Making Peace With Uncertainty

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I recently heard a teaching that talked about Philippians 4 in a way I had never considered. The verse says, “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” I’ve always thought this meant God’s peace takes over in ways that we don’t understand, which I believe is true. But maybe in addition, the peace Christ has to offer is greatly surpassing in value to our understanding.

I have a lot of questions. Some are helpful and others lead me down bad roads. So far, the question why has not been part of my process. It’s not a sinful question, but for me personally it hasn’t been helpful. What would I do differently if I knew the answer? Nothing. It wouldn’t change my reality. How many times do I achieve lasting peace through my attempts at digging up answers and predicting outcomes? Not often. I was thankful to hear that exploration of this passage because it touches on something bigger—the idol of certainty and our attempts to eliminate all doubt.

Our American culture puts incredible emphasis on research, knowledge, and outcomes. We investigate in order to gain understanding, to fill in the gaps. I’m no different. My favorite forms of entertainment are science and design podcasts. The need to know is genetic in my family. Yours too, I suspect. As a kid my Dad would taunt us kids by saying, “You are on a need-to-know basis, and right now you don’t need to know.” Oh, that drove me nuts.

Certainty has been elevated to idol status, if you ask me. What does the god of certainty tell us? It says that if you don’t have a plan, you better start making one. It says if you are unsure, then you are weak. That little idol has even gotten into our churches. There it says that if you have doubts then you aren’t following Jesus well. It says that you need to know beyond shadow of a doubt. One thing Kendall said to me is, “I only have to be 51% certain. Just certain enough to keep going.” That is a good word as it pertains to our faith, but this idol has another facet. Our planning.

I’ll go ahead and say it. I don’t have a plan. No really. What I’m trying to tell you is I have no idea. I do have a vague idea of some possibilities about what the next few months could look like, but nothing more than that. Don’t even ask me about after Christmas. As a travel nurse, everyone wants to know what your next adventure will be, so once I figure it out, ill let you know.

Wanna know what’s worse than not having a plan? Being indecisive. This is a normal part of grief, they tell me. I must be VERY normal because right now I’m indecisive about everything. I make up my mind and change it five minutes later. I plan something with a friend, then I cancel. I buy iced coffee instead of an Americano, then regret it. I’m every waiter’s worst nightmare. No really, if you’re serving me, be patient and I promise to leave a good tip based on how many times I “adjust” my order. In the end it will be in your favor.

I feel like a vagabond, and not in the romantic adventurous way. I’ve been fighting the lies that tell me that I am not good enough because I don’t have my life in order. Isaiah 58:11 has been my anthem. “The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desires in scorched places, and make your bones strong; you will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” I read that verse for the first time a few weeks ago and promptly memorized it. I’ve been saying it out loud in the mornings and afternoons, and in my anxious moments, and in the car, and in the shower. It’s a reminder that Jesus didn’t call us to have a planned life or one that is free of uncertainty, all he said was, “Follow me.”

Who Is Steering This Flying Umbrella?

As humans we are always looking for the story. Our hearts long for meaning and significance. When something happens that threatens our certainty, we rush to find a story to fill in the gap. Any narrative will do, just SOMETHING to help make sense of it all. In the midst of unanswerable questions, we create narratives to help smash uncertainties into a more familiar category.

Personally, I’ve been trying to lasso myself into a category I like. I have been desperately trying to wrestle decisions to the ground, against their will, just to have the comfort of a penciled-in plan. Where will I work? Where will I live? Can I quit nursing, get my lip pierced, and start working for Whole Foods? Or maybe I’ll be a vagabond for a while and make a full-time job of writing my pen pals from coffee shops. 

In my experience, when bad things happen, people of faith tend to start creating a story for WHY. So we say, Jesus let this happen so that you’ll be able to comfort others who go through this situation. Or Jesus knows you are strong and can handle this. Or God predestined everything to work for His plan; He is in control. I’ve found none of these helpful, but that last bit about God being in control especially irks me. 

I wonder how these views of our Heavenly father bring comfort when any earthly father who acted in this way would be sent to jail. What if your dad caused you immense pain so that you would be able to relate to other abuse victims? How would it feel for your parents to put you in harm’s way just to test your resilience? I think I’d grow bitter, angry, distrusting, and as self-reliant as possible. That kind of human is not worthy of my respect, trust, nearness, or efforts. If that’s how God runs the universe, he is not a god I want to be near. How could I trust that Jesus is both simultaneously Love and the puppet master causing my pain? 

