in this place

sometimes people ask me about when i first got “saved”, and i tell them the story of the old Pentecostal church and a preacher who spoke with a slow, Southern drawl. i was young, not yet 18 years old, and still finding sure footing in my new country, in my new family who had taken me in as their own. i sat in that church and listened to stories about Jesus, and then i went home and prayed like i never had before.

i grew up Catholic, not necessarily in practice but definitely in name. i was the daughter of an Italian immigrant, who went to mass and was taught by the sisters. religion didn’t have much of a place in our home, though; God wasn’t something we talked about or prayed to ‘round the dinner table. still–i believed, even then; it’s just that i didn’t quite know it yet.

i had a large extended family (mainly Protestant, mind you) who cared for me and nurtured me during my early years:: sweet aunts and sturdy uncles, sources of consistency and dependability amidst all the chaos surrounding my childhood. it was in the basement bedroom of one of my father’s sisters that i knelt and “asked Jesus into my heart” for the first time. i didn’t really understand it, to be honest. but i was young, and i was scared, and the idea of a savior who could somehow fix the problems i dealt with on a daily basis appealed to the deepest parts of me.

it was years later–nearly a decade, in fact–that i found myself in that Pentecostal church during a Sunday evening service, and my heart was beating so hard i was sure it’d thump right out of my chest. i don’t know how i knew, but i did. God was real–like, really real. and looking back, i suppose that’s where it all started. i guess it’s where faith became a reality, where God became more than a word to me.

as a “baby Christian”, i was naive, and i was unsure. but mostly i was ignorant, as is to be expected, i suppose, in the early days. back then, the world was very much black and white for me; i hadn’t yet been introduced to the beautiful in-between, the sacred space that exists in the gray areas. i had my carefully constructed ideologies of what was Christian and what was not, and i was merciless in holding everything–and everyone–up to impossible standards. looking back, i cringe to remember how critical i’d become, how far from grace i was living, how little i resembled the Jesus i claimed to believe in. i didn’t know any better, to be sure. still–i’m sure i owe many an apology:: for when i judged instead of loving, for when i criticized instead of caring, for when i was quick to speak and slow to listen, even when the scriptures clearly told me to do the opposite.

and then i got divorced. and everything i’d built my neat and tidy little life upon crumbled into nothing but dust. i suffered loss after loss, became fearful of holding onto anything too tightly lest it slip through my fingers. and then i went to Liberia, a tiny nation i knew very little of but felt drawn to nonetheless. nothing could have prepared me for what was waiting on the other side of that ocean. Liberia was both tragic and beautiful, and i scarcely knew what to do with everything it showed me, all the hard lessons i had to learn because of it.

here’s the thing, though, if we’re going to get right down to the heart of it. God is in this place; he just doesn’t look or smell or feel like he used to. now, here, today, he’s sweat and mud and sea breezes rolling in from the Atlantic. he’s hot sun and dust under my fingernails, and he’s a gulp of cool water, a blessed reprieve. he’s a handshake with snapping fingers, hugs with a kiss on both cheeks; he’s toothy smiles and weathered skin and little fingers that claw my legs, stroke my hair. he is hunger, and he is need. he is unmarked graves and children who leave this world much too soon. he’s the wailing of a widow in black robes, and he is the cry of the orphan, the poor, the oppressed.

God is here, has always been here, and because of that, everything is different for me now. God is no longer found solely on a Sunday morning while sitting in a pew with my head bowed. i’ve come to find him in both my comfort and my discomfort. my joy and my pain. in my excess and my lack. in fulfillment but also in the not-quite-yet. in a father who carries his baby on his back and also in a mother who prepares my daily bread with love. in the land of my canaan but also in my desert. in the hard places, in the uncomfortable and the mess, where i’m stretched thin and my heart feels heavy and yet full.

