Expectant: a story of birth and surrender

In the early hours of 2021, God handed me the word Expectant and I told Him to take it back.

Expectant. The word twisted into my aching, empty womb with all the mercilessness of a knife. I couldn’t claim it as a promise because what if it didn’t mean what I wanted it to mean? What if I couldn’t get pregnant again? Or worse, what if I did get pregnant again and my body failed that child, too?

But God persisted, so I set out to expect good things (maybe not a baby, but good things) from 2021.

Then it happened. The month I started to feel alive again—the month before my husband and I had determined would be the month we start trying to create a new life together—a baby appeared in my womb.

An unexpected gift.

A miracle.

Expectant…

And still so very afraid to claim it.

I scheduled an appointment to get my progesterone checked. I prolonged trips to the bathroom, afraid of what I would find in the toilet every time. I grieved, rather than celebrated, the day I realized I was the most pregnant I had ever been.

I loved my new baby, but I missed her siblings something awful.

Still, we made it through the majority of the year Expectant. Then my January baby decided December was more her style and announced her impending arrival a week early.

The morning my water broke, I was such a hopeful fool. The end was near. Things were happening. My baby would be here tomorrow.

Contractions kicked in late that night. I was up at 3am, bursting with excitement. With Expectancy. But I remembered my midwife’s warning to sleep when I could, so I stretched out on the couch and closed my eyes.

I awoke two hours later to complete stillness. No contractions and, even more disconcerting, no baby kicks.

I placed a hand on my stomach, lifted and jiggled and whispered, “Come on, Blue.” I drank some water. Ate a nutrigrain bar. Still, my baby didn’t respond.

I hadn’t felt this kind of emptiness since the morning after I lost the twins. The morning when I woke up and pressed a hand to my flat stomach and lamented (despite my husband’s insistence to keep hoping we still had a survivor in there) that they were gone.

In this instance, my stomach was far from flat. There was a seven and a half pound human in there, after all. But the stillness… Oh, the stillness.

I called the midwife, paced the halls, climbed the stairs. My husband put his hands on my belly, lifting and shaking and begging our child to move.

Nothing.

I bounced softly on my birth ball, clutching my stomach, sniffling through tears, reminding God that He promised.

Except He didn’t.

Not really.

What He promised me was an Expectancy. A hope. A sense of anticipation…

But He never promised me my desired outcome. He never guaranteed me a living, breathing baby in the end.

And what then? What happens when your Expectancy ends in heartache? What happens when your dreams turn to ash around you?

Is God still faithful? And good? And worthy of adoration? Are you still thankful for this gift, even if it will soon be ripped from your hands?

These are the things I pondered for the longest hour and a half. In those quiet hours before dawn, I was forced to surrender the thing I cherished most in the world—the child I had craved and carried and expected.

Then the midwife arrived and the heartbeat sang strong and I choked out a cry of relief while demanding, “What the hell, Blue?”

My baby was alive. Stubbornly silent, but alive.

The day went on, laborless, until the midwife fed me some kind of miracle milkshake and the contractions kicked in non-stop.

Ten hours of labor (mostly spent in the bathroom thanks to the ingredients of that milkshake). Ten hours of clinging to my husband’s neck while simultaneously snapping at him not to touch me as each contraction raged. Ten hours of craving rest but also being afraid to sleep because what if labor stopped again?

Somehow I did manage to sleep, albeit a minute at a time. Then I got up to use the bathroom and it all went wrong.

“We’re going to get ready to transfer for a c-section…”

A c-section. The worst case scenario. A baby in distress and a mama who didn’t even get a chance to deliver her.

The midwife helped me back to bed. She had been mostly hands off at that point, respecting my broken water bag and the risk of infection that came with it. But it didn’t matter now. The baby was coming out soon and she needed to know what was happening in my body.

“You’re fully dilated. Do you feel like pushing?”

“No, but I could.”

“Well, the baby is breech—“

“What?”

My baby? The one who has been in perfect position since Week 28? Breech? How?

(Reader, this likely happened while her father and I were shaking my uterus in sheer desperation, but I like to think my clever little girl is already halfway potty trained as, moments before I got up to use the toilet, she turned her little butt to my cervix and promptly pooped my bed.)

