I’ve been working on this piece for six months now, writing a bit, getting overwhelmed, putting it down, picking it up again a few weeks later, changing it, writing a little more, and getting overwhelmed again. Today I finally finished it, and while it may repeat some of the content of past blog posts, I think it is worth publishing in its entirety.
About 15 months ago I stood at the edge of a stage. Once I walked across it there would be no going back. I stood at the edge of true adulthood – the edge of adventure, of independence, of figuring it all out – whatever that meant.
Out in the audience somewhere my amazing boyfriend of four months sat with my overwhelmingly large family. My best friends in the whole world shuffled in their giant black gowns and ridiculously decorated caps. My professors sat sweating in their even more giant and ridiculous caps and gowns and robes and shawls and who even knows what else goes with those tacky outfits that prove you are worth your PhD in the field of “Using Your Brain Too Much.”
And I stood on the edge of a stage.
My beloved college advisor/professor/mentor/friend stood at the podium announcing the names of the History majors. And then she called my name, with a little tear in the corner of her eye as I recall it.
I walked with confidence toward her, gave her a hug, and then went on to collect my “degree” from President Gayle Beebe. We smiled for the idyllic grad picture, and I walked off the stage – into my future.
Of course, there wasn’t much for me to figure out. I had the perfect boyfriend. I had a wonderful, supportive family. I had big dreams and a means to accomplish them. And I had truly succeeded in college, socially, academically, and spiritually. I was on track to take on the world, and save it from itself.
Sure, not every detail was figured out, but I knew who I was, I knew I was capable, and I knew who I would be with and lean on when I couldn’t make it on my own. Right.
(To my friends who are heading into your final year of college or who have just graduated, it’s true what they say: your first year out of college will be nothing like what you expect or plan.)
It’s been over a year since I walked across that stage, and nothing, absolutely nothing, turned out as planned. Instead of confidently walking off that stage, it’s as if I tripped and fell for the next ten months, eventually crashing into the ocean and sinking to the very bottom.
I was supposed to spend my summer in Santa Barbara, hanging out with friends and my boyfriend, enjoying the beach, and helping my pastor start a college ministry. After about a month of this I quit and moved home to live with my parents because I was so utterly lonely, tired, and financially unstable.
I was supposed to move to Turkey in September and spend a year there learning Turkish, working with refugees, and discerning whether or not I should continue studying Turkish history in graduate school. I was supposed to rock at the whole cross-cultural living thing and successfully manage a long distance relationship at the same time. But again, four months into my year-long commitment, I quit. I returned home full of anxiety from living in an unfamiliar context and even more anxiety over a relationship that was falling to pieces.
To add to the emotional turmoil, my darling grandfather who had mentored and encouraged me my whole life passed away the day after Christmas.
So when I rolled into Santa Barbara again on January 24th, 2016 (jobless and homeless) in an effort to repair and rebuild my relationship with my boyfriend and find some stability, I was a wreck. I didn’t even really know who I wanted to be anymore, much less how I was going to figure any of it out.
I decided to cling to what I knew: God had a plan I couldn’t see and I was still madly in love with my boyfriend, despite the very real challenges to our relationship. Obviously then, I was in Santa Barbara for this relationship, and the rest of it would all get sorted out eventually.
The rest did get sorted. I, the History of the Middle East major, took a job in Real Estate and wound up in an apartment living with a girl I hardly knew. I found that both were a really good fit for me. But my love and I continued fighting. It became more and more apparent to me that he was so, so obviously not madly in love with me anymore.
He broke up with me a month after my return to Santa Barbara. To say I was crushed, well, let’s just say I’ve never cried so much in my whole life. It’s embarrassing to admit how broken I was, how desperate I felt, how empty, lost, and fearful I was. I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t eat. I lost 15 pounds and relied on NyQuil and Benadryl to knock me out for at least four or five hours of sleep each night.
At just the right moment when I couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around how and why God would ever let this happen to me, I came across this quote from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed:
God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.
Ha! Knock it down he did. Turns out my plans were pretty pathetic, and like I said, the wreck that I was when I returned from Turkey sunk down into the depths of the ocean.
But I didn’t remain there. That roommate I didn’t even know quickly became the hands and feet of Jesus to me, reminding me daily, “Beth, you are so taken care of.” My friends surrounded me with love and sleepy time tea and chocolate. My very new co-workers prayed over me week after week as I fought fear and bitterness. I began counseling for my anxiety. The Holy Spirit worked in my heart, directing me back to Truth. Through all of this my heart began to see things more clearly: I was guilty of, blind to, and now judge of the house of cards I had built around my success and idolatry of a relationship.
Eventually Truth became rooted in my heart and began healing the brokenness, lies, deceit, and fear on which I had built my kingdom. Those lies and fear were slowly replaced with Peace – my heart was unrecognizable to me some days, that is how much it was changing.
I, who thought I had it all together and all figured out, had nothing figured out. And it turns out that was exactly what I needed to figure out!
Slowly I realized there was actually only one thing I will ever need to know: that as I continue climbing back up from where I fell, I simply need to do so with my hands wide open, ready to receive what the Lord will give, ready to follow his direction rooted in the truth that his love is greater, his peace is stronger, and his joy goes deeper than any fear or anxiety.
I want to share more with you about how this Truth became rooted in my inner being, in my soul. I want to share with you my path to healing – a path I am still struggling to climb each and every day. (When you fall for ten months, it takes a very long time to get back up.) I want to share these things as a testament to how good and faithful and steadfast the Lord is! He is truly incredible. If he had never knocked down my house of cards, if I had never tripped off that staged, I would not know the joy it is that the Lord is rebuilding my life.
My next few blogs will focus on the nuggets of Truth I cling to every single day: Choose joy. Lean in. God is good. You are taken care of.
I hope that in my vulnerability you might find encouragement and safety, and ultimately “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”