Battling Bridezilla (the one in my head)

I’m getting married in 2 ½ months and I’m feeling insecure about how I look.

I know I’m small, always will be, so I feel a bit uncomfortable writing about my own body insecurities. The rational part of me knows I look okay; I don’t need to lose weight. But my inner monologue is a different story. Whether or not my insecurities are well-founded–in my head, they are real. You see I used to be a gymnast, with no body fat, in peak condition. So this is the biggest I’ve ever been. “Grad school 15” is real.

The part of me that thinks a wedding is all about the dreamy pictures and the affirming accolades is bummed that I happen to be getting married when I’m the least in shape I’ve been in years, the least tanned, the least toned.

But then the part of me that knows a wedding is not a fashion show or a Pinterest party, but an outward celebration of commitment, of love, of deciding to choose each other in the good times and the flabby times. That part of me is floored by the beauty of the timing.

Because I know know know that my fiancé’s love is not dependent on my looks or workout schedule. His love is not something I earned and therefore is not something I can lose if I “let myself go.”

1531554_738873001064_829025665_nHe asked me out on a date when I was marginally employed spending my day caring for a 94 year-old-woman with Alzheimer’s in velour jump suits. He liked me for me. Not for my job or career or standing. Not for anything I did or do. I made a point of not styling my hair for any of our dates for the first maybe six months of our relationship. He liked me anyways. He didn’t even seem to notice.

I know this.

But as the wedding planning amps up, so do my insecurities.

I start to fear my frizz, my freckles, my back fat.

Bridezilla is in my head, and I’m her main victim.

It’s not Ryan that I’m worried about. I know he’ll think I’m beautiful no matter what. I know he’ll tear up when I walk down the aisle. I can see in the way he looks at me that he is a man in love.

It’s everyone else I’m worried about. I’m worried about impressing my friends. I’m worried about what I will look like in photographs. On Instagram.

It’s stupid, I know.

I don’t want worry to win. So I hope in writing them out. In seeing how silly and vain my concerns are in light of the magnitude of the gift of love I have been given, I hope that joy will win. In writing my insecurities “out loud” I hope to loosen their grip on me, diminish their power.

I can choose to let joy win. To rejoice and celebrate. To embrace marriage planning. To show up whole-heartedly to the upcoming wedding events, no matter what I look like. To let love, not fear, steal the show.

In a couple months I will take a new name: Prades. I will choose a new role: wife.

In front of my friends and family, I will commit to love one man for the rest of my life: that’s the easy part. I will also commit to be loved by him: that’s the hard part.

To receive his love. To believe I’m enough.

It is my hope and my prayer that Aly Prades is a woman who knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is loved.

Who lives like she is loved. Who doesn’t listen to the voices that say I am my calorie count, my waistline, or my hairstyle.

I don’t have to wait until I’m married to believe this. Since I began spending time with Ryan, this transformation has been taking place. His tender spirit, his faithful love has healed me, is healing me, of my perfectionism, of my own self-criticism.

And I know it can’t just be Ryan that tells me this. I’ve been praying to a God of Love, communing with a God of Love, for years before I met Ryan. Ryan is just a new instrument to show me this love. To help show me I am enough. I am loved.

Today, before my name change, before the wedding. I will choose to let joy win.

I am Aly Lewis, an embracer of joy and a woman who believes she is loved.

Serving Here and Now

02.15 Ryan & Aly_Proposal-077I always thought I would marry a man who has a heart for the same people group as I do–immigrants, refugees, abuelitas. That we would go traipsing off to Guatemala or Mexico or inner-city somewhere to “really make a difference” for the marginalized.

Today at church the pastor called us to serve, to be ministers, to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven, RIGHT WHERE WE ARE. 

Even if we’re not where we want to be. Even if we’re not in our dream job or ideal living situation or working with our “target population” just yet.

People–the people right in front of us–matter most. 

I was convicted.

You see, I’m in grad school on my way to (hopefully) landing a job where I can work with refugees. But I’m not there yet. Right now I’m working with mostly well-off international college students from countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. I’m writing lesson plans for hypothetical classes in my teacher training classes and grading hundreds of essays for students who just want to tick off a GE requirement.

