Everything is Important.”

— Walter Tirey Jr.

"I write because there are some stories
it would be a crime not to tell."

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The Outsiders 

 

I heard this story once from one of the kindest humans I know. He told me about his experience in junior high and being raised by a single mother who was struggling to make ends meet. His shoes were so busted up that the soles used to flap when he would walk. Teenage years can be brutal and he told me how his classmates used to make fun of him. So he decided at that moment (and after a million other preceding moments) that he would do whatever he had to do to get what he needed. Even if it meant criminal activity, violence and destruction. Then he said this…. 

“All of my life I have felt like an outsider.” 

I heard another story once from another one of the kindest people I have ever met. She told me about the time her daughter was sent to prison and for the years of her incarceration, people only asked her about her daughter. Her own identity seeming to fade into oblivion. Good intentions by others, but failure to see the extraordinary gem of the human right in front of them. Failure to see her brokenness and suffering. Failure to see that she also was serving time, sentenced to loss and grief, and stepping into a parental role for her grandchildren that she never anticipated having to fill. 

My heart bleeds for both of them. For the rejection they felt in their experiences. For how those moments made them feel insignificant and unworthy. 

But you know who I feel the most sorry for?  

For all of those people who missed out on the gift of them. Those people were holding blue diamonds and didn’t even realize it. Do you know how much a blue diamond is worth?  

3.9 million per carat

 For a gem small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. For a gem that the average person wouldn’t even recognize as any more significant than any other gem.  

Yes, teenage years can be brutal. Sometimes “kids can be so mean,” as you often hear said. Their impulsivity and unbridled behavior causes them to say things without considering the consequences. But truth is, sometimes adults can be mean too. Sometimes as adults, we treat others with preferential treatment. We are often not champions and advocates for the underdog. We are champions for the shiniest. For what glitters the most. For who looks best on stage. For who is the most well spoken. For the most seemingly qualified.  

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of King David. Chosen by God since the beginning of time to be king over Israel. But you know who didn’t recognize David’s potential to be king? His own father. Mega ouch. 

When asked to present all his sons to see which one might possibly be chosen, he didn’t even bother to call David in from the field where he was tending sheep. He didn’t know that David’s willingness to live with the smell of the sheep out in the fields was preparing him to eventually lead and care for people. 

Maybe you have felt like the outsider before.  
Like you don’t fit in anywhere.  
Like the kid on the wrong side of the tracks.  
Awkward in social circles.  
A misfit or black sheep in your family.  
Overlooked in your workplace.  
Maybe even at your church.  
Like you wouldn’t even belong in a field with smelly sheep. 

My husband has this saying whenever he feels passionate about something. He will say, “that makes me want to jump out the window.” He doesn’t mean in some self harm way. He means that what he just heard was so epic and touched him so deeply that he could jump out of a window, through a thousand shards of broken glass and not be phased by it. 

And what I’m about to tell you next makes me feel the same. Like I could jump straight out of a window. 

That guy I told you about in the beginning, the one with the flapping soles, the one who has always felt like an outsider? He has a resilience and a tenacity in his soul like nothing I have ever seen before. He doesn’t need a stamp of approval from others to step out and pursue crazy dreams. He listens to God and follows what feels true to his heart. And when it comes to other people, he treats people with so much inclusion that they immediately feel like they belong. Like there is a seat at that awkward junior high lunch table for them despite their story, their present or their past. He notices people, whether its the homeless guy on the bench or the business man in his three piece suit sitting in the coffee shop. More than likely, he never would’ve had that ability if he didn’t first know what it felt like to be on the outside. 

That woman I told you about in the beginning, the one overlooked and forgotten? She never forgets others. She searches for countless ways to make people feel remembered. She will show up with a book she heard you mention wanting to read or that item you forgot to purchase at the store. She doesn’t even realize the endless ways she serves people with the art of noticing. What a gift. People long to be noticed. 

