Bring me into the wilderness.

This chapter is being written because I would much rather write & listen to Ellie Holcomb than study for a Spanish test because Spanish does not define me. Spanish is not my strong suit, not my calling.

And I’m in a desert. A dry, barren, lonely desert. There is nothing lonelier than being stuck in your own mind; if I have learned anything huge in the past few months, or even in the past few years of my life really, that’s it. Right there. There is nothing lonelier than being stuck in your own mind. You can dig your own black hole by dwelling & no amount of hand holding or back rubbing or tears or tears cried for you when you cannot form your own tears or dark chocolate or cups of coffee or mind-numbing sketches to pull your mind away from overanalyzing or caffeine buzzes or pages in a journal or letters can pull you from the funk you’re in. You’re stuck & there isn’t a way out. You want to pull yourself through with your own strength & even that isn’t possible. There are moments of joy, little glimpses into the Kingdom but nothing dramatic. You hear no voice of reason or voice of God, for that matter. Nothing that anyone says is anything you haven’t heard before. Words are only comforting to an extent. You cannot be physically alone because that’s the most terrifying thing in the world. The only thing that comes with physically being alone is your thoughts & they drown you. And the hardest part is not wanting to be around the one person you cannot escape: yourself. Nobody can convince you to love yourself or that you are even worth loving. You are stuck in a constant boxing match with vulnerability & unworthiness & feeling unlovable, and they knock you out time and time again & you are learning to be okay with that. It’s numbness. And numbness is better than crying every night. An empty stomach means no queasiness, which comes with the stress & anxiety, also in waves. It’s a series of highs & lows. A constant roller coaster that leaves you puking out your emotions when you get off. Extreme happiness only to be met by the downfall of utter depression & feelings of being alone in a room full of people who claim to love you.

You don’t know what it means to truly love people because you cannot love yourself. You cannot love others well because you do not love yourself well. Then you feel guilty for that. Then you cry a little more & get buzzed off of caffeine & then sink into numbness. And it is a constant & draining cycle.

You escape by staying busy. Being busy is like an oasis in this desert. Pile and pile and pile until the things you dwell on stay trampled underneath the superficiality of day to day life. To-do lists are your best friends. To-do lists never do you wrong. Planners & to-do lists & events & homework & work work & cups of coffee & skipping dinner because you’re “too busy” & running running running to whatever is coming next & you make sure there is always something coming next because if nothing is next then you are alone again. Back in the desert. Pulled from the oasis. And the water has run out. And God is not in reach. And your relationships are held at arm’s length because people are not allowed to unlock your door. You are safe with a locked door. Trust is not a concept because being vulnerable has gotten you knocked out before. Disgustingly beat up & staring at your unlovable self in the mirror. All the while, you teach girls that they are worthy & lovable & incredible & you. don’t. believe. it. You could never believe such a thing.

You are a person to be used for other’s gratification & satisfaction. And you tell yourself, “No no, it’s okay. Maybe God has made me to be used by others. Maybe that is my purpose.” And you are okay with that. If you’re okay, I’m okay. If you’re good, I am good. I am good because you are good. And if you are not good, my world is in chaos & destruction.

And this is what I know to be truth right now. This all makes sense to me. These words & not God’s Word, they make sense to me. And that is not a good place to be. But I am trying. I’m trying to pull myself up by the boot straps & move the heck on with my life.

“And I lift up my soul to You who makes things whole, oh mercy love of old, in You I place my hope, I place my hope. So guide me in Your truth, be my strong refuge. Oh, forgive my doubting heart & lead me back to You.

And this is how I feel. And I do not say this to make you feel guilty. I want you to feel full. And overflowing. But I say these things because hopefully someone somewhere feels this way too & these words mean something to someone. Not “hopefully someone feels this way,” but hopefully someone feels comforted by knowing they are not actually alone. I know I’m not the only one. And if that’s you tonight, I hope you surrender. I hope you pull yourself out & realize that you can’t do this on your own. Tell someone. Anyone. Because you do not deserve to be alone anymore. Alone is a dangerous place to be. And you deserve so much more than that.

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How lucky I am to have people so invested in my heart & my soul & my eternity.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
    and make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
    as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.” // HOSEA 2:14-19 ESV

And sometimes I doubt. I doubt a lot. And somehow, every single time, God pulls me back into His arms & speaks tenderly to me. He gives me the words I need to hear through the people around me. And I pray that he gives you those people, so you can look in hindsight & say, “God was there. He showed up in those moments when I needed Him & I didn’t even realize it. He showed up in these people & these words & these tears. He was there.”

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Hold my hand on my down days.

“Would You come & tear down the boxes that I have tried to put You in? Let love come, teach me who You are again.”

