My “Romance & Adventure” list

Blessed-is-SheSometimes I have a hard time holding onto hope. Sometimes I have a hard time believing any of my dreams in life will come true. My valley, and my pain, have lasted so long, that it’s far too easy to believe the negative whispers in my soul, telling me nothing will ever get better. But I’m trying to fight that. I’m trying to see through different lenses. Years ago I felt God gave me the verses that inspired this blog, as a personal promise that one day my Valley of Achor–or trouble–would end in a door of hope. And that promise kept me going through a time of intense darkness and pain. But as the pain has lingered in recent years, and I’ve met with more disappointment and setbacks in my life, I’ve found it more and more difficult to hang on to that promise. Doubts, fears and at times despair have ransacked my soul, telling me my life will never have any sort of redemptive ending or satisfying purpose.

But I’m trying to fight back. Even though sadness, disappointment and disillusionment still lurk in the shadows, I’ve got to believe that better days are somewhere around the bend. So I’m posting the beautifully written Bible verse above (courtesy of blogger Morgan Day Cecil) to remind myself of the faith I once had. I’ve also been inspired by the aforementioned blogger (whose blog can be found here), to post a “Romance & Adventure” list–which is essentially a “bucket” list.

I’ve had a mental bucket list for a while, but perhaps just having it written down will help keep me motivated to never give up pursuing and believing in my dreams, even when the darkness, sadness and pain seem to mock those dreams.

So without further ado, here is my “bucket” list–or my “life’s goals” list–or “romance & adventure” list–in no particular order:

  • Be made whole: emotionally, spiritually and physically.
  • Use my pain to minister to others.
  • Get married to an amazing man and travel around Europe together on our honeymoon.
  • Serve God alongside this amazing man.
  • Visit Israel.
  • Visit beautiful, bonnie Scotland at least one more time.
  • Live in Brazil or somewhere in South America.
  • Speak at least two foreign languages fluently.
  • Learn Biblical Hebrew.
  • Get my B.A. and become a linguist (working on that!).
  • Give a people group their own written language and/or Bible.
  • Know Jesus better and become more like Him.
  • Bring at least one person to Jesus.
  • Be the hands and feet of Jesus to the least, the lost, and the broken.
  • Write and publish a book.
  • Sail in a hot-air balloon.
  • Go hang-gliding.
  • See the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean and the Alps.

I doubt every one of these will come true, but here’s to hoping at least the most important ones do.

As one of my favorite literary heroines, Anne of Green Gables, once said, “I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does…”

Sad

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I’m not sure why, but tonight a wave of sadness so overwhelmed me, that directly after dinner I put my pajamas on and crawled into bed. And, as I did so, tears began to trickle down my cheeks. Maybe it’s partly PMS. Maybe it was my grandmother’s snappy attitude toward me when I walked into the house earlier this evening.  Actually, I do know that had something to do with it. But I’d been feeling inexplicably blue all day, and after encountering her bad mood, I just wanted to disappear.

I only dozed off for a little bit, and then I finally sat up in bed to force myself to work on a paper for school. As I sat there, I sort of listened to a sermon being preached in the background on the radio, and when the preacher talked about the Body of Christ being a place to find healing and accountability for our brokenness, tears once more cascaded down my cheeks. Oh, if only, I said to myself, or God, out loud. If only that were true in my experience.

I’m not in a good place right now spiritually. Disappointment and disillusionment, with church, with myself, and–dare I say–even God at times, have hardened a once soft heart. I’m grieved over this, but I also don’t exactly know what to do about it. My counselor has been visibly frustrated with me lately, because, for the last few months I’ve found myself stumbling backwards. You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t try, she told me. You have to keep trying. No matter how many times you fail, you have to keep trying.

So, I’ll keep trying. I’m going to a Christmas party tomorrow evening, for the singles group at the charismatic church I’ve been attending, not really because I want to, but because I feel like I have to. I’m also hoping to join a women’s group at another church I’ve been attending. (Yes, I go to two churches now.) I’m seeking fellowship. I’m trying to put myself out there. And yet, my experiences so far have been so damn frustrating, that I don’t have very high expectations anymore.

It’s the seemingly never-ending source of frustration for me: finding meaningful relationships and accountability within the Body of Christ. I’ll keep trying, like I said. But sometimes I’m flat-out exhausted from trying. From dealing with disappointment after disappointment. So when preachers, or anyone else, claim the Body of Christ is where we’re meant to find healing and accountability, I just break down and sob. Because, apart from a few short-lived experiences in my life, that has not been the case for me. The Body of Christ is where I’ve been hurt the most, disappointed the most, rejected the most. And it shouldn’t be any wonder I have such a difficult time trusting and connecting with other Christians. Of course I blame myself. And then that just heaps more guilt and shame on top of the burdens I’m already carrying.

