Feasting in the Wilderness

Feasting in the Wilderness

“He split the rocks in the wilderness and gave them water as abundant as the seas;
he brought streams out of a rocky crag and made water flow down like rivers.

But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High.
They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God; they said, “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?
True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, streams flowed abundantly,
but can he also give us bread? Can he supply meat for his people?”
When the Lord heard them, he was furious; his fire broke out against Jacob, and his wrath rose against Israel, for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance.” Psalm 78:15-22

So here we are again. It’s been a little bit. I’ve tried to write out about six different thank-you’s to say what it means to see your response to my last post, but words just don’t really seem to do these days. Writing about my own journey with food was incredibly vulnerable for me, and your support and encouragement, and all the “me too’s” I heard make me thankful that God spurred me on and gave me the grace to write it. Your constant support of this blog and my writing reminds me all the time that this really is worth it and a gift from God. I couldn’t keep going without you. So thank you, thank you, thank you. Words just will never really do.

I’ve had the joy of spending the last week in Waco, TX visiting my love, and what a time it’s been. We laughed, walked, went to school, spent time with friends, and celebrated my 22nd birthday, among other things. And on the second morning of my 22nd year, I was overcome by God’s great and overwhelming compassion in my life. All day yesterday, I felt showered in love and was able to receive it in a way I normally don’t. I told Colt over dinner that this birthday just felt settled; I feel exactly where I should be. Peaceful. Joyful. Content. Thankful. And at rest. Time in a different routine has been good for my heart, and the presence of the Lord in every area of my life is good. I’m thankful.

And looking back on this season of long distance engagement, I feel the relief of coming to the end. I feel the weight of what God has formed in me, like I’ve aged a couple years. But it took a long time and many, many tears to get to this place of peace. Read: I’ve suffered through most of this deal and now that it’s ending, I’m beginning to feel the relief. And as I was reading Psalm 78 this morning, I was overcome by how much this resembled my life, and still does in many ways.

The Desert is the place we hesitate to go, or flat out try to reject. We want nothing to do with pain, suffering, discomfort, or any sort of negative emotion. But when we reject where God is trying to bring us through we quickly become blind to how God is trying to bless us, even in the wilderness, specifically by taking us through the wilderness. We start demanding that God prove himself, that he come pacify our desires instead of letting our lives and our stories bring us closer to Him. God didn’t want His people to stay in the desert for 40 years. He really didn’t. But they rejected his plan and mistrusted his heart for them and thus they found themselves wandering around in search of their Home when He was with them all along.

That question the Israelites ask (Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?) is one that I have asked so many times in varying ways over the last nine months of long distance: Is this really worth it? Is it ever going to get better? Can I really find joy and contentment when one of the biggest desires of my heart is gone, fully immersed in a totally different space and culture? Am I ever going to get my way? And what happens if I don’t?

And what I’ve had to come to again and again is the truth that God is speaking to me. It’s a yes. Yes, Mary Cate, I AM GOOD. Yes, I am good to you. Yes, I can spread a table, a full out smorgasbord, even in the driest desert of your life, because My Love and My Grace surpass all your doubt and fear and unmet expectations. My Plan for your life is good. You can rest and hope and trust and believe. You can have patience to wait for My timing, because I promise it’ll be even better than what you’re hoping for.

I want to be a woman who believes in God. Who believes God. I want to be a woman who trusts God. Who trusts in His deliverance. I don’t want to spend my life wandering in the desert demanding my “portion” when God is already waiting for me to open my eyes and the feast He has set.

His feast is waiting for us. We just have to see and receive.

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Why Body Shaming is Not Our Portion

Why Body Shaming is Not Our Portion

Fifth grade was when it happened. Ten or eleven years old. One sentence changed everything. A hurtful one. One that I really wish I could un-hear.

That sentence marked me as other, made me believe in my little heart that there was something unlovely and unlovable about me.

And that thing was my body. My own physical self.

