Eleven

Heart Lessons

About 20 years ago, I started noticing an odd pattern. I was seeing 11:11 everywhere; clocks, receipts, license plates, you name it. It kind of freaked me out until I asked some friends about it and they simply asked ‘Well, what does God say about it?’. I didn’t sense anything specific, but over the next decade, I came to know it as a simple nod from God that He was there, and that He was ordering things. It makes sense that He would do that with numbers, as I am a lover of them.

And as my Creator, He knows what might get my attention.

With that context, let’s jump to 2019. It’s late in the year, I’ve sold my home and am crashing with a friend until I determine next steps, and I start sensing that I should visit a church in Mansfield. It’s not entirely random, as the word ‘Mansfield’ had been popping into my mind for a couple of years. Without knowing what it meant or really anything about the city, I’d just jot it down and hope that clarity would come. In a conversation with a friend, she mentioned a new church that she was hoping to start attending, but was disappointed that it was so far away. The location was, you guessed it: Mansfield. Where He drops breadcrumbs, I follow. So, every-other week, when my son was with his father, I’d make the thirty-mile trek to-and-from the high school where this church was meeting. No goosebumps. No providential encounters. I’d drive aimlessly around the town after church, looking for some indication as to why I was here. This went on for several months, screaming fits on the return trip most weeks, until, on one road trip back, I heard ‘You’re moving to Mansfield.’ And so began an Enneagram 1 style frantic planning session to find suitable schools, neighborhoods, look at viability for my newly formed decorating business, ALL the things. And then, in March, everything came to a screeching halt. The world went into a Covid-driven lockdown. Assuming this meant our plans were also pausing, I took a deep breath and laid back. ‘You’re still moving to Mansfield. The weekend after Memorial Day.’ So, we moved. Mid-quarantine, unable to meet neighbors or attend church. With zero clue why we were here, everything in me ached for some sense of understanding. The ONLY thing I had to cling to was knowing I’d heard Him.

Some months later, church reopened and desperate for human interaction and connection to locals, I dove into serving. As we discussed where I might want to serve, the advising pastor asked in what capacity I’d served before and suggested they could definitely use me on the media team. So we began showing up at 5:45am most Sundays to unload the trailer, roll everything into the high school, set it up, serve, and pack everything back up. The drummer, T, befriended my son and enlisted him to help him set up week after week. As I came to know him, he shared that he was in end-stage renal failure, and on the kidney transplant list. A fleeting thought entered my mind. ‘Huh, wonder if that’s why God moved us here?’. A couple more months went by and life changed.

On December 30, 2010, on my son’s 10th birthday, I ended up in the ER. It was the perfect end to a truly terrible night of waiting in the rain for our Uber, after being unable to restart my car at the drive-in. After that hours’ long ordeal and us falling exhausted into our beds, I awoke with stabbing pain like I’d never had before. Cue another Uber ride to the ER, where they determined I had kidney stones. While unpleasant, not terribly surprising, as I’d failed miserably at managing my physical health after my divorce in 2017. I heard God’s sweet voice twice that evening, once in the ER and again at home at 4am. ‘This is not at all what I have for you, Kerri. I have so much planned for you that will not happen if you do not get healthy.’ And so began a year-long journey of getting control of my health.

6 months into that journey, the conversation again resumed with T regarding his need for a kidney transplant. This time, it wasn’t a ‘Huh, I wonder….’ thought. It was ‘Yeah, I’m supposed to do this.’ The odds of being a match were a fraction of a percent, but I just knew. The process started pretty smoothly. I was a viable candidate, then approved as a tissue match, but then further testing revealed some heart abnormalities. Follow-up EKG, more heart abnormalities. First stress test, same result. And while I fumbled over my testing, T became increasingly ill. He was in and out of the hospital with blood toxicity and erratic blood sugar. After telling me that he was tired of this years’ long journey and couldn’t move forward, I went on a very long walk and leaned over the guardrail of the trail, crying uncontrollably, unable to catch my breath. All this and now he’s just going to let himself die? Just like that? At just that moment, a friend called and calmed me with her words. ‘Kerri, you aren’t here for no reason. Go home, and read over your prayer journals. I think you’ll find the answers you need.’ For the next 4 hours, I culled through years of journaling. And, as she suggested, found that God had been speaking to me about this for years, letting me know that I needed to get healthy to save his life.