I am a broken, broken person. I have no problem admitting that. But I’m sick and tired of trying to make myself whole. All alone. I am too weak to keep carrying these burdens alone. While I’m definitely grateful for the few Christian friends I have, none are the sort I can just casually meet up with, or pray with, when I’m going through a rough time. Most live too far away for one thing. And so far I’ve been unable to really connect with anyone at either church I’m attending. (Unless you count going to lunch with a guy and then practically being stalked by him as “connecting.”)

So maybe my sadness today really does have a source. Maybe I’m just so weary of living in this place of brokenness and having so few people–if any–to turn to for support. Maybe I’m tired of hearing “healing only happens in community” when that community has been so hurtful and/or elusive for me. Maybe I’m tired of hearing God is enough, when He hasn’t been enough for me, and I feel incredibly guilty that I even think that. Maybe I hate the person I’ve become…indifferent, selfish, spiritually cold and cynical. Maybe, even though I’m disappointed with God, I still miss Him. Maybe all I want is to believe again all the nice, warm and fuzzy things about God that I used to believe. Maybe I’m so disillusioned with church–at least the way it’s done in America–that I feel like throwing in the towel and giving it up altogether. Maybe I just need to get out of this narcissistic, materialistic, self-centered culture I live in and go live with and serve those who have nothing–to remind myself of what truly matters.

But for now, I still feel like crying.

Arrghhhh…when it rains, it pours

Sometimes it’s the little things. That all add up.

I’ve spent the last week playing musical cars, since my 1991 Honda Accord decided to fall apart on me. First it wouldn’t start. So one of my brothers and dad looked at it, decided it needed a new distributor (I’m not at all mechanically-inclined, so I have no idea what that really is, except that it helps the car start), and my dad graciously replaced the distributor himself, while I borrowed my sister’s old Honda, which just so happened to be available (thank God).

I finally got my car back Friday night, and it started fine, and it ran great, so I thought all was well. I was rudely snapped out of that illusion yesterday as I drove to a friend’s house. The battery light suddenly lit up on the dashboard. I pulled over, concerned, and called my dad, who explained to me it might be the alternator, since my battery was brand-new. But the light went off eventually, so he said I’d be fine to continue driving the car. I did so, but the light came on again as I continued driving. And this time it stayed on. To make a long story short, I ended up having to spend the night at my friend’s house, because my dad didn’t want me to risk driving in the dark for about an hour, in the freezing cold, along back country roads. Apparently, with a bad alternator my headlights would drain the power from the battery. So my friend was gracious enough to lend me some pajamas and I spent the night. Henceforth, I got up with the chickens this morning, said goodbye to my friend, drove to my parents’ house, switched cars again, and finally arrived home this morning, my plans for the day entirely screwed up and my car once again in need of repair (with money I don’t have).

Then, as soon as I walk in the door I find a piece of mail waiting for me. Hmmm…it was an envelope from the National Passport Processing center. That’s strange, I thought–I only mailed them my old passport and passport renewal application a little over a week ago. Surely I couldn’t have gotten my new passport so soon. So I ripped open the envelope, and my passport renewal form and old passport fell out, accompanied by a letter. The letter said: “Thank you for your recent US passport application. We are unable to process your request due to the following reason(s): -No passport photo was submitted; or -The passport photo submitted is not acceptable.”

Knowing full well I submitted an acceptable photo, I opened my application to check out the photo, wondering what on earth could be wrong with it. There, across my once beautiful photo, which I paid for, was a white streak, which corresponded to a slash across the opposite page.

Excuse me???? I’m not one prone to outbursts, but this sent me over the edge a bit. I’m being blamed for an “unacceptable photo” because either someone in the postal service or at the passport processing center carelessly handled my package and ruined not only the application itself but my photo??? I’m sorry, but after the week, and the last twenty-four hours that I’ve had, it just felt like the ultimate slap in the face. I feel like barging in the post office and demanding a refund. And having a few “choice” words with the postal employee who insisted I take my application out of the manila envelope I originally placed it in, and sending it in a Priority Mail cardboard envelope only, assuring me he knew all about mailing passport applications and that my contents would arrive safe and sound. I don’t know if I would feel certain now about my contents arriving safe and sound unless I put everything in a manila envelope, wrap it in bubble wrap, and mail it in a box.

One thing’s for certain: I no longer trust postal employees. Or whoever works at the passport processing center. Maybe I’m better off making the two-hour drive to Washington, D.C. and renewing my passport in person. With the way my life’s been going lately, I’m afraid that even mailing my application in bubble wrap would inevitably fall short of protecting the precious contents from careless hands. Of course, given my luck with cars lately, I might not even make it to D.C. safely.

