On Leaving Peaks and Pieces of my Heart Behind, And Lessons in Contentment

peaksOkay, okay, so perhaps it was a little ambitious and naive of me to expect that I would be able to keep up with Writing 101 during such a hectic time. I mentioned earlier this month that in the coming weeks, I’d explain why it’s been so hectic. At the time, I wasn’t quite at liberty to say because there were still some people I needed to tell in person before I broadcast it all over the internet. But now that that’s all said and done, here goes:

I am moving back to Massachusetts.

This winter was rough. I know now it wasn’t just rough for me. But at the time, I was all I was thinking about. I hinted at it in my writing, and griped about it to my friends: I was lonely. And I didn’t like it. And I didn’t even really pray about it, either to be okay with the loneliness, or to not be lonely anymore. I just sort of knew that that season in my life was about learning to be okay alone on a completely different level. But I tried to just push through it on my own instead of asking God for help or putting myself out there to be around other people more. And it didn’t work out so well.

You know the old adage, “Once I was okay without _______________, then it just came when I was least expecting it!”? You’ve heard the stories before. “Once I was finally content with being single, I met my spouse!” “Once I was okay with not having my dream job, I got offered an even better one!” So, this is one of those. But read my words carefully: this is not a formula. I am not trying to sell you something. I am not trying to tell you, “Just be okay with being single, and before you know it, your future spouse will show up!” or, “Just be okay with living in an apartment, and before you know it, you’ll have the chance to buy your dream home!” or any of the other things we set our hearts on. Because you know what? If the end goal is a spouse or a home or a job or anything else, our hearts are still set on the wrong thing.

Contentment is important. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that God wants us to be content. And there’s a whole lot wrapped up in that word, in that idea. Paul said that he learned to be content in any situation, whether he had a lot or he had a little. Because the one constant in Paul’s life? God. Like Kari Jobe croons on her new (and magnificent, if I might say) CD, “If I have You, I have everything/But without You, I have nothing.” Paul could say that he had learned contentment, whether his belly was full, or it was empty. Whether he was married or single. Whether he had his dream job or didn’t. Whether he had a mansion or a shack. Whether he drove a Ferrari or a beat-up Broncho. Those things were just that—things. They didn’t have the power to sway his contentment. Those things didn’t determine it.

You see, God isn’t some cosmic gumball machine in the sky. He’s very much concerned with the affairs of humankind. I know plenty of people who would beg to differ, considering the current state of the world in which we live. I can understand that. I don’t agree with it, but I understand. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that there is supposedly a powerful and loving God, and yet He seems to refrain from intervening in some devastating and heartbreaking situations. Why do children get cancer and die? Why do natural disasters ravage entire communities? Why do groups of people enact grave acts of terror on others? And if there is this God who can do something about all of it, why doesn’t He?

It may not seem logical when I tell you that I believe in a God who cares about the goings-on of the world He created, yet mysteriously chooses to allow some of the things He does. But I do. I believe in a God who allows the world He created to experience the effects of rebelling against Him, while simultaneously reaching down in grace to redeem that rebellious world to Himself. And I believe He cares about this little heart of mine. I believe He cares about what it sets its affections on more than giving it everything it fancies. And I believe that He knew that at this time in my life, I needed to get this contentment lesson down just a little more. That was so much more important than where I ended up or what I got in the end. But He’s behind all that, too.