So while nothing pointed to this happening, I was emboldened. It had been written.

He reluctantly decided to continue forward. However, the process still wasn’t smooth from there. Another failed stress test led to a cardiologist referral. Several weeks later, I had the all-clear from cardiology, and in August we received confirmation that I was his approved living donor. But now we had a new hurdle. The transplant hospital was requiring that T get a Covid vaccination to even be considered for surgery. Only a year prior, he’d almost died from Covid. Unaware of his DNR order, his parents ordered doctors to resuscitate him after he coded. So the idea of intentionally injecting the serum into his compromised body was earth-shattering. But what option did he have? His life literally hung in the balance. Given the certainty of death with no surgery, he conceded. As expected, his body reacted horribly and his health continued to decline. But unexpectedly, one October day, the clinic called. It was time to confirm the transplant date.

November 11, 2021.

11/11. A .2% chance of it falling on that date. The minuscule chance that I’d be a match. The move. The church. The ER visit. All the delays and tears. I could palpably feel God smiling.

There it was. Order.

Did absolute order follow that providential 11/11 date? No. The fallout after the euphoric faith-filled high was nothing short of a complete crash landing. I suffered from what I now know is a post-surgical ‘postpartum’ of sorts, and I struggled emotionally. The very real need to secure paying work after I’d put life on pause for several months hit me like a ton of bricks. And relationally, dreams I’d held close began to crumble, and I felt alone, rejected, and completely heartbroken. It was then that He began speaking to me about another bold move.

Why does He do that? Why, when you are at rock bottom, does He ask big things of you? Why was it after my divorce that He began speaking so clearly and asking me to step out and do scary things? Is He that mean? The kind of man who kicks you while you are down? The answer is no. There is no kinder being anywhere. Psalms 34 tells us that He is close to the brokenhearted. There is something tender about those moments with Him, where I truly believe we just hear Him differently. And when are you ever more motivated to trust Him than when you have nothing to lose and everything to gain? When I think of a life of faith, I often think of The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. He is a heavenly being. He is holy. Isaiah 55 tells us that His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. Try as we may, we cannot comprehend Him. Although we strive to become more and more like Him, there is no ‘arriving’ on this side of heaven.

Thy kingdom come. The goal is to encounter heaven, by encountering Him. But this invasion of heaven on earth creates a tension that is uncomfortable for most because we are earthly beings. And just when you find yourself growing the slightest bit comfortable, here comes an increased level of exposure to heavenly things.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Thy will. Not MY will. Again, the tension. Oh, the tension.

Give us this day our daily bread. He has committed to taking care of us today, and we are instructed not to worry about tomorrow. How’s that for turning over control.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. The forgiveness of others comes BEFORE the extension of forgiveness. Which wars against every human need to exact justice so that balance is achieved.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. If we have subscribed to the truth of this prayer thus far, that His thinking far exceeds ours, then we do not get to understand every single evil from which He might choose to deliver us. This means trusting that He is leading us towards good, even if we do not understand the loss.

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. The glory of every outcome is His. And solely His.

So here I am, just over 10 months post-op. Physically, I’m doing fine. We’ve moved yet again at His urging, on to another adventure into the complete unknown. Emotionally, there is much that was left undone in Mansfield. I took big leaps with my heart and had big hopes that were not realized. Very, very real heartache and many tears. There is so much that I simply do not understand; things that I thought were part of His big plan for me. I don’t know if I got things wrong. I don’t understand why others’ hearts and visions didn’t align with what I thought He’d shown me, and I may never know. Perhaps the promises are yet to be fulfilled and it just wasn’t time. But I have 11/11 to stand on as a miracle. I know that He is my loving Father, and He has good things for me. I know that He can and will heal my broken heart. I will continue searching for Him and the good in all things, and watching as He orders more miracles.

It’s not about me.

Heart Lessons

Since virtual schooling started this year, my anxiety about protecting my son from any-and-all damage has seen a marked uptick. And I know most moms are similarly on team worrying-our-faces-off. The worry then snowballs into full-fledged panic, escorting me on a very dysfunctional trip back to 2011, when I was becoming licensed as a foster parent. I should have seen the cracks in my marriage. I should have known that my divorce would leave a boy already suffering from trauma and feelings of rejection to deal with more trauma and more rejection. How could I have done this to him? Anyone see a theme here? I. I. I. Here’s the voice I heard that stopped me dead in my tracks: ‘It’s not about you, Kerri.’