In the midst of studying and paper writing and correcting grammar mistakes, I’ve lost sight that this place matters. This interim, this training ground, this place that I am currently in, matters.

And not just as a means to end. A means to transforming the lives of refugees. My time at SDSU, right now, can be a destination in itself. A place to see God work. A place to serve and grow and plant deep roots. To usher in the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.

My Kuwaiti students who talk back and the tedious hours I spend planning curriculum–ALL MATTER.

Right Now.

02.15 Ryan & Aly_Proposal-054And that’s the area where my future husband blows me out of the water. 

He may not be called to a particular people group or have the same international justice outlook as I do, but he is so faithful in the here and now. To the people right in front of him.

He treats everyone with respect and kindness. He’s generous to all.

As much as I theorize about poverty and social justice, he works diligently, humbly to serve those right in front of him.

Of course I still think it’s important to look outward. To be challenged. To reach beyond the comfort of our own friends and neighborhoods. To see the unseen and offer a listening ear to the unheard. To make a conscious effort to go where God is calling us, even if it’s uncomfortable. To daily ask for the scales and blinders to drop from our eyelids.

I’m that much more excited to ask these questions and to seek my/our calling with a man who daily teaches me how to be faithful in the smalls things, how to love when no one is watching, and how to live like all places–all people–matter.

The Year of Dessert First

All my friends have been posting photos of their year from Facebook. I’ve always been more of a words person, so here is my year in words.

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I didn’t write much this year. I started out 2014 unemployed and depressed, scared that I may never want to write again. While at first this terrified me, I found God whispering something new to me, in the midst of my own silence.

Live My love story.

I started this blog a few years back specifically to “Write My Love Story,” to share the story of God’s audacious love in my life. I didn’t know how to experience God apart from writing. Writing is prayer. Writing is life. For me, at least.

But I’d lost writing. And, consequently, it felt like I lost God.

In this year of silence. Of words not typed out on pages or scribbled across receipts. I lost my writing, but I found I didn’t lose me.

I don’t have to write for my life to be real. For my prayers to be real. I don’t have to write at all to be a person. To be loved. To have worth.

The life can just be mine. The thoughts just mine.

If I had to pick a title for my year, I would call it “The Year of Dessert First.” Not that I skipped all the healthy things or the hard work, but it’s been a year of grace, where first accepting the dessert, the gifts, the grace, leads to health and wholeness, recovery. 

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I could list all of my accomplishments of 2014: starting a graduate program in Linguistics, teaching a university level course, securing myself a boyfriend. But those are just the outside trappings. I stand back almost bewildered that this is my life now. I did nothing to deserve this. To earn this. And that’s the beauty of it.

When I look back on my year, the moments I cherish most, the feats I’m most proud of have nothing to do with a college acceptance letter or my relationship status.

I’m proud that I persevered. That I continued with counseling even when it seemed nothing was improving. That I started a grad program even though I had no idea if I would have enough energy to even get out of bed in the morning, let alone do homework or attend classes. I’m proud that I had the privilege to invest in the lives of Alzheimer’s patients as a caregiver in a last ditch employment attempt. I’m proud that I traveled to Israel and Palestine and let everyday peacemakers teach me something about grace. I’m proud of the moments I let my friends in, let them cry with me, sit with me, mourn with me and hope with me.

With my boyfriend, I’m not boastful in my relationship status, but deeply moved by what he’s taught me about grace and self-acceptance. I’m thankful for every moment he makes me feel that I am enough. Just as I am.

I feel resurrected.

This woman of words is at a loss to express the healing that’s taken place. The peace I know.

That phrase from the song, In Christ Alone, seems to say it best:

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

            when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

There’s a contentment within me that I never imagined possible. Not because I worked my ass off for self-love and self-acceptance as I have in the past. In fact, I didn’t try at all. And I think that’s the best medicine a recovering perfectionist can encounter. And I don’t mean this as a formula. Not a how-to-get-over-depression-and-love-yourself DIY manual. But as my story of God’s undeniable grace in my life this year.

