearts through nature, music, people, work, and play.”

Lord, rekindle.

When the night rolls on, and I can’t sleep for fear of an empty soul, I turn to the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
I whirl, and I follow the Sun.
From “The Dreamer”
And all’s well that ends well,
Whirl, and follow the Sun!

Two.

IMG_1193A lot has happened over the past two years

I caught myself saying it had been “three” years the other day, I suppose that’s how much time blurs after grief burrows inside your heart and settles down for the long haul. I used to meticulously count the months, now I imagined I’ve been living without my dad a whole year longer than was really true. I guess that means I’ve resigned myself to this fate, that this life has to keep going now, without him.

And yet, I can still clearly remember the details of that day:

It was overcast, rainy, much it like it was on June 10, 2015 when I started this post. In 2013, I was at work when I got the call that my dad was in the ER…. I couldn’t focus and I asked to go home. I wandered around the house, I cuddled my cat, I watched episodes of Total Drama Action to distract myself from the wait. I told friends and they prayed with me. The friends I lived with made dinner. I was just about to attempt to sit down and eat –it was a sausage biscuit, breakfast for dinner– when the call came. I remember kneeling on the wood floor of my bedroom. I remember our pastor coming over. I remember sitting with a pillow clenched to my chest, trying and failing to sip a smoothie so that at least I could take in some nutrients.

That day was awful, but it was the days that followed that were worse. I fell asleep hugging my cat and I remember waking up early for my plane ride and wishing that it had all been a bad dream. I remember sobbing on the plane. I remember a panic attack in Colorado when the high mountain air fled from my lungs and the stress of making funeral plans became too much. I remember beer and sandwiches. I remember stepping outside DIA as I waited to fly back to Maryland and wanting to collapse on the sidewalk and never get up again.

I remember music. Manic Depression is touching my soul… So keep your head up, love. And the landslide’ll bring it down.

But still, a lot has happened in these past two years…

wpid-20150602_165350.jpgI’ve gotten to live alongside my family, the brother who went off to college when I was only nine years old. I get to live with him and his wife now, I get to watch them be parents to my nieces, I get to sit with them and be, and feel at home with them. I get to stop my writing, dry my tears, and go watch a documentary about music with them… which is exactly what happened in the middle of this post.

Not only that, but I’ve started chasing a new dream, a community of nerds, a friend and partner to tend this garden with, something that fits.

I’ve stumbled upon a job with consistent hours and a service I feel good about. I’ve been adopted into a work family who truly cares about me.

I’ve found another friend, one who reached out to me, one who grabbed my hand as the darkness closed in– and he steadily became more, so much more…

But yes, there was still plenty of darkness… In these past two years, I had to decide to say goodbye to my cat, because I couldn’t take her with me. She was a gift from my mom, and she’d been with me through both losses, it really sucked having to lose her too. I also reached the point in my life when I’ve been alive longer on this earth without my mother than I’ve been alive with her. She died when I was twelve, and I’ve been living with her absence for thirteen years, and the years will keep adding and adding now. I miss her. I don’t really like this math, but I’m compelled to focus on it. Grief does strange things to you.

Grief messes with your faith. I don’t know where I am anymore, and I don’t know how much of it was sparked by grief or if this was just something I was bound to encounter eventually. (I’m sure it doesn’t help that when I lost my dad, I also lost my church community.) As I look back on the posts I’ve written since June 10, 2013, I see small glimpses of hope and light– not too much, but just enough to have kept me afloat. I read them now and I sink. I feel bitter and doubtful and cynical about the words I once clung to to keep from becoming bitter and doubtful and cynical. O Lord, help my unbelief. Actually, I don’t know if it really is unbelief or if it’s just pain. I can’t hold to faith anymore because I can’t trust God anymore, because I’m hurt; I still don’t think I’ve fully recovered from the blow. I had to fill out a questionnaire recently that asked me to rate how much I agreed with the following statement: “I have beliefs that sustain me.” Two years ago, I would’ve given that statement top marks, but I didn’t know how to score it this year. I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do about that.

Deep breath. Okay, back to the good things:

In these past two years, I’ve traveled a little, visited the Great Sand Dunes, attended two concerts by my favorite musicians, spoken at an academic conference, won an award for working with youth in my community, taken up yoga, read widely, and fallen in love.

