Nothing To Lose

Nothing To Lose

I have prayed for a lot of things over the course of my life. Significant things, insignificant things. Things I never got and still think about; things I did get and don’t even remember. I have prayed prayers that have been selfless and others that were completely selfish. I have prayed in anger, happiness, confusion, sadness, frustration, guilt. And lately, I have been praying a lot of thankful prayers for heartbreaking things.

For a long time, I thought God and I had a deal: that He wouldn’t take one love without giving me another. And so as my cat was getting older, I was sure I was getting closer to finding/being found by “the one” who would be there to fill his spot as the love of my life. Because my cat was the love of my life. Not just in a crazy cat lady kind of way but in the very real day-to-day sense of him being the sole thing I had to tangibly love and care for everyday. Regardless of how I felt or what was happening or how much money I did or didn’t have or where I was living or what I was working on or struggling with, David was there. Depending on me, grounding me and loving me. And that cat didn’t just love me; he loved me more than he loved anyone else. And that was the important part. That was what I would lose if I were to ever lose him and what I thought God would surely have in place before he took him. Because without him, without that more-than-anyone-else kind of love, I would be so… optional. So unclaimed. And yes, I am loved. I know there are people who love me. But… not like that.

So when David got sick in April, so did my faith. And I got so angry. Because I could see the writing on the wall and seriously God?! You’ve had 16 years to give me something else to hold. SIXTEEN. And you couldn’t do it?! And I’ve been here, doing the best I can to stay close to You while progressively becoming more unlovable because I’ve had all this free time to become more and more passionate and vocal about things most people would rather not concern themselves with, and now You’re just going to leave me out here? Completely, like completely, alone? Well… alright then.

What?! I know. I’m sorry. I keep wanting my story to be more inspirational, to be a better example of “Look at God! He will test your faith and then He’ll really reward you!” but… that’s not how my story is going. Not so far. Not on the surface. Because my life is nothing that I wanted it to be. But my suspicion/hope is that it might be something close to what He always wanted it to be.

So much of Christian faith has become about our wants, about God fulfilling our dreams, while forgetting that He actually has us here to fulfill His. And while there are parts of what He has for us that we can’t wait to get to (wife! mother! superstar!); there are other things, the harder things (advocates, forerunners, warriors) that He can’t wait for us to get to.  But if we’re honest, most of us didn’t sign up for that kind of faith. We didn’t sign up to work, we signed up to be loved and comfortable. To be challenged and changed, solely for the sake of becoming better people for the better lives we’ll be rewarded with. And yes, there are rewards and good things ahead of us, but they are not the goal. And they are not the proof of God’s faithfulness or His pleasure.

Think about that parable of the three servants and the 1, 3, 5 talents that the master left them. When the master returned and saw what they had done with what he gave them, what did he say/give to the faithful servants? Basically, “You have been faithful over a little, so I’m going to put you over more.” But more what? MORE WORK. And yes, along with that would probably come more fun, fortune and fame, but those were byproducts, not the main thing.

So if we can’t reliably track God’s faithfulness through comfortable rewards, how do we locate it? Well… for me, I’ve found it in the grace and strength I’ve had to do the hard work. And the peace I’ve felt in the moments that should have devastated my faith. And in thankfulness for the prayers that He has answered. Because sometimes answered prayer looks like holding on to your cat as he takes his last breaths because you prayed that he not suffer and that he not die alone. And God was faithful. And so, even as I was walking straight into the reality of the thing I feared most (being completely alone), and when I probably should have been doing everything I could to hold onto love and comfort wherever I could find it: I actually had the peace and strength to forsake another comfort zone for the sake of the work that I feel I’m supposed to do.

I’ve lived in New York City for seven years. And there were only two things that were constant the whole time – my cat and my church. And coming into this summer, I had a feeling I would be losing them both. And sure enough, as of two weeks ago, it’s a whole new world. David died in the first hours of a Monday and that Tuesday afternoon I sent an email officially withdrawing from Hillsong NYC. So that’s that. I’m out’chea with nothing, y’all! (Which isn’t exactly true, because God is faithful. #staytuned)

But I just wanted to write this post, partly because I am starting to break the news that I’m no longer at Hillsong (surprise!), but mostly to send up a flare from the dark side of faith. So much of social media and the parts of our stories that we share are from our highlight reels – the moments of triumph and success – but those aren’t the only kinds of moments that God shows up in. Or the only moments we should be using to gauge His love for us or His interest in our lives.

