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. 

Image

[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

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…)

when my seasons collide

if there’s one thing i know to be true with every fiber of my being, it is that all of this life is seasons. there’s an ebb and flow, a continual changing of the tides; old gives way to new, and something beautiful always rises up out of the ashes.

for me, this season often feels like a cold, hard winter. i’m in a thin place, where sometimes the winds are so bitter and  fierce that it hurts to even breathe. this season is emotion that shakes me to the core. it is a deep-down soul renewal, where parts of me are stripped away and what’s left is laid bare. it’s a season where life seems to be just a little bit muted, where everything is just a little bit gray, where the pace is just a little bit slower.

this season is grief. and it’s messy; it’s hard. it’s my heart-rubbed-raw, and it hurts.

and sometimes i feel like i need to explain that to people, like i need to have some sort of excuse for my bleeding heart, for my silence, for having more questions than answers, for not being able to find the right words.

and maybe that’s what this post is, in a way: an explanation of sorts. but also, maybe…maybe an apology.

because i know right now, i’m taking more than i’m giving.
i know i’m saying no far more often than i’m saying yes.
i know my mourning clothes look heavy, and they might make some of you a bit uncomfortable.
i know i’m restless and discontent, not satisfied with easy answers or quick fixes.
i know sometimes your words feel like they fall on deaf ears.
i know i’m being jealous of my time and of my space.
and i know that it might seem a little bit unfair.

but for far too long, i stopped myself from entering into the fullness of my emotions because i was trying to protect myself + those around me.
and it all became so heavy, so weighted, such a burden on my shoulders that i broke beneath it.

and it’s in this season that He’s going to start putting the pieces back together.

because though this winter often feels long and cruel, i know it’s not my forever-season. when i choose to listen to the silence, i can hear the heartbeat of spring beneath the ground.

Image[Photo by Samuel Van Dijk on Flickr]

a new season

this week has been tough for me. my heart is tender and tired, and i have to fight the tears back multiple times a day. i’ve been meeting with the girls in my small groups, the same girls i have loved + taught + mentored + laughed + cried with for the past four years. i’ve watched some of them grow into young women, others from little girls to teens. i’ve prayed for them, listened to them, encouraged them, held their hands in mine and simply been with them.

and this week, i had to sit them down, had to tell them that i’m leaving Liberia in July–and not just for a few months. more like for a few years.

yes, that’s right. for reasons i do not need to go into here, i will be saying goodbye to my beloved Liberia this summer + transitioning out of full-time missions; i will return to the States and transition back into full-time life there. Liberia will always be a part of me, and i fully expect to come back and visit in the years ahead. but until then, the time has come for me to walk away. i have prayed long and hard about this decision, and i have deep peace about it. but it is still hard to think about saying goodbye, and it was really, really hard to break the news to my girls. i wanted to tell them early on so they have time to get used to the idea, but truthfully, it would have been just as difficult had i waited.

so many of them already struggle with abandonment issues, and i fear that i’m adding insult to injury. i know all too well what it’s like to feel discarded, forgotten and alone, and i weep at the thought of them feeling the same way. i don’t want their hearts to hurt. we have been through so much with one another, and though i know our hearts are forever knitted together, there is a deep pain that comes with the physical separation. i have not yet birthed children of my own, but i know what it is to have a mother’s heart. in these four years, God has entrusted His little ones to me, and i have taken them into my soul + into my arms as my own. and in a few short months, my arms will be empty, and my heart aches.

and that says nothing about how it feels to be saying goodbye to Liberia as a whole, saying goodbye to this season, to this chapter of life. it’s been over four years, and so much about this place has become home. it is a nation that has etched itself into my skin, and my affection for it + its people is as strong and real and alive as the blood that flows through my veins. i don’t want to forget. i want to remember what i saw here, what i felt here, what i lived through here. even the dark + painful, the grit, the mess. i don’t want to return to life in America + have my heart grow cold. i want to stay soft, to keep hurting for the things that are unjust and unfair. i want the burden to stay with me, even after i’m gone.

again, let me reiterate that i know with every fiber in my being that me leaving is right. i know it is God, and i know it is time. i am prepared, and there are new and exciting things for me in this next chapter. and i also know that is this the way of life, that seasons come and seasons go, and some stories come to an end, and everything, at some point, has to change.

still–it is sad. the grieving process is never easy. truly, July will be like an end of an era for me. i’ve given blood + sweat + tears here, so many tears, and today, even now, they still keep falling. i have grown as a person and in my faith so very much during these years. i’m no longer the broken shell of a woman that i was when i first stepped foot on Liberian soil back in 2008. this place and its people, the kids and the love i’ve felt with them and for them have healed me from the inside out. Liberia has given me so many things:: unspeakable joy, unspeakable heartbreak, unspeakable beauty, stories i’m determined to never forget. my heart is full and heavy, and that is the part that also hurts.

