Turning 30: How I Survived My 20s

Blogs about Heather, new years resolutions

As I approach my 30th birthday on Friday, I’ve been feeling particularly nostalgic about my 20s. This has been a huge decade of growth for me in every way that I could possibly imagine; and while I know this is to be expected for anyone in their 20s, for me it feels different.

Ten years ago, I was in my sophomore year of college. I was a broken, hurt shell of a human being. I found relationships hard, because I had extreme abandonment issues that I hadn’t yet put words behind. I was too intense of a person to build relationships with anyone beyond my little tribe of people. I found it hard to connect and had a bitter and heavy heart. I loved the Lord and knew I wanted to serve Him, but also felt like life had dealt me a crappy hand and that no one understood me. I knew that I was gifted, but nobody had ever really told me that. I covered my body in baggy clothes, because I didn’t want to be seen and yet that was the only thing I wanted.

A few weeks ago, in a phone conversation with my little sister, she said to me, “So Heather. I turn 24 this year. And that puts me in my mid-20s. I’ve never really thought about what it’s like to be in your mid or upper 20s. I mean, I know what it’s like to be young, but mentally I just thought you skipped right from college into your 30s. Do you have any advice for surviving your 20s?”

At first I thought that this was the most ridiculous conversation I could possibly have with my baby sister. She knows I’m turning a whole decade older this year, right? And she’s worried about turning 24? But then I realized that she’s totally right, and many of the conversations I have with my friends and volunteers who are younger than me revolve around surviving this thing called your 20s. You see, I’ve spent the last ten years hearing from people “Oh, to be young again…”

But you know what? Screw that. My 20s were tough. And my sister was turning to the right person. I gave her three points of advice; points that I’d love to share with you:

1. Get a real job.

I’m not against travelling if you have that privilege, and I’m certainly not against taking some time to figure out what you’re good at or what you like. My sister is in that stage right now, and I have mad respect for it.

But at a certain point, you have to find a real job, get real experience, wake up at a real time, and report to a real supervisor for real coaching. And that helps you understand who you are as a person, because you’re learning to manage conflicts and programs and people as you seek to become more than a number, but a person with a career.

And, you know, bonus points for moving and finding who you are in a new city with new people. It is incredibly stretching to start over from scratch.

2. Find a Therapist.

A former supervisor, who I thought must have had the most perfect family life, once told me “your 20s are about figuring out what happened to you in your childhood.” Therapy is a huge piece of that. No matter what your family life was like, you owe it to yourself to talk about it with a licensed professional who can help you understand your growth barriers.

For me, it was imperative. I began seeing a therapist when I was 27. Originally I thought I was going to therapy because my job wasn’t the happiest at the time. But what I found out during therapy was that I was freaking out because I had fallen in love — and I had some major vulnerability issues as a result of abandonment. Fun stuff.

In addition to therapy, I went on an endless journey of self-discovery. I studied Strengthsfinder and the Enneagram to get a sense of who I am and what my gifts are. For me, this was redeeming. The things that I saw in myself as weakness, I began to see as pieces of God’s image in me. And it was freeing! And it helped me relate better to people who weren’t like me.

3. Date, but don’t feel like you have to settle down.

I didn’t begin dating until I was 24 years old. I was in a new city, and I didn’t know a single person outside of the church I had just started working in.

I dated aggressively, and I did so because I was on a journey to figure out who I was and what I wanted from a partner. I knew I wanted to get married someday, especially since being raised evangelical I had expected to be married and have 2 kids by the time I was 24.

But I’m GLAD that I waited until I had a better grasp of who I was as a person. You are constantly morphing throughout your 20s, which is why so many of my friends who married immediately after Bible college have already separated from their spouse. It takes a lot of time to figure out who you are, and you should never feel like you have to “make it work” with someone when either of you has no clue.

