Sharing His Heart Space this Christmas

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Advent is one of my favorite times of year, because it teaches this weak heart of mine to be strong, strong in the waiting, strong in the expectancy, strong in the hope of what the Messiah is doing. He’s a master storyteller, a patient farmer, a wise father. He knows that the outcome of his efforts often takes time, and he is willing to put in the time to cultivate the outcome he had dreamed of. Advent teaches me not to make assumptions, but to wait in a place of present expectancy for what the Messiah will do next.

My heart has been struggling with this. Living in expectancy can feel very precarious. Jesus is teaching me new levels of trust, new degrees of intimacy, new ways to share the same headspace and heart-space with him. It’s so new, that I feel unready to share this journey. For now, this Advent season, its time to tuck in and give God my full attention. I’ve learned that the lessons he wants me to share, he will lead me to share after he and I have sat with them for a while in the secret place, after they have taken root and become a treasured practice in my life. So while the Messiah is busy teaching me new lessons amid the glow of Christmas trees this year, those lessons will, for now, remain in the secret intimate space between he and I.

But what I can share are the lessons I learned last Christmas–my first Christmas without Ethan, my first Christmas in my new home all alone.

I moved in December 1st, 2017 and it was the strangest thing. I knew without a doubt that this new home was a gift from God, but that didn’t make it an easy transition to move into a place all alone. I cried and celebrated my way into my new home in such a profound combination of thankfulness, hope, fear, and sorrow. I was afraid of going it alone. I was grieving that this home was not being christened with Ethan by my side sharing this space with me. But I was also thankful that God was giving me this gift and that we would have so much uninterrupted time just the two of us. And I was full of hope for the culture of heaven to become obvious in my new home, to feast with friends, to make music, to laugh, to play, to share life and heart here. I was afraid that it was horrible timing to move into a place all my own on December 1st when this was to be my first Christmas without Ethan, but it wasn’t horrible. I kept saying to the LORD over and over again through the tears as I packed to move, “I’m only going if you’ll be there too.” And over and over again He promised that He would be there, waiting to spend time with me in greater degrees of life than I had yet known. And He was and is. I love Him so much. Never once, never once has he left me on my own.

And so, without further ado, I am honored to share with you another advent post I have had the privilege of writing for our church blog this Christmas season. It is called What I Found in the Messiah’s Eyes: Overcoming Depression at Christmas, and it is my personal story of how Jesus rescued my heart from depression that first year without Ethan. I know we all have different stories, some of yours are even harder to bear than mine, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wants to be the God of me and you too. So I pray that, though our stories may be different, your heart will be kindled toward the heart of the Messiah through this story of God at work in the life of one of his children.

Merry Christmas Friends!

This is an article that I have had the privilege of writing for my church recently. And its message has become so significant to me and related to my most previous chapter on Lavender Wheat that I wanted to share it here. I hope it blesses you. Merry Christmas!

God has had me on a journey of coming home. I don’t think I realized this until our last series here at Redeemer Church. During the month of Imago Dei teachings, I was asking the Father how do we get back to […]

via I’ll be Home for Christmas — REDEEMER STORIES

I’ll be Home for Christmas

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Forty Days of Wrestling

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I have become an expert wrestler. That’s what happens in a heart like mine when the LORD drops huge statements of meaning and promise and then life moves swiftly in the opposite direction. But there was a wrestling in the first 40 days after Ethan’s death that was different than the wrestling that was to come next. 

At first all my wrestling centered around one thing. 

Have you ever had that gut feeling that you were created for something very specific? I have that feeling. And pulsing under all my wrestling was this phrase: The Wedding Feast of the Lamb. The Lamb is Jesus and the wedding feast is his when he will finally be joined as one with his Bride as depicted in the book of Revelation. Perhaps we are each meant to reflect something bigger, to be a living, breathing metaphor of some eternal truth. 

This gut feeling of eternal purpose has always been there, as far back as I can remember, but was never more fervently on my mind than in the forty days following Ethan’s death. I wanted to push the thoughts away, I kept telling the Lord that now was not the time to tell me these things. The wound of loosing Ethan was still too raw, I didn’t want to think about weddings. I just wanted to grieve. But He would not let me shake this feeling, I couldn’t get away from the fact that I was meant to point people to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, and Ethan was not an insignificant part of the story God was telling with my life.

