Loving the Unloved

A burden that has been particularly on my heart lately is how to cultivate compassion for those who have committed heinous crimes against humanity. I work with a population where many individuals have done some of the worst things you or I could imagine. They are sick with a mental illness. Some are straight up psychopaths. Many have been blowing their brains out with drugs since they were in middle school. Many have suffered physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse. Many have had numerous attempts at suicide. There is this vast cage of brokenness and dark energy that one can easily notice and deeply feel when immersed in this environment for forty hours a week. As a sensitive person, I do feel quite easily and I do have a heart of compassion for them as God has called me to do this kind of work for a long time. But not as much as I had once thought…

The other day, God was clearly calling me to pray for them. I was praying for myself, friends, and family, but skipping those that I see and live to help rehabilitate every five days out of the week. After much wrestling, I found myself lifting them up to God. That He would make himself bigger than their mental illness. That tortured minds would be comforted. That they may experience reconciliation with their victims and families. That they may heal from the crimes and trauma that have been afflicted upon them. That God would make himself known in the darkness. I asked God that within these prayers that I would gain a much deeper, empathetic, compassionate perspective toward these souls.

Today in church we went through the first part of Chapter 22 of Acts, when Paul shares his testimony in front of the Jewish people. He was not only a rebel to Jesus’s teachings, but a terrorist. He killed followers of Jesus. He committed hate crimes and was eager to do so. God did not only forgive Him. He chose Him to lead His people. The pastor mentioned how Christians who store all their worth and salvation in following the law, despise people like Paul. Why did God redeem this wretched man to do His good work?

The Gospel, however, is unlike the law. When we put our worth and salvation in the Gospel, we come to see that we are all wretched. I am not a terrorist, a rapist, or a criminal by any legal perspective. But I am a criminal in the eyes of God. I have rebelled against Him and gone my own way countless times. I am only saved because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for my sin. He has made me clean.

This is how I find the confidence to pray for those I see every day. It is easy to save our empathy for someone else instead of those who have committed senseless crimes. We feel as though they should “get what they deserve”. But I tell you, Paul (Saul) would have been there right along with them. In fact, the DSM-V probably would have diagnosed him with a variety of mental illnesses ;). And that’s the person that God chose to carry out His good works and lead His people.

For this, I have so much hope. The law alone gives me anxiety and despair. The Gospel gives me hope. For those who feel like they are never good enough. For those dwelling in the trenches of addiction, rebellion, and sin. God chooses you to be His followers. He doesn’t love you any less. He enjoys pouring His grace out upon you. It isn’t work for Him. It is pure love. As I reflect on this week and the story of Paul’s transformation, I see how the Gospel is much more radical and reckless than I could ever begin to imagine. I pray I do not withhold my compassion from any human I may encounter. More than that, I pray that I cultivate a deeper compassion. Where I do not look at someone for what they have done, but their identity due to the work  Jesus has done. At the end of the day, I praise God for loving us no more than the other. I praise Him for endless, crazy grace. His love is infinite. His love is everything. His love saves us all from all of our crimes.

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The Night I Poured My Wine Down the Sink

It became a clutch. A sleeping pill. Something that numbed. Something to look forward to. It was several times a week. Always flirting with that line between tipsy and drunk. That line was crossed many times. Decisions  made. Mistakes made. Doing things I swore I wouldn’t do. Shame crept up and another glass helped drown it out. At least for a little while. I’d combine it with my medication. Feeling like my muscles could finally relax. The non stop grinding of my teeth finally ceased. The racing thoughts slowed down. I could feel ok being alone. I felt alive, carefree, happy.

Until, I found myself almost getting a DUI. Until, I was found on a bathroom floor of a bar. Until I was plagued with depression every morning. Until, all I wanted was something stronger. Until, my bank account became depleted. Until, I played with his heart. Until, I let him play with my body. Until, I saw myself turn into a stranger overnight yet defend her with every ounce of strength I had left. This is just how I am. Until, I saw my best friend’s eyes glossed over with worry and concern for the girl she used to know. Until, she said how she missed that girl. Until, I realized that I was someone with a life. A full life. And it was still in front of me passing me by as I poured my third, fourth, fifth glass. Until, I kept having to make apologies for putting someone else through my shit.