Consider this for a moment.…maybe you aren’t supposed to fit in. Maybe there is something different about you. And all of that trying to conform to fit into who you think you should be masks the very part of you that God marked to stand out.  

Use your understanding of feeling on the outside for radical inclusion. Pay attention and notice that you are far from alone in feeling that way. There are people everywhere who feel left out and uninvited. 

Photo cred: Mortal Flesh

Stones of Remembrance 

 

Last night I picked a handful of black eyed Susan’s from our house that has yet to sell. A home that contains years of memories I will forever hold in my heart. The house belonged to my grandparents and my husband and I bought it as a renovation project. It was healing to my grief to be able to restore it. A for sale sign has occupied the front yard for ten months now and counting. Our dreams and moving forward on temporary hold until the house sells. It’s a season that feels long and never ending and has tested our patience to the limit.  

My other set of grandparents used to have a long driveway paved with small and loose stones. I can still see myself as a young child crouched low in that driveway. The sun warming my skin as I would comb patiently through the stones sifting for the ones I was looking for. They were small and light blue stones that looked like crystals. They were hidden beauties amongst the plain and ordinary ones. I would collect them like rare treasures found. 

I have traveled a long way through life since then. So much beauty. So much heartache. So much mixture of the two that sometimes the heartache is the easier one to remember. Like a default setting in my brain has that I don’t know how to restore to its proper setting. That’s how trauma works. It doesn’t time stamp a memory the way normal memories get coded. Your brain recognizes it as recurrent, instead of being able to differentiate that it was something that happened once and is over in the present here and now.  

Even in the absence of a traumatic experience, sometimes our default setting as humans is to forget the good. 

Sometimes as an adult, I still find myself collecting stones. But it’s no longer in childlike wonder and admiration of their beauty. It is no longer with palms open and to the sky as I hold them loosely. They are clinched tight in my fists and ready to throw as my heart rages. 

Not all the time. Only in the really difficult moments. The moments when I have more questions then I have answers. When life feels as though it’s closing in from all sides and I feel trapped under the avalanche of it all.  

There’s this part in the Bible where God tells the people to gather 12 stones from a riverbed as a remembrance. As a reminder that the thing that stood between them and where they were trying to go was removed before their very sight. As a reminder that the thing that threatened to drown them should they try to cross it, did not drown them. They made it safely to other side. 

You see, God knew that they would need to be reminded. He knew that you and I would need to be reminded. He knows our limitations and how prone we are to only see the circumstances in front of us and to forget where we’ve been. 

It’s important not to forget the battles we’ve fought and have survived. To trace the scars of the moments we thought would kill us, but didn’t. The long sleepless nights with tear soaked pillows that we didn’t think we would make it through, but morning came nonetheless. 

The danger of forgetting is that it makes us weak. We lose heart in the dark times. We get angry and embittered and start to tell ourself things that are untrue. We rage against God and close loops and insert narratives into the gaps that are still being written. In doing so, we make the journey harder and longer than it has to be. We forfeit our peace and our hope. 

If I could talk to that little girl version of myself crouched low in that driveway, I would tell her this….. 

You are going to go through some really hard stuff in life. Collect the stones and whatever you do, don’t forget.  

Don’t just collect the lovely and smooth stones. Collect the jagged and rough edged ones too. You will need to be reminded of them all.

Unopened Gifts 

 

We spent this past weekend with new friends that are in the process of relocating to Ohio. The weekend was filled with authentic conversation, exposed hearts, a late night visit to the local ice cream hot spot, and a day visit to our favorite local coffee shop. The last night of our visit, we sat on the grass at a park and talked about where we’ve been and where we’re headed and how God has been traceable through it all. We ended the night with a late night pizza delivery, sleepy children and root beer floats. 

Good friendship is a sweetness something like your favorite dessert. Actually, it’s so much more than that. It’s like finding home again after being gone from it longer than you expected. To feel known and loved is beautiful and the best gift we can receive. 