I truly wish that my dad could’ve been a part of it all. I know that would probably mean that most of these good events wouldn’t have happened, and I suppose knowing that his death has at least brought about a glimpse of beauty helps a little… but I miss him. I just miss him. Two years, Dad. I hope you and mom have been watching.

Skits of My Past and The Road I’m On

wpid-img_20150312_2137172.jpg.jpegI don’t know if this is still a thing, but when I was in high school youth group, musical skits were all the rage. Think of a live-action music video to a popular “secular” song with a story that illustrates the Gospel, something the speaker could use as a jumping off point for the night’s talk.

I’m actually really grateful that I came across an art form like this in those tumultuous years of grieving, moving, starting over, and figuring out high school all at the same time. I don’t remember the first one I saw, but the first one that really spoke to me was a skit written by a senior named Julia Owens set to Frou Frou’s “Let Go.” This was not too long after Garden State had come out, and I already knew and loved the song. I had just started going to a new church and thought I’d check out skit practice. I got to watch them practice this one over and over again, and I loved every moment of it: A boy scribbles in a notebook, too focused on “writing his tragedy” to notice the vibrant girl in front of him who laughs at life and dances with joy. She tries to get him to “let go,” but he won’t. It starts to rain (we actually had a bubble machine, it was pretty awesome), and the girl lifts her face to the clouds but the boy grumbles and hides under cover. There’s a scene where the boy stands center stage with his notebook and passersby each rush past him in a chaotic frenzy and rip out pages of his story. The girl tries to help him, the boy keeps pushing her away… Eventually, he decides on his own to “let go” and sit in the rain, he even opens his mouth to catch it on his tongue. It was one of the most moving stories I’d ever seen, and I said to my freshman self, I can write stories like that.

I’d been making up music videos in my head ever since I was a little kid (back when MTV was actually Music Television). I loved setting story to lyric and music. I would choreograph them in my bedroom and listen to the songs over and over again. I think the first one I consciously created for the purpose of sharing Gospel hope in high school was set to Coldplay’s “Fix You,” and I based it on myself and how I felt “broken” without my mother. The skit was about people carrying around photographs that each represented something broken in their life (relationships severed by death, hearts broken, etc) and finally realizing that they couldn’t fix themselves, but instead had to let go of the darkness and walk into the Light. It’s still probably the most personal one I wrote, and I should think about it more often.

I couldn’t do anything until I was a senior, and I pushed for the storytelling skits to make a comeback. Finally, I got to do it, and I felt like I had found my niche. I did the “Fix You” skit. I redid the “Let Go” skit that had inspired me so much. My favorite skit, however, the one that I think touched the most people, and the one that still gets me today is the one I wrote to Coldplay’s “White Shadows.” Like the seeds that fall amongst the thorns/weeds in the Parable of the Sower, this skit follows a boy who starts out at home with God and his people, full of light, then the pressures of life pull him away (literally, in an assembly-line reminiscent of Across the Universe‘s “I Want You” scene). I had the help of one of my choreographer friends, and my cast executed the moves to perfection. There was also light-dark symbolism: His colorful clothing gets covered in grey and he falls in line with the robotic movements of the rest of the people living in the darkness. He’s tossed about by the crowd and tangled in grey, but when he’s finally left alone, he falls to his knees, lost. A light shines on him, and he looks up. Slowly, he rises and throws himself into the arms of Christ, the colorful people surround him in hug, the song ends and the lights fade.

I was really good at this. That’s why it’s hard for me now in the midst of my unraveling to hear a song come on my shuffle by 3 Doors Down and think about the unfinished skits in my head. You see, just like how my youth pastor had once set a musical to all Coldplay songs, I had started devising my own musical to 3 Doors Down. I think I chose them because they were the musicians behind the first ever skit I managed to get performed at my church, “Away From the Sun.” I honestly can’t remember all the details to this one, but I remember it involved a boy (I always thought that boys were a good choice because girls tended to be empathic to the skit regardless of who’s playing the lead, and boys find it easier to see themselves in another boy. This is a viewpoint that I find problematic for a number of reasons now, in my twenties, but it seemed worked okay at the time). Anyway, the boy was again dealing with peer pressure, and I used the most after-school special topic of them all: alcohol use. He was lost in the “party world,” and I remember there was a devil character who kept tying black strings around his arms and legs… I think there was a moment where the strings came off/ were cut off and the light blinded the devil, but I can’t really remember. I know though that it was another story of the pressures of life pulling someone into darkness, but at the end Light always won out.