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[Photo by Indigo Skies Photography // Flickr // Creative Commons] 

God, in all things–i’ve really come to believe that. for years, i was ignorant, my eyes closed, merely surviving my way through the sacred. and then one day, i became Jacob, feet covered in the dust of holy ground, as i bend low and echo his ancient refrain. “surely God is in this place–and i didn’t know it.”

 

 

tiny paper hearts

fifteen months ago, i took pieces of construction paper, bright red, soft pink, and scattered them across a dining room table. pencil in hand, i traced little hearts and cut each one out, nearly fifty of them in all. and as i said my goodbyes during that last week in liberia, i’d slip a tiny paper heart into each girl’s hand. she would look at me with tears in her eyes, and i’d pull her close and hold her near as we cried. the hearts were merely a symbol, i explained. though my body was leaving, much of my heart was not. janet, leemue, mercy, jumah–each of them kept a heart. so did rose, princess, janjay, kamah; and gormaloh and hannah and siah and caroline. and on and on it goes…

looking back, i was never much concerned with leaving a legacy. i cared more about those construction paper hearts:: not much to look at on the surface, but rich with meaning, a significance only they and i could understand. and that–well, that was enough for us.

//

today, one of the girls pulls me aside. “auntie,” she whispers, “look! i still have it!” opening her hand slowly, she shows me a red heart, folded up neatly in her palm. it’s tattered a bit ‘round the edges, and time and dirt have dulled its color. but she kept it nonetheless:: a tiny paper heart, a promise that i wouldn’t forget.

“i knew you’d come back for us,” she smiles, slipping her free hand into mine. we sit like that for a while, not speaking, a red heart clenched tightly in her fist.

//

the thing is:: this world needs more tiny paper hearts. all of us, we need to be people who love, deeply. we need to be people who give our hearts away. because your heart? it’s beautiful, simply…beautiful. and i know; that’s a word that gets tossed around a lot, and sometimes, it loses its meaning. but i can think of no other word that fits here, dear heart. yours is rich and full, and it’s got something that this world needs.

i’ve given a lot of paper hearts out over the years, and you know what i’ve learned along the way? love; it’s not for the faint of heart. love’s not always the stuff of movies, sweet and easy and wrapped up neat with a bow. love’s a risky business. you’re giving a piece of yourself away, and that can be a scary thing. what if that other person is careless with your heart and doesn’t cherish it the way he should? what if she takes that tiny paper heart of yours and rips it to a million shreds?

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Photo by Soumit // Flickr // Creative Commons

though maybe, just maybe:: she’ll keep that heart and treasure it. maybe he’ll fold it up neatly in the palm of his hand and keep you safe there. 



maybe, just maybe (and i think i’m right about this one):: loving other people is worth it all.

[broken]

time in Liberia always moves at its own, unique pace. i’ve been back for only two and a half days, yet somehow, it feels like a lifetime ago that i stepped off the plane into the humid night air, the heat that settles itself deep in your pores, on the shoulders like a heavy blanket. two and a half days. how can so many thoughts, so many emotions and experiences exist within the confines of 65 hours?

i’ve had one word running through my mind since i landed here, a word that i’ve been chewing on, deliberately, thinking about and mulling over and holding up to the light:: broken. broken? at first glance, it doesn’t make much sense. sure, when i first came to Liberia in 2008, i was broken. i’d just gone through a messy divorce, i’d lost a job and relationships, and everything i’d held secure had come crashing down around me, shattering into a million tiny pieces at my feet. the shell-shocked woman who first stepped foot on African soil five and a half years ago–she was undoubtedly broken. but i’m no longer that woman; everything’s changed since then.

and when i left Liberia in 2013 i was, again, broken–just in a different way. i had PTSD, and the depression i’ve battled for most of my life had reared its ugly head. i’d seen too much, felt too much:: the grief when children die too soon, the shame when i finally understood my white privilege, the anger when teen girls were raped by men in their twenties and no one did a thing about it. i left Liberia 14 months ago broken, most certainly, but in the time i had at home–i healed. mind, body, heart, and soul; all those fragmented pieces have been put back together again.