It wasn’t about getting off this island or getting more friends or not being so lonely anymore. I won’t say it was like God waved a wand at me, and, “Poof!” I woke up one morning and was magically happy with my life on this island and content to stay. It was a gradual coming, and it was a choice. His grace and love and patient pursuit played a part, but He didn’t force Himself on me, or make the choice for me. It came slow, but when it did, I knew: I was content to live this life as it had been given, on this island and in this community. I was excited. I wanted to be here. I was looking forward to summer with my church family, and the new adventures awaiting us. I had become grateful, on a level I hadn’t been, for the people surrounding me. And all that’s wrapped up in contentment? Gratitude. That’s a big part of it, if not the whole of it. Being thankful for what you’ve been given. My eyes had been opened to just how much of a blessing the people surrounding me had been. Beau and Michelle, I hope you read this because I’m gonna brag on you two for a minute. These two have become my family up here. They drove over in the snow to pick me up the night I broke up with my boyfriend so I didn’t have to spend the night alone. They let me sit in their kitchen and cry and vent for hours. They let me share my heart with them, and they shared theirs with mine. They let me borrow their van on countless occasions so I’d have a way to get around on the mainland. They let me love on their kids, and let them love me. There are plenty of people I have in my life who tell me they love me, and I don’t doubt for a second that they do. These people are no exception. Even from the time that I first got up here, they’d tell me that, which I thought was strange because they hardly knew me. But I knew they were sincere.

There was a gradual awakening to all that I had taken for granted, and to the fact that I really wasn’t alone. Even in the midst of my madness, in the throes of my lowest moments, He was there. He is here. Holding me. And He had surrounded me with people who showed up and said, “You matter to us. You are loved. You’re not alone. We’re here for you.” And when I woke up to that, I was overcome with gratitude. And that just opened up all kind of space in my heart for hope for the future as I had seen it: here, on this island, with these people I had come to love, who loved me. It had happened. I had become content. And I was excited.

So when I met with a Christian financial counselor to help me sort out part of the mess I’d made this winter, moving was not on my radar. She’d asked if I’d be willing to make some radical changes, and I said I was. But I was blindsided when she suggested I move back home to save some money and thus pay off my student loans faster. Well, my parents live in an apartment complex, and without going into detail, the management will not allow my brother or I to live there. I figured that had answered the question for me: moving wasn’t an option. And I was relieved. But I told my financial counselor that I was willing to look into other options, and I was. So I did. As much as I wanted to stay and was convinced that I was going to, I knew that I hadn’t exhausted all of my options. So I sent a couple messages. One was to some friends back in Massachusetts that I knew had housed another friend of mine, who had since moved. I reached out and asked if they’d be willing to have me. They were. My parents were buying a new car. They would give me the old one. Housing: check. Transportation: check. It seemed as though things were falling into place and after much praying, I felt as though I couldn’t deny that God was leading me in this direction. I’d also reached out to the pastor of the church I left when I moved here to the island when I was exploring my options. He’d said it was “funny” I contacted him when I did; he had been thinking and praying about the children’s ministry. Well, I have years of experience and training in this area, not to mention I love kids and believe that God has gifted me with teaching. We met. He wanted to take me on as the children’s ministry director. It seemed as though God’s fingerprints were all over this entire situation, and it would be foolish to deny that. And while I would have loved for a ministry opportunity like this to present itself right after I finished college and had no idea what I was doing, I wasn’t ready.

I can’t even say I really feel like I am now. But I will say I was in a much less qualified place to serve in such a capacity when I was a bright-eyed recent college grad who thought she had the world at her fingertips. “I’m young! I’m smart! I’m capable! I’m trained! If anyone’s cut out for ministry, it’s me, God. Okay, where’s my chance?” It hadn’t come then because I was too proud. After this winter, I felt like such a wreck and totally unqualified for any such position. I was humbled. The last thing I’d do would be to seek it out on my own. But when I have those Moses moments and am tempted to think, “I can’t do this!” I remember how He’s orchestrated it all. It’s not my doing. It’s His. He’s gifted me this way. He’s given me the opportunities to be trained in this area. He’s put me in a position to be able to move back and save money, and minister in the church that I grew up in and helped shape me into a woman who tries to follow Him. And I have to say, I’m excited.