Several years ago, I began to question what it means for God to be sovereign. Dangerous territory, I know. Does he plan out every detail of every person’s decisions from the beginning to end of time in order to have it all line up in perfect accordance with his purposes? Is that what it means for God to be in control? Is it possible there’s a different view that not many people talk about? 

In my searching, I found a pastor named Greg Boyd who offers this analogy. Imagine a man creates a computerized game of chess. He knows every move the computer will make. The design is brilliant. Only someone with great skill could defeat it. In the end, the creator of the game wins the game. Next, imagine a man who creates a computerized game of chess with infinite possibilities of moves. He doesn’t know what the computer will do next, but the man is such a skilled chess player that he, in spite of a difficult opponent and great uncertainty, still beats the game. Who is the better player? Who is more skilled? 

There are a lot of things I don’t have answers for. The question of what God knows beforehand, what He allows, and what He is responsible for are murky waters. Sometimes we try to cram the person of Jesus into our systematic theologies, into a story to eliminate our doubt. I’m not trying to do that here. There is plenty of room for uncertainty and paradox. Do I see how Jesus is working things together in my life? YES. Too many “coincidences” have taken place in the last several months for me to deny the influence of God working in the details in my life. He is, after all, called Immanuel, God With Us. 

In the midst of all my wanderings and lostness and questions, there is one thing I believe to be true. Jesus came into the world to redeem it. To bring healing and freedom and joy. Jesus walked around bringing life to people. He delighted in nourishing people with food and wine, healing physical ailments, bringing freedom to those enslaved by greed, selfishness, and sex. So what is God’s will? If it brings life, it’s something Jesus wants. 

One of my favorite authors, Sarah Bessey, has helped to clarify some of this. In her book Out Of Sorts, she writes, “I see the promise of sovereignty not as hyper control over the minute painful details of the world, but as a faithful promise that all things will be restored, all things will be redeemed, all things will be rescued. Sovereignty is a promise, not a threat. I no longer think of God’s sovereignty as what theologians call a ‘blueprint’ plan for humanity. Sovereignty is redemption not causation.” To me, that’s a better God to believe in. 

In a particularly difficult therapy session a few months ago, I found myself crying and telling Jesus, “I HATE THIS. No, I mean I REALLY hate this. It feels horrible and terrible and BAD. It makes my body hurt. My chest is tight and I might throw up. All the way to my bones I hate it.” I heard Jesus say to me, “Yeah, I know. I hate it too. I REALLY hate it. In fact, I hate death and pain and suffering so much that I did something about it.” 

That doesn’t make all of this go away, but the story of Jesus is a story I can see myself in. It doesn’t answer all of the questions, but it does give me hope. Whatever good comes out of this situation is all because the Jesus I know is in the business of using everything for good, turning it into something beautiful. 

Tears are liquid healing, so I’ve stopped apologizing for them.

I come from a long line of determined and resilient women.

One thing that both my Mom and Grandma have instilled in me, is that even little losses must be grieved.

When you move to a new city, more than likely you are feeling some sense of loss, even if its just the loss of knowing how to get places.

When the opportunity you were looking forward to didn’t pan out.

When you have a miscarriage.

When the adoption falls through.

When the marriage crumbles.

Loss isn’t limited to bad stuff, though. Change is what creates loss. Even good changes come with some element of grieving. When I graduated college, I grieved the sense of normal I had before. When I got married, (confession time) I had to address the loss of no longer living with my best friend and the heartache of being the one responsible for dinner.

I’ve had many people in difficult situations recently come to me and say that they just can’t imagine what I’m going through and that they feel guilty for complaining about their current struggle. When will we learn not to compare ourselves to each other? Yes, my broken bones feel different than your bee sting and that feels different than their bruises. But heck, even hang nails need attention! Aren’t we all part of the same body? When one hurts, we all ache a little. That’s what I’m finding in my little community of friends. We all are part of the balm, the ointment that we all need. So if you’re carrying an ache, be brave, let someone into the sorrow.

