Two weeks in the real world and all I have to show for it is a really clean bedroom, a plethora of baked goods on the counter, and two seasons of Friday Night Lights in the “watched” section of my DVD collection. None of those are bad things, but I’ve known all along that there are better things, the most time sensitive of which is sitting down and hashing out what this summer as a Windy Gap intern meant to me, and how I should then live in the wake of it. So here I am, latte in hand, ready to do just that. I’ve found myself in a really estranged state of anxiety since I left the gap. I blamed it on the changes at first, claiming that I just get weird when I’m in a state of transition, but then when it didn’t go away after a week, I realized two things:
1) thinking about the Bible from time to time and actually dwelling in the truth and promises of the Word are not the same thing, and I have been severely lacking in the latter;
2) I’ve been sort of avoiding (not sort of, I have been) being quiet before the Lord and listening to His voice, waiting for him to guide me into the next season, instead jumping ahead ten steps and falling into a pit of worry.
And then I thought back to when I lived without anxiety, which was all summer long. Because I was continually denying myself and sitting at the feet of Jesus, even if I didn’t feel like it, and then doing it again the next day, because I feel like I’m about to collapse under the weight of everything going on, but I have put my hope in the Word. If I wanted to, I could rattle off a laundry list of things about myself that I think I need to work on, things that I’m insecure or not sure about, things that I’m scared of. But I’m not going to do that anymore, because I think it’s a waste of time and invites us too quickly into a negative self-analyzing defeatist attitude. I’ve spent too much time there to want to go back now. The last night we were all the mountain house, Christy and Megan and I were out on the back porch, looking out at the valley and all the lights and the orange moon and I remember talking about how I was walking away from the summer and into my senior year of college feeling pretty confused and hesitant, not sure if I could do it, not sure if I was ready, not sure if I was stable or strong or secure enough. And I’ll always go back to what those two said to me; it was a really surprising culmination of things that I’ve heard before but never really grasped onto. I walked away from that with a lot of realizations…mostly that the work is not mine to do, but the Lord’s. And that there’s no use in dragging around old baggage and bondage and remembering how I used to be, the years when I was really sick, all the times I really allowed depression to take over my life, the ways I used to wear that as a scarlet letter, sort of saying, “before you get to know me, just be warned, I’ve got this problem, so you can back away now if you want.” I pushed people away for a really long time, I structured my life in a way that kept everyone at an arm’s distance, because I thought that was safe. No community, no authentic accountability. When my relationship with the Lord was up, it was up, and when it was down, it was waaaay down. I don’t know why I lived like that for so long, but I know now that I don’t want to do it anymore.
The challenge here is that I’m a runner. Not physically, still rehabbing the ankle (annoying). I mean that when something is uncomfortable, I usually bolt for the door. I try to find a way out or around, not through. When I’m done with a conversation, I hang up. I hermit. I shut down. I check out. I’ve always been this way; my friends in high school used to call me Runaway Bride because every time I start having second thoughts even a little, I go to Plan B. It goes back to my desire to always be in control, I think. That’s why it’s been so hard for me to sit down and actually take inventory of what the Lord revealed to me this summer, because I’d much rather do laundry or clean out my closet or go wash my car, something tangible that I can see the progress in from point A to B.
But…the more I think about it, the more I realize that you don’t always get that luxury. Things are not always clear; they’re usually gray, and sometimes murky at best. Looking forward, all I’m seeing is murky. And I need guidance in that, I can’t navigate that alone. I need the Lord first, I need a community of people to laugh with and cry with and throw dinner parties for and with, who will point me back to truth and God in the hard places, where the Lord is in the doldrums. I think that’s the point of community. I need people to remind me that God is good when all I see is murky and then I envelope myself in fear an uncertainty. That’s when I need community the most, when I’m searching for the door and preparing my excuse to exit.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what this summer was for me. Living in a house, in what I’m convinced is the best place in the whole world, with 14 people (and especially the other 7 girls) who saw right through my defense mechanisms, blocked the door, called me out on my crap, and loved me well and deeply even though that was so uncomfortable for me. I think about the past three months and am filled with thankfulness. It brings new life to the verse “When I think of you, and I think of you often, I thank God for you.” I do. Instantly I think of the time I walked back into the house after I got back from taking finals in Spartanburg and could hear the sounds of laughter and cooking and dishes being done and 3 or 4 instruments trying to learn the chords to “Fire and Dynamite” before I even walked in the door. I go back to the night that all the interns waited around until after I got off work in the office to leave for dinner together at Cook-Out, even though that meant we’d get there at 9. I go back to the time Becky came outside to the big tree in the front yard to talk me through a rough day I’d had. I go back to all the advice, all the listening, all the patience, all the times people pursued me even when I rejected their efforts and then was amazed when they did it again the next day, in spite of my selfishness. I am…amazed, looking back, at how I was living amongst the most accurate and beautiful embodiments of Christ that I’ve ever seen. And I didn’t even realize it until now.
