The beginning of this decade was the beginning of an incredible story: one where I was transformed by both grief and abundance.
When I was sixteen, I was burdened by loneliness and a hatred of a body that always felt sore, tired, and fatigued. Compounded by friends who always made me feel like I was “too much,” I forced myself into physical challenges to prove that I was not worth hating. But the cruelty of my peers made me hate who I was all the more. Then a drug addiction in my family struck the four walls of my childhood home with a grief unspeakable. Within two years, I was graduated from high school, homeless, and with no university prospects (because we couldn't afford it).
My only option was to look after my loved ones as best I could while I grieved. I lost the constancy of a family member who had lost themselves to the constancy of a high. Greater still, I also lost the comfort and love of a tender but true romantic relationship that had been a source of friendship and growth. It left me with more cracks in my heart. So, I'd lost the Ivy League future I’d naively carved out for myself with straight A’s and a spotless reputation. I'd lost my family home. I'd lost the comfort and nearness of my town and relationship. I'd lost what felt like everything.
But by some miracle of grace, I didn’t lose myself (I take little credit for that).
I spent months sleeping on an air mattress in a strange town, working part-time to make the days pass. I lingered in a cloudy atmosphere of pain and fear and abandonment. And I wrote. I wrote my grief and my love and my shame. I wrote my hope. I wrote to God and asked Him who He was. Not out of a need for comfort but out of a need to know truth.
By a twist of blessing, He took my losses and made them gains. He gave me two people who became second parents and who guided me through my passion and my grief. Then He sent me without my academic comforts or familiar safety nets to an open green space in a country I’d only ever dreamed of belonging to. He opened my heart to a man who taught me a new kind of love. A quiet love. A patient love. Across thousands of dollars of financial barriers and sleepless nights of faithless worry (to my shame), He brought me into a new home: England.
Quite literally, He made a way in the desert. Streams in the wasteland. He made me lie down in green pastures. And those pastures welcomed me into a wholeness of spirit. Then the new burdens came. The loneliness of immigration. The financial burdens. The paperwork. And most potently, the slow trudge of integrating into a home that you want to belong to while still belonging to a different home. I carried the weight of both homes in every misunderstood word, every new barmaid job, every phone call to my mom, every denied bank account, every doctor’s visit.
And I asked God again “Who are you?”
And He answered.
My gifts came to life as I completed a degree in writing. I found a friend who became a sister by bringing such honest love and joy into my days. I lived with three different families who took me in and loved me and made me their own. I worked two pub jobs to keep myself afloat in the midst of failed financial aid and threats that I would be sent back to the US. And then one man who was audacious enough to believe in me offered me a position teaching his writing program in the university lecture theatres. I didn't even have my bachelor's yet. I was only twenty-two, and he was offering me a lecturer's wage teaching people who were, at times, more qualified than I was. A bachelor's degree then turned into a master's degree. So I found myself standing up, hands shaking, speaking up for the goodness of words and thought. I hopefully changed one life along the way.
And the quiet, patient love continued to grow as my man waited for me and I waited for him in more ways than one. Amidst studying and teaching, I missed hundreds of nights in restless pain. I continued to endure unexplained heaviness and a battle against my own body. I felt a loneliness at the lack of a church and people who understood my deep longing to feel known, just as I am, in the culture I wanted to belong to. I cried in the arms of my man as I longed to have my family with me. The uncertainty of my immigration status post-studying left me, again, in faithless worry (to my shame).
I carried both blessing and burden in my heart and body and spirit. And again, I asked God “Who are you?”
And He answered.
A photography business unfolded that brought me into community with women who pried me open and sat with me in my rawness. They gave me space to explore who God made me without making me feel like I was “too much.” We found a church that felt like home and a group of friends who became family. Six months and hundreds of immigration papers returned to me with a new visa in tow and a 5-year path towards permanent settlement. Breakthroughs were approaching. Still, a lingering restlessness gnawed at the tender patience my man and I had been brewing. Loneliness again crept in for both of us. I lost a beloved aunt, which rocked my world and made life feel short.
And we asked God again “Who are you?”
After seven years of patience, engagement was given to us this year as a gift: a pending promise that will come to fruition in the union of a gentle soul and a fiery one. Slowly, God is unfolding us to one another as we pursue marriage for each other. Then the heaviness of my body struck its hardest blow. The breath that escaped from my lungs was sharp. Every movement excruciating. I depended entirely on my man to help me stand, walk, even weep.
The agony of pain and helplessness hit me as I stared at my shaking hands and asked God again “Who are you?”
A better doctor. A second blood test. A specialist assessment. And finally the end of this decade saw the heaviness in my body explained: arthritis. An unlocking. A manual to how to treat my aching bones. Freedom to find good health.
This decade was a simple story of how light redeems the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.
For every time I asked God “Who are you?” His answer was simple: “I am WITH you.”
And let me tell you how I know that this was His answer: not because my problems were all solved (they weren't). Not because provision fell out of the sky (although sometimes it did), but because I endured struggle with a confidence that was foreign to my spirit outside of what His scriptures describe. His Holy Spirit in me brought me a peace and a wisdom that I COULD NOT SUSTAIN ON MY OWN. I am not being humble when I say this: I endured because God held me up with a dignity that I could never manifest.
And that, of all things, is the lesson that I take away from a decade of loss and gain. No matter the blessing, no matter the grief, God was never a placebo to my problems, but He WAS a constant source of truth and love. I didn’t ask Him who He was because I simply needed a band-aid. I asked because the truth is good and it’s worth knowing.
So in the peaks and the valleys, let this be a testimony to remind you that He was and IS WITH YOU. To help you endure. To teach you how to love. To strengthen you. To deliver you into victory.
Emmanuel: the love of the maker of the universe is extended to us. Nearer than our next breath, He delivers us through by giving us a deeper knowledge of His enduring devotion to His creation: His presence is a bounty in every season, not to erase our wounds but to use our wounds to bind us closer to His redeeming love. And I pray that no matter what this decade brings, we will lean into that staggering reality: the God of the Heavens is well and truly with us. We are known. We are seen. We are identified. We are called by name. Not by loneliness or heaviness or “too-muchness” or "not-enoughness" but by His choice to stand by our wavering side.
Yahweh, Jehovah Jireh, will stand with us forever in victory.
"He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and I will now live to enjoy the light." - Job 33:28
Happy New Decade.
P.S. I plan on getting more raw and real about what God is teaching me, but I'm saving a lot of that personal stuff for my email family, so if you want to join me on this journey, you can become part of the fam by clicking here.