Until, I realized I had to move thousands of miles from anyone I knew. Until, I realized I only had me to pick me up. Until, I realized that these nights of drowning it out alone made loneliness worse. Until, I realized that no one was going to tell me no. Not God, not my parents, not my friends. I was on my very own. It was up to me to change. Until, I realized that I needed to make choices that lead to self-worth. Even if I didn’t believe it. Because those choices are worth making. Even if it means pouring that one glass of wine and eyeing that bottle knowing you need to get rid of it. Knowing that a bottle can’t last more than two days. Knowing that one glass won’t do it even if you try to convince yourself. So that’s what I did. I poured the rest of that bottle down the sink. I think I saw glimpses of shame and apathy go down with it. It happened so fast I could barely comprehend it. I traded that three dollar bottle of chardonnay for a night of hope. A night of uncomfortable fasting-so it seemed. A night of interrupted sleep and a clear head in the morning. I woke up thinking I can change. I haven’t been perfect. I am still figuring out my boundaries. I am trying to take one day at a time. One night at a time. But now I am convinced, that change is possible. Drinking isn’t just how I am. This is how I can be. Sometimes, this is how I wanna be. Those blurry nights, club lights, and internal fights weren’t me. I am what God made me to be. His humble creation. His hands and feet. His compassionate advocate for the marginalized. His faithful follower. I poured out that bottle of wine because my worth is determined by the blood that has already been poured out for me. This is not an offering, it is a surrender to the one who will give me more love and satisfaction than any drop of alcohol ever could.

Fall Into Healing

There are many different ways to fall. Sometimes on your face. Sometimes on your bum. Sometimes on your hip. Sometimes on your head. Sometimes on your heart. As children we fall off bikes, monkey bars, and counter tops. We fall for Santa Clause,  happy endings, and the rumors on the playground that babies are made from star dust. We fall, we trip, we get a boo-boo, and cry. Not even a full five minutes go by and we are out there chasing the wind with our new kite laughing hysterically. We fall. We may bleed. But we don’t break. Because we know we weren’t made to be stuck in a cycle of brokenness.

As adolescents we fall for the thousands of messages that cross our eyes and seep into our brains telling us that there is something wrong with us. We fall for Cosmopolitan’s advice, we fall for dirty rumors about our friends, we fall for the speech our principal gives saying we will be worthless without college. We fall for dirty dances being the only way of being noticed. And it’s worth it being called beautiful. We fall for those words: beautiful. We fall for his gazes across the room in chemistry class and his touch in the backseat of the car. We fall in so-called love. We fall into decisions. That will affect us for the rest of our lives they tell us. We fall into choosing who to live with after the divorce, mom or dad? We fall into choosing our future career even though we can barely decide what to wear that day.  We fall. We bleed. Some make themselves bleed because they need to see that proof that they really did fall. And for the first time, we break. Some younger than others. Some at the mere age of 11 when dad walks out with someone else. Some at 17 when the love of their life dumps them for someone else. Some stay broken for longer. Some heal.

In our twenties we become a collection of fallen individuals who are either stuck in empty seas of brokenness or are healed like a child’s boo-boo. The majority of us are in-between. Trying not to dwell in the brokenness. Trying to heal. The problem is we fall for band aids. We fall for strong shots, one night stands, and schemes to earn more money. We fall into the notion that happiness and healing are the same thing. We look at the blurry pictures of ourselves from last night and see the plastered smiles and say to ourselves well, I must be happy. I am smiling. We see the texts from what’s-his-name last night and tell ourselves People love me. I’m sexy therefore I must be beautiful. We fall into confusion of what love is and what love is not. We fall into casual. We fall into fake. We fall into insecurity. We fall for success. We fall for promotions and advances. We fall for raises and recognition. We fall into a place where nothing actually satisfies. We fall into needing bigger houses, nicer cars, better vacations than the neighbors, and perfect bodies. We fall into pits of perceived scarcity. Always wanting always needing. We fall into spirals of addiction that are so tangled up in each other that we must take more pills to keep us from spiraling out. We tell ourselves I will be happy (healed) once I get this new thing. We tell ourselves this until we actually fall. Until our bodies physically collapse from the car that hits us head on. Until our finances crumble upon losing our job. Until our heart shatters upon the news that our child is sick. Until our friend commits suicide. Until we find out he’s cheating. We are always wanting and needing hundreds of things in a single day until we wake up in a hospital. Until we are called at 3 AM telling us she’s dead. Until the police knock on the door delivering the news. Then, we are only needing and wanting One Thing.

Healing.

That healing we have been searching for years. Doesn’t matter if we believe in God or not. We look up to the sky. We get on our knees. We beg in hospital waiting rooms. We beg in the empty rooms of our foreclosed house. We beg in line at the food pantry. We beg at the funeral. We beg for healing.