I think my story-lines say a lot about my age at the time of writing and my worldview that encompassed only high school. I hope they were beautiful and moving, but sometimes I fear they were a bit contrived. I really was sincere when I wrote them, though, and I really believed in the power of the Light.

That’s why, again, it’s hard for me to listen to 3 Doors Down’s “The Road I’m On.” I had started making up skits to a few of the band’s songs that I had on my ipod– yes, I even had one written for “Kryptonite,” and no it didn’t involve Superman. It was great, but I could never really think of one for “The Road I’m On” except as a transitionary song between a dark skit and a light one. I thought it was an okay song, but there was no hope in it, just solidarity–what was I supposed to do with that?

I listen to it now and it hits me, hard. Those other songs were my high-school life. “The Road I’m On” is the song I’m living now, and I don’t have an ending for it. I’m not any closer to finding a good ending for it than I was six years ago.

She said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you’re living in between the lines … He said life’s so hard to move in sometimes, when it feels like I’m towing the line, and no one even cares to ask me why I feel this way.

Much like how I didn’t understand Bono’s “still looking” notion in high school, I didn’t understand living between the lines either. That wasn’t something that made sense to me. You either stumble in darkness or you thrive in the light; grey strangles you. I remember this was even part of the youth pastor’s Coldplay musical, a theme that the people on the fence had to choose where to belong and where to stand.

He said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you keep it all between the lines of everything I want and I want to find, one of these days.
What you thought was real in life has somehow steered you wrong. Now you just keep driving, trying to find out where you belong…

That’s me.

I know you feel helpless now and I know you feel alone,
That’s the same road, that same road that I am on.

That’s the song’s only comfort: Life is hard. Seeing it shatter is devastating. Grey is everywhere, and I don’t know where the road will lead, but I’m right there with you.

That’s all I can have right now. It’s not a drastic transformation, it’s not a chain-breaking, darkness fleeing, light encompassing, grey suddenly flooding with color story right now. (It’s not somebody who’s seen the light, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.) Right now, it’s a long silver stretch of road that often leaves me feeling helpless and alone. And maybe I am driving towards the light, but it seems too far off and dim to be coming any time soon, though I hope it’s really there, I hope I’ll find it again someday.

wpid-20150415_175804.jpgRachel Held Evans writes in Searching for Sunday: “Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive.”

Maybe now “I’ve found myself so far down, away from the sun,” but it’s not from anything as concrete as what I used in my skit, black ropes and beer bottles… It’s something else, and the way to “fix it” isn’t as simple as I thought in my old skits. It’s powerful, yes, and divine, and hopefully possible, but certainly not quick and simple. I turn to another song:

Somewhere in this darkness, there’s a light that I can’t find.
Maybe it’s too far away, or maybe I’m just blind.
Maybe I’m just blind.
So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
Hold me when I’m scared, and love me when I’m gone.

Hold me, Light. Love me, even when I’m gone.

Still Haven’t Found…

I used to think U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was a great song, but also a sad one.

wpid-20150207_172018.jpgI believe in the kingdom come
When all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one
But yes I’m still running.
You broke the bonds and You loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame, of my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I used to hear that and think, “No, see, Bono, that was it. You found it. Right there.” I would think about how sad it was that those words weren’t enough for Bono, that he still felt lost and searching even though he believed in Jesus. How could he still feel the need to search for anything else? What, exactly, is he looking for that Jesus can’t satisfy?

Now that I’m reaching my mid-twenties, roaming in search of community, home, and still reeling from the loss of my last surviving parent, I think I’m starting to see where he’s coming from, that lifelong search…

The song hits me in a new way, and tears stream down my face as I try to drive home. I believe it, Jesus, you know I believe it, but I still feel lost and confused. I believed it, but where has it led me? Where am I going? I’m seeing as through a mirror darkly. I want more, but I don’t know what that more is. I want TRUTH, but I’m terrified of finding out I’ve been lied to… I’m afraid of everything I’ve built around me since the age of 5 unraveling and falling to pieces.

C.S. Lewis says God has to knock down our house of cards just so we can finally see that it was a house of cards after all. But then what’s left?

Someone once spoke to me in prayer three years ago about a vision of myself wrapped tightly in bandages and cloth that were slowly being unraveled so that I could see…

I know it was also Bono who said, “For all that ‘I was lost, I am found,’ it is probably more accurate to say, ‘I was really lost. I’m a little less so at the moment.’ And then a little less and a little less again. That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting the computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet.”

