09 August 2017

Year Three

Lately I've fallen in love with plants. Each season I'm in, I fall in love with something different. Like the first year I was here, I couldn't stop buying candles. Then last year, I couldn't stop buying crop tops. And this year, I couldn't seem to stop buying plants. A few weeks ago, Sierra and I were at our favorite shop in Nash. I was looking for a pot to put my new snake plant in (I named him Severus Snape) and I found one that I thought was cute but decided not to get it because it was bigger than the plant itself. Sierra told me, though, that plants grow to the size of their container. Now, days later, I've discovered something; plants are alive, living things, and so are humans. I've thought about how one simple similarity between the two, makes her statement true for both things. They grow to the size of their container.
This year I grew, and I mean really grew. But for a large portion, I only grew to the confinement of what I kept myself contained in. I have sat here for weeks trying to type out a summary of my third year living in Nashville. But it's a tricky thing to do when new revelations of God's love and blueprint for my life occur every single day. I don't know if this post is going to capture what I've learned or what's in my heart in the way I hope it will, but I am praying that it does. I will preface with saying that this is the most vulnerable post I've ever written. And I have the courage to let the world read it because of who God has grown me into in the last 12 months. God bless you if you make it all the way to the end (except I'm not even apologizing for how long this is). Ok, here we go ....

Not too long after I made my blog post about year two of living in Nashville, my life changed in just about every aspect. Summer came to an end, I had just moved into a new house with two of the best gals in town, and my best friend told me he had feelings for me. And I told him I had feelings for him too. Suddenly, our story felt like it was finally approaching the place it was always supposed to be. And it was like a dream... Except for the one tiny setback, that he was moving to San Diego.

We started dating anyways. He really was my best friend, when it comes down to it. The best friend I’ve ever had. He made me feel seen and understood. He shared his heart with me and got me to share mine with him. Even after he was gone, he still pursued me, far better than I could have ever dreamed.

He asked me to meet him in St. Louis a few weeks after he left. When we met, we walked to a restaurant and over dinner, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I couldn't believe it. I felt so honored to be his girl. I felt honored when he called me his girl. I was on a cloud. Even when I drove back to Nashville, I was only smiling. Only singing love songs. Only in love.  

We didn't last, however. Rather than getting into all the intimate details of my pain in the months that followed, I'll just say that it wasn’t good. As I mentioned in my blog post back in March, I passed a kidney stone because I couldn’t eat for 5 days. I cried myself to sleep every night for the four ending months of 2016. I wasn’t able to look men who were kind to me in the eyes. I couldn’t cope with any of it.
Something I've learned, is that being heartbroken, being in pain, or even suffering from loss, are all things that we were never meant to experience. We were created to be made whole in Him. God never intended for us to feel empty, abandoned, unimportant, like we've lost something or something has been taken from us. That's why it hurts so bad. But another thing I've learned is that when we're hurting, we're vulnerable. And when we're vulnerable we have no guard. And having no guard means there is nothing shielding us from the Father. While it's an ironic dynamic, I somehow grew closer to the Father in my hurt. Because instead of running from my pain, I chose to chase after healing from it. And because of that, God loved me back to life.
In January, I was talking about my heartache with my friend, Ben, and he told me that I wouldn't be okay again until I gave God all of me, not just some of me. Until I allow Him to take me to the place where I surrender everything that I want, every dream I hold onto, and sing that it is well with my soul. Because in that place, even if none of my dreams ever come true, God is enough for me.

As a result of that,  I realized something; when I try to heal from something or break something off or let something go, in my own strength, I am basically prolonging the breakthrough or the peace that I'm looking for. But in the exact moment that I surrender trying to do everything myself or in my own control, God healsredeemsfrees. He releases exactly what we need, instantly. In a single moment with Him. It just takes surrender. My pastor has given a great example of how she used to try and do everything on her own, in her own strength. She compared herself to a hamster stuck on a hamster wheel, running and working herself to death, doing the same thing over and over. Going no where. 