And even though I’ve experienced a ton of healing and improvement in the way I see myself and the way I believe that others see me, it is still a daily battle in my mind that I have to walk through. It’s hard to share because so much of our world is surrounded by food. I mean, we were created to eat. We need food for fuel. We need food to survive. But my desire for food was so shamed at an early age that now it’s hard to even have a healthy perspective. Food tends to have two attachments for me: good food and bad food. The good food, healthy food, is something to pride myself in. Look how healthy I eat. Look how much control I have. And the bad food is that food we tend to eat and then get wrecked with shame over after the fact. This is food I feel like I need to have an excuse and explanation for to give to others as to why I am eating it. I can’t believe I ate that, I shouldn’t have even eaten one doughnut and I just ate four, I feel terrible, I’m so embarrassed you saw that, etc. And the truthful thing is that you likely don’t even care what I’m eating, you probably don’t even notice, but I have. Because sometimes others’ love for me feels conditional on the food that I eat. I eat good, therefore I am good, and others are proud of me. Others love me now. I ate bad, and now I am unworthy, because that was a bad thing I did. And now I have to fix myself, and make myself lovable again. This is known as Shame. And Shame is the worst.

This shame wrecked so much of my adolescence. I spent so much of my time doing one of two things that people tend to do when shame is tied to food. I binged. I hid food, literally shoving handfuls of food into my pockets or into my mouth as fast as I could and then trying to sneak up the stairs so my family wouldn’t see, so I wouldn’t have to hear the questions that haunt me and wounded me deep; “Are you really that hungry?” “Put that down, you can’t possibly be hungry again,” “Do you really want to eat that?” Then, due to the overwhelming shame I was feeling, I would restrict. Never purging because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, but immediately grabbing a pen and pencil and writing down my promises to try harder tomorrow. Less calories, more exercise, restrict, restrict, restrict.

This cycle went on for about ten years, peaking in high school. I got down to the smallest I had been since I started weighing.

I have some pictures to show you, just to give you an idea into my thought world.

 

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This was the day I got down to 125 lbs. The smallest I got. I wasn’t eating very much, exercising more than ever, and I was pretty darn proud of it. I still remember it vividly. Climbing on the scale, seeing the number, and relief flooding to my eyes. That was a huge accomplishment for my heart. I did it. I got to where I wanted to be.

These pictures break my heart because looking at them not, it’s alarming to see that I thought I was fat, or even looked different from my friends. But you know what I’m doing in those pictures? Hiding. Literally, I was so uncomfortable in my own skin. That arm placement and the fact that I’m the only one whose body is not showing was incredibly intentional. I hid the parts of me that had been called unlovable. I did not want to be seen.

And as I write all this out (I have stories and pictures that could fill an entire novel), it’s taking everything in me to stay in my seat and not run right out of Wild Love as I bawl my eyes out, because this is so hard for me to write. I pride myself of being vulnerable, but this, this is vulnerable for me. This is one of those things hidden deep in the closet of my heart. It’s locked up. I don’t want people to see. Because it’s hard to be so full of love for others and then turn and fill yourself with hate for the flaws that stare right back at you. I was the Christian girl who did everything right. I loved the Lord and other people, but most of the time was absolutely filled with hatred for myself. I just wanted to be different, and I would try anything to get to that place. I’ve spent most of my life letting this shame wreck me, ruin things for me. I’ve wasted so much time punishing myself, countless hours and dollars trying to diet, exercise, restrict myself to fit into the body type that I deemed worthy.

It reminds me of John 10:10. Jesus says it best that, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy;  I have come that they might have life and life to the full.”

This really does all come in waves for me, I will experience months of freedom, where I am able to eat healthy (or not so healthy) with no shame attached. I get into a swing of exercise that actually feels good. I’m able to rest. But the second I make it about me, the minute I take my eyes off the Father, and these old familiar feelings creep back in.

And can you guess why they’re flaring up more these past few months than they have in a while? Anybody else hearing the wedding bells? Admit it or not, there’s so much attached to the way you look on your wedding day. The “LGN diet” (Look Good Naked), the bridal boot camps, you get my point. And unfortunately, I’ve fallen into that, way more than I thought I would. Before I got engaged, I was in a place where I would say, “I’m just working on being loved” instead of feeling the need to try so hard, but I let myself start playing the body-shaming game again. I let others’ opinions and ideas fracture the solid foundation that I was deeply loved. “Oh, you have time [to lose those extra pounds]”  “Oh, you look fine, don’t worry about it” (also not helpful). I started restricting. And it worked. I felt better and looked better that I had in a while. And again, I took my eyes of Jesus, started taking my body into my owns, proving my worth by doing what I could do.