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                                           [Photo by Peter Kirkeskov / Flickr / Creative Commons]

and so thinking about all of this, i see that i have come to equate Liberia with brokenness–my own, mostly, that of my heart and something deep within me that used to feel as if it would never be whole again. over the years, Liberia had stretched me, drained me, broke me. the things i saw, those that my heart and mind could never really find the words for–they wore me out, wore me down.

but somewhere along the line, i started thinking: maybe it doesn’t have to be like this. maybe there’s a better way. maybe brokenness no longer has to mean what it used to. hannah brencher wrote, “your heart is supposed to be broken like bread and passed all around, not left in pieces on the floor.” and these days, i hold her words within me, delicately, for i can feel the truth in them, and it feels holy, somehow. i hold her words, and i can’t help but think of our Christ, who broke the bread to feed thousands–and it was in the breaking that it was mysteriously multiplied. and i think, too, of when he himself was broken, on behalf of us, for the sake of love; again, the breaking somehow gives way to more, something better, something full.

so i started thinking about all these things, and it came to me:: maybe i can do something with this brokenness. maybe it means that somehow, someway, now there’s suddenly more of my heart to go around. i can hug and hold and share and pray and love without it taking everything out of me. looking back, i think there was a time when i was supposed to suffer with; but perhaps now is the time to show what awaits on the other side. the thin places, they always stretch you, and the hard places, they’re full of grit and pain, but they don’t last forever; that much i know to be true.

maybe my brokenness was only meant for a season after all. yes, it was heavy, and it was painful, and the season seemed long, too long. but it served a purpose. and maybe, just maybe–now is the time for redemption. maybe now is the time to see Liberia through fresh eyes, through the lens of what it feels like to be living a better story. maybe i’ll always carry the burden, and maybe the hard things are always going to break me. but i do not have to remain broken. i don’t have to stay shattered.

i have a choice. i can use what’s been broken, and i can see something new be birthed from it. and that–well, that’s a really beautiful thing.

ode to the table

i’ve always known that i’m deeply relational. i crave connection, opening up our hearts and baring our souls, and typically, that happens for me around the table. there’s something about sharing a meal with others that binds you together. the table somehow becomes holy ground, and it’s all i can do to not gulp deep of that sacred air and take off my sandals and bend myself low. people talk at the table, not just formalities and niceties but real, honest, open conversation about how we’re doing, really, and all the things we’ve been too afraid to speak aloud. these; these are the things of substance, of weight, of glory–these are the things that matter.

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Photo by Tim Samoff on Flickr; Creative Commons

//

these days i’m thinking purposefully about the hard things, the questions that don’t have easy answers, spending a lot of time in the gray areas. i don’t want to debate, don’t have time to argue. i’m not interested in keeping score, in who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s in and who’s out. i just want to sit with brothers and sisters at the table, to look past our differences and revel in our common ground, for all of us to forgive one another our flaws and embrace who we are in this, the in-between, the not-yet. our stories are still being written; let’s simply celebrate this chapter, shall we?

//

lately, i find myself frequently in the thin places. life, seasons, everything–it’s all changing, and i feel wildly unprepared. when i strip away the layers and stare truth in its face, i guess it all comes down to the fact that i’m afraid. afraid of giving up control. afraid of the unknown. afraid of loss, of coming up empty-handed. and i’ve been trying to keep it all inside but then i can’t keep myself from unraveling; and the tears and the stress and the feelings, they all just spill out everywhere. it feels messy; *i* feel messy. and yet:: i consistently am gifted with people who look past the mess and invite me to sit at their table. and there, at the table, i find i can simply be. i can cry and spill and ask the hard questions, without parameters, without rules and regulations:: just me, being who and where i am in this moment, for really, when it comes down to it, this is the only moment that matters.