I couldn't agree with that picture more. That's exactly what I've felt like any time I've tried to overcome my trials in my own strength. In the past if I've seen a hamster run on a wheel, at first it's entertaining, right? But after a while, I get tired of watching. I sit back and think, "are you done yet?" I think God asks the same thing. "Are you done yet?" I think He's tired of watching us exhaust ourselves by running in circles. If we would just be still for a moment, and understand that it's not in what we can do. It's not in what we want, not in the dreams we hold, not in the thing we lost that we wish we could have back. That thing that we're running so hard to find? That thing we seek so desperately? I don't think we'll find it running on a hamster wheel. We'll find it in Him. And because I believe that we were never meant to suffer loss or pain or heartbreak, I think it only makes sense that we were never supposed to be the ones who fix our broken hearts. We're far too fragile. But what if our heartbreak goes hand in hand with our break through?
I've only ever been used to people leaving. It's been my normal. It's been fact. And my relationship with this man coming to an end, left an entryway for the enemy to throw a deeply buried fear of mine in my face, that am the reason people leave. Honestly, there were a few moments where I couldn't help but believe that was the truth. And while it wasn't fun to carry around, it made me realize how insecure I have probably always felt, but never realized until getting my heart broken. It was the worst kind of pain I've ever experienced. My pain confined my breakthrough for so long. I couldn't grow past that confinement. Really, if you think about it, while it's more than okay to have plants indoors (and I should know), those plants won't ever grow into all they could, because of their containers. When I think of a person stuck inside something that, often times someone else put them in, it makes me sad. Because what about the growth we don't get to experience when we allow ourselves to stay there? What about the freedom we miss out on that exists beyond the containers we stay in?

I eventually grew tired of constantly being defeated by my hurt. Tired of the enemy throwing more and then more things in my face to keep me convinced that I was no longer wanted, no longer worthy. But, oh, if we would only remember that the very thing God says we are, the very thing He calls us to, the very thing He has in store for us, are the very things the enemy will use against us, by combatting, distorting, or perverting truth; by keeping us feeling small, keeping us looking at things through the eyes of being in lack, instead of through the eyes of having plenty. And if everything the enemy says is a lie, and if a lie is the opposite of the truth, that must mean that if he tells me I'm not wanted or worthy ... then I am wanted. I AM worthy.
While my confidence in myself was growing at the time I was still with this man, it was never indefinite. Never sure or steadfast. After we broke up, it didn't plummet, but it definitely didn't grow any more than it had. It was as if loving and learning who I am hit a wall. For the longest time, I used to think that fair, pale skin with dark hair (or, vampire) looked the best on me. Which is hilarious, because, for those that didn't know already, I'm one eighth black (my dad is one fourth, his dad was half, etc). Yes, most of my nationality is white, but my hair (butt) and skin are not. My mother is white, blonde, incredibly tan, and incredibly fit because she's a runner. She always has been. I never saw a resemblance between us for all of my life. I used to wait to go outside until evening time during summers because I wanted to keep my skin pale and keep my hair from getting lighter. And I hated tan lines (could any of that be more ridiculous?). I used to hide behind wearing all black to hide my weight, if I'm being real. I hated to wear color, or anything that might draw attention to me. I hated wearing pink. I feel like that version of me was someone trying to figure out who they really are, or trying to meet up to the criteria I had created in my head of what constitutes as "beautiful" or "cool." But it wasn't me at all. Because so much has changed in me. 

I stopped letting my pain keep me from growing into, who I am now certain God has always destined for me to become. Of course, He calls us from glory to glory, so I'll always be growing, but how remarkable, to now be on the outside of my "container," and as a result of that, be so in awe of and in love with who God has grown me into. Because I'm in awe of and in love with who He is. Knowing whose you are is when you know who you are.

I started running, really running, around my neighborhood, back in June. I've jogged here and there since high school, but now, I'm talking several miles, six days a week. The more I ran, the easier I found it to be (duh) and the longer I was able to run for (DUH). My maximum time was usually about 25 minutes. One night in July, however, I was coming up on about half an hour and I realized how not tired I was. I thought, maybe I can run a little longer. And I asked God if I should keep going. And He asked me, "who are you running for?" I can't properly explain the significance of that question, but it was kind of a slap in the face, in the best way. It helped me recognize the motives of my heart for the last 10 months. I got wrecked a little bit in the middle of my run, but I kept going. And He whispered so gently, but so clearly, "if you run for Me, you'll be amazed at what you are capable of." Come on! It was such a simple, yet precious moment between me and Him, I couldn't stop smiling, while I was still running! I just said "OK," and then ran for an HOUR after that. I'm not kidding when I say that I was not tired at all. The only reason I stopped was because our neighborhood is notorious for nighttime skunks, and my knees started to feel like they might fall off. 

