To Send Away

I believe that real relationship isn’t truly possible without continual forgiveness. I say continual because the reality is we hurt each other all the time.  As humans, we are a mysterious paradox: we are capable of the most atrocious evil and we are also capable of the most magnificent beauty.  Not one of us is above reproach of falling into either camp.  And most often we fall somewhere in the middle.

The more I have confronted the ugly in my own heart, the more compassion and empathy I have for the ugly in others.  I realize we are not as different as I think.  It’s only when I get high and mighty and deceive myself with self-flattery and conceit that I can easily turn others into an enemy and fail to see my own crooked ways.  The older I get, the more I realize that another’s wrongdoing toward me, big or small, is a result of their brokenness.  Just as my wrongdoing toward another is a result of my own brokenness.  The hurt may be big, like betrayal, or it may be “small” like a friend flaking out on lunch plans.  Whichever the case, both invite me to forgive.  The only other option is to stuff it, to lash out, to dismiss my hurt, to merely excuse the other, to retaliate, and ultimately – to resent.

Forgiveness is such a practice.  It is a way of being, a disposition of the heart.  Yes, God said we must forgive others as he forgave us.  Easier said than done.  I think some of us, mostly Christians from what I have seen, hold forgiveness as a task, an obligation, a “something I have to do because it’s the right thing.” And in doing so, I think we’ve missed forgiveness altogether.

Sure, it is the right thing – and it’s so much more than that.  It’s a giant well of freedom, of healing, and it ushers in the possibility of creating a new story, instead of the story we continue to tell ourselves and others, wrought with resentment and bitterness.

Depending on the fracture and the hurt, the forgiveness process is usually quite messy and painful. There is no time limit on when we have “fully forgiven.”  It is not merely an act of the will either.  It may start there, even with a weary willingness to walk the path, but will alone does not heal the wound.

 I believe that to forgive, I must feel the hurt first.  I must touch my pain.  It requires I go to the heart of it, and give name and expression to what aches.  It means I have to be specific about the detail of it all – the when, the what, the who, the how, the where.  The more detailed I get, the more pain I usually feel, and I know I’m on the right track.  It’s not fun and I don’t like it.

Ultimately, forgiveness means I must grieve.  And grieving can feel like a scary black hole – does it end?  And when?  It can be tempting to turn it into an intellectual exercise “am I doing this right?  How do I do this?”  There is no right, there is no how – there’s simply expression.

Grief feels like toxins leaving the body.  And when not done – when the hurt is simply “passed over” with a trite “I forgive you” (because it’s the “right thing to do”) and no matter how many times its said, the forgiveness is only a veneer for the rotting going on beneath.  Brene Brown has said “… with forgiveness, there has to be blood on the floor.”  In other words, something must die.  That’s the only way rebirth can happen.

Maybe it’s the death of the relationship as you’ve known it, because it’s the only way a new one could be born – if reconciliation is on the table.  Maybe it’s the death of being right, remaining nuclear welded to your version, your perspective, your experience, without the willingness to see there were other variables at play.  Maybe it’s your own self-pity, your woe-is-me, your “I had it so much harder” story you’ve told yourself and others countless times.  Maybe it’s time for a new story, a different way to tell it, which means death to the one you’ve found comfort and identity in for so long.  Whatever it is, forgiveness costs you something – or else its not forgiveness.

I think people bypass this grief.  I get why, I’ve done it myself.  That’s the part that hurts, that’s the confusing piece, the out of control place, that’s where emotions surface that make you want to rage and scream and throb and weep.  And yet the only way out is through.

I can’t forgive someone if I haven’t felt the hurt first, if I haven’t gone to the heart of it.  I have to get alone and cry, wail, and get angry.  I must get out the poison in my car, in my room, in my journal.  I have to confront what hurts.

Except I cannot stay there.  If I do, it’s not forgiveness – and I’ve only made myself a victim.  Even though I may have been victimized by someone, I determine whether I become a victim – that part is on me. 

In the aftermath of my expression, if I continue to dehumanize the other, it’s a resentment red flag. As difficult as it can be to see, this other person has a story too.  They have experiences and wounds and ways of orienting their life that led them to cause harm, even if that harm was unintentional.  They were most likely acting out of their own brokenness, out of their own unexpressed grief and stuffed pain – knowing their story doesn’t make what they did okay, and it won’t take away my hurt, but it does provide context.  It allows me to turn them back into a human being again – instead of what I’ve turned them into in my own heart.  Then I begin to see them in a larger landscape.

You see, you and I and the billions of people in this world are not that different.  As I have heard it said quite perfectly, “we are uniquely the same.”  If I were born and raised in Islam and through various experience found myself a part of the radicals, I don’t know what kind of person I would have become, the evil I could have committed.  I like to think I wouldn’t have, but I don’t know for sure.  I am not above reproach.  And neither are you.

We are all capable of the cruel and we are all capable of the beautiful.  And the more I place people in that context – as humans – the more grace and room in my heart I find for the pain we can cause one another.

Forgiveness comes more naturally when you’ve done your own interior work.  When you’ve grounded yourself in love and grace, you’ve had to make room for your own darkness – so making room for the darkness in others isn’t as hard, it isn’t as surprising.  Forgiveness makes you bigger – in other words, you’ve taken something hurtful and instead of passing it back (revenge) which keeps you small, you’ve allowed yourself to open-up, to make room for the immensities of human suffering and the ways we inflict harm on one another.  Forgiveness increases your capacity to hold pain and to hold grace, which is going to make you a more compassionate and empathetic person.

Revenge and retaliation are the only other options – which roots its justice in you and me and what we deem the other “deserves.”  And all that does is lead to resentment and bitterness, which will eat anyone alive.  Not only that, but resentment makes it practically impossible to be present.  It splits you between this moment and the moment of the wound and all the moments in between Forgiveness brings you to the present.  Which is one of the many reasons it’s so freeing.  That person and that event no longer take up rent-free room in your heart.  Hearing their name doesn’t make you shirk and eye-roll.  You no longer want to fight back and demand they ask for forgiveness and be remorseful.  You may never get that from them – and forgiveness isn’t contingent upon it – or else it’s not forgiveness.