Whoa. Are you saying that self reflection is not a good thing? That I shouldn’t own my part in others’ pain? I avoided dealing with my feelings for decades, and now You are telling me to stop?

And off I went again, down the logic rabbit-trail; guided by nothing more than my own insecurities and delusion that I’m somehow capable of rerouting, nay, REWRITING another’s destiny.

The revelations that followed wreck me.
‘You don’t get to undo the good that I want to do in the midst and aftermath of the bad.’
And ‘I get to decide what Deacon needs, not you.’
And finally ‘Often your part is simply to make way for what I’m doing for another.’

Try as I may, there is no reconciling how I live in a world created by such a wonderful Father, yet horrible things happen to children. And that’s often where I go off track. When we attempt to make sense of something that is counter to our nature as humans, we will spin off into questioning what we deem the logical implications of it. The only way to regain control of something so horrific, so unimaginable, is to decide that I somehow now affect the outcome and that my role is to right a myriad of wrongs. This logic is what sends those in the holy fight for social justice into an early grave.

We aren’t built to assume the sins of the world. Only Christ could and did do that.

Our job is to ask what our purpose is, wait on the answer, and obey when we hear it. We have to trust that others will do their part, and where there is a deficit, God will step in. The solace that I must lean on EVERY moment of EVERY day is that God is working all things together for good for those called according to His purpose. His purpose; not mine. We know that our thoughts are not His thoughts. So if I am not fully aware of His thoughts, I do not have a full comprehension of how He is making things good. I don’t get to control what that looks like. And even if I’d like to think so, I’m not undoing what a masterful Creator crafted as part of the good. It’s not about me.

Somewhere along the way, I became a martyr to being a foster and ultimately adoptive mom. Layer on doing this unexpectedly as a single mom, and, well, you now have a legitimate Joan of Arc parental saint situation. This again twisted my thinking to this whole thing being about MY cause, MY need to help him heal, MY role in mitigating further harm. God’s role as his Father gets lost in the shuffle. So, as God pulled on the loose thread in my very flawed thinking, something became abundantly clear. He knows better than I. Few things make me angrier than this input from others when they see me struggling: ‘God knew this was coming and He will take care of it.’ Behind my tolerant smile is a silent eye-roll and a thought that obviously God knew (insert stressful situation here) was coming. He’s God. But knowing this fact and understanding it are two very, very different things. My humanity continually takes me back to seeing time as a linear thing. Using readily available statistics, we can determine that the average human male life span is xx. My son suffered trauma at the ages of xx, xx, and xx, which, based on studies typically results in behavioral issues x, y, and z. If my marriage fails, that applies a multiplier of xx and additional struggles x, y, and z. Volatility surrounding racial tensions and a global pandemic further increase his trajectory towards full-fledged dysfunction, likely at the age of xx. Identified root cause: failures of the mother. Where in this timeline is the room for the plans for prosperity; to NOT harm?

If the Word of God creates the very universe, and He has already SPOKEN these good things over my son, then they already exist.

We are simply on a crash course towards the good thing. The in-between is messy. I don’t think He would argue with that. But ultimately, it’s not about me.

I’ll veer away from parenting for a moment to speak to His last point. There have been several times in the last 5 years when I took a big leap of faith, which I believed was based on very clear direction, and there was never any clear understanding why. For a pragmatic girl who has only recently begun taking risk, this pains me. There may be several explanations. Someone else may not have done their part. God’s plan is infinitely complex and far-reaching, and the many moving parts require obedience of others. You may have heard incorrectly. Yup. We get it wrong sometimes, but that’s where the whole ‘working all things together for good’ promise jumps in and does its thing. But this last line of reasoning, which I think is what happens most of the time, is that you are part of a plan that is contributing to His good plans for another. Yes, He desires to bless you in your obedience, but ultimately, this may not be part of what you understand to be His larger plans and purpose for you. I remember speaking to a coworker when I was transitioning roles at a company, and she said something that has stuck with me. ‘Sometimes it’s about giving someone else a new opportunity.’ Here I was, looking at my long-term growth potential by considering a lateral move, and ultimately, the greater need was for someone else to grow. Let’s look at the flip-side of opportunity and consider, for a moment, the fact that failures might not even be about what we do or do not need, or even some big life lesson. How much have you learned from the testimony of another’s missteps? Sometimes there’s not even a triumphant ending. But their transparency in telling their story is exactly what you needed to hear to avoid a landmine. Their ‘Well, at least I know what NOT to do next time’ was your segue into successfully navigating some rough waters. As a parent, what opportunities do we have to introduce our kids to an idea or experience, and then step back and let God take it from there? It would be myopic to think that the role of parents does not greatly alter the lives of our children, but where have we significantly overstepped and removed the opportunity for God to do what He needs to do?