In a society that values machine like performance and efficient fixes, it takes bravery to allow yourself to ACTUALLY feel the emotions of loss and grief. Let’s face it, moving through loss feels far from efficient. It’s unpredictable and inconvenient two things which also assault our American values. Yeah, we like to be able to chart outcomes. Is it weird if I tell you that I try to mentally keep track of how often I cry? It’s as if I’m trying to sketch out progress. It been a whole week! I want to see if I’m getting better but I also want to predict exactly when the next big breakdown will happen. HA! It would be so nice to squash this whole pain and brokenness thing into some kind of scientific method. Give me the seven steps to navigating loss in 10 minutes so I can just get on with my life! Well, honey. This is your life, and the only way to get on with it, is to allow yourself to feel everything that comes with the reality before you. And for heaven’s sake, bring someone else into the process.

This is a little poem I’m dedicating to the people on my short list. You know who you are.

I’ve come to know tears as liquid healing, that’s why I’ve stopped apologizing for them. They come when they see fit and they don’t leave until the work is done.

Let them do what they came for. They can’t hurt you. In fact, they bring life. You can look the other way, but they will find you.

I’m choosing to be found.

When they come marching in with force, do not try to absorb the tears into your strong bones. Their work is a violent mercy. Embrace the envelopment of grief. Surrender to its purpose.

Pour your tears out onto her chest, as a sacrifice of courage.

She will accept your offering into her clothes, absorbing it into her chest, allowing them to seep through the cracks into her soul, where she carries them as a badge of honor.

So if when the wash comes to claim me, you are the one to hold the broken pieces, consider yourself part of the healing. In my healing, you too are put back together.

The Bravest Thing I’ve Ever Done, Which Is To Say The Scariest

Driving across the country has been on my list for a very long time now. It just seems like a romantic idea, right? In the age of AirBnB you can meet all kinds of people along the way, taste new foods, see new sights, and who doesn’t like a good adventure? Well, when I made the drive from NC to CA and it turned out to be all of those things but it was also a reckoning.

It was a F*ck Death kind of trip. It was me telling the world that I still have life in me. I’m not done yet. I’ve got things to see and do and overcome. So what that really means is that this was a trip littered with moments of anxiety and panic and tears. This trip redefined bravery for me, made it real. Being brave mostly feels like fear and doubt and uncertainty. Moving forward through those things separates the brave from the others. Was I certain I wanted to go on this trip? No way. I had been talking myself out of it for a couple weeks. I still went.

This is the kind of trip I had to prepare for, mentally that is. I had been seeing a therapist in VA and worked through some fear of death issues with him during my last session. I went on several shorter road trips because most of my anxiety and flashbacks were happening in the car. Pretty understandable. And I was doing okay. The underlying anxiety was always there but I would put music or a podcast on and just go. Until the accident, I hadn’t dealt with much anxiety and certainly no panic attacks, but when I left Lynchburg I had my first. When I was about 30 minutes from my parent’s house in NC is when everything started to unravel. I just knew I was going to die, but i didn’t know if I should pull over or keep driving. My throat was closing up, my face felt huge, my arms were tingly up to my elbows, and my nurse brain thought, “Have I been bit by some deadly creature from the Amazon without knowing it?”. I was almost certain I was having an allergic reaction, but I kept breathing and slowly it went away.

This started my journey to get what I call “PRN support,” some “as needed” pharmaceuticals. No shame. That’s one thing Kendall taught me. If you need help, then go get it. Just pushing through, acting like you don’t need the help of professionals or the people you love is a false image of strength. He was always so proactive in getting the help he needed. It’s something I loved most about him.

So I went to the doctor. And I went to therapy. I accepted the gift of three free massages. And I drank a lot of wine, which is kind of like therapy. I let a friend use up all her guest passes at the Y so we could do yoga together. I let people buy my food at restaurants. Although if I’m being honest, if I had tried to fight, my friends are stubborn enough that I would have ended up with bruises AND a free meal.

The point it is, I knew I needed help. And more than that, I knew it was silly to try and act stronger than I was. So I opened the bottle of wine at 2 in the afternoon and watched Netflix. And that’s okay. Sometimes love means receiving. It’s not my favorite part, to tell you the truth. It’s vulnerable and feels risky, but it is an important part. You cannot fully give love if you haven’t received it.

