Safe Houses + Highway Robbery: Lessons from 2014, Part I.

Sometimes year-end reflecting takes longer than a day. Or a week. Or a month. To be honest, I wish I could have just swept last year under the rug and forgotten about it completely. You know that space we were talking about? It doesn't really allow that kind of thing. So here we are, you and me. And I'm just going to imagine that we're nestled into a comfy couch and nursing cups of coffee while I reveal to you some ugly pieces and valley places.

And here it is. Last year was hard. Capital, italic, bold. HARD.

Nothing life-threatening happened to me. I lost no one close to me. My needs were met. It just felt like... my spirit was sick. To give you an idea:

I’m weary of this story. It’s waking up in the morning with no sense of purpose. It’s wanting to crawl back under the covers and hide from the voices in your head. It’s descending into this dark place until it nearly suffocates you. It’s all you see. Nothing else is clear. Nothings else matters. The shadows steal the light at the end of your tunnel, your hope of a better tomorrow, the one thing keeping you going. And then it’s just gone. You don’t believe there will be anything better tomorrow because you can’t seem to jump off this never-ending roller coaster. And you wish you were stronger, braver. You think maybe you have been, before. You should know what the sickly voices of your demons are going to say. They pound it in to you. You won’t get better. You won’t get stronger. You won’t move forward. You don’t have anything to offer. You can’t make a difference. Look at you, you've fallen again. And you start to wonder if it’s true. And you can’t stand to look at yourself because all you see is affliction. And you want so badly to be out of your head, away from yourself because you can’t stand the sound of your own voice and the sound of your pain and weakness but you’re stuck. Right here. To take the blows. And fall further into defeat.

I can’t even stand it. I don’t even love me. How could anyone else love me through this?

There's a little voice telling me I'm stupid for sharing that with you, but there's an even stronger voice saying that those words need to be placed in the light because I know I'm not the only one.

When you are in that place, you don’t think clearly. All you can think is… I must get out. All you want is to feel better, feel stable, free. You do whatever it takes to never see that place again. You think of the perfect version of yourself, all of the circumstances that would keep you out of the darkness. In order to turn away from that place forever, you decide to devote yourself to building a better life, a little house to protect you from the storms of life.

So I made my perfect little plan.

When I find an amazing community, then I will be so much happier. Brick one. When I get a little more successful in my business, I'll have a lot more freedom. Another brick. If I could just be a better, cooler, trendier person, maybe people would like me more. Nail down the roof. If only I could go on adventures like everyone else, then I’d really be living. Build a little door. When my bank account gets a little bit bigger, I’ll feel a whole lot more secure. Attach the biggest lock.

If I could just work on building this life for myself, I’d feel safe. Because then I’d finally have my place in this world, then I’d finally know something other than the darkness that surrounds me.

I saw her, the girl, the one I wanted to be, the perfect mix of all the people I followed on Instagram, all the lives I coveted. And it was a really good distraction from the storm constantly slamming against the walls of my heart and mind.

I thought, maybe if I dressed this way, if I put on this identity like my favorite shirt, maybe people would believe I belonged with those that lived daringly. If I worked really hard on my business, I'd find a sense of purpose like they had. If I made enough money, maybe I could buy a ticket and have adventures like they had. Maybe they'd believe I was cool and brave. Maybe they'd like me.

Maybe they’d invite me in.

I didn’t feel like it was asking too much. To want these things. And I wanted them like I wanted my head above water, like I needed my head above water.

But instead of more clients, I went weeks without booking anyone.

Instead of a bigger community, I watched friend after friend after friend (12 in a year, no joke) move away to new lives.

Instead of extensive travels, I wondered how I was even going to put gas in my tank.

Instead of brighter days full of purpose and belonging, I saw more dark days.

And on the eve of a family trip to Lake Tahoe, when all I wanted was to get away, have adventures, and climb mountains, the doctor said a word like “arthritis” and I found myself limping just to get through the airport.

I felt stripped away somehow, like all of those things I was putting so much faith in were just disappearing, slipping right from my hands.

Poor. Alone. Unsuccessful. Lost. Broken in spirit. Broken in body.

