I love roller coasters. I think they’re one of the few things in life I love because they scare me.
However, I do not love roller coasters outside of theme parks–in other words, when my week feels like a series of emotional roller coasters, I want no part of them. This week had enough emotional roller coasters to make Islands of Adventure jealous.
Sunday: Brandon McKee and I roll up into the church parking lot, five minutes until church is supposed to start (we’re preacher’s kids–what do you expect?), when we see both of our parents hurriedly walking to one of their vehicles. Extended family members trail behind them. Dad was having chest pains and they were heading to the ER.
Over the next 48 hours, I think it is safe to say that well over half a thousand different individuals were praying for our family and for my dad. People reposted my updates on social media about my dad’s health. I received countless texts and messages asking what could be done to help my family. While both my parents were calmer than I have ever seen them, the farthest extensions of our networks of friends echoed roars of love and support for my dad and our family.
Dad later passed all his tests, including his stress test on his heart. The doctors are still trying to determine the cause of Sunday’s scare (gallbladder is their guess for now).
Tuesday: I had to give a presentation for a college class. This presentation was probably my thousandth presentation ever, and it was probably for the smallest audience I’ve ever presented in front of. And yet, I was unnerved by it. Perhaps I was afraid I wasn’t going to “make the grade” (figuratively and literally). Perhaps it was the topic; the research I gathered about the education crisis in Syria made me realize how much my heart breaks at the thought of the needs of disadvantaged and damaged children. Realizing this particularly scared me because it made me completely question my direction and focus regarding my future career.
Furthermore, I already felt completely defeated for the week as I listed all the things I had to do by Friday. While juggling my many commitments, I started my week by “dropping the ball” multiple times.
And, I received news that I was offered an assistantship at UF in my department for graduate school, news that was expected but produced feelings of anxiety as I was told I only have a short window of time to make my decision about accepting the offer. (Long story short–I’m waiting on letters of acceptance/assistantship offers from other schools from out-of-state, schools that I’m still not 100% sure are where the Lord wants me to be.) I was emotionally wrecked, like an emotional roller coaster that had fallen off the tracks and crashed in flames.
And, may I add that the reality of my not-ready-for-swimsuit-season body hit me like the horrific memories of my teenage years, further irritating my self-image and judging my worth beyond just what I wasn’t capable of accomplishing that week.
Brandon called me that night to share some disheartening news…which was worthy of a few more tears shed…until he called again later to share an update that was enough to restore my faith in humanity and give me a glimpse of hope for my own life plans. He’s class valedictorian, by the way. I’m so proud of him.
Thursday: I finished everything I needed to get done. I was satisfied with my class presentation (for the most part). Dad had an out-patient procedure done to check out his gallbladder. I even had enough energy and time to clean my room….and then get distracted by a couple necklaces I found that I had allowed to become completely tangled.
If you have ever attempted to untangle jewelry, you may share in my sentiments about such a task. Feelings of disappointment in myself for letting the pieces of jewelry become that way mixed with feelings of determination to undo my wrongdoing. Suddenly, my fingers began to work the same way that the fingers of a master rubiks cube solver work at his favorite toy.
The task? Seemingly hopeless from the look of the chains and links wound up in knots. There was no way I could strategically and consciously untangle the mess and thus produce my own sense of hope through a plan. I just had to commit to working on it for however long it took until hope showed itself as sections of the pieces of jewelry became free.
With my mind on autopilot, I discovered that my commitment to the task was all that was necessary. Within ten minutes, I freed one necklace and had just one more to detangle from itself. And somewhere around the 15 minute mark I realized how much the necklaces resembled how I saw my life and emotions.
Over the last four years, I have sought diagnosis after diagnosis for what I consider my deepest issues–the causes for my cyclical-but-ever-present depression, my lack of self worth, my sense of hopelessness, my doubt and lack of faith in what was once considered spiritually elementary to me. And yet, here I am. Unchanged, if not worse than before.
Did I do what I was told to do to fill my spiritual crevices? Did I do the follow-up work necessary after moments of breakthrough? Did I practice blind faith in said breakthroughs and live out the work of the Holy Spirit? No, not really.
“Duh-doi, Valerie. That’s your answer.”
…Sure. Maybe. Yeah.
But, before we rule out other possibilities, let me process the symbolism of the tangled necklaces.
Those necklaces were so badly entangled from being left to tumble and twist that there was no semblance of two separate articles of jewelry. I look back at all that has happened in the last four years, consequences that I brought upon myself, conclusions that I decided without critically assessing their truthfulness. My experiences coil together like chains wound together so tightly that beginnings and ends are lost somewhere deep in the middle.
And yet, where my head was faithless and full of doubt, my hands were determined and willing. Note that I did not say that my hands were confident and self-assured. My fingers did not just pull on sections of necklace; they stroked and followed sections, being led by blind intuition instead of foreknowledge.
It’s been so long since I knew for sure I was hearing from the Lord. But, I think I heard Him whisper to me as I worked at my necklaces. I think He whispered the similarities between how He sees me and uses me now and my knotted neck jewelry.
If I wanted to, I could have still worn my necklaces; they just would have looked rather silly and may not have been as functional as I’d like them to. In the same way, God wears me around His neck to display His glory, but my emotional knots keep me from shining brightest or functioning as the glory of God.
But, unlike how I viewed my necklaces at the time, God doesn’t bat an eye at the thought of still proudly displaying me as His glory. I think this is because He doesn’t see me in my current knotted state. He sees me in my future state, detangled and free-flowing of Glory.
My diseased mind immediately combats this image with the painful question, “What if my free will on earth keeps me from one day becoming detangled?” Hopelessness returns to me like a warm, familiar blanket that had been removed briefly.
God replied to my doubt, “No matter what you restrict yourself from becoming on this earth, you will always have the eternal hope of one day being free because you have the hope of heaven and an eternity spent with Me.”
And just like that, the joy of heaven returned to my soul. No matter the deep emotional tangles that form over my lifetime, I will one day be free from them. And I have a hunch that if I commit them to God with the same mindless determination that my fingers had untangling my necklaces, hope of being free in this lifetime will present itself just as it did with my jewelry.
So do I still need to do all those things I’ve been told to do all too many times before to fix my spiritual woes? Sure. Yeah.
It’s just that now I’m going to try to be a little more mindless (less in control) about how I go about letting God in. No more strategic attempts. No more biblically-inspired books with the expectation that they hold the coded answers. No more heavy talks with myself about what God is doing or not doing and what I am doing or not doing to the point of crying fits of anger and self-hate.
Just mindless, blind commitment to believing God will help me work out my knots and kinks and carry me through the emotional storms alive.
Is that how a child believes? Is that what Jesus meant by “childlike faith”?
I think that it’s the same kind of faith kids put into roller coasters, whether they love them or are terrified by them or love to be terrified by them like I do. Maybe I’ll learn to love to be terrified by emotional roller coasters after I get used to the idea of God riding with me and promising me peace.
That’ll be something.
(Look at me talking in the future tense like I have hope or something! It’s not even Friday yet!)