Lamenting and Hoping: 2018 Reflections

lament post

I started 2018 with the word “lament” in my head and on my heart.

I realize that choosing a word like “lament” over a new year is strange and counterintuitive. But I wanted 2018 to be a year of pruning, one where I learned more about the Lord and my sin and what work I needed to do to grow in my faith and relationships and profession. Through my Bible reading and lots of prayer, and some other books and podcasts, I learned a little about how to lament and how it’s an important step through confession and to repentance. After some reflection, I realized I had never intentionally mourned over hard things- not my own sin, or the awful, systemic things happening in our society. Instead of lamenting over my fallenness, I tried to ignore it because I felt bad about it, because I didn’t want God to be disappointed in me, because it stung too much. And instead of really leaning into the hard injustices of this world, I typically, honestly, ignored them because I was privileged enough to do so..

Lament was really foreign to me, and after recognizing the value and necessity of it spiritually through Scripture and other teachings, it was something I really wanted to be intentional about this year in my own spiritual practices.

I spent my year of Bible reading paying more attention to how people in Scripture grieved and confessed and repented and rid themselves of their sin by turning to the Lord again and again, and I journaled my way through that process. But 2018 brought a whole lot of external good-byes for me too, and a whole lot more things to grieve than I expected.

For six months, I met with a nutritionist and followed a strict eating plan, saying no to tacos with friends and cake on my birthday in hopes to heal my body of issues that had plagued it for the past decade (it’s worked so far- PRAISES). Matt and I got a puppy and I coached tennis and he did grad school like a champ. Our routine together completely shifted in ways we didn’t expect, and it took some work to catch up and reconnect. Matt applied to a church in DC and we flew here in April to meet all the people and accepted it a week later. I raced to revise my resume and apply to all the jobs while preparing to say goodbye to a school and community and students and friends I loved. I accepted a job at an urban charter school with the desire to learn how to teach well in a diverse setting, which I knew would require a lot of humility and listening and learning about systemic injustices that our students face. We found an apartment on Craigslist and drove hundreds of miles with our pup in the backseat to see all the family before we left Indy. We moved in June.

In those six months alone, we said so many good-byes. Good-byes to routines and normals and communities and friends. See-ya-laters to living closer to family, and to a life that was really comfortable.

This year was littered with loss and change and adjusting and different. The lamenting that was happening in my heart, it was happening in my external life too.

Then my dad died.

And grief has now become my new normal in ways I didn’t intend, because with one phone call in August, it felt like everything blew up. 

My dad unexpectedly dying was a strange and coincidental thing to happen in my year bannered with lament, or maybe not. Maybe the Lord just knew that this was a word that would fit my year, that would prepare me for something a whole lot more tragic than I could have anticipated. Regardless, I spent a whole year focusing on grief, and honestly, it was brutal.

But as all things in faith, hard things lead to beauty and joy and hope because Jesus was resurrected, and that’s the narrative that dictates the Christian life, my life. And as I shed buckets of tears this year because adjusting to new realities is hard, I also started to tip-toe my way towards a deeper dependence in the Lord, and to learn over and over that it’s truly the best way. We’re experiencing the care of the church in our grief and growing in our new opportunities, and tightening bonds with our family and lifelong friends in really beautiful ways. This year has been defined by these paradoxes, of lament but hope for a better eternity, deep sorrow over lost things, but also great joy through the Lord and new opportunities and our local church.

This year, through all of the loss and good-byes and death, it’s making me believe in Jesus more. It’s making me believe more deeply in the Gospel and the resurrection and hope and eternity, because I think being close to death and loss forces you to really consider these things. It’s making me experience grace in new ways because I was aware of my desperate need for it more than before. 2018 was messy and hard, and I’m ending the year exhausted and hurt and a little confused. 2019 will bring more grief, I’m sure, but I also know it’ll bring beauty and grace and joy and hope, just like I saw this year, and I’m really excited for those moments to come. 

Morning Commutes and Trusting the Lord

I moved to a downtown neighborhood this past summer into a cute, two-story historic house nestled closely within the surrounding homes. I live with roommates and travel a little bit longer to school and to church and to Matt, but it’s a lively neighborhood packed with people and hospitality and social events every month.

If you talked to me at all this past fall, you know how much I hated the drive to work in the dark, early mornings and during rush hour through downtown after soccer practice. I hated having to get up earlier to get to school obnoxiously early because I was afraid to leave and arrive to work too close to the time we started because it didn’t leave much room for error. What if there was a crash and too much traffic? Or if the weather was terrible or some part of my route was closed down? What if I arrived to school late when I had more to prepare for the day? I didn’t ever want to risk it, so I got up early in attempt to minimize any problem before it could happen. 

