May 29, 2017

My Word, Half A Year Later

Posted in 2017: Fully, Rule of Life, Wonder at 9:15 pm by Vanessa

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Life has been a bit of a whirlwind since the beginning of March, which was filled with travel to see family and friends, and then triathlon training began again the week after I returned.  And suddenly, it’s almost June.

But even though I haven’t been as reflective lately, something this week reminded me of my Word for 2017.  When I chose “fully” as my word for the year, I had been unsure about my commitments, especially to my church and my two church groups.  Despite appreciating a lot about it, I couldn’t stop comparing my NYC church to the church I used to belong to in Boston.  The church community group I had loved since moving to the city had changed, doubling in size (tough for an introvert like me).  And I didn’t know if I quite fit with my other group.  The thought crossed my mind that maybe my church and groups weren’t the right place for me – but when I chose my Word for 2017, I decided to put my doubts aside and stop holding back.

I’m not even sure I did this completely, but now it’s half a year later, and things are different.  I realized this as I was thinking about my church membership vows that will take place on June 18, and how I wanted to invite all of my church groups to the service and then brunch afterwards.  At this moment, I feel such deep appreciation and love for everyone in my groups, and my church in general, that remembering back to the beginning of the year is like realizing that a miracle had taken place.

I’m probably not explaining it well, but I had to try to share how God has blessed this word in my life.  And the year isn’t even over yet.

For those of you who also chose a word for 2017, I would love to hear your updates.

February 28, 2017

Lent Begins Tomorrow

Posted in 2017: Fully, Rule of Life, Wonder at 10:14 pm by Vanessa

The beginning of Lent always catches me by surprise.  This year, since I am in the middle of a few other longer-term endeavors, I’ve decided to keep my focus for Lent simple.  Because I’ve been binging on TV and sugary foods lately, both things seemed like obvious choices for things to give up during Lent (minus Sundays).  Especially with TV, which I have been watching from the moment I get home until past midnight (I am now caught up on This Is Us after a week of this), my hope is to make more space in my life for God, again.

I also discovered this little devotional while volunteering at the book table at church this Sunday, which seems like the perfect compliment to my Lent focuses of making space and keeping things simple.

How are you observing Lent this year?  (Maybe we can support each other in some way…)

January 12, 2017

New Words for 2017

Posted in 2017: Fully, Rule of Life, Wonder at 7:21 pm by Vanessa

I always love the New Year.  To me, it’s a chance to wipe the slate clean of my failed goals and unfulfilled hopes, and hope and try again.  But even though I was excited thinking about 2017 during the last few weeks of 2016, the first few days of the year found me depressed and anxious.  I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to make too many changes right away.

And so, in a brief moment of clarity one morning, I decided that these would be my words for 2017 (my word for 2016 was shameless…not so sure I lived that one out, but it helped as a reminder):

My New Word For 2017:

  • Fully : I’ve been realizing that there are many areas of my life where I’m committed, but halfhearted.  For 2017, I would like to dive in fully, instead of holding myself back, and see what happens.  (This means fewer complaints, thoughts of quitting, doubts, etc.)

And My Two Auxiliary Words (or Phrase) for 2017:

  • Rule of Life : I told myself firmly that I would wake up at 6am every morning to spend time writing in my journal and praying, and that I would spend every lunch break working on my writing…only to fail day after day.  So instead of making those things my goal, I’ve decided that my goal – for the entire year – is to work towards a “Rule of Life” (or a pattern of living intentionally towards growth) that include those things.
  • Wonder : I can get so wrapped up in goals, and lists of things to do, and just the bustle of the city, that my head stays down and I miss the beauty in my life.  So my last word for 2017 is a reminder to look up and do things (again) like read, spend time in coffee shops, go for nature walks, etc. to help remember that God has given me a lot.

I would love to hear about your word(s) for 2017.  :)

December 16, 2016

Without Words

Posted in 2016: Shameless Faith at 1:03 am by Vanessa

My life right now feels like a room with the lights turned off.  Not because things are particularly dark in my life, but because I can’t seem to see.  Every morning, when I do make time to write in my journal to God, I marvel at how BLANK I feel.  You might imagine that this makes writing difficult, so I haven’t been doing that.  And it also makes me choose things like binge-watching Supergirl over trying to process my 10 days in India.

