Bittersweet: Write to Live

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Bittersweet. Over three years ago, I wrote a post with that title. At that time, I was in the middle of a transition like nothing else I had ever experienced before. New job, new church, new ministry opportunities, new home (actually, I had to move in with my dad for two months, as I was in between apartments—thanks, Dad), no longer using the degree I was paying off…generally everything I counted comfortable and certain from the previous few years had been turned upside down.

During those months, Father God loved me in a way I hadn’t fully experienced before. I was confident in his call on my life, but was as uncertain as the wind on just about everything else. For my birthday that fall, my older sister gifted me with a book that spoke to and held my heart in that season. She gave me Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way.

At the same time that I was reading Bittersweet, I was also seeing my counselor who not only helped me walk through the transitions but faithfully pointed me to Jesus in the process. I remember this one cloudy Thursday morning in particular. In between our chairs was a globe of the world and outside the rain-streaked window were lots of car lights. People going places. I felt stuck on something.

My counselor was reading my journal entries from the previous week, when he just stopped, looked up at me and asked a question I have hung onto ever since, “Rach, who are you when it’s just you and Jesus?”

That was something I thought about for a very long time—and something I still think about. Weeks later, I was able to tell him that my truest self is who I am on the pages of my journals. The prayers, the stories, the thoughts, the memories on those pages are the realest reflection of my relationship with Jesus.

In response to my answer to his question, he simply told me, “Write. Rachel, write often and much. Put it all down on these pages and pour out your heart to God.”

Over the years, I have continued to pour out the depths of my soul in tight, black letters of ink and smudgy tear spots. And over the years, I have also come to the realization that in some sense, my very life depends on writing. I write to feel, to understand, to live. I write because the deepest places of my heart need Jesus the most. And when the prayers and cries of my heart find their way onto paper, their verbal counterparts seem to be pulled from my lips in audible words to Jesus.

Sometimes, I get too busy, too tired, or too sad to write. Sometimes, I have no energy to give words to the dark, deep places of my soul. But in this bittersweet season of change, I have been compelled to once again take my counselor’s advice from several years ago and simply write.

Write to live. Or rather, write because I desperately need Jesus, because Jesus is life itself.

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Nearing the End of This Race

Reaching. Stretching. Straining. Dreaming. Dancing. Running.

That last flat line before rounding the final curve. End pressing in. Time falling faster. Breath coming harder. Track disappearing beneath moving feet. Blurred motion. Blowing hair.

Do more. Be more. Give more.

It’s the almost-but-not-quite. The here-but-not-yet.

Holding and letting go.

Close enough to touch and taste.

Almost missed.

Fleeting.

Dear ones, this is my life. Unless God leads otherwise in the next short weeks or months, I will round the homestretch and finish this piece of my life’s race. It’s not the end, just possibly an ending to another race.

It’s been a bittersweet ride.

God’s Spirit-wind has carried me places I never would have gone on my own. His fire has burned brighter in my soul than the light of a thousand floating lanterns on a river. His love has kissed my tears, his hands have held my heart, and his goodness has followed me—and will follow me—until the last day of my life takes me into his open arms.

But it’s also been so dark. So incredibly dark. Scary. Sad. Lonely. Forgotten.

Loss and pain have been thicker than cream. The darkness was palpable at times. Sadness was closer than family or friends. The winter snows covered the howls of a broken, questioning heart. Breath choked. Eyes red.

It was no four hundred years, but it was very nearly four hundred days of silence from a God who seemed to have forgotten or refused to forgive. Hunted, driven, broken by the same God who creates, walks with, and heals. The juxtaposition was nearly too much to bear at times.

But Hosea’s God, Job’s God, Joseph’s God, and King David’s God is also my God. And the forgotten will be found. The broken will be healed by the same hands that wounded. Life conquers death. Darkness of prison replaced with the light of Presence.

This is my God.

This God takes my breath away at his compassion, love, gentleness, greatness, holiness, humbleness, beauty, and joy.

He never hated me or loathed my life as much as I did. Not once.

It was the all-consuming fire of His Presence that refused to let me just be the me I’ve always been. He took me through deep waters and saved me just before the oceans He’d created filled the lungs He’d also created to be a habitation for oxygen not water.

His hand both relentlessly pushed me deeper while also continuing to pull me higher. I thought I was dying and violently thrashed and scratched at Him to not kill me.

Live. I just wanted to live.

And that’s exactly what He wanted me to do too. Only His means and objective didn’t exactly look like mine. I was crying for comfort and resolution, and He was telling me that that’s what He had come for—to redeem a lost people that would fully know the comfort of His Presence and the ultimate resolution found in His graciously extended forgiveness.

That?

That.

It was never about how well I could swim on my own in the midst of severe storms. It had nothing to do with performance. Nor was it about how fast I could run by myself, how hot of fires I could tough out alone, or how long I could sustain air in lungs I had no control over.

Never that.

This. It has always been about Jesus. Always about being made more into the image of this Savior King. Always about Him, and not at all about me—except where my holiness was concerned. My life is hidden in him. Safe. His overflowing joy spills over to me. Free. Full.

And this: Jesus loved me then in the darkness, Jesus loved me during the happy times, Jesus will still love me when this race ends, and Jesus will love me when faithfully—albeit hesitantly, at times—I enter His next race for me.

Dear ones, you will not disappear—except in Him. You will not die—except to yourself.

You are loved far beyond your craziest dreams.

Run your race with endurance, looking only and ever at Jesus. He is a prize worth pursuing with your very life.

As for me? I hope to finish the final weeks or months as a good soldier of Jesus Christ in the footrace He called me to.

The end of this stint will be here in a flash. And then it will be on to another race, another season, another chance to die and really live. In Him.

Wind in the face. Tears streaking down cheeks. Open arms waiting around the final curve.

Jesus, this final stretch is Yours.