“Can you give me a push?”

My husband and the midwife’s daughter were currently packing for the hospital trip and she wanted me to push? It seemed a little counterproductive, but I obliged. I pushed, and I pushed, and I pushed one more time…

And then I heard the most beautiful words I could imagine in that moment: “You’re moving this baby, so we can do this here, but we have to do it now.”

Wait, no c-section? No c-section!

Levi scrambled into bed behind me, supporting me as I pushed our daughter’s body into the world. But she was breech, and her head got lodged in the birth canal with no weight behind it to help guide it into the world.

My mother-in-law had told me that birth is hard on husbands because there is literally nothing they can do to help. “It’s all on you, Mama,” she said, as if that was the most exciting, empowering thing in the world.

And while (in hindsight) there is an overwhelming sense of empowerment in delivering a breech baby in ten minutes, in that moment of birth… in those two and a half minutes that stretch into an eternity while your baby’s head is stuck in your pelvis… when you push with everything within you and it is not enough…

I have never felt so powerless in my life. It was all on me, but it also wasn’t.

Because I could not will my child into the world the instant I needed her to be there. I could not help the fact that she was desperately in need of an intervention. I could not make her live by hope alone.

All I could do was push to no avail and worry that I had come this far only to lose her in the end. All I could do was strain and pray and tell God that I couldn’t do this again. I couldn’t lose another baby, especially like this.

Thank God for a midwife who knew to put her finger in my child’s mouth and guide her the rest of the way. For the breath she pumped into my daughter’s unresponsive lungs. For the eyes that fluttered open and the cry that came after four long minutes of desperate pleas to heaven.

Expectancy: The state of thinking or hoping that something, especially something pleasant, will happen or be the case.

The hope, but not the promise.

Thankfully, I got both this time and, like any mother who knows the sting of loss, I do not take it for granted.

We were on the fence about our girl name the entire pregnancy, debating between two and deciding that we would know which one she was when we saw her.

She made it easy for us. No child who put us through all of that uncertainty was befitting of a whimsical, fairy-like name.

No, this child was our Elise Abrielle.

“Consecrated to God.”

“Open, Secure, and Protected.”

Our daughter is alive and well…

And we are still Expectant of good things for her future.

The Separation of Church and Christ

My first breakup with church was entirely out of my control. I was twelve years old and furious with my parents for taking me away from the place that had housed my faith all my young life.

But my father felt called to step out that year—like Abraham, “not knowing where he was going”—and I was forced along for the ride. The craziest thing happened when the stability of my Sunday morning routine was ripped away from me… My faith began to grow. Beyond the four walls that once contained it. Outside the box I had crafted to carry it safe and close.

I learned that year (and in the many years to follow) that God was much bigger than the house man had built for Him. Perhaps that is why my newsfeed has been causing me so much frustration lately.

A meme tells me not to claim I would go to prison for a faith I “won’t even go to church for.”

A misguided evangelist assures me that my children won’t develop a desire to follow Jesus if I fail to take them to church on Sunday mornings.

Yet another meme informs me that if I think I don’t need church because I can study the Bible on my own, I clearly haven’t been studying the Bible.

You know, maybe I am having a hard time with Bible study because I seem to have missed the verse that says, “Faith without church is dead.”

I am not opposed to church by any means. Many people benefit from the long-held tradition of Sunday morning worship. I have been one of those people throughout several seasons of my life. My opinion is that, if church satisfies your soul—if you find that God feels present in a sanctuary filled with fellow worshipers—by all means, go to church. But if you find yourself on Sunday mornings wondering why you’re even sitting in that pew, craving a Bible and a journal and the silence of your living room… Well, maybe it’s time to move on.

Maybe it’s time to break up with church and fall in love with Jesus instead.

I know, I know. Sacrilege.

Because when it comes to breaking up with church, the church would like you to believe that the problem is you. You’re not trying hard enough to connect. There is a flaw in your faith. If a wrong has been committed, it’s your fault.

But ultimately, it’s like any breakup. Maybe one person carries more blame than the other, but the simple fact is that the two of you just aren’t right for each other. You need no other reason to walk away.