When I met PJ, he was 34 and I was 26. I knew that I valued consistency, integrity, and humor — but a few years prior, I valued height, a high Biblical literacy, and someone who’d lead while I follow (vom). If I had gone with who I thought I wanted, I would end up with a tall tool who used the Bible to place me in the kitchen. I ended up with a partner who taught me the value of teamwork and makes me laugh and loves the Lord but also loves watching me shine. Thanks, Jesus, for that one.

These are the ways I survived my 20s — three simplistic, but difficult methods of finding myself. I am really proud of how far I’ve come: I’ve built deep relationships, including a spouse who I can be authentically and 100% myself with. I don’t live my life angry and bitter, and I’ve learned to wield my righteous anger into a power that gets stuff done for the sake of others. And generally speaking, I am an optimist; when 10 years ago I was a skeptic. I’ve also come to love myself completely. I look in the mirror and I like myself… some would even say my confidence needs to be dialed back. Last, I know what I want to do with my life — professionally but also personally. I can see my goals clearer than ever before.

As I look forward to my 30s, I often hear it’s the best decade of our lives. I hope so. I know that a lot of changes are on the horizon, with more stretching and growth bound to follow . But I also know that I am on a journey to be my best self. And if God can do this much in ten years of my life, who knows what’s ahead?!


This is a picture from my 20th birthday party, and I can’t think of a better picture! This is one of my dearest friends, who has been with me in this decade of growth. 

Top Reads of 2018

new years resolutions

Last year I made a big resolution — that I would read every book on my bookshelf before purchasing new books.

That was a total of 39 books. Yes, thirty-nine books on my shelf (not counting the ones I’ll never read, LOLZ).

While I didn’t get through all of them (or even half of them), I did want to list out those that I did complete:

  1. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy – Sheryl Sandburg & Adam Grant
  2. Daring Greatly – Brene Brown
  3. The Gifts of Imperfection – Brene Brown
  4. The Volunteer Revolution – Bill Hybels
  5. The Volunteer Project – Kizer, Keisher, Whitacre
  6. Ministry by Teenagers: Developing Leaders from Within – McKee & Smith
  7. Building your Volunteer Team (30-Day Project)
  8. Right Click – Kara Powell
  9. Inspired – Rachel Held Evans
  10. What is the Bible? – Rob Bell
  11. Out of Sorts – Sarah Bessey
  12. In the Name of Jesus – Nouwen
  13. Social Principles of the UMC 2017-2020
  14. Visioneering – Andy Stanley
  15. The Motivation Myth – Jeff Haden
  16. The Road Back to You – Cron, Stabile
  17. Next Generation Leader – Andy Stanley
  18. Common Prayer – Shane Claiborne

This year, I have some BIG GOALS in mind.

  1. I plan to attend seminary beginning this Fall to pursue my Master’s in Divinity. I’ve long-desired to go to seminary, even touring potential schools in my undergrad. But, it’s taken me some time to figure out what I believe–not just about faith but about my principles and where I should spend my future. While I haven’t been accepted yet, I am excited to get a top-notch education that helps me pursue my professional goals.
  2. I want to get healthier. Now that I’m married and baby-making is in the somewhat-near-but-not-too-near-so-calm-down-Mom-future, I want to get my body and my life in order. Two years ago I was diagnosed with a disorder that has reproductive, hormonal, and metabolic implications. In 2018 I focused on my mental health, and have my hormones under control. But this year I want to fix my metabolic issues with the hope that everything else can fall into line.
  3. Last, I’m focusing on Habits. In 2017 I read a lot of books on Habits, but I didn’t succeed. I now have a “Health Tracker” bullet journal which focuses primarily on the habits that I’m building week-by-week. I am hopeful that this, along with the Youth Pastor Diet Community and the participation of my husband, that this will help me get on track.

In 2018 I got stagnant in all areas — my faith, my health, my job… But this year I am proclaiming victory over all of this. It’s daunting to say “Hey y’all, this year I’m going to lose weight, start seminary, and actually follow through on stuff.” But I don’t think I am going to fail this time. I just can’t. You get to a point where you realize that you haven’t been operating like your true self — and that is my story. My disease impacted my mental health, my grit, my ambition — and I want to be “me” again.