Am I “rebooting?” Where am I going?

I’m almost finished with my reread of the Harry Potter series and I don’t know where to go next. It has been such a comfort to me, a way for me to escape, to remember, to believe in love, and to work through my emotions. I’m afraid. I’m finding it hard to pick up my Bible anymore, and I’ve let the mirror collect dust so that now the Image I see dimly is even hazier and darker than before. I don’t know where to turn.

I’m cynical and I’m tired. Some days I’m afraid to even look into the mirror, and then I’m afraid I’ve gone too long without doing so… How do I begin to go back again? How do I clean off the dust? How do I accept that it’ll never be truly clear? I hope I’m not too far gone.

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Let there be Light, and let it warm my bones.

“With time…”

wpid-IMG_20140113_151942.jpgI can’t stop feeling frightened all the time.

Aren’t things supposed to be getting “better” with time? It feels as though they are getting worse...

I feel obliged to mention that yesterday, January 29th, marked eleven years since my mom passed. I didn’t really think about it much. I was sick all day and the days leading up to it, and we didn’t really talk about it much… It was kind of an odd contrast to years past, I suppose. Any other year, I would be feeling guilty for not paying more attention to it, for not realizing it, for not being a better daughter… Or I would be feeling tense the entire week before, worrying about my dad and what I could say to him.

But I don’t have to worry about my dad now. He has no pain anymore. He is in the midst of peace and paradise. And I am here, not sure anymore how to handle the passage of time.

Time is passing too quickly. I know I’ve probably said that before, but the feeling is still there. The anxiety, the fear. And sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe. I find it hard to go to work. Each week when the schedule comes out (two days before the work-week starts), I have a minor panic attack because my hours are different every time and and it feels like I can’t catch a break and can’t I just have one thing to count on in this chaos?

But I do have one thing, I have a home, and I can count on my family being there… Though sometimes it feels like everyone is moving on without me, leaving me behind, isolated in my basement room, and what am I do to?

Tell myself it’s not true, that’s what I can do. I’m ashamed of these thoughts. We are all in this together, we just process in different ways, and we’re all trying to help each other. But oh my goodness, how I really wish I didn’t have to be an adult right now. I want someone to take care of me, to notice I’m hurting, to hold me, and to tell me that it’s okay.

I want my dad to send me a cheesy Valentines gift like he always used to, even when I was twenty-two. But at least I don’t have to worry about him being in pain anymore, and that is a peaceful thought indeed.

I read somewhere recently that God wants us to require Him as a vital necessity (because He is). Is that what this is? I need You vitally right now, God. Come to us like rain, Your love as certain as the dawn.

Jumbled thoughts on the new year

So what I wrote in my last post about choosing to take joy is very much easier to write about than to do. It seems that every time I proclaim that I will take joy, darkness rushes in to try to steal that joy away. I have decided that I have to change the notion to: “I will take joy — and I will not let it be stolen from me. No one can take away my joy because my joy does not come from within me, it comes from the Father who holds me, and no one can snatch me out of my Father’s hand.”

Still, easier said than done, but I have to start by saying it or I will never do it.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about church recently, mostly because it seems impossible for me to find one. For the past few months, I’ve been working most Sunday mornings, and even when I do rarely get the morning off, it’s still difficult to get to a church because of sudden illness or necessary babysitting. When I do get the chance to go, community is hard to find, and it doesn’t come about as instantly as I’d want it to. (And why, oh why, is it so hard to find people my own age in church in middle America?) I miss my old communities. I miss how easy it was to form friendships at Crossroads in Scotland. I miss how quickly the people of Metanoia in Maryland embraced me.

You’d think that if I needed church and Christian community at any particular time in my life, it’d be now…right? Now that I’m in a new place, orphaned, directionless… But God doesn’t seem to be bringing me that community as quickly as He has in the past.  And I don’t understand it.

I am grateful, however, that I still feel Him so close, that I still worship Him and learn from Him, even if it’s not in the midst of a congregation. I am lonely, and sometimes I ache for a community like this, but I can still sing with the earth. I don’t know exactly what He’s up to right now, but He hasn’t left me, and that is good.