Church has been sacred to me in the past but, looking back, I can see it was also a danger to me at twelve years old when I considered that silly building to be the end-all-be-all of my faith. I fell apart that year, but by the grace of God, my faith came back stronger than before.

Because despite what I believed as a child, my faith was not defined by where I sat on a Sunday morning. God was not confined to the sanctuary of my childhood.

They’re separate. Christ and the church. And while the hope is that the church provides some kind of accurate reflection of Christ, the fact is that a congregation composed of flawed human beings often falls short of that goal. That’s why it pains me to see the church declare that they are the pathway to faith. I’ve seen the hurt the church has inflicted on some of its members. I’ve watched disillusioned believers try to reconcile the Christ preached from the pulpit with the man doing the preaching, knowing that his actions and his words don’t quite align.

What I’ve seen online these last few weeks appears to be a desperate attempt by the church to stay relevant. Only, it’s all merely words—a clamor of voices insisting the church still has relevance, trying to convince me that my faith will not survive apart from it.

But what if I truly believed that? Would I run back to church, seeking solace within the walls that lately have provided no comfort for me? Or would I let my faith quietly slip away, knowing it was made for churches and could not serve me outside of it?

That’s the message you’re portraying, church, with these memes insisting that you alone know the way to God’s heart.

It is important to leave the seekers that distinction. Let them not confuse a church that would wound them with a God who would take their wounds upon Himself. If a church is to push them away, let them not feel that God has also rejected them. Let us not act as though the temple veil has not been torn asunder, giving all people access to the God who resides within.

What I have gathered from that Bible I may or may not be able to interpret on my own is that we are called to community. We are called to fellowship. We are called to love and minister to the least among us.

I have yet to find the part that says we called to a building. Called to Sunday morning schedules or pastors who sit upon pedestals. Called to cling so tightly to tradition that we would chain and choke our faith just to keep things as they have been.

You may need church to help you grow. You may be fortunate enough to have found a corporate place of worship that makes your faith come alive. But if you ever feel that your faith is outgrowing the walls of that sanctuary… set it free. Let it grow. Search for God in the temple of the great wide world He created.

And don’t ever let anyone convince you that God only speaks from a pulpit.

“Remind me that you never asked us
to build a building,
only to build a kingdom…
Let me change the place I worship
to the temple you’ve provided,
all around me in my everyday life.”

-Steven James (A Heart Exposed)

An Interruptible God

Adriel Booker writes of Jesus and His ministry:

“He was the kind of God who was interruptible, the kind of God who noticed pain and doubts and suffering and confusion, the kind of God who engaged deeply with people so that his heart would be moved to take action when they needed him most.

Interruptible.

That word jerked me right out of the pages, sending me searching through my own heart.

Jesus is the kind of God who is interruptible.

I think the reason I’m so enamored by this thought is the fact that I, personally, am not so gracefully interrupted. (To phrase it mildly.)

I am not a fan of unexpected detours. Sudden changes to my schedule have a tendency to make me spend the whole day trying and failing to recover my rhythm.

But here’s Jesus, making an entire ministry out of interruptions, taking them all in stride.

Take Mark 5 for example. He’s on His way to minister elsewhere when someone tugs on His cloak in search of her own healing. And Jesus stops. A little girl’s life hangs in the balance while He takes a moment to commend this impertinent woman for her faith. He speaks life into this woman even as the little girl He was on His way to save breathes her last breath.

Y’all, I get annoyed when my Tuesday dinner plans turn into Thursday lunch plans. Jesus got interrupted and a child literally died. His detour kept Him too long. His miracle came too late.

(Except, *spoilers* it didn’t because nothing is impossible with God, so this deadly interruption wasn’t quite as fatal as it seemed.)

You know what I would have done had I been in Jesus’ sandals that day? I would have shaken the woman off. I would have ripped my cloak right out of her desperate hands and rushed straight to the bedside of that little girl. That was the mission, after all. If Jesus had accomplished nothing else that day, healing that dying child would have been enough.

But Jesus knew there was room for two miracles where I would have only carved room for one.

He healed a woman of her infirmity and He also brought a child back to life.

Healing upon healing. A two-for-one special.

