Sometimes it takes a trip to the other side of the country to really start to see God more fully.
It’s not about the travel, though. Sometimes just a change of pace, and scenery, and a lot of long walks and talks with people that know your soul. Sometimes it’s just the space to sit for an hour with a journal in the early hours of the morning in a dark living room, or as the wind whips through messy hair and thick sweaters on front porches.
It is in the kitchen that I find myself on a Saturday morning, gripping a mug of good coffee, overthinking. We’ve squeezed seventeen people into a beach house, and so I’m surrounded by the coffee drinkers, those of us lingering around the counter as people have started to spread out – some on couches with fuzzy blankets and guitars, some around tables with card games, some zipping up jackets to walk to the beach.
As the conversation begins to wind down, I quietly slip out of the kitchen, grab my Bible and journal, and find a place alone outside, to think and pray and read and cry silent tears, if they’ll come.
I hear the waves crashing beyond the dunes in front of me, and feel as the ocean air penetrates my sweater and the rips in my jeans, and embrace the indulging of my senses. I let myself feel, here – feel the bite of the chilly air and the weight of my emotions.
It’s funny – the more of life I live, and the more places I visit, the more I see that it’s impossible to outrun the state of the heart. Traveling is distracting, and numbing, even, but when it’s 3:17 in the morning and everyone else is long asleep, or it’s the middle of the bustling day and you’re alone on the front porch with a house full of laughter behind you, but a heart of worry and uncertainty out in the cold – you feel rather small. Maybe insignificant isn’t the right word – but you realize, that no matter how far you go from home, you’re still you. I’m still me. My problems didn’t stay in my city when I boarded my plane.
So on the front porch of a west coast beach house, I feel, as much as my physical body will allow. And I sit in that space for a little while.
Yes, I am tired, thanks to sleep deprivation and jet lag, but my heart is tired, too.
And all I can pray, right where I am, with my Bible open on my lap and the salt air in my face, is for peace. For joy. For some semblance of hope amidst the uncertainty and fear.
So I pray.
I feel the wind in my face and the sea spray in the air.
And I go back inside.
As my friends and I take long walks along city streets and over bridges and road trips up and down the coast, we talk about coffee and budgeting and upcoming weddings. We talk about pain. We talk about chocolate, and suffering, and relationships, and death. We talk about the best kind of burgers, interspersed with conversations of loneliness and longing.
There’s an undertone of heaviness to this trip – unlike many others. Where we used to be carefree, discussing the intricacies of life, we’re now walking through that realness together, wrestling with issues that involve the soul and not just philosophical concepts that hold no weight.
My heart is changing as I spend more time with these dear people.
Where lighthearted conversation once reigned, conversations on the goodness and joy of life – a different, weightier theme emerges. And as I walk and talk and pray and think, both with people and alone, I feel a confidence rising.
Maybe life wasn’t meant to be fixed – but redeemed instead. (Romans 8:18-25)
Maybe our problems weren’t meant to be prayed away – but we were called to dance in God’s presence as we walk through the pain. (Psalm 16:11)
Maybe contentment isn’t a place to achieve – but a reality to live in, as we go to work and wash dishes and hold children and scrub floors and have hard conversations because the presence of God surrounds us no matter where we are. (Hebrews 13:5)
Maybe the uncertainty of the future will never go away – but we’re meant to figure things out, one step at a time, as the Creator of the Universe whispers to our hearts, “You are loved. You are chosen. You are enough. And I am with you.” (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 41:10)
I think oftentimes we know the truth in our heads, but when our lives flip upside down, it’s like we’re children again, learning things for the first time – not by books, but by tasting, touching, falling, asking.
And for all this talk of grace over the past years on this blog, every day I see more and more of what grace is.
Grace is not a concept. Grace is a reality – reach out and touch it. Breathe the air that God has created. Fill your lungs with a breath that He has given – one more in, and out, one more to praise Him with and give Him glory.
Grace is reading a Psalm in the middle of the night – that peace, that comfort, that strength in weakness that is found in Christ alone.
Grace is one more day, one more to rise and know you’re loved – chosen – enough – regardless of what anyone else says. Grace calls us enough, and grace is enough for us.
Grace is not a fixed life. Grace is the knowledge that Jesus has redeemed us from a life of sin and we have been called to freedom, to eternity, to newness and joy and hope in the darkest of times.
Grace isn’t second chances – it’s new beginnings. It’s not clean slates – it’s new slates. It’s not slowly becoming a better person – it’s about a redeemed identity and purpose in the sight of God.
Sometimes the pain won’t go away. Sometimes healing will come, and sometimes it won’t.
And often, we grow the most when we are pressed and stretched and all we can do is lean wholly into the arms of God. We grow when we are tired and weak, and must depend on His strength to carry us through.
As I took long walks and road trips, boarded airplanes and sat with journals on my lap and Spotify playing through my earbuds, I thought a lot.
And one night, I sat in a small closet, and prayed –
I surrender my will to Yours.
My plans to Yours.
My heart to Yours.
Give me peace, and strength, and patience.
I need You – I love You – I want You.
Surround me with Your presence and wisdom in the days ahead.”
And He did.
Over the past few months, as I’ve returned home from traveling to the quiet, with an overstuffed suitcase, a phone full of photos, and a desperate need for sleep, I’ve noticed the quiet sea change of my soul.
It’s funny – as I’ve texted with my friends since being back in our lives, we’ve talked about how these trips seem to age us five more years at a time. I wonder if it has to do with getting bigger glimpses of God amidst all the uncertainty. With seeing His hand work in the diversity of our lives and situations – some of us in school, some of us deep into careers, some of us getting married, and all of us in the struggle and heartache that accompany the uncertainty of new seasons – and seeing God through it all.
I wonder sometimes whether I’ll ever get to the place where I have complete happiness with where I’m at in life. I don’t know. I’m not counting on it. I’ve decided I’m not waiting on one job or person or city to make me happy.
But a truth I find comfort in is this – the fullness of joy found just by walking in the presence of God. Living in light of eternity. Delighting in His goodness. Resting in His faithfulness.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11
I want my joy to rest in Him alone, and not on my circumstances. I want my hope to be in His grace, and not in the security of a life I’ve built for myself. I want the love I have flowing out of me to be love that He provides, and not a love I’ve created out of my own strength.
I am thankful for the goodness of God. For being reminded of His truths whether on the east coast, or the west coast. For good people to process through life with. For long beach walks and eating ice cream around counters and praying in pantries and closets and cars.
I am thankful for the steadiness of God – that no matter what, His grace never gives up on us. Christ is in us, and gives us our identity, our strength, our joy.
I am thankful for the pain and uncertainty – because it drives me into Him, to in His presence and see that He is enough for my soul.
East coast to west, grace is so, so enough – and we’re gonna be okay.