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On the first day of 2014, I glanced back through my journal and found a verse I had written down back in July. The verse was Isaiah 51:3, and I wrote about it on my Facebook status that day:

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; He will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.” -Reading Isaiah 51:3 at the start of this new year, when the passage of time seems depressing and daunting rather than “happy,” but my God is in the business of turning wastelands into gardens.

Yes, amen. Wastelands into gardens. But wasn’t that the same tune I was singing a year ago? Two, three years ago? A way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Is this the tune I am to sing all my life? Am I to move from one wasteland to the next, following the Way, sipping from the streams that miraculously burst through the ground at just the moment when I feel I can’t go on any longer without a drink? If that is to be my journey, at least I will not be making it alone.

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The LORD will comfort His people, He will look with compassion on His daughter, and He has comforted me. He has made streams appear in the desert before, and He has made a way in the chaos and the wasteland, so I will trust Him to do so again. And again, and again, for all my days.

But I am like an olive tree
flourishing in the house of the God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
for ever and ever.
-Psalm 52:8

Fruitful in Exile

IMG_0975Ever since I started going deeper into my journey of faith, I’ve been obsessed with the symbol of exile. I remember how in middle school, after reading The Lord of the Rings and geeking out over spiritual themes, I made this entire AOL instant message profile (remember those days, guys?) about being in exile. My username was “RangerInExlie” and I remember quoting something about Aragorn, a king, living willingly in exile while protecting secretly those who think he’s a scoundrel, and I also quoted the Bible calling us “strangers” and exiles in this land (1 Peter 2:11).

Yeah, it was a big deal to me. We are exiles. This is not our home, but we have work to do here. But then I got older, and I guess I kind of set that idea on the shelf. I still thought it was cool, but I stopped thinking about it.

Well, now I’m reading Jeremiah and his prophecies about God carrying the Jews into exile to Babylon, and the symbol of exile has been making its way back to the forefront of my mind, and God has been helping me to see it in new ways.

I love the history of the Old Testament, so here’s the deal in Jeremiah: Israel, the northern kingdom, has already been lost to Babylon, and the southern kingdom of Judah is about to be. The timeline skips around a bit, but in the chapters I’m speaking about in this post, King Jehoiachin has been captured, and a host of Jews have already been carried into exile, but Jerusalem remains under King Zedekiah and faces a two-year siege by the Babylonians. So Jeremiah prophesies. He doesn’t say that everything’s going to be okay, he says that the siege of the city is going to be successful, and the Jews are going to be carried into exile, no matter what other false prophets may say. But in chapter 29, he offers hope for the future. After seventy years, declares the LORD, the Jews will return. God will bring them back from captivity and restore their fortunes.

Okay, so you’ve been carried into exile, away from your home and the promised land of God, and now a prophet tells you that you will return …in seventy years. I’m trying to imagine what Jeremiah’s listeners must have thought. Surely most of them wouldn’t be around in seventy years, so they’re stuck in exile, where life seems worthless and unimportant. They’re captives of a foreign empire, and they know things aren’t going to change any time soon, so I imagine some of them would give way to despair. I probably would.

But what does Jeremiah say?

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

He tells them to settle, to make a life in Babylon, to make their time in exile purposeful. They are not wasted, their lives are not wasted. And they must rejoice. In chapter 31, the LORD calls them to praise, to sing with joy about His promise to save them, even if it won’t happen during their lifetime.

Reading Jeremiah has been an immense encouragement to me during this season. I don’t know what’s going on right now. I know that eventually, my future holds the fulfillment of some pretty awesome promises, but I don’t know how to get there yet. Unlike the exiles in Babylon, I don’t know if it’s going to take seventy years, or ten, or twenty, but it is comforting to trust that this time of waiting can be just as fruitful.

The name Jeremiah means “He will uplift,” which I find incredibly interesting, since most of his prophecies are about the destruction of Judah. But God promises, through Jeremiah, that after that destruction, He will uplift His people. In exile, He is with His people (30:11), and He will uplift them. For His plans are to prosper His people, not to harm them, and He will bring them back to Him.

In the time of exile, don’t despair.

Thoughts on Arriving

I honestly have no idea what to feel right now.

Since two Fridays ago, I have driven over 33 hours, stopped in two hotels by myself, visited the west and the east ends of Tennessee, found out my cat was sick, and moved in to a new place.

Right now, I’m sitting on the floor in my new room, watching my kitty cat, every so often checking to see that her chest keeps moving up and down. My stuff lies around me in piles, and I’m overwhelmed by how much I still have, even though I had tried so hard to get rid of what I didn’t need. After spending two months with only what I could fit in my car with all my dad’s belongings, all this stuff I have now just seems…extra.