//

i dream of sitting at a table in the wilderness, with the misfits, with the messy, with those of us who have wild hearts and dirty hands. when i close my eyes, i can see it:: all of us, welcomed, seated ‘round a slab of unfinished wood, faces squinting in the sunlight, holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes and getting glimpses of on earth as it is in heaven.

//

“i want you to love with wild and gorgeous abandon, throwing yourself into each day, telling the truth about who you are and who you are not, writing a love song to the world itself and to the God who made every inch of it.

we don’t come to the table to fight or defend. we don’t come to prove or conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. we come to the table because our hunger brings us there. we come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. the table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. the table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children…

the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. if the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.


come to the table.”

(quoted from bread and wine by shauna niequist, emphasis mine)

a letter to my future self {or, the days in which i learned to shine}

there will come a day, dear elena, when you’re going to need to read this, to remind yourself that all of life is seasons, and the hard times eventually give way to something soft and quiet, like the air after a summer thunderstorm. you’ll want to remember these days, what it feels like to turn your face to the sunshine, and the stillness in your soul in the midst of the busyness and chaos that swirls around you. you’ll long to hear the laughter of little ones you love that now fills your days, and you’ll remember that though it’s exhausting, you delighted in seeing them grow and thrive and learn. and there’s a contented satisfaction that settles itself in deep in your bones as you realize that you–yes, you–got to play a part in that.

these days, the air is sweet and heavy with possibility, and though it normally drives you crazy to not know where you’re headed, you’ve come to appreciate the joy of the journey. hope pumps itself through your veins again, steady and sure, and i want you always to remember, sweet girl, always remember that you belong to the resurrection people. life is hard sometimes, and you grieve and mourn and every part of you feels the loss. but you’ve come to understand that you’ll always find what was taken from you later on down the road; in a different form, perhaps, a different way; but found nonetheless.

these days, you’re drinking more tea than you used to, which seems like an odd observation, i know. but i remember the days when you needed to drink only coffee, when you needed something hot and bitter and heavy, something of substance, almost as if something in the way you cradled the mug in your trembling hands weighed you down, but in a good way.

but these days–it’s tea, sweet and watery in a chipped china cup, white and dotted with blue flowers. it’s more delicate, somehow, more frail; it’s light and airy and the way fresh feels in your lungs.

these days you’re learning to use your voice, starting to recognize that there is power and force and potential in the words you speak and the words you write out for the world to read. i remember when this used to scare you, the idea of speaking up, speaking out, being loud, but gone are those days. because these, these are the days of coming out of hiding, the days in which you no longer shrink back. i suppose it really all can be traced back to somewhere around your thirtieth birthday, in which you suddenly, almost as if overnight, started to come into who you are, who you’ve been meant to be all along. it happened without you thinking about it; it was quick and certain, and at once you realized:: you’re a person, a voice, a body, a heart and soul, and you started to own that. you began to fit in the freckled skin you wore for three decades, and at long last, there was an ease, a comfort, in which you moved with it that had never been there before.

dear heart, i want you to remember these days. i want you to engrave them on your heart, on the palms of your hands, in that secret place inside your mind that no one else knows about. there is something sacred about the act of remembrance; it calls truth into being, draws upon faith even in the midst of what is unseen. elena, i know; oh, how i know:: life has not always been kind to you. i know your heart’s been scarred and your tears have been many. i know you’ve felt the ache and the weariness of living in the thin place, in the messy-beautiful in-between. and yes, those days might come around again, but the darkness is not your forever. your very name, sweet girl–the essence of who you are which you carry with you always–your name means light.

you were made to shine in the dark places. 