More than anything, the process is for you and for me.  It’s for your freedom, your healing, your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  Scientists are now discovering effects of unforgiveness on the brain – its astounding.  I can only imagine what unforgiveness does when it lives on and festers in the human body.  There is no doubt, it is detrimental to the human spirit.

We hold on so tightly to our hurt, it literally becomes a part of us – and then we live out that hurt and inflict it on others the same way it’s been inflicted on us.  We pass it on – our unforgiveness circulates the pain.  You see this in generational family lines all the time.

Forgiveness in the Greek literally means “to send away.”  When someone harms me, this hurt they give me, I get to send it away.  The process isn’t overnight and the path of forgiveness can be lifelong depending on what it was, but without actively sending it away, it lives on in me and it is I (and those I love) who suffer.

I’ll never know what it felt like for Jesus to pay for all my wrongs by dying on the cross.  That kind of forgiveness and atonement astounds me.  It’s difficult to grasp, but it’s as real as can be.  Without it, real relationship with him wasn’t possible – and even in all my wrestlings with him over these last few years, I never want to know what life without him feels like.

He tells us to forgive – and I don’t think it’s merely because it’s the right thing or the holy thing – I think because he knows we’ll die inside without it.  Bitterness, resentment, anger and revenge will nag and gnaw until we’re a shell of a person – that and quite difficult for others to be around.  I’ve seen too many relationships end and too many families and marriages divide over a lack of forgiveness – quite honestly, it fills me with sorrow.  I’ve had my own journey on this road and it’s broken my heart.

I certainly don’t have all the answers and God knows I have a long way to go, but one thing I am committed to, and have been convicted over countless times in my adult years, is that I don’t ever want to become an embittered person.  I don’t want to get older and more narrow in my reach for people, for relationship, and for the difficulties and differences and glories and grandeur they can bring.  I want to continually deepen and widen in my capacity to hold human brokenness – in others and in myself.

It has been said that “those who forgive much, love much.”  I think that’s so true – our love is most provocative, most scandalous, most vulnerable and selfless when we learn to love those who have wronged and hurt us.  And oddly enough, that is what frees us.  Forgiveness then, is not some intellectual, scriptural-command protocol – it’s an act of love, perhaps the highest kind.

 

 

 

 

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choices

Life is a series of events.  And life is a series of choices.  Not either.  Both.

Some things happen to us – a loss of a job, a loved one, a painful tragedy.  Sometimes life circumstances can feel like they’re spiraling downhill, one unfortunate blow after another.  We feel helpless to make it stop.  Victimized by another and the way they’ve harmed us.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful and powerful truths amidst it all is that we have a choice.  We always, always, always have a choice.  Not necessarily to change the circumstance – but a choice in how to BE in it.

For us humans, we love to blame the other, the situation, the victim narrative “I can’t ever catch a break” or “these kinds of things always happen to me.”  Those people live life powerless, like life happens and comes to them, as if they have no say and no part in creating what they want – even when things look bleak and dire.

Then there are others – those who in spite of all odds, health challenges, enormous setbacks, betrayals, and heartbreaks, they keep going on, shifting their attitude and choosing how to respond even when life knocks them around.  You know someone like this – maybe a bunch of someone’s.  You wonder how in the hell they got up from that last thing and chose to go again, to choose life, to remain soft and open, willing to recreate even in painful trials.

My guess is that most of us fall somewhere in between – maybe we start out with a woe-is-me and we shift into a more resourceful stand “considering the circumstance, now what? Who do I choose to be?”

I think I ask myself that question on the hour these days.  It reorients me – even if the feelings don’t immediately follow.

We either spend our days letting life happen or we spend our days making life happen.

By “making life happen” I don’t mean we play God, sovereign over all life events – I mean we were given the power to choose.  We are not puppets.  We are not victims to life circumstance, that is unless we live like we are.

We were given the divine quality to create, to respond, and to get back up.  I know the second I feel helpless to my situation, I’ve become victim to it.  Which leaves me stuck and powerless.  Contrary, the moment I choose to step out of that internal conversation and into the “wow, this sucks, this hurts, and who do I get to be now?  Who is God for me in this moment” my reality doesn’t change, but my attitude soon does.  I realize I’m not helpless or stuck – I stay there only if I decide to.

There is always help and a way through, even if I don’t see or feel it yet.  This way of responding to trials and the countless things each day that don’t go how I think they “should” breeds imagination.

We get to harness our disappointments and our anxiety into creativity.  We get to partner with God, once again.  We get to get off ourself and step into something new.  We don’t do so perfectly and maybe we’re gritting our teeth at first – maybe we’re even angry.  Good!  Use it.  Use it like fuel as you set your intention to who you want to be in this moment, in this circumstance, and let it propel and energize you.

That is power.  That is someone who’s choosing life – over and over – rather than living in pity, giving up, or resigning altogether to “this is just how it is, o’well.”

You know those people who have lost limbs, who are paralyzed, blind, deaf, or live with terminal illnesses and yet they become the most incredible humans.  They write music, paint, sing, perform jaw dropping athletic ability, they inspire, create, and motivate.  They have what seems like inconceivable outlooks for being so “limited.”  Yet they don’t live limited at all.  They don’t play small or stop dreaming or make excuses for why the can’t.  I’m sure they have their hard days, just like the rest of us.

But we love these people and their stories don’t we?  We write books and make movies about them.  They lift our hearts, remind us of what’s possible and more than anything, they breathe hope.  I think we all need more hope.

These people chose the “who do I choose to be now, given this reality?”  They didn’t let it define them, they defined it.  They chose to live empowered, instead of disempowered.  These people have spirited vibrancy, they’re thriving, despite the physical or mental limitations, even though none of us would blame them if they chose otherwise.

So where does this leave us?  You and me and our life trials and circumstances that will continue so long as we’re breathing.  What do we do with pain and heartache, loss and disappointment?

I don’t have the answers or a how to.  But this I do know: we respond.  We don’t shelf the feeling, we feel it.  We let it move us.  We mourn, we grieve, we scream.  We go to the heart of what hurts.  We name it.  We give it expression, we give it air.  We let it out.  For if we don’t, it will come out elsewhere on someone else completely sideways.  If we don’t our life gets smaller, so we get smaller to avoid the disappointment and pain.