Now here I am; I have golden hair and tan skin. I spend as much time as I can in the sun, embracing my tan lines, embracing how dark I get. I'm the smallest I've ever been. I wear pink now! I love to run. My day gets thrown off if I don't. I look in the mirror and I see my mother; and humbly, I love what I see. I see the truest version of myself I've ever been. I don't say this with a heart of arrogance, but with a heart of confidence and humility; because of who I've become, outwardly and inwardly, I think I'm pretty awesome. And I'm my own worst critic! I figure that if I can see my worth, after everything that's happened, then surely someone else will too someday. Isn't it just like God to take a situation that led to me believing I was unwanted and unworthy, to show me that I am.
Sometimes, I think God has more than just our dreams in store for us. I think it's what He wants to do through us on the journey to seeing those dreams become a reality. I think who He grows us into along the way, might be more significant than the end result. Because it's the trials and triumphs along the way that get us there. That I am certain of. And I am certain of Him. And that has enabled and equipped me to become certain of myself. I stopped letting myself be defeated by all the hurt that felt truly inescapable, but instead made a choice to no longer be contained by my heartache. Which was all from the devil. He wanted to keep me broken, keep me from seeing that God wanted to renew and restore and redeem my identity. But his tactics are outdated and OVERused. He's not creative. He's not doing anything new. HE is the one running on a damn hamster wheel (sorry mom). In fact, he's a RAT. Sewer scum. Now, I dare him to attack me, dare him to try to make me second guess my worth or what my Maker says about me. Because I will not be shaken.
In the months following my heartbreak, God sent an army of friends to my rescue. In sharing my heart with them, they shared their hearts with me. And isn't it funny how God places certain people in our lives at a specific time that allows us to draw parallels to the things we face separately, so we might overcome them together. Even though it was the toughest year yet, God did immeasurably more, redeeming what felt like it was destroyed, by sending me all these friends who hear my heart and love it instead of ridicule it. My relationships with them have become the most important part of my life. All of them are so dear to my heart. Aleah, my sister Regan, Sierra, Becca, Anna, Micaiah, Annalise, Danielle, Anne, Cecilia, Hannah, Fran, Karly, Morgan; I'm writing your names for the world to see because you should be honored for what loving, genuine friends you are.

A few days after our break-up, I had a vision with Holy Spirit at my church during a moment of worship. I closed my eyes and I was in the desert of Judah. I could see that my hair was up in a bun (the way it always is) and I was wearing a crop top and black tights rolled at my ankles (the way I always am). At first I was all alone, but then a hooded figure, or apparition appeared in all black, but it wasn't scary. It was Holy Spirit. He was familiar, He was warm. And He held out His hand for me, and I grabbed it. Then all of the sudden we were up in the air, flying. And I looked back down to where I had been standing, and there he was, the man I loved. My (now ex) boyfriend. But the further we went up in the air, the more dim he grew, and then I could no longer see him. When I looked back up at Holy Spirit, all of the sudden my hair fell from it's pony tail and it grew so fast, past my back, and it looked beautiful; like, Blake Lively beautiful, except it was still black girl hair. And then my clothes changed into the most beautiful ivory, chiffon gown I'd ever seen, long and flowy as we still flew. And then a crown appeared on my head, and suddenly, I saw someone who knew who she was. Someone strong, ready to defeat the things that would try to defeat her. Someone beautiful. When we finally landed on the ground of wherever He took me to, we started dancing. He spun me all around, and then went to dip me over his knee, head first, the way the guy always dips the girl in all the romantic movies, and I lifted my outer leg up in the air so fast that my shoe flew off behind us, and we started laughing so hard we couldn't stop. It was like I was with my best friend. I know that might sound foreign or crazy, or even un-relatable, but please just hear this: in that moment, I forgot about what I thought I wanted, forgot about the man I loved, because I was so enamored and in awe of being with the Lord, of being loved by the Lord. I had more than enough. I could only see God and who He was transforming me into, and I forgot about everything else.