There are many different ways to fall. Sometimes we bleed. Sometimes we break. But we weren’t made to stay in that brokenness. When we are faced with the thing that breaks us the most, perhaps that is when healing happens. Perhaps that is when the windows open and we hear our self as a child playing outside. Perhaps that is when we stop using Band-Aids and start chasing the wind with our kite, laughing hysterically.

The Hike That Taught Me How to Pray

Today I went for a hike. A hike that taught me how to pray. You may be wondering doesn’t she already know how to pray? Technically, I learned how to pray as a child, yet I have yet to stop overthinking it. This tendency to overthink of course leads to simply not doing it. My mind wanders and I forget. I make pathetic excuses. I become apathetic and lazy. Except today was different.

As I wallowed in my current state of loneliness and how everyone had friends to share this hiking experience with, I realized I was not completely alone. For there is a God who is near and pursues in the loneliest and quietest of times. This hike allowed me to thank God for His creation and beauty. This hike allowed me to reflect on how physical journeys are similar to life journeys. I am thankful for the trials I have had to endure because they have made me stronger. I stepped over rocks and branches thinking of all the rocks I’ve hit on my way down to rock bottom. I thanked God for rock bottom because without it I would not recognize the beautiful view from the top. I thanked God for getting me out of the most recent rock bottom and the rock bottoms before that (I’m a bit of a hot mess at times…). I thanked Him for patiently waiting for me to get desperate enough to run back to Him. I knew He was rejoicing like the father celebrating the prodigal son’s return. I rejoiced too as I made it to the very top of the mountain. I breathed a breath of fresh air and swallowed the lump in my throat. I never thought I would thank God for loneliness, but it was the cry of my heart, how could I ignore it? So, I thanked God for loneliness because I know it’s the very thing that draws me right back to Him. And what could be more important? Nothing. No company, no friend, no new experience is more important than my God. My heart was more fulfilled than it had been in a long time. Without loneliness I would be too wrapped up in conversation to give Him any credit for the masterpiece of nature in front of me. Without it, I would have no reason to run to Him.

It doesn’t matter if we pray in the shower or in church. There is nothing more holy about leading a prayer at bible study versus praying at work. There is no grading scale in prayer. A prostitute’s prayer is just as welcomed as a pastor’s prayer. A prayer consisting of more tears than words is just as powerful as a fluent prayer at a church gathering. A prayer full of confusion and anger is just as valid as one with full devotion and surrender. Prayer is prayer and God greatly desires to hear from us at any time.  I thank God for being limitless like that. Limitless skies with peaks that disappear in them. Limitless beauty and creation found in hidden places. Limitless resilience to reach down to rock bottom to lift me up to New Life. Limitless patience with my wandering self. Limitless time that I cannot even fathom. He does not rest. He does not fall asleep on us. He is there in the wilderness. He is there in the pain. He is there in the silence. He is there amidst the loneliest of loneliness.

I Ran Today

I ran today. On a trail in the hot sun. I ran alone with no music in the quiet. I ran from haunted thoughts and twisted fantasies. I cried a little, but I mostly breathed. I prayed a little, but I mostly dreamed. I dreamed of running more…

From all that’s betrayed me. From all that has fooled me into thinking that the world is more fulfilling. From all that has tricked me into the lie that booze and bad love equals happiness. To all that has told me that I don’t deserve real satisfying unconditional love. I will keep running. From the culture that tells me that I can invent my own truth. From the idols that keep me in bondage. From my shame that keeps me guarded. From intrusive thoughts and dreams that keeps me living in fear. From the media telling me I, as a woman, will never be good enough. Never sexy enough. Never pure enough. Never pretty enough or skinny enough. Never bold enough. Never gentle enough. I will run. From the names I have called myself and the labels I have identified myself as. Stupid. Fat. Ugly. Worthless. Fuck up. I will run from the hatred that has followed me around like a song perpetually stuck in my head whispering these words to me. I will run from all that has stripped me of true joy and thanksgiving. I will run from the thought that I am better off not existing. I will keep running. I will run till I am out of breath. For I rather die running free from the darkness instead of barely surviving the long pains of suffocating in it. I will keeping running.

I run to a face of light that has never betrayed me. I run to hands of grace that have never stopped giving. I run to the arm of justice that has only extended mercy. I run to the voice of truth that has never tricked me. I run to the foot of forgiveness that has only lifted me.  I run to eyes of compassion that have only comforted me. I run to the breath that has breathed life into me. I run to the crown of thorns that has given my suffering purpose and meaning.  I run to the heart of love that has never forsaken me. I run to the Prince of Peace that has only set me free. I run. And I will keep running.