To feel takes guts and courage – it opens us back up, it enlarges our capacity to experience life.  And in this midst of this raw, honest wrestle and feeling it all, we get to choose.  Not at the “end” of feeling it, because emotions don’t work that way, but IN the feeling of it.  Our feelings are the fuel, and our choice – our vision for who we want to be – is the driver.

In this sense, I believe, we are living whole-hearted.  Integrated.  As in: in integrity with our heart and what’s true for us.  We aren’t compartmentalizing, avoiding, or escaping.  We are diving head first into life and all it holds.

I wonder if this is how Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Tormented and heartbroken, grieving to the point of sweating blood.  Terrified, betrayed, confused. Weeping.  He didn’t want to go “let this cup pass from me.”  All his feelings pointed otherwise.  They were real, honest, and fully expressed – he did not hide from them.

But for your sake and mine, for the atonement and salvation of mankind, for US – his vision – he chose.  He chose to go through the passion and his realization of what would be, pulled him through – even though his very last words were full of questioning, forsaken anguish.  His emotions were the fuel.  His vision – his love for you and me – the driver.

I believe we have the same call.  Of course, not even close to the magnitude of Jesus.  But we get to choose – not a “have to” but rather, a “get to.”  That is our power – that is his creative, imaginative power in us.  

We are not crushed.  We are not in despair.  We are not abandoned and we are not destroyed.  Life is at work in you.  Life is always at work in you even though you may feel otherwise.  (2 Corinthians 4:8).  Choose that life – respond to the hard hits and sharp turns with it – pull from it.  Do not lose heart.  And do not give up.

Vegas & Mourning

I don’t even know what to say today.  I’m at a complete loss for words as I imagine every American is.  What do we even do with this news?  How do we function in it?

Do we plunge into despair with a “what is our world coming to?”  Do we protest “no more guns” like so many have on the heels of such a tragedy as if that will fix the brokenness of humanity?  Do we lose faith and trust in the good of people in the aftermath of a meaningless, evil act?  These are all valid questions, living in shock after something so tragic. I am not sure what to do.  All I know is my heart aches.

The only step that feels clear is the call to grieve and to mourn – the air is thick with its invitation.  There is something about public grief that gives people permission to feel in ways they otherwise wouldn’t dare.  

So today, I say feel it all.  Feel the heartbreak, feel the loss, and feel the pain.  We humans can be pretty good problem solvers – going straight into “how to fix it,” all the while floating above the event, studying it, trying to understand it with logic, as if there is anything to understand.  Mourning doesn’t need logic, it is not an intellectual exercise.  It’s less about analysis, and more about expression.

I imagine righteous anger is at the forefront for some – angry over something so heinous, angry for those who were directly affected.  And even still, the sorrow must be felt.  The sorrow for those who lost their lives, those who lost a loved one, those in critical condition, or those who escaped, forever imprinted by this trauma.

Today, for them, I choose to stand in the gap.  To feel with and for, to pray with and for, to hold the tension of what happened and what in the world do we do next.  To stand and say perhaps a very unpopular phrase today: I still believe in the goodness of the human heart.  Even in the face of this, knowing I’ll be inevitably disappointed again,  I still have hope.

And in that hope, I grieve… this makes no sense.  And it never will.  And that mystery is a difficult one to live into today.  Before we make any movement to problem solve as if we can assure this from ever happening again, I say we enter into the loss – we allow ourselves to feel and mourn the weight of it.  To put life on pause, even if for 5 minutes, and to redirect our hearts and bodies toward intercession for others.  It’s so not easy, it doesn’t come naturally, and yet I believe it’s the way through.

a backpack of rocks

The wilderness can feel like a lonely place. Being out here all alone. No street lights or signs of civilization.  No communication in the hustle of the world.  Just trees, dirt, rocks, and the great expanse of the sky above.

It can be really quiet out here.  Thoughts, breath, the crackle of a fire, the crunching of leaves, the smell of smoke and earth beneath my feet.  The trails are narrow.  Confusing.

There’s a stillness in the wilderness that does not match the rage and chaos within me.  At times it can feel like this place is trying to temper me – to force me to quiet down inside by some external pressure.

No place mirrors the state of my heart quite like the wilderness does.  All distractions and numbing agents no longer available.  Mechanisms and ways of being that used to bring relief, now don’t.  I cannot busy myself with cleaning my house or running errands out here.  I cannot task a to-do list because the only list is to BE.

All my life, I have loved being in the outdoors.  Get me to an open valley or a mountaintop, get me on a trail and enveloped in the trees and I feel God and his connection to us in ways I simply do not experience any other way.  Being in nature, in his creation, is an act of worship for me.  It’s a coming home.  A re-situating of my rightful place in this vast universe.

But when my life on the inside – my heart and soul – finds themselves in the middle of a thick wilderness, the feelings are on the contrary.  I don’t experience God the same.   I’m still here in Orange County doing my life, while my insides are somewhere else completely.  The incongruency can feel like “something’s wrong with me” as I judge the state of my heart.

There’s a lost-ness in the wilderness. This feeling like the compass is broken and I keep passing by the same familiar paths.

Did I take a wrong turn?

Am I making the same repetitive loop?

There’s a feeling of abandonment – like God has left me to my own devices to find the way out.  Every direction seems like the wrong one.  Every step is labored, paired with the beating of my aching and broken heart.

Every self-sufficient, prideful effort to find the nearest wilderness exit puts me further and further away from surrender.

My way doesn’t work. It never works.

Out here I weep often for seemingly “no reason.”  Perhaps the reasons are so deep, so complex, that knowing their detail would altogether take me out – so he keeps them hidden from me – in his goodness and in his mercy.

Out here I throw sticks and rocks at the air in anger.  I kick dirt.  I target the tree trunks as if they were the reason itself…

Why didn’t you protect me?

Why did they leave?

Where were you?

How could you?

There is a deep mourning beneath all the rage.  Behind the rock throws and target practice is a girl who internalized her sorrow and pain, taking it on like a burden to bear.  A backpack of rocks.

Up until now, I thought my wilderness walk was solely to “teach me something.”  A lesson, almost like a punishment.  It’s no wonder why I’m angry.  And though I am learning out here, punishment-belief free (almost), I’m realizing that Jesus didn’t bring me here to “teach me a lesson” as much as he did to give me himself.