But in this season of Advent, it helps to remember that Jesus is a light in the darkness.  And so I’m praying, with some hope, that he will illuminate my life and show me what steps to take.  Until then, I remain without words.

September 27, 2016

The Winter of My Discontent

Posted in 2016: Shameless Faith at 2:33 am by Vanessa

I’ve been in a funny space for the past two months, more energized but also more depressed than I’ve been in a while.  I don’t think I’ve been this excited about running and biking ever, and I’ve loved the accompanying communities of people who also are into running, biking, triathlons, etc.  At the same time, I don’t remember the last time I’ve regularly blown up at friends in anger, or suddenly withdrawn from people to wander the streets crying, like has been happening a little too frequently since my last post.  (After my last blowup, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to find a therapist…so don’t worry, I’m trying to work on my issues.)

Last week as I was sharing a thought at one of my church community groups, I suddenly realized that part of what I am going through is a faith crisis of sorts.  For a very long time, I’ve wanted my life to be characterized by the kind of relationship with God that makes others want to know Him too.  But how can this be true when emptiness and bitterness is at the core of my relationship with Him right now?  Describing it to a friend earlier tonight, I read her the below excerpt from yesterday’s Streams in the Desert passage:

“Who told you that night will never end in day?  Who told you that the winter of your discontent would continue from frost to frost and from snow, ice, and hail to even deeper snow and stronger storms of despair?”

But as I told her, I do feel like I’ll be stuck in winter forever.

I’m not sure how to climb out of this pit I’m in, but weeks ago, this verse resurfaced from the muddy swirl of thoughts that was my brain, like a gentle rebuke or reminder:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15 NIV

And so, eventually, I will seek repentance and rest, quietness and trust, and hopefully God will meet me there.

August 2, 2016

Post-Race Depression, Falling For My Friend, and the Upsides

Posted in 2016: Shameless Faith at 9:51 am by Vanessa

Two weeks ago, after nearly four months of training, I completed my first Olympic-length triathlon.  The months preceding the race were filled with many days of running, swimming and (not enough) biking, and the week before the race was one of the most anxiety-filled weeks I’ve had in a while (I’ve done other triathlons, but none as long and as logistically complicated as this one).  I imagined being freaked out by something in the Hudson River during my swim, or getting a flat tire or crashing during my bike up and down the West Side Highway, or suffering from heat exhaustion on my run around Central Park.

And then, it was over.

One of my coaches called it post-race depression, but I didn’t expect it to hit me so hard.  From the very next day after the triathlon and most likely not ending this very moment, I’ve been under a dark cloud.  The question “Now what?” has reverberated down what feels like the empty hallway of my life, growing beyond the realm of athletic activity.  Now what?  The loss of my goal and accompanying community has left me surprisingly untethered.  I feel lost and lonely.  And my other goals are exactly where I left them, leaving me in a place of hopelessness as well.

And it doesn’t help that I had grown particularly attached to one friend over the course of our training, which I hadn’t realized until the day the triathlon was over.  My sense of loss regarding the triathlon was compounded by my feelings of loss for this friendship.  On Sunday, I told him how I had developed feelings for him, but he didn’t feel the same way – which I mostly expected and wasn’t completely bothered by, since we had agreed multiple times before that we weren’t quite right for each other.  But he has been the closest I’ve come to meeting someone whose character and lifestyle matches what I’d like mine to be.  And in this lonely space, I can’t help wondering if this will be the closest I’ll ever come…if I will remain alone forever.

I don’t remember the last time I felt this low (and I’m an emotional person, so lows definitely come and go).  Will my life ever change?