Here’s a mind-blower; maybe part of my role in my son’s life is simply logistics.

Maybe it’s a big part. God wanted him in this town, at a specific school, in a specific church, playing with specific teams, making specific friends. The bold moves that I made in stepping out in faith may not have evidence of a providential encounter. Maybe I am simply the car that drives him to the house, to go to the school and church, to meet the friends. Maybe it’s not about me.

Be encouraged, however begrudgingly, that even if it’s not about you, it is always for you. Take a cue from Carrie Underwood and turn over the wheel. You are destined for big, huge, wonderful things; some so overwhelming that it will make your heart hurt (in the best possible way). But assuming the weight of the outcome will only hurt you physically and emotionally. And in your state of disrepair you will miss the beauty of all things working together for good.

Sometimes, it’s about the right thing being wrong.

Heart Lessons

You know what I’m talking about. The great date. The stellar job interview. The perfect house. It fits; the stars align and it checks ALL the boxes. But, it doesn’t work out. He doesn’t call back. They don’t give you the job. The offer falls through. Why does this happen? Garth Brooks thanked God for ‘unanswered prayers.’ That’s one way to put it. Here’s my theory, if you will oblige me.

Would you agree that 2020 has been a year of national crisis (at least for Gen Xers/Xennials who haven’t lived through much other than 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror)? I guess, on many levels, it’s actually a global crisis. Well, 2020 is somewhat more of the same for me. Now hear me well; I’m not so delusional that I equate my personal problems with a global pandemic or hundreds of years of racial injustice. These things reach much further and affect millions more than my personal travesties. But, since 2015, it’s been a litany of death, loss, and instability. 2020 took it to a different level, but I’ve been in a very uncertain place for a while. I’ve shared, in other posts, how I’ve learned to hear my Father’s voice. Rick Warren calls pain ‘God’s megaphone’. Psalms 34:18 promises that He is ‘near to the brokenhearted.’ There is something about the nakedness of trauma that brings us to a raw desperation for His presence. If we are lucky, and most Americans are, this trauma is short-lived. We learn to breathe again and we find a new rhythm.

Then what? What does His voice sound like then? If my pleas don’t come from a gut-wrenching place, does He answer them the same way? Are my senses dulled? Is He even listening at that point, or does He have bigger things to deal with? Well, the answer to the last question is a resounding ‘YES’. He is always listening. Scripture is full of that promise. But just like my other relationships, my friendship with Him grows and changes. And the same way that my conversations with my mom have changed between the ages of 5 and 44, God speaks to me differently now. We’ve walked through some serious stuff together.

And while yes, He remains immutable, my trust of Him has grown.

So let’s look at my list from earlier.
The guy doesn’t call. Great guy. 3 stellar dates. Then, radio silence.
I didn’t get the job. 10 interviews over several months. Brought my A-game. Courtesy rejection email.
The house falls through. Looked for months. Perfect location and good school district. Right price. Given to someone else.

Now, let’s take it a step further.
The guy does call.
I got the job offer.
The house is mine if I want it.
I pass on them all.

Both of these sets of scenarios are very real, but the seasons were quite different. After my few tough years, as I’ve re-entered the land of the living, God began reintroducing me to good things. He was always good, and I’m certain much good was happening all around me, but I could not see that from my dark hole. When it came time to start doing new things like dating, or changing jobs, or moving, I was still really, really fresh into this newfound friendship with my Father. I trusted Him; I did. He had scraped me off of my proverbial floor and breathed new life into me. But, I hadn’t been through the process of making new plans with Him. I’d simply been surviving. Now it was time to start new adventures. But as exciting as all of that sounds, I still needed the training wheels. Someone else said ‘no’ for me. I had a guardrail. Each rejection most definitely stung, but I trusted that whatever the reason, God had me.