What am I supposed to do LORD? Where do I take this? These were the constant questions on my tortured heart. I said many times in those days, “if God had waited just a little longer before he had taken Ethan, if He had waited until we were married, none of this would hurt less, I know that, but at least the statements of purpose of my life and Ethan’s would make a little more sense. Maybe then I wouldn’t struggle to feel as though He had betrayed me by speaking these things, leading me toward Ethan, and then taking him away before anything was fulfilled.”

My soul writhed in this agony for days on end. I couldn’t understand it and the persistence of the Wedding Feast only made it that much more difficult to find any peace. Those 40 days were composed of the most beastly wrestling my heart has ever engaged in. I was not in a haze of depression, I was not numb in my grief. I was thinking more clearly than ever. I was hearing and knowing the voice of the Holy Spirit with greater clarity than ever before. And facing the darkness more viscerally than ever before. This was not aimless wrestling. I had questions. I had a purpose. That purpose was opposed. And God was committed to seeing me fulfill it.

But, I must admit, He wasn’t making a whole lot of sense to me, though I could feel his passion, attentiveness, and persistence. I needed questions answered. Never mind that everyone told me I probably wouldn’t get answers to my questions—they had no reason to assume this, I do not know why they persisted in telling me so. God often provides me with insight and perspective if I stay with a question and keep my heart open to His answers. I felt like everyone wanted me to keep my head down, to stop searching. To take all this lying down, but I refused. 

I had this distinct sense that I was on a quest of eternal purpose, something huge hung in the balance, and what I did with all of this mattered. But this sense of purpose could easily be smothered by the darkness that did not want me to succeed. Someone would try to offer me their perspective on my life with a line like, “we live in broken world, these things happen” as though God were not all that concerned that these broken circumstances made everything he had ever promised me suddenly and utterly impossible. I remember telling someone during that time, that I knew there was worse pain in the world than what I was feeling. There were things more sinister than the death of a believer, but no situation felt as impossible to redeem, nor so final a tragedy. I thought about other promises I had heard people receive from the Lord, and while things like, certain marriages restored may have looked impossible, at least both people were still living and breathing–for them there was still hope. Yes, I was tempted to despair, but God came for me every time. He was and is so committed to seeing me fulfill the purpose He has given me.

One day, fatigued from all this wrestling, I almost gave into the darkness and accepted the defeat. I was sitting on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, not doing anything. In fact, I was beginning to fade into the gray numbness of empty grief. I was just sitting there in that horrifying chasm, when God came for me, and with a voice that was at as strong as it was comforting, He whispered to my soul, “I have entrusted this to you.”

With that statement came a warm glow that pushed back the gray. And suddenly I knew my search for purpose and my desire to partner with God in whatever He was doing was not in vein. In fact, taking the stance that God probably will never answer any of my questions about what story He was telling with me, with Ethan, with all of it would have been a mistake. He had entrusted these unique circumstances to me. There was something to steward here. Some role to play and I needed God’s perspective to know what that was. 

I’ll admit, if any other person had told me that “The Lord has entrusted this (meaning Ethan’s death) to you” I probably would have been livid. But when God said it, it settled me a great deal. If He entrusted this to me, then I was going to do whatever it took to play my part well. 

About a month after Ethan died, Valentine’s Day was upon us. Everyone expected this to be a really difficult day for me, even I expected as much. But when the day actually came, God buoyed my spirits with an outpouring of love from friends and family. I busied myself with work and writing. 

Then came a gift. There were actually several lovely gifts given to me that day, but this one was different. A friend from church had dropped off a large white orchid with the message that the flower was from the LORD, and that He had told her it had to be pure white and it had to be an orchid. 

Wouldn’t you know it, it was just fifteen minutes before she showed up with that white orchid that I had got to thinking about that one time Ethan had surprised me with an orchid. I had been having a rough week with some family problems and Ethan’s gift of an orchid reassured me that God sees me and loves me. Ethan was such an easy conduit of His love straight to my heart. 

This friend had never known about Ethan’s orchid. She was simply being obedient to the LORD’s leading. As soon as I received the orchid, I had known one thing for sure and been very confused about another thing. The one thing I knew was that there would be verses to accompany the orchid, one from Ephesians and one from Revelation, and that God would lead me to these verses in His time. But the thing that confused me was, why did it have to be an orchid? Couldn’t it be a white rose or something? Why did it have to be a white orchid? Why was God still linking this sense of purpose and love to Ethan. 