But the Lord is so gracious to me, and last week as I was walking to class, I heard this subtle voice in my heart whisper: Why am I so adamant about making myself smaller?  Why am I so convinced that I will be more loved when I take up less space? Those questions just stopped my in my tracks. Because I didn’t see what my actions were communicating before that moment. That’s the crazy thing about eating disorders; you can whittle yourself into nothing. And it doesn’t just cut away pounds or inches, but all of your thought-life, all of your energy, your personality, and your joy. I’ve let myself be convinced. And most of the time, we can’t see it because we’ve let our minds get warped into believing an incredible lie.

I don’t share all of this so you can pity me, or call my mother or sit me down and talk to me about how you are worried. I don’t share this to stand as a martyr or camp in either of the camps of eat extremely healthy or bust, or just love your curves and eat whatever you want. I really don’t know what’s right. I want to eat healthy because it really does help me feel better, but I also want to be at peace and be kind to my body even when it doesn’t look “ideal.” I really just want to be free, want us all to be free from the body shaming cycle, and to be thankful that God has given us a good body to carry us through this life. Your body works? You are blessed. It’s time to stop trying to punish yourself so adamantly.

I share this because I want to scream that God is GRACIOUS and His love is quick to meet us in our darkest corners. We really do not have to bend to body shaming, because His love covers every ounce of sin. And He is gracious to walk with us the whole way home, through every triumph, every setback, every moment of fear.

This is my brave thing today, probably the bravest thing I’ve done in a while. I’m praying it would speak to you, praying that God would start to open up your heart to talk with Him about the hurts that you carry, the lies you believe about yourself. Hope is coming again and again for you, God’s beloved and my dear friend. His love for you will not run out, no matter what you weigh.

“Though the earth may try, to satisfy my heart
Though the earth may try, to tell me you’re not faithful
Though the earth may try, to blind me from your goodness
You shine through

You’re the only one who
Fills me up”

-“You’re the Only One by Chris Renzema

If this subject is something that speaks to your heart, or if you are a woman who just is longing for community and vulnerability (not just with eating/body image, but anything!) my incredible roommate Peggy and several others are starting a woman’s ministry that will meet at our house once a month. The first meeting is coming up soon, so click here to learn more about it! It’s going to be a sweet time of sharing and hope for one another. See you there! You can also read Peggy’s story here. She is such a woman of hope. We’ve struggled through similar stories with body image, food, etc. and I can’t tell you of the hope she has brought me just by opening up her heart and listening to me too.

 

 

For When We Really Just Want to Quit

For When We Really Just Want to Quit

“I have come to understand, hard-won things mean something entirely different. Better.

The thing about struggle, is that it inversely affects entitlement. It engenders gratitude and increases value. It gives shape and provides context. And yet we live in this culture that espouses ease and convenience above all else.” –Meg Fee

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” –Romans 5:3-4

Some days I really just want to quit. I want to quit writing. Quit trying so hard in school. Quit going to things and expending myself (basically forsake all responsibility) and instead just hull up in my room and read books and have everybody leave me alone. I’m laughing to myself as I write this, because I see how ridiculous that is, but I really feel that way sometimes! And I know you probably do too.

I keep finding that so many people I know genuinely want to change the world and make something beautiful with their lives. I’m surrounded by incredible people who carry creativity and beauty and healing and other amazing things within them. But so many times, there’s something that’s holding us back, keeping us from writing that novel, recording that album, speaking those words that need to be said. I think it’s a lack of perseverance, which is brought about by fear. And I’m the guiltiest of all. I’ve started so many things only to stop early on because I’m not immediately good at them, and therefore I should just stop before I fail. Because the words don’t come for a while, that must mean I’m not destined to be a writer. Because the guitar hurts my fingers and it takes serious effort for me to strum and make the notes, and because my voice doesn’t sound like Adele, I definitely shouldn’t keep trying and embarrass myself. Because I had one weird conversation with a friend or that one person is grating my nerves, that has to mean God is giving me the green light to give up.

Doesn’t that all just sound so ridiculous when we say it out loud? But so often it’s true!