During one of our conversations, our friend told us about a time in his life when he was attending a church that told him what a gift he was to the members there. Yet, during the entire time of his attending there, he was never once used in the areas of his giftedness. He was a gift that sat unopened. 

The statement was not lost on me. 

When it comes to receiving gifts, I am like a five year old the night before Christmas. My anticipation gets the best of me. I beg and act ridiculous and so I guess it’s a good thing my husband waits until Christmas Eve to buy me anything. I am the same with giving gifts. I will beg you to open your gift before it’s time. 

Christmas aside, I wonder how many times in my life there has been a gift sitting in front of me that sat unopened. In plain site, but invisible because of my lack of recognition. Maybe I miss it because it doesn’t look the way I thought it would or because of my preconceived ideas about the way things should be, only to be proven wrong more often than not. The thought makes me incredibly sad. 

Diana was a gift that I almost missed once. I met her as we sat side by side, handcuffed at wrist and ankle to each other on a long bus ride. I was being transported away from the grounds of a female prison in a remote part of Ohio that was far from my hometown. I had waited three years for that moment and I wasn’t in the mood to talk. I wanted to look out the window and be lost in my thoughts and take in the view of life on the outside world. The bikes scattered in yards. The hanging baskets of flowers on porches. The Target sign and parking lot. She asked me so many random questions on that ride that I started to wonder if she was doing some type of personality assessment on me. 

As events would play out and much to my surprise, we ended up as room mates. She was the total opposite of my introverted self. She was loud, earthy, and free in a way I had never known. And her beliefs were drastically different than the ones I held so close and white knuckled in fear. 

In spite of all of the things that made us different and unlikely friends, she became one of my closest friends and one of the people that has loved me the most well in my life. 

“You break me and mend me at the same time,” she said to me once. That’s what being loved does. It breaks our walls and the hardened parts of our hearts and it mends them back together at the same time. Mended and left better than we were when it found us. 

I almost missed the gift of her. She didn’t look like the friendship I was looking for because the truth is, we are often looking for something similar to ourselves. But she was exactly what I needed. 

Sometimes pain is a gift that I leave unopened because I would much rather be comfortable. I don't want to be lonely or in need. I'd rather not confront myself. Not confront my fears. Not confront my vulnerabilities. But leaning into the discomfort always leads to an enlarging of myself and my heart. It burns away the parts that are keeping me small. 

I wonder how many other gifts I leave unopened because they don’t look like a gift. At least not in the way I thought they would. 

I am in a season of learning to say yes more. Even when I am not sure how it will turn out. And what I’m finding is that every yes is a gift just waiting for me to unwrap it. Beautiful gifts that I cannot imagine having missed. 

Don’t miss the gifts in your path. Open your eyes and your heart wider. Lay aside the things that cloud your vision, like former experiences, expectations, and thinking that you always know what you need. You might be missing a gift that is right in front of you.

Seasons Of Wandering 

 

Raise your hand if you’ve been through a season of feeling stuck in some area of your life. 

If we were together in a room full of people right now, you would look around and see every hand raised. And for the ones that aren’t raised, it’s quite possibly because they are stuck and don’t even know it. But other people can see it. Kind of like when you have food stuck in your teeth and people are too nice to say anything. As a side note, please don’t ever be that nice to me. I want to know. Sometimes the kind thing is to say the hard thing. 

Sometimes it feels like less work to allow things to remain the same. It’s the easier, less overwhelming choice. Because the known and familiar, even when terrible, can feel safer than forging into the unknown. 

So we keep avoiding. The someday syndrome. We sweep it under the rug. We develop selective amnesia and pretend the issue doesn’t exist. Maybe it will absolve or fix itself. 

Or we medicate. We love distraction. We try to numb ourselves with one more trip to Target, one more coffee or an endless scroll on the timeline. We all have our go to

All at the cost of other vitally important things, like our emotional health, our relationships, and living our best life. 

And deep down, who doesn’t want all of those things? I don’t know anyone. Even when it seems otherwise. Sometimes our behavior betrays our deepest desires. 