There have been upsides to this depression, though.  One, my deep loneliness has made me miss old friendships (to the point of action), ones that I had let go of to varying degrees because of changes in location and life stage. And it has made me reach out to newer friends as well, because I just don’t have it in me to get through this emotional state on my own.  And two, it has made me long for a space of rest in God.  I imagine letting go of my life of anxiety and (unsuccessful) striving, and seeing my life as a walk with God through the garden.  Just wanting this again, and having this image in front of me, has been helpful.

(I have few answers, just the belief that God will continue to walk with me through it all, even when I have a hard time trusting Him.)

Disclaimer: The danger of writing from the middle of an emotional space is that things are more raw.  I apologize if none of this makes sense or if I overshared.  But it has been helpful to try to process my thoughts through writing, and in case any of what I’m feeling resonates with you, please let me know.

June 21, 2016

The Most Vivid Thing

Posted in 2016: Shameless Faith at 12:30 am by Vanessa

A few weeks ago, my pastor said something in the middle of his sermon that caught my attention.  After describing how Eve in the Garden of Eden was drawn to the one thing she couldn’t have, so that the apple became technicolor to her while the rest of the garden faded to black and white, he asked us: What is most vivid to our senses?

The analogy and question resonate with me.  In the face of the things I feel I lack, I want God to be the most real thing, the most vivid thing to my senses.  But often, even as I’ve been waking up every morning and journaling for 10-15 minutes before doing anything else, God doesn’t feel real to me at all.  Instead, I struggle with emptiness and loneliness and lust.  During the day, I see women my age with husbands and/or children, and I envy them.  Like Eve, my attention is drawn to the thing(s) I don’t have, and they become technicolor while the good things I do have fade to black and white.

I think it’s good to want human intimacy and romance and marriage and children, to accomplish goals, career success, etc.  But I have always wanted to desire God most, and to see things from his perspective.  And so the question I have been asking myself is this:

Is God the most vivid thing to my senses?

If not, how can this change?

(As always, let me know if these thoughts also resonate with you.)

June 1, 2016

In Joy and in Sadness, the Challenge Before Me

Posted in 2016: Shameless Faith at 6:55 pm by Vanessa

My baby brother got married three weekends ago.  It was one of the most beautiful and blessed weddings I’ve been to, and during the entire ceremony and reception, my heart felt full from all the apparent gifts from God given to my brother and our family.  The miraculous change in weather, the successful completion of all our wedding projects (baking, DIY, toasts), the chance to reflect on the person God has beautifully created my brother to be, and the gift of a new member of our family who compliments my brother’s unique blend of lightheartedness and care for people…there was a lot to be joyful about.

But even as part of my heart continues to rejoice, another part can’t help but wonder in sadness: While all (it seems) those around me find love and get married and have children, will I remain alone?  I don’t understand why God has chosen to leave this prayer unanswered for the twelve years since I started praying for a spouse/life partner, but I do know a few things:

  1. There isn’t actually a guarantee that God has someone for me.  Despite what well-meaning friends tell me, I could remain single for the rest of my life.
  2. Despite the culture I live in, I don’t believe it’s true that fulfillment comes through romance/sex/family or career/money.  My life can still be full of worth even if I remain single and celibate, and never experience career and financial success.  (I struggle to believe this.)

And so, the challenge before me is this: Even as it gets more difficult to do so, can I continue to believe that God has a good (Good) plan for me?  And can my every day be characterized by being both deeply rooted in God and freely moved by the Spirit?

As a first step, I know I need to spend more time with God.  It’s been a long time since I’ve spent the first few moments of my day journaling and reading scripture, so I’m recommitting myself to doing these practices again.  If anyone is in a similar place, let me know and we can help each other be accountable.  Or let me know if you identify with any of the other things I mentioned in this post.

(This post doesn’t quite express what I wanted it to, but it starts to get there…)

April 12, 2016

Spring and Disappointment

Posted in 2016: Shameless Faith at 11:19 pm by Vanessa

(I did mean to post more frequently than this.  Oh well.)

Every spring, around Easter, I often find myself in a particular emotional and spiritual space of deep disappointment.  Maybe it’s because every year, I try to pray in faith for specific things and experience disappointment when I don’t receive them.  Or maybe it’s a seasonal thing (like how I can’t focus at work on warm days at the beginning of spring).

