Dear heart.

I sat in a circle of fourteen teenage girls and felt the space between us become heavy as stories of incredible pain and suffering were shared.

“I want each of you to share a brief timeline of your life. The big stuff. The stuff that marked some type of transition for you.”

Oh, my heart. It twisted and turned as I listened to each girl recall her own personal story marked by unique struggles, passions, and victories. The sorrow was almost tangible in the room as they described hearts trampled by boys, feelings of inadequacy leading to eating disorders, and broken homes. Each story was so different. No pain was exactly the same. No two hearts had identical breaks and bruises. Still, the underlying theme was always the same. We live life and we get hurt. We cause hurt. We are frail human beings, living in a world stained by affliction.

These sweet, sweet girls are so young. Their lives aren’t even halfway through and they have lived through unimaginable grief. They are growing up in a turbulent era in which terrorist attacks, online bullying, and divorce are more “normal” than one would hope. Despite the hopeless impression this world can give, their stories weren’t all hurt. Each one contained pieces of stunning redemption.  Places where tragedy and chaos met healing and understanding. Places where ugliness was transformed into beauty.

I sat in a coffee shop with a stranger yesterday. A friendly, “Hey, can you believe how cold it is outside?!” turned into a two hour conversation. After a short exchange of niceties, it quickly became apparent that neither of us was good at surface-level conversation. I didn’t even know her name before I knew a good portion of the struggles she had faced throughout her life. As I told her my own story, she took the necklace she had been wearing from her neck and placed it in my hand.

It was a key with the word “Courage” engraved on it.

I looked up from my palms to her eyes as she told me, “Your story is one of courage. You are a leader of leaders. You are walking confidently on the path that God has called you to and you are sharing your story with others. That takes courage.”

Growing up, I always thought that courage was for fairytales- for knights fighting fire-breathing dragons and princesses escaping the wrath of evil witches. I thought it was for soldiers who bravely fought to protect and defend their home country. I thought it was for firefighters and policeman. I never thought it was for me.

I was reading a book just the other day that flipped my idea of courage on its head. The author made a claim that forced me to stop and rethink the definition that I had attached to the word “courage” for so long. He made the claim that courage isn’t defined by bold acts, it’s all about the heart. In fact, courage and the heart are one in the same, he said. The word itself comes from the Old French “ceur,” derived from the Latin “cor,” meaning heart.

This life that we are living takes a great deal of courage – that becomes obvious after you sit in a room full of sobbing teenage girls sharing their deepest pains and greatest victories with each other for two and a half hours.

You don’t have to slay dragons or fight a war to have courage. Sure, it’s bold and brave to fight enemies in the form of animals and dictators, but we must realize that our brokenness is its own type of enemy too, and our courage lies in our ability to face that brokenness and make it into something beautiful.

We must embrace our stories. We must embrace the brokenness and the pain. We must have courage enough to tell our stories to friends on a living room floor, to strangers in coffee shops on Tuesday afternoons, to the masses. We must have courage enough to live this life with our whole heart, despite the inevitable hurt we will suffer as a result of it. And then we must have enough courage to stick around and watch as God redeems every single broken part, piece by piece. 

Our stories don’t define us. Our circumstances don’t define us. Our courage to live through them and speak of the magnificent redemption that takes place does.

Prayers to my Maker

I pray to you tonight and find in my words a beauty whose traces have been unseen for a while. This honesty…this transparency… It’s refreshing. It’s real.

You are here. You are with me tonight.

I sit still and breathe in your magnificence. I am humbled by your great love as I become painfully aware that I am unable to reflect it back to you in the same way.

This love is a broken one from my end. Yet yours is whole. Unconditional and perfect. You love me still.

I sit in awe of your strength. My life so small. My heart so fragile. Your whispered words settle deep in my soul. With you, I become infinite. My weakness dissipates as I look in the mirror at a warrior.

Your gentle affirmations bring peace.

You are here. You are with me tonight. You, sweet Lord, You are faithful.

Honesty Warfare

“If this is the last conversation we have, I need you to know something. You’re easy to love, okay? You are easy to love.”

He said it so plainly. I looked at him as the corners of his mouth turned up into that smooth smirk I had come to adore. His eyes were full to the brim with sincerity. He meant it. Even as goodbye fell from my lips, he meant it.

Two months ago I started fighting a battle. It was September. Feelings of bitterness had seeped into my body leaving me drained of all my energy, patience and joy. I was angry. I was ready to start a war.

So I did.

The fight was static for two long months. No progress was made. The pain only intensified. The longing in my heart still unsatisfied. Until the end of October brought a shocking blow…the realization that when I started this war two months ago, I wasn’t fighting against my enemy. I had declared battle against the only one who could actually save me. I was fighting my only defense. 

You see, I was mad at God. I was frustrated because out of everyone I know, I seem to be the only one who isn’t allowed to have it “good.” I seem to be the only one who has to come “home” to Hell each night. I seem to be the only one who has to sit and watch as addiction sucks the life out of the people who are supposed to be taking care of me and loving me. Years of neglect has led me to internalize the lie that I am impossible to love, impossible to care about, because my own family can’t seem to find me more appealing to love than a bottle of vodka or a cheap joint. Years of helpless by-standing has led to deterioration of hope and as a result, confusion about who is to blame for such seemingly undeserved pain.

So began a toxic cycle of claiming that I loved the same God who I had blamed for my circumstances. My sentences were my swords, each word sharp and piercing as I denounced God for not giving me a miracle, for not making my parents love me. As bitterness consumed me, I turned to people to perform the miracles I hoped and prayed so fervently for instead.

The thing is, humans can’t replace God. We can’t place tiny, fragile, finite people in the role of a gigantic, strong, infinite God and then ask them to succeed. Our expectations will crush them. It will break us.

So came the end of October. The realization that I was fighting my only hope for survival. The realization that I was living a lie. The realization that I had work to do. The battle field wasn’t meant to be between me and God. It was meant to be between me and the Enemy. Between me and the lies.

It’s been six days. The process has been slow, but steady. It has been good.

This time is for healing. Real healing. Not for learning how to become numb to the pain again. It’s for beating the lies and the bitterness. It’s for fighting my battle the right way this time around. For relying on gigantic, strong, and infinite power.

It starts with baby steps. Telling myself something true each day. And the current truth I choose to hold onto is that sweet reminder from the boy I love dearly. The one who spoke loud and clear the words that God had been gently whispering to me for so long.

I am loved. I am easy to love.