There was no big moment for me, where everything changed or became clear all of a sudden, but there were a million little moments. Of grace and of peace and of forgiveness and of good food and those awful fruity pebble rice crispy treats, of late night McDonalds and interpretive dancing on Wednesday nights. Of vegan chocolate chip cookies and quiet times with Jill, of ridiculous late night conversations with Agape, of dinner and wisdom and truth with Becky at Bojangles, of Megan and Christy not allowing me to miss out on things, of Katie and Jordan telling our life stories a million times and literally being the faces of encouragement, of stargazing, of the McDonald’s playplace, of fireworks, of pink eye, Most of all, great moments of love. Love when I needed it, love when I didn’t want to need it, love when I didn’t know I needed it. Not just liking each other, not just tolerating each other, but rich and deep and overwhelming love even when it was refused or unwanted because it’s how we’re called to live with one another. I used to think that being loved was just when somebody was really nice to you all the time, or listened to your stories, or let you do whatever you wanted. That just seems silly now. Love is relentless. Love is not afraid of invading your space or flipping over your hammock until you come and get ready for dinner, even though there’s no square dance afterwards and that’s what you wanted. Love is going to stand at your desk until you get off work to take you up to the ropes course to watch Capernaum kids go through, even though you’d rather take a nap, but Love just doesn’t want you to miss this. Love is dragging you by the hand down the hill to go fishing even though you’re scared of fish and will probably scream the whole time. It tells you when you’re being selfish and is okay with you being mad for a little bit, because it knows you needed to hear that and you’ll come around eventually. It sits under a tree and cries with you when you are downcast. It reminds you that you are not defeated. It’s waiting for you to come to pool time. It’s staying up until 3am to finish a puzzle with you. It’s praying for you and never mentioning it, because it is not proud or boastful. It is patient with you, even when that’s a challenge, because you are awfully stubborn at times. It sticks notes in your mailbox and brings you Diet Coke from the sippie. It fills up your heart, because just the act in and of itself brings joy, and asks for nothing return. It teaches you a multitude of things, namely that there really is nothing to fear, to go out on that limb, to let people in, that it is not always safe to trust, but to trust anyway, that you are held, that you are free, that you are loved.
Am I crying in the corner of Starbucks right now? Maybe a little. My heart is full and resounding with “thank you, thank you, thank you.” You never really know what you have until it’s gone, and I know that I’m one of the lucky ones, and I know I’ll be back at Windy Gap from time to time. But it will never be quite the same. I wish I could put the summer in a bottle. I know life doesn’t work like that, but it’s too bad anyway. All we get are moments, all you really have is right now. What’s happened has happened and the future, well, it isn’t here yet. And you can build up walls, you can try to protect yourself from harm and trouble and the rough patches, but that never really works, somehow. It was never supposed to be that way. Luckily, there will be people who love you enough to break down your walls. Let them. And then don’t waste time rebuilding them. Let them stay down, and then if something important is happening, get over yourself and get there. I don’t think it’s ever too late to stop running. I’m trying, I am. I don’t think people, the ones who really love you and understand grace, will really ever turn you away when you realize that it’s better to give up that fear. I think they’ll welcome you, I think you’ll be surprised and I think that’ll be good for you. But figure it out, sooner rather than later if you can stand that. What are you so afraid of? Answer that question and then conquer the answer. Everything is grace, and you are swimming in it.