When the going gets hard, when we’re scrubbing toilets and doing homework assignments and running errands instead of having a pinterest or instagram-worthy life, we feel like something has gone awry. This is not where we thought we would be. And that sucks. Because, I don’t know about you, but if I had it my way, I would be a best-selling author, incredible teacher with the perfect body, a flawless face, no hint of emotional imperfection, and the list could go on. Basically, the “truth” that I’ve internalized in my core is that I have to have a perfect life to have an impact, and that that perfect life is an effortless task.

But can I just say that our lives are never going to be perfect, even when we believe that they are? And can I say too that trying to learn anything, trying to change our lives even just a little bit for our good is NOT and effortless task?! It’s so hard to admit, and many days its frustrates me to the point that I can’t see straight, this truth that’s staring me right in the face keeps demanding my attention: that in order to truly live, I’m going to have to give up my ideal and demand for perfection.

I’m going to have to cast it into the sea, because if I keep holding onto it like I have been, I’m never going to experience that deep, true life I keep searching for.

And not only am I going to have to change my ideals, but I’m going to have to persevere: because the places I want to go take a whole lot of time and effort. I will not wake up tomorrow ready to run a half-marathon. I will not wake up tomorrow totally equipped to change entire nations in my own strength. I will not wake up having everything that’s been happening in me all figured out. I will not wake up with a full novel already done and plopped into my lap. And while those things would be nice, the truth is they rob me of any responsibility, any strength, because if I never had to work, if I never had to persevere, would it really be worth it? Most days it doesn’t feel worth it to me, because I’d like my world to be perfect and flawless now (again, still having to practice throwing these ideas far, far from me) But you know what, today perseverance really does feel okay.

And you know what else is okay with me today? The process. Getting on my tennis shoes and forcing myself to get outside and try to run, even if I have to walk most of the time. Those quiet mornings, just me and Jesus on my bed, learning His Word and the beat of His heart. Patience and kindness for myself, even bits at a time. Sitting at my computer, on another Thursday afternoon with Em, and forcing the words to come out, even if they’re not the words that I thought they would be.

It’s not glamorous learning to do incredible things. It is hard and gnarly work. It is often hidden work, so much that no one will ever see. But is it worth it? Absolutely. And will we look back one day and be thankful that the perseverance and hope and character built led us right to here? I believe, and I hope, yes, yes it will.

So wherever you are today friends, whatever/whoever you’re wanting to do/be one day, keep going. Take those baby steps. Take another breath. Be thankful. At the chance of sounding trite, we’re always going to be arriving. So let’s rejoice along the way. Let’s try our best, and keep hoping, keep persevering, even when it doesn’t feel the best.

xo.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt

“Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools. Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?‘ For it is not wise to ask such questions.”

Ecclesiastes 7:9-10

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.

Zechariah 4:10

To be honest, this is the first time in a really long time when I haven’t wanted to write. It’s only been two weeks, but getting away from the computer and getting back into school has shaken me up a bit. This just feels a little foreign, so forgive me if this is a bit all over the place. I’m not sure what’s going to come out today.

Something I’ve been celebrating so much these days is the fact that I’ve been doing better than I have in such a long time. I can say with confidence, “Hey, I’m doing well!” And that was a work the Father did that I will forever be thankful for. Because I sure did spend a lot of last semester kicking and screaming and dragging my heals, especially with God and with Colton, because things weren’t going the way I wanted and I thought that was wrong. I didn’t want to be doing long distance for our entire engagement (and many days I still don’t). I didn’t want things to be hard. And even though I had heard from the Lord that it would be a time of refinement (Job 23:10), I still fought it the entire time. I was really angry, and I wanted everyone to know it.

But yesterday, I stumbled across this verse (Ecclesiastes 7:9-10, above) in a devotional I’ve been reading, and it hasn’t left my mind yet. Because I do that all the time. I look back at the former things, and then point my finger at God and say “what the heck!” Because that season or situation seemed so much better than whatever I have now. Even though I am a huge believer is C.S. Lewis’s quote that says, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind,” I think we all know that it’s often times much easier to rely on the comfort of old times instead of bravely hoping for our future. Because hope is a risk. Joy is a risk. Contentment in our situation, even when we hate it, is a risk.

