Friday, November 22, 2013

lessons learned in a bittersweet season.

I recently used up all the pages of my journal. Every one of them filled with thoughts, prayers, heartaches, scripture, moments to remember and praises to God. A piece of me was excited for this journal to end because there was a certain bitterness to it. But then another piece of me was sad for this journal to end because there was a certain sweetness to it. In fact, it was just that... bittersweet.
Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness.     --Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet 
I began this journal on May 5th, five months after finishing my final semester of college, but just a few weeks before officially graduating. A lot happened since that mild spring day and I felt it worthy to read the pages of my heart between then and now.

As I flipped through the pages, these are six lessons I believe the Lord taught me in this bittersweet season of life.

1: We all long for someone to know us deeply, to feel our pain, and never let us go. Those spring days were filled with a lot of loneliness... feeling like no one really understood where I was in life and that no one knew the deepest parts of my soul. Many days were spent searching for the one that could know and understand but I always came up empty. And then one gloomy day as I was driving home from a much needed Starbucks break, I burst into tears. I couldn't do it anymore. I needed someone to hold me and tell me it would all be okay. And in that moment, I felt the warmth of the One who knows me more than I know myself. I was embraced by His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. And since that moment, I am slowly learning that there is no one who can always promise to know us deeply, feel our pain, and never let us go. The only one who can promise that is our loving Father.

2: Life is much sweeter when we stop to recognize and thank God for the little moments. At some point along this journey, I started a list of gratitude, daily jotting down all things I was grateful for. Grateful for the microwave to reheat my coffee... smell of fresh play-doh... the ability to so easily talk to a friend too many states away... dirty dishes... weather that allows me to run outside again... baking with a 3 year old... tight embrace of a hug. Even though many of those days were hard, there was always a multitude of things to be thankful for. Always.

3: Do not take the people in your life for granted. Some days of this season were lonely, yes. But I also had a lot of people walking along side me through them and I do not take that for granted. A few pages of this journal are reserved for those people and my thankfulness for their presence in my life.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.    {Ecclesiastes 4:12} 

4: We are called to obedience... to be steadfast despite. 
"This is what God is teaching me here at Michindoh and in this moment of life. I am learning what true obedience is. I've always thought it to be following God's law strictly and when I screw up, hope is lost. I've thought obedience means constantly trying to discern God's will and only doing that. But these are false narratives God is helping me to overcome. Obedience and freedom can be in the same sentence. "Obedience is... inviting the Spirit of God to flow freely through us." Obedience is steadfast despite. Obedience is pursuing God when all hope seems lost. Obedience is trusting the Lord is faithful in the midst of a desert."         --taken directly from the pages of my journal (in a season of waiting shares more about this lesson)

5: Do not grow weary in the waiting. The Lord sees you and knows how hard it is for you. The waiting has been hard. Waiting to get to Crooked Creek. Waiting to feel freedom. Waiting for this place to feel like home. The waiting was hardest when I convinced myself I was alone. But looking back now, I know the Lord was with me. He saw me. He knew it was hard for me and he provided the strength I needed.
"But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."    {Isaiah 40:31}

6: The Lord is faithful. The Lord has been so faithful in my journey of moving across the country, but also in even the smallest of things. In the sadness of leaving Kenosha, the place I grew to know and love, I wrote...
"But I trust the Lord will provide new places that will become my favorite. I will discover new coffee shops that I love. I will find a new church bursting with love for God. I will find a new grocery store. I will travel new roads over and over. I will find a new view I can't get enough of. The Lord makes all things new."
When I read this a few days ago I was so overcome by joy because the Lord proved to be so faithful in all of these. I discovered new coffee shops in this town that I love. I found a church that is quite different from what I'm used to, but I love the tight community there. I could probably navigate you through our small town grocery store blindly. I travel the same back country, dirt-covered roads all the while looking at a view I can't get enough of. Wow. The Lord is so faithful.

And so as I close this journal and sit it on the shelf I am thankful. I am thankful for the hard days that taught me invaluable lessons. I am thankful for the sweet days that reminded me of the Lord's goodness. And I am thankful for today... the day I can declare this to be a bittersweet season and be content with it.   

"Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really need both bitter and sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, earthy."   --Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

Saturday, November 16, 2013

in the midst of the madness.

It's been a while. November came. And now on it's way out again. Life got busy. But it has been oh so good. 

My favorite times in the past few weeks have taken place when there's a million things to do, but I put them aside for something even greater. 

Monday was Veteran's Day which meant a vacation day for camp staff. I had a lengthy list of things that I wanted to use this extra day off for, but I put that aside. Instead, I hopped in the minivan with the other interns and headed to Colorado Springs. Trevor's family lives there and we went to spend less than 24 hours soaking in the perks of being in a home. We ate dinner at a beautifully set table, with parents, grandparents and siblings. The table was loud. There was a lot of passing of dishes. But it was oh so good. The next morning we made two pots of coffee, because well, that's necessary with all of us. We gathered around the table again for breakfast, and then quickly took a picture to remember these moments before heading out the door. 

All in the cars again, we ventured to the Garden of the Gods. The Lord's creation took my breath away. The entire area was filled with huge rock formation coming straight up out of nowhere. 

And then we stopped for coffee at a cute, downtown coffee shop. We sat outside in the warm sun of Colorado and talked. Although we all live together, it's rare we sit shoulder to shoulder at a round table and have a conversation. I can't recall much of what we talked about but I know it was good. I know it was a moment to breathe, take in the fresh air, and just be. 

Wednesday one of my favorite people from Michigan, Kelly, came to Colorado. She was 2 and a half hours away and this week ideally wasn't the one to spare 7 hours for driving and dinner, but we did it and it was oh so good. Jordan, Sushi and I drove back to Colorado Springs after work and talked the whole way down. We talked about family, intern life and our jobs. We talked about things that have been really good and things that have been really hard. When we finally got to Kelly, we embraced, and jumped back in the car headed for the lights (aka... a place to eat dinner). We landed at a fantastic brewery with "the best burgers in Colorado Springs". But it wasn't that place or it's food that made the night so great. It was the friends that gathered around the table. The four of us haven't been together since our summer 2011 at TWL but none of us could tell. After all sharing what we learned about the Lord this year, our waitress kindly dimmed the lights and told us we had to go, the restaurant was closing. The drive back was a little rough, we were all tired, but I wouldn't have changed the night for anything. Dinner was beautiful and exactly what I needed in the midst of busy times. 

This week we also had some guest services folks from all of the Young Life camps at CCR. Having some of my TWL fam here called for taking an hour lunch and going to bed a few hours later to catch up. It was a truly a gift.

And then last night, I got out of bed twice just to stand outside under the beautifully falling snow with friends I hold so dear to my heart. I had other things to do (mainly sleep), but I put that aside to make a memory. To embrace the moment. And it was oh so good. 

I've been reminded recently that our lives can get so busy we forget what we're truly made for. We're made to sit around the table as a family and be loud together. We're made to enjoy God's beauty. We're made to drive 4 hours just to get dinner with an old friend. We're made to get out of bed and stand under the beautifully falling snow. 
So I encourage you to put aside the agenda of what needs to get done this week. Embrace the very moment God has given us in the midst of the madness. And take some pictures too... they remind us of how good those moments are.