But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. - 2 Timothy 4:17
If 2017 and now 2018 have held anything, they have held extreme lessons in courage. I'm talking crash-course-pushed-off-a-cliff-you-have-no-choice-do-or-die courage. It sounds dramatic, but most of the time it is fairly mundane. I knew it was going to take a measure of bravery to walk out of Morning Star Church by myself and leave everything and everyone behind. That measure took everything in me to pull together, but what I couldn't think through at the time was the courage I was going to have to keep finding for the next day, and the next day and the next day.
Those days were painful, painful in the way I imagine jumping into freezing cold waters hurts (why people do this is BEYOND me). The pain was sharp and biting and took my breath away. It was constant, and it was also quiet. It would sweep through me at the most unlikely moments, with no warning. What most people don't tell you and what I certainly did not know is that most acts of bravery are pretty quiet. They accumulate. They build into one or a few tipping points of centerstage courage, but all the bits and scraps of pieced-together-good-enough-take-it-or-leave-it courage it takes to get to those moments ... that's where real courage unfolds. Just do the next thing.
When I left Morning Star, a friend told me I needed courage. Well, what he actually told me was, "People who are afraid need courage. To get courage, you need to be encouraged." And then he proceeded to encourage me. It was everything I needed, and I clung to that encouragement, that hope, for the next several weeks. I walked out of that room just as scared as ever, but resolved. I can do this.
So I began to collect courage. A little here, a little there. Just do the next thing, I would say to myself. Everything and everyone in IL I had held so dear was gone, and I had some decisions to make. I was drowning in overwhelm. So I just did the next thing in front of me. And when I couldn't do even that, I called my mom. Or my brother. Or the sweetest friends, some old and some new, all across the country. And they encouraged me and shared some of their courage, courage to keep going. In every decision, with every conversation, I gathered up all the bits of courage I could from friends and family and beautiful words and scripture, from my work and the most amazing co-workers, and lots and lots and lots of long walks in a dozen different parks. Anything to help ease my hurting heart.
My list of things to do on the other side of leaving was paralyzing. Find a new home. Find a new church. Find a new community. Find new friends. Oh, and what on earth am I doing in Illinois now completely by myself? Really?! Really?! All I wanted to do was cry in the corner for six months. I wanted everything to fix itself, to get better, while I hid under the covers.
Hiding actually sounded really great. Hiding was the best idea I had had in a long time. Leave MSC. Go into hiding. Brilliant. But I couldn't find a new place to live, a new church, new friends or figure out what I actually believed about God under my covers. It was a real bummer.
Just do the next thing. And the next thing. And then the next thing.
It was honestly all I was capable of doing. It was as if God wouldn't allow my brain or my heart to process anything further than a day out. Literally. I could not mentally handle anything more than what I was doing that exact moment and what I needed to prepare for in the next moment.
For the record, this moment-by-moment living was not epic.
I was not killing it.
It was more like...
Deep breath. Try not to fall apart. Nevermind. Fall apart. Gather up the pieces and do the next thing. Fall apart. Recruit reinforcements. Fall apart again. How on earth did I let my home, church, community and friends all exist in the same place? How did I let it get this bad? How did I get myself into this mess? And, while we're at it, what the hell do I even believe about God anymore? Is He the same? FALL APART.
Wash, rinse, repeat. Every day.
It took everything in me to keep going those first few weeks. Bit by bit the grief got a little less sharp, and then it would wash over me again out of nowhere and I'd find myself crying in the grocery store. And then chiding myself, just buy the dumb blueberries. Get. Yourself. Together!
This happened a lot.
I'm sure you're getting the picture.
I share this for one reason, and that reason is this: I always thought courage looked like being brave in the face of overwhelming circumstances. Being strong. Keeping it together. But the truth is that courage has absolutely nothing to do with keeping it together.
Courage is falling apart, putting yourself back together and then doing the next thing. Not the next ten things. Just the next thing. Dory had it right. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.