That's exactly where I am now. God brought me to the desert, just me and Him, and I let it go. I let Him take me, wherever He wants. I recently watched an incredible message from Elevation Church, called the Power of Provision (seriously, watch it) and at one point, the pastor references and summarizes Malachi 3, where God says to His people, "if you will release what's in your hand, I will release what's in my heart." That slayed me to heaven and back. It's that simple. If my heart wasn't going to get broken in this way, by this specific person, God would have still led me here, one way or another. I released this from my hands and God released what I know He has always had for me; to realize my identity, to put my hope in Him, to only need Him. 
It's taken a heart shift, drawing a line in the sand and me making a choice of whether I want to stand on the side of defeat or the side of victory. But I can say confidently, I am victorious. Ben was right; I made it here, to this place where God is enough, and I'm finally ok again. Because look what God has done! Now I can look back on my relationship with this man and smile. Now, I don't look at what we were through the lens of heartache, but instead, appreciation. It doesn't feel heavy anymore, like a huge, dramatic loss or an injustice or a total disaster just because it didn't end the way I thought it was supposed to. I look back on it and it feels young, and beautiful and wistful, and I appreciate it. Because it was love. For me, it was love.

I used to think I'd be mad if I ever admitted that, out loud (this counts as out loud, right?), for the world to hear. But what is there to be afraid of? The truth? I don't think I'm going to reach the end of my life and regret being honest. Especially about something that meant so much to me. Everyone already knows it anyways. I loved him. And even though I let us go, so much of me always will. In fact (in the words of Mat Kearney), I think I fell in love with him the first night I met him, when my spirit caught on fire. I have no fear admitting it, and I only appreciate it now, because it was worth it. To learn that I could feel that much for someone, to believe in someone that much. And to now be so confident in the person I've become, I can't help but think it was worth it, can't help but appreciate it. I never would have believed I'd get to a place of saying this (and meaning it) but I appreciate getting my heart broken too. I'm not discounting how hard or painful it was, because those feelings were just as real as the love I had for him, but that's all it was; heartbreak. And it took me here. Where my Maker is enough. Where I have no fear of what may come at me. No fear of loss. No fear of future heartbreak. No fear of ending up alone, no fear of not being good enough, of people leaving, of being the reason people leave. It's all gone. God took it in an instant.

At this point, I'm not sure that I'll ever hear from him again, and that is ok. Back in April, Sierra asked me if there was one thing I'd want this man to know, what would it be? The answer came so easily. I'd want him to know that I still believe in the man he is, in the man he will become. No matter our outcome, my constant prayer in the last (almost) two years of knowing him has been nothing but declaring and speaking into existence the man I know he is, and who he will become. And I believe in this man because I believe in God and all He is capable of.

I've never been more confident in myself. Never been more certain that God only has good. And walking into year four (WHAT?!?!) with a new determination of holding my dreams loosely and trusting God with them more than I trust myself with them, I can't help but believe that this year will surely be the absolute best yet. I really feel that it will be. I can't wait to find out what happens. Can't wait to see where God takes me between now and next August 9th. I think He's taking all of us twenty-somethings to a place where we can love (again) without holding back, where we can dream with everything we have (thank you Martina McBride). Where everything that was once complicated becomes simple. Where we love fearlessly, where we love with certainty.

Hopefully, my vulnerability and honesty will be seen as something brave instead of something sad; courageous instead of humiliating. Hopefully, if anyone takes anything from what I've shared, it might be that God will heal, God will revive, God will hold us, better than anyone on this earth ever will. And hopefully what I walked through this year won't be criticized or become insignificant just because what happened between me and this man was so short-lived. While that is true, I don't think time can determine whether something is real love or not.

"There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable." - C S Lewis

I want to live in a world where it's not crazy to believe in love, even if we have every reason not to. A world where being vulnerable is something to celebrate, instead of something to be ashamed of. A world where we don't need proof or reason to put hope into something, even if circumstances make it seem like it will never happen. A world where we encourage someone's strengths, instead of ridicule them for their weaknesses. A world where we're defined by the best parts of us, rather than the worst. A world where love isn't measured by time or age or logic or even feelings, but by certainty.

***special thanks to Leen, my best friend from middle school, high school, everything (who lives in Nash now, too!) for taking these photos***

1 comment :

  1. My dear, dear niece. I am so very proud to be a part of your family as you are a part of mine. You are so beautiful, inside and out, and the words you write are beautiful, inspiring and amazing to me. You have touched my heart with these words and made me think outside of my container (too). Thank you for sharing and always know that I love you! You are always in my prayers :)


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