As much as I dreaded this new commute, when I think back to the fall, one of the most consistent memories I have was in my car in the mornings. It was always dark and the roads were empty and it was quiet. And around October, in a strained effort to up the game in my prayer life, I started to pray aloud for at least half of my drive. At first it felt weird to talk to someone who couldn’t audibly respond, but as all habits do, it became normal and needed and a necessary part of my morning routine.

Through these prayers every morning, I started to practice remembering what the Lord has done. Because on days when I walked into the classroom exhausted after emotionally draining late-night games, He gave me energy and the ability to connect with my students. And in the moments when I’ve been overwhelmed with wedding details, Matt has been there to calm me down and my mom has been there to take the reins on whatever needed to get done. And in the moments when I’ve needed rest, He’s worked through the people around me to allow me a break, even when it came in the middle of 2nd period. Through this practice of remembering, I’ve realized that even though the Lord has provided every single thing I have ever needed to keep moving forward and to thrive, actually trusting that the Lord is in control has always come as an afterthought; something I realized once the struggle was done.

Trusting in the Lord is something I’ve always tiptoed around, something I’ve tested before believing that He’s someone I can always and consistently count on. Because when I look back on this past year, in so many situations I only trusted when it was the last resort, when it was the only option I had left. When I had finally held up my white surrender flag after realizing that I couldn’t do it all– all the driving, coaching, teaching, loving, communicating, planning, and organizing– without Jesus.

I hate this reality even more than I disliked my morning commute at first. Because I’ve been a Christian my whole life, I don’t remember a time where I didn’t know Jesus. But I get stuck in the rules and the expectations and the ridiculous notion that I am in control, even though that’s failed over and over again. But the Lord is gracious and he provides well and I want this year to be a year where I trust more in these truths than in the unnecessary expectations I put on myself that only lead me to exhaustion and dissatisfaction.

And so, I want this year to be a year of remembrance, of always knowing that the Lord provides abundantly what I need. I’ve tiptoed around this reality for too long, testing God first only to look up at him in awe, wondering how he could do such a good thing. I want this year to be a shift from sheepishly wondering whether the Lord will provide to completely trusting that He will. I want to trust that he is enough for my mistakes and insecurities and anxieties before they get to be too overwhelming. I want to fully trust that he is a God who answers prayers and who fulfills callings, that he is a God who restores his people to himself, even in the midst of complete and utter mess and brokenness and especially during times of prosperity, joy, and excitement. 

This year, I’ll keep getting up too early and start to say my prayers once I pass the Keystone exit. I’ll continue to practice remembering who our God is with the hope that I learn to trust him more, before the overwhelming moments come. But even when I forget, even when I’m stuck in my anxieties and control, I’ll remember that my Lord has restored me before and will graciously do it again because that’s who he is and what he does. Today I’m grateful for this new year and this time to be reminded to start over, to inch my way forward in learning how to trust a God who has always been in control.

Finding Hope in the Ordinary

As I walked through Advent this year, I was reminded that we serve a God who creates incredible meaning from ordinary moments. Jesus was born to teenage parents in a stable and placed in a manger—simple, quiet, and, at the moment, unknown to most outside the stable. An uncharacteristic coming for a long-awaited King.

Through his humble beginnings and the many ordinary moments of his human life, Jesus proved he was willing and able to live this hard, lonely, dark life with us, giving us hope and providing light in every moment because he understands. He walked through it too, becoming the ultimate counselor for every difficult, hopeless, draining moment we experience on this earth.

Jesus brought hope. He brought light and joy and the freedom to enjoy relationships and passions and learning and creation despite the darkness that plagues this world. He provided an answer for the longing, hope that there is something better than what this world offers.

I don’t know what happened in your 2015, but I’m sure some hard stuff went down. I’m sure things changed that you didn’t expect to change and that you struggled and cried and felt hopeless and lonely at different moments. I know I did. But this year, more so than other years, I experienced the reality of Christmas, of light always being the end result of darkness. Of God providing incredibly beautiful moments and opportunities I couldn’t have anticipated. Of a Savior always coming when the darkness I found in myself was too much.

I love how Christmas is immediately proceeded by a New Year. After a season of reflection and longing and waiting and finally of the joy that Christmas day symbolizes, we get to start over. I’m thankful to serve a God that always allows us to start over every moment, every morning, every year.

In this New Year, I hope you allow the significance of Christmas to change your daily routines and conversations and relationships and responsibilities. I hope you recognize God in the small moments, that you see how he is infusing light and hope into the facets of your world you think are permanently dark.