I hope nothing else goes wrong, or breaks, or falls apart, over the next week. I’ve had enough.

But I feel a little better now that I’ve vented.

Feeling scared

I’m scared. Scared of what I might be facing in a few months. Scared of whether or not I’ll have to tell certain family members. Scared of whether other people will have to know. I don’t want anyone to know. And yet, there’s a part of me that wants my pain validated. That wants my story told. I don’t want pity. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. But like any normal human being that’s ever suffered–and suffered alone–sometimes I just want someone to weep with me, to agree with me that I’ve endured some pretty excruciating pain.

I bit the bullet and saw a doctor yesterday. And I’m going to have to see more. The word “surgery” was thrown out there as a possibility. I don’t want to have to have surgery. But if it looks like it’s necessary, my life-long secret pain will no longer be secret. I will have to tell some people I don’t want to tell. One person in particular I dread telling, because I blamed this person most of my life for my pain. There are so many traumatizing memories associated with this pain that it’s taken me over thirty years to finally confront it, and over thirty years to truly forgive certain people associated with it.

So, naturally, I’m feeling a bit frightened. I wish I could crawl into a hole somewhere and this nightmare would just disappear. But I can no longer hide from it or imagine or wish it away. I have to face it. I have to face what has been the primary source of pain and brokenness in my life, starting from the time I was a child. I know I’m not alone in one sense, as I’ve expressed on here before. I know now there are other people out there who’ve suffered as I have, and in some ways worse than I have, so that comforts me somewhat. But in my own social circle–which isn’t that big–only two people have any idea of what I’ve been through and continue to go through. No one in my family knows. I’ve kept it a well-guarded secret, because in my family–as much as I love my family–that’s what you do: you bury things. So I’ve buried it quite deep for over thirty years.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the days ahead. My relationship with God is on the rocks right now, so I find turning to Him for comfort and strength very difficult. (I’ve decided I must be a bipolar Christian–it’s always hot or cold, up or down, with me in my walk with God. Right now I’m in a down period.) I have very few people to turn to either. No one but my counselor even knows I’ve seen a doctor. As usual, I’m alone in facing this mountain in front of me. And while there’s a part of me that wants to keep it that way, there’s another part of me that longs for others to come alongside me and, if nothing else, weep with me and pray with me. So often, when I’ve lain weeping in my bed, or hunched over weeping on my bathroom floor, all I’ve wanted is someone else to weep with me and tell me, yeah, you’re dealing with some pretty crummy stuff. Because carrying a burden of pain all alone has been utterly soul-crushing. And sometimes I wish I felt more freedom to tell my story, to release this burden completely, and somehow find a redemptive ending to it.

Maybe someday I will feel more freedom to tell my story. The fact that I’m finally even confronting this excruciating source of pain is a huge step in and of itself. But my story isn’t over yet. And maybe it won’t be till it’s completely over that I’ll feel free to share it. All I can do now is hope for the best. And try hard not to be scared.

If I could only fly away…

King David expressed in the Psalms his desire to be like a dove and fly away and be at rest.

That’s how I feel right now. I long to fly away. Maybe not literally, like a dove, but in the more modern-day fashion, aboard a plane.

eilean-donan-castleWhenever life gets too overwhelming, whenever my soul craves space and peace, all I can think about is getting on a plane by myself and escaping somewhere. And usually the “somewhere” that comes to mind is very specific, a place I lived in for a time and still think of with much fondness and wistfulness. I think of Scotland. Beautiful, wild, rugged, magical Scotland.

This morning as I sat working from my computer, still in my pjs, trying to overcome a nasty bug that has been tormenting me with congestion, a cough and a sore throat for over a week, thinking about my crazy work schedule this week, a school paper due next week that I haven’t even started yet, my lack of sleep lately, and all the myriads of things I still have to do, as well as my despondent emotional state lately, all I could wish for was a way of escape. And when a Celtic melody started playing mournfully on my Pandora radio, images of my beloved Scotland flashed through my mind, provoking an intense longing within me to once again ramble across its rugged terrain and breathe deeply its nippy, wholesome air.

