Friday, June 13, 2014

An Addendum

I think my last post misled you. It made me sound super-spiritual, like even in the mess I had it all together. Holy, holy, holy. Oh, how I wish that were true. Here's the truth...

I spent about four months, November to March, being a total (yes, I'm going to say it) bitch to my roommate. I was angry. She was in an ideal position to receive all that anger. God has done a major work of restoration in our friendship over the last three months but we're just starting to get to a place where we have even a moment of what we had before we left China together.

I smoked like a chimney for about 6 months. I know, you can't believe I'm confessing this in a public forum. Deal with it. When I can't handle life, apparently I smoke. I spent that time sneaking around, finding quiet places to have a cig and get away from people. I still love to smoke but well, we all know it's not healthy so I don't do it...often.

I feel...numb these days. I went from feeling all the feels for many months to being in a place where I rarely feel anything deeply. I suppose it's been a way my heart and mind have chosen to protect themselves a bit, to re-stabilize. When you're a person who feels things very deeply, sometimes you just need a break. Every once in awhile, especially when I'm tired, the sadness oozes out, but mostly, I'm just fine. And of course, there are moments of true joy. Those come mostly when the sun is out and I'm near the scent of an olive tree. Living in a beautiful place like Colorado has definitely been a healing balm for my soul. So, as time passes and healing happens, my heart and mind have begun to thaw here and there.

God still feels very far away. I can see Him working and moving both in my life and around me but the closeness is still missing. I've tried everything I can think of to get it to return but well, it's just not happening. But I read a book called, "Come, Be My Light" by Mother Teresa a couple of months ago and it's been the most encouraging and challenging book I've ever read. If you've ever been through a really dark time spiritually, I cannot recommend it enough. God used it to speak to me in such a direct way, it kind of helped remove the crazy I was feeling, and give a name to thoughts I was thinking.

Sin. I make poor choices all the time. When you don't have a lot of accountability, let's just be honest, sin comes in faster and more often. The benefit of living in a fishbowl (like I had in China) is that you're probably less like to choose to do wrong because someone, somewhere is probably watching and is hopefully going to call you out. Because of my lack of that, well, let's just say, I've really learned the need and importance of having people to do life with, closely.

So there it is. The truth and ugliness of my heart. I am SO aware of my sin. You should be too. And in that way, we're doing a little bit of life together. Which is exactly what I need.

I truly love you, my dear friends. It's very easy to believe the lie that when you feel all alone, that you actually ARE all alone. You've made it very clear that I'm loved. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

One Year Later- A Reflection

Today marks one year (exactly) since I moved back to America. I'm taking the evening to reflect on the last year, not only to update those of you who care but also so that I'll have it written down somewhere. I've broken it up into categories because otherwise, it was just too overwhelming. It's a lot of words. I will definitely judge the amount of your love for me by how far you make it through this post. :) 

The timeline (because we all have a hard time keeping up with my crazy life):
  • Left Qingdao and arrived in Denver on June 12th, 2013
  • Moved into my new house on June 14th, 2013 (with NO furniture or house stuff)
  • Started my new job at the church on June 17th, 2013
  • Worked at the church June-December 2013
  • Quit my job at the church in November but finished in December 2013
  • Unemployed for a month (yay for a time of rest!)
  • Started a very part time job teaching the GED to immigrants in the middle of January 2014
  • Started a full-time job with Denver Rescue Mission as the Volunteer Relations Coordinator on January 27th, 2014
  • Finished the GED job at the end of February 2014
  • Working at Denver Rescue Mission, January-present