i know that the goodbyes will not be easy. as i’ve seen this week, even speaking of the goodbyes is hard. i know i’ll need to let myself grieve and hurt and cry–and i also know it will be okay.

i was listening to a song this morning, and found myself forming a prayer out of these lyrics::
take my life, take all that i am; with all that i am, i will love you. take my heart, take all that i have; Jesus, how i adore you.

and that’s really what all this comes down to, when i think about it:: worship. surrender. love. i gave myself fully to Jesus when i came to Liberia, and i’ll give  myself fully to him again when it’s time to leave. it is my prayer that he truly does take my heart, the weight and all of its fullness. he can take the sadness, the grief, the pain, the longing, the ache, the hope, the excitement, the love. he can take the kids and my girls, the staff, my friends. he can take the past and the future, the unknown, what is still to be seen. he can take the sunsets, the breeze, my porch, the laughter, the prayers, the colors, the smells. everything i have opened my heart to, everything that has settled itself into the deepest part of me–it’s his, all his.

for now, i am nothing more than a tangled mess of emotions, and i suppose that’s natural. as i said, this week was hard. really hard. and hard weeks will come my way again, especially as the time of my departure grows near. but, as i told the girls this week, for now, i’m still here. i am present in body + heart + soul. i am still determined to dig my heels in here, to live fully in every moment, to suck the marrow from the days i have left in Liberia.

i share all this with you because, whether you know it or not, you are a part of this journey i am on. many of you have stood by my side during these four years, held my hand when i felt fearful, encouraged me when i wanted to walk away. and i also share this with you because, to be brutally, transparently honest, i need you now. i need your prayers. i need your encouragement. i need your support. i need shoulders to cry on and people to lean up against when i’m weak + sad + scared + trying to figure out this crazy mess called life, the continual changing of tides, the turning of seasons. old gives way to new, and sometimes we get caught in the in-between place, and that is where i find myself now:: grieving what was, anticipating what will come, learning to embrace the season i am in while looking ahead to the next one–the hope-full, the new.

winter

Today is October 23rd, the heart of autumn. Nearly harvest time. Typically my favorite part of the year. I love this season. Lately, God’s been showing me, however, the significance of spiritual seasons as well as the physical, revealing to me that the two aren’t always the same. My body is in the midst of autumn—but every other part of me is in the middle of a winter.

In winter, everything is quiet. Still. There is a sacred silence, a holy tranquility. On the surface, nothing seems alive. The trees are bare. All the flowers have wilted. The ground is buried beneath heavy blankets of ice and snow. Everything appears barren. Desolate. Unfruitful. 

But what we don’t see is that there are stirrings underground, even in the dead of winter. As the artist Andrew Wyeth so beautifully phrases it: “something waits beneath it. The whole story doesn’t show.” What seems to be dead is not really dead at all. When the time is right and the soil is ready, life will shoot up again. But until then—winter.

Winter typically isn’t a time of much activity. As I reflect on my life as of late, I see that this is absolutely true for me in this season. Like a bear, I’ve gone into deep hibernation. I’ve heard the Spirit whisper that this is my time to settle down in Him, to curl up and hide myself away in His warmth and intimacy. To rest. To reflect. To remain. To reform. Regenerate. To prepare.

My inclination has always been to resist a spiritual winter. It’s cold. Often dark. Uncomfortable. Sometimes hopeless. It’s a long, long night, and I ache for the morning. I want the warmth and the light. I want to see and bear fruit. I want to do and not be, to be active in ministry and not just…existing. Everything within me typically struggles against the winter. But not this time.

Something is different about this winter. He has helped me understand its necessity, how essential this season is for my spirit and my heart. As I stop fighting against it, I find that I actually begin to welcome it, start allowing myself to melt into this season of motionlessness. This winter is bringing out a reverence in me, a deep and rich adoration for the One who makes all things new…in due season.

signs of spring

today was beautiful, warm breezes and sunshine everywhere. i simply couldn’t stay indoors, so i decided to head to the trail for a run. six and a half miles. i’ve done it countless times before. but something about today was different.

it was God. He was so real, so present, so close i was sure i could reach out and touch Him. i heard Him in the wind. i felt Him as the gentle sunshine kissed my face. i was heightened awareness. i didn’t want to miss a moment.

somewhere around my second mile, i started realizing i had been seeing an awful lot of robins on the trail. more than normal, come to think of it. flitting through the grass, jumping slightly in the dirt. i started counting. by mile four, eleven! by mile five, eighteen. confused, not even knowing i was speaking it aloud, i muttered, “what in the world is with all these robins?!”

in an instant, He answered me. “robins are a sign of spring. didn’t i tell you that your winter was over, dear one? yes, spring has come.”

i stopped in my tracks.

i only saw one more robin after that, a few seconds later. he confidently hopped my way, stopped directly before me, and bobbed his little head once—no, twice. yes. yes!

“see, the winter is past; the rains are over and gone. flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of [birds] is heard in the land. the fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.” (Song of Solomon 2.11-13)