Now the second set of scenarios. A couple of years pass and the haze has lifted. My new strategy becomes ‘whatever You say, I’ll do it.’ So when the great guy calls, or the job offer rolls in, or the house is available, I pause, and I hear Him say ‘no.’ Mind you, I was prayerful before doing these things. And if He had told me ‘no’ before I took the leap, I wouldn’t have done it. But, He didn’t. Instead, He allowed me to taste something good. Why would He do something like that?

Why would a loving Father test me or torment me, only to say no to me?

I needed to know what things were not right for me, in order to understand what was. It sort of became a process-of-elimination based therapy for me. This did several things: it showed me how to believe for good things, without basing my identity in it; it strengthened my communication and relationship with Him; and it sustained me and gave me hope. You see, we have a Father who knows EXACTLY what we need and when we need it. What I was capable of 5 years ago is strikingly different than today. He cares enough to frame my life based on what draws me closer to Him and all of the things He has for me.

Regardless of timing or season, His answer in all of the situations above was always the same:

It’s good, but it’s not best.

And that’s all I needed, or will ever need, to hear.

So I now ask you this: Is what you are considering good, or is it best? Not compared to anyone or anything else, but for you. In the midst of social distancing and a plethora of solitude, are you allowing space to find out, or are you busying yourself with idle tasks and time wasters? This health crisis is an opportunity for solitude and reflection that you may never have again. Don’t waste it. His best awaits you!

Mourn like Hannah

Uncategorized

Almost a year ago, I sold our family home. We adopted our son in this home. I put my creative stamp on every square inch of every wall. The summers were full of squealing children splashing in the pool and family and friends gathering to enjoy the sun. We spent winters around the roaring fireplace. Our neighbors became family, and I marveled at the detail of God’s provision in knowing what school our son would need, how we would fall right between both commutes to work, and how near we would be to our church. This story would only remain intact for 3 years. A family of 3 would become 2. Post divorce, I would try my damndest to piece together what little stability I could for my son, and I would buy the house from my husband. We settled into a somewhat normal routine, and I decided ‘Hey, we can do this!’. Work was going well. While challenging, I could tend to the house on my own.

One of those wonderful summer days, a year or so after the divorce, I lounged on my pool float, admiring my house, and thanked God for the blessing it had been, despite the heartbreak we’d experienced here. It had been my safe place where I’d found the version of God as my friend. I was completely, totally, madly in love with Him.

And He gently said ‘Don’t get attached to this house.’

I thought, okay, good reminder to put my trust in you and not things. Check. Another 6 or so months goes by, and I feel Him telling me that we’d be moving. I thought, ‘Oh hell no. We are just getting our bearings and my son NEEDS this house.’ And He listened to my tantrum, and continued letting me know that a move was coming. So each day, after I dropped my son off at school, as I turned back into my neighborhood, I’d ask ‘Do you want me to sell now?’. Each day, He’d say ‘Not yet.’ Until one day, He said ‘Yes.’ And 2 years after the divorce, I did. My memories of packing up that house are a complete blur. I know I purged stuff. A lot. I know I cried. A lot. Because I wasn’t sure where God was sending us, we moved everything into storage and crashed with a girlfriend. While we were lucky enough to take most of my son’s things (again, my need to provide him some sense of stability), I only took a handful of clothes and toiletries. In my mind, we’d be here a couple of months, and then the plan would be made clear.

We were there almost a year. Life was really, really bizarre, but much simpler. I wasn’t occupied with upkeep on the house, and I had the chance to start dreaming about new business ideas. And I was away from all of the things that filled that dream home that we’d left behind. About 6 months in, God began preparing me for our next move. His way with me is to ease me into it, starting with a general directive that the change is coming, and then filling the details in over the coming months. I had the next 6 months to wait on those details, and then they began to unfold.

So here I am, one week into another move. This place is not my own, but it’s perfect for us for now. The move was relatively uneventful, but the transition into the house has not been. I’m again sorting through painful relics of a life that’s no longer mine. I’m making this change alone. And in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the reality of raising an African American son on my own is a tsunami of responsibility that I did not sign up for. The past 2 days, I’ve been inconsolable. I dreaded each box to be opened. I pined for help hauling heavy articles to the attic. I wept over the card again from my deceased father, sharing his love and hope for my new marriage. I sat and cried over the dog collar of the sweet pup that we got together, that I had lost only 2 weeks earlier. As the house came together, I mourned how it all used to look in the other home. I was hit again, and again, and again with the death of the dream. And then a tidal wave of guilt would wash over me because I have a home and a son, and I am loved, and that should be enough.