So watch out, world. Your favorite Enneagram 8 is coming for ya.

Dear 18-year old Heather

Blogs about Heather, girls ministry

A friend of mine, Katie, posted a letter to her 18-year old self, inspired by Nicole Nordeman’s song “Dear Me.” Katie encouraged those who read it to use it as a writing activity to write their own letter to themselves. Here is mine:

Dear 18-year old Heather,

Greetings from you, 10 years from now. You’re now wiser, funnier, out of that awkward phase, and you finally know how to do your hair and makeup. You’re also hopelessly in love, in your dream job, and living a life that you didn’t expect…but you’re endlessly grateful for.

But it wasn’t easy getting here. Currently you’re living in regret of some choices you made your junior year of high school–trusting the wrong people, trying to “party,” and falling for the wrong guys. You’re trying to “remake” your life, but you find yourself unable to figure out who you really are, because you really really want to be liked but you also really really love Jesus. Cling to your moral compass and do what is right, even when it’s tough. Right around the corner is a season where you’ll befriend a ton of Christian nerds, just like you.

Let’s get real though: Give the world a break and quit being so angry. Not everyone is against you, and many will offer you help. Accept it. Especially when your grandpa offers to put the downpayment down on a new car…that would have been nice. But also accept kindness from others. You’ll find a mentor in your first year of college who will teach you what it is like to be loved. She’ll be the first person to ever tell you that you are beautiful. Soak it in, and live in that truth.

Each person who comes into your life enters for a reason. Take more time to invest in people, and consider putting down your walls and allowing people in more. Consider wisely who to share your story with, as not everyone can handle it; but do make sure to tell it. Never stop writing, never stop preaching, and soak in others’ stories as much as possible…they make yours better.

Also, drop the expectation that you’ll be married by the end of college. Or even by 25. That was silly. But do date bravely, and heal bravely from each guy who breaks your heart. One day you’ll find a man who loves you so deeply, that you will finally understand God’s love for you.

Take care of all aspects of your health. Eat good food. Stay active. Find a therapist. Go to the doctor regularly. Laugh a lot. Save your money and don’t take out credit cards. Make sure that you investigate neighborhoods before you move there…but definitely test out living by yourself. You are going to love that part.

Remember that your most important job right now is to take care of your sister. Be nicer to her. Teach her kindness, love, and grace. Don’t just teach her God’s stories, but live them out in your interactions with her. Love her fiercely, because she will be your best friend one day.

Right now you’ve decided on college, but you’re nervous about majoring in youth ministry. And you’re even more nervous about one day being a youth pastor. Embrace your calling…the more you live it out, the more it will make sense. Don’t be afraid to get plugged into a church quickly in Bolivar.

Don’t count middle schoolers out. Right now you want to work with high school ministry because you are one. But one day you’ll fall in love with the adolescent brain, think puberty is the best stage of life ever, and make poop jokes a regular part of your vernacular. Your lifelong search to balance justice and grace will perfect itself working with middle schoolers. Your desire to nurture will be fulfilled with this age group. Learn from as many youth ministry gurus as possible, and stay humble.

Don’t be afraid to call out injustice, even when it’s uncomfortable. Don’t listen to people who tell you that you’re obnoxious and to speak softer. Your only regrets will lie around not speaking up for yourself when it really mattered. Be loud. Laugh loud. Stand up for people, and through that you’ll inspire others to stand up.

Last, listen for friendships that will last for your lifetime. Invest more clearly into people who are important to you, but who might be hard. One day your closest friends will be people who need a little work, but who are also patient with you and your work. Never give up on your family, and embrace your friends’ families as your own when your own is tough. And take a deep breath: one day you and your mom and are going to love and support each other.

Cling tight to faith. Some days it will be all you have, and those will be your best days. And when you have more (and most days you will), never forget who you are and where you came from.


28-year old Heather

Assuming the Best of Others

Blogs about Heather, christianity

It happened again.

Another angry email.

