Oh. Dear. God.
Dear Lord, where do I start?
How about with a question?
That one doesn’t count.
What am I doing?
Can we make it two questions?
Why am I doing this?
You told me more than once, on more than one occasion to follow you. In fact, I think it might be the most common thing you say to me. That and “stop worrying, girlio.” I like it when you call me “girlio,” it makes it more believable when you tell me not to worry… more do-able, or at least as do-able as “not worrying” can be for me.
So, Man, I know I’m following you, I mean, I think I am, right? What happens when the rest of the world chimes in with “what the hell are you thinking, JJ?” How do I stand against that? Do I stand against that? How will I know the difference between You asking me to stand contrary to the norm and You asking me to listen to the counsel of others? What if “everyone else” is right? What if this life really is about white picket fences and owning your own home and 401Ks and all that other stuff that kind of makes me want to cry when I start thinking about it?
What if I’m crazy? What if I’m the one missing the point? What if I’m supposed to want the things I don’t want? What if I’m missing a screw or a wire or something that requires just a little more medication to make me like everyone else? Who is everyone else? Who is it that I’m even worried about? Why do I even care what they think? When I stand before You, because I know that I will, I know with all that I am that I will, am I really going to tell You that I lived according to the thoughts and opinions of other people more so than according to the very words You spoke?
Jesus, Dude, I’m scared, Man. I don’t know what I am getting myself into, but I have to believe you called me to this place. You did, right? This isn’t me trying to prove a point or be irresponsible, this is You being You, which, let’s be honest, is pretty crazy, and You’re calling me into Your crazy… right?
I don’t understand. I don’t understand why grown-ups even bother teaching kids the Bible if by the time the kids get old enough to grasp who You are and take You seriously enough, they are told to grow up and get serious about life when they attempt to live a life that looks contrary to that of the world. Those words, “get serious.” Why can’t I shake them? Why do they have so much power over me? Why, when I start to run after You with my bare feet and dirty hair, trying desperately to cling to your garments, I hear those words, “get serious,” and I slow down, look around for a pair of shoes and a comb, tidy up and play the part… the part that others want me to play. The part that makes me look good and feel crazy. Why does following you look crazy to others, even others who know you, but feel good to me? And even when it doesn’t feel good, I know that it is good.
Evan, you know Evan, my boss/friend/brother-from-another-mother (thank you for that one), asked me to continue working at the church for the rest of the school year. I was supposed to go back to Portland in just a few short weeks, wrap up this summer in California and go back to the comforts of home… my cute little house, my fun city, my amazing church family, and my group of friends who I have missed more than I am able to express. My home. My comfort zone. That is where I was supposed to go. That was my plan. That made sense. It all made so much sense. This was only supposed to be for the summer… three months. That was it.
When Evan first asked me to stay, everything within me said “NO WAY,” if for no other reason than I simply missed home, and truth be told, I missed life being all about me. Again, my home, my friends, my comforts… me, me, me. I hate to say it, but if we’re truth-telling, I like it that way. Well, I do and I don’t, but mostly I do… me, me, me. I told Evan I would pray about it, which meant I would mention it to God, but not lose sleep over it. So I did. I started the conversation about it, You remember… “Lord, Evan asked me to stay longer. I don’t want to. What are your thoughts?” That was as much energy as I put into it. I didn’t want to pray about it, but since it had been offered as an option, with that little bit, I was consistent, “Lord, Evan asked me to stay longer. I don’t want to. What are your thoughts?”
As it kept coming up in conversation, the conversation about it eventually started to get longer, perhaps because the more it came up, the more realistic it became, and the more realistic it became, the more there was to say about it, or perhaps, ask about it. I notice when I ask The Lord, “what are your thoughts?” on a certain issue, He isn’t very quick to give them to me, but if I keep asking, thoughts start forming and He at least gives me more questions to ask Him as I try to navigate in the direction I think He is asking me to go. Isn’t that right, Lord? Isn’t that what You often do with me? Correct me if I’m portraying You poorly. I wonder how You answer other people’s questions. I know, that is between You and them, I just can’t help but wonder.
And so I asked more questions as more thoughts came… where will I live? How will I get around? What about my cute little house in Portland? What about my church? What about my friends? What about my heart?