Listen, I would be lying if I said I’m never terrified that this is it, that I’ve peaked and am already living the best life I can expect. That I’ll die someday and it won’t really matter to anyone. But there’s a flip side to having nothing that I thought would by now, I also have nothing to lose. And I do have the faith that I will have a family someday, but I don’t have to wait for that to start building a legacy. And neither do you. There is work for us to do. Now. And it probably won’t be found in the comfort we’re chasing, but there is comfort to be found in the work we were created to do. At least I hope there is. Because I’m betting everything on it right now.

7.5

7.5

This time last week, I had no idea where I would be living today. My sublet was ending on Friday and I had known that for over a month and had been searching for the next place for just as long but… nothing. Nothing had come together. So I had booked a mover with only half helpful information – a pick up address with the drop off location still TBD. Awkward. So awkward. And frustrating. And annoying.  AKA: So very New York. And I’m not gonna lie – it was hard. Emotionally more than anything else. Moves are usually stressful due to finances, but thanks to my job, my side hustles and tax season, money wasn’t even an issue. What was a very real issue was the feeling of not just being uprooted, but feeling completely un-rooted. And being stuck in this cycle of not really belonging anywhere. Or to anyone.

Moving in New York is nothing new to me. I just did the math and since arriving 90 months ago (in October of 2009), I have moved 12 times. That’s an average of once every 7.5 months. Can you imagine that? At some point every year (twice in the really good ones!) packing up everything you own and moving it someplace else. It is exactly as fun as it sounds. And absolutely exhausting. And I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I moved on Friday night and by Sunday evening, I had every box unpacked. “Seriously?!” One of my friends was shocked (and I imagine, mad impressed.) “It took me 6 months to get to the last box!” Which isn’t unusual at all, but the way my vagrancy is set up, I just can’t afford to wait 6 months to unpack a box I’ll be repacking in 7. So if there’s something I can leave boxed up for 6 months, it’s something that I can leave behind. And I do. Not just when I move, but in day-to-day life, I’ve gotten really good at realizing that things are just things. And letting go of them. Because it’s all just stuff. And whether it’s something I bought or something that was given to me – if I got it once, I can get it again. Bad days and general annoyances aside, my life is on an incline, it’s getting bigger, better, stronger all the time. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m not where I was and to be afraid to let go of something because it’s the best I’ve ever had and “what if I never get it again??” is to be afraid that this is as good as it gets and that God has done all He can. But I know that isn’t true.

And that’s what I had to remind myself of in the moments when I just wanted to walk away from everything. Those moments when everything about the situation was screaming how much I didn’t matter, didn’t belong and didn’t have anything to show for all the years here. And honestly… there were some moments when if a door had opened someplace far far away, I would have thrown my cat in his carrier and run through it. But NOTHING was opening up. Except in Brooklyn. And I never got that desperate.

Ask anyone who knows me how I feel about Brooklyn and they’ll probably tell you I hate it. In fact, you can ask around and even people who don’t really know me can probably tell you two things: I love cats and I hate Brooklyn.  They are well-worn facts from the folktales oft told about Jani The Cat. But are they true facts? Well… they are like Lifetime movies: based on real events, but exaggerated for entertainment value. I don’t have any real issue with Brooklyn. I just don’t have any use for it. I feel about Brooklyn exactly the same way I feel about the artwork on the wall across from my desk at work – it’s there but who cares? And what most people don’t know is that once upon a time, I almost moved to Brooklyn. I actually got selected in one of those housing lotteries and was thisclose to moving into a brand new building in the Crown Heights area when the subject of pets came up at the lease signing. And being the crazy cat lady that (anyone can tell you) I am, I had to turn down the keys to that brand-new-elevator-with-laundry-in-the-basement apartment.