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grace from the disgrace

beauty from the ashes.

stillness to dancing.

And so I enter 2015, happily dancing and enjoying dessert.

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Stillness to Dancing

T.S. EliotJust a few months ago, I wrote about my experience with depression.

Crippling, life-stealing depression.

I wrote how I was choosing to serve God whether or not I ever found healing or relief from depression. How I was choosing to be faithful—or at least trying to be.

I shared my experience of the low, the tough, the vulnerable. And then I was silent, on the blog at least.

So today I want to share a follow up. I want to share a story of healing and joy and gratitude.

I’ve been reluctant to write this post. I don’t want my healing to sound cliché. I don’t want to prescribe a how-to formula for overcoming depression because I know it doesn’t work like that. I don’t want to jinx it.

But somehow I’ve come out on the other side and I can’t help but rejoice. I can’t help but share.

I think of my favorite T.S. Eliot quote, “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

Today I am dancing and I don’t quite know why. Like Allie of Hyperbole and a Half bursting into hysteric belly laughs at a lone kernel of corn, it doesn’t make any sense.

For me it started not with a piece of corn, but at the Sea of Galilee, overlooking the waves that Peter once braved.

Sea of Galilee

God spoke to me that day. He declared inner peace over my soul. He declared me healed and free.

I can’t explain how I heard Him or why I believed that I would be free. I just knew He broke something FREE in me that day. Free from bitterness and wallowing and the chains of depression.

I felt the healing work deep in my soul, deep in my bones. So much so that I couldn’t help but dance.

Dance?! On the shore of the Sea of Galilee? Alone. Ear buds in. Eyes closed. Hips swaying and hands raised.

Like a lunatic. Like someone crazy for Jesus and the healing power he brings.

I didn’t feel the healing yet. I hadn’t experienced it yet. But I knew it was time to start dancing over my graves of depression and burnout and disappointment.

Dancing became a sign of faithfulness. A way to declare victory before the war was even over.

I danced in worship. I danced my praise. I danced for the grace and redemption and renewal I hadn’t yet experienced.

Nothing else mattered but setting my heart and my body to praising the God who promised to heal me. To love me. To bind my wounds.

As I danced, I prayed the chains would be broken. I prayed that my freedom would bring freedom to others.

And when the songs were over, my body stilled, I opened my eyes and turned to see a Korean tour group sitting just a few feet behind me, staring at the girl swaying to the music in her earphones, in her head, in her heart.

And I didn’t care. I was being healed. I am being healed.

Since then joy has found a way to creep in. Little bit by little bit. I began to experience joy in my new grad school classes. Joy at caring for the daily needs of a 94-year-old woman with advanced dementia and one heck of witch cackle laugh. Joy in meeting with my favorite girlfriends on earth to chat and pray and cry and laugh together. Joy in just being.New Kitten!

Today I have a lot to delight in– a new boyfriend and a new kitten for starters (!!). It’s taken work, though, don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked hard in counseling, finding the right medication, admitting that I need help. I’ve prayed and prayed. I’ve recommitted to taking care of myself.

But the healing started that day at the Sea of Galilee. When God whispered something to me, calling me to deep inner peace, silencing my striving like Jesus once silenced the very waves that crashed before me. He declared freedom in me that day.

And I danced it. I hope I am dancing it still.

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Losing Work and Finding Grace: Lessons from Marginal Employment

I haven’t been writing much lately.  I haven’t followed through on my goal to share about my peacemaking trip to Israel/Palestine once a week. The words haven’t flowed; I haven’t really tried.

And surprisingly. I’m okay with it.

Since I left my job as a writer at Plant With Purpose  nearly two years ago, I’ve been plagued with the constant guilt that I’m not writing enough, not producing enough, not saving the world enough.

But after months and months of thrashing and crying and giving up, I  think I’m beginning to learn the lesson that God has been trying to teach me all along. (And that I thought that I already knew.)

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I may have lost my words, but I am gaining a new life in Him. An open-handed life.  A life of holding loosely to the labels and identities I used to clutch with greedy palms.