A Letter for Those Who Are Done: Have Hope

This is a letter for those who are done. For those whose life feels like it is slipping away. For those who question if their faith is real. For those who question if their experiences are real. This is a letter for those who doubt they are going to heal. It is for those who aren’t sure if they should even keep trying. This letter is for those who have given up.

I was recently diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I primarily have intrusive thoughts and obsessions. I experience anxiety, panic attacks, and depression around these thoughts. I have had some hopeless nights, lived through scary panic attacks, and I am slowly coming to terms with the complex fact that this is how my brain works. As one can imagine, this diagnosis has changed my life completely.

Being a Christian has not made it any easier as one may think. I used to believe this lie that due to the fact that I became a Christian, that I would not have any problems anymore. When I became a Christian 2.5 years ago God had graciously healed me from an eating disorder and I assumed all my struggles were gone. I assumed God would just keep on healing me left and right from my pain. There is truth contained in this lie, as many good lies do contain ounces of truth. The truth being: God is indeed the ultimate healer. However, what I have come to realize in this past year of crippling anxiety and depression is that God is not a magician. He does not snap His fingers and just fix every problem in our life. He has every power to do so and I have personally witnessed Him at work. However, God does indeed allow us to suffer. Why would a perfect, all-loving God allow for this to happen? I don’t believe there is necessarily this tangible reason that we can even know. However, I do believe our suffering can lead us to the cross. I believe our pain leads us to become ever so more dependent on God. It causes us to stop in our busy, apathetic, self-centered tracks and look to Him: the one who bore all the pain so that we may have eternal life. Essentially, suffering prepares us for becoming more like Christ.

Being a Christian does not make it easy. In fact, it can be isolating to go to bible study and church feeling like the only one who is going through this. I think and sometimes do things that I am scared to admit. I have doubts, my prayer life suffers, I feel like a failure. Being the perfectionist I am, I want to succeed and be the “ideal, role-model Christian”, but I feel stagnant and stuck. My only real spiritual discipline is periodically crying out to God. I identify with passages like Psalm 42 “why my soul are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?”

Being a Christian may not make it easy, but it does make it worth it. It is worth my suffering when I think of my King, my Father, my God who suffered on the cross for me. It is worth it to have these panic attacks when I think of Jesus, who sweat blood, as He mentally and emotionally prepared to die and save humanity from death. It is worth crying being my only spiritual discipline because I am learning how to be a child who turns to her Daddy. I am learning humility through my tears. It is worth being unsure of who exactly I am in this world because I have a Father who calls me beloved, daughter, and gives me my very own identity in the image of His Son. It is worth all of it.

That passage in Psalm 42 goes on and says “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” Put hope in a God who created you. Put hope in the promise of eternity. If you don’t even identify as Christian it is OK to be at that place. It is never too late to start a relationship with God. There is nothing too bad you have done for Him to reject you. He has died for your sin and your shame. Remember that. There is nothing that could separate you from His unconditional love.

I praise my Savior through this storm. I praise Him for what He has completely healed me from and for what He is healing me from. I praise Him for this tumultuous, creative mind of mine. I praise Him for my burning anger because it has been channeled into a beautiful passion. I praise Him for this broken heart that keeps making space for compassion. I praise Him for being the only consistent strength amidst my weakness. I praise Him that I need not have to seek excessive alcohol, pleasure, success, or approval because He purchased my freedom over 2000+ years ago and it is finished. I’ll be honest, I still struggle to find freedom in that. I often turn to those other worldly things. I still give into temptation and I am far from disciplined. But I continue to strive to rest in the declaration of His abounding grace in life. I pray and hope you will do the same. Your experiences, your pain, your whole being is worth all of it.

This letter is for the one who is done. Please remember at 2 AM when you feel like there’s nothing left, that He declared it done when He died on that cross and rose again. He speaks freedom, grace, and delight over your life. He is that breath you crave so deeply. He is that embrace when you want to be held, but there seems to be no one. There is so much good He has done with you, is doing with you, and will do with you. He will heal you. Don’t give up my Loves. Place your hope in Him.

Love,

Amy

Commence

Bittersweet

wet feet

Bright cheers

Dim fears

We did it

I wanted to quit

All those times

looking for perfect rhymes

Instead, I found

the beautiful profound

songs that cry

swings that go high

trees that breathe

deep oceans beneath

bridges that connect

people that accept

words that touch

tears up too much

this is not it

Travel with no limit

there is a world ahead

with plenty of thread

weaving the fabric

the patterns of magic

go out and capture

this new chapter

We did it, Loves

We looked above

Don’t forget where you came from

Play the frickin drum

Remember, your story is breathless

Your life is precious