You know, the kind we all get. No matter the field, no matter the role–there is always a heated complaint, the kind that makes you laugh at first (because it seems so ridiculous), and then forces you into an existential crisis.

I know I’m not alone. Even today, a friend of mine is in the same boat.

I read the email to my boss, and before I began I said, “Please don’t tell me ‘I told you so.'” Because this email was in response to a decision that I made that my boss didn’t quite agree on, but trusted me on. And what’s worse than someone upset with you for something you rallied so hard for?

My boss had compassion, and told me this story: her daughter was recently promoted at her company to essentially intervene on every complaint the company had. Someone was mad about the product? Goes to her. Someone thinks an employee was rude? Goes to her. Every single complaint in the company goes to her. Imagine all those angry emails. Yikes.

But what she said to her mother blows me away: “Mom, I love it. I love being able to change somebody’s mind so that when they walk out, they are believers in our product. They end up loving our product.”

What a statement.

And how convicting.

You see, I have noticed that when someone brings up a complaint to me, I get heated. I get defensive. I don’t want to listen. I want it my way and right now. My eyes get crossed and my words get slurred and I want to defend my decisions and prove how wrong everyone else is.


What if, instead of defending how correct I am (even when it’s obvious)…

…I spend that time in such a way that people walk out believing in my product?

…I take the time to value that person so that they value me?

…I assure that they don’t walk out knowing I’m right, but joining me in the truth itself?

And I think that this is true not just in our work, but in every argument that comes our way. I know that for me, I often get defensive because defense is my way of life. When you’ve done it “all on your own” for most of your life, you tend to forget that you don’t have to do it all on your own anymore.

And crap, you don’t outgrow that overnight.

It’s almost ironic that I began my day with this passage in Psalm 40 (which, on a side note, I only read because my sister got it tattooed on herself and I decided she was stupid so I ended up reading it to laugh at her, but instead it set my day in a really holy tone… don’t you wish God would stop meddling sometimes?!):

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.

God has done so much for us in our lives–taken us from a place of despair and loneliness and given us a solid foundation. The passage goes on to talk about how this story is not only one that we set on our lips, but one we place center in our hearts.

Sometimes we abandon this truth for a lie; we live our lives as if they are self-made and not God-rescued.

And when we live our lives as if it’s our work and not God’s, we forget to think about others. Because they didn’t help us. We did it on our own.

And what we end up doing is not allowing others to join in on that life, that story. We end up putting up walls and blurting out pieces when it’s convenient for us.

*raises hand*

I don’t know how to fix this.

But I can think of something one team in my church says, something I really admire:

Always assume the best in one another.

And I think that’s the best place to start…

…and maybe that’s where it also ends?

Assuming that when someone raises a concern with us, that their concern has value. That this person has value. That their concerns are nothing to laugh about or scoff about, but to consider that a real life human has entered you into a conversation that could end in improvement.

And, even if it’s not improvement in the idea itself…it will at least improve you as a person.

Treating others with the best assumptions always improves you as a person.

Lord, help me learn this. Help me set my story of rescue on my lips and in my heart. And help me invite others into that story, my story, and my thought process in a way that isn’t defensive but restorative.

28 More of my Worst Dating Moments

Blogs about Heather, love, Millennial in Ministry, Relationships, single in ministry

Right before my 26th birthday, I came out with a list of my most memorable and terrible dating moments. It went “viral,” at least, in my world. I STILL have people bring up this post at parties and gatherings, which usually ends up with people huddled around a phone, laughing at my misery. If you missed that post, stop and read it here.

I have had many more crazy moments, some I didn’t share in the last one and several more that I experienced in the short 6 months between that post and falling in love. One of the things I most enjoyed since my last post is how many women have opened up to me, confessing their own tales of horror.