Sometimes stuck looks like a bad relationship that you don’t know how to fix. Or a series of poor relationship choices, of settling for way less than you deserve. Sometimes it looks like a job you loathe, but stay at too long. Sometimes it looks like knowing the good you ought to do, but not doing it. Sometimes it’s avoiding the difficult conversation because of how you perceive in your mind it will go. Sometimes it’s poor self care. Sometimes it’s fear of chasing your dream.  

Sometimes….often times, stuck feels like not even knowing what you need. You just know something needs to change before you break. 

The good news? The first step out of the dark is to admit you’re in it. The first step in getting unstuck is to first realize, I think I might be stuck here

What I have learned in my own seasons of growth and stretching is that it can be painful. But it’s a good kind of pain. The healing and necessary kind. It feels like a snail’s pace of progress at times. Like you will never get to where you want to be. It’s hard to tune out the critical and condemning voices we hear in our own mind.  

I was outside with my daughter a few days ago walking the perimeter of the play area at the park. Her hand in mine, around and around we walked slowly at her pace in one giant circle. She was perfectly content walking in that circle and I was patient because she was enjoying it. 

That’s how seasons of being stuck can feel, like you’re on a hamster wheel and just spinning without going anywhere. I thought back to myself about prior stuck seasons in my life. How God was patient with me in my wandering. In the moments I’ve wished before that I could erase. I thought about areas where I’ve grown, areas where I still need to grow and how far I’ve come. 

And as I walked that circle with my daughter, I looked back on the old me in a new way. Not with judgment or condemnation. But with compassion. With gentleness and grace. My only wish in that moment was that I had been kinder to myself back then. 

Listen closely. You will never get to where you want to be unless you change the way you see yourself.  Unless you learn to be kind to yourself in your thoughts. 

You are where you find yourself today for a reason. And no one, not even you, the one who has lived your own story, has full comprehension of such complex matters. No need to receive the judgment others may make about you. The judgment seat is not theirs to sit on. No need to judge yourself either. It will only hold you back and keep you stuck longer than necessary. 

I hope you will value yourself enough to figure it out. To take the next small step. 

To get silent with yourself and ask the tough questions. 
To pick up the phone.  
Send the text. 
Make the counseling appointment. 
Fill out the application. 
Visit the church. 
End that relationship. 
Go to bed an hour earlier. 
Take a break from screen time. 
Tell someone else the brilliant idea you have. 

Take that one itty bitty step towards getting unstuck. The road can be a long one but begins with one courageous step. 

You have what it takes and you are so worth it.

With Candles and Everything 

 

I called her to the front of room. She sat in the seat next to me, a mixture of anxiety and excitement suppressed behind her grin. Tomorrow is a big day. And she is a big deal. She’s just still learning to believe it. 

She is due to be released from prison tomorrow, into the unknowns and the new beginnings that lie ahead in her story. 

I tell her how proud of her I am and remind her of how far she has come. Because sometimes those things are difficult to see in yourself and people always need to be celebrated. 

I tell her about the time my uncle walked into his house and realized my aunt made a birthday cake for him. 

He looked at her and asked, “with candles and everything?” 

Because sometimes we all need to be reminded that we are worth celebrating. 

So I remind her. 

You are worth candles and everything. And don’t you ever forget it.”

So I’m telling you too as you read this.  

You are worth the cake and the candles. You are worth celebrating. You are a big deal. 

Don’t forget it. Don’t ever let anyone else tell you different.

What We Have Forgotten 

 

“ ‘Cause you’re a sky, you’re a sky full of stars 
Such a heavenly view 
You’re such a heavenly view ” 
-Coldplay 

 

I sat in a room of seventy some women recently. Our largest growing group to date in a weekly music therapy program we do within the Ohio prison system. I watched her raise her hand, volunteering to read a poem about her sobriety and the road that led her to addiction. The backstory and the why’s. She adjusted her shirt and walked to the front of the room with her head hung low, the doubt swirling in her mind that what she had written was worth reading aloud. She read her poem and handed the microphone back to me in a hurried attempt to escape the front of the room and walk back to her seat. She almost made it until Patrick stopped her.  