I’m lonely. My body aches. And I start school on Thursday. Between now and then I need to see a man about a job, make sure my kitty is okay, go get some more of my stuff, and actually remember to go to shcool, because it’s kind of one of the last things on my mind at the moment.

I miss my friends in Tennessee. It was weird this morning to wake up and drink my coffee without them. It’s weird waking up and not hearing the ramblings of a four-year-old and an eighteen-month-old. I’ve called my dad so many times because it’s weird not being able to go into the next room and find him there.

Even so, I’ve been blown away and moved to tears by the generosity and compassion shown to me by friends and strangers alike.

I’ve had lots of beautiful, deep thoughts while driving, but I forget it all when I’ve finally gotten to my destination.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom. About how it’s been nine years since she died, and I’m still not sure I’m over it. About how odd it is that my cat seems to be wrestling with the similar struggle my mom faced to hold on to life. About the day my mom brought me home when I was eleven to see a black kitten sitting on our couch, and about how that kitty has stayed with me through two cross-country moves, seven new houses, and my mom’s passing. And now I’m not sure how much longer she has.

But I’ve also been thinking about my God and how good, perfect, and sovereign He is.

I’ve been thinking about altitude-sickness, about the fact that it can hit you when you go up into the mountains, but also when you come down into the valley. I’ve been thinking about droughts and famines, and promises and inheritance. Miracles.

It’s wet here, in Maryland. There’s thunder rolling through the sky. The rain is here.

Thoughts on Leaving

It’s like leaving Edinburgh all over again,
except this time I don’t have anything to go back to.

I’ve found my home, again, here among my family, and now I’m leaving it, for a place that I don’t even consider as home anymore.

As i sit here and think about my last two days in Colorado, I’m hit with vivid flashbacks of my last days in Edinburgh–

Of waiting for the bus on George IV Bridge on my very last day and crying at the golden-rosy-hew Old Town gets when the sun sets. I was crying because I had fallen in love, and that was the last time (hopefully only for a while) that I was going to be in the city that had captured my heart.

I start crying right now just thinking about it.

But I’ve got that same feeling now about leaving Colorado. Only I think this one’s worse, because I don’t really have anything to go back to.

My dad’s staying here, and I’m leaving my family to return to Maryland, live in a friend’s basement, and finish the last semester of school.

Not because I have a strong conviction that God has called me to do this,
Not because I have any kind feelings toward Maryland or a desire to serve there,
Just because that’s the way life’s going. Because God didn’t give me peace about transferring or dropping out with only a semester left, but he did give me peace about my dad needing to move to Colorado and me finishing what I’d started.

But I still don’t want to go back to Maryland. Sometimes my flesh and the devil like to tell me that I messed up somewhere along the way, that I took to long too finish school, or chose the wrong school in the first place, or the wrong location or vocation, and so now I’m being punished and have to finish out my sentence in misery.

But that’s not true. That’s not the way my God works.

Just because I don’t have this humongous assurance that I’m “supposed to” be in Maryland doesn’t mean God isn’t going to do some glorious work there in me and through me. I can’t always trust my feelings.

People tell me all the time, “Faith is not a feeling.” And I’ve always agreed with them. I’ve said, “Yes, that’s true. You have to have faith even when all hope feels lost.” I thought I was good at that, in believing in God even when I don’t feel Him.

But only now, I think, am I actually beginning to understand what that truth means in my own life. I don’t feel any strong conviction or desire, I don’t feel hopeful because of any promise or prophetic word. And yet, God has made promises. God has spoken over my life.

God promised me that all things would work together for my good, and for His.

God promised me that He would never leave me nor forsake me.

God promised me that Maryland would be a spring, a launching pad. (And I have to believe that that means I won’t be stuck there forever.)

God promised me that He would make a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

God put a desire for the nations in my heart, and He promised me that He is the One who satisfies.

I don’t want to go back to Maryland. I can’t see the road in front of me. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a plan for after graduation. I don’t even know what my new house looks like. And I don’t know how I’m going to thrive alone and separated (by states and oceans and busy lives) from the people I care about most.

But I do know that God never goes back on His promises. He never changes His words. He is not sly or deceiving. He is good, and He loves me, and He is with me wherever I go and whatever I choose.