And then I remembered Hannah from 1 Samuel 1. She too was shamed for her mourning. Her own husband asked her why she was sad about being barren, and suggested that he was better than 10 sons. Others mocked the passing years and her infertility, and in response she would weep and not eat. On her last trip to the temple to make a plea for a son, she promised God that she would commit her son to the Lord for all of his days. Eli overheard what he thought was a drunken display, but she explained her actions as having come out of ‘the abundance of my complaint and grief.’ Eli then asked Hannah to go in peace and promised that God would grant her petition. Hannah’s reply? She ‘went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.’

Just like that. Hannah went from years long, gut wrenching sadness and mourning, to steadfast belief that the promise would come to pass. It does say that ‘in the process of time’ Hannah bore a son, so we don’t know exactly how much longer she waited. But we do not hear anymore about her travailing prayers. I believe that Hannah’s desire to be a mother was a righteous one. This was not God responding to a childish fit in order to quiet her. And I believe it is a holy thing to grieve the loss of a dream. There are SO many things we cannot know about God’s timing around fulfilling hopes. Why did God’s promise come on the heels of her commitment to give her son back to Him? Was He moved by that? Had He been waiting on that bold step, knowing that if her heart wasn’t there, she would hold her son too tightly, and worship the child himself instead of the Giver of the child? Was He waiting on Eli to be present, so that he could be used to share that encouraging promise?

Whatever the catalyst, we know that God heard her consistent prayers, honored her broken heart, and fulfilled her dream.

So today, I wept a bit like I imagine Hannah did. My new neighbors might have even thought I was drunk. And I cried out that this is NOT how the dream was supposed to go. I heard my sweet Father say ‘I know, Kerri. I know.’ He did not say ‘but look at what you DO have, Kerri.’ He knows my heart to be a wife and to give my son a 2 parent home, and that is a holy and righteous thing. And I am allowed to grieve the loss of it. As He begins to share bits and pieces of the new dream, I will commit those things to Him, and my face will no longer be sad. Today is not that day.

If you are engaging with others who are mourning, please hold their hand and let them weep. Do NOT diminish their loss by attempting to redirect their focus to the ‘good.’ I’m not saying we should set up shop here and never leave. But Ecclesiastes tells us that there is an appropriate time for mourning, and sometimes it comes in waves, very unexpectedly, like when you unbox your custom monogrammed beer mugs or the mover asks where to put your preserved wedding dress box. Let the tears fall. And then let God show you His version of the next dream, and know that one day, your face will no longer be sad.

Don’t Ignore the Pangs

Heart Lessons

Hindsight truly is 20/20. Which is beyond annoying, because for most of my life, I’ve had 20/15 vision. It’s only recently that I’ve had to get glasses, and it was a 20/20 prescription. But I digress. If you read my ‘about’ bio, I’m a planner. I know what I want, and I go after that. While I do not look to offend, it’s never been my goal to have people like me or approve of me or my achievements. Something in my belly just drove me to always do my best. That drive usually meant that my head was down, blinders on, charging forward. This left little time for frivolous things like introspection or vision mapping. I knew myself and my capabilities, had a good understanding of what scripture said about me and general guidelines on how to live, and a sound support system around me. I. Was. Set.

Here’s the kicker. Side note….anyone care to venture WHY it’s called a kicker? This is my uneducated but experienced guess, but I’d wager that it’s because it legitimately kicks you square in the face. Life doesn’t give a single crap about drive or plans or even, wait for it, focus. And that stupid, stupid saying ‘God never gives you more than you can handle’ is absolutely, positively, the farthest thing from the truth. The book of John says that we WILL have tribulation. James tell us to count it joy WHEN we meet trials. What He says is that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Christ. Which means that we cannot do it without Him. Which in turn means that there WILL be things that we cannot handle. Now the part about Him giving those difficult things to us rings true. He did not reign down chaos on my life. It just means that He will strengthen me when it does.