 The bullet-point update (for those of you who don't really care about feeling all the feels):
  • The job- I'm still working at Denver Rescue Mission. What is DRM? We run a homeless shelter in downtown Denver but we also have several locations that work with families in transition (need a home but have a job), people who are homeless, and refugees new to the country. I find volunteers, interview, process paperwork and place them into our programs so that those programs will run properly. I love working for this organization, I love the people I work with. I'm struggling with my job a bit. It doesn't really lend towards relationship-building and I do a lot of work in front of a computer. But it's been exactly what I needed for the last several months, a time of consistency and stability, nothing too stretching or difficult. And it's only been a 40-hour-a-week job (can you imagine!?!) so I've had all my evenings and weekends to do other things. That's been AWESOME. In ministry/teaching, you're on all the time. This has been life-changing, literally, to be able to just rest and 'be' on the weekends, not having to serve at church or worry about lesson plans. At the same time, I'm hoping this season is coming to an end. My heart aches to be involved in ministry of some sort, working with people, building relationships.
  • Church- when I left my job at the church, I was completely broken...for a myriad of reasons. I needed some time to dig through the hurt, face sin and brokenness in my heart towards the church and begin the healing and restoration process. I began visiting churches and six months later, I'm still visiting churches. I've been in ministry/pastor's kid for all but 6 years of my life which basically means I've rarely had a choice on where I've gone to church. And here I am, getting to choose (which I hate because it's like shopping for a car) and I can't seem to find one that fits even a little bit. I used to have a long list of what I was looking for. All reasonable things but unfindable, it seems. Now, I've basically narrowed down my list to "deep, gospel-centered preaching" and "friendly people who aren't all in my age-range/social status". So, we'll see. Trying really hard not to be discouraged. But God has definitely used this time to begin the healing process. I'm so very thankful for this season.
  • Community- I have very little community. Because of my lack of church and changing of jobs, I just haven't been anywhere long enough to build relationships. I have friends who I hang out with but outside of my roommate (dear friend) Carolyn, I'm still trying to find a niche. I have had an opportunity to live missionally with my neighbors. We (the roommate and me) hang with the kids a couple of times a month (at least). Lots of fun. And I'm so thankful for them. They're a tangible expression of God's faithfulness. I also have a couple of women at work that I'm able to pray with and get a bit of accountability with. So thankful for them too.
  • Me- because of the predictability and ease of my job, I've been able to spend a lot of time focused on getting healthy. I go to the gym 5ish times a week and eat super healthy (lots of time cooking and prepping meals). I started in December of 2013 but got really hardcore at Lent. I've lost 65lbs. I have a hard time seeing the difference but every once in awhile something will happen and it'll hit me. I'm really thankful that I've had this time to figure out how to do life in a healthy way. I don't really have a goal weight but I plan to continue until...I'm ready to stop which will be until at least October. Another interesting thing is that I've been doing some dating since the beginning of this year. Online dating, that is. It's made for some very interesting stories and added a bit of adventure to my mundane life. On another note, I also bought a car and a house-full of furniture.
  • Family- one of the main reasons I moved to Denver was because it was only an hour drive to my parents house. After living away from home for 16 years, it's been a beautiful thing to be so close. I've been able to help with hospital and doctor stuff, go fishing, spend the night, watch movies, hang out...really, just do life with my family. It's been the best part of my move back to America, for sure. Another tangible expression of God's faithfulness.
Where I'm at (emotionally and spiritually...this is very personal so look away if you're not into vulnerability):
This has been, by far, the hardest year of my life. Leaving a place I loved, where I learned that it was okay to be exactly who God created me to be, fully embraced even in my mess and sin, loved and fully known, doing a job and being involved in a ministry that had purpose, growth, grace... leaving all of that, was like mourning a death, an abstract but very real death. It was something I wasn’t prepared for. I knew it would be difficult to leave but I chalked it up to one more move, something I’ve done 20 times. But this time leaving was unlike any other. And then walking into a very messy situation with an elder resigning and having to take over a  couple of ministries, working 90 hours a week, reeling from jetlag, moving into a new house while having nothing to move in to my house, learning a new city, a new culture, a new job, overseeing interns, dealing with some major health issues with the roommate, having a small but very inconvenient car accident...all of this crazy circumstantial stuff. And at the same time, some incredibly difficult spiritual stuff. My last two years in China were revolutionary in my understanding of how much God loved me and learning to love Him back. He revealed himself to me so deeply. After being a believer for 28 years, I finally understood, even if just a bit, what it meant to "be in a loving relationship" with him. So hard but such joy. It was like we were walking hand-in-hand through a flower-filled meadow, sun shining, laughing and playing, drinking deeply from our time together. And it wasn't just me and Him, it was me and him and so many of my friends from my community in China, arms linked, basking in the glow of doing life together. And when it was time for me to leave, God and I, we held hands through the airport in China, wept together on the plane to America,  suffered through jetlag and the craziness of the ministry I had stepped into for that first month and then, poof. He was gone. I lost the sense of His presence. I don't believe that he literally left me, but it sure seemed like he removed himself from me. Somewhere in July, between the outside circumstances and feeling completely and utterly alone spiritually, something broke inside of me. Life became disconnected. I walked around kind of like a zombie, meeting needs, completing tasks, exhausting myself to my limits, all the while feeling like I had lost my mind. I was completely out of control with my emotions (I think I cried every day for six months straight), unable to see truth and even if I could see it, I sure didn't know it or understand it. I entered into, what I'm sure was, a very deep depression.