It turns out that the Lord really is near to the broken-hearted. He never once asked me to walk through 2017 ignoring my broken heart. He never expected me to put on a happy face, a brave face, and pretend everything was okay even though my entire world had just flipped upside down. He didn't ask me to be okay with being an outcast. He didn't ask me not to be angry. He didn't tell me to quiet down, take a chill pill, get over it and get back to work.
He knows the things that break our hearts, and He knows just how to heal us and in what timing. He knows just how and when to redeem.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. - Psalm 147:3
And in the meantime, I was not okay.
I was not okay a lot.
Or, I was okay in the middle of not being okay. I made a decision to be okay with not being okay. I made a decision to live my not-okay life, even though I didn't really know what life I was living. What that meant I was not sure at all, but I sure was gonna try.
So I made some very intentional choices.
- I chose to keep living with a broken heart.
- I decided to trust that He knew what He was doing.
- I chose to listen to what He was telling me, and then repeat it back to myself, pretty much constantly. I am the only human who can speak to my soul at a moment's notice, so sign me up.
- I chose to believe Him first, what He says about me and what He says about my future.
- I chose to ask for help. A lot.
I am still making these choices.
And even when my heart shattered again and again, and again, for months on end, I still kept putting one foot in front of the other. I kept telling myself the truth. He loves me. He is going to use this for my good. I don't have to be afraid. He promised He wouldn't leave me. Lucy, that is TRUE. Usually choking and through tears, let's be honest. See: Not okay.
I kept my hand in His hand and ran to Him every time my heart hurt.
And guess what? I'm okay.
I am imperfectly whole. Some days my heart is still broken, but I am learning to live from His heart, not mine.
I am still learning. I am still running to Him on the regular. This journey is not over. But what I know now is this:
- Courage is the decision to do the next thing.
- Courage is falling apart and choosing to let Him put you back together (at least enough for today).
- Courage is believing HIM FIRST.
- Courage is whispering to myself, I choose to believe that You still have good plans for my life, over and over and over again.
- Courage is living from His heart.
- Courage is showing up in the SIXTEEN THOUSANDTH new situation, by yourself, and participating. Actively making new friends. Choosing to move forward even though it hurts like hell, because it reminds you of everything and everyone you've lost. Just keep swimming.
- Courage is calling your friends across the country and saying, hi, I need help. Again.
And, in the middle of all of that, courage is choosing what you will allow to define you. I have had to remind myself over and over again that my life is defined by Jesus Christ and what He says, not by trauma.
My life is not defined by trauma.
My identity is defined by Him, not by the things that have happened to me, or the hard decisions I have made, or the ways people have reacted to those decisions.
Just keep swimming. Do the next thing. Don't think too about the future today. Right here. Right now.
Right now I need to cry. Cry. Wipe my tears and go watch something funny. Deep breath.
Get out of the house and eat dinner with new friends and choose to have a good time. Have a good time.
Remember IT'S GONNA BE OKAY.
There is no method to this madness. It's the Holy Spirit. It's choosing to show up for your own life because even if everything has changed, He is still the same and He is not surprised by any of this. It's keeping your hand in His hand even when you're mad and sad and scared and feel betrayed or disappointed.
As hard as these last several months have been, as much as I wish this whole thing had never happened, even in the pain this last year has been a gift. It really is a gift when God is your only option. He is the one who has stood by me and stood up for me when it seemed like everyone else had turned on me. His love really did become my greatest defense. Not for one minute has God left me alone.
He won't leave you alone either.
You can take courage, do the next thing, make the next decision, keep going, because He is faithful.
The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. - 1 Thessalonians 5:24
It really is true. He has never once left my broken heart in pieces. Brene Brown says courage is speaking one's mind by telling all one's heart. I love that definition, so much, because it starts with me, and it starts with you, telling all of our hearts to Him, and Him sharing all of His heart back with us. It's who He is and it's what He does. He will not for one moment leave you alone. He will give you courage. Take it.
Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. - Isaiah 41:10