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[Photo by Christian Holmer // Creative Commons // Flickr]

only two days ago, you read the scriptures and scrawled out the words of a prayer in your notebook:: “let me shine, Lord. let me shine. set me on fire that all may see me burn.”

these are the days in which you’re shining, and it’s so, so beautiful. and no matter what happens, no matter what tough times or unfortunate circumstances may come your way along the journey–nothing can take that from you. you’ll always remember in your bones the way it feels to shine.  and i know, and i’ve seen:: you always manage to find your way back to the light somehow.

love you forever,
me

in which my heart knows to make space

i’m usually one who has no problem wearing her heart on her sleeve.

i feel things deeply, always have and probably always will. things of substance and soul tend to captivate me, and if there’s one thing i’ve learned over the years, it’s that these hearts of ours are fickle little creatures, messy and beautiful and glorious and wild.

i can remember a prayer that i prayed once, on a sunny afternoon on my porch in Liberia. i’d just read Isaiah’s words–the second verse of the fifty-fourth chapter, to be exact. enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your curtains wide, do not hold back… i read and i sat with my eyes closed, face turned to the sun, and i made the plea of a prophet into a prayer from the deepest part of me. “stretch my heart wider, God,” i breathed. “stretch me wide.

you see, back then, my days in Liberia were filled with so much need, so many kids, and i didn’t feel big enough to fit it all inside me. the poverty, the death, the injustice, what i saw, what i felt; all of it, it ripped me apart, over and over again. so i prayed a simple prayer, the only thing i knew to do at the time, and after a while, i started to see that prayer answered. it used to feel like my heart was breaking there, but i came to realize it was really just being enlarged, making room for me to love even more. it wasn’t until i wondered how i could fit all those kids inside that i realized this tiny, wild heart of mine had grown and made space–for each of them.

somewhere along the line, though, my heart lost its elasticity. it wasn’t bouncing back the way it was supposed to, the way it used to. each new death, each new loss and case of abuse and question that couldn’t be answered–it just kept ripping me. and then, four years later, i broke. my heart was torn and mangled, and it was bleeding out everywhere.

going home then, i think, became a hospital of sorts. in comfort and the warmth that comes from feeling safe at long last, my heart found the space it so desperately needed to heal. gaping wounds began to close, with time and care, with the prayers of so many who love me so well. and one day, my heartbeat became steady once more. i hadn’t forgotten, but i was also no longer haunted by the memories. it was a good safe easy place to be. and after a long, long period of hard, easy was a welcomed friend.

but as i always say:: if i’m comfortable living an easy story, it makes it impossible for me to live a brave one. so though it took every ounce of faith and guts and grit i had in me, i said yes to a return to Liberia and bought a ticket on a Friday afternoon. i leave in eight weeks. it feels crazy. it feels scary. but it also feels right.



and since then…well, i’ve begun to feel the tearing again, which i can only suppose is my heart’s way of getting itself ready. i look ahead and wonder what it will be like to return. i think about all that i know is waiting for me on the other side of that ocean. and every single day, another piece of this bruised and beating heart of mine comes undone a little bit more at its seams. but this–the tears and the feelings and the words i can’t seem to find, the fear tinged with hope and the butterflies in my stomach and the lump in my throat–this is what preparation looks like. nearly five years later, God continues to answer my prayer. stretch my heart wider, Lord. just when i think i’ve had all that i can take, just when it feels like there’s no more room–suddenly, just like that, there’s space. free, open space.

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Photo by Bren // Creative Commons // Flickr

because in eight shorts weeks, i know:: each of those empty spaces are going to be filled.

count the cost

it seems no matter where i turn these days, i can’t get away from three little words:: “count the cost.”

it all started a couple weeks ago, after i read through the gospel of luke. in 14.25-33. Jesus speaks of building a tower and a king going to war, of carrying one’s cross and the act of sacrifice to follow after him. count the cost. 

since then, i’ve been wrestling with this passage, these hard but holy words, chewing on them deliberately, holding them up to the light. in just a few short months, i’ll be taking a trip, the first since the epic unraveling that led to me leaving the missions field. this trip, it’s a big deal for me, in so many ways. missions, Liberia, orphan care: these things, for me, are what following after Jesus looks like. getting my hands dirty and my heart broken–this is the stuff discipleship is made of. it’s grossly uncomfortable and nowhere near easy. count the cost.