Okay, rant over. When those things began to collapse around me, I started looking back. There’s that blasted hindsight. And what I began to see clearly with my 20/20 vision were milestones that were created by pangs; deep aches in my heart. I’m not talking about a lovesick pang or deep want for a cool vacation home. I’m talking about the discomfort that comes from a thought that gnaws at you. Maybe it spawns from something disturbing you read or saw in media. Maybe you remember dreaming or thinking about it as a child.

Maybe, in the midst of your own upheaval, you had sudden clarity that the blaze burning down your life was, in fact, a controlled burn that was ridding you of brush that obscured your vision and path towards something different.

I had clarity on my first pang when, at the age of 35, my ‘geriatric’ uterus failed to produce a baby. Much of those years are a blur, with flashes of injections and failed pregnancy tests and office visits to discuss probability of conception. Then a failed private adoption. Then foster care entered the picture. I was having a difficult, but necessary, discussion with my then-spouse about the concept of adopting a foster child and he shared his very honest thoughts on the challenges we would face with a child from that background. His feelings were not wrong, and mirror that of so many others. But something knocked the wind out of me. At that moment, I somehow clearly read that pang as a deep compassion for these children, and righteous indignation rose up in me on behalf of the helpless. There was that controlled burn. The brush of infertility and disappointment was gone momentarily, and I could clearly see back to thoughts as a little girl. I couldn’t process stories about abused children. News stories or movies would haunt me for years. It became so crippling that I decided at one point that I, myself, must have been abused for it to incite such a paralyzing reaction in me. No. Those pangs were intentional. God knew that I would face infertility. God knew that I would be needed with a foster care nonprofit. I ignored, heck, ran from the pangs. I never thought to lean into my Father and ask Him what they meant. Yes, this was Him ‘working all things together for good’, as is His way. But it was also the product of decades of a carefully sown burden.

The next pang is still disconcerting to me, even now, likely because I am living in the throes of its wake. For all of my career, I’d very blissfully enjoyed being a dedicated worker for large companies. There was something so energizing about the bustle of corporate life, watching things come to fruition via large teams, each owning a small part of the puzzle. I loved being a very qualified owner of my puzzle piece. Then something truly annoying happened. After years of watching coworkers come and go, I suddenly found myself pining over their coming entrepreneurial adventures. They were taking big leaps, leaving behind their medical benefits, 401K contributions, and 9-to-5 pace. My verbalized response was always ‘Wow! Good for them! But I love the structure of working for someone else.’ But something was growing inside me; a disconcerting need to make a similar leap. Towards what, I had no clue. Again, what sort of frivolous distraction would it be to consider a change. Or, dare I say it, starting something of my own.

Here’s the thing. My God is frivolous. He relishes the thought of hashing out these notions and going to deep, painful places that will unearth what these pangs are leading you toward. And sometimes, the something it’s leading you towards is simple; Him. But if anyone knows about my low threshold for risk it’s Him. We’ll unearth more about that in another blog, but He waited so patiently for me to even consider a drastic career change. He loved me through the infertility and adoption, losing my father to cancer, and losing my marriage. He knew that trauma would bring new perspective and with it, a more adventurous spirit. And a heart that heard Him more clearly. So as those pangs for a career change grew louder and more annoying, I finally took it to Him. ‘What is this nonsense?’ I would yell in my car. And I would hear an audible laugh. In my daily journaling He would download a staged plan: you’ll be leaving soon; then, it’s time to leave; then, I want you to join the foster care nonprofit (unpaid, mind you). And eventually, the most shocking revelation of all; a friend would share her dreams of starting a decorating business and I would hear Him again, ‘I want you to do this.’ And I did.

In total transparency, there were MANY tear-filled conversations between me and God where I truly attempted to negotiate my way out of all of this. And He would always give me the option of staying the course, because in His complete love for us He is incapable of controlling us. But I would always go back to the pangs, and His careful orchestration of timing and providential guiding hand.

To continue ignoring the pangs would lead me one place. At the end of everything, we will stand in front of Him, and give an account for what we did and did not do with these burdens. Even now, I weep at the thought of saying ‘I knew and I did nothing.’ I cannot. I will not.

There are new pangs brewing. I now recognize that sting well enough to tearfully take it to Him, ask Him what He would have me do with it, listen to His response, and obey. There are some that I hold to so tightly, for the thought of them not coming to fruition is too painful a burden to bear. But even in my reticence, I trust that they were planted by Him, and He is faithful to finish what He started.

Lean into your pangs. You can trust Him with them.