Some of these questions I still do not have answers for, and as the day got closer for me to let Evan know my decision, I knew I might have to give an answer without all the answers; after all, that is the kind of God I serve. He often asks us to do the craziest of things, sometimes without the slightest clue as to how we are going to accomplish them, only asking us to trust Him. When I quit my job back in April, I had no idea what I was going to do next, but I knew the time had come for me to let it go, an irresponsible move to some people, but I couldn’t shake God asking me to do it, to trust Him. On my last day of work, I found out I got the job to come work in San Diego for the summer, the one place I had always wanted to live for as long as I can remember. A place I had tried to move to time and time again, but time and time again it failed as I tried to force it simply because I wanted it so bad. I look back at the times I was dissapointed over not being able to move to California and I see the Lord holding me saying, “chill out, girlio, if you just wait a little while, I’m going to make this better than you can imagine. I’m gonna get you there, but I’m gonna do so on my terms, which, let’s face it, are better than yours. Trust me.” And He did. He got me here, in a way I could never have imagined or dreamed up. To get paid to do life with high-school girls and stay in large homes and drive a large car and talk and learn about Jesus and surf and skate and climb trees and eat fish tacos all while living in San Diego!? #Nailedit, Lord. Good Grief, did He nail it!
But even with all of my amazing adventures in San Diego, I followed myself here, which means so did my struggles, and once again the life lesson that locational change may help, but it certainly isn’t a cure-all. I faced the same struggles in San Diego as I did in Portland, except I did so without my friend base, my support system who saw me though the last few roughest years of my life. Yes, I stayed in large homes and I was caught up in all they had to offer for a day or two, until the largeness of the homes made me all the more aware of just how empty they were and how lonely I was. Expensive toys are only fun but for so long when you are enjoying them by yourself. While it might have been nice to have my own movie theater, after a while I started to wish people were in the empty seats beside me.
And so, while I have loved my time in San Diego, it’s not the final destination I thought it would be when I was younger, in part because what I never in a million years saw coming is the fact that so much of my heart is still in Portland, in part because of the people I found in Portland. This being why my initial reaction to Evan’s request for me to stay in San Diego was one of “NO WAY,” a response that a younger me would have kicked myself for saying. But, I’m learning that the Lord loves to shake things up. The Lord gives and He takes away. Why is that we rejoice when He gives and we shake our fists at Him when He takes away? Or at least I do. Not only do I do that, but He gives and I complain that it’s not what I thought it would be. I constantly put the Lord in a no-win situation in my mind’s eye, even though the Lord always wins whether I see it or not. I am more affected by my view of the Lord’s character than the Lord is, it’s my behavior and attitude that changes depending on how I view Him. He is unwavering in who He is regardless of how I view Him. Thank God. Seriously, thank You.
Given the location of my heart despite my physical presence, the Lord and I clearly had a lot to talk about when the option to stay became more realistic… where will I live? How will I get around? What about my cute little house in Portland? What about my church? What about my friends? What about my heart?
I could very easily go back to my comfort zone, mostly because it’s comfortable. It’s easy, so to speak. It’s not that there is anything wrong with things being easy, I certainly think there is a season for that, as there is a season for everything, that’s Scriptural, not just a song by The Byrds, but I don’t know if that is the season God has for me right now… mostly because as I’ve prayed about it, I’ve felt less and less peace about reaching for ease. BUt God has gifted me with a sound mind to make choices, and so regardless of what He might be calling me to, I could still choose to go after what I want, to go after ease, to go after my comfort zone. I could easily get cozy within the walls of my cute little house…
and while I might be wishing I was living a more adventurous life, I’d at least be comfortable.
Or, I could choose to go after a season of being stretched and challenged in a way that my comfort zone doesn’t stretch me or grow me. I could choose to go after the crazy, the “that doesn’t make sense,” the road less traveled, not because it lacks beauty, but because it doesn’t offer enough answers or guarantees before taking it. Don’t get me wrong, San Diego is beautiful, and I would certainly not complain about the geographical re-location, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a beautiful location does not replace beautiful relationships, and moving to San Diego for as beautiful as it is means I have to let go of the beauty that Portland holds for me.
My God is good, and He has gifted me with a choice… sometimes it is a gift I am glad to have, and sometimes I wish He would just say “do this.” Lord, why? Why can’t You just say, “do this”? Maybe in this case You have, but it tears my heart so much not only to make the choice, but to own that choice. Honestly, I want to be able to blame You for the parts of the choice that hurt… the parts of it that might hurt other people. I’ll admit, in most cases when faced with a decision, I want the glory if things do work out, but if they don’t and people start asking “why’d you do it?” I want to point my finger and the blame and say “He made me do it.” I’m sorry. I’m sorry I do that to You, time and time again, I do that do you. Why is it that we pray for clarity and then when we don’t hear what we want, we ask You to be clearer? I think You’ve been clear with me, and I’ve asked You to be clearer, and You graciously have been, and I’ve asked You to be even clearer. And I’m sorry it’s taken so long, but I don’t have 20/20 vision or insurance to do anything about it, so it takes me a bit longer to see things clearly… You’ve offered me directions, and then told me I could choose which route to take.