I last visited Scotland in 2004, doing a three week trek around the island with my sister, visiting old friends, making new friends on the journey, hiking, exploring, dancing in pubs, and staying in hostels. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, and one I wish I could repeat. The breathtaking scenery, encompassing gorgeous lochs, moors, glens, isles, bens (mountains), castles and quaint little villages, was like balm for a weary, beauty-starved soul, and my weary, beauty-starved soul sure could use some of that magic right about now. Weary of deadlines for school and work, stuck in the lackluster suburbs, and just generally aching to get out of the drudgery of my life, even a brief time away to some place like Scotland would do my soul and spirits good. Just a few weeks backpacking alone across Scotland would be like heaven to me.

tobermoreyBut alas. I neither have the means nor the time to jump on a plane and go where my heart wishes. Nor will I have the means or the time for the next three years at least. I am stuck here. And for someone as full of wanderlust as myself, to be stuck in one place–especially this particular place–is incredibly difficult. It’s been three years since I’ve been out of the country, and that’s unusual for me. From 2002 to 2010 the longest I went for not traveling abroad was one year. So I guess it’s no wonder I’ve got the “itch,” as it were.

I guess I must grin and bear it. And simply dream of happier times. And sparkling lochs, and mouth-watering chips with brown sauce, and red double-decker buses, and crumbling castles, and men in kilts playing bagpipes, and smoky pubs, and fog-shrouded hills of heather, and the smell of salt-air on craggy coasts.

And now, after such sweet mental meanderings, I must get back to work.

(The photos above are not my own, but are places in Scotland I’ve seen and been to. The first is a photo of the famous Eilean Donan castle in the western highlands of Scotland, and the second is a photo of the colorful fishing village Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull off Scotland’s western coast. I have very fond memories of evenings spent in a delightful pub called the Mish Nish in Tobermory.)

The ache intensifies…

I am more confused and frustrated than ever.

I have tried to seek out answers to some of my theological questions and doubts recently. In doing so, I came across a good apologetics website, that had a bunch of teaching videos on theological issues, so I watched a few. They were pretty good and got me really thinking. But a remark in one video struck me with particular force, considering my struggles lately. The guy teaching mentioned that having a “personal relationship with Jesus” is actually not Biblical. It is more of a “westernized” phrase. The guy pointed out how a lot of cultural assumptions influence our theology. And here in the US, and other western nations, we have very individualistic societies, as opposed to the collectivistic societies of Bible times and other modern-day nations like China. So, during the early church, for example, having a “personal” relationship with Jesus was a completely foreign concept. Knowing and following Jesus was a communal thing. Which makes perfect sense when you read the book of Acts.

Of course, that’s not to say none of us are to endeavor to know and follow Christ individually–there are plenty of examples throughout the Scriptures of those who walked with God and knew Him on a personal level. Such as Enoch, Abraham, King David, the prophets, and the apostle Paul just to name a few. But no one, especially within the church, is to have that personal walk with God in a vacuum. Yet here in the US, and other western nations, we focus so much on the personal aspect of a walk with God, that we do tend to often put it in a vacuum.

And so suddenly I’m wondering if that’s part of my problem. That because of my cultural background and influences I’m putting my relationship with God in a vacuum, so to speak. Even as there is, at the same time, an ache in my heart for community with believers and a rebellion against the individualistic society I’m a part of. Naturally, this war, or tension, within myself is utterly confusing and exasperating. While I won’t argue with the fact that a “personal relationship with Jesus” is a cultural concept, I think it’s nonetheless Biblical to have, at some level, an individual relationship with Him. We have to, at some level. My confusion lies in where does the individual relationship end and the corporate relationship begin? If God is all I need, then why did God say of Adam (in his perfect, not-yet-fallen state no less), “It is not good for the man to be alone”? And why is the church urged not to forsake assembling together? Clearly, we need each other. Clearly, in some capacity, Christ leaves us incomplete if we need each other. So how does this reconcile with the verses that tell us we are complete in Christ?

I just can’t quite figure all this out. And meanwhile this ache and void in my heart just continues to grow. Because, more than anything, I want intimacy. And I don’t know how to have intimacy with Jesus, because as much as He might care for me, it doesn’t feel like intimacy to me when ultimately I know I’m just a small and insignificant part of His larger Body. And I currently still don’t have intimacy within that Body either, leaving me feeling desolately alone most of the time. Then there’s the desire for intimacy with a husband, that also goes unfulfilled.

So I ache. Desperately. And suddenly I don’t know where to turn to fix that ache. I can’t fix the ache within the church. I can’t fix the ache with a husband. And most frightening of all, right now I can’t fix the ache with God either.

Pressing on…no matter what

This past Saturday I had the opportunity, via my community college, to visit and take a brief tour of the university I intend, Lord willing, to transfer to next fall. The visit excited me about my future goals, but was also a much-needed wake-up call to the realities of the possible major life-changes I am facing in the near future.