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Photo by Harry Doyle // Creative Commons // Flickr

yes, i can confidently say i’ve counted the cost. i know what it takes. it’s giving up hot showers and consistent electricity. it’s sleepless nights tossing and turning under a mosquito net. it’s sweat gushing from my pores and feet that never get clean. it’s frequent headaches and an upset stomach and very little in the way of comforts. it’s sensory overload, which is overwhelming for someone like me. it’s being a source of constant scrutiny, of having my every move watched. it’s standing out when i just want to blend in. 

it’s kids who die too soon and no one who mourns them once they’re gone. it’s unfair systems, instability and oppression, and people who deserve so much more. it’s long, tedious days full of overwhelming needs; it’s constantly wondering if what i’m doing makes any difference at all. it’s guilt and shame as my white privilege stares me in the face.

it’s homesickness and loneliness and sometimes feeling like an ancient Israelite, banished to exile. it’s losing friendships due to time and distance. it’s once-promising relationships that don’t work out because i never stay in one place long enough. it’s the fear of being forever single. it’s coming “home” only to discover how different it feels and how i’m not even sure where “home” is anymore. it’s worrying that i don’t measure up to other women my age who seem to have achieved more than i. it’s saying goodbye to financial security; it’s living on faith and the generosity of others. it’s seeing things i’ll never find the words for, and feeling like no one else will ever understand me as a result.

count the cost.

still, even with all this, i can’t help but wonder. maybe following Jesus looks less like keeping with the status quo and more like “a long obedience in the same direction”. maybe it’s less of a ‘normal’ life and more of an upside-down kingdom. maybe it’s heart-wrenchingly hard. but i’m willing to bet it’s worth it.

because this–missions, life, faith, discipleship, struggle, tension, overcoming; it’s the stuff of Jesus’ heart. yes, it’s costly, and yes, the price is high. but me? i’m counting it all joy–for the sake of knowing and loving the One who paid it all anyway.

thrive

i was sitting on a blue couch in my counselor’s office when Truth walked into the room.

i’d just spent the last forty-five minutes pouring out my frustration, my sadness, my fear; how sometimes most of the time it feels like i have no idea what i’m doing with my life; and why does it seem like bad things always happen to good people?

i ended my teary rant with a question, though certainly not one i expected an answer to. “so what do i do now?” with the feelings and the circumstances, with the questions, the doubts. with the deadlines and the decisions to be made. with the pressure, the pain, the ache, the lack. what in the world am i supposed to do with it all?

and my counselor was quiet for a really long time, and i knew he was praying about what he should say. finally, he breathed deep and spoke, carefully, thinking about each word before he said it aloud.
for once in your life, elena, i want to see you fight.”

immediately, my defenses went up, and my insides churned hot, because are you kidding me right now? and did he really just say that? and  how. dare. he. see, if there’s one thing i’ve been doing since childhood, it’s been fighting. fighting to make it. fighting to keep going. fighting to pick up the pieces and hold my head high and put one foot in front of the other. i’m a fighter, all right. hell, i’m a survivor, and it’s something i pride myself on, and i had no problem refuting his answer by telling him so.

but that’s not the fighting he was talking about. no, this is different. because it’s one thing to fight to survive, but it’s something else entirely when you make the decision to fight to thrive. i know you know what i’m talking about. we are many, a group of weary soldiers, battle-scarred and heavy-hearted, trudging through the trenches of life. we war and we walk, and at the end of the day, we lay our heads on our pillows and cry, because there’s just gotta be more to life than this.

i see you, brave-heart. i see you. maybe you live most of your days feeling invisible, as if your sacrifice goes unnoticed. you’re not, and it doesn’t. you are seen. i can’t help but remember our sister Hagar, unwanted, left to die in a desert. she met with the divine that day, in the barren wasteland, and as she walked away from that encounter, her heart rejoiced. “she gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me….’ 