I think it’s so interesting that the verse says that it’s not wise to ask such questions, questions that undermine what God is doing today, in this season of our lives. Why is that so unwise? It’s how I feel, so shouldn’t I make sure that God knows it? And while yes, there’s so much beauty in being honest with the Lord, I want to be honest without being ungrateful.

I had to get on my knees at a college worship night a week ago because it was one of those days where I was really angry that we are doing long-distance, and really just angry that I was being called to live outward, meaning that I was being called to care about others more than I even care about myself. And that’s a beautiful thing in theory, but quite hard when I get consumed in my own little world. But I went to the back of the room and got on my knees, and just poured out my heart to God, saying, “God, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want it to be this way.”

And softly, I felt his embrace in my spirit and two simple words:

“I know.”

And I believed Him. Because Jesus really does get it, even when we don’t think He does. He knows we have to go through seasons we don’t want to go through; He knows we have to do things we don’t want to do. But there is grace for the frustration, and the ache, and for every ounce of emotion we feel in these seasons. We don’t have to despise where we’re at or wish for the former things because we have a God who knows and deeply, deeply cares.

We can rest and rejoice, and be thankful for today. We can wait and hope with expectation for what is to come. But I sure don’t want to be a lover of God who looks back. Because by looking back, and resenting the present, I’m missing what the Lord is longing to do.

It’s a process, one I’m daily having to walk through. But slowly the Lord is turning the parts of stone in my heart that wish things were different into soft places, overflowing with thankfulness.

And like the current song that just won’t get out of my head, I believe He is good, and He’s never going to let me down (lyrics below).

May this season be for you a season of moving evermore towards thankfulness. He is good and He will not let us down.

Amen.

“Let the King of my heart be

The mountain where I run

The fountain I drink from; Oh

He is my song

Let the Kind of my heart be

The shadow where I hide

The ransom for my life; oh

He is my song.

You are good, good, Oh

You are good, good, Oh

You’re never gonna let, 

Never gonna let me down

You’re never gonna let,

Never gonna let me down.

When the night is holding onto me

God is holding on.”

-“King of My Heart” by John Mark and Sarah McMillam

Five Words for 2016

Five Words for 2016

Happy New Year everyone! It’s 2016. January 1st. The start of a brilliant new year.

The chill in the air and the sun shining through my window just keeps reminding me of the promise of hope found in the start of something new. My heart is settled and expectant for all that is to come.

But then again, I’m pretty sure you feel it too, there’s also that nagging pull of pressure that I’m not where I should be on the first day of 2016. It’s 3:30 pm and I’m still in my pajamas. I had a slice of carrot cake for lunch. I still haven’t brushed my teeth or washed my face and I’m not sure if it’s even going to happen until it’s time again for bed. I’ve piddled around, filled out some addresses for save the dates (yippie!) and basically have done a whole lot of nothing all day long. The one major accomplishment I’ve had so far today is that I’m starting my first book for 2016. And I’m blogging. So I’d say that’s a win.

I tend to be the kind of person who has no grace for myself on days like today. Because if I was really good and I really had myself together, I would have exercised. I would have eaten more vegetables. I would have done more and controlled myself and stuck close to perfection. And all the while, I forget that everything that I’m striving for (health, joy, meaning, relationship, etc.) is a process. A steady progression towards a goal.

And maybe it’s because I’m marrying a man who is much more patient and slower-paced than I am, but my heart has been tugging the last few days of the year, asking the question, “Why do I have to be in a rush to get it right all the time? Why am I so afraid of the process?”

Process is uncomfortable, because we’re stuck in the in-between of who we’ve been and where we’re going and who we’re going to be. Process means that we have to sit patiently with who we are now, and most of the time that person is a lot more flawed and messy then we were hoping he or she would be. It’s like being in a tiny waiting room where the only other person in there is sitting too close to you and sneezing and weezing and coughing too loud. And it takes every ounce of self control that you have not to get up and run screaming out of the room. It’s a choice to sit there and breathe and to trust that it’s going to be over and you will feel better at some point in the future. I know that’s a silly analogy, but it feels like that’s the way I feel with myself so much of the time. I’m annoyed and perplexed that I haven’t gotten myself together yet, and then am baffled when my high-pressure demands and expectations only lead me to shut down and give up on the whole changing process at  all.