In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, burnout and depression, I’ve discovered God is with me in the waiting. I’m being transformed by the knowledge that I can choose to trust Him in the waiting, in the in-between. (Not that I always do.)

Sue Monk Kidd writes in her beautiful memoir, When the Heart Waits, “Hope lies in braving the chaos and waiting calmly, with trust in the God who loves us. For if we wait, we may find that God delivers us somewhere amazing–into a place vibrant with color and startling encounters of the soul.”

I’ve tried to wait, but it’s not often been calmly and it definitely hasn’t been eagerly. Maybe if I type it here–commit it to words, and the action will come easier. I will wait with you, Lord.  Open-handed. Open-hearted.  

I will trust that you are delivering me in to something new, something good, something holy. I know it.

I taste it already. In the sweet moments in my new caregiving job. In my new excitement for grad school. In the friends who’ve spoken the words and spilled the grace into me that I’ve needed to hear so badly.

I can taste the sweet. And I can choose the sweet.

I can bounce back from job rejection. From disappointment. Even from depression. 

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I look around and I see color. I echo ee cummings in saying,

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings;and of the gay
great happening ilimitably earth)”

I am grateful for the wonder. For the gifts of this day. And I’m trying my best to hold it all oh-so-loosely. Palms unclenched. Open-hearted.

God at the Wall

It’s been a few weeks since my trip with The Global Immersion Project to the Middle East. I’ve shared some of my initial thoughts about the Lives of Unwarranted Compassion I witnessed, along with the realization that this peace process Starts With Me. Now I’ve moved on to the hard writing–sharing stories.

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If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know I’m pretty comfortable (perhaps bordering on too comfortable) writing about myself–my own spiritual highs and lows and faith journey. I find it much harder to write about controversial topics or actually give an opinion about anything. The thought of sharing stories from Israel and Palestine (West Bank?/Occupied Territory–even the name is controversial!) scares me because I don’t know where people stand–how much they know about the conflict, what their religious/political/idealogical/eschatological bent may be. I haven’t even figured out what I think about all of this. And yet I had the incredible opportunity to actually GO to the Middle East. To meet Jews and Muslims and Christians. To hear about the horrors of the Holocaust from survivors, to meet with present-day Palestinian refugees, to learn from peacemakers who see the peace process as something deeper and more challenging than signing a piece of  paper or hammering out a One- or Two-State solution. 

We hear so many stories of violence and despair and centuries old conflict in the Middle East that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Before I joined with The Global Immersion Project, I would have turned off the news and thrown my hands up in futility. What could I do anyways? How could I even begin to understand such a entrenched conflict? It’s all too much. 

When I traveled to the Middle East, I met people fully immersed and affected by the conflict. People who don’t get to turn off the news and ignore it–even if they’d like to. But for me, the immense magnitude of the conflict was not the most salient point I carried home with me, but the immense magnitude of the hope and the joy and the space for transformation and reconciliation that this conflicts opens up. Since joining with TGIP, I’ve come to realize that as followers of Christ we’re actually called to enter in to conflict to transform it, to make peace, to bring the Kingdom in all its wholeness and glory into the world we live in today.

As a staunch conflict avoider, this is terrifying for me.

But I feel so honored that I could spend 10 days with peacemakers who are living this out in the most costly and courageous ways, that I can’t help but share their stories.

I will be writing about issues that may or may not push all the wrong (or right) buttons. At this point I don’t even know what’s controversial anymore. Wherever you stand, please know first and foremost, I want to share where I personally saw God moving in the Middle East.

I want to share the stories that most resonated with my heart. That most pointed to the existence of a God of reconciliation. Whose very heart is to reconcile us to Him. To reconcile us to ourselves, each other. The earth.

Well, this was probably way too long of an introduction to my first story that doesn’t even need a disclaimer, but oh well, some later posts will. Without further ado, here is my first story of where I saw God moving in Israel.  And I hope to be getting back to posting once a week.

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The place: The Western Wall, near the Temple Mount, Old Jerusalem. 

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Women rock to their rhythmic prayers. I sit insecure. Fiddling with my hands. Not sure which prayer to whisper. To open or close my eyes. It’s not my wall. It’s not my tradition.