I will miss Peaks terribly. And I will miss my church family. I will miss the Boyles. I will miss Livie calling me Tammy, and then catching herself and correcting it to Tamara. I will miss baby Gigi’s toothy grin. I will miss hugs from Jojo and Mimo. I will miss my best ASL student, Brady. I will miss Nicholas always saying hi to me in the store. I will miss too many people and too many things to list. But just like the place to which I’m returning shaped me as I grew up, Peaks and my little church have played a huge part of shaping my life over the past two years. And while it hurts to say goodbye, just as I was content to stay, I am content to leave. Because the one constant is God. And I’m learning once again to set my heart on Him. Not on people, not on a place, not on a job. People are important and hold special places in my heart. This place has a piece of it, too. But neither have the whole of it. That’s reserved for God alone. That’s the aim. The rest of it is peripheral. The marriage and the job and the house may come, but even if they don’t, God is here. He is constant. And He is enough. Always enough.

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Where My Soul Calls Home–clicking heels, time-and-space travel, and brainstorming meetings with not-so-strangers. (Writing 101 Day 2)

Writing 101 Day 2
Today’s assignment begins with a question: “If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?
The assignment? Write about this place. The twist? “Organize your post around the description of a setting.”

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I close my eyes and click my proverbial heels.

I am transported through space and time to a place that is limited by neither.

I find myself upon a shore, sinking bare feet into sand while waves wash upon them. The sun is just starting to set over the oaks behind me. You walk toward me.

You and I, we make our way up the winding, narrow, boarded path to the cozy cottage that sits upon the hill, tucked behind trees whose branches make just enough space to view the shore through the bay window, the one with the bench seat littered with brightly colored pillows.

You and I, we sit in that cozy living room sipping tea. Maybe you prefer coffee. Or something cold. But I wrap my hands around ceramic and sip while you do the same with your drink of choice. We’ll sit across from one another, I with my feet curled up beneath me on the beige love seat, enveloped by more plush, oversized pillows. I’ll set my tea down on the vintage, light blue, three-legged end table next to me and hug one of those pillows, set my chin upon it. You’ll sit in the oversized chair opposite me. Maybe put your feet up on the ottoman, and maybe you set your forearms on your legs and lean forward. Books are scattered on the coffee table constructed of old pallets sitting between us, and line floor-to-ceiling shelves that enclose us in this room small enough to feel safe without being confining. But not even they could catch the attention of a bibliophile such as myself, because you and I, our eyes are locked on one another.

You and I, we have all the time in the world—because time doesn’t exist here. We’ve not lost a minute of our lifetime sitting here for what feels like hours to our time-confined bodies. We don’t look down at wrists wrapped with a banded face that tell us we’re slaves to its ticking hands: it’s time go to work, time to go to bed, time to go on to do more important things. This, you and me, right now, this is what matters.

Maybe you laugh. Maybe you cry. I likely do both. We speak, and we listen. Gold in worden form pours out from our lips and floats through the air, deposits into ears and brains, and really, hearts. We’re the rich ones. We know we’ve found what’s valuable here. We exchange stories, share dreams and fears. But I try to mostly listen, and then tell you that I understand. I understand your heart dreams big and yearns for bigger things. And that fear threatens to hold you back from those things. Then I tell you, “You can do this.” I put that pillow down and we both stand up. I walk toward you and reach my arms around your neck. We embrace. I whisper it again. “You can do this. I know you can.”

We’re ready now. We’re ready to leave this place, to return to a world where time rules. But we know. We know that even in a world where the clock tells us when to eat, when to sleep, when to work, we can carve holes into the hours that make up days to live outside of ourselves. To fulfill the dreams that were planted in our hearts, dreams to take the way we’re made and bring it to the world in a way that makes a difference. I write. Maybe you paint, and maybe you sing. Maybe you build houses, and maybe you teach. But we both know we needed this, and we’re ready to return to time. I walk with you out the screen door, into twilight, back down that path, back to the shore, and wave goodbye as waves approach my toes. I stand awhile on my own to take one last drink of this place, with its fragrant sea spray and emerging stars.