I spent the rest of the summer and most of the fall, just trying to survive. I was drowning, trying to learn to breath underwater. After quitting my job at the church in December, my outside circumstances changed, became calmer; I was able to rest physically. Having time to rest, though, also meant that I had time to really feel. And it hurt. Really hurt. I was so angry and bitter, at the church (as a whole), at God. Mostly at God. I felt abandoned, alone, like He'd pulled the bait-and-switch on me. I couldn't make it all make sense, why he would move me in such a providential way from a place of knowing and being known in China and bring me to a place of feeling completely and utterly alone in America. I was SO.ANGRY.

At the same time, I could see little blips of Him working. Giving me neighbor kids to love on, providing my job at Denver Rescue Mission, allowing an ease of relationship with my parents, sending me to a church where a pastor spoke words of life that I so desperately needed to hear to begin the healing process. As time passed, specifically during Lent, my heart began to change. Or maybe I should say that HE was changing my heart. Where there was anxiety, came peace. Where there was disillusionment, came understanding. Where there was anger and bitterness, came grace. It's still in process, of course.

God has spent the last year stripping me of many, many things. I've begun to understand the purpose of this stripping of relationships and ministry and job and community. You see, before I left China, during my last year, I spent a lot of time praying that God would:

  • take away my pride.
  • reveal the depth of my anger.
  • root out brokenness.
  • knock down my idols.
  • make me more like Him.
And he's spent this last year doing just that. Not only has he stripped the things that I've always found my identity in, he's also revealed the depth of my pride, my anger, my brokenness, the vastness of my idols...He has been faithful, even in this.

Even in this.

Even in my heartache. Even in my utter loneliness.

It's the cry of my heart, to be stripped and then rebuilt. To be broken and then remade. I just didn't realize it would come in this package.

I wish I could say that I was on the other side of it all. That I was running through the fields again, hand-in-hand. That I had embraced the stripping, the brokenness. I suppose I have moments that I do. But mostly I just long for Him, for community that reflects him. I ache for a church, for a ministry, for an outlet to use my gifts. Life comes in seasons. And this is a season of just learning to 'be'. Being content, being still, just being.

What's next:
I SO wish I knew. I'm just waiting. I've been here a year and still don't have anything tying me down, linking me to this place. And maybe that "linking" is coming right around the corner. Or maybe He's prepping me for the next step. I'm learning that even though God is so very faithful, He often shows that faithfulness in a completely different way than expected. So, I'm learning to let go of my expectations. Sounds like an adventure, doesn't it?

After all of this, I can say:

I am thankful.

I am thankful for this year. For the experiences, the loss, the hurt, the revealing of sin, the new beginnings, the answered prayers, the faithfulness of God.

I'm walking away from the last 12 months better understanding my desperate need for a Savior. And that my friends, is the point, isn't it?