And not the Jesus of my fractured belief system, but the real one.  The one who loves me in my rock-throwing, faith-shaking, doubt-carrying, heart-breaking moments.  The one who sees my scars and kisses them as tears fall down his face and mine.  The one who takes my heavy-loaded backpack and carries it himself.  The one who clears the branches, lights the fire, and sets the stars in place for me to gaze at.  The one who journeys with me in my sorrow, in my anger, in my questions, and in the absurd, unexplainable joy found in each.

In his mysterious and upside down Kingdom, Jesus doesn’t reward accomplishments, he rewards the battle scars.  The truth of that reality has depressed me at times, I must admit.  This infamous “Man of Sorrows” came to bring the “good news” and yet at times, the suffering way can feel like carrying a heavy, unfair weight.

But in the quietness of the wilderness, I can translate with my heart the unspoken language of my tears.  I can feel the toxic poison leaving my body as I scream out in anger at the top of my lungs, hearing my yells echo throughout my surroundings.  In my spirit, I can feel the voice of my cries reach him.

The length of this wilderness leg of my journey isn’t knowledge or insight I have.  And I’m still very much in it.  So to end this with a pivot to a pretty, wrapped up Jesus lesson wouldn’t fit – and quite honestly, doesn’t fit with me any longer.

I am in process and will always be.  There will be another wilderness leg at some point after this one.  Struggling is inevitable, being hurt I can count on, loss is a part of this fallen world.  Those are not things I can control and strategize to avoid.  For if I avoid “the bad,” I avoid the good.

I suppose at this point, on this daily-bread day, the Jesus I experience is the one who carries my backpack and kisses my scars.  I feel seen by himand I had no idea that would be so big for my heart when I’ve spent much of my life wanting to disappear.

He sees me.  And the real breakthrough is: I want to be seen.

How beautiful: there is life-changing breakthrough in the painful, sorrow-filled wilderness.

I call that joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sky Rocket

The other evening I sat and stared at a blank screen for much too long. My fingers hit the keys to type out words only to lie on the back button and erase. Countless times I moved my cursor over the sentences: highlight, copy, delete.

For months, I have battled with this frustration. The desire to write yet nothing comes out. The longing to put to words the dynamics of my internal world; but they come up short and halfway through a piece I’ve started I get stuck. Call it writer’s block, call it something else.  I don’t know.

And that’s just it: I’m living in the “I don’t know.”

Somewhere within this last year, God jolted me awake in areas I didn’t know I was in slumber. I came into 2016 feeling numb and out of touch with my heart. I’m leaving this year fully feeling and in touch in ways I didn’t know existed.

These last few months have felt like my heart has been floating in space. Like someone blew up the box it safely lived in and rocketed it into the sky, out of the earth’s atmosphere, and into mystery.  

Somewhere in this trajectory, I outgrew my theology. I outgrew the beliefs in my heart that kept me from the real Jesus. For much too long, I’ve projected character traits onto him that resemble something like an imperfect, broken parent (because those are the only parents that exist).   Somewhere in the depth of my hurt not mourned, in my forgotten righteous anger not felt, in my fear of upsetting the Almighty God of the universe, I withheld some of my true feelings out of shame (as if he didn’t know they were there). Somewhere, in my desire to win and keep his love I forgot myself.   There is so much more to the story of how I ended up here: re-learning the heart of the real God and un-learning the one I created.

So much damage is done to the human soul when we believe in a Jesus who is disappointed, upset, or disenchanted by us. I could tell you with great conviction that I know how he feels about me, but to believe it and wrap my life around it is something different entirely. There are pieces of me that have absolutely believed and there are pieces that have been deathly afraid to tell him how I really am and how I’m really struggling – even with him.

It’s mind-blowing to me how long I’ve lived scared of him. Scared to upset or let him down. As if God is a giant thumb and I’m under it. The burden of it is probably what turned me so numb, unable to bear the weight of withholding the parts of me that didn’t understand, grew confused, or even frustrated with what he was allowing.

Which brings me back to my I don’t know.   I don’t know how to relate with this God. Which is why Christian platitudes fall flat and feel fake.  They’re trite because they’re true – and yet their power gets lost in the spoken redundancy of them.  I have to do away with them for now, though I firmly believe on the other side of this, they’ll be a much richer truth to me than they ever were before.

To “come as you are” has taken on a completely new meaning and look (ie: messy). The depth of that invitation has allowed me to experience a love I’ve only read about in scripture. I’m learning to not simply stumble, but to fall flat on my face in failure before him and to wrestle to express the depths of my heart, being honest with what’s there. I’m learning that I no longer like “holding it all together,” and if people see my mess then so be it. I’m learning that I don’t have to have the right job, the seemingly perfect marriage, or the life-changing words to matter.

Theology is such an illusive field of study because the closer I get to Jesus, the bigger he gets and the more I realize I don’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. The ways in which I have humanized him is such a tragedy of idolatry – I suppose he was done with my golden calf.

So in my desperation to feel as I begged him to un-numb my heart, un-numb it he did. And in the process, pain has ensued, but a necessary pain: the evidence of things coming alive. As the blood rushes back into my veins and pumps the life-blood to my heart, I’ve never felt more out of control, more alive, and more disoriented in all my life.

The Jesus I thought I believed, I believed only in part. That is why this place of mystery and I don’t know, this feeling of heart floating in space outside my safe little box is wildly different. To go from one (false) belief to a true one takes time. And residing in the in between requires a trust in him that I don’t think could be built any other way.

I think of the unknowns of the universe. The billions of stars, countless galaxies, the planets, suns, moons, and infiniteness of it all. I think of the money spent on space exploration, “pioneering” the uncharted territories to discover something new. I think of it’s grandeur and how majestic the sights of various galaxies must be close up. And I realize, even in all our explorations we’ll never fully know, grasp, or see it all. And I suppose that’s the beauty of it – for the mystery is what makes it beautiful.

I’m starting to get it, this little piece, I’m starting to believe in the goodness of letting the mysteries of God remain as such as I learn and draw close to him, being fully Cortney. There is something precious and valuable in the ‘I don’t know’ seasons of life. It’s when God breaks down our box and sky rockets our heart into space. Into mystery.

An Open Letter To God

(Swear warning).

 

God I don’t know if you’re real anymore. I just don’t know.

I yelled and cursed at you the other day – so loud, so angry I scared myself. As you know, that’s not a common occurrence for me and I find myself now, days later, having no clue what to do with it.

