Picking up the broken pieces of disappointment (and saving them for later)

When I first started grad school about two years ago now, I am telling you, I was so revved up.  After a seven-year hiatus from school, I was excited to be in the classroom again, learning and growing, maybe in more challenging ways than ever before.  I was excited to build these natural relationships with classmates and professors – especially in a program as small as ours (and with a bunch of people who are also passionate about relationships!).  I was excited to explore this new field that was all about helping people bring healing and restoration to their lives and families.

But now, with my cap and gown tucked away in my closet and job applications looming before me…I can’t help but feel a lot of disappointment and disillusionment with how everything has ended up thus far.

For whatever reason, it seems like in every area – academically, socially, professionally – things have simply not been what I had hoped they’d be.  And though I’ve met some stellar therapists and so many genuine, caring people in our field, I’ve also come face to face with more unprofessionalism, arrogance, and inauthenticity than I had ever planned to see so early on.  Sometimes the people who, on one level, passionately advocate for the hurting and marginalized, are the same people who, in other areas of life, are contributing to the very systems that perpetuate those things.  And sometimes it seems like helping others through therapy has just as much become a means to self-promotion and power as any other profession we know.

So as I’ve begun to process all of this, I’ve had to ask myself some really hard questions

Is this the kind of work I want to pour my heart and life into?  Does what we do really bring about lasting change in people and communities?  Will I be able to find my place in this profession, in a way that is meaningful and that truly impacts lives?

And though I don’t fully understand why things have happened the way they have, when I’ve finally had a quiet moment alone to reflect, and to remember what’s true, I know in my heart that the answer to all of these questions…is a resounding “yes.”

I know that every part of my journey and my heart longs to see redemption and restoration in the lives around us.  I know that, while there’s a lot of stuff in psychology we can filter out, there is also something important about this work we do, something valuable about making people seen, known, heard, and accepted.  I know there’s something so very beautiful about giving attention to the broken places in our stories, that they might become the places of strength, resilience, and inspiration.  And I know, this is what I want to be a part of.

A few days ago, as I was wrestling with such thoughts as these, I came across a familiar passage in the Bible – the one about Jesus feeding the 5,000.  But this one part that I never really noticed before struck a chord with me.  Jesus had just provided miraculously for the crowd by feeding them an abundant feast out of a few meager loaves and fishes.  In fact, after everyone had eaten, there were even baskets full of leftovers.  So, what does this God say, who with no trouble at all, can create something out of nothing?

He tells His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”

Sometimes God provides us with more resources, more passion or hope, more gifts than we can use at the time.  And while to us, it may seem like a waste, or a disappointment, God already has in mind how these “leftovers” might be used in the future.

Who knows how our broken pieces of disappointment or unmet hopes may be the seeds of something else – something wonderful, something redemptive, something that is important and worthwhile…something God is stirring within and bringing forth at the appointed time. Maybe through some of these discouraging experiences I’ve had, He’s directing my passions and preparing me for places and opportunities I would have never expected.  Maybe it’s just not time to put to use all of the riches of His abundant provision.

I don’t know what your journey has looked like thus far, or what disappointments have arisen out of your life and circumstances, but whatever dreams, longings, or gifts remain unused, may you rest in the joy of knowing that they have been gathered up and treasured…that in the end, no thing that comes from God’s hand may be lost.

 

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where do we go from here: reflections on where I was and where I’m headed next

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I was seven years old the first time I saw my dad cry.  It was the end of a long road trip from California to Oregon, our last as a family.  My brother and my dad were just about to jump on a train headed back to California, and it was time to say goodbye.

I know it sounds cliché, but things truly were never the same after that day.  Instead of seeing my dad and brother every day, I saw them every summer – just once a year.  I’d be lying to you if I said that everything was awful after that, or that it ruined my childhood.  The truth is that both of my parents remarried rather quickly, and I ended up with two quite stable families that loved me dearly.  The truth is, I never felt unloved a day in my life.  But through it all, there was a loss that tainted everything.  Members of my own immediate family had never met my friends or stepped foot in my schools, never saw the color I painted my bedroom, never attended a band concert or a softball game.  So many missed Christmases, and birthdays, and more than that, so many missed normal, everyday kind of days.  And even when summertime came, it was tainted by the looming realization that our next goodbye was only weeks away.