I can honestly say that God hit me with His best shot…but not at all how I thought He would. I thought He would do it in late nights with friends & random times when Swift coffee would be the cherry on top of a perfect day & late afternoon runs in the sunset. But that’s not what happened. He hit me, hard, with tears. It all came rushing out. All unleashed by one, “How was your day?” And then it all just came out. And Katie just held me & let me cry & played Steffany Gretzinger. And I don’t think I’ve cried for that long in so long. And she made coffee. And we just talked & she had quotes…oh my goodness, this girl has quotes & advice for every situation. I cried & she read:

“Come to me, all you who are weary & burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you & learn from me, for I am gentle & humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy & my burden is light.” // Matthew 11:28-30

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“Just so we’re all clear, it’s okay to miss people you no longer want in your life.”

Needless to say, it was a rough start to a second semester, but not in a bad way & this is hard to explain. I guess you could call this week a roller coaster. Up & down & up & down & up & down. It was crazy & emotional & crazy emotional. And I am okay with that because I have these people who uplift me. Who celebrate with me in my triumphs & hold my hand on my down days. And I have a God who holds me & celebrates with me & has already won for me so I don’t have to carry around chains & shame & guilt any longer. I wish I could put into words how crazy blessed I am for where God has picked me up and placed me. He is too good. I just think about these people & places & moments & I am at a complete loss for words. Goodness. That is what He is.

I think this is what joy feels like. Joy is fullness & wholeness. I am whole when I am here. These people, this place. Oh my gosh, it makes me fall more in love with God every moment. And I realized this on the way home from Chattanooga the other night: I know it’s good when I find myself silently thanking God for how He worked in & through me that day. And He did it. And I know I should feel that every single day, but admittedly, I don’t. But that day, that day I did. And I think those moments have got to count for something, like little stepping stones, closer to making His Kingdom come here on earth.

Forgiveness & I have a love hate relationship. On one hand, I love it & it’s so beautiful because it’s basically the foundation of a relationship with Jesus. If He hadn’t forgiven us for our trespasses & being disgusting in sin, then we wouldn’t know the beauty of grace & an intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father. On the other hand, I hate it because the earthly forgiveness is hard & over this past week, I’ve realized that I’ve never really had to forgive someone for something really difficult. Like, there have been some arguments with friends or my parents, but never having to forgive someone because what happened was going to change the rest of my life or how I would navigate future relationships. But sure enough, I think this is what it feels like to finally confront things. I never knew I needed to until things got even harder much later on in the game, but this one was a game changer. Forgiveness is hard. And it hurts. A lot. And it never occurred to me, until this week when a friend brought it to my attention, but maybe I need to forgive myself first & that’s the speed bump. Like, I cannot forgive another person until I get past myself first, and I really do believe that’s true.

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And I think you have to continually tell yourself truths in order to forgive. I tried out a new church this weekend (& loved it), and I remember the pastor saying, over and over again, “It is well. It is well. It is well.” And you keep saying it until you believe it.

It is well.

And eventually, Truth hits you hard. And that moment is beautiful.

And then more tears came on Sunday night. Way out of the blue. So basically, instead of this whole week being a roller coaster, it’s like every single day has been a roller coaster & then everything just comes out at the end of it. For lack of better words, freaking crazy. But I’ve found these people & they just get it. How beautiful it is to have people that understand the depths of your heart & soul.  So beautiful & humbling & just goes to show how God-orchestrated every single moment of my life has been. And I love Him for that.

I love Him for this. This season of being present & learning what the heck forgiveness actually is. And even when I get lost in this chaos, I will recognize His voice & this beauty. I will recognize Him because He is constant. And I heard Him tell me that this week, standing in prayer in a new church & an unfamiliar mindset, I heard Him comfort me:

“I am the Lord, I change not.”

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I want to be the mirror that reminds you to love yourself.

And I knew that in those moments, that’s what it felt like to love people from the depths of my soul. Deep-belly laughs & endless cups of coffee & hand holding. This was the stuff of life. This was what I missed. Somewhere between the calligraphy & painting on a bulletin board in Morgan & the running errands with these two inspiring people & singing High School Musical & drinking amaretto lattes & being weird with my roommate & reconnecting with people I haven’t seen for a month, I was reminded how gracious of a God we serve. If these past 3 days signify the way this semester will go, hit me with your best shot, God. I am so ready & so excited & He is so good.

“There is no one you cannot love after hearing their story.”

I had the opportunity to share my story with some friends this week. The entire thing. Start to finish. Darkness & all. Everything came out. And they told me their stories & it was so beautiful. And I realized that there is no stronger connection you get than when you share parts of your heart with people you’re in community with. It was like I told this story & God comforted me with their stories and the connections we shared through them. I thought it was such an awesome coincidence, and then I thought, “Jenna, God doesn’t do coincidences. God does mystery. And beauty. And it’s all planned. All of it. God knows no surprises.”