Later I pulled out my Bible and was flipping pages when God showed me the two passages that he wanted me to associate with the orchid. Ephesians 5:25-27 and Revelation 19:7-8.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:25-27)

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and the Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothes herself with fine linen, bright and pure.” (Rev. 19:7-8)

At this, the feelings of being touched, brought into something divine, and also the confusion deepened. I was so touched that God would give me a gift and beautiful flower on Valentine’s Day. To have the Creator of the universe give you flowers feels kind of surreal. But then to have Him bring me so personally into the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, was something I accepted with a little fear and trembling for this was such a holy thing. But then the verse about husbands representing Christ, and the fact, again, that it was an orchid to tie the whole thing back to Ethan.  What was it supposed to mean?

I wanted so much to just accept the beautiful gift of the orchid and call it a day. But I couldn’t let it rest. What was it about the Wedding Feast of the Lamb that I was supposed to do? What could I do? If Ethan’s death didn’t catch God by surprise, then what was the purpose of it all to begin with.

As an undercurrent through this confusion was the memory I didn’t want to look directly at of all God had spoken to me on night of the accident before I had known Ethan was dying, the whole picture from Ruth about submission and showing the world God’s heart and the passion play of marriage that was pointing to the wedding feast of the Lamb. I couldn’t help but feel like either I was missing something or God’s timing was terribly off. All this talk about weddings and marriage being a picture of God’s heart and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb was beautiful, but it was so odd in the immediate wake of Ethan’s death. I kept thinking, its too soon, LORD, it hurts to think about life going on without Ethan. Please just let me grieve him before I start to think about marriage again. Its too much, I cannot take it.

But I knew God wasn’t naive about the ways of the human heart, about the ways of my heart. He knew what He was doing, it was I who was having trouble accepting His meaning. What was I missing in everything the Lord was saying? What exactly had He entrusted to me? 

And then, in a statement that somehow gave me my breath back, these words floated into my mind, Jesus died for his bride before she was his bride. 

“What?” I asked. Trying to comprehend the statement. And then came clarity. Jesus died for his beloved before the wedding feast. 

I didn’t know what I had been entrusted with and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with the information that Jesus had died for his bride before the wedding feast, but something about it eased my soul. I thought maybe, somehow, the love and story that was built between Ethan and I was not all lost–maybe there was still a way to point people to the larger story. Maybe I wasn’t wrong all along in feeling like Ethan and I had some eternal purpose together to play out here in this age.

Ch. 1: Point of Resonance

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I recognized him right away. He was dressed in a burgundy button down, the sleeves rolled to the elbows, his black tie made him look distinguished, his five o’clock shadow gave him a rugged edge. He had blond wavy hair, a perfect profile, and denim eyes. It would be the first time we would meet in person.

I had only seen one photo of him before that moment, but this wasn’t exactly a blind date. The stakes were already higher than that. I stood by the door a moment longer and watched him, wondering if there would be chemistry with this handsome, kindred spirit. I was already confidant that if we had met under different circumstances this dashing film teacher and I could easily have grown up as best friends. A month of long conversations shared almost daily over the phone leading up to this date had convinced me of that. I was slightly terrified that I was already in over my head.

I was wearing a blue dress that I had boughten for this very occasion. As I approached, Ethan turned and smiled when he saw me. He hugged me, and I took note of how perfect his height was. I noticed some nervous energy as he turned his full attention toward me, and somehow I found even that an adorable contrast to his otherwise authoritative and calm demeanor.

We sat outside the local coffee shop in early March. I had ordered a mint tea to calm my nerves while Ethan sipped his coffee looking entirely too debonair, his blue eyes taking me in from across the table. It took us a minute to find our footing. There is a strangeness in meeting a friend in person for the first time. I already liked him too much to maintain the nonchalance of a stranger. And yet it was like we were meeting all over again, this time face to face. But the strangeness lasted for only a moment, and then we fell into step.

There was something alluring and electric in the way Ethan’s eyes locked on mine, seeing further, taking in more. There was movement behind his eyes, the stirring of a vast world I had only begun to know, the constant turning gears of a brilliant man on the verge of something genius. Sitting across from him and meeting his bold gaze felt like watching sunlight reflect and refract off the ocean’s surface—it was mesmerizing. And every once in awhile, the light would hit just right and I could see the waters were deeper and there was even more life within them than I had imagined; my heart thrilled at the thought of diving into those depths.