He called her back to the front of the room, looked her in the eye her and said, “we are glad you are still here.” Not here in the sense of prison. But here in this life. Still breathing. Still among the living. Still having moments and opportunities to live this one and only precious life.  

Then it happened. It wasn’t a planned moment, but I am finding those are often the best ones. 

He had everyone in the room who has ever struggled with addiction stand to their feet, about ninety percent of which stood up. On the count of three, he had them all give themselves a round of applause. A celebratory moment that the thing that should have killed them didn’t. I’m convinced you could hear the roar of applause and cheering from a mile away. 

And then I saw it and I nearly came undone. The girl who read the poem stood there with huge tears welling in her eyes.   

In that moment she felt worth something. I wondered if maybe for the first time in her life. Worth a round of applause. Worth being celebrated. Worth still being here. She awoke to the truth that has always been there, waiting to be discovered. That she is worthy of love. And although the lies may creep back in and compete with the truth, for this moment, truth won. 

I have learned this about working with people who are marginalized. In case you are wondering who the marginalized are, Webster defines them as this: 

“to relegate (cast out) to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group.” 

The unimportant. At least by society’s measure. Those without a voice, because no one finds them worthy enough to listen. The rejected. The exiled. The dismissed.

The very polar opposite of being accepted. 

For nearly every person who is incarcerated, involved in gang affiliation or struggling with addiction, there are three common root emotions at the core of their being. 
  
Shame. Worthlessness. The feeling of being unlovable.  

A deep sense of failure of the whole self. 

I don’t think you have to have some dramatic story to relate to the marginalized. I, too, have felt shame. I have faced rejection. I have felt unworthy of being heard. Overlooked. Excluded.  

There is power in learning to see yourself in someone else’s story. Because we aren’t meant to do this whole life thing alone. We have more in common than the things that make us different. Our needs are universal. They transcend language, geography and experience. Deep down, we are all asking the same questions. We all need a seat at the table. A sense of being worthy enough to belong. 

People don’t need to be reminded of their wrongness. Or how much of a sinner they are (as if some are worse than others). Or how many ways in which they’ve failed. Our sense of shame goes all the way back to the garden. We are all more than well aware of the ways in which we have been wrong. Overly aware. 

It’s what we’ve forgotten that we need to be reminded of. Reminded of the inherent good in us. Not good in the sense of behavior or choices. But good because the image of the Divine is in all of us and nothing can erase it. Not our choices. Not a poor self image. Not the things that make us different. Not our questions or doubts. 

Reaching the marginalized starts with reminding them of who they are, not of who they are not. Of helping them transform the way they see themselves, because a healthy view of self changes the choices we make and the way we interact with the world. 

It starts with reminding yourself of the truth about who you are. You are a sky full of stars. Do you know that? You are worth a standing ovation. You are wholly acceptable and worth celebrating.

Mirror Mirror On the Wall 

 

Who's the fairest of them all? You are, my dear.

 

When did you learn to be so unkind to her? 

To the face looking back in the mirror. 

If you’re going to judge her for her worst day, then at least judge her for her best day too. 

But how about stopping with the judgement altogether.  

Stop blaming her. 
Stop with the being overly critical. 
Stop tearing her to shreds. 

No more. It stops here. 

She will never become all that she’s meant to be through your shaming. 

Only through love and acceptance. 

By pressing in. Learning to listen.  

To the stillness deep within.  

Beneath the chaos. 

Where it’s so quiet you can hear the heart beat. 

There.  

Her heart will tell you the truest truth you’ve ever heard. All of the why’s. 

And then you will lay down your stone and you will understand. 

You will be reminded that mercy triumphs over judgement. Always

You will be able to show her grace. 

She is worth grace. She is worthy of kindness, compassion and love. 