I am not your “typical” college student. It has taken me sixteen—sixteen!–years to figure out what I want to do with my life, and so here I am, in my thirties, pursuing a bachelor’s degree. I don’t regret many of my life choices over the last eighteen years or so–I’ve spent nearly a year living abroad, I’ve traveled to other countries, where I’ve done missionary work and volunteer work such as teaching English, and I’ve had many other life-enriching experiences. I’ve also worked at various jobs, some pleasant and rewarding, some very stressful, unpleasant and unfulfilling, which I think have made me a pretty well-rounded, versatile person. All of my experiences since graduating high school oh so many years ago have shaped who I am and have helped me discover where my passions, interests, and strengths lie, so that, finally, I can say with some degree of certainty: THIS is what I want to do with my life. I am definitely a late-bloomer. And I am ok with that.

Part of my late-blooming journey can definitely be attributed not only to my indecisiveness, but to not-so-pleasant life circumstances beyond my control, such as a major health crisis in 2007 that not only sent me spiraling into debt from medical bills, but into a mental and emotional breakdown which I am still trying to recover from. My life has not been easy. It has been characterized by setback after setback, and many physical, emotional and mental struggles, to the point where, even now, if I don’t see things improving in a very dramatic, immediate and tangible way, I am so tempted to give up. To give up on life, to give up on trying to get better, to give up believing anything good, happy, or ultimately lasting will ever come of my turbulent existence.

So my visit to the university this past Saturday left me with mixed emotions. I absolutely loved the campus–it was beautiful, with grand, old buildings, steeped in history (the university was founded by one of our first presidents), and full of a lively academic atmosphere that got my pulse racing with excitement. I could just imagine myself poring over my books in one of its spacious libraries with vaulted ceilings, strolling along its green lawns to my various classes, and just generally immersing myself in this whole new experience known as real college. I know, for most people my age, such feelings of excitement are long over, but having only attended community college so far, going to an actual, four-year university is both daunting and exhilarating at the same time to me.

But even as I pondered the exciting part of possibly going to this university, I also let myself face the inevitable challenges that would await me. I am no stranger to hopping on a plane and traveling half-way across the world completely on my own, to a place where I know no one—I’ve done it more than once, and I enjoyed it. In fact, I’d be doing it now, if I had the money. I was born a wanderer and explorer, and I love immersing myself in new environments and seeing new places. So the idea of moving to another city, only about an hour away from where I live now, to attend a university, shouldn’t frighten me. Admittedly, part of me can’t wait to move to a different city, to get out of the boring, hum-drum place I live now. But, strangely, another part of me is a bit frightened. Even with all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve never faced something quite so daunting as college. On my own. In a city where I know no one. For some reason, this intimidates me more than trekking across the globe on my own (which I’d do in a heartbeat, if it was safe, and I had the money). I know part of it is that I know how awkward, alone and out-of-place I’ll feel, at least initially, amidst a throng of preppy, much-younger, partying-type college “kids.” At least at the community college I currently attend, I am not the only “older” student, and there is much more diversity over-all in the types of students that go there. So I blend in rather well. But I know the environment will be far different at the university. And I wonder how I will cope with trying to connect and form relationships with many of my fellow students. I wonder how I’ll find community in a city where I don’t know anyone. I wonder where I’ll live. If I’ll have roommates. If I’ll like my roommates. Suddenly, all these “what if” scenarios start floating through my mind, filling me with fear.

I have come a long ways from where I used to be. But I’m still struggling. I still feel fragile, faltering and unsure of myself much of the time. So this prospect of going off to a university, in a new place, while exciting, also scares me. Somehow, facing the pressures of a university environment and college life frightens me more than going to live in a country I’ve never been to before. Consequently, over the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling a bit emotionally, as I ponder not only the realities of the challenges ahead of me, but of the continued issues and hurdles I’m dealing with in my everyday life. And that’s when the dark thoughts start to push their way into my mind. You’ll never get better. You’ll never succeed. Your life will end before it’s even begun. Why bother trying. Why bother trying to get a degree. Why bother trying to change your lot in life. If you have trouble finding meaningful relationships and friendships where you are now, what makes you think it’ll be any easier in a different city? Why bother with anything? You are a failure. Yes, despite all the positive things you’ve done in your life, you are still a failure. And that’s all you’ll ever be. So give up. Just give up.

Fighting such thoughts has been very depressing. I try to give myself pep-talks, but they’re only so effective. I try to quote Scriptures to myself, but they seem to only give me temporary relief. I admit shamefacedly that I am tempted, very often, to simply listen to all those dark voices and give up. Give up on myself and give up on life.

But I’ve got to press on, no matter what those dark thoughts tell me. If there’s one thing that frightens me more than any of my other fears, it’s living a wasted, completely self-absorbed life. No matter what those familiar, dark voices of despair tell me, and even though, yes, most of the time all I can see is how far I have to go instead of how far I’ve come, I know I was meant for more than this broken life I’ve lived so far. Somewhere deep in my spirit I know. And it’s this fear of not becoming who God intended me to be that drives me forward, even when it feels like hell itself is standing against me. Perhaps one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received was from my current counselor, who told me I was “remarkably resilient.” This came after she discovered, in greater detail than I’ve told anyone before, exactly what I’ve been through and continue to deal with. I wonder myself sometimes, why, God, am I still here? And that’s when I know, if there is any resilience in me, I certainly can’t take credit for it.