Jesus was the kind of God who was interruptible because He had to be. Life is full of interruptions, and if you don’t learn to take them in stride, you won’t accomplish much of anything.

My problem, I am coming to realize, is not that interruptions exist, but that I let them overstay their welcome. I dwell on them, fussing over the inconvenience, rather than moving on to the next thing.

What if I learned to hold things for that crucial moment they need to be held and then breathed them out and let them go? What if I learned to be more interruptible? Would it make room for more blessings, more miracles?

I think it might.

So here’s to embracing interruptions with the same attitude Jesus did——like this moment is all that matters. Like I have all of the time in the world to deal with the next thing. Like there is room for more than one miracle in my day.

With Expectant Faith

I recently finished reading the book Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri. It’s a beautiful tale of immigration and faith and risking everything for an uncertain future.

It’s a true story, although cleverly told as though the author is still twelve years old, living in the thick of it. The hero in the story is his mother. He describes her many times as “unstoppable.”

I’m sure his mother would tell the story differently. While her courage in leaving behind an affluent life in Iran for the sake of her faith is undeniable, I imagine there were times she didn’t feel as strong as her beloved son paints her to be. I’m sure there were places along the journey where she just wanted to curl up and cry. I doubt she felt unstoppable at every road block that stood in her path. I’m sure that courage was sometimes a thing she mustered for her children’s sake alone.

But the author sees her as unstoppable. Despite the storms that surely raged within her soul.

I don’t think it is spoiling the story to tell you how the author speculates she managed through all those dreadful years of wondering and waiting.

“Maybe it’s anticipation,” he wrote. “Hope. The anticipation that the God who listens in love will one day speak justice.”

I’ve been rolling those words around in my head for a week now, molding them into the gaps in my heart.

This is the kind of faith I knew God was looking to instill in me this year when He burdened me with the word Expectant.

Daniel Nayeri wrote in his book that what you believe about the future changes how you live in the present. That was the secret that made his mother an unstoppable force.

That is the secret that could unlock everything.

I’m going to be honest, my future has been looking pretty grim from my recent point of view. So I’ve had to change what I expect from the future. I’ve had to become one of those sojourners who believe there is something beautiful awaiting me at the end of this journey.

I’ve had to look toward the future with hope. Anticipation. Expectancy.

There is more, there is more, there is more.

All I have to do is claim it.

I’m learning (albeit slowly) to claim it. To be the kind of unstoppable Daniel Nayeri believes his mother to be. To have the kind of unshakeable faith that will say, “This is not the end. Mountains, move out of my way.”

Because I believe in the God who holds those mountains. I may feel as though I have come to the end of my being, but He is everlasting. He endures in both love and justice.

My story is not over yet. Dawn will break on the dark night of the soul. And I will choose to rise and meet it with hope in my heart, with anticipation in my soul, with an expectant faith.

An Ode to Joy

The word Joy keeps resurfacing in my life. All throughout the month of February, that pesky little word kept invading my grief as if to say, “Get up, get up and keep moving forward.”

You see, Joy took a little vacation from my life starting back in November. I checked out of Thanksgiving. I cried through Christmas. And for the entire month of January I just sort of existed in a perpetual state of sadness.

Then along comes February, singing its infuriating little song: “Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy…”

Where? I wonder.

“Down in your heart, silly,” Joy says with a giggle.

If I have any trace of that Sunday School Joy remaining deep down in my heart, I think it’s safe to say it’s buried beneath quite the pile of rubble right now. Yet the words that keep haunting me at every turn are those of James:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”

I don’t know about you, but Joy isn’t exactly my natural response to troubling situations. I prefer to wallow in my misery, mourning deeply and artistically. I like to give Grief time to do its work and devastate me properly. I don’t want to think about how the testing of my faith produces perseverance; I just want to cry, dang it.

But this verse just kept on playing peekaboo with my heart. So I read the entire book of James and followed that up with the more sensible solution of searching my Bible’s concordance for other references to Joy, and that’s when I found this little gem tucked within the pages of Ecclesiastes 7:

“Consider the work of God; For who can make straight what He has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, But in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other…”

I love how well those words parallel the words of James (while leaving room for deep, artistic grieving).