But I was scared—scared of getting hurt, scared of deception, scared of loosing my objectivity, scared of what it would mean to actually be with Ethan, who by nature of simply being who he was challenged me to be wholehearted. I tried to keep a safe distance, to stay a little aloof. Ethan was being cautious too, I could tell, but still without even trying, it seemed he reached in and turned a knob to a secret door inside of me, a door most people just pass by without a second glance.  Many times I had even lost the key or had forgotten the way there myself, but Ethan was inside before I realized what had happened. And he didn’t scoff at what he found inside or walk past with a dismissive shrug. He took his time, observing, enjoying, connecting. We began to talk about our favorite movies and novels and what kind of brilliance earned their spots as our favorite. We even dared to divulge some of the details of our own storytelling projects, the inspiration and the elation, the mistakes made and the lessons learned.

I found myself suddenly eager to write again. The fact that Ethan brought out this hunger to tell stories in me was unnerving, because up until then, I had felt like a failure in this category. Perhaps that why this door was locked again, and if it wasn’t for Ethan I might very well have thrown away the key forever.

I had committed several years of my life to the attempt of a novel, I wrote 400 plus pages, went through several drafts, but never completed anything that I was satisfied with. The novel had been like a beast I had never tamed. And since moving back to the desert and starting a new life here, I hadn’t told many people about this passion and failed aspiration. But here I was talking to Ethan about it—and not my frustration, but my joy in it. Ethan had swung the door wide open and without even meaning to, he was giving me permission to enjoy this side of myself, a side I often felt much disdain for.

Though I longed to create worlds and inhabit them with characters, and though I felt the constant call of God in that direction, I struggled to view novelist or filmmakers or any kind of storytellers as people with any real sense of purpose or mission in the world. I was terribly double-minded about the whole thing because I knew God often, strongly urged me toward writing, and met me there. In fact, up until I had met Ethan, the years that I had spent attempting to write a novel had been the most intimate time I had ever shared with the Lord. He had spoken tenderly and powerfully to me there, shaping my soul and showing me Himself. But still, to me writing, especially fiction, seemed so frivolous when there were real problems in the world. How could I, in good conscious, commit time and effort to sitting alone and banging out a story on a keyboard when there was a real world with real problems that I should do something about? And yet, I could never get very far away from writing, it was my own way of keeping my sanity, of praying and worshiping and understanding if there was any meaning in a thing or not.

When I was a very small child, before I could read or write, I remember filling lined paper with a repetition of connected loops pretending that I was writing a story. One time, after hours in my father’s classroom where he taught, I found myself an old cardboard box. I was in Kindergarten and had just learned my letters. I could not yet read, but I was desperate to so that I could finally write things down for myself. I took that cardboard box and scooted right up next to the one computer in the classroom and painstakingly recreated the keyboard exactly as it should be onto the flap of my box. Then I drew a square into the box to create the frame of a screen and spent many happy days after that tapping my fingers on my cardboard computer, writing whole worlds into existence that no would ever know.

By the time first grade rolled around and I had learned how to read and write, look out world! I had been unleashed. It has taken me many years to reach the honesty and natural rhythm in writing I seemed to possess in first grade.

By second grade and a series of events and corresponding statements over my life, I rapidly began to feel boxed in, misunderstood, and unappreciated both as a person and as an artist. I still wrote, I don’t think I could stop even if I wanted to, but everything was tainted now by this fight to be seen and heard. Stories no longer flowed from a place of freedom and exploration, now the words seemed to fight their way into existence, born out of a cynical defiance. Never a rebellious child, I revolted against the mold and expectations handed me through a boldness found only in the written word, most often times secret written words, that no one else would ever see.

Nearly twenty years later, it was out of this toxic mix of hiding and fighting to be heard that I had attempted to compose a novel. No wonder it wasn’t right, nothing born from such a severed mind could be. And yet, God had met me there, in the words, the story, the characters, the scenes. He had met me there. And there were moments when I was profoundly and irrevocably falling in love with Him and had great hope for where my life was going and why He had invited me to write this story.