How sad it would be if our story ended there, and for many years, I thought it might.  But, dear friends, God loves us more than we could ever know, and while I was busy for years protecting my own heart from further loss, He was lovingly healing, and restoring, and changing me bit by bit…and teaching me the meaning of this word, this beautiful, God-inspired, Gospel-saturated word: redemption.

Redemption.

Redemption is taking the broken things and making a masterpiece.  Redemption is not only finding what was lost, but replacing it with something better.  When God revealed to us the ultimate picture of redemption in Jesus, He didn’t just pull us out of the pit, He raised us up to the heights and glories of heaven.

Redemption.  Redemption is feeling the freedom to love both of my families with my whole heart.  Redemption is victory over fears that once shackled me and hindered my relationships.

Redemption doesn’t belittle loss, or brokenness, or sin.  It doesn’t erase the sad things; it doesn’t rewrite the past.  But it adds a new chapter.  It adds hope, and purpose, and life to what seemed to be only darkness.  Somehow, redemption makes our stories sweeter, richer, and more powerful than if the bad things had never happened.

RedemptionRedemption is New Year’s in our jammies, and late-night talks with brothers, and a full dinner table on Christmas night.  Redemption is In and Out burgers with my dad, or showing my big brother around Bangkok – a city I’ve come to love.

And this summer, Redemption will be living in the same state, the same city, the same house as my dad for the first time since I was seven years old.  Redemption will be seeing my little brothers start college, getting to know my brother’s girlfriend, spending everyday life with a mom I never had the chance to know in depth.

Redemption is why I’m picking everything up and moving to California this summer.  Redemption is why I’m leaving the classroom after seven good years to study counseling and psychology.  Redemption is why I’m stepping out in faith, before my feet even know where to land.  So please pray for me, and my family, and the next chapter of our story.  It’s gonna be a good one.

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Love first.

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For years now, I’ve been on the hunt, looking for people I can “really” trust with my heart…you know, the people who won’t let me down, the people who are worthy of loving me. And I know it’s surprising, but I still haven’t found them yet.

So I’ve waited. I’ve held back the vulnerable things –the ugly, the sad, the scary — and built up walls to protect myself. It all seemed kind of heroic, like I was sparing people from the “burden” of loving and caring for me in ways that really cost something. Oh, and did I mention godly? It seemed pretty spiritual too, because I was trusting Jesus and only Jesus and keeping my heart clear of any other entanglements.

But all the while, I’ve been longing to be known, truly known, and longing to be loved once the real me finally stepped out.

And in the space — that scary unknown — between the people I love and the real me hiding in the shadows, God spoke. Love first, He said. Love first.

Because, the truth is, we’re never gonna know for sure. We’re never gonna know if the people we love most will be able to give us what we need or want. We’re never gonna know if acceptance waits around the corner, or if rejection does. And every step closer — in any relationship — is always going to be a risk. No matter how much trust we’ve built with others, the bottom line is, we’re all broken and if we’re holding out for the “ones” who are “good enough” to love and be loved, not one of us is going to make the cut.

Love first. Invest before you know it’s worth it. Ask before you’re sure of the answer. Give before you know they’ll take it. Be yourself before you know they’ll accept you. To those hardened by grief, the embittered, the skeptical, this sounds like utter foolishness. But to the one who knows intimately the power of the Gospel, it’s simply the way of our God.

For while we were sinners, Christ died for us. And before He knew we’d follow, He called us each by name. And even though many reject it, He pours out His love, His life, His gifts…freely and abundantly. In fact, all of this, the Bible says, defines love.

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us….We love because He first loved us.
-1 John 4:9-12, 19 (HCSB)

He loved first. And by the redemptive power now alive in us, He asks us to do the same.