But because we had already gone through all the paperwork the management office asked if we might be interested in living in another other building they had. In Washington Heights. And that was how I ended up living (and loving!) uptown. Which is where I ended up building a connect group. And building friendships. And a life. And I know it’s different for everyone, but for me… I just have a conviction that uptown is where I’m supposed to be. So even with the clock running out and the possibility of being homeless skyrocketing, I would see ad after ad featuring open spots in Brooklyn, and I never even considered it. And no one ever suggested it. Not seriously.

Which is crazy, right??

You’re literally days away from have NOWHERE  TO LIVE and you won’t even consider putting your crazy conviction aside.  Well… I’m also on the edge of NEVER MAKING IT, but still can’t quiet this conviction to keep writing. And I’m definitely within spitting distance of being SINGLE FOREVER but still can’t shake the conviction that there is someone great for me.

So this move, was a different test of faith from the million before it. It was a trial by fire of believing a particular area is where you’re supposed to be and waiting, against all reason, for a door to open. And you know what? A door did open. This time a week ago. I set up an appointment to go view a room that had just popped up on Gypsy housing. It was a little more than I wanted to pay for another roommate situation, but the pictures looked pretty nice and desperate times, right? So I went. And I met the new potential roommate. And I thought, “Yeah, okay. This could be good.” And I was pretty sure that it was going to work out, but I didn’t want to say anything until the sublease was signed and the deposit was in. And that didn’t happen until Thursday evening. So I didn’t know for sure for sure until the day before I was moving.

And it wasn’t until the day after I moved that it hit me what an amazing door I had walked through. In the borough/area I love. In the best building/apartment I have lived in so far. Cat-friendly. With an elevator. Laundry in the basement. In a spacious bedroom. With two windows. And two amazing views of the Hudson River, GWB and New Jersey.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…

It is an Ephesians 3:20 kind of situation through and through. And it’s a new touchstone to remind me (and hopefully a testimony to encourage you) that you’re right where you’re supposed to be AND right about where you’re supposed to be. And what is for you, is for you and the clock may be ticking, but it’s actually on your side because it’s counting down to the open door that is just for you.

(And yes: 7.5 months from now, this sublet will be over and I’ll be moving on again, but I’ve already decided that I’ll be buying. And I’m already looking forward to seeing what “better than I can ask or imagine” is going to look like in that situation/process.)

Outside

Outside

Having a blog is weird. You’re writing and you’re putting it on the internet for anyone to read, but unless your blog really breaks out (which this one has not) it’s mostly just your friends and family reading it, and since you’re writing about things that happen to you, you’re writing about your friends and family… and that can be awkward. So when writable things happen, I usually try to wait an appropriate amount of time and mask enough of the details to shield all guilty parties. And to dull the edges a bit. But recently, the hits just seem to keep on coming, so I’m failing big time at the whole “give it some time” style of writing.

And today will be no exception.

A good friend sent me an S.O.S. the other day. She was having one of those I-just-realized-I’m-going-to-be-a-40-something-mom-with-young-kids moments, which is a treat all on its own, but it was topped with and-my-mom-has-been-saying-some-unhelpful-shit-lately (language mine). And as I read her text, I knew immediately how I was going to respond, but I was mad. Not at her, but at God. Because seriously, G?! You’re going to have me encourage someone else as I’m facing THE EXACT SAME THING?! I mean, I can do it. And I will, but come on… it’s just a little on the nose, no?

But the more I thought about it, the more thankful I was for the timing of it all. Because it was a fantastic reminder that I’m not as special as I think. And neither are my problems.