Consider it pure joy…

Be joyful… consider…

Prosperity and Adversity both have stories to tell. And while Joy may come as a result of the trial, it doesn’t actually show up until later. Sometimes much later.

I’m learning that Joy is cyclical, like everything else under the sun. Adversity will always take a swing at it, Trials will often tackle it to the mat, and Grief may sometimes hold it down for the count. And that’s okay.

Maybe I don’t have to feel guilty that Joy isn’t currently the reigning champion in my heart, so long as I’m willing to let her back in the ring.

The blows just keep on coming, but Peace is surprisingly holding her own, and Joy? Well, I think she has a fighting chance. That’s all that I can give her right now. I hope it’s enough.

Fishing for Redemption

I’ve heard a dozen sermons on the final chapter of John. It’s funny to me that the general consensus among scholars is that Peter was in the boat that day running from his calling.

“Jesus died and Peter went fishing,” the preachers say. Abandoning the cause. Returning to the familiar. Doing exactly what he used to do before Jesus showed up and offered to teach him a new way to fish.

I’ve heard it enough times that I accepted it as fact. It makes sense, I suppose, that Peter would run back to that at the height of his despair. Only, it wasn’t exactly the height of his despair, was it? That famous breakfast on the beach was, in fact, the third time Jesus made an appearance to His disciples.

Peter didn’t go fishing when Jesus was dead; he went fishing after Jesus had already risen. Easter had come. Hallelujah.

So, if Jesus had proven Himself to be exactly what the disciples had hoped He would be, what was Peter running from?

Let’s rewind to Mark 14. You might remember that fateful night when Jesus tells His disciples that Zechariah’s prophecy will be fulfilled: “I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered.”

Peter, of course, faithful follower that he is, says, “Never will I ever,” and Jesus says, “Bro. You’re not just going to scatter, you’re going to deny me three times before sunrise, so just cool your jets.” (Paraphrase, obviously.)

But that’s not all Jesus said that night. Right before Peter interrupted with his ill-fated promise, Jesus made a promise of His own.

“But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Back to John 21. Here’s Peter, who has been to the empty tomb. Peter, who watched his friend Thomas skim his skeptical fingers over Jesus’ scars. Peter, whose wildest dreams have been realized, but who is drowning in shame.

He denied Jesus. He denied Him three times.

Is he really worthy of being called a disciple? Did he screw up too big? Did he scatter too far? Does Jesus still want him—Peter, who denied all association just to save his own skin?

I imagine him replaying that night in his mind. I envision the moment his reflections turn from his own broken promise to the one Jesus made.

Galilee.

It’s the place where Jesus first found him, yes, but maybe—just maybe—it’s the place where Jesus might meet him again.

So I imagine that when Peter said, “I’m going fishing,” it wasn’t an escape so much as a hope. Maybe he’s thinking of the day Jesus first called him, or maybe he just needs something to do with his hands, but Peter goes fishing. Peter goes fishing on the Sea of Galilee.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t go running from God in places I expect Him to be. I don’t crank up the worship music and say, “Oh. Fancy meeting You here.”

So I really can’t picture Peter as running here. Hopeless, maybe. Lost, for sure. But I think Peter went fishing that day because he was yearning to be found. Running back to the place where it all began, hoping to begin anew.

I think he set out in his little boat knowing Jesus would walk by. I think he was hoping to be chosen again, just like he was called the first time.

I think he was asking, “Do You still want me? Or are You going to leave me on these waters where I belong?”

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Jesus waited for that moment to reinstate Peter to his calling. He’d had the opportunity twice before, but passed it over, leaving Peter to doubt.

Now here He was, for the third time, asking Peter if he loved Him, not once, not twice, but three times.

“Yes, yes, You know I do!”

And then Jesus spoke the words I imagine Peter was longing to hear when he set out in that boat of his.

A pardon. An invitation.

“Follow Me.”

Forgiveness. Redemption.

“I wanted you then. I want you now. You haven’t screwed up too big. You’ll never scatter too far. Welcome back to the flock, my wayward Shepherd. Come, Follow Me.”

Even When God Disappoints…

“God won’t disappoint you.”

“God never lets us down.”

