Concept: You're 17 and you go attend your dream college where you share a suite with 7 other girls and your campus overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Here, you find Home. You're 18 and you pack your bags for Germany where you live with 51 fellow students in a historic mansion down the street from a castle, fully aware that this is as close to a fairytale as it gets. Here, you find Community. You're transported back to Malibu to live with 3 incredible women who will be your roommates for the remainder of college and you grow up together, supported by life-changing friends, professors, and mentors. Here, you find Faith. After graduation, at 21 you move to Pasadena where you encounter expensive rent, mammoth student loans, and terrible landlords. Here, you find Failure. You're 22 and living out of a suitcase, splitting time between Northern CA and Southern CA every other month, yet it all seems worth it. Here, you find Love. You're 23 and back at your parents' house, working a million hours, and it's straining your relationships and your health to a breaking point, but you stay the course. Here, you find Sacrifice. You're 24 and you've paid off your student loans and your best friend invites you to come live with her in the most beautiful home tucked into the scenic mountains of Calabasas. Here, you find Generosity. You're 26 and you notice that all this time is passing by too quickly and that maybe you have the wrong priorities and so you say yes to a call, you drop everything, and you walk towards the unknown. Here, you find Courage. You're 27 and wander around the world across 13 countries and, in addition to the strangers you share space with, beauty, wonder, exhaustion, and adversity become your roommates. Here, you find Surrender. And this all brings you to today. You're coming up on 28 and you get the keys to your own apartment in a city that you've only ever spent a week in and you don't have a job yet to pay for this apartment but you know that in this spot, you are meant to begin again...
28 feels good, friends. There have been a few seasons of my adult life where I’ve felt immeasurable amounts of joy and peace, but this moment right now in February of 2019 is starting to shine brighter still. God has been sending me blessing after blessing in the form of people. Watching his magic unfold through relationships has truly put me at a loss for words, which is perhaps why I’m trying so hard to find them and put them here. It helps me hold on to the good. I don’t want to miss a single detail of the grace moments, from the grand and obvious to the humble and hidden.
I decided I would move to Denver in February of last year. Well, my gut did. And then it took about nine more months for my head and heart to catch up. Friends and family have asked me, so why Denver? And the sincerest answer I can give is that the decision just came to me. Even before I departed on my travels last year, I felt that there was a voice telling me, “You’ll go, you’ll return, you’ll be different, and you must go somewhere you can grow.” An idea will come out of seemingly nowhere — but I’m realizing that nowhere is actually a somewhere and that it’s precisely the place where God meets me. Perhaps, that’s where he meets all of us. Our hindsight, our conscience, our coincidences, our intuition, our lessons, our dreams, and our journeys. Could it be that God is meeting us at every turn in these things? Listening for those moments of direction has felt like freedom. It has enabled me to let go of the expectations I would otherwise have for my life and be open to God’s will for me. Life still demands dreaming, planning, action, and effort, but I’m clear on who is ultimately in control. I still too often fail to pause and listen, but I’m wholeheartedly working on it. I am living on scavenger hunt mode now and trying to pay close attention to the clues laid out before me. I’m learning to embrace the mystery of every faith-filled step, to reach for steady hands on the shakiest of ground.
This past year divided itself into three distinct periods. First, there were the three months of wrapping up responsibilities, spending time with my people before the inevitable goodbyes, and preparing to leave home. Second, there were the five months of traveling around the world. Third, there were the four months of returning, processing, and attempting to figure out my ever-changing way forward. If you had asked me to guess which of these periods would be the most beautiful, challenging, profound, and life-giving, there’s no doubt I would have said it’d be the five months spent traveling. But then October, November, and December happened — and that’s when the real growth occurred.
Over the last four months or so I’ve been experiencing chronic insomnia, depression, anxiety, emotional trauma, and physical pain. I cringe as I type that. It’s hard to live it. It’s hard to share it. To speak of it here feels like failure and weakness and honestly, just like a whole heap of unwanted drama thank you very much, which I know is my pride and ego fighting loudly for position. Some of it has been so all-consuming that I’ve simply sought to acknowledge it, hold it, and just see it for what it is. I’m constantly questioning if I’m doing enough and searching for additional sources of strength. Some days I’m not gaining any ground at all. I’m caught at a standstill and everything feels paralyzing. And yet in all this and more, God has met me with grace and peace. The kind of peace that we need to call upon often, daily or even hourly in my case. The kind of peace that surpasses understanding, as we say. It’s been a season that has taken my all and left me feeling brutally emptied and profoundly full at the same time.