I rack my brain for Torah scriptures. For some monumental verse that will immediately put God in the right perspective.

“What are you speaking to me?” I ask. “What do you want me to know about the Jewish tradition and what it means for me as a Christian now?”

A teenage girl sits a few feet over. She’s rocking and murmuring prayers obediently. I feel like an impostor.

The rocks of the wall are huge. Not what I had pictured. There are a few rolled prayers tucked into the crevices. But mostly it’s just sandy Jerusalem stone staring back at us. Super-sized bricks stacked to the sky.

People are rocking, but there’s no wailing.

I touch the cold wall. Brace myself for the mystic power. This wall that is closest to the where the Holy of Holies was. This wall is the last remnant of the Jewish Temple that dates back to King Herod. I feel reverence. Awe. Not really for the stone, but for the people who experience God this way. For the people who show up day after day to pray. Who live the reality that sometimes God speaks. And sometimes it feels like you’re talking to a cold wall.IMG_4390

And still they come. The faithful. Like showing up week after week to church. Together. Standing in worship or bowing our heads in prayer even when we don’t feel the rhythm.

Then I hear God speak.

“I love you. You are all my children.”

I fumble in my bag for my notebook and pen, rushing to capture His words.

The girl next to me casts me a sidelong glance, intrigued or offended by my non-Jewishness, I cannot tell. I finally dig out my notebook and pen. I start to write His words, what I felt/knew I heard. As I take the cap off my pen, turquoise ink spills everywhere. Dying my page, my hands. The girl looks over again. I blush, feeling more irreverent than ever. It’s not even a dignified black ink or even a Jesus-red, but bright blue. My hands are stained, like I’ve come to finger paint at the Wailing Wall. At this spot closest to the Holy of Holies.

The girl is staring now. I give an embarrassed shrug and angle my chair away from her. I bow my head and pray into my turquoise hands. I barely get out a, “God…help.” when I feel a tap on my shoulder.  The Jewish girl is asking for my attention. Our eyes lock. She hands me a tissue. I gladly receive the tissue along with her understanding smile. She turns back to her rhythmic prayers. I blot off the ink. Grab a new pen and write the words,

“I love you. You are all my children.”

 

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It Starts With Me

sea of galilee

Our team at the place where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

I can’t even begin to tell all of the stories of hope and change and self-sacrifice that I had the immense honor of listening to and immersing into while I was in Israel/Palestine with The Global Immersion Project.

As we sat overlooking the shore of the Sea of  Galilee towards the end of our trip, which had been filled with meeting peacemakers, learning from people of different faiths and ethnicities and backgrounds, and traveling around Israel and Palestine, we were posed the question:

What is God calling you into that doesn’t make sense?

The answer for me was an overwhelming and freeing call to DEEP PEACE within myself. To be reconciled. To grow in my worship and discipleship of the Prince of Peace. 

As one who’s been particularly gung-ho about ACTING in the face of injustice, this call to deep peace WITHIN myself didn’t make sense. When I learn about a new social issue, I want to immediately change my shopping habits, join some kind of club or group and do what I can to volunteer my time and money and skills to help the cause.

I know this about myself.

In fact, God’s been subtly and not-so-subtly been calling me to stop and sit at His feet, especially in the moments when I most want to run out and change the world.

He’s said it before.

Bask. 

Come to me. 

Be loved.

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise as I sat overlooking the choppy, wind blown Sea of Galilee, that Jesus once again called me to step out on the waves on a journey to be loved, to find peace–with myself. But it did.

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I didn’t know any Hebrew or Arabic going into the trip. I found it wonderfully poetic that the first two words we learned on this peacemaking endeavor were words that mean peace: Shalom in Hebrew and Salaam in Arabic. These words  are used as common greetings and can be heard throughout the bustling streets of Jerusalem.

Peace. Shalom. Salaam.

My understanding of shalom from Sunday School days reminds me that peace doesn’t just mean the absence of violence, but something more. Shalom implies wholeness, completeness, a life, a heart, a world undivided.

Integrity.

And this peacemaking starts at home. Yes, in our homes–with our spouses, roommates, children–but even closer to home. In our own hearts.