I read those two statements in the same morning and bristled both times. Maybe it makes me a bad believer, but I question the truth of those words.

God won’t disappoint me? God will never let me down?

If you’ve spent any time in church, you’ve likely heard that “every good and perfect gift is from above.” While that is true—biblical even—I can’t help but wonder when and where the church adopted the counterpoint to that statement: “Every hardship is from the devil.”

Because that’s the assumption, isn’t it? Blame satan, sin, spiritual warfare… but don’t blame God for your heartache.

The question I wrestle with today is how? How can one believe in a loving God who holds all things in His hands, while also believing that He allows things to slip through His fingers? Is God in control? Or does satan sometimes blindside Him?

Whoops. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Um, it’s satan’s fault. Sorry.”

I have a hard time believing that could be true. I can’t imagine that the God who so carefully crafted the universe could be so careless with something so dear to my heart. It doesn’t line up with what I know to be true of Him.

So as I stand here resting my head against the door He briefly opened and then so suddenly slammed in my face, I find myself disappointed (to put it mildly). Not in satan, sin, or spiritual warfare, but in the God who elected that I should walk this road and bear this burden.

Because while it may be that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him, that doesn’t mean that the process isn’t painful. That doesn’t mean I will never feel disappointed or let down. That doesn’t mean I won’t be devastated by a sudden turn of events.

That’s not how life works. That’s not how the Author of Life operates. He doesn’t shelter us from the storms of life; He simply weathers them with us.

The word God burdened my heart with for this coming year is Expectant. I have to admit it seems a strange follow-up to my year of Be in which I dismantled all of my expectations. It feels like a completely backward way of thinking. It feels like a recipe for disappointment.

I am trying to be Expectant of good things—to believe that this year will bring forth beauty from ashes. To look to the future with hopeful anticipation, trusting God to deliver good things, while not letting my dreams take too specific a shape.

So often, God’s will does not align with my own, and when I expect it to, I find myself disappointed.

This isn’t what I wanted, even if God believes it’s what I needed. Even if He ultimately knows best.

This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve walked this rocky road of disappointment and doubt. It’s hard to believe in the goodness of God when dealing with what one can only perceive as senseless heartache. So to assign God the reputation of never letting us down… Well, that just makes for a lot of disgruntled believers.

Because life is full of disappointments. Sometimes God opens doors only to close them again. Sometimes He grants us opportunities that aren’t everything we hoped they would be. And sometimes, as disappointing as it sounds, His good and perfect gifts are forged in hardship.

But even in the disappointment

I will continue to Expect beauty from these ashes. Because even in the disappointment, I trust that God’s heart toward me is good. I believe His will for me is pure.

And that, to me, is better than any misguided promise that life with Him will be easy.

A Year to Be

At the start of 2020, I sat down and had a conversation with God about a theme for the coming year. I needed a goal so that I could steer my life in that direction. But at the end of the day, having exhausted the possibilities, the only word that would stick to me was “Be.”

Be.

Boring old Be.

I mean, seriously, what is a girl to do with Be? How does one pursue something that is essentially the opposite of pursuit? Be is something that simply is, so what was I to do?

I begged God for a different word—something tangible. Some task that I could measure. I gave Him the entirety of January to change His mind, but the word remained, along with the certainty that God was calling me to set my standard of productivity aside.

It was a big year for me, after all. I had just moved across the country, I had a brand new ring on my finger, and I was planning a wedding that summer. God knew I needed time to learn how to fit into my new role.

“You are in the process of Becoming,” He whispered to me on that late January day. “This is your chrysalis stage. And while it may appear stagnant, you will emerge a new creature. You are quietly growing wings.”

I griped about it for another six weeks, and then the world fell apart and I was suddenly grateful for my passive, boring little word.

(Seriously though, can you imagine if this had been the year I tried to pursue a life lived Together? Or chosen that moment to decide to chase the Horizon? I would have gone stark raving mad with a word that required action from me.)

Suddenly, Be was a beautiful thing. My little spot of sanity in a world gone mad.

Be.

Take a deep breath. Everything will work out fine. Less doing, more being.

