Tuesday, February 10, 2015

[two full years]


 Two full years. That's how long it has been since we exchanged vows and said "I do." I still remember driving to his apartment with him after the wedding reception and thinking, "I'm a wife now! And we are going home to our apartment!" 

Two full years of marriage to the man who was my first-ever kiss, my protector, my real-life fairytale, and has continually proven to be my dearest friend.

I have always dreamed of a lone ranger with untamed, passionate youth, yet full of wisdom that comes from age and experience. From the moment we first met, I knew he was a man so unlike all the others. It was "love at first sight" for both of us, yet it took two years (ahem! Took him two years...) to finally confess it to each other. I love our story because it reminds me that the Lord delights in giving the most magical surprises. 

Nolan was a surprise in every single way.

He first entered my life five months after a painful betrayal of a friendship with a young man that I had originally thought there was potential in. It was a humbling experience, but I had yet to come to full forgiveness even five months after it all came to an end. Then, here came Nolan..."friending" me on Facebook at the request of my cousin (who was obviously still in the match-making business, haha! ;)). My cousin had told me just three months earlier that this guy she knew in New Mexico had come to the Lord and had called to share with her the story of his new life. I remember vividly the day she told me a friend of her's at come to the Lord. I was sitting in the grass of the college campus that I had been attending, still heartbroken and still trying to figure my life out. It made me smile when I saw her texting me this news on my phone. I sensed a comforting confirmation that the Lord was truly still at work in this world even in the midst of much failure and heartbreak. Five months later, this young man and I were getting to know little snippets of one another on Facebook, of all places!! I recall our first mini-conversation was regarding Scripture. Shortly after, he and I discovered we both enjoyed blogging. Reading his blog was a way for me to get to know his thoughts a little more. However, at this point, I was busy preparing to leave to a Bible retreat/school for 11 weeks over the summer. I was seeking renewal in my relationship with Christ after the previous year's heartbreak and the last thing I could bear was another "potential" in my life in regards to a relationship. 

Was I deeply attracted to Nolan at this point? You can sure bet I was! 

He was handsome [that smile, those blue eyes...swoon!] articulate, clearly loved Scripture and the Lord, a thinker-type, reserved, and held good manners.

But I just couldn't bear it. I wanted it all to stop. My heart couldn't take it. 

  I meant to never speak to him again for, at least, three months (as I had made plans to deactivate my Facebook that summer and only write letters to a few close girlfriends and family). I thought, maybe he will have forgotten me by then. Then, in my inbox arrived an unexpected email from Nolan. In the email he requested the address of the retreat I would be attending so that he could write me. My heart fell and then soared! Now, I would be distracted all summer long by this young man while I was trying to renew my relationship with the Lord! I heartily confess that I can be an obnoxious hyper-spiritual sort of person. I couldn't comprehend how a friendship with a man could actually draw me unto the Lord because I didn't think it was possible due to my past experience. 
  From June, our letters began and even as I excitedly awaited each one during that long summer, I began to see how pure his intentions towards me were. In all of my communications with Nolan from the beginning of our friendship, he never once flirted with me [I don't believe we actually flirted until we were engaged, which is most amusing!]. He never once led me on. He always asked me simple questions, nothing ever deeply personal. I never felt that he was asking me to unveil my heart. He simply regarded me as a friend. I have said before that if anyone were to read all our handwritten letters and our emails, no one would find anything terribly interesting or romantic in them because all the letters read just like anything you would find from a friend writing to a friend. Although it was so difficult for me to spend two years slowly building a friendship with a man I was head-over-heels in love with yet couldn't ever express it to, I am genuinely thankful for that period of time of not-knowing and taking things slowly and waiting on the Lord and Nolan. 

I did not do anything to make our relationship come about. I simply took one step after the other, learning the painful art of trusting that there would be a place for my foot to fall after each step. I confess that I had much fear and anxiety in me during intervals of that time, especially because there were also many hard and grieving things occurring in my life at home that I had yet to have answers in, either. Every morning, I awoke to unanswered questions and I spent many days walking through each one.

The February that he came to visit and first expressed his heart to me was all the more lovely because of those two years of silently waiting and aching.
 Then, the following February, we were enjoying a quiet and simple wedding next to a field of blooming peach trees.