On August 18th, the day I turned thirty-one, I made a choice. I made a choice to live the life God has called me to live, which means a life worth living, one that makes my heart beat because I am fully alive, not because I am barely surviving. A life like that isn’t easy: a life that not only makes the heart beat, but also makes the heart skip a beat. A life like that breaks the heart and mends the heart and tells stories of hardships and chaos and confusion, followed by goodness and mercy and a peace that surpasses all clarity and understanding. A life like that comes in waves that roll and waves that break, and while you might ride some waves with ease, you get beaten down by others, but the chance to ride on top of the wave is always worth the occasional beat down. A life like that has bruises and scars because it has lived well and has at the very least tried to face its fears with courage instead of hiding from fear until it goes away.
God gave me a choice and I choose His directions. I choose Him. I choose to live the life He has called me to live, a life that isn’t always easy, but is worth it. I choose You, Lord, I choose You.
On the day I turned thirty-one, I took one of my high-school girls with me to get a tattoo on my foot, one that represented my choice, the choice for how to live my life gifted to me by God and my gifting of it back to Him. He gave His life for me and so I give my life to Him by living it for Him. Given the fact that it was her first time in a tattoo shop, she handled it like a boss… until the needle came out, which is when she decided to inform me that she got queazy easily and left to sit by the candy machine on the other side of the half-wall. “You’re supposed to be here for moral support,” my tattoo artist hollered to her jokingly, “you’re just going to sit over there during the painful part and eat Skittles!?” “Yep!” She yelled back, “and I’m enjoying every single one!”
The two of us then went and met up with more girls where a party was being held for me. When we arrived, there were balloons in the shape of spades and I almost started crying. The party was at Kathliene’s house, the same house where we had our girl’s retreat, the same house with the purple-freaking-nail polish and the bad-ass axe. In fact, it was Julia, the one who saw me with the bad-ass axe that went with me to get my tattoo. It was an amazing night, surrounded by faces I had spent the summer with, faces that I had to decide if I would see for a few more seasons or not. The girls swam in the pool and I kept my fresh tattoo dry by sitting along the edge. We ate Mexican food on the rooftop at sunset. Kathliene pointed out the sun going down over the ocean, “JJ, that’s your sunset, that’s what God is doing for you on your birthday! To JJ, from God,” she kept saying.
We went down to a little tiki hut in Kathliene’s front yard where I opened gifts, gifts that reflected the fact that the girls had gotten to know me: jars of peanut butter, scented candles, a journal for my “great ideas,” a necklace in the shape of California, a gift certificate to my favorite surf shop, a copy of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” signed by everyone, a shirt that doubled as a dress so that I could “dress up while still being JJ,” and to top it off, a purple-freaking-birthday cake. I felt so known and so loved that words fell short.
For as ugly as it may sound, part of what made my summer so difficult was the fact that is was not all about me. But… in the moments sitting in that tiki hut the night of my birthday with all of those girls around me, I was so incredibly grateful that my summer had not been all about me. Life is so much more life-giving when it’s not all about you.
At the end of the night, Kathliene, her daughter, Aeriel, Oilvia, who joined our group the weekend of the girl’s retreat, and I all laid in the tiki hut as they prayed over me. I knew by the time they were done praying what my decision was… they knew too, well before I did, but they affirmed my decision.
They walked me down to “the cloud,” the beat-up old station wagon I’ve been driving all summer, packed it full of leftovers, gifts and crazy balloons. They hugged and kissed me goodnight and I drove away with my choice in my head and my heart.
I looked down at the bandage on my foot and I knew I couldn’t get a tattoo that represented the choice to live a life worth living and then take the easy road. I mean, I could, that’s my choice, but that tattoo would only haunt every easy step I might take should I walk that road. I tattooed my choice very intentionally to my foot as a representation that on days when I don’t feel my choice to follow Jesus, I will still walk in the truth of who He is, and He is a He worth following, despite what I feel.
I got home and I texted Evan. I had told him that morning that God was going to tell me His thoughts by the night’s end and as soon as I knew my decision, I would let him know. It went something like this:
JJ: So… I talked to God…
Evan: I can’t breathe
JJ: She told me to tell you what’s up!?
Evan: OH MY GOSH WAS IT OPRAH?
Evan: ALANIS MORISETTE?
JJ: Ellen Degeneres
Evan: Wow. Your timing is masterful even via text
JJ: Bahahahaha. That felt slightly blasphemous
JJ: You see…
JJ: The thing is…
Evan: OH MY GOSH
Evan: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU
JJ: OK fine, I’m staying
Evan: MY EVERYTHING IS PARALYZED
JJ: BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I LITERALLY just LOLed.
Evan: JJ THAT IS THE SECOND BEST NEWS I HAVE EVER RECEIVED
JJ: Wait… what’s the first?