So back to this road trip. You know, the bravery of moving forward stuff. You really need a good travel companion for things like this. Someone to share the joys and the difficult moments. My sister, Anna, was my person. She is the most lively, insightful, and spirit-filled 20-year-old I know. She always gives you the reaction you are hoping for when you share a story or joke. We are six years apart so we didn’t become friends until I left for college, but now she is one of my favorite humans. I prepped her for how I might react to driving and I updated her on my most recent fears. Then we left.

Altogether, the trip was full of delirious laughter from being in the car too long, Xanax, rest stop workouts, funny looks from people at rest stops, coffee, prayer, and poetry readings at a coffee shop in Arkansas, of all places. Anna helped me say out loud the yucky stuff floating around in my mind, because it has less power out in the atmosphere than stuck in my head. We ate an amazing New Mexican breakfast that was so spicy our tummies burned until lunch time. We each had moments when we had to stop and pull the car over and switch drivers due to tears. Our little Volvo was a safe place to be sad. A little moving sanctuary.

We saw the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert for the first time. We whispered because talking at full volume seemed inappropriate at a place full of such wild majesty. We journaled at a coffee shop in Flagstaff. We caught up with our aunt and cousins.

And ultimately, we made it, each of us a little more healed. And just a little braver.

Here We Go…

When people started asking me to write a blog, I was hesitant and dragged my heels a little. What do I have to say? Okay, I have things to say. I’m just not sure I’m ready for my insides to be outside for everyone to see. So here I am, braving the internet and risking visibility. So here’s a little about me and why I have decided to write.

I have recently been told that I am an independent and rugged woman who smells like herbs. My husband once told me that I smelled like a health food store, which is clearly a great complement. I am a cardiac nurse who likes critical situations in my work but also the quiet moments to sit and offer nothing more than my presence for my patients.

I have recently found a new boldness that was not there before a few months ago. Back in December 2015 my husband and I decided to start traveling. As a nurse I can go almost anywhere in the country on short term contract assignments, so in December we set sail with only what could be masterfully packed into our car. Our first assignment in Houston went well and we decided to go ahead and take another contract in California. So once again we packed our car and headed west. Things initially were going smoothly and we had friends to stay with every night but on the second day our car starting having some trouble. Kendall explained to me what was going on and told me it wasn’t dangerous, but that we might get stranded. I had a growing sense of anxiety throughout the evening. By 9:40pm in Arizona, I was on the phone with 911 dispatch after watching the man I love leave this earth. There was no question in my mind. I’m a nurse. There was no pulse. It was over. And because of how the accident happened, I was powerless to initiate any of those exciting nurse skills that make me feel like a superhero at work. I could only take in what had just happened, how my life had changed forever.

The grace of God was upon me, even in the darkest hour of my life. A woman and her daughter stopped at the scene and stayed by my side for the next hour and a half until the medics made legal what I already knew to be true, Kendall was gone. She held me and told me to keep breathing when I couldn’t find the air. She drove me to a family member’s house in CA because she was headed that direction anyway, and she checked in with my family in the coming hours and days. That next week was one of the most hellacious weeks of my life. My friend, Bethany, was on call 24 hours a day and didn’t get much sleep either as I would call her at all hours of the night and day to cry, or to read me a story from the Jesus StoryBook Bible. I lost words for Jesus. Prayer became something that only my soul knew how to do, not my mind or my vocabulary. I needed someone else’s vocabulary because I just had agony from inside my bones.  But even there, I sensed the presence of Jesus.

All day on April 1st, Bethany was following my location through the iPhone GPS. Gotta love technology. Some people may be creeped out by that, but it’s just something we enjoy. At dinner time she texted to say, “I see you are eating at In-and-Out.” She told me she has been following my little blue dot all day to see how the trip was going. And a couple hours later, she was the first person I called to tell that Kendall was gone. She followed my little blue dot from Arizona to the San Diego airport all the way to North Carolina.

 That night when I walked away from all of my earthly possessions and I left my husband of 15 months, I knew that I was not alone. There were people all over the country following my little blue dot. It reminded me of the verse in Genesis that says, “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her ‘You are a God who sees.'” This blog is about just that, being seen by a God who is helping me to see.