As I said in my last post, opening up about these moments takes some vulnerability–even though I was intentional and careful about dating, I still found myself dealing with creeps. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where our first thought is “How’d you find yourself in this situation?” and end up blaming the woman. That said–don’t judge, just enjoy:

  1. The guy who, when I asked what his favorite genre of movies is, he responded with, “Well, I really liked Mall Cop 1, but I hated the sequel.”
  2. The guy who broke up with me through text saying, “You’re a Proverbs 31 woman, and I would have loved that in college, but you’re too good for me today.” He didn’t get far enough with me to have known that I resent that passage.
  3. The guy who texted me every day for two months after I broke things off with him, each time saying “you’re pretty and I miss you.” You’re desperate and I’m blocking you.
  4. The guy who messaged me 6 months after breaking up with “How’s your bod?”
  5. The guy who randomly messaged me a year after we dated with “Sometimes you just need to make out with a pastor and get some holy kissin’ in.”
  6. The guy who I met online, and we quickly established that he was another local UMC youth director. Five minutes into chatting he asks me if I want to “come over and snuggle.” Lawd.
  7. The guy who, after several months of flirting online, we finally go on a date. Afterwards he texts me, “are you okay with having sex before marriage?” The guy was the worship pastor at his church.
  8. The guy who ghosted me (I was okay with it, to be honest), but several months later texts me to check in with me because he still thinks I’m a decent person. He said that he ghosted me because he “just can’t have sex with a youth pastor.” As if there was an offer?
  9. The guy who, after a month of dating and after a really great date, immediately texted me: “I think things are going really great with you, and I can see this going somewhere. First you just need to accept my devout atheism.” …how is this the first time this came up? (okay, enough with text tragedies)
  10. The guy who moved here from California a week before our first date. I asked him why he moved and he said that he felt like God told him to, and he didn’t know why yet. After Facebook stalking him, he moved to Indiana because God told him he was going to find a wife. And he told all his family and friends that. In a public Facebook post.
  11. The guy who knew I was cooking dinner for him for the first time, and then showed up three hours late. It was my first time ever cooking for a man. Ever. But I pressed on.
  12. Another guy who, on the first time I cooked him dinner, I asked if he had any allergies. He said none, but apparently he was severely lactose intolerant. He spent 20 minutes in my bathroom after dinner.
  13. The guy who I didn’t realize was ghosting me; I thought he was just wrapped up in finals week in his last semester of grad school. Being the wonderful woman I am, I made him a finals week care package and left it on his front porch. I didn’t hear from him again.
  14. The guy who wouldn’t let me eat any of the nacho cheese from our pretzel app on the first date. I made a joke about how people in Indiana like to dip everything in nacho cheese, so he told me I couldn’t have any. I sat there and choked down a dry pretzel…and tears. I love cheese.
  15. The guy who thought it was appropriate to put his hand in my bra on the first date. Before you judge me–he was too slick. Obviously he had some practice.
  16. The first time I went over to a guy’s house, he had me drive around the neighborhood for thirty minutes because his mom had decided to pop in.
  17. The guy who gifted me a copy of “The Mist” on our third date because I said I liked scary movies.
  18. The guy who texted me all day before our first date, asking me what he should wear and what I would want to order when I got there.
  19. The guy who couldn’t stop staring down my dress on our first date as I was talking.
  20. The guy who, on our first get-to-know-you date, kisses me on the couch of my favorite coffee shop. And when I laugh and pull away, he kisses me again. Don’t ruin coffee for me, dude.
  21. The guy whose apartment had no furniture but a futon and a card table, with mallard wallpaper on the walls of his duplex.
  22. The guy who parks his car in the shed behind his house. You know, with a padlock.
  23. The guy who, on our second date, suggested we carpool downtown because he had a “really great parking spot.” The parking spot was a mile away from where we were going.
  24. The guy who invited me to dinner on our second date, then asked me if I minded paying for my own. Then he says to me, “I”ll get your drink though” and gave me a wink…as if paying for my $4 drink was a favor. 
  25. The guy who gave me two craft beers on our second date because I told him I was into craft beer–in truth, it was a thoughtful gift, but I had a terrible gut-feeling about him. Later in a text message he was very forward with me about progressing the relationship, so I told him that he was moving a little too fast for me and that I didn’t want to have another date. My gut feeling about him was correct: He got angry with me, and demanded that I give him the beers back. As in, threatened me. I told him that he could get the beers from the nearest police station, if he so liked.
  26. The guy who I wasn’t dating, but this is still a dating story: My good friend liked him, and we all went out one night dancing. He put a kiss on me, and I told him that I wasn’t into him. He disappears, and next thing we know we’re all asked to leave. We still don’t know what he did to get all of us kicked out, but the manager was clear that it was his fault. When I reject guys, clearly they go crazy.
  27. The guy who, when we were messaging on the dating app, had an entire conversation using Beyonce lyrics. I was hopeful. But in person…..his personality was terribly dry. Just awful.
  28. The guy who wanted to take me out to a nice breakfast, and we ended up at Perkins. I’m not knocking Perkins, just don’t tell me Cracker Barrel is gourmet.