We all have someone we want to become in 2016, some area we want to grow in, some part of ourselves we want to leave behind. And my prayer is that we get to those places. But I’m starting to believe that in order to get there, it’s going to take us being a lot more patient, empathetic, and kind.

I was listening to a brilliant podcast by Elizabeth Gilbert and Brené Brown last night, and as they were talking, Brown mentioned the importance of having empathy for yourself. She said we have to start speaking to ourselves the way we would speak to someone we love who is going through a hard time. We have to hope for ourselves the way that we hope for our friends. She called it a necessity.

And all the sudden in the middle of this podcast, I felt the Father’s loving whisper to me–to let this be a process.

I want us to grow this year. I want to savor the moments and forgive and let go of the things that are weighing me down. I want to drink deep of God’s word and memorize scripture and get lost in the beauty that’s around me. I want to laugh with my friends and throw dinner parties and take care of my body, soul, spirit, and mind. I want to be different than I am today on the last day of 2016. But in order to really be different, in order to fully experience this beautiful year and to walk away from it more loving and gentle and wise, I have to give myself grace. I have to remember that I don’t have to arrive where I want to be at the end of the year on the first day of 2016. I don’t have to have all of it together already.

And these are my five words that are helping me get to that place, the place of being gentle with where I’m at today, the place of having hope for what’s to come, for who I’m growing into: let this be a process.

Let this be a process.

Let your life be a process. Let your relationships be a process. Let for faith be a process. Let all that seems so unresolved and unknown and scary rest safe in the arms of the Father. Let your heart settle, let the air fill your lungs as you breathe, and remember–you do not have to arrive today. You just have to let this be a process. Let them take the time they need to grow and change and bloom.

I think it’s so profound that in so many places in scripture, there is talk of trees and plants and things (Psalm 1, Jeremiah 1, Isaiah 41, Psalm 52, Mark 4). Because if you’ve ever gardened, you know how long of a process it can be to see the fruit of your labor. You have to till the earth, plant the seeds, water them, make sure they get enough light, protect them from other species, and you have to wait. And what makes us think that we aren’t deserving of that patience that we give the trees, the people we love, etc.? What makes us think that we don’t deserve the same compassion and empathy and faith that we so willingly extend?

It’s 2016. There’s so much in store for you friend. But are we going to give ourselves the grace to grow and process, or are we going to spend the year closed off, resentful, for the fact that we aren’t who we thought we would be.

These five words to let it be a process are my silent, internal prayer. They’re the words I’m writing on my mirror, on the front of my planner, the words I’m whispering to myself throughout the day.

Let this year be a process. Let yourself receive grace. Yes, it takes time, but you are becoming. And the glory at the end is definitely worth the wait.

 

Amen.

 

Have Hope for Yourself

Have Hope for Yourself

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

I had a friend a few nights ago who sent out a text asking for help. She was hurting, the darkness reaching higher than she seemed to be able to get herself out of. She was needing her people to battle this with her, and so she reached out and asked us to contend in the late hours of the night. And as I received her message and began to pray, I was filled with so much hope. Because I love this friend and I can see the hope and the favor and the grace that covers her life. I can see that heaviness and despair are not the defining marks of her story. I believe that what God says is true, that He is with her, He will not leave her, that His promises to her hold true. And so I prayed these things and I hurt, and in that quiet hour of the morning, I felt a stirring in my heart for a similar thing, only this time it was also for myself. I felt this small whisper that said, “Hey, Mary Cate, you can hope for yourself in this way too.” And that surprised me, because through this prayer for my friend I came to find that I am way more hopeful for others than I am for myself.

And isn’t that how it always works? We pray, and contend, and support, and see past our friend’s weaknesses and their struggles and grab hold of the promise of breakthrough, but when the table is turned and we’re the ones needing help, it feels so hopeless, like there’s no way we’re ever making it out of this. We can’t seem to see or believe that the same God who is working in the hearts of others is alive and active in our own hearts, and is willing beyond measure to help us heal and grow, too.