It was magical. All those memories of our budding romance seem to have a haze of golden light around them in my mind. But when I call it magical, I mean that it was all Spirit-led. Not due to my own worth. I was not pure-hearted or doing all the "right" things through our friendship. It was totally the Lord's doing. He chose to bless me, to bless us, with a gift of something that we could never ever take credit for. This, our marriage, it is a gift. Even after two years, during financial and job struggles, moving to a new state, experiencing massive heartbreaks and disappointments, being isolated not by choice, and so many varied valley-lows and mountain-top-highs. It is all a gift, even when I cannot see it. And there were many events that happened towards the end of our first year and into our second year that I cannot see or accept as gifts. To me, those event ruined my marital bliss. Yet, I now understand all of those things are teaching me Grace at deeper and deeper levels. And Grace is always what brings renewal in my marriage, come what may!

God never promises that just because a marriage begins easy and fairytale-like that it will remain that way, at least not all the time. He means us to walk through everything we could possibly walk through together. Only then, years away from now, will we have battled every battle that gifts us with the understanding and the humility to Love as sacrificially as He loves. I hope I learn to appreciate that God's "fairytales" are more colorful and massive and far-reaching. Certainly, they will always end in "happily ever after" because He shall be the one we meet at the end of our days here on our earth and that is the happiest happily-ever-after that shall ever be! Being married has made me even more desirous that day, that very moment, when faith and hope will fade because Love will be present.

On a humorous note, while I thought I was undergoing the cruel torture during those two years of waiting for an answer....little did I know until later how long Nolan's mother was waiting for her son to make a move and "just say something!" to me. Apparently, after the first time he and I met in person [about 7 months after we had first met online and had been writing], he went to visit and parents and told his mother, "She is way out of my league." Then, he continued to give his mother further impressions that he thought nothing could ever happen between us. Nevertheless, a mother's love always knows and she kept affirming and encouraging him in small, subtle ways. Today, that same mother is now a dear friend and a second mother to me. Gifts and grace abounding.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

transitioning to the new year & photo project

 January was a strange transitional month. Much of myself is still stuck in the previous year, always filtering and analyzing my life. Now that February has arrived, I sense a little more courage in myself to step into this new year. 

I have taken on myself a little blogging project. At the beginning of each month, I hope to post photos taken from the month before. These images I took throughout the month of January with my DSLR camera and, then, I edited them with Photoshop Lightroom 5. I am so thankful I finally have these tools to begin enjoying small and personal artistic endeavors. 





I know now that I can make it through more than I thought, with less than I thought. I know better than to believe that the changes are over, and I know better than to believe the next ones will be easier, but I've learned the hard way that change is one of God's greatest gifts and one of his most useful tools. 

// Shauna Niequist //


 // 01/30/15 // It snowed today. A gentle and quiet surprise. //
 In seasons of hiddenness our sense of value is disrupted, stripped of what "others" affirmed us to be. In this season God intends to give us an unshakeable identity in Him, that no amount of adoration nor rejection can alter. 
// Alicia Britt Chole //













 














I was gripped by a fierce nostalgia before and during the capture of this last image. Then, the thought came to me, when will the colors of my life's seasons merge to create this kind of glory?

New Mexico has a startling, wild beauty. I could not settle here, but I have enjoyed its landscapes.

Whenever it snows, I think of this poem by Sara Teasdale:


I stood beside a hill 
Smooth with new-laid snow 
A single star looked out 
From the cold evening glow 
There was no other creature 
That saw what I could see 
I stood and watched the evening star 
As long as it watched me.

Beautiful images, words, poetry, and songs. I'm committed to keeping these beautiful things always in the forefront of my life. I feel a soft joy in collecting these things, a chance to be wholly myself.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

grace


One day, you will wake up to the shrieking demand of your heart’s need for grace. 

Unmerited, unconditional, always present favor.

It will startle you. 

Then, it will shock you when you become aware that the grace you need will not come from people, not even from the ones who have pledged to love you. It cannot, for Grace is a Person. 

Grace hovers, like a mist above glassy waters. Like a cloud of silk that cannot be grasped. Unattainable. 

Grace delivers Himself, with a smile and palms outstretched. Both of His palms, soft and tangible and pierced.