The truth is, I let a lot of things fall by the wayside in 2020. I wrote very little. The ice rink shut down and I didn’t check on the conditions of its reopening. I quit my job and started over somewhere new. Somewhere slow paced enough to drive the old Rebekah mad, but to make the new Rebekah smile at its simplicity.

And that’s how I know that 2020 has been my most successful year yet. Because I’m not sitting at the end of it, running through a mental list of my failures. Because I no longer worship the gods of productivity.

A year ago today, I would not have thought it possible to state into an uncertain future without the slightest bit of apprehension. I would not have thought I could replace heartache with peace. And, though I have my days, I am here.

I am here.

Present in my life in a way I did not know was possible. Breathing in the moment without that flicker of hurry at the back of my mind. I am no longer racing through the motions of life; I am merely showing up for it.

And it is beautiful.

Life in all of its unscripted, unhurried glory is beautiful.

I’m glad I showed up for it, and I hope you will, too.

Great Expectations and the Decay of Happiness

“Happiness equals reality minus expectations.”

That phrase, which I read in John Mark Comer’s Garden City (although he accredits it to sociologists Manel Baucells and Rakesh Sarim from their book Engineering Happiness), has been rolling around in my mind for a day now.

“Happiness equals reality minus expectations.”

Huh.

When Levi and I were going through pre-marital counseling, there was a whole chapter on expectations. Our homework was to write down twenty expectations we had for our marriage in addition to ten expectations we imagined each other to have. We were then meant to share, compare, and otherwise work through our delusions.

I suppose the point of the exercise was to save us from future unhappiness (see happiness equation above), but concocting that many expectations for the sake of comparison felt like a sure way to guarantee my unhappiness in the moment. I managed to come up with a whole eight expectations before I called it quits.

I know it’s still early, but despite flunking marriage counseling, we are blissfully, deliriously happy. I’ve either kept my expectations simple, or I learned to shape them around the person I know Levi to be rather than a “perfect” ideal I might conjure. (Because let’s face it, in a perfect world, my husband would cook and clean and somehow still manage to make enough money that I’m not holding my breath when I tally up our expenses each month.)

But it works. My expectations do not outweigh my reality. I’m truly happy with the simple life we’ve chosen to pursue.

When I look at the world around me, it is obvious that most people cannot say the same. There is an epidemic of discontent sweeping through the nation. Despite the overwhelming amount of privilege to be found in America, we are desperately grasping for more.

And I wonder if these people will be happy when they “arrive” or if their expectations will have left them empty. Will they ever be content with enough when there is always more to be had for the taking?

Would I be happy just to sell a novel if I’m fantasizing about it landing on the New York Times Bestseller List? Would I be delighted by a simple review from a reader if I was hoping to be critically acclaimed?

It’s worth pondering. Is it possible that our great expectations are sabotaging our ability to be happy?

There is a lot of tension in America right now, everyone constantly refreshing their phones to see if the votes have been counted. The next four years of political decisions hinge on the outcome… but your happiness doesn’t have to.

People will tell me that is a privileged point of view. But is it? Is it a privilege to be happy despite the state of the political world or is it simply a choice? A choice to choose hope instead of despair. A choice to choose love over hate.

I am a firm believer that your mindset shapes your reality. That’s why the placebo effect works. Belief has the power to heal and uplift, but it likewise has the power to drown and destroy. So really, you can’t afford to walk into the day with anything other than a positive outlook. Your literal health depends on it.

Politics take place in government circles, but happiness… that starts here. With you. With me. With the choices we make daily.

And stuff like that? Hope and love and joy and peace… it’s contagious. That is what is going to change the world. Not a couple of guys sitting at a desk in their big, white house.

We have ascribed too much worth to outward circumstances. We have given too much power to politicians. It is time to take back our lives. To reshape our expectations and the disillusionment that comes with them. It’s time to extend a little grace—we’re all only human after all. It’s time to choose to be happy, despite the media telling us that we should despair.

At this point, there is nothing you can do about the election. You did your part, but now it is out of your hands. You can, however, elect for love to reign over hatred in your heart.

I know I want to live in a world where love wins. I hope you’ll choose to create that world with me.