And love will help you see the goodness that has always been there. 

You will want to be true to her above all others. 

Betrayal to her will never again be an option.

House of Cards 

 

 

If I can’t be honest in my writing, then I can’t be anything. So I must confess that as I write this, I am emotionally exhausted and running on fumes. A few days of not feeling well (who gets a cold in July? Oh wait….I do), coupled with a few emotionally charged interactions. Healthy, healing and necessary conversations, but nonetheless, I am drained.  

Which just happens to tie in perfectly to what I wanted to talk about this week. I love it when life aligns itself like that. 

Here’s a question to consider: What happens when the thing you find your value and worth in is stripped away? 

Let me give you an example: If I place my value in my ability to paint pictures and stories with my words, what happens when weariness stifles my creativity and I find myself searching for words and not finding them? 

Does that suddenly mean that I’m not a writer? Does that mean I’m no longer significant in the world? 

If you place your value in your career, what happens if your company closes or you get replaced? I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen undeserving people moved off the board like a chess piece in a corporate play. 

Does that mean you aren’t successful? Or that your success is only measured by your title and income? 

If you place your value in your role as a mother or father, what happens if your child goes astray or makes decisions that break your heart? What happens in those moments when you feel like you have failed as a parent? Gosh… that’s a painful one. 

Does that mean you are a failure? 

If you place your value in your degrees or all the knowledge you’ve acquired, what happens if you get a traumatic brain injury or dementia begins to fog everything you once knew? 

Is your life suddenly less valuable or significant? 

I had dinner with someone recently who described a few people in her life that she considers as “having it all together.”  

According to who? Who gets to decide that? And what is the criteria? Is it education? By the square footage of their house? By all of their possessions? By appearing to have it all together? 

I thought to myself how I’d rather sit with her any day. Because she is raw and real and doesn’t have it all together, but wants to so badly and watching her become all that God created her to be is better than watching any seemingly perfect alternative. 

I built my house of cards once. It was big and beautiful on the outside and falling apart on the inside. Where no one else could see. And eventually it came crashing down with a cataclysmic effect. 

What I was left with was a million scattered pieces of my life and my identity. 

And what I learned over the next ten years and am still learning is that the degree, the career, the brand new SUV, the house filled with stuff I didn’t need did not determine my identity. Not to mention the debt. It only left me feeling like a lagging runner in a comparison race I was never meant to run. 

But when it all was stripped away, I was still left. The part of me buried down deep. My true self. That kindergarten version with the crooked pigtails and the purple turtle neck and innocent smile. The me before the world told me who to be and how to perceive myself. The me that from the beginning, God looked at with adoration in what He created and felt that it was more than enough

Maybe you find yourself striving. Maybe you feel like you never quite measure up. Like you’re not enough. 

Or maybe you feel like you are. Maybe you are quite proud of all that you have strived for and the status you have achieved. 

The universe cries out in response to both: Don’t you see? Don’t you see all that you are?  

I know you may think that the parts that make you valuable and beautiful are the ones that the world looks at and says are successful and worthy. 

But I promise you…when the earth begins to shake, those things matter so little.  

You have a fingerprint unique from the other 7.4 billion people on the planet. Who are you to think you are not valuable and that is not enough?

Paying Attention 

 

 

Yes, it is true. There are some stories it should be a crime not to tell. And yet I realize that in the telling of them, it may be entertainment for the reader. It may be encouragement or a prompt for reflection. But for the person on center stage of the story being told, it wasn’t just a story. It was their life. 

You see, I can tell you about my darkest hour and you will hear it as a story that you may or may not remember. You may even be able to empathize or feel a jab of the pain that was experienced in that moment. But it wasn’t just a story to me. It was my life. Your experience wasn’t just a story to you. It was your life.  

It’s sacred space. It’s holy ground to be able to share in someone’s brokenness.  