When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” Mark 3:21

Do you know who the “his/him/he” referenced in that verse is? It’s Jesus. As in Jesus Christ. And in THE Jesus. He’s out and about, living his life, doing his thing and his family is hearing about it and they just don’t get it. If you’ve never read this passage of scripture, you really should – Mark 3:20-35 – Because it is fascinating. And heartbreaking. Basically, Jesus comes to town and a huge crowd gathers to hear him. His family hears about it and are like “That can’t be right.” and posse up to go get him. Meanwhile, Jesus is facing off with the religious leaders, who are accusing him of casting out demons with the help of demons. Attributing the good they’ve all seen Him do to some undercover evil. So Jesus shares the “house divided cannot stand” parable which says… well, that a house divided cannot stand. And just as He finishes that and is told that his mother and brothers are outside, Jesus is like “My who?” 

i-dont-know-her

He refuses to go out to see them and says that the people with him are his family (#shade #noshade). And then the Bible just moves on to another story. We don’t get to see how his family reacted. We don’t get to hear the voicemails Mary left or see the subtweets his brothers hit him with. And just taking that moment when Jesus is like “Nah, this my family now.” we can tend to be a little hard on Jesus, like “Dang, Jesus. It’s like that?” Until you look at the whole picture and realize what kind of day Jesus was having.

I’m not sure at what point of his ministry this happened, but whenever it is, he’s got some momentum. He’s speaking, he’s healing, he’s casting out demons and people are picking up what he’s laying down. And then here comes religion to say You’re not doing it right. Yeah, it might look good on the surface, but we’ve never seen anything like this and we have all the answers, so you must be doing something wrong.” And just as Jesus has finished explaining why that’s dumb, he notices a murmur going through the crowd and someone tells him that his family would like to see him. Outside. Think about that – his family doesn’t even bother to come in. Yeah, the house was crowded, but do you really think people wouldn’t have made room for the mother of Jesus? Instead of squeezing in to get a closer look at what Jesus was doing with his life, they decided to stay outside. And try to call him out. Literally and figuratively.

And maybe Jesus knew why they were there just by virtue of being Jesus and knowing all things, or maybe he knew because they’d had the conversation before. And maybe Jesus was just tired. Because I don’t care who you are, it’s a hard thing when the people who you would think would be your biggest cheerleaders start to doubt you. And side with religion in accusing you. Especially, if you’re already questioning yourself.

One of the hardest/most annoying things about being single is constantly having to answer for it. Whether the question is well-meaning or meant to be cutting, “So why are you still single?” is never helpful. Because there is no answer. Singleness is not something wrong. It’s not something to be fixed. I KNOW that. And I still struggle sometimes. Because way too many of our systems (church included… church especially) automatically devalue and suspiciously view single people, so the leap between “you’re still single” and “there must be something wrong” isn’t even a leap. It’s a lazy-ass fall into the closest ditch. A ditch that is honestly easier to fall into than to stay out of. So we’ve all been there. Even though we know marriage is not a reward for the worthy (because we all know horrible people who have gotten married) we still wonder what what’s wrong with us. And it’s not just marriage, pretty much any dream that we have, whether it has to do with career, relationship, family, whatever, we always have a list of all the reasons why it can and will happen for everyone else, but probably shouldn’t and won’t for us.

And when I read this story, I wonder if Jesus had the same kind of list.

I wonder how often the fully God part of him had to wrestle with fully human doubts. If he was tempted in all the ways that we are, then he had to be tempted to worry that he wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. That he was failing. That his life didn’t look “normal” because he was somehow abnormally flawed. And maybe when Jesus was talking about a house divided, he was trying to tell us something about our souls. And our personal demons. And how they can’t be cast out by the things they bring with them. So whatever the thing is in your life that makes you feel anxious or abnormal, any action you would be driven to take because of fear or worry or condemnation, is probably not the answer. And any voices that are going to feed into those things… well… you might need to leave them outside.

And that can be really hard. To know that someone loves you and means well, but can’t be trusted inside some of the areas of your heart. Not at the moment. Like I said, we don’t know how his family reacted or how long they were estranged, but we do know that Mary was with him in his final hours and that she was with the apostles on the day of Pentecost, so she definitely came around at some point.  But the only reason she had someplace to come around to was because Jesus kept to his path, held to his convictions and followed the call of God on His life. And that’s all that any of us can do.

And in the meantime, don’t be afraid to lean on your crowd. To let yourself be bolstered by the belief that your friends have in you and to learn to be a friend to yourself. Because no, you’re not perfect, but even if you were (see: Jesus) people would still have questions and accusations. So if you’re feeling misunderstood, take it as a good sign. You’re in pretty good company.