He is free. Christ, my Lord, in me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

[irregularities]


Two years ago this month, I was preparing to become a wife. Just little over a week away from my wedding day, I was making last minute preparations. The thrill of beginning a new life was simply too much for me to comprehend. I was feeling through every high. I'd make adjustments and process later. I only wanted to smile through it all. 

I haven't experienced that kind of pure joy since then. It seems foreign, unreal to me now.

It hurts how much one can change in a matter of a year or two. 

There are days when I cringe at my twenty-three year old, engaged self. So innocent and naive. 
It wasn't the refining process of marriage, the sharing of a life with another, that scarred me. I was well aware that becoming one with a man would create its own difficulties. Perfectly natural and expected. But little did I realize how surrounding circumstances and outside relationships would tear me down and so easily creep into my marriage. 


The divorce of my parents ten months after the beginning of my own marriage. And all the dysfunctional and messy events and discussions that quickly followed that day. 
 
Moving seven hours away from the only city I knew as home my entire life. It took an entire year of being away from my first home for the realization to slam me in the face that, although I will visit there again, I am never moving back. Ever. Again. 

Job-searching for eight months. Seven interviews. Nothing.
 

Riddled with panic attacks. Failing health. Depression. Thyroid, adrenal, gut, and dental issues. 
 

Unexpected big payments. Trying to make food stretch until the next paycheck. Embittered that food would be plentiful if someplace just hired me and my husband and I became a two-income household.


Failed business and creative endeavors. No fellowship or companions in the new city. Only met with flaky personalities, big talkers, and uncommitted persons.

Constantly feeling unsettled, insecure, unstable. 
Those feelings encompass everything. They linger and hang on me, a weight that I cannot remove. I feel them as sharp hooks in my nervous system, as if they mean to paralyze me. And I let them. 

The tormented experience of feeling forgotten, passed by, and insignificant has broken my heart. I am beaten and bruised inside. My dreaming-self quickly fled, terrified and unable to cope with life in the adult world. And I let her go, because to keep her in this environment would have been cruel. When I am alone and reflecting on these things, I whisper, "I want to dream again." I don't know if it is a prayer or merely a statement. In the moment, the words come dressed in mourning and I send them into the air. There is an ache in my chest every time I voice them.

I want to be bitter. I have wanted so much to be miserable. At least, I think, that is real and I can honestly and freely be miserable.

But my bitterness…
It sends shards into my husband's heart. I realize this bitterness will not just take me down, but him as well. I have wrestled in frustration that I am not free to be a miserable person now that I am one with another. It is a fact that I cannot smile my way through anything. I cannot pretend. I cannot push things aside. I cannot be strong when I feel weak. I cannot force my emotions to not be felt. I cannot hang onto objective truth and ignore what I feel. I cannot. I cannot. The Holy Scriptures and the vast realm of mature Christians cannot make me, cannot tell me, cannot demand me to set aside my deep emotions and just "trust in the Lord," "have faith," "hold onto fact and truth and put experience and feelings aside." No, I cannot. I do not mean that I won't. I mean, I cannot. These emotions are who I am. They are real. They are very much ME. I cannot un-be who I am. My entire life, I have held onto them and, in my solitude, have allowed myself to feel every range of emotion in every season of life. I am truly myself with them. 


One of the most significant pieces of my inner-healing has been confession. 
The honest act of admitting to myself that I am not so that my Abba can then tell me who I am.
I am not mature. Not strong. Not happy. Not wise. Not content. Not pure in heart. Not selfless. Not anything.