But through it all, I was also in a constant wrestling match with Him. The struggle always coming down to this one point, I was terrified that I would end up like so many writers I had heard about, disappearing from reality to create worlds where incredible things happened and love is always found and good always wins, meanwhile their actual lives are a depressing tale of tragedy and ruin. I would write, and even after the brilliant scenes, I would grow agitated and begin to wrestle God, always with a statement that went something like, “I don’t want to sit in my room and write something better than I can live. God, if you can’t write my life story to be far and above better than anything I can come up with in my own mind, then I don’t want it. I don’t want any of it!” The words coming out in the growling tones and panting befitting a wrestling match.

In the middle of all this novel-writing and God-wrestling, The film, Saving Mr. Banks came out and I went to the theater to see it. It is the story of P.L. Travers, the woman who wrote Mary Poppins. The film exposed the fact that Mary Poppins, a rather delightful childhood favorite of mine, was actually a story born out of great family distress that in reality ended quite tragically. In Saving Mr. Banks, the composers and the author are trying to figure out a satisfying ending scene for Mary Poppins, and thats when they come up with the song “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”. This is actually a very happy scene in Saving Mr. Banks, a turning point for the character of Ms. Travers, but as I sat in the theater watching that scene, I wept—a most inappropriate response to such a happy scene. I was back at the wrestling match again. You can’t just write a new ending if you don’t like yours! I was silently yelling at myself and writers everywhere. You have to face reality and it is so much harsher and colder than what we’ve imagined for ourselves. So distraught was I by this thought, that maybe writing was simply a way to escape an unbearable reality, that I struggled to finish writing my story without a great amount of turmoil.

But by the time of my first date with Ethan at the local coffee shop, all that writing and wrestling had been more than two years ago and I hadn’t touched the manuscript since. Whats more, I rarely allowed myself to think about it.

That is until Ethan.

It was like Ethan was opening the door to that place of freedom where really good stories are born, the place I used to live in before I adapted the belief that the world was much harsher and colder than I had imaged. Ethan was ready to explore any creative opportunity, and in a way, it was as if his exploration dignified my own. He connected with the thoughts I usually felt I had to fight through to be understood. And even when he disagreed with my opinions, he never shut me down, he opened me up, he wanted to hear, to understand where I was coming from, to know me deeper, experience the many facets of me. The more he got to know me, the more I seemed to come alive in multiple dimensions. He didn’t try to figure me out, sum me up, and put me in a box that was manageable. He unleashed everything about me.

It was into this that God showed up on our first date, in the cool desert breeze outside the coffee shop. Ethan was asking me questions, getting me to open up and share about my fiction. Rather than get frustrated about my failed attempts, I found myself suddenly enthralled with everything I love about the writing process, recalling the transcendent nature of writing a character’s unfolding storyline. I don’t remember everything I said, but one sentence remains very clear, for it is the line that God chose to respond to.

I looked into Ethan’s blue eyes and caught the slightest hint of a smile playing at the corner of his mouth as I said, “I love it when the characters start cooperating, taking on a life of their own, and the scenes seems to write themselves, like you are watching it happen, marveling at how its unfolding, even as you are writing it down.”

…And then in a transcendent moment unlike any I had ever experienced before, God’s presence was suddenly palpable. I believe God is always with me, but He showed up in that moment in a way that felt like He was parting time and space to do something important and personal and so tender. In a moment He was all around me like the breeze, only it was something so much more than the weather or my new feelings for Ethan, of that I was certain. My breath caught in my chest. I didn’t know why God was showing up just then, but it was stunning and beautiful. And then God reached down and caressed my face, (I have never experience anything like it before) and He spoke to my soul in that moment with more love and tenderness than I have ever experienced and He said, “Me too.”

Me too?…What did this mean? Does God loves writing stories too? Did it mean that God loves it when the characters of His story are cooperating and taking on a life of their own? Did I dare think that God actually loves writing my story and marveling at how the scenes are unfolding, just as I feel when I am writing a story? And if that were the case, then what could He accomplish with a cooperating character, for God could surely out-write anything I could think up or imagine.

That moment has stayed with me as something I have pondered and treasured countless times since that day at the coffee shop. What did He mean by it? Why choose that moment to pour such love and affection on me? What was so important about storytelling between us that He would affirm this in such a profound way? And did it have anything to do with Ethan… why did He choose this moment to make me so profoundly aware of this point of resonance between the three of us?

I packed a bag and left that night for a conference in Colorado. It was a long road trip from California to Colorado and back and I had many silent hours in the car, most of which where spent thinking about that single moment when God showed up on my first date with Ethan.

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