I told you I hated you. I told you I wanted nothing to do with you anymore. I told you I don’t want to follow you another step. I screamed, I cried, I hit my steering wheel, and I went home and fell into heaving sobs. In those moments overcome by anger toward you, I realized the god I’ve believed in is false – merely an idol of the lies I’ve adopted about who you are.  I also realized that my honest and raw feelings toward you leave me right smack in the middle between what I know about you to be true in my head versus what I believe in my heart.

Not long after my car conversation with you, I asked if I could take it all back. “I didn’t mean it, I didn’t mean it;” there I go again, back pedaling. I caught myself, wondering why I felt the need to placate you, the Almighty God of the Universe, and then it hit me: I don’t believe I am loved in my anger. In my understanding and experience, anger is not allowed to be felt or expressed, let alone at you.

It feels so wrong to be so angry with you: someone who’s done nothing but good.  Though I know you can take it, it’s something I prefer to avoid – which I have… up until now. Anger is a signal that something’s wrong – and something here is very, very wrong.

“Do you believe He still loves me?” I asked my husband a handful of hours later. I couldn’t get it out without crying. If I tell you how I really feel, if I tell you how I really am and how this Father, Daughter relationship is in total breakdown for me, I then question if your love has reached it’s limit in the throes of my honesty and doubt.

In my arrogance over all these years, I somehow thought I would hurt your feelings if I ever got mad at you. In my fear of conflict and being out of right standing with you, I thought you’d get angry back – you know, all the defensives and ‘how dare you’ and ‘I didn’t mean it that way’ – kind of like how people do. Kind of like how family did growing up.  If I ever asserted myself that mirrored to them their own shortcomings, the shit hit the fan – so I learned to shut up and stuff it.

That’s not working for me anymore.

In fact, I stuffed so much anger I didn’t even know I was angry. “Who me? Angry? No no… you must have the wrong person.” After all, “angry women” are those women we don’t associate with – they’re the bitches of society and there was no way I was going to be her. So I learned to be the “nice girl.”

So here I am, Father, almost 33 and as mad as I’ve ever been… at you. The great divide between my head and my heart feels like such a Grand Canyon chasm I am absolutely terrified of how the gap will ever be closed. The God I’ve always known and believed in, the Rock I have built my life on, now feels like quicksand. The Word I’ve girded myself with now feels empty and hollow.

So where are you, huh? WHERE ARE YOU?

It feels like I’ve reached the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of my soul. I have been in some dark places before, but never in a dark place of faith. Even in times of heartache, depression, crisis, transition, and distress, I’ve never doubted your character – but these last few days, I doubt it often.

In the last few days I’ve heard people tell me “oh wow maybe you shouldn’t swear at God, or maybe don’t tell him you hate him… it’s okay just ask him for forgiveness.”  Christian platitudes make me want to vomit.  I feel them pushing me into some place I’m not ready to go. Pressing me toward being the “nice little girl” daughter because heaven forbid I tell you how I really feel. I suppose it makes them uncomfortable – but surely not as uncomfortable as it makes me.

Not just uncomfortable, but deeply painful. It’s taking all the courage I have to allow myself to feel this. Heart-wrenching, beating out of chest, where is home, who is God, who am I kind of painful. Down here in what feels like the pit of my soul is loneliest place I’ve ever been – you feel absolutely nowhere.

I’ve not been here before and I don’t know where to go from here. I don’t know how to reconcile my head and my heart. I don’t know how to believe the things I so desperately desire to believe. I don’t know how to reach for you when all I do is push and pull, cry and groan.

I do know that at the end of this there will be some forgiving I have to do and forgiveness I’ll have to receive, but I don’t know if I’m there yet. I want to be there right now as it feels more comfortable to quickly skirt along the surface, to make nice, so as to not feel the tension of this – but I choose to believe that until then, you honor my wrestle with you.

I choose to believe that you are here and that as I doubt, question, wonder, wander, and tell you how suffocated my heart has felt, you will love me still. I choose to believe that this is true intimacy –  exposing to you my deep and inner parts, however messy, embarrassing, and screwed up they look and feel.  I choose to believe that you welcome my honesty, no… that you cherish it and you’re not frightened or alarmed by it.  I choose to believe that you want authentic Cortney over some nice-girl image and never-rock-the-boat-or-tell me-how-you-feel-kind-of-Cortney. I choose to believe that in the upturning of all the trash I’ve believed about who you are, I’ll come to embrace the real God, my true Father, in ways I’ve feared longing for until now.

And yet in all my anger, in all my frustration at you – I can’t type without weeping.  Because even though I’m mad, I want you so badly, but not the you I’ve settled for.  Behind swollen eyes and a distorted cry face that looks like a punching bag, I long for the real you and not this bullshit, copout crap idolatry I’ve settled for. I long for true relationship where I can tell you how I’m really feeling and get mad if I need to.  Beneath all this anger I long for you, in all this anger I long for you.   I refuse to leave this wrestle until I get all of the real you.

 

the best is yet to come.

At times it can be far too easy to believe that the best years have already happened.

We may reminisce about the “good old days” or our childhood youth and and I’m sure often wish we could go back to a time when life was a little less complicated and, of course, full of hope.  Something happens as we get older – life comes in like a runaway train it seems.  We go through the motions into adulthood and then hammer out the mundane – get a job, pay bills, on and on.  Somewhere between playing at the park and getting our first job we forget what it was like to dream – to let our hearts and minds soar with an untamed imagination, not entertaining the fears of “what if I don’t make it?”

God has planned to give each of us a “hope and a future” and such plans don’t stall when we pass 30, 40, 50, or more.  They don’t fade if we’ve failed and fallen flat on our face for the hundredth time. They’re still as intact now as they were when we took our first steps.

But the fire in our hearts fades to a glow if we don’t fuel the passion, stand in our courage, and diligently walk out what we’ve been given. That is OUR part – we carry the glorious weight of responsibility.  Co-laboring with him in our piece, as Jesus does his alongside us.

Each of us, uniquely made to carry a dream, & the birthing of such doesn’t come without its hardships, heartache and pain.  But a life held back out of fear (among other things) would undoubtedly be a frustrated one.

I came home to this today – a sign from my husband “the best is yet to come.”