I hope you find God with you in your responsibilities at work or school, in the dark mornings getting ready for the day, in the average conversations with the people around you. I hope you find Him in the books you read and in the people he brings into your life, in the walks you take outside or in the dinner you make at night.

Let’s allow 2016 to be the year we recognize grace and love and hope and truth in the everyday because we remember that God is with us.

I started this blog to do just that, but in the transition of graduation and moving and first year teaching and the hundred other new things the Lord plopped in my life, I’ve forgotten to spend time reflecting on finding the beautiful in the ordinary. So here’s to coming back to this space in 2016, reflecting and learning and finding meaning in the in-between moments.

you’re where you’re supposed to be

I figured you might need this reminder just as much as I do: you’re where you’re supposed to be.

I don’t know where you’re at in life, but if you’re anywhere like I am, you might be a little confused, kind of anxious, and a tad bit discontent sometimes.

We’re at that time of the year where lots of things are happening to the people around us. Our friends are traveling to exotic places, getting engaged, graduating, and landing jobs. And as we celebrate with our friends who are being presented these incredible opportunities, sometimes when our story doesn’t look the same at that exact moment we start to panic.

Did I miss something? Am I behind?

We start to try harder, micromanage situations and control, control, control because we want our life to look like that one, right now.

So here’s my advice to you (and to myself): stop.

Stop freaking out. Stop trying to control. Stop beating yourself up because you’re not in the same place as the person next to you.

Where you’re at right now is just as worthy as the person who got that job or that ring or that degree because these aren’t the things that define us. Just because where you’re at doesn’t gain a billion likes on social media doesn’t mean that it’s not just as important.

I’ve found myself needing this reminder often. Because when I keep comparing where I’m at to every person around me, I forget that God is doing really good things in my life right now—things I need to celebrate and be proud of because they’re shaping me to be more like Him and that’s always enough.

And right now, they’re the things I need to be focusing on.

So here’s to stopping the comparison game because, man, it really is the thief of joy. Here’s to delving into what needs to be done in my life and celebrating with my friends as they experience exciting milestones.

change, intentionality, and joy || lessons from 2014

Change, while difficult, has always been exciting to me. I’m not exactly the best at standing still, therefore I like the new and the unexpected. So, fittingly, I love New Year’s. I love the resolutions and the energy and the anticipation for something new to happen. It also allows for some solid reflection time, time for us to learn from what happened and evaluate what we want for the future.

My 2014 started in Africa and will end in Indiana and nothing could have prepared me for what happened in between.

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I traveled and I laughed and I loved and I cried. I wrote words I never thought I could write and ran miles I didn’t think my body was capable of running. I ended things I thought were permanent and grew deeper with people who were right in front of me. I discovered I was good at the things I deeply wanted to be good at and most of all, I learned I was worthy of the life I wanted to live.

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I am worthy of the life I want to live. I still get excited writing these words because it’s something I’m just beginning to believe. Because for so long I didn’t think I was good enough or smart enough or pretty enough or creative enough to be a good teacher or friend or writer, so I simply didn’t try. And I still feel that sometimes, I still struggle and get confused and angry and frustrated because I’m human. But by allowing myself to receive the grace of a good God and live in the freedom He provides, I’ve discovered the joy of living a life of intentionality.

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This year I started to take action. I stopped allowing life to just happen to me and I made some of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. And while I initially thought they would cause me to be lonely and dissatisfied and confused, I found myself surrounded by an unbelievably supportive community, satisfied with the life I decided to believe I was worthy of living, and more focused than I’ve been in a long time. I started things I didn’t think I could start, began to be more present in relationships that mattered to me, and fully invested in work that was meaningful to me.

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And in the midst of all of this, I started to believe that my life mattered. That what I had to say and what I did affected the people around me and I had the ability to control whether this was a negative or positive thing. And so I started paying attention in my own life, investing in what helped me grow and love the people who surrounded me. I discovered that the life Jesus outlines in the Bible is truly the best life we can live. So if it took some pain and struggles to get here, well, I’m grateful.

I don’t know what happened to you this year, but I do know that it mattered and that what you learned is valuable. Every single experience, even the messy ones you want to bury, happened on purpose and I promise you, somewhere down the road, it will turn into something good.

As you step into 2015, wherever you are, please know that you are worthy of the life you desire to live. If you want to start writing or painting or running or taking classes or apply for that job, start. Go; take the steps to get there. You may not be perfect at first, but you have the capability to keep learning and to get better. This world needs you to be passionate about something that matters so make the hard decisions and, with God alongside of you, get there. Learn from what happened in 2014 but don’t let the pain, confusion, and frustration paralyze you. Take a risk, make the decisions you know to be right, and enjoy the surprises.

Happy New Year, people. Let’s make it a good one.