Why is it whenever we seem to be approaching an upheaval of our current life that it starts to feel like we’re caught in a hurricane we didn’t see coming? In these transitions, chaos becomes our catalyst for change. The fire burns through all our bridges, making a way for refinement and offering proof of life. Everyone is hurting in some way and it’s pretty much all the time from my experience. It can look different for each person, but none of it is inconsequential. We get the good and hard in equal measure and the balance of those two things helps put everything into perspective. The beauty and wonder buoys us during the present sorrow. The fortunate thing though about hitting rock bottom is that it gives you a place to rise from. I am still dealing with all these realities of my health, but I’m moving through them and finding the purpose and lessons they have for me. If you ask me how I'm doing these days, I will say things are hard but good. It seems that the only proper response is to acknowledge that the two must coexist. I am learning the power of opposites and that each hold value.
I have not been employed since March 2018. Job success has not been on my mind. Rather figuring out my mind has felt like a full-time job. Past desires for a certain job title or salary or professional recognition have faded from view while personal struggles have found the time and space at last to emerge in plain sight. This in-between period has been both an uncomfortable and necessary blessing.
Back in December, I started looking for opportunities in Denver and inevitably began questioning myself. I haven’t been active in applying for a job in about six years so stepping back into that space left me feeling acutely vulnerable. I questioned my resume, my experience, my out-of-state location, my employment gap... all of it. At the suggestion of a friend, I met with an industry specialist at my alma mater’s career counseling center to get feedback and guidance on my applications. (Side note: may we never forget how crucial it is to seek counsel from older men and women!)
If you’re connected to Pepperdine, you may know Nancy Shatzer. She is an actual angel and also the person I met with. She asked me some questions about my experience, interests, and plans for Denver and then I handed her my resume and cover letter samples for review.
After a few minutes, Nancy tells me, “Well, what I see here is risk.”
I immediately thought, yikes, that’s terrible ...Help!
“You mean... like I’m a risk to potential employers…?” I ask.
Then after a smile, she explained, “No. I mean that you take risks. You went to the expensive college but worked hard to be here and pay for it. You left a stable agency job to go work for an unknown social startup in a brand new industry. Then you quit your job to go travel and see what the world had for you. Now you’re moving to a new city without the security of a job but with faith. I see risk and reward. That is your narrative, that is your story to tell.”
***I don’t know who you are, Nancy Shatzer, but I think I love you.***
I just sat there feeling totally struck and seen by a woman I had only known for ten minutes. That is the power of judicious counsel. It helps you see yourself clearly. It allays your fears. It builds your confidence to breathe easier and aim higher.
My current goal is to remain within the marketing world in some capacity as I settle in to this incredible new city and enjoy being rooted in one place for awhile. I am beautifully in over my head and every day I am trying to have patience with myself and my circumstances. All that aside though, the most exciting thing to come out of this season has been a blazing desire for a second-era career change in the next two to three years. It is a direction that is full of risk. It will involve going back to school, taking on student loans again (something I’ve said over and over that I’d avoid), diving deep into difficult subject matter, building my own business, and more. I see a long road stretched out before me and every step of the process feels exciting and full of purpose and possibility. It’s a path that never occurred to me up until this point and now that I see it, so much of my life is taking on a new meaning in the light of it.
Faith is filled with the unexpected. From what I’ve seen of God thus far in my life, I know this to be true: he brings us from ruin to redemption and transforms our brokenness into beauty. I am grateful. Undone, in fact. I have finally started to see how some of my past experiences and pain have prepared me for the good that awaits, and it’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever known. When we’re in the middle of the hurricane we question everything. But the questions are not meant to be “How can there be a God that allows this?” or “What can I do to stay safe?” The questions we might ask instead are “Is there a gift in the midst of this?” and “Is there an opportunity to grow stronger?” I’ve finally found what I’m meant to do with the time I’m given — well, in my immediate future, at least. H. Norman Wright once spoke of this type of searching: “I have learned that if you follow your tears, you will find your heart. If you find your heart, you will find what is dear to God. And if you find what is dear to God, you will find the answer to how you should live your life.” I want this for all my searching friends. The road is long and arduous, but the pursuit is everything.
When I turned 27 last year, I knew it would be a year of welcoming risk and holding fast to faith. They are lifelong themes I hope to keep close and carry forward as this chapter comes to a close. Now 28, my goals are centered on finding healing and accepting love. I have yet to take my biggest risks and learn my hardest lessons. I can feel it in my bones: This is a season of receiving, the next one will be of giving.