It’s seared into my heart even darker now, as its a truth phrase I have been living by this last year or so.  No matter where my mind races when my feet hit the floor each morning – this I know: I have HOPE – and you do too – that no matter what and who may happen – the best is still to come. I choose life – in all of its fullness, mixed with the continuous struggles and joy. Perhaps this is partly why Paul ran his race so well… He pressed on.

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Weeping Joy.

Ever felt like if someone asks how you are, you might spit out tiny shards of broken glass that were once a part of the whole of your fragile, now shattered heart.

Like if someone went into hug you, you’d heap yourself onto them, like on the lap of a father, and you’d heave and sob from a deeper ache that even you were aware of.

Ever climbed into the shower with the sole intent to weep – undisturbed.  Where the waters mixed with the salt down your face and you didn’t have to reach for the tissue or wipe away your leaky nose.

Ever felt so broken – again – and wonder why you’re back here – again – where the hurt feels as fresh as it did the very first time.

Ever wonder why brokenness always feels like heartache and every pulse feels like thumb pressure on a bruise – and in those moments on your knees you swear you’d give anything not to feel what you feel right now.

You’re angry because it hurts and you cry because there’s sorrow – and as your fists and tears find their expression, in a split second of God-strength you cry out to him…

HELP.

As my head meets my hands and tears flow through the cracks in my fingers – in a moment of stillness and clarity, I feel Him.

I feel His arms wrap around me, strong, tender, and steady – as my chest shakes from the weeping.

I feel Him on my deep breaths in, and when I exhale out, and in the midst of my hurt, I ask Him to take the pain and make it into something.

“Make it into something,” I mumble in a cry voice that can hardly be heard.  Because few things are more tragic than grieving in vain.

It hurts.  Nothing hurts like a broken heart.  There’s no bandage for the bleed, no ice pack for the swelling, no over the counter pain killer to take the edge off.

You have to live with it. Do life with it. The world still spins and responsibilities still call, all while this thing inside of you feels like it’s going through a war.

I have come for the weary.

The broken hearted.

The crushed in spirit.

I recite His words to keep me from plunging into despair.  And then I hear, faintly in the stillness, “I will turn your mourning into dancing…”

For only a heart that has experienced depth of sorrow, could experience such depth of joy.

God doesn’t kill pain, he uses it.  And though the mysteries of why I may never know, I have to trust it – trust Him – or else I’ll fall into the blackness of sorrow.

In the middle of my weeping, I’m not always comforted by “there’s a purpose to this,” because sometimes only a Father’s arms can do that – but I am reminded, in the quietness after my emotional storm, that He promises to make this good.  To make it better. To use it – for me, for Him, for others.

And the reasons as to why or how are left as unanswered questions for a God whose ways are higher and wiser than mine.

I’m not saying I always like it – that he has chosen to use pain in this way – but I trust that He’s good, even when it feels horrible – and that He’ll take my shattered heart, my swollen eyes, and my shaking chest, and He’ll turn it into something beautiful… in time.

So once again, I give Him my heart – all the tangled messes of it.  And I ask Him to make do with what He can.  To set right what’s gone off course, to mend what’s cracked, to fill what feels devastatingly empty.

And so I climb into bed at night, remembering what His word tells me “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and rescues those who are crushed in spirit,” I await, in anticipation and trust, for His rescuing.

As a final tear rolls down my cheek and onto my pillow, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” I look forward to the sunrise of His joy, for I know that my weeping has a purpose – that it’s beyond meaningful – and He will see to it that this, and everything else that comes my way, will end in His perfect hands that maneuver all things for the good of my heart.  Joy.  That’s called joy.

 

 

Inferno.

I don’t know where I learned it. Maybe the world taught it. Maybe this fear quenched it. Maybe the boxes I’ve built over the years, shoving God in, kept me from it. Maybe the heartache and pain numbed it. Maybe the years of avoiding buried it. Maybe this unworthiness disqualified me from it. Maybe the voices of self-condemnation lied to me about it.

Maybe feeling out of control feels… unsafe. And I need safe. I really need safe.

God’s love is read about, written about, and preached about – so much so that in my lifetime of following him, I’ve stumbled over it like it were some elementary concept I learned years ago. Yeah… he loves me… this I know.

But I don’t know. I’m realizing that I don’t know much at all.

My heart breaks as I write. And I am reminded as to why I fought him on scribing these words as tears flow down my face because… because facing the truth is hard. Even when that truth is that God loves me. I mean really loves me.

Who knew. Letting myself be loved is downright hard.

I squirm. I shift. I shake my head no. I pull my gaze away from the holy of holies because how can he love me – still. I don’t trust it – and I know if I face him, I’ll unravel completely. An unraveling in a way I’ve never experienced before.

Control. Apparently, I prefer it.

“Let me just go forward with my life, Lord. Yes, yes you love me I know. Regardless of what I have or haven’t done or anything I will do, you love me still. I get it.”

I might as well kick him out the door.

The truth is, I haven’t been brave. Because God’s love asks that I bravely trust him. He asks that I bravely trust that he loves me just as I am – not as I should be. He asks that I bravely trust that he loves me day in and day out, on my good days and bad, regardless of how I feel, and in the face of all the world tells me I have to “be” in order to be loved.

It feels like free fall. Like being out of control. Like waves crashing overhead. It means I have to burn the boxes I’ve put him in. It means I have to un-numb my heart to feel again. It means I have to dig up what I’ve avoided, and dare, absolutely dare to trust that he sees me as a dad sees his daughter – unstained, unblemished, and worth loving.

It means cutting the ties and snipping the strings that have sustained my heart at a place of safety; but safety isn’t really what it is at all. It’s more survival really – and a heart living out of mere survival is living out of fear.

Fear. I hate it. And I’ve lived in it more often than I’d like to admit. Is it only coincidence then, that Satan loves to confide with me there for “perfect love casts out fear;” for if I let God love me, fear must flee.

But instead, I hold Fear’s hand and ask it to stay.

Trust.

I lack it.

Why don’t I trust his love? Why can I tell a complete stranger the grandeur of his love and not receive it for myself? My receiver is broken. That precious gift God gives – that little girl in me who believes and receives – she’s lost. She doesn’t know where she fits in, in this big, wide world.

That little girl – me… I’m scared. No, terrified really.