Regardless of why, I’m in that space again.  Even though my brain knows that God blesses me in many ways, my heart and gut feel deeply dissatisfied, and deeply angry at God for my lack.  I was talking to my spiritual director Pamela about this yesterday, and she suggested I try practicing gratitude as a way to see and remember the reality of God’s love for me.  Her specific suggestion was to list 10 things I’m thankful for every day.  (Even though this blog was originally intended for such a practice, I’ve decided to use a different, more private blog to try this out – so that I’m not writing for an audience, I guess.)

And (as Pamela pointed out, and I know but don’t feel) it isn’t true that God doesn’t answer my biggest prayers.  For example, my new job is a BIG answer to prayer, one that I know is completely a gift from God.  And I know that this gift has opened the door to other gifts.  For example, now that I’m not spending as much emotional energy on being unemployed-ish and looking for work, I find that I’m excited about things like triathlons and missions trips again…I’m planning to do the NYC triathlon in July (I just started training with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training charity training program), and I’m also planning on going on a missions trip to India with my church in November.  (Warning, to those of you who are my friends…both things require me to fundraise a few thousand dollars each, so I will probably be asking you for $$$ soon.  Sorry/thanks in advance!)

Anyway, just a little update on how I’m doing.  I’m going to try to post a little more regularly.

February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday Thoughts

Posted in 2016: Shameless Faith at 11:20 pm by Vanessa

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent (the 40-day period before Easter).  The beginning of Lent always takes me by surprise! so like usual, I’m not yet sure what I want to focus on this Lent.  I did just go to a really lovely contemplative service at my sister’s church (one of the stations was called “Consider Your Lenten Rhythm” which was helpful), and am wondering how I can gaze on God’s beauty and trust Him more this Lent…to surrender instead of feeling so anxious and trying to make things happen out of my own strength…to think on Jesus’ time in the wilderness as well as his journey to the cross, and embrace my own wilderness and journey to the cross…

One-Sentence Journal

On a slightly unrelated note, I decided this morning to start keeping a one-sentence journal (I might even buy this little five-year journal, which I actually bought a few months ago for my brother when browsing at Paper Source).  I ran out of journal pages recently (which means I haven’t been journaling regularly for the past week or so), and was doing a little “research” about a past event in my Gmail account last night, and it was shocking how much I forget about my own life.  Keeping a one-sentence journal could be a neat way to have an easy overview of life in the next few months.  If anyone wants to join me in this, let me know!

Unconditional Acceptance

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how worth and acceptance according to the world’s standards has always been conditional.  (We accidentally discussed this two weeks in a row in my church community group, due in part to Winter Storm Jonas.)  For example, the ancient Jewish people, with their very specific code of conduct and system of sacrifices, seem to have little in common with modern New Yorkers.  Yet, for all the freedom we supposedly have to choose our own happiness and system of right and wrong, I have never been so weighed down by the need to prove my worth and earn my acceptance as I have since moving to this city.  It’s weird to think conditional acceptance has been a constant throughout time.

Which is why the unconditional acceptance that God offers through Jesus is so amazing.  I realized that I even feel the need to earn deep connection with God by doing the “right” things to get closer to Him, i.e. why my Sabbaths have been more tiring than restful.  It’s so lovely that God doesn’t want me to earn my way to Him at all, that His love and acceptance is a gift.

It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m going to try to work on trying to work less to earn my way to God this Lent (haha).

If anyone wants to do Lent together in some way, let me know!  I’m always happy to get together to chat/pray/etc.

On Turning 35

Oh, one more thing!  I turned 35 recently, and it was a tougher birthday than I thought it would be.  A friend who turned 35 just a few weeks before me agreed that it’s a bit scary to be past the halfway point from 30 to 40.  But God blesses me in new ways every new year of life, and I’m thankful for this next year of being 35, even if my life isn’t exactly the way I imagined it would be when I was younger.  Above all, I’m praying that God will help me trust Him deeply and shamelessly (to use my word of the year!), with hope-filled faith.

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