Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Open Door

Sometimes seasons are easy to pick out: A year-long Bible study. A friendship during a specific part of life. A time of growth and hardship. Knowing that the seasons are temporary, we can remain open and soft and learn as much as possible.

Other seasons are harder to pick out. Things that we think could be permanent- and wish would be permanent- we feel shifting and changing. We can fight against the change, clinging to the present, or accept it and allow God to work. 

If you go back and read blog posts from the past few years, the next season of my life will not be a surprise. Two years ago, I felt a very strong call from God to get involved with foster care. He showed me the role that sacrifice has in new life. "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." This sacrifice came in the form of being willing to commit; be tied down; let roots take hold, so that I might be a family to some. 

That journey has looked very different than what I thought. I thought I was walking into a season of opening my home to teenage girls, so that's what I prepared myself for. What ended up happening was providing a room for a pregnant teen, and then a pregnant wife whose husband was in a different country, then a newly separated woman, and now a young widow who is trying to figure out her new life in Lynchburg. I could have missed those opportunities had I been glued to the thing I had pictured. But, God kept me soft and helped me through the messy times that happen when you allow God to use you in the lives of people that need love. 

I was able to afford to live on my own because I was blessed with a full-time job with a radio group. It wasn't the job I was necessarily looking for, and wasn't in the field that I had imagined I would end up in, but I was being stretched and challenged in ways that I hadn't in the past. 

Right before I got the job, I started my journey with Celebrate Recovery. It was painful, but necessary. I had been sober for a long time, but still had typical addict behaviors. I dove head-first into tackling the hurts, habits, and hang-ups that were distracting me and weighing me down. My life, while going in a good direction, lacked integrity and I often found my heart at odds with scripture. 

Digging up hurtful things proved to be challenging while working in a Christ-centered environment. In the past, I would have shut myself off to my coworkers, kept my distance, and focused on "cleaning house." But, God knew that what I needed was not to have the option to run. He knew that I would need caring coworkers that would be willing to pray and listen and show me grace while I figured out what "normal" was supposed to look like for me. It was messy and frustrating to be so exposed, but isn't that the beauty of surrender? When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the Lord, He lavishes His incomparable grace on us so that we can endure the discomfort. 

As I neared the end of the 12-step program, I found myself in a precarious place. I found myself in a season of depression- a harsh winter. I was searching for clarity and listening intently to God's voice. I felt alone, but on the cusp of something big. Each time I cried out to God, I felt Him tell me to listen. So, I kept listening. 

And that listening has led me to this point: an open door. 

Through a series of interactions with God, I feel that the calling that God put on my life two years ago- to become a foster parent- is coming to fruition. Not exactly how I thought it would look, but all the details that I am certain of are there. One thing that God revealed during my journey through recovery is that the majority of the baggage that I acquired, and all the wrong turns that I took, started when I was a teen. What an opportunity to come alongside hurting teens and help them get the tools they need to be able to navigate the crazy adult stuff later in life!

Just a few weeks ago, when I least expected it, an opportunity to work in a girls' group home plopped in my lap. If not for the path that I was confident God was leading me down, I would have faltered. I would have hesitated and possibly missed the door. But God gave me everything I needed to confidently step into this new role that I am certain He has been preparing me for for years. 

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." 

While I'm obviously sad to leave a job where I get to interact daily with people that have easily become family, I am excited to take this leap and pursue the passion that God has put in me. 

I appreciate your prayers as I step into this and remain soft to what God is saying. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Spring is Here (Kind of)

Have you ever been in a forest in the winter? You can hear EVERYTHING. The crunch of your feet stepping in the snow. A tree branch collapsing under the weight of snow a mile away. A woodpecker trying to hollow out part of a tree.

But, if you stop and hold your breath you realize that there is a whole lot of silence as well.

It's almost deafening.

That has been my life the past few months. The only way I know how to describe it: a winter forest.

April, May, and June of this year were a struggle. Depression is something that I have struggled with since around age eight. It always has a way of sneaking up on me and it's usually not until the third week of me barely being able to drag my butt to work on time that I notice something is off. I have chronic mono, so sometimes I just chalk up my fatigue and pain to the mono flaring up. And sometimes it is. Other times, I can't shake it.