Our leader and fellow peacemaker, Jon Huckins, explained it like this in his recent reflections on the trip:

As our participants see and experience the pain and injustice that exists in this region, there is a natural pull to pick sides and get really pissed off. The opposite extreme is to see the conflict, be so overwhelmed with its complexities and want to simply walk away. Neither option is the work of peacemaking and my (and my partner, Jer Swigart) work is to walk with people towards a more constructive place in their formation, which usually means confronting the evil within ourselves before confronting the evil around us. It is ridiculously difficult!!

Before I confront the evil around me, I must reconcile the evil, the selfishness and greed and obsession with self- and image-preservation in my own heart.

I must first be reconciled by the Prince of Peace.

When asked how he can love and live as he does, one of the peacemakers we met replied that he can reconcile others because he is reconciled. The growth started within and the fruit is abundant in his life, in his family, in his community. (I’ll share more of his story later.)

So before I start sharing these stories of people carrying out lives of unwarranted compassion, I wanted to reiterate the need to seek Him first, to seek to be reconciled in our own hearts and souls.

And this being reconciled is not a one time thing.  The call is to grow into this new, reconciled self. Not as a means to our own happy ends, but as a peacemaking practice. As a spiritual discipline. As the first step in bringing shalom, salaam, wholeness to the world.

If you, too, want to go deeper in your journey of cultivating inner peace, here are a few suggestions that I’ve either found helpful in the past or am committed to trying as I move forward. Feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions, and peacemaking practices. Thanks!

Some inner peace cultivating practices: 

  • Practice the Prayer of Examen: Developed by St. Ignatius, the prayer of examen is a daily ritual of checking in with God, focusing your eyes and your heart on where He is moving, and praying into the areas of your life where you struggle to put Him first. Find out more here.
  • Read the Sermon on the Mount every day for 1 month and reflect on the call of Jesus. (I’ve never done this, but I’m starting now. We’ll see where it takes me!) IMG_4770
  • Spend time in nature or another favorite place with God. This has long been my favorite inner peace making activity. Just sitting and listening to the waves of the ocean or breathing in the fresh forest air in a grove of pine trees is where I am most strongly reminded of God’s overpowering, irrational love for me with all of my faults and weaknesses.
  • Pray for the enemies within you. I’ve always thought of myself as a peaceful person because of my excellent conflict avoidance and appeaser skills, but I have been struck by the idea that being a peacemaker actually requires us to move TOWARD conflict. I’ve been specifically challenged to look at the areas of conflict within myself that I’ve been avoiding and God may be calling me to enter into. If I can’t even face my own conflict and pain, how can I expect to bring peace to other people? This idea paired up nicely with a book I’m reading called When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd. She wrote, “to be spiritual is to confront our pain, rather than make an enemy out of it. When Jesus told us to love our enemies, I suspect that he was talking about our inner enemies too. He knew that love was the only means by which to transform them.” Our own inner work of restoration and reconciliation can parallel our actions as peacemakers in our spheres of influence. 
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Lives of Unwarranted Compassion

IMG_4557Years ago I had an experience with the God of Compassion that changed the course of my life.  In the aftermath of anger, depression, and outrage at injustice in the world, He wooed me with His surprising, redemptive, and mischievous face. With what I called fits of unwarranted compassion. 

Yesterday I returned from a 10 days of traveling through Israel and Palestine with The Global Immersion Project to learn about the conflict in the Middle East and between Israel and Palestine in particular (a daunting task I know).

Again, God showed up in the midst of anger, depression, and my own outrage at injustice. Although this time, God took the form of everyday people, of everyday peacemakers. 

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It was an incredible way to learn about a people and a conflict and cultures that I’ve never really known much about. I learned from and was welcomed by Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims, Jews, and Christians. I was encouraged and convicted by the creative seeds of hope and peace they plant daily in the most contentious soil in the world.

I haven’t even begun to wrap my head and my heart around what I’ve learned and seen. How I’ve been challenged and convicted. Called out to contend for the common humanity of the people around me. The people I often choose to ignore. Not to see.