Pursuing Stillness

My husband has been comparing me to horses pretty much since the day we met. (He’s a horse trainer; it can’t be avoided.) Fairly early on in our relationship, he told me I reminded him of one of the more sensitive of those creatures. He knew that if he pushed me too hard, too fast, I was liable to jump right through the fence.

He wasn’t wrong. In the end, it was his gentle persistence that won me over… even if he does insist on handling me like a horse.

It’s an apt comparison though, especially when it comes to his own personal project pony. If having a “spirit animal” is still a thing, Kismet is mine. In observing her, I learn much about myself.

Perhaps our similarities are what draw me to her, but also what make her difficult for me to ride. The things I struggle to control in her are the very things I fail to master in myself.

Stillness is hard for both of us. In order for me to maintain control of Kismet, I have to lower my energy and find a sense of peace. But peace is not my natural state of being. I like busyness. I enjoy multitasking. Slow and steady is a phrase I often interpret as dull and boring. Even when I am sitting still, my mind is racing in a hundred different directions because I feel like I should be doing something.

But Kismet is teaching me the Art of Stillness, not by example, but by the fact that Stillness is what she requires of me if I want to stay in the saddle.

Sometimes it feels like she fights me with every step. She wants to press ever forward, ever faster. Always moving, and always moving her way at that.

Last week, we took the client horses out and about for a ride to see how these green broke ponies would react to the great big world. It was Kismet’s job to take the lead—to walk fearlessly up to bridges and dumpsters and mountains of firewood so the others could see these things meant them no harm. Kismet got bored with it pretty quickly, never wanting to linger over any one thing for long.

My instinct is always to fight her—to force her into submission—but I know she only feeds off my energy and fights me all the more. So I took a deep breath and calmly turned her back around.

Peace.

Stillness.

Why are those things so hard?

As soon as we turned back toward home, the problems only escalated. She picked up her pace, eager to get back to her pasture and her herd. I wound her in serpentines to keep her from charging too far ahead. I intentionally guided her in a direction that was not quite where she wanted to go. Still, she kept her nose tipped to the east, pulling on me.

“I know what direction home is,” I assured her, “but we’re not going that way right now.”

She stomped. She spun. She struggled.

And I related with that horse all the more as she strived against Stillness.

A great big exhale of energy.

Peace.

Stillness.

“I’m okay, you’re okay,” I breathed, willing it to be so. “Whoa, girl. It’s okay.”

We survived our outing, much to my husband’s relief. Despite his more natural tendencies, I think peace is a hard place for him to find when I’m on that wild pony. If you ask me, he’s too hard on her, but I can’t begrudge him that. It’s his job, after all, to gentle horses, but despite all his efforts, this one refuses to be fully tamed.

Sometimes I think he forgets where she came from. After all, this horse would have been dead years ago had a friend not pulled her from a kill pen based solely on her looks.

Someone had given up on her potential. Someone had decided she was beyond redemption. Even the friend who rescued her from the throes of death quickly realized there wasn’t much she could do from this creature. She had no use for a bucking bronc so if Levi was looking for a project, he was more than welcome to take Kismet off her hands.

So really, when you look at where she came from, Levi has worked a miracle with this horse. He saw her worth and fought for it. He gave her purpose. It could almost be said that he brought her back to life.

But she’s still overreactive and highly emotional, and he can’t change that. Just like he can’t change me.

Sure, he can create the proper environment for breakthrough. He can coax her along. But he can’t make that change happen deep inside her where it needs to take place.

Because, while peace is something you can taste in the presence of someone who has mastered the Art of Stillness, it can’t become your own until you want it badly enough to seek it out for yourself. Maybe it can be borrowed for that moment when you need it the most, but possessing it—truly inhabiting Peace and Stillness—is a chore.

I don’t know if Kismet will ever put in the work for herself. I don’t know if horses are capable of the type of self-reflection it would take to overcome all of her past trauma and truly change. But God knows that I’m trying.

I’m taking deep breaths. Exhaling slowly.

I’m reaching for Peace.

I’m pursuing Stillness.

One day, by the grace is God, those things may come easily to me. Today, I strive for them with sheer willpower, reining in my thoughts and centering my focus.

Because there is something sacred about Stillness, and I want to know it better, despite my wandering heart.

Art by: David Roper