The heat of the long summer days has not subsided, yet back to school tasks are beginning. My oldest is entering first grade, all of her school years still ahead of her. She is still young enough to look forward to school with expectancy.
On the other end of the spectrum, someone special in my life is entering her senior year. A different kind of expectancy surrounds her and her family, as a life-changing year looms in front of her.
These are my words for her:
We haven’t often talked about serious matters. Our relationship has often been expressed at a surface-level, but my love for you feels more like a protective older sister than anything. I was so young when you were born, about to enter my senior year of high school. I can’t believe you are now there yourself (and how old that makes me)!
As I think about the year ahead of you, of course, it makes me reflect on that time in my life when I felt like I was on the brink of real life. I didn’t realize how little I really knew. I probably wouldn’t have listened to someone telling me how to live my life, thinking I was so sure of what lay ahead. But you have always been the type that listens more than other people, an old soul. Keep listening. Others who have been before you have much to share.
I see the incredible potential in you to do great things for the world, a compassion for people that is rare in a person your age. I then look around at the culture you are in the center of, this generation that gets everything at lightning speed and expects instant gratification as their right. It is at such odds with the kind of life God designed us to live, waiting on Him and putting others ahead of ourselves. It must be so difficult to live a life of faith, feeling like you are swimming upstream in the middle of this generation.
When I think of you entering your last year of high school, there is so much I want to tell you. I could tell you how important this year ahead of you is for your future, how the decisions you make this year will determine the course your life takes.
"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.."
The first time I ever felt my chest tighten like it could cut off all airflow to my body was 8 years ago. I was less than a year into a job I loved but then my boss left and I took over the entire department. I was only 26, younger than everyone else in my department, and I felt like I was in over my head. Who said I had the authority to lead this?
I returned from a month overseas and my husband and I were praying about moving to the Middle East while doing this job. To top it off my grandmother, more like a second mom to me, ended up in hospice after a fall. I would run from work to the hospice, grabbing fast food on the way, trying to juggle a million things in my head and heart.
The physicians assistant told me it was my childhood asthma that was rearing it's ugly head again and making me unable to feel like I could catch my breath. The medicine didn't help and I found myself again sitting in the doctor's office.
This time my doctor and friend didn't even have to touch me to diagnose in a moment the anxiety that was wreaking havoc on my body. Part of me felt relieved that I wasn't also dying in the midst of all of the chaos in my life at that moment, but then there were all the doubts.
Why? What am I doing wrong? Is it a spiritual problem? Can I handle this on my own or do I need to be put on medication?
I found ways to deal with the anxiety. Yoga would help my chest to not feel so tight. Running, praying, hot baths, journaling. There were things I could do, so I felt in control again. But throw in a new country within the year, another family illness when I was a world away and couldn't even be there to help, and the rug was pulled out from under me again.
This time I pleaded with God to take the anxiety away. I knew I wasn't in control of what was happening to my body any more than I was in control of the circumstances that brought me to this place. In time, it passed again...
Years later there was an incidence of anxiety brought on by two impending international trips on top of a full-time job and two kids, to-do lists that had me drowning. Take it away, Lord! Please! I am slow at math but I finally reasoned: stress + me = meltdown.
So, I slowed down and began to say "no" to extra events. I was writing again, working out regularly, had a firm grasp on life. But the world started to spin anyway - again.
Barren. Parched. Empty. I think of the desert as I sit looking out over our backyard. Half of it is green, a carpet of grass ready for little feet to run and play on. The other half feels rugged and rocky underneath eager feet. Harsh rains and hail pelted us this winter and water would stand in the shady, low places killing whatever had grown there. The grass got little nourishment from the sun and stayed bogged down with water, unable to replenish itself this spring.
Barren. Parched. Empty. I think of a valley of dry bones as I sit, trying to quiet my soul. I started writing again this year in an attempt to quiet my spirit, to take the swirling thoughts, the anxieties and the chaos, and mold them into thoughts directed at God. I have tried to find a time to write in the last week, a half finished story waiting to be completed and posted to my blog. But my soul has felt as battered as the dry places of our yard, and I have been unable to find the words, unable to even put myself into that vulnerable place of sitting down with a pen to put my heart down on paper.
All week long I felt like I was drowning under standing water, unable to see clearly through the murky mind and heart weighing me down. The little storms that came into my life this week shouldn't have so thoroughly derailed me. A spring cold made me groggy, then my five year old fell and got a slight concussion, throwing my whole week a bit off-kilter. Work got overwhelming. Discouragement weighed on me as well as I tried to push the date to the back of my mind. I had submitted stories to two magazines I felt really confident that I was a good fit for, and this week the deadline to hear if they were publishing me loomed ahead. Each day I didn't hear back made me feel a bit lower, a little more unsure of my calling to raise my voice for God in this noisy online world.
Little storms, surely nothing that should have swamped my soul and left me in a barren wasteland. But I found myself in the old familiar territory of anxiety and discouragement when I didn't cry out to God in the midst of all these swirling storms in my soul. I wallowed in them, let them build up until they blocked out the nourishment my soul so desperately needed from the One who promises to carry our burdens if we will let Him. The light couldn't break through and my words dried up, my attitude was bleak, and I couldn't bring myself to write the story of hope I had been working on. It felt like a lie.
Freckle Face. Carrot Top. Shrimp. Two by Four. Trailer Trash. These were all labels I received as a child.
I have always felt like the odd one out. Look at me and you'd say that is rediculous. I am not a minority (though I have lived in a country where I was, in race, language, and religion). I come from a loving family, have parents that are still together. Middle class, white Christian living in the Bible belt. Outsider. That is crazy.
But growing up I never felt like I fit in. I wasn't one of those "cool kids" and I struggled to belong, my freckled face, red hair and skinny legs screaming, "pick on me!" I bounced from trying to fit in to trying to stand out, anything to be noticed and accepted. I had this gnawing emptiness inside of me, always searching to belong somewhere. Having not grown up in the church, I discovered both Jesus and His Church when I was in high school. Finally, a place to belong...or so I thought.
I didn't know all the right "church" words, didn't know all the Bible stories and songs the kids grew up learning. I didn't know how to say and do all the right things that made me a good youth group kid, but I sure did try. In the process I alienated my family who didn't share my beliefs or desire to belong to the church. I tried so hard to fit into one world that I walked away from the family I did belong to all along. I started dating a guy who was in the group of the "real" youth group kids and I thought I was in...until that relationship went south and I was the pariah of the group I tried to so hard to belong to.
It was the end of summer and I was getting ready to start my senior year, still as lost as ever. I sat on the fringes of the youth group at an outside event we were having. I don't remember any teaching or songs from that night. I just remember the people who called me friend a few short weeks ago sitting together and laughing, excluding me. Every bit of laughter felt like a slight, like it was directed at me.
I walked away from church that night and it would be three years before I returned to the body of Christ, finding a new home at a campus ministry in college. I looked at the people who talked about love on the weekends and walked into school and showed nothing of the love of Christ to the people around them. If that was Christianity, I wanted nothing to do with it.
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