I’m so guilty of this–believing that my sin and my sadness and the messy parts of my life are never going to leave me. And in some degree that’s true, because we live in a broken world. But in this conversation I was having with God and myself, I realized that by denying myself the right to hope for my own growth and healing, by denying myself the belief that God cares about my freedom and my healing too, that I was not allowing myself to fully live into the promises of God. I was refusing to live into the healing and relationship and grace He was offering me right now. And I bet a lot of the time you aren’t letting yourself live this way either. Because we live in a world that says that you must fix yourself, and you’re not lovable until you do.

But the truth is that we serve a loving and compassionate God who will never leave us in our process. We can breathe. We can trust. We can hope.

What do you think would happen if you chose to believe that God and others care about you just as much as you care about others? What would happen if we chose to extend grace to ourselves, to breathe and to hope for what is to come, instead of shaming ourselves for being less than we thought we would be by this time?

As always, I don’t have all the answers yet. I’m just beginning to process this idea. But for today, I’m choosing to hope for myself in the way that I choose to hope for the people that I love. I’m choosing to rest and be kind to myself, to allow the scary and messy parts to come home and be welcomed into what God is doing in my heart. I’m believing that I will always grow, that I will always come to know and love Jesus and others more and more, that God cares about me deeply, and that He is helping me become.

And that hope makes the promise of change just a little bit easier. Even still, the change isn’t really even the goal, deep relationship with Jesus is the goal. For without Him and the revelation of His Great Love, the good that comes out of me would be entirely in vain. There would be nothing substantial about it.

Romans 5:3-5 is stirring in my heart as I think about this newfound hope I have for this process. It says, “ Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Hope is coming my friends. Hope is already here. Even in the process, even in the darkest places in your soul.

You will not always be where you are today. The Father is coming to rescue you, to breathe life once again into your weary soul. Like the Christmas hymn says, The thrill of Hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. You can rejoice for today. You can have hope for yourself. Take a breathe, rest. And choose once again to trust, to believe, and to hope. Abba’s taking care of you. Amen.

Grace for the Gaps

Grace for the Gaps

“In the thin air of advent, you may not even know how to say it out loud: ‘I thought it would be easier.’ And your God comes near: I will provide the way. You may not even know who to tell: ‘I thought it would be different.’ And your God draws close: I will provide grace for the gaps. You may not even know how to find the words for it: ‘ I thought I would be… more.’ And your God reaches out: I will provide me.

God gives God, That is the gift God always ultimately gives. Because nothing is greater and we have no greater need. God gives God. God give God, and we only need to slow long enough to unwrap the greatest gift with our time: time in His Word, time in His presence, time at His feet…

Advent is the time to see the tree in your thicket and whisper the echoing words of your God: Now I know. Now I know: ‘Since You did not spare Your only Son, how will You not also graciously give us–even me– all things you know I need?’ (Romans 8:32).”

–Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

Oh, this season of Advent. Oh, this season of my life. It is so funny the way things start to piece together when you slow down enough to really see them. And in a semester that really felt like I never got on the right foot, where I started running full force and really stumbled through the entire thing, the last week or so has been like a shock to my system. I’ve had a lot of slow and quiet time. A lot of walks in Sequoyah, pausing to sit and soak in the sun and the Son, a quiet and a stillness that I used to really know but had become unfamiliar with.

And in this stillness, in the quiet waiting of Advent, I’ve been able to see how my desires and my reality and my ideas about how things should go do not always line up with what God is wanting to do.

I’ve had unreasonably high expectations for what it would be like to be engaged. And who doesn’t, really? I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, “You must be so happy! You have everything you’ve ever wanted!” And it probably appears that way, because we all put forth our best selves on social media, but I hope that I’ve become transparent enough for you all to see that I am a real person and life can be hard and so good all at the same time, and I’m choosing to wrestle through it all instead of putting up the facade that everything is always sunshine and roses. Life is glorious! But the glory comes from being friends will all the pieces of my heart, not just the shiny ones.