Some people memorize sports stats or recipes or historical facts. I memorize quotes. So it’s gonna bug me forever that I can’t remember who to cite for this, but I recently heard someone say “intimacy is beyond fear” and it resonated deeply. Intimacy is found when we risk being seen, when we show up as our most authentic selves. The vulnerability that requires though is as terrifying as it is exhilarating.
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” It is this acceptance of risk and removal of fear that has led me to an intimate place with God. I’ve come to see how good it is to depend on someone whose strength and love is far greater than anything I’ve ever known.
One of my best friends has fallen in love with this awesome guy over this past year and it has been a joy to witness up close the beautiful ways their relationship has transformed her life and his as well. Falling in love is the best, isn’t it? Life stresses don’t seem to weigh you down as much. You have a kinder outlook. Colors become more vibrant. You finally see what all the poetry is about. And music, oh my goodness, all the songs feel real in a new, exciting way. It is the same when you fall in love with God, but it’s infinitely better.
My prayer to God going into my trip last year was simply this: God, be real in my life. Show me who you are, show me who I am, and help me to believe what you say. Teach me to chase your voice through the dark. Turns out we ended up writing a story about love together. And just like the songs, scripture now sounds sweeter too. The promises found there illuminate your becoming. At first you read the bible, but after some time it becomes more real and it feels like the words are reading you. So many of the verses that I’ve heard people say countless times before hit my ears like I was hearing them for the first time.
She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future. - Proverbs 31:25
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. - 2 Corinthians 12:9
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” - Jeremiah 29:11
On and on and on I return with a new heart able to receive the old promises.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. - Mark 12:30-31
The most important power the scriptures ask us to aspire to is the power of love. Love is something we can all agree on. We know that love accepts us, carries us, changes us, and heals us. So can we live that out? Can we believe together that love is the God, the thing, the name, the force, whatever, that we can call upon for the transformation of ourselves and our world?
I believe you can have good relationships, marriages, adventures, careers, and lives, without believing that love and goodness come from a God. After all, there are people everywhere creating beautiful lives for themselves and others who are not actively pursuing a relationship with God. But I also believe that if the source of your courage, compassion, and strength is you alone, then it’s not going to be enough. It’s not going to be all that it could be. Why would we want to live out our days remaining separate from the one who created love itself?
This past year has been a balance of community and withdrawal, of sharing things and hiding away. Some of my photos and words sit in these places, but my heart in all its pieces is forever a work in progress with only my God in the front row seat. My location kept changing, but of course the true compass only ever pointed inward. I deconstructed my faith once again. I wrestled with God. I hoped for a rebuilding that at times I wasn’t sure would come… I found myself saying, “After the years that I’ve known you, you’ve proven yourself and I’m asking you to do it all over again because last time wasn’t believable enough for me. Can you do it again? Can you still accept my weakness and my doubt and my confusion? How are you so patient? How can you still be this loving?” Maybe love really does cover. Maybe love really does bear all things. Maybe you do tell me who I am because it’s who you are. When I remove all the other distracting identities, labels, allegiances, and preoccupations, then it at last becomes clear. I see the one thing that defines me, anchors me, rescues me… the love of Jesus.
We all have these messy, thick layers of belief and identity and narrative that cling to us and shape how we see. The human psyche is a battleground for ideas — the battle is knowing what things you need to keep and what things you should discard. Sometimes when people say they’ve discarded their belief or trust in God, they are met with praise. There is so much hurt and confusion and abuse mixed in with our experiences that to divorce ourselves from a dependence on God can seem like the brave or enlightened choice. But from the 28 years I have to look back on, I see that God is chasing after me and you and us, no matter the wreckage we bring to each other and no matter what wrongs we try to attribute to our creator. Faith has become a decision I recommit to again and again. I’m drawn toward my beliefs through reason, yes, but it doesn’t really resemble a conclusion because it’s always an evolving relationship. Teach me, show me, guide me — because when I think I am full of the answers, not much changes. My hope is always that when someone has come to reason that there is no God or that God is not good, that they remain open to a different possibility still. We are invited to trust in something greater even though we aren’t seeing our miracle, healing, answer, breakthrough, etc in this moment. It takes discipline to remain hopeful. It takes courage to have faith.
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure, having given man dominion over His works! Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” - Helen Keller