And then I found myself in Swift (surprise) talking to one of the greatest & wisest & kindest girls I have met at Berry, and she was telling me about her epiphany at home over the holidays. “What is love? Like I just don’t get it. And then I got it while I was watching Mockingjay.” And I was confused. But then she told me about love & not just the romantic stuff. She thought of the foundation of love from her parents & how they showed her what that looked like. And she told me about her past relationships & the realization of the guy she was in love with & how she knew that was what love felt like. That made her even more excited for her future husband. Just imagine how he’s going to love me if that’s what I already felt when I was in love. And I don’t mean this in the lovey-dovey, obsessive, weirdo-girl-always-thinking-about-boys way, but how awesome is that to think about? Think about all of the people you’ve crushed on or thought you were in love with & how you felt when you were with them, and now think, “Whoa. God has even more than that in store for me.” Did that just blow your mind? Yes. Yes. Yes.

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“When the fire takes all you have, my home will be your home. When you are old and can no longer remember my face, I will meet you for the first time again and again. When they make fun of your accent, I will take you swimming because we all sound the same underwater. When Ellis Island tries to erase your past, I will call you by your real name. When they call your number for the draft, I will enlist to fight beside you. And I will march with you from Selma to Montgomery and back as many times as it takes. We will stand together against the hoses and the dogs – because it didn’t start with us. It started with Lennon and McCartney. It started with Thelma and Louise. It started with Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin. Bert and Ernie! Abbott and Costello! Rosencrantz and Guildenstern! Mario and Luigi! Watson and Sherlock! Pikachu and Charizard! And they could tell you what a miracle this is. They could tell you how rare this is. But they could tell you how rare friendship always is. The chances are slim. The cards are always stacked against you, the odds are always low. But I have seen the best of you, and the worst of you, and I choose both. I want to share every single one of your sunshines and save some for later. I will tuck them into my pockets so I can give them back to you when the rains fall hard. Friend – I want to be the mirror that reminds you to love yourself. I want to be air in your lungs that reminds you to breathe easy. When the walls come down – when the thunder rumbles – when nobody else is home, hold my hand – and I promise – I won’t let go.” That’s community. These people, God put them into your life because they choose both (watch this video & let it rock your world).

Random fact: when I get inspired, it’s always because of the Lord & many spoken word videos & incredible photography & reminiscing on beautiful moments with special people. And all of these things collide & an explosion just goes off in my heart. And the result is something like these blog posts. And I usually end up jumping up & down a few times & singing & dancing (& spilling Passion tea all over my quilt because I got way too excited about the way some words sounded together) & then I finish writing. And it’s a beautiful explosion & the words can only be described as of the Lord. He just gets it & He gives me the words that make my heart soar. And somehow, other people read it & they get it too. And that’s ANOTHER way God helps us make connections. You & me, feeling the same way, and I have finally figured out different ways to articulate bits & pieces of God’s story. And that makes me feel blessed & beautiful, that He would allow me to describe these feelings & His story to His people.

He keeps your relationships in mind. There isn’t one person in your life that is not there for a purpose & by the grace of God. He knows the fruit that will come from these relationships. He knows the plans. He knows your stories & how they connect. He knows no surprises. How beautiful is that? Nothing is a surprise to Him. He knows no curveballs. Gosh, He is so good. He knows the ways that life is going to hit you & slam you to the ground. And He equips you to come back from that. He is healer. And He gives you these people & this community. And at some points in your life, you may feel alone, but in those moments & seasons where He provides community, oh my, embrace it. Dance in it & soak it in because there are these people who will catch you when you fall & dry your tears & be a shoulder & live these stories with you. These people will KNOW you. And to be KNOWN is such a BEAUTIFUL THING. And you get to be mature & immature & naive & brilliant & ambitious with them. And they will UNDERSTAND you. What a beautiful thing to know that people GET IT. These people you do life with, THEY GET IT. And God, HE GETS IT. He’s written it. He’s watched it. And He’s lived it.

Let us become more aware of Your presence. Let us experience the glory of Your goodness.

I want to be the mirror that reminds you to love yourself.” I heard those words & oh gosh, I came UNDONE. If you can be that person for another person…I wish I had the words for that. I wish I knew what it meant to teach other people to love themselves because that is so beautiful & important & unraveling. Crippling, even. Loving others so that they love themselves. What a concept. And I challenge you to lean into that this week. Relearn what it means to love yourself so that you can love people who can then love themselves. It’s a lot, but it’s just a start. Relearn respect & honesty & beauty, in the rawest form. Learn to be the mirror that reminds people to love themselves. Wow.

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I’m not sorry for crying.