And I’m growing to love the man I’m marrying more and more every day. It’s not the same relationship we had this time last year when we were just starting to talk about creating a life together forever (yes we talked about getting married really early on in our relationship–remind me to tell you that story another time because it’s a great one). But it’s so much better. We’re growing and wrestling. We’re just becoming real. And there are a lot of places in our lives right now where it feels like there are huge, gaping gaps and we can’t fill them in no matter how hard we try. Colton is living in Texas, working a ton of hours, going to school, leading a lifegroup, discipling guys, and lots of other amazing but very busy things. I’m living in Knoxville going to school and doing a lot, but at the same time, I’ve been focusing a lot on the next season of my life and feeling hurt that it hasn’t been reciprocated in the way I thought it would be or wanted it to be. For Colt, preparing for the next season of our lives looks like growing with God and being faithful to what He has asked him to do in Texas. He’s building character. And while that should be my preparation too (and has been to some degree), I’ve also been trying to jump the gun and be totally connected and on the same page about everything and totally confident about our entire future, and you see where this is going with all my unrealistic and unmet expectations. I’ve been trying to build the life we will have together before it’s time to really step into that life. I’ve been preparing for the next season and robbing myself of a lot of the joy that comes with the season I’m actually in.

And I think for a long time, Colt and I have both been digging and shoving and demanding that the other person pull their weight to fill in the longings that we have. Colt is longing for support and encouragement to do what he is doing, and I’m longing for connection and attention and validation that this is hard. And it’s easy for us to push back and get angry and defensive and say again, “But no, you just don’t understand, I need… You’re not…” and let it be a wounding thing. But thankfully, a few nights ago Colt was brave enough and loving enough to quietly knock on the door of my heart and say, “Lovey, I really can’t do it all. And I just need grace. Grace to be where I’m at, to be fully present where I am. Grace to not pursue you in the way that you need to be pursued. Grace to fail you where you’re longing for me to come through. Grace for this to be a process.” And while that really sucked to hear at first, it shook me and totally humbled me. But it also freed us up, because now we can move towards one another not our of obligation, but out of love.

See, (pardon my language) entitlement is a bitch that blinds and sinks its claws into our hearts and demands, “No grace, no grace, no grace.” There is no room for other people to fail because their failure becomes less than we deserve, and we deserve it, and so we better get it. Whatever it is. That other person is obligated to do it, because we deserve it and need it. For me, I want to be pursued, and adored, and fought for, and sacrificed for, and a lot of other things that sound really noble and right, but are heavy, heavy burdens for another person to bear when they become demands. Slowly over time, as I’ve become aware of my own neediness (which I have ran from for years and tried to avoid), I’ve placed more and more responsibility on Colton instead of taking these aching places to God. I’ve given Colton little bits of rocks, and now it has become a really heavy load. There have been a lot of times in the past semester that I’ve basically stood and pointed to that gaping hole in me and yelled at Colton, “FILL THIS! This is your job!! Help me feel better! Help me fix this!” And if the truth is that I can’t fix myself, then it has to be true that Colt definitely cannot fix me. It’s just time to let him set down the rocks and breathe.

It’s so painful to realize how you’ve hurt the person you love more than anything, and to realize just how much I’ve been writing a story of heartache and woe instead of weaving a story of grace and redemption. I’ve been pointing my finger, and screaming that it’s hard, instead of being thankful, and believing that God really does have good things for me in this season, that He’s using everything for my good.

In all of this process, I’m learning that God has grace to fill in the gaps, because they were His to fill in the first place. The longings of Advent and the longings in my own heart line up so well because we’re always longing for something, and when we come face to face with that longing, when we befriend it instead of pushing it away, we open up the door for that longing to be satisfied my our Father, a scalding burn rubbed with ointment from our Daddy’s hand. Comfort and joy coming out of the pain. It hurts a lot of the time, but the relief really comes when we run to Him and stop trying to fix it ourselves.

God is so good to give us what we need, especially when it looks a lot different than we thought it would. And sometimes, we have to (with the help of Jesus) take the claws of entitlement out of our own hearts and out of the hearts that we’ve hurt along the way in our attempt to take control and gain what we desire. I’m having to repent. I’m having to confess that I am needy, and I’m having to take that need to Jesus instead of to my people, so that I can love and receive love, no strings attached. When I go to the well of Living Water, I don’t have to drink up other people’s energy, emotions, and gifts. I can receive the love they have the ability to offer and thank God, I can call it good. God can take the little that we have to give and multiply it like the fishes and the loaves. God has the grace to fill in the gaps, to come through in ways that we don’t.

I really don’t have anything figured out, but I’m learning to trust that He’s faithful, that He will not let us fall. He has grace to fill in the gaps.

He has grace for us all.