There is one story in particular that just wrecks me. Every. Single. Time. Maybe because it’s the story of someone I love more than life. Maybe because I can relate to elements of it. Maybe because it’s beauty in brokenness and it’s exactly how I want to view God. 

It goes something like this…  

“God came to me in the form of a drug dealer from the west side of Cleveland.” 

Yep. You heard it right. God doesn’t always appear the way we expect Him to, which is precisely the reason we feel like we don’t experience Him as often as we should.  

He was serving time in juvenile prison and was placed in solitary confinement after receiving the news that his brother had been murdered. His placement in solitary was for his own safety and for the safety of others, because he began to act out in animalistic rage that his brother’s life had been taken. Life wasn’t supposed to happen this way. It should have been him a thousand times over. But his brother? No way. He was the good one. Selfless. Star athlete. Funny and kind. The kind of older brother you long for. 

He laid in a cold, concrete cell in the middle of winter, a heap of brokenness and despair from the shock and grief of the news. Just a teenager himself, he was left alone to process emotions way larger than himself. He cried until there were no tears left. Weeks and months passed without speaking a word to anyone.  

And everyday, without fail, without a single word spoken in response,  Dayshawn would show up. Dayshawn was that former drug dealer I told you about. He was also serving time. 

He would come to the door of that cell and he would lay himself prostrate on the floor. On the floor of a prison. In case you haven’t been inside of one recently, they are not the most sanitary of places. He would lay on that floor and flick candy underneath the door. “I’m here for you. I’m here if you need me,” he would say with each visit. 

Yes, it is true. Sometimes God will appear in the form of a drug dealer from the west side of Cleveland.  

I don’t know where Dayshawn is today. I don’t know if he is aware that God used him in that moment. I don’t know if he knows the difference his acts of kindness made. Or how many times that story has been told all over the world. 

I know that I have missed God showing up in my life many times over. I am sure I often still do. 

For most of my life, I viewed God as a distant judge, detached from humanity. Detached from suffering. Waiting to find fault and execute punishment. A cosmic kill joy to be honest. It felt as oppressive as it sounds. No wonder I didn’t want to draw closer to Him. 

This was no one’s fault. It was my own misinterpretation, combined with not seeking my own relationship with Him. Relationship is not forced. It takes two. It is impossible to know someone you don’t spend time getting to know. 

Until my own wreckage and undoing gave me the gift of unraveling every wrong thing I thought to be true.  

I know now that God is exceptionally kind. He’s the kind of God that brings candy to your door when your heart is smashed into a million pieces. I no longer believe that God is there and I am here. We are enmeshed, right in the thick of this wild and chaotic life I get to live. On my best day and on my worst.  

I wonder how often there is some beauty before my eyes, some measure of comfort, or a reminder, but I miss it. I miss it because I’m too distracted. Because I’m awake, but asleep at the same time. Because I don’t have eyes in that moment to see it. 

I wonder how many opportunities I miss to lay on the floor and flick candy under someone else’s door. To enter their despair. To whisper “I’m here. God is here. You are not alone.” 

Paying attention is an art. It’s the best gift we can give to a world that is aching for someone to notice. It’s critical to our noticing the ways in which God is among us. 

Under the Fig Tree 

 

Here’s a silly fact that you probably don’t know about me: I have always loved snow globes. Not that I collect them or anything. I just can’t resist the urge to pick them up from the store shelf, give them a little tilt and watch the glittery dust slowly fall. At least once. 

I’ve been through seasons of life where it felt like I was watching life happen from inside of that globe. Face pressed to the glass, trapped inside and watching others connect, but feeling like a bystander who is rude for staring. Not chosen. Uninvited into a circle with invisible lines. 

Loneliness. Not like boredom or just wanting someone to keep you company. I have learned that you can be surrounded by mobs of people and still feel alone. 

Lonely in the sense of not feeling seen or known. Like really really known. Not just for the facts about my life that any observer could gather from a scroll on my timeline. That I’m a mom. Check. I’m a writer. Check. I like coffee and books. Check check.  We did this exercise as a way of fostering connection at a recent gathering I went to. “If you really really knew me”….and then you would reveal something vulnerable that others would not know unless they really know you. 