I am super excited about the prospect of attending a university and hopefully one day acquiring my bachelor’s degree. I hope, and pray, with all my heart, that if I get that degree, I can use it to serve God on the mission field. That’s my goal. That’s my dream. But the reality of the difficulties that will cross my path as I go in that direction is ever present to me. I just hope I don’t finally cave to the feelings of discouragement and despair that so often hound me. I’ve come so, so close to caving.

I don’t want to waste my life. No matter how difficult the terrain, I must keep trekking. One foot. In front of. The other.

Sanctuary

Sitting cross-legged in a wide, green yard, grass tickling my bare feet, a deep azure sky overhead, soft waning sunshine filtering through the leafy bower above me onto my upturned face, a sweet Indian summer breeze swirling my long strands of hair across my cheeks….in that moment, in that place, I am free…I am at peace…I am content. I am glad to be alive. All cares, all worries, all pain…they no longer exist. I am simply intoxicated with the beauty all around me, forgetful of my very self, forgetful of everything but the wonder of life and the simple joys to be imbibed, like a sweet draught of wine, if I only slow down, look around me, and drink.

While most of the rest of my family is enjoying a relaxing family vacation at the beach, I have stayed behind to keep up with my studies, and while doing so, I’ve been spending a few days at my parents’ beautiful home in the country, minding the dog and the house and picking up the mail and newspaper. Although I’ve stayed pretty busy with school and work obligations, I’ve made sure to take advantage of the peace and beauty all around me, letting it calm and soothe what has been my very frazzled and stressed mind of late.

My parents live in a gorgeous log home, situated on about 15 mostly-wooded acres, at the end of a half-mile gravel DSCN0672lane. I lived in this home briefly soon after they built it, about thirteen years ago, and from 2005 to 2010 I lived next-door to them with my brother, who built his own log home on the same piece of land. We jokingly call this acreage, with the two log homes, isolated from other neighbors and the major roads, our “family compound.” Not only because many siblings (of which I have seven), seemingly have lived together and close to our parents either in my parents’ house or my brother’s house for most of the last thirteen years, but because the land on which these two houses are situated is adjacent to the property and house where we all spent most of our childhood. So, essentially, we have all lived a great portion of our lives in the same area.

Up until about two years ago, the house I spent most of my childhood in was occupied by renters, but since the last renter moved away, it has sat vacant, and every time I drive by it, on the gravel lane that leads to the log homes, an ache and sadness over its forlorn state fills my heart. Someone is apparently keeping the front lawn mowed ever so often, but grass is beginning to take over a section of the driveway, and the grass in the small pasture has been neglected and has grown to tremendous heights. More and more often, whenever I get the chance as I’m visiting my parents’ home, I make a stop at my old childhood home, somehow lured to its decrepit beauty and the tantalizing, nostalgic memories that lurk in its familiar nooks and crannies.

Today was no exception, and as I walked down the gravel lane to check the mail, on a gorgeous, blue-skied, sun-drenched late afternoon, I decided to detour for a bit at the vacant house. Something just wells up inside me when I walk down its drive, amble over the front, slated sidewalk, and gaze around at what “once was.” I see myself as a little girl again, running through that big front yard, catching lightning bugs on a warm, summer’s eve…or raking huge piles of leaves on a crisp, smoky fall afternoon…or playing hide-and-go-seek with my siblings…or sitting on my room’s window-sill, imagining and writing stories…or pretending to be cowboys and Indians with my siblings, chasing each other on paths through the acres of woods surrounding the house…or taking my own long, exploratory rambles in the woods, as I often did. Despite all the pain I endured as a child–physically and emotionally–I do have many, many happy memories from my childhood as well. And when I visit my childhood home, it is the happy memories that haunt me the most, reminding me of the joy and innocence I once knew and wish so much I could return to.

After walking around the house a bit, observing the scraggly, unkempt bushes, the myriads of spider-webs adorning the eaves, the weeds poking through the sidewalk cracks, and the dark, deserted outbuildings, all the while thinking how literally haunted and spooky this house would seem come Halloween, I finally sauntered into the big front yard, found a nice, sunny patch of grass, and plopped down. And there I sat, for quite some time, soaking in the sad, haunting, and yet peaceful beauty all around me. Soaking, drinking, immersing…all would be good verbs to describe my primary response as I sat there. But I also reflected quite a bit…and prayed. And wondered why my life couldn’t always feel as peaceful and complete as it felt in those moments. Why have I allowed my life to become what it has? And why couldn’t I go back and retrieve a bit of that little girl I’ve left far, far behind? The little girl who saw the world with eyes of innocent wonder and a vivid imagination? She must be still lurking inside me somewhere, and perhaps just waiting to come alive again.