But I always come back here. This is the place I go when I’m aching for connection and difference-making. This is the place tucked into the location of my mind that hungers for more, that knows it’s made for more than thinking small and only about me. This is the place I go to when I need to be inspired, when I need to rekindle the fire that fuels the forward motion, the growing and seeking and learning I have so much more to learn still. This is the place I go, because sitting with strangers like we are kindred spirits reminds me that we are all unique. We all have been written different stories. But the common strand that runs through each of them is that we all must overcome adversity. Jesus promised His followers they’d have trouble, but to take heart. I think it’s clear this world is full of trouble, for all of us. And the part of our stories we get to write is how we tackle the trouble. Do we not tackle it at all? Do we lay down and let it wash over us, let it whisk us away to drown in a swelling sea? Or do we build a boat to ride upon it, above it? This is what inspires. This is the stuff of meetings with strangers in a cozy seashore cottage, who really aren’t strangers at all, because we all have boats to build to really live. When you sit and tell me how you’ve constructed boats in the past, this is how I know: You can do this. You’ve done it before, and now it’s a different shore with different building materials, but they are there. You can do this. And if you can do this, I can, too. Oh, and when we both need to be reminded of that? That gray-blue cottage with the white trim and porch, the one with window boxes filled with pansies and alyssum, is just a heel-click away. I’ll meet you there, where you and I steal away from time to drink some tea and do some boat-building brainstorming.

Til then.

Welcome Back, Tamara (Writing 101 Day One: Free Write, and Happy 1 Year Anniversary with WordPress to Me!)

It’s been a while again, I know. But I’ve found just the thing, I think (I hope), to get me back on track with writing consistently. WordPress has a twenty-day writing challenge called “Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit.” That’s what I need!—to build a blogging habit. So here goes. This month is going to be pretty hectic for reasons I’ll reveal in the coming weeks, so sticking with this for the entire twenty days will be tough. But I’m up for the challenge!

Today’s prompt was to free write for twenty minutes. Today’s twist? Post the result on my blog. So, I sat on my porch and set a timer on my phone for twenty minutes. Then I set pen to paper and didn’t stop until that timer went off. Here is the result, transposed to computer screen for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

PS-Wordpress informed me when I logged in to post this that today marks the one-year anniversary of my blog, OnceLost,NowFound! Hooray!

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There is much to be done.

This month is going to be a crazy one.

But in good ways.

A crazy one, yet at the start, I take twenty minutes to sit. To sit and smell alyssum while I write, following Writer’s 101 prompt. This “course” comes at what may seem like an impromptu time, but right now, I’m welcoming it.

Life is always crazy in one way or another, right? And if this writing endeavor is to be a serious one, I need to learn to write amidst the chaos. A lot of times, in fact, chaos fuels creativity. So I welcome the fuel. And this month’s adventures will provide plenty of writing material.

Things will come to fruition that are perfectly planned—like the lesson in Sunday School yesterday (was it really just yesterday?) on the widow with the oil jars. God’s provision is right on time, but often requires humble faith and obedience on our part.

Humble faith and obedience.

That’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? First, we must humble ourselves before God—admit we need Him, that He knows better than us. We have to believe He is good and holy and trustworthy. Then, if we trust Him, doesn’t it follow that we’ll do what He says? That He knows what He’s doing, even if we don’t? That ultimately, it’s for His good and our glory?

It should.

But it doesn’t always.

It hasn’t always in my life. But I’ve found that most of the time, my disobedience doesn’t start at the last step. It usually isn’t that I admit God knows better and that I believe He has my best interest at heart, and then simply refuse to do what He says. Oh, I’d say I believe. But really, most of my disobedience stems from my pride and/or disbelief that God really does know and want, more than I do, what’s best for me—and those around me. Because ultimately, it’s not about me. Sacrifice and surrender are painful, but to pour into others, we must be poured out. And Jesus considered such—in the worst way imaginable—to be joy. To suffer more than anyone else has suffered, in order to pour out His blood so His Spirit could be poured into us, was joy to Him. Do I think He was jumping up and down to approach Golgotha? No. The account of His agony approaching that point in the garden of Gethsemane tells us otherwise. But when He thought about the future suffering He’d face, He considered it joy to know that the Father would accept His sacrifice on behalf of sinners like you and me.

Suffering is not fun. It’s not supposed to be.