endurance. one year later.
I had to have written that word over a year ago. It was in answer to a question about what I sensed God was teaching me, how I sensed He was growing me.
Yesterday I opened that same workbook to that same page. Someone asked me that same question. (I’m in a discipleship program at my church that lasts two years, but we go through the same book both years with different groups. Otherwise I’m not really in the habit of repeating workbooks. Just in case you wondered.)
Immediately emotion rose in my throat. Because I knew God had whispered that answer to my heart all those months ago. Because I knew He had prepared me. Because I remembered, as I stared at that familiar handwriting, that He has not been surprised by anything in the past year. Not one bit of it.
I know a lot of you have heard some of this before. Some of you lived this with me. I can't decide, even as I'm rereading this 1700 times, whether it's worth sharing. But it was worth writing. I needed to tell the story. So feel free to read it. Or not.
Exactly a year ago today I woke up in California with my family. I met my mom for an early breakfast and then I went and had a massage. After that, I had about 30 minutes before I needed to shower in order to be ready for our flight home. I walked aimlessly through the shops of a quaint street. I bought a water bottle because it was pretty. I bought some flip-flops.
When I got back to the hotel, a text dinged through on my phone. It was from an eighteen-year-old girl that I knew from a volunteer program. She told me that she was being kicked out of the place where she had been living and that she had no other place to go. “Please help me,” her text said. I set my phone down and took a shower. Sometimes you simply do not have words.
Eventually I made a plan. I would go get her when our plane landed. She could stay with me for the weekend. Maybe longer.
Our flight landed, and I drove the two-and-a-half hours to get her. We loaded everything she owned into my car, and we drove two-and-a-half hours back to my home, where we unloaded everything she owned and got her semi-settled. I crawled into bed around midnight, exhausted but with eyes wide open in the dark.
I was volunteering that weekend at a giant Christian conference for college-aged students. A pastor of our church pretty much magically (that will always be my story) produced a ticket to the sold-out event, and this girl was able to attend.
I fumbled through the weekend.
I opened my home and my hands. God opened my eyes and my heart.
I loved more than I’d thought possible. I was more willing than I’d ever have thought I’d be. I was overwhelmed by her need. I was overwhelmed by the helpfulness of the community around me. I was overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness. To her. And to me.
I peeled carrots and sliced squash for dinner that Sunday night. We needed to have a conversation. I wasn’t sure exactly what needed to be said. I stood over the sink, and I stared at my hands. And in that moment, I knew the strength of God in a way that I hadn’t before. I was able. Because He was able. I was strong. Because He was my strength. I was terrified. But He was steady. I was exhausted. But He was near.
We ate dinner, and we made a list of things that needed to be done. We had conversations that I did not expect to have to have. We talked about things, and I had no idea how to respond. I kept looking around my kitchen and my living room thinking, where is the grown up? I kept looking down at my hands and remembering, I am the grown up. And God kept letting me stand. He kept letting me speak. He kept meeting me right where I needed Him.
I made decisions I had not anticipated having to make. I drew lines that I did not know needed to be drawn. I got some really good advice from a few really faithful women, and that was so helpful.
But they weren’t in my home. I was. And she was. And God was.
And then she wasn’t. Because she left. Because I told her to. Because she wouldn’t agree to the boundaries. Because that’s the deal with boundaries--if you will not live within them, you have to live outside of them. And outside of them was outside of my home.
It was a long and nearly silent drive to the safe-ish place that she selected.
It was hard. Impossibly so. To send someone back out into a world where I didn’t know how she’d make it. To want so much more for her than what I could see. To know that I could have done more. To know that it would have been wrong, even if it had looked right. To be strangely confident. To also be totally unsure.
I wanted so badly for her to have the life that I wanted for her. I wanted so badly for her to want it. I wanted to fight for it for her.
But it was not my battle. And that felt like defeat.
That long weekend was the beginning of a year that has kept teaching me about love and rejection. It was a year that kept daring me to open up my heart and my hope, that kept asking me to trust God even when I couldn't see Him. There was a breakup and a long illness and a few professional disappointments. Maybe I'll tell you more about those things one day. Maybe I won't. All of those things were painful in themselves.
But in all of it, there has been this quiet wondering about the wellbeing of a not-quite-grown child that I loved dearly but could not help. I haven't been able to say that very often. But she's never been far from my mind.
It is painful to open your home and your hands. It is brutal to open your heart.
To leave it open even when it has been broken.
It feels a little like this year has been a giant circle. Not much has changed circumstantially since February 13, 2014. I have covered a lot of ground, but it doesn’t feel like I really went anywhere.
But I will never be the same. I still use that water bottle that I bought a year ago. I wore the flip flops yesterday. They remind me that things can change in an instant, when we aren't even looking. But we change much more slowly. This year has marked me. It has grown me and quieted me and strengthened me, too. It has taught me about friendship and trust and solitude. It has made me search for joy and reminded me of the beauty of laughter. I have messed up more times than I'd care to admit. I have seen God’s faithfulness in the midst of my own doubt. I have tried at times, and failed, to cling to Him. I have found that He is always clinging tighter to me.
Yes, I suppose it was (is?) about that. About not quitting. About not shutting down or closing off. And it's about love. And hearts split wide open but held tight in the hands of a God who loves us so much more than our fragile hearts will ever grasp.
And learning to rest in the faithfulness of a God whose endurance far outlasts our own.