The truth is, I think she is. And the more I visit my old, childhood home, and wrestle with my past and all my inner demons, the more convinced I am that there is a tiny seed of a story slowly growing in my heart and mind, just waiting for the right time to come forth. It wants to come out, it wants to come alive, but it simply needs time. Time to allow for my present wrestling, time to allow the adult me to heal, time to allow God to do whatever He needs to do. And in the meantime, I need to make it more of a priority to simply take stock, every moment I get, of the simple joys God has placed in my life. I want to have more moments of sitting barefoot in grass, gazing at a blue sky, feeling breezes tickle my face, marveling at what it means to simply be alive, and the recipient of God’s abundant beauty made manifest in His creation. To find, as I did when a little girl, joy in even the simplest things.

DSCN0676It was with great reluctance I got up from my peaceful reverie at my old home, and left it behind, but the voices it stirred within me have not left. Nor has the feeling of God’s nearness. Somehow, He seems far more present to me in nature’s cathedral than He ever does in a church. And I wish I could carry that sense of peace and nearness with me no matter where I am.

Maybe I can. Maybe that was the point of today.

“Lo, I am with you always….”

Come to Jesus

This beautiful song touched me in a profound way the other day, so I thought I’d share:

I’ve been thinking how so often in this blog I vent my tears, frustrations, pains and sorrows–after all, I did title it “Valley of Achor” for good reason–but how few and far between are posts reflecting true joy and thankfulness. The truth is the last several years of my life have definitely been more sorrowful than joyful, more tinged with pain than with sweetness, and I often feel like God has given me the “short end of the stick,” so to speak, when it comes to the amount of pain He has allowed in my life, but lately He’s been convicting me about my attitude to this pain.

I came across this quote a couple weeks ago, posted above someone’s desk, and it really struck me:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on my life. Attitude, to me is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstance, than failure, than success, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

The remarkable thing is, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.

We cannot change our past; we cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…

I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me, and 90 percent how I react to it.

And so it is with you… We are in charge of our attitudes.”

This quote is attributed to Pastor Charles Stanley, although that’s debatable–however, regardless of who said it, how true it is. And it reminds me of what James says in the Scriptures: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

I am no different than anyone else. When things hurt, when things don’t go my way, when my circumstances don’t make sense, when God seems a million miles away and callous to my pain, when He doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want Him to (and when I want Him to), I get angry. I get frustrated. I question Him. I justify my self-pity and my wrong attitude. I vent much of those feelings on this blog. And most would say, hey, that’s ok.

But is it? Of course, we all need to vent, and God would rather me be honest than mask my pain. He’s big enough to handle my anger, frustration and doubts. But I feel like I need to take a step back and reassess my attitude. I am, somehow, in the midst of my pain, my questioning, my frustration and my doubts, to “count it all joy.” Really, God? Joy? Joy when I’ve endured so much already? Isn’t that asking a bit much?

But it’s what He wants. Somehow. Some way. So often my attitude simply sucks. Let me just be blunt. But even though I know it’s still ok to get angry at times, to question, to vent–King David is my role model in being honest with God–I am not to remain in that place. I am, somehow, to count every hard, difficult thing in my life as joy.

So I’m going to endeavor to do that. By God’s grace, of course. I still don’t understand the why of so much of the pain, confusion and frustration in my life. I still ache, long, hope for intimacy in my relationship with God and others. I still know it’s ok to weep and shake my fist at God sometimes. But I’m realizing I can’t let my pain, my past, my failures, and every other negative thing in my life make me a negative person. Because the truth is that I am blessed. I may not have as much as some, I may not have the kind of fellowship and friendships right now that I long for, I may not have the future spouse I pray for, I may feel incredibly lonely most of the time, I may feel like my dark valley is stretching out to infinity, but I do still have so much to be thankful for. I have a few good, precious friends. I have a wonderful, large family, which now includes two adorable baby nieces. (I love being an auntie!) I have a roof over my head. I have food, clothing. I have Jesus. And, as Jesus said, with these I am to be content.

And when the pain and darkness seem overwhelming, as that song above so simply says, I must go to Jesus. Whether it feels like He’s there or not. I’m still figuring out how an intimate relationship with the invisible King of the universe really works, but to whom else can I go? And maybe that’s the point. Sometimes we have to be stripped of everything before we can see what’s right in front of us. Or Who’s right in front of us.