I spent years [mentally] preparing for trials and suffering. I even told my Lord I would never forsake Him when the day came. Then, the day came, and I was not [could not be] emotionally prepared for trials on any level. I have cried out, “I don’t know how to survive real life! I never learned and no one ever taught me! I am not a survivalist by nature, just an ignorant dead-end dreamer!” So, last year, I did what I thought I would never do. I closed up my heart to my Lord. I felt that He came to lecture me, to tell me what I should have done and should be doing. What I should have thought and what I should be thinking. Like people. People do that, right? Christians, though well-meaning, do it to each other all the time. Something in me wants to utter curse words when I think about. It is not who I am to want to utter curse words, but I am on the verge of it when I think of Christians I have known, met, heard, and even who I used to be. We lecture one another with the Bible. With the Word. With Jesus' precious words. Why? Just to correct behavior? To correct thoughts? Yes, "take every thought captive," just like Paul wrote. But correcting thoughts only comes when we are given a different response, an unexpected response. The response of Love, which does not demand, berate, or shout. The eyes of Love, God Himself, fierce and unrelenting. One might think Him gazing with such deep hatred and anger towards if it wasn’t for His actions. The way He quietly walked to the slaughter. The way He willingly submitted to the nails in His hands and feet and allowed Himself to bleed dry. All of a sudden, I no longer see anger or frustration in His eyes as I once thought I saw. It was Love. Love so full, so perfect. The intensity of His love makes us think He is angry or frustrated with us because we are not accustomed to such a fierce quality intermingling with Love. But never is He meaning to lecture, berate, demand, or shout at us with wrath of any kind. He determines not only that we should know about His love, but that we receive and experience it for ourselves. The human heart, He knows well. We will not be convinced without a severe, unrelenting, long-suffering Love, affirming us as the Beloved, every single waking moment. 


Genuine, whole-hearted repentance will not come in the flaunting and shouting of Truth. Repentance comes in the still, quiet, modest, humble, and always-present Truth. He, the Word, the abiding Truth, that declares us His Beloved, clothed with His Righteousness, therefore we are Righteous, Favored, Holy. God knows it will take a lifetime for us to take hold of that and to live in the freedom of such a heavenly reality. 


When I wrote that I want to utter curse words when I think of the way we Christians lecture one another with the Word, I do not mean it against the people and Christianity itself. I mean that the way we treat each other is such in direct opposition to the heart of God that I feel a strong vehemence against it! I want to curse that attitude! I am sick to the stomach every time I think of the way I have used (and probably still continue to) the precious words of Jesus to get someone to correct their behavior and thinking. Their heart is what He is after! I am well aware that rebuke [through love and grace in the Holy Spirit] is profitable when done in accordance with the Holy Scriptures. However, I believe that the rebuke spoken of in Scripture is altogether an entirely different matter when compared to the type of pious, self-righteous lecturing attitude that we adopt as rebuke within the Body of Christ. That is a topic for a different post, however.

How long will it take for me or that person to finally open up to Christ and receive that we are Loved and Favored unconditionally, always and forever? As long as His love is long-suffering. As long as it must be. Love has no limits. Love will wait ten thousand lifetimes and more if that is how long it takes for my frail heart to unfurl, to open and receive Him. Through ten trillion million selfish mistakes that I make and more. Love will wait. Love will suffer long forever and always to see me return to Him, battered and bruised but humble and open. To receive that I am loved by Loved, that I am pure and holy in His sight because not for a millisecond does He see me as separate from Christ.

Insanity sets in during my days of isolation and the hum-drum of each passing day. In moments, I experience a guttural cry within me, as if I am imprisoned and yearning to break free. I am breaking free. Breaking free from everything that bound me. Lies about myself that I’ve repeated to myself for years. Lies that pastors and Christian authors have taught and I have received. Lies that I perceive my circumstances are telling me about God, myself, and others.

I am unstable most days. I can hardly tolerate myself. Then, through a gentle, unexpected reminder, I sense I can hear Him whispering to me, “Don’t push yourself away, Erika. I will not abuse your heart. Don’t hurt your own heart. It is healing. Do you hear its beat? It may be irregular, but it is living. I don’t just tolerate you, I desire more than anything to sit here with you in this moment and listen to your heart’s irregularities. Will you listen with Me?”

I listen and learn. To be honest in everything. I am learning that it is safe to be honest with the Lord. In that transparency and vulnerability, I am beginning to heal.



Life doesn't run a clear course
It flows through from within
It's suppose to take you places
And leave markings on your skin
And those marks are just a sign of something true
You witnessed in your time

Of something new, like the start of something fine
Like morning dew,
Love will come again to you
Like morning dew, morning dew
And your tears have been worthwhile
They got you through to a different place
And time where all is new
To the start of something fine
Like morning dew, your love will come again to you
Like morning dew

// Love Will Come to You by Poets of the Fall //



[This song has inspired me the moment I first heard of it. So, I took out my camera and began playing around with lighting and ideas to capture what I felt whenever I listen to this moving piece of music. The image at the beginning of my post was the result. I experienced a taste of freedom in listening to this gorgeous track and capturing an image of what it means to me.]