i know you. i am you. you are courageous and strong, but oh, you’re also tired. life has been hard to you, perhaps unfair, even a bit unkind. it’s knocked you down, maybe even kicked you while you’re down; and it has hurt, and maybe your wounds are still bleeding even today. but i also know:: you’re a warrior. you’ve gotten back up, brushed yourself off, and kept on keeping on. this, you; it’s the stuff strength + hearts + guts + determination are made of. you’ve got it, dear one. and i applaud you for it today.

but i also want to tell you:: there is another way. it’s one of streams in that desert, blooms in the wilderness. it’s where we stop fighting and instead where we flourish. it’s where we lay down our swords and our shields, where we remove the armor; it’s where the gloves come off. it’s a place where we do more than just survive; it’s a place where we learn to be loved, where we learn to thrive.

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                               [Photo by Madlyinlovewithlife / Creative Commons / Flickr]

won’t you come and stay with me a while? rest. wash the dirt + grit from your soul and put your tired feet up for a bit. breathe deep. the air is sweet; gulp it in. the pastures are green, and the water still, and i promise you, soldier; i promise you:: you are safe here.

sara bareilles sings “i wanna see you be brave”, and though i love the sentiment, i’ve already seen that. in the way you get out of bed every morning even though sick kids and financial woes and marital problems kept you up late the night before. in the way you take the second or third job just to make the ends meet. in the way you kneel down in the mess of life and clench your fist and use the last bit of strength you have to pray to the God who seems to have forsaken you.

no, i don’t want to see you be brave. you need not prove your courage to me. i want more for you. i want to see you thrive.

life among the middle parts

it was a two-minute conversation with an innocent five-year old that got me thinking.
“miss elena, are you a mom?”
“nope; i’m just your teacher.”
“but you don’t have kids? are you even married?
“no, i’m not married either.”
(long pause; i could see the wheels turning as this little one tried to process what i’d just said.)
“well, i think you should just get married. and then you can be a mom.”

yeah, kid; join the club.

because a lot of people think that, really; i get it all the time. “you’re so sweet/loving/smart/beautiful.” “it’s only a matter of time until the right guy comes along.” “you are going to be such a great mother one day.” which is all well and good, and thankyouverymuch, sincerely. except what if maybe that’s not going to be my story? 

because let’s be real here. right now, today, my story looks like this: i’m 30. i’m divorced. i’m childless. i’m nowhere near financially secure. i don’t have a retirement plan; heck, i don’t even have a five-year plan. i spend my life being split between two countries and, as a result, i have no idea where i even fit anymore. i struggle with depression and ptsd, and some days i feel on top of the world, and other days i just shut down because i can’t. even. deal, y’all. i spend a lot of time feeling like i’m simply stumbling through this whole life thing, and i have no clue what i’m doing but maybe i might be able to figure it out eventually. these days seem messy, unraveled; it feels like i’m coming apart at the seams, spilling out and spilling over, and i think how in the world did i get here?; how did this, all this, become my story?

Image[Photo by Aaron Escobar, Creative Commons]

but here’s what i know: this, all this, it matters. every single moment of it. even the parts i sometimes wish i could skip over, the parts i want to hide away from the rest of the world. my story matters. and so does yours. and there is life–and life abundant–that springs forth from amongst the middle parts.

i think we so often have grandiose ideas about what our lives should look like. and we hold on to those plans much too tightly, balling them in our fists while we close ourselves off to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, God might be doing a new thing. we have our plans and our timelines, our dreams and our desires, and we clutch them close, so close, terrified that we might be asked to lay them down. the letting go is scary, to be sure, but the promise of something new and better is more than worth it.

and the middle part, where maybe you’re stumbling around as i am, unsure where this is all headed? it’s really not so bad. there are sweet gifts even in this in-between place; you just have to know where to look for them.

(true confession: this post originally began as a tongue-in-cheek rant against valentine’s day and all the well-meaning people who have attempted to console me over the years with “it’s okay, honey; Jesus is your husband.” like, NOJesus is simply enough. but maybe i’ll save that post for another day…)