I know all this in my head, but hopefully I’ll come to know all this in my heart. And in the knowing, that my heart might be healed and made whole.

So, I come, Jesus. And may I somehow count all my sorrows, all my pain, all my frustration, as joy.

More thoughts on intimacy…

I should be studying my precalculus right about now, but instead I feel the need to unburden the confusing, frustrated, and hurting thoughts milling about my head.

Intimacy. Fellowship. Relationship. Friendship. These are things every human longs for. They are natural desires. They are meant to be fulfilled in some way. We are wired this way by God. He said Himself, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

So, why, I keep asking, both myself, and God, are these things still so elusive for me? Why, throughout all my experiences in the church, do I continually find myself feeling like I don’t quite fit in, that deep and meaningful friendships and relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ are so few and far between? I’ve had so few truly fulfilling, truly satisfying experiences in the church, that I’m tempted to give up hope altogether that the “spiritual family” and spiritual friendships I long for will ever materialize.

I’ve been attending a wonderful, Spirit-filled church for the last several months, that I’ve been greatly been blessed by and thank God for, because it’s been a long time since I’ve even attended a church regularly–but as wonderful as this church is, I still feel that familiar, disconnected feeling there. Even in the singles group I’m a part of, I feel out of place, as sweet and friendly as everyone is. I know that part of that out-of-place feeling simply comes from the fact that I happen to fall in that unpleasant category in Christian singledom: mid-thirties, never married and no children. Most of the people in my singles group are not only much older than me, but also divorced with children. So while I put no limitations on friendship, not being able to chime in when most of the people around me are discussing their kids, ex-spouses, etc., definitely hinders me from establishing meaningful relationships. It’s also frustrating when you’re still the “newbie” after several months, and it’s clear everyone else has known each other for a while and formed a friendly rapport with each other.

But more than any of these things, it frustrates me most of all that the majority of the people in this singles group seem more preoccupied with superficial, trivial things than the things of God. Unless we’re actually sitting down in our official “discussion” time, it seems most of the chatter revolves around sports, recreation, painted toenails (for the women), and other trivial matters–which, in and of themselves, there’s nothing wrong with, and I’m certainly not opposed to, but when I gather with fellow believers on a Sunday morning, I’m not really there to talk about trivial things. I want to share Christ. I want to pray. I want to be prayed for. I want to see Jesus show up. But how can He, when we’re so preoccupied with everything BUT Him? And how can I ever truly find the sweet, intimate, Christ-centered fellowship I long for, when those around me seem more satisfied with talking about who won the football game and what color their toenails are?

I’m not claiming to be more spiritual than any of these people. Far from it. I like painting my toenails, and I love watching football, but there is a time and place for those things. I just don’t think Sunday mornings are that time and place. And when I sit there, as those around me discuss everything but Jesus, something inside me just aches with loneliness. And I walk away feeling so empty and disappointed. Feeling once again that I don’t fit in. That as much as I long for relationships, apparently I’m not going to find them in church. Or at least I haven’t yet. I’m there, but I’m not there. I’m there, but I’m not known. I’m there, but I’m sitting on the outside looking in. And this is the feeling I’ve had throughout my life, in nearly every church I’ve attended. Most often, it’s been outside the four walls of “church” that I’ve found, in brief periods, sweet, Christ-centered fellowship with other believers. Like the time I sat outside for nearly a whole afternoon, in Brazil, talking in Portuguese with a sweet, sweet Brazilian man who told me he was disappointed that most Christians he knew didn’t want to talk about Jesus. So for nearly a whole afternoon he and I simply talked about Jesus. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, and one that, sadly, I really haven’t replicated in my life since then.

Is there something wrong with me? Or is it more than just me? Why is that kind of friendship, fellowship and intimacy so elusive for me? Why do I only seem to find it in isolated pockets and experiences in my life? I’ve been crying out to God for a while now for more Christian friends, deeper relationships, and just a Christian “family” where I feel safe being vulnerable, but so far, even at this church I now attend, such relationships feel so out of reach for me.

I long for intimacy. And I don’t just mean the romantic kind (though I certainly want that too). I long to be known. I long for more than “Hi’s” and half-hearted “How-are-you’s” on Sunday mornings. I long to sit over a cup of coffee with someone, pour out my heart, pray, and just talk about Jesus. But I don’t have that. And I can’t figure out why I don’t. Especially when I pray so much for it, and I’m trying to do all the right things to find it.

So for now, God is all I have. And while having Him is certainly a great comfort, I still struggle in attaining intimacy with Him as well. Sometimes all I want is “Jesus with skin on.”

So here I am, just aching inside, and just wishing the ache would go away.