Rejection. I fear it most. Not being chosen and loved in the midst of my all out mess. I don’t know what that feels like – I’ve not let myself feel at all. To put my whole heart at his feet sounds more like a cause for self-implosion.

“1, 2, 3… jump,” I tell myself. Like a bungee jumper off a bridge, I imagine myself plunging into the depths of him. But my toes curl the edge and as I look down, my heart beats wildly, and with shortness of breath,

I shrink back.

From the outside it looks so easy. But the complexities of the heart know different.

Just jump.
Just trust.

“Coward,” I think to myself.

Lack of bravery.
Fear and self-concern override.
Lack of courage to face danger.

But it isn’t danger I’m trying to face. It’s God’s love. HIS face.

God’s love… dangerous? That’s how it feels. Because he calls for complete surrender. Full body. Full heart. Full everything. He tenderly asks “Can I have all of you… just as you are?  Can you share with me all that’s stored up inside your lonely heart?” And I have to make the courageous choice to relinquish control of this tattered, beat-up heart that I’ve mismanaged for far too long.

I hear him whisper.

Let me love you.
Let me love you.
Let me love you.

I strike a match and the boxes start to burn.

God loves if…
God loves until…
God gets tired of loving you…
God love you more when…

The boxes of lies, self-condemnation and unworthiness start to go up in flames. And the embers of courage flicker off the edges of the fiery blaze and my cold, numb heart starts to heat and smolder, like the friction of sticks, it ignites.

Inferno.

I crave his love right down into the very depths of me, but I’ve held it at arms distance for fear of losing it. I’ve feared the total abandonment of self, diving into the infinite waters of Jesus’s high, wide, and everlasting love because I was afraid.  I’ve always been afraid I’d lose it.  Fear felt more safe.

Fear lies.

As the consuming fire in my soul ensues, that little girl inside me is learning to receive again. I’m learning to let in what I’ve fought so hard to keep out – for love as I experienced it was too shifty, too wavering, too conditional. At the expense of my heart, it simply wasn’t worth it.

“Grace,” he tells me “all is grace.” And instead of striving to somehow pay him back, as if I ever could, I’m learning to say thank you instead.

Thank you, Jesus.
Thank you, Jesus.
Thank you, Jesus.

For choosing this heart to die for. To pursue. To fight for.

To love.

I’m learning to trust him again – like a little girl would. For in the eyes of him, I am always a child. And it’s okay to unravel.

“Make me brave,” I ask him, “Jesus make me brave again.”

And he stands there with me at the edge of the fire and we watch as his love burns out the fear. “Courage,” he tells me, “it’s like the flick of a match… all it takes is a spark.”

I try again.

My toes curling the edge and as I look down, my heart beats wildly, and with shortness of breath,

A flick.  A match.  A spark.

I jump.

And the fear vanishes as quickly as it invades as I picture his face – beaming. He’s beaming.

From Death to Life.

In preparation for The 4th of July (or Freedom Day as I like to call it), I asked my wonderful husband if he would write something.  This is our incredible nations celebration of independence, but it also marks his 5 years sober.  It only seemed fitting, not only to celebrate this miraculous milestone and how 5 years ago today, his deadened heart beat again, but also what our incredible God has and continues to do through him, bringing light to a struggle that so many suffer from.

We live in a broken world full of broken people. None of us have arrived, have it all together, or win the award for “most gracious” when facing hardship head on. We all need something (Someone) greater than ourselves. To live a life of “just trying to be better” is rooted in a self-strength and a bootstrap mentality that ultimately enslaves in the long run. We can’t do this life – this wild, joyful, incredible gift that is equally painful, confusing, and all around heartbreaking at times – we can’t do it by ourselves, in our own self help “wisdom” or successes or strivings for more. Inside each of us is a deep need to be known, loved, and understood for who we are at our best, our worst, and everything in-between. We all struggle- every single one of us – but the question is, do you live out your struggle in secret and despairing? Or, do you bring it into the light, with someone you trust, and trusting in the love of God even on your most horrific of days. Life is messy. Our hearts are messy. Our pains and trip ups, mistakes and obstacles, ways we’ve really screwed up, hurt others, or devastated our own soul- it all has a purpose- in the grand story of Gods Kingdom, he enters and whispers “I have a thing for you…yes, even now!” In the noisy clatter of our own mind, self condemnation, or hopelessness, God longs to enter and offer a way out. Sometimes, he delivers us completely. Seemingly overnight. And other times, he delivers us through his guidance. He teaches us, with great truth, grace and love how to conquer. How to become fighters of light against the darkness in our own soul. He enables us the authority through Jesus to split the spirit in two, marrow and all, dividing the light from the dark. 

There’s something about a person who’s endured this fight. Who’s lived to stand on the other side with joy and proclaim to those who’ve suffered the same “I made it out. You can too. There’s more to life than this. The struggle doesn’t define you. Freedom can be yours.” Something about a person who has reached the end of them self, whose looked to the magnificent face of Jesus and said, “You must do this. I can’t.” There’s something about a person – who’s been through the trenches, the pain, the heartache, whether by their choices, the doings of another, or simply the hand they were dealt – who knows what it’s like to have nothing left in the emotional and physical reserve to merely “get through it,” but rather, to allow the weight of the affliction break their heart so the only One who can mend it may find his way in.

Our stories, no matter how tattered, ragged, or embarrassing we may feel them to be, can change the life of someone. You never know who may relate to what you’re going through, what you went through, and the struggle you can’t seem to shake. The greatest gift we are given is our opportunity to have a relationship with Jesus, and then with one another – for life was not meant to be lived alone and struggles were not meant to endure in solitude.

We can find rest beneath the refuge of the Almighty who tells us that our suffering is not in vain. Every sin is covered by his love, “for love covers a multitude of sins,” and the God of Heaven and Earth knew what your struggle would be, before you ever did – he knows how to enter, he knows how to rescue, and he takes great delight in doing so.

None, absolutely zilch of your pain or sin or mistakes or suffering is wasted if you give it all to Jesus who “turns all things to good for those who love him.” It’s a radical mystery- and it’s true.

Even now, in this moment, God is pursuing your heart to reconcile you to the Father. In other words, he wants to make you whole. Whole in him.  Though we try to find satisfaction, worth, and value in worldly things, they fall short every time, only widening the gap between the Father and child relationship; reminding us all the more that the emptiness we feel cannot be quenched by the finite, but only the eternal.