Apologies to the men who are reading about themselves. Maybe next time, to the next woman, try not to be so lame? ;)

**As an aside–the picture that I picked for the header to this post is from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I used to joke that it was my dream come true to kiss a man with a cat between us. How my life has become just that!


18 Goals for 2018

Blogs about Heather, new years resolutions

Each year I try to set a goal for the year, something that guides me. One year it was to learn all of Taylor Swift’s latest album on the guitar. Another year it was to use all my vacation days. . One year it was to meditate on the word “resolve.”  Last year I wrote this diddy for YouthWorker Journal on 17 resolution ideas.

This year I want to do 18 things:

  1. Travel to one new place.
  2. Take my lunch at least two days a week.
  3. Join a three-month weightloss challenge with hundreds of other youth pastors around the world.
  4. Write at least four blogs a month.
  5. End the day with five minutes of prayer.
  6. Plan my work to-do lists six months in advance of each big activity.
  7. Sleep at least seven hours each night.
  8. Spend eight hours each month doing a hobby just for me: guitar, writing, etc.
  9. Get to know nine new people.
  10. No screens after ten pm each “school night.”
  11. Pay off my last eleven car payments.
  12. Attend at least twelve counseling sessions.
  13. Try thirteen new recipes (once a month plus a bonus)
  14. Take fourteen days of vacation.
  15. Read the Bible and journal for fifteen minutes each day.
  16. Add sixteen people to my middle school ministry team.
  17. Stop writing two-thousand seventeen on everything.
  18. Read eighteen books.

I’m going to take this list and put it on my mirror, so I can see it each day and remind myself of my goals. What are you doing this year?

17 Things I Learned in 2017

Blogs about Heather

Yesterday I saw my friend, Paul Turner, post a list of 17 things that he learned this year. As I read his list, I started thinking about how this has been a year where I have learned a whole lot about myself. Here are 17 things:

  1. Rather than focusing on strengthening my weaknesses, I should focus on how to highlight my strengths and find others to fill my gaps.
  2. Therapy is great for an extrovert, because you get to talk for an hour and then you’re given a challenge to better yourself.
  3. Safety is my number one concern and trigger.
  4. My church is the most special place to be on the planet.
  5. Podcasts are the best way to get through road trips.
  6. Aspartame makes my ankles swell up.
  7. I’m pretty good at blackjack.
  8. I have an entire section of grey hair growing in my bangs.
  9. I need to calm.the.heck.down and not let things bother me as much.
  10. The more I put up boundaries, the more I’ll focus on those boundaries and forget the things that actually matter.
  11. Being in love with your best friend is not some cheesy thing, but the best thing you could ever hope for.
  12. Sometimes I allow people to emotionally drain me because it feels nice to be needed.
  13. People don’t fear change, they fear loss (I had read this in a Carey Nieuwhof book, but this was the year I learned that truth).
  14. If you’re going to trust people, you have to choose to trust them completely.
  15. My mom is the first person I now turn to when I have a situation I can’t talk to anybody else about.
  16. When we tell young people that they can lead in any capacity…they can surprise you with some incredible things.
  17. My job is a whole lot more than meetings and lists, and I need to put those down and get out there with people (both for my job itself and my personal sanity).