In April, I made the difficult decision to step down from my church's worship team. This was a decision that I didn't take lightly. But, because of my work schedule and responsibilities that I had there, I just didn't see any way around it. I felt sad, but also peace that God was going to lead me to something fruitful. Work was also just a stressful point for me. I was down two team members, and feeling pressure to find the right people to take their place. I knew God would provide in His own time, but wanted that time to be now. (Ha!)

In June, two things happened back to back. I was already planning on traveling up to Ohio to see my Nana. She and I hadn't had a relationship in years, but she was nearing the end of her life. Going through Celebrate Recovery gave me a lot of clarity and allowed me to feel brave enough to make amends with someone that I loved and respected. I wanted to make peace with her. Unfortunately, she passed away just a few days before I was able to make that trip. It was devastating to me, and I felt completely out of control. It stirred up emotions that I felt when my father suddenly passed away just a few years previous.

When I returned home from that trip, I found that the woman that had been living with me for six months had moved out without telling me. She had also stolen the rent money that was supposed to be paid to the landlord while I was gone. The breath was knocked out of me. I felt.... well... a lot of things. I was still reeling from the trip home. I immediately felt myself going to a very dark place. I needed to regain control. I needed to feel on top again. Yet, all I heard from God was to surrender to Him. "Listen to me," He said.
Those moments began a very dark few months. I wasn't myself. I withdrew from community. I stopped going to church. I pulled back from Celebrate Recovery. I got overwhelmed easily. I felt panic attacks creeping up on me. I started having night sweats, waking up at three or four in the morning completely drenched- even though I had two fans and the air conditioner on. I had a hard time waking up. I even started struggling with suicidal thoughts at my darkest point. And yet, I could still hear God. "Listen to me," He said.

So, I listened. I felt that whatever He had to say needed to be good. I felt desperate. I had pretty much eliminated everything from my life except work, the Literacy Board, and a handful of friends. I was smiles on the outside, but crawling with hopelessness. I didn't like who I was becoming. I so badly wanted to be healed. I worked really hard to be normal. I did laundry. I took showers. I fed my cats and changed their litterbox. I even vacuumed. I convinced myself that if I did normal things, I would go back to normal. But, nothing. I just kept getting dragged deeper into the quicksand.

This lasted about two months before I finally reached out. I talked to a friend, and to my mom. Both suggested that maybe if a doctor could prescribe me something, it might help lift the fog until I was able to process through everything. I kept praying and asking God to heal me. But all I heard from Him was, "Listen to me."

It's funny how those three words, "listen to me," seem so simple. I thought I was listening to Him. I was praying- crying out and sometimes sobbing to Him. But, after the millionth time of Him answering my prayers with His command, I finally realized that I wasn't listening at all. He wanted to me to be still. Through varying circumstances, He had allowed me to be in a very isolated place in life. And as I looked around, I realized that it was very quiet. Since I became a Christ-follower three years ago, I hadn't experienced this kind of quiet. I didn't have anywhere to go or anything to do. I could just be still. And once I really started listening, He started speaking with a clarity I hadn't experienced in a long time.

He showed me that this bareness is just a season; a winter season. It's not forever. It's not for me to be stuck in. It has a purpose. Trees need the winter to allow new growth. Spring comes every year and puts buds on the trees. The trees are so still and silent in the winter months- sometimes their branches die too and fall to the ground, rendered useless. But, the trees remain steadfast and withstand the cold. Why? Because they're so deeply rooted in the ground. Because they have everything they need to last the barren season. And they know it. The barrenness is not a source of anxiety or confusion for the trees, because they know what's coming next.

This video was such a HUGE source of encouragement to me:

That was the first encouraging thing that I heard in months.

Since then, God has only spoken more. I was at a fork in the road with Celebrate Recovery. I needed to decide if I was going to stay in CR and find a place to serve or if I was going to take the principles I learned and apply them to my life in another ministry. I felt like God was asking me to say yes to serving in The Landing, which is CR for Middle and High Schoolers.

I have worked with tiny children and adults. I've never in my life worked with teens. They terrify me. But, God has given me a love for them that I can't explain. As I worked through the steps, I realized that most of my wrong turns started in my teen years. I feel really strongly that God has me there to help give the teens the tools they need to make healthy decisions (now and later) in life.

My prayer is that even though the trees are budding, that He would continue speaking loud and clear. So, I'm making it a point to listen carefully and often to what He is saying.