To any person reading and struggling, God’s love for you hasn’t wavered based on your progress or lack thereof.  It’s as constant, deep, wide, and high as it’s ever been and ever will be.  Your pain is not a waste, your sin is not too big, and your heartache is not the end of your story. He did not create you to simply survive, he divinely fashioned you to be “more than a conqueror.” It takes effort, diligence, prayer, and hunger to seek him – but of course, none of this is done without his unfailing love and abounding grace that envelops it all – and above all else, it requires that you embrace surrender, knowing full well that God loves you right where you’re at, and he’s in control, no matter how out of control you might feel. Those who cling to their life, inevitably lose it. But those who lose their life (to him), find it.

Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like you and me.

From the words of my husband – here is his story:

From Death To Life

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” – Ephesians 2:13

So far in this journey of life I have yet to meet a person who has not experienced heartache of some kind. It is a thread, often tragically, woven throughout our stories. As I look back on my life, my heart soars with the visions of a joyous childhood, and plummets with the memories of personal deprivation and self-destruction. Growing up in the typical middle-class family, my childhood was filled with family vacations, little league baseball, and pointless fights with my sisters. The family environment I was raised in was deeply devoted to God, safe, fun, and an excellent atmosphere for a young boy to flourish. I had everything I could ever need. I have many friends that survived the horrors of broken families filled with abuse, neglect, and every other form of dysfunction, yet this is not my story. My mother and father provided for me a safe and loving family setting in which to thrive. The soil of my life was ripe for success and upward mobility.

However, this also is not my story.

I was not that high-school kid that blatantly rebelled without care or respect for authority. I rarely ditched class, and was terrified of getting in trouble. I believe this stemmed from a deep, seemingly tectonic, insecurity and fear of being seen as different and ultimately rejected. This created in me an unquenchable thirst for validation and a misguided striving for self-worth that always seemed beyond my grasp.

Enter drugs, alcohol, and sex.

These things are extremely powerful, especially to the developing brain of a teenager. When I began dabbling in these counterfeit forms of joy I had no idea I was starting down a road that would ultimately lead to my complete undoing. While at first fun and exciting, drinking and using drugs immediately became the most important thing in my life. The scariest part is that there was no real period of innocent, recreational use as is many others’ stories. I knew as soon as I got that first buzz/high that my mind worked differently than most. I am an addict, and I have known it since I was 16 years old. It didn’t take long for it to get bad enough that at 19 my parents arranged to fly me to the east coast to meet with a renowned counselor. Yes it helped, temporarily, but my addicted mind never went away. I can even remember taking handfuls of Tylenol PM in the hotel room each night just to feel something other than myself.

Needless to say, my addiction spiraled out of control for years and years. Name a drug and I can tell you how I have used it to destroy my life. There were periods of hope, but those were always brief and followed by the conscious, outright insane, decision to again go down the rabbit hole of deep addiction. When you are a full-blown drug addict, whether you want to or not, you associate and partner yourself with the evil sides of this world. Your friends become predators, your surroundings become dark and oppressive, and your hope for a life free from pain vanishes. I continually found myself in rooms surrounded by the likes of hardened criminals, violent skinheads, the kind of company found in nightmares. All because I was a slave to a chemical. If you were to ask me if I wanted help, if I wanted to stop, I would have told you yes. However, in my mind, I knew there was no hope for me. I knew I would never be able to not choose the drink or drug. I knew I would die a tragic, young death. I would join the group of famous renegades who all died from drugs or suicide in their late twenties, only without the fame or any recognition other than an obituary in the newspaper on page C17.

I constantly envisioned my family burying me with tear soaked faces, wondering what they could have done to get through to me. The truth is, there was nothing anyone could have done to save me.

My addict life accelerated to the point of critical mass at the age of 25. At the tail end of an 8-month Methamphetamine binge, I had reached my point of no return. I had hit many bottoms before, all with different levels of pain and sorrow, but this time it was different.

There was nothing of myself left in me.

The levels of depravity and personal despair I had willingly involved myself in had completely enveloped me. I had thought of suicide many times throughout my life, but this time it wasn’t just an idea, it was my only way out. All I wanted was to no longer exist, to be free from what I had become. With easy access to a firearm where I was living, the decision was made. That night, as I wrote what would be a short, pathetic suicide letter, my heart broke completely in half.

My life, which started with such hope and promise, would end with a flash and a note.

Yet on the darkest day of my life, where all hope had vanished, HE showed up. He had actually been there all along. In that place of total emptiness, Jesus, the Risen Savior, quietly whispered in my ear a word of love. Here I was, broken, addicted, in blatant rebellion against God, yet he chose to pursue my ragged, shame-filled heart without regard for all the ways I had disgraced him and myself. Jesus didn’t wait for me to repent, to turn from my ways, or to become a better person. He came to me in the midst of my brokenness and said, “My Beloved, I know your pain. I feel your heartache. I have loved, and always will love, you deeply and relentlessly. I have seen your rebellion and the twisted ways in which you searched for love and life. I have great plans for you. I am incessantly bragging to my father about you. Will you take the risk of letting me love you for who you are right now, not who you think you should be?”

My answer of “Yes” has and always will be the single greatest decision of my life.

5 years ago today, I took that risk to let Jesus love me completely, and he has set me free from that dark life of alcohol and drug addiction. It hasn’t been easy, and there have been plenty of hills and mountains to climb along the way. I haven’t always felt joyous and free, but what I always have known is the faithfulness of my Heavenly Father. He is a good, good father… it’s who he is. And I am loved by Him, it’s who I am. His goodness seems to never end: I have a family who has walked with me through this journey and who loves me unconditionally; I am about to graduate from an incredible University (better late than never!) with a pastoral degree; I have a job that fulfills me; and the greatest of gifts, I have met the woman of my dreams. Cortney has become the woman of my reality, a wife with such faith, courage, and depth that I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life exploring the magnificent mysteries of her.

On this Independence Day, I celebrate the freedom of life and spirit that were undeservingly gifted to me by Jesus of Nazareth. He has healed my broken heart. He has quenched my thirst for life. He has renewed my hope and paved the way for my adoption into Sonship with the Father.

Jesus called me home. He is calling you too…