Evan: Ummmmm… okay I don’t actually know, I just didn’t want your head to get TOO bloated
JJ: Fair enough
And just like that, although not just like that at all, as it was a hard decision to make, I decided to stay. I chose the road that wasn’t all about me. I knew I had to let go of my cute little house in Portland, my fun city, my amazing church family, and my group of friends who I have missed more than I am able to express. My home. My comfort zone. My plan. I knew I had to let go of it all, and I knew I had to trust the Lord with it. I knew that just as much as the Lord had gifted me with my home in Portland, He was asking me to let it go, not simply because I wanted it and He wanted to tease me, but so that my hands could be open for something else that He wanted to gift me with, be it something tangible or a life lesson I could learn no other way.
The community part is the hardest part for me. Homes rot, restaurants close, toys break, all that stuff expires, but people… how am I going to let go of the people who have been my family since the breaking up of my own family? I know, I know I am not limited to only having a good community in Portland, I know community can be found and created here in San Diego, so perhaps there is more to it.
I guess it is this: when I am most honest, perhaps the most uncomfortable spade for me to call a spade, as it is a topic I steer clear of talking about at all because it involves the breaking of my heart and the bruising of my pride, is the spade that I am terrified of letting go of that one person who still has my heart, even though he let go of my hand. That one person who is in Portland, where our hands still might not meet again, but would at least be more likely to do so than in San Diego. Nothing in me wants to admit that someone has my heart, in part because I pride myself on being an independent woman who doesn’t get hurt by romantic relationships (God and I both laughed at that one), and in part because that one person has already told me that God asked him to let me go.
At the beginning of the summer he told me he would wait for me, and it’s been nearly a month since he let me know he wasn’t waiting anymore, for reasons I understand and even support, but it doesn’t mean I’m not hurt by it… or angry. And I’m allowed to be there just as much as he’s allowed to be where he’s at, I’m just praying that God sees me through it so I don’t drown in it. I could just as easily not mention that part, the part about being let go of, it would certainly save face, but being real about the depth of what hurts now is only going to give God all the more glory in the long run. Bringing people into the hurt allows people to see God at work. Nobody does healing the way my God does healing, and so I can say with confidence that I am hurt, knowing my God will heal my hurt, in one way or another.
After all, I can’t manipulate my way back into the arms of the person I want to be with, I can’t “accidentally” turn the right corner and run myself into him, and I certainly can’t live my life that way. I have to actually live my life, even if parts of it hurt right now. And I can’t keep making my life all about me.
On top of which, I don’t want to create a pattern of bailing when things get hard. Truth be told, as much as I hate to admit it, I think that’s my pattern. I ask God to give me strength and endurance and the ability to love people even when it gets hard, expecting Him to zap me with said feelings, and when He doesn’t, I bail. Maybe instead of zapping me, He is giving me an opportunity to put into practice the act of pressing in when it gets hard instead of bailing out. If I wait until I feel like pressing in when things get hard, I will never press in, I will bail every time. I don’t want to keep bailing on people.
So, I’m moving, which might sound like I’m bailing, but I think it is the very opposite. For as many challenges as I may have faced this summer, I have come to love the kids I have been working with and I can’t bail on them now. I still see Portland as my home and a place I will go back to at some point, but I also see that I’m not done here yet. I don’t know where I will live or how I will get around, I don’t know how God is going to come through this time, but I know He will. I know you will, Lord. You always do. The barista at the coffee shop where I am sitting just offered me the entire pastry case to take home… muffins for days! Breakfast for me and whoever’s path I cross has just been provided for!
This is me following You, right, Lord? This isn’t me being irresponsible or careless, right? All I heard was “follow me” and this is the direction I saw you walking, at least for now, and so all I knew to do was to say “OK fine, I’m staying.” You know me, You know my heart, correct me if I’m wrong or if You find any fault with my choice (unless you find fault with my choice in being tattooed, it’s a little late for for that, but I’m pretty sure you’re okay it, New Covenant and everything), I just can’t help but think that you are walking me towards continuing to invest in the lives of people in front me.
Part of me is scared, yes, that’s human… when the course of your life takes a completely different direction than the one you thought it was taking, it’s only natural to be a little scared, if not a lot scared. And when that scared voice starts to get louder than God’s voice, I turn my eyes and tune my ears to Psalm 91 and re-claim my choice: I’d rather follow Jesus with a little fear in my bones than not follow Him at all.
At thirty-one years old, still with bare feet and dirty hair, I am running hard after Jesus, trying desperately to reach out and cling to Him, and would consider it an honor if only just to touch the hem of His garments. I cannot fathom that being a disappointing choice.
If God really has said to me, or any of us for that matter, “Thou mayest,” then I say to Him…
“Thy will be done.”
I don’t say that lightly. I take that claim very seriously. My hope and my prayer is that the life I live will say more about who I believe Jesus to be than any amount of words I could ever say.
And for that reason, I choose…
to stick around for a little while longer.