Over the next weeks and months I hope to share with you the stories of peace and hope and brokenness and life that I was invited into. Once a week I will be blogging about these everyday peacemakers.

These people who live out LIVES OF UNWARRANTED COMPASSION. Not just fits and bursts, but entire lives dedicated to the costly work of peacemaking. Of choosing compassion and understanding when it would be so easy to choose hatred, bitterness, self-protection.

One of our peacemakers that we met at The Tent of Nations, Daoud Nassar, told us,

“The moment you open your heart to another, you are more powerful than your enemy–even if they have a gun.”

(Check out an interview with Daoud on Relevant Magazine here if you want to get a sneak peak of the incredible stories and sacrifices these peacemakers live.)

I pray that together, through these stories I am so humbled to share, we can open our hearts to new stories, to the those we do not understand, and to those we may even want to call our enemies.
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Writing, God, Depression, and Surrender

So one of the reasons, the main reason, I haven’t been blogging is because I’ve been dealing with depression. Not just a few bad days, but full-blown-take-over-my-mind-and-my-life-depression.

If you haven’t done so, please take a moment to review another Allie’s informative and–I think–pretty spot on description of depression here.


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Ok, done with that? It’s important.

The depression started with burnout at my last job. Then moved to sadness sadness sadness when I moved to Guatemala. Instead of excitement, I felt an overwhelming sense of grief–missing friends, missing community, missing meaningful work.

Then came the numbness. For some unexplainable reason I was no longer excited to speak Spanish or go salsa dancing or tutor women in reading and math–things I used to love and be so passionate about. I didn’t know why I’d rather stay inside and watch Netflix than explore the city and make new friends. I was living the dream, but it felt like I was frozen in a nightmare.

I thought I was just taking a long time to bounce back from the burnout. I thought I had a really bad case of homesickness. I thought I wasn’t adjusting well, was bad at making friends, was lazy. I thought I was a failure.

I didn’t realize it was also my brain chemistry working really hard against me.

I was really sad for a really long time and nothing seemed to make it better. Since I’ve been back, the intensity of the sadness has lessened. I like being around my friends here. I like the beach. I’m not lonely anymore.

But I still don’t feel like me. Like Allie described, I feel pretty numb (which I must admit feels better than sad). Or, more accurately, I don’t really feel anything. Just a lethargy, a void. But the worst worst worst part of depression for me, an introvert, a writer, a person who has Intellection in her Top Five Strengths, isn’t the emotional numbness, but the mental numbness. A fog. A grogginess. Like someone keeps dosing my morning coffee with Nyquil.

It’s made life pretty sucky and unexciting. And it’s made writing almost unbearable. It’s like this. Let’s say writing were a physical activity, not just a mental one. For instance, running. Writing a blog post or a grant proposal would be like running a mile. I used to do it no problem. I was born to run. I lived for the runner’s high. I didn’t mind the shin splints or the side aches. The feeling of wind in and out of my lungs as I rounded the track was unmatched.

Then I got sick. I’m not sure if it was overtraining or not cross training enough or a nasty virus just happened to pick me. I don’t know if I’ll ever know what or why this happened. But suddenly it just felt wrong. Like trying to run a mile with the flu. You can probably do it, but it feels crappy and your legs don’t work quite right and you want to just lay on the sidelines and puke or fall asleep instead.sick-mom

Unlike the flu, with depression you can look alright from the outside. Everyone kept telling me to keep running. You’re so talented, they said. You can still do it. You just have to keep training and it will work out.

I got to the point where I had to decide that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I knew for me, I couldn’t. I can’t. I feel sick. I feel like my brain has been taken over by poison or a sedative, like I’m running through molasses. It’s not fun anymore.

I’ve spent the time since I got back to the States trying to figure this out. I took a hard break from writing–hence my blogging absence. I’m seeing doctors. I’m trying different prescriptions, different therapies. I’m trying to get this under control. I have an incredible community who cares for me and supports me and has been with me every step of the way. A group of amazing women who say, “we don’t understand this sickness, but we love you anyways and we’re here to help.” They show me grace, grace, grace.

The grace I’ve had so much trouble extending to myself.