And when the ball started to drop, there was something inside of me that said no no no, let it stay 2014. I hate change.

“You should get to dance inside of all the things you used to have to be sorry for.” HB.

This break was incredibly challenging, mentally. I think I finally had to tell myself it was okay to reminisce & dwell because the more I tried to force myself not to do that, the more it happened, and I think that hurts even more than doing it in the first place. Then you’re already thinking about it and you’re letting this mental & spiritual battle take over your being at the same time. That was one thing I learned over this break: memories are powerful & reminiscing is okay. You shouldn’t let yourself, or anyone else, tell you differently. And upon my return to school, I learned one thing can send you completely over the edge if you let it.

I went to buy my books for this semester & freaked out over a long series of really unfortunate events with the books, and I came back to the office & lost. it. Not over the books though, like at all. It was about a bunch of things I’ve bottled up for what I guess was a little too long.

Side note: I am not ashamed to admit that Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 is one of my favorite movies & I am also not ashamed to admit that I bought it over the break & watched it a few times. There’s something super cheesy, but super accurate, that Blake Lively says in the movie: the past is always with us, so it’s time I stopped running. Yes, super cheesy & cliche & blah blah blah. But true. The more you shove things to the back of your mind & tell yourself they’re not important, the more you’re going to think about them & cling to them. You hold onto those memories & the hurt because that’s really all you know about hurt. You cling to it & tell yourself, “Remember this. Remember how you felt. Do not forget it. Do not let anyone else make you feel this way.” And that’s what I guess I’ve done. Clung to the hurt to remind myself. And another side note: if you try to look for the qualities of a person who has hurt you in other people, I can promise you will find them. Sense of humor, charm, etc. You’ll find it.

And I was given the best advice on how to deal with this struggle & anger. You pray for them. I got sort of pissed off when I was first told this, but Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. Not only are you praying for them, but you’re helping yourself in healing. It changes your heart (apparently, but I’m still waiting for this one). And the best part: it’s not an if/then situation, but it’s definite. It’s not a maybe this will work kind of deal. It will change you.

It’s incredible because God tells us that His victory is our victory & we don’t need to fight. We don’t have to carry around our chains & baggage & crap anymore because He has won for us. He has given us freedom for free. And that’s so beautiful because it’s part of the mystery of God. He takes our burdens. And usually when I feel burdened, I cry & I apologize when I cry around people. How messed up is that? And the thing that I love the most is that Jesus wept, so you can bet that I will be WEEPING WHEN I WANT TO WEEP, DANG IT (and I will not be sorry for it anymore).

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My heart will always hope for more. Sort of like, “Oh my gosh, maybe this next thing will make me feel closer to God than I’ve ever felt before.” And I think we always wonder why our hearts keep longing & that’s exactly why: our hearts were created for so much more than we give them the capability to explore. We were made for our Maker. We were made to be like Him, and a lot of times, we’ll settle for less. And my prayer is that each moment I get to experience will help me to taste & see that the Lord is good.

My heart pounds & jumps at the idea of new things. New things to photograph. New things to learn. New heights to test. New thoughts to inspire. New people to bring into community. New cultivation. New views. New boundaries. New trials. New new new. I love what’s next & I love longing for next. My heart exults the One who makes this all possible. My soul craves to know my Maker more through trials & tribulation & triumph.

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On Monday, I got to spend the entire day with my very best friend (AKA my other half who moved half way across the country). We went on a coffee crawl. Yes, 7 cups of coffee (not including hers), 5 different coffee shops, 2 caffeinated girls, an incredible playlist, and a road trip to Rome. We crushed it. Probably the best day spent with someone who understands me & where I come from & my stories & the reasons why I move throughout my days the way I do the most.

And we talked transitions of life & old memories & boys. It was just like old times but even better. She’s always been a voice of reason, like I can hear the Lord speaking to me through her. One thing that finally occurred to me while going through multiple conversations with her: it’s stupid for me to think that after spending a small period of time with someone I could get someone to chase after Jesus with their entire heart. It just doesn’t work that way, and not unfortunately. It is a good thing that we don’t have the power, with our words, to make people fall in love with Jesus, otherwise they would probably fall in love with our idea of God & not just God. That’s actually painful to think about. I want to know God in the rawest form. Not the way we perceive Him or meet Him. Raw. Holy. Pure. Untainted.

And trusting someone you can’t see is extremely difficult. I’m trying. I’m trusting. I’m not giving in or up, but I am trusting that the Lord’s plans will prevail & the process will be divine. I always pray that my desires align with the Lord’s & that He would loosen my grip on situations where I could drive myself crazy. I want to trust in His process, not in what I want to control. Let me trust the Lord & not lean on my own understanding because it is worth nothing & His plans are worth everything.

“In my deepest wound I saw Your glory, and it astounded me.”

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