Our daily surface exchanges are necessary and even protective at times, but can be damaging when there is never anything more. We long to be known and loved for who we are, even in spite of who we are. For the hidden and the uncomfortable stuff buried in the back of the closet that we meant to get rid of a long time ago, but still remains. Like insecurities, feeling inadequate, fear or trust issues. 

We long for deeper than the superficial and artificial. For connection with someone who sees the good and bad and chooses to stick around for both. To feel like we belong. 

One time a complete stranger opened up to me on an elevator. Sometimes I feel like I’m a magnet for awkward moments. She must have felt the pull. 

She saw my name tag for the job I held at the time. Social Services. The catch all job of helping people and rarely feeling like you’re doing enough. 

She snapped me out of my silence and caught me off guard with this question: “Where were you 5 years ago?” 

“You wouldn’t want to know, “ I thought to myself, but didn’t say aloud. 

She smiled, almost like an attempt to lighten what she was about to say next. “I tried to kill myself,” she confessed, and then she smiled again. “I’m a lot better now though.” 

Her transparency to a stranger shocked me a bit. “I’m glad you’re still here,” I managed to say. I meant it. And with that, she exited the elevator. 

We all desire to be seen and known for the truth that lies beneath our smile. 

Even that stranger you meet on the elevator. 

I went through a season of tight knit friendships that were something more like a sisterhood. 

But then that season came to an end and my sisters and I ended up on different parts of the map, in different chapters and eventually in completely different books. 

Life will teach you quickly that seasons and chapters end, whether or not we’re ready for them to. And loneliness arrives on your doorstep like a package you didn’t order. 

Lonely seasons can leave you feeling like you’re being punished. Like maybe you’re just bad at relationships. Like maybe there’s something wrong with you. Like you’re too much of this or not enough of that. 

I do think it’s true that we are responsible for our happiness, for the health of our relationships, for creating the life we want and being the thing we long for. But I also know there are times when you can check all those off your list and still find yourself waiting and longing. 

Loneliness is indescribably painful and hard. But it gave me a gift like that package on my doorstep that I didn’t order, but instead was ordered for me. I needed it, even if I didn’t want it. 

It taught me how to recognize loneliness in another person, when maybe I wouldn’t have noticed before. 

It taught me how to be okay with myself. Like really okay. How to sit with boredom and my flaws and my unanswered questions and to be content with all of it and not try to fill it with something that will leave me with more emptiness. 

And the real truth is that we are deeply known and loved, even when we don’t feel it. Like in the book of John when Nathanael meets Jesus for the first time and Jesus puzzles him by telling him a fact about himself. 

“How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus replies, “I could see you under the fig tree.” 

In other words, before you were found, I saw you. When you didn’t feel known, I knew you. He sees you standing there under your fig tree too. 

I was reminded of this the other day when I was at the library and a little boy I don’t know ran up to me and threw his arms around me. Children are perceptive little creatures, aren’t they? I thanked God for the simple reminder that even in moments when I feel lonely, I am seen and loved. 

If you find yourself in a season of loneliness, I pray that you will be reminded of the same. 

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  • Sally Lyons

    Sally Lyons Liberty Township, Ohio

    Sarah, what beautiful writing. I just was reading this and it all just touched me in just such a way! I can’t even explain it but truly enjoyed all of it!! Thank you for sharing and please continue with your beautiful and thoughtful writing! It made my night 😀. Thank you again.

    Sarah, what beautiful writing. I just was reading this and it all just touched me in just such a way! I can’t even explain it but truly enjoyed all of it!! Thank you for sharing and please continue with your beautiful and thoughtful writing! It made my night 😀. Thank you again.

  • becki hernandez

    becki hernandez las vegas

    I never cry. I cried. So beautiful. Keep writing.

    I never cry. I cried. So beautiful. Keep writing.