I tried hiking. I did. I even carried my awesome backpack and refused to let anyone else shoulder it. But I had to turn back. And the pain in my knee didn’t even touch the pain throbbing in my heart.

So instead of hiking trails in Tahoe like I had imagined for months, I did the one thing that didn’t require much mobility.

And the day I went parasailing for the first time is the day I got robbed.

That trendy little backpack I insisted on carrying? It was full of the finest camera gear and some of my favorite clothes and about every piece of gypsy jewelry I own. All of those things that made me, ME.

And someone broke in and stole all of those things, the precious little idols I’d built my life around. If I felt like I was flailing through life, I’d comfort myself with the fact that I was a photographer with her own business, despite the number of clients I didn’t have. If I felt like I didn’t belong, I laced up my boots and threw on my favorite accessories and reminded myself that there were people like me and that these things would help me find them.

Yes, I’m adventurous because I’m going to go climb mountains in Tahoe. Yes, I’ve got good style because look at what I’m wearing. Yes, I’m a legit photographer because I have this amazing camera. Yes, you should want to get to know me because of all of this.

Gosh it hurts to have so much stripped away. When the things you want, the things you’ve been holding so tightly, the things you think will make a way for you, when all of those things get torn out of your hands.

You become an adventurer without mobility, a photographer with no camera, a dreamer with no money, a lover of community watching all of your friends leave. The owner of a vacant life because you put your trust in all the wrong things.

I felt robbed in more ways than one.

Already downtrodden and lost, I went to sleep that night feeling betrayed, reduced. I walked through the airport the next day in a fog. A definite chip on my shoulder and bigger hole in my heart.

Then I noticed the change.

I was so used to carrying all this camera gear on my back while walking through an airport. On my return trip, I didn’t have a backpack full of beloved possessions to carry. And it was much easier to navigate on a arthritis-ridden knee.

Did you catch that?

Oh friends, what if our ailments, physical, emotional, or spiritual, are just trying to shake us, trying to tell us that something is wrong? And we keep piling on all of the wrong things, our silly little idols, and we carry them around, getting weaker by the moment? They’re painfully heavy and they only make the problems worse. Pounds and pounds of camera gear + arthritis? Not the best combo.

But when all of those things are gone?

We get lighter.

What if God is stripping things away because He needs us to be lighter for the journey? What if He’s getting us ready to run? What if He's preparing us for something that has no room for trinkets that steal our identity from Him?

What if He just wants to meet us face to face? Without all of the layers of things, possessions, words, identities that we stack on ourselves?

What if we stopped putting on identities like costumes?

So I’m not adventurous, creative, inspired, active, I’m not a writer, a dreamer, a photographer.

I’m simply His. You’re simply His.

That’s the only adjective you need. Because that is the one thing that will never change. No one can break into your life and steal that from you. No injury or event or circumstance can change that simple fact. No matter who leaves or who stays, no matter who approves of you or doesn’t, Jesus Christ has made you His own. (Philippians 3:12)

And He wants us to stop building our safe houses. Because the houses we build to keep ourselves safe? They turn into prisons.

Sometimes, things will happen that make you feel like someone just busted into your life and stole the things you worked so hard for. They will leave you with nothing but broken glass and a diminished hope in humanity.

But maybe those walls need to be broken. Maybe that little safe house of yours needs to be destroyed so you can see that you are already encompassed in a Love that is never-ending, always faithful, one that provides everything you could ever need. The safest place you could ever be.

We may feel like we've been robbed, but maybe we're just robbing ourselves. Of our true identities. Of His Presence. We wrap our fingers so tightly around the things we want and it turns out it's our hands that are thieving. Because we're stealing His place in our lives.

We’re just His. And we live in Him. And sure, we can be brave and strong and hopeful and artistic and brilliant. And we can build a life we love. But if we are not first and foremost His, if we don’t first find our identity in Him, those other things we put on ourselves become nothing more than idols we carry around on our backs. They slow us down and break us down. They lock us in places we were never meant to be, when we should be found in Him, dancing weightless in the light, the kind that only comes from His love.

The kind that sets us free.