What is your list of 17? What have you learned this year–about yourself, about others, about your job, about parenting, about life?

And, since often times these things cycle through…how can you honor the things you learned in 2017 so that you don’t forget them?

For me, I know that the things I learned this year will be the truths that, out of need, I will take into a new year. Happy New Year, everyone!

Finding and giving hope

Blogs about Heather

Last week I wrote my first personal blog post in over a year and a half, and the responses I received from it were wildly encouraging! If you missed it, go back to this post and check it out.

In that post I poured out my heart and the experiences I’ve had over the past few years, specifically, coping with the longing for reconnection with my father. I’ve had so many people text me, call me, and hug me at church with the words, “you’re so brave” and “I want you in my life” and “I had no idea” and “I’m proud of you.” And y’all, while I don’t want to deny how hard I worked to be who I am today, I can’t help but think two things:  “You should have met me before” and “This is all because of Jesus.”

And one day I’ll write about who I was before Jesus got a hold of my heart and set me on a new path. Preview: mostly a hot mess.

But today I just want to talk about hope. Because when I think about who I was and who I am, I cling to that word: hope.

Our church’s motto/mission statement is to “find and give hope.” I think that sums up our purpose as followers of Christ: to figure out where our hope comes from, and then to share it with others.

But more specifically: Our mission is to realize that our hope comes from Creator God who loves us and provides us with a hope we cannot explain otherwise. In my story, it’s “easy” to identify where the hope came from: when I was neglected by my family and rejected by people who couldn’t identify with me, the Church provided for me and equipped me to be a leader. I can’t explain my story without explaining God.

How is that true for your story? What part of your story can you not explain without explaining God? That is your hope.

And the thing is, once you identify where your hope comes from, you realize that this hope is not your own. And when you can’t explain your source of hope as anything else other than supernatural, you realize the necessity to share it with others.

So as I think about blogging again, I think that’s my mission: to find hope and to share it. Because the truth is, I need to remember to hope. And in the climate that we currently find our world in, I’m sure you can use a little more hope too.

So share your hope with me, too.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

Advent: A season of longing

Blogs about Heather

Before I jump into this, I recognize that I haven’t blogged or written this year for myself; that is, written something that someone hasn’t commissioned me for. I’ve taken a hiatus because I was overwhelmed from keeping up with work while falling in love while reconciling a new chronic illness and dealing with all that I’m about to share. But lately I’ve been taking some breaths and am on my way to balance. So hopefully this is the start of more.

We began Advent early at our church on Sunday in response, I believe, to Christmas Eve being a Sunday. Plus, I’m totally a believer that as soon as Thanksgiving is over, we are 100% into full Christmas mode.

So it makes sense then, when I begin to think about it, why on Sunday morning I would wake up anxious. In truth, I’ve been struggling with anxiety for a while now. Two months ago I began having panic attacks, mostly stemming from me angry at someone or something and then spiraling until I couldn’t breathe.

On Sunday morning, my anger was directed towards my dad. In the shower, I began arguing in my head with him, about how angry I am with him and how I don’t understand why he doesn’t want me. I told myself, “Heather, this is random, get it together…you need to lead students today. Quit making yourself angry about nothing. It’s 5am. Go get some coffee.”

I had a great morning in youth ministry, and then heard an amazing sermon in our first week of Advent. Our series this year is about the places surrounding the birth of Christ, and how each place symbolizes a place of “Longing,” “Waiting,” “Simplicity,” “Justice,” “Welcome,” and “Hope.” This week’s passage was on “Longing”–that the Christmas story began with chaos and the world longing for something better; which is relatable to our lives today, as we long for a space to breathe in a world littered by scandal, terror, fear, disasters, and divisiveness.

I loved the sermon–and then my heart strings were pulled when our Contemporary Worship Director and his wife bravely shared their story of longing. Two years ago, their son disappeared and told them that he needed to find his own path, without them. After they shared their story, they began