I’ve been terrified that this is the new me. That I’ll be stuck in this brain dead land forever. That I’ll never be passionate about anything again. That I may never write again.

I’ve made a lot of bad choices. Trying to feel again or numb again or distract from the numbness.

I’ve been stuck in fear. Stuck living for the hell of it. I’ve no longer felt like life matters, so I’ve lived like it doesn’t matter.

I keep praying, God, if you heal me of depression. If you give me my life back, my brain back, my joy back, I will praise your name you to all the ends of the earth. I will glorify you. I will use my life and my brain and my joy to serve you. See how much good I did while working at Plant With Purpose. Serving at church. Writing on this blog. I’ll do that again if you heal me.

To which he replied (and continues to reply), “Serve me now.”

I reel. How is this the best option? How is this good for anyone? Why wouldn’t He want to heal me of depression? To give me life and life to the full?

To which he doesn’t answer. He just repeats. “Serve me now.”

He says, “I love you whether or not you have depression. Whether or not you write. Whether or not you make wise choices. Whether or not you feel like you’re in control.

It’s your turn to trust me whether you are depressed or not. Whether you write or not. Whether you make wise choices or not. Whether or not you feel like you’re in control.

Because you’re never really in control, no matter how you feel about it. I am. And I love you. And I am good.”

My pastor gave a sermon awhile back on wrestling with God. On the importance of honesty. He said that’s it’s ok to be honest with God about our disappointments. And the truth is. I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that living in Guatemala felt so lonely. I’m disappointed that I haven’t yet found a job back here in the States. I’m disappointed that it’s all been so hard. I’m disappointed that depression stole what should have been the best year, the best adventure, of my life. I’m disappointed in myself and in my circumstances.

It’s okay to be honest with God. He knows my disappointment. He can take it. He can take my pain and my anger. He hurts with me.

In the sermon, my pastor emphasized that RADICAL TRUST IN GOD ALWAYS PAYS OFF.

Not that our prayers will always be answered. Not that my depression will be cured and this mental fog will be lifted.

But God is good and He loves us. He’s the only one worth trusting in.

So ever so reluctantly, I’m shifting my focus. I’m switching my prayers. I’m surrendering to the God of Love that I’ve failed to trust in for so long.

Today I will say,

I surrender to you, O God. I will trust in your Love. I will hope in your Love. Even if my depression never lifts. Even if I never get my brain or my life or my identity as a thinker/writer/processer back.

I am Yours.

Amen.

So I don’t I know if I’ll keep up blogging. I don’t know if writing will get easier. If depression will become a dark spot in my past or something I’ll deal with forever. I just wanted to share this with you. To explain a little about where I’ve been and where I hope to be going. Thanks for listening.

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Slow

My life since moving back to the States has been characterized by one word. Slow. It’s been slow going finding a full-time job. My days are slow. My schedule is slow. My part-time job as an elderly caregiver is a particularly slow and patience-cultivating endeavor.

It’s been a struggle to set a schedule, a pace, and to find meaning in the slow moments. To view the moments as SLOW and not (as my productivity-oriented mind is want to do) EMPTY or USELESS.

I wake in the morning and my mind races to all of the things I know I SHOULD BE doing: working out, sending emails, scouring the 7 different job sites that have become my daily hang outs.

But what happens when I don’t jump to attention? Would the world end if I spent a lazy morning in bed?

Here are some thoughts.

Maybe it’s ok to have a SLOW (not lazy) morning. To write while snuggled in fleece sheets. To not jump up and out of bed to pound the pavement. 

 

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To have no pressure to start the morning with military-like discipline and self-control lest the day “gets away from me.”

The pull to take advantage of every opportunity–my time, this city, every meal low in calories and bursting with nutrition. 

 

 

Maybe it’s enough to say, “I’m here now and I’m okay.”

I’m not avoiding, I’m savoring. I’m slowing. I’m listening. Not because I CAN’T be productive, but because I CAN be here in this moment. 

I don’t have to be on the top of a mountain or on the edge of the ocean to experience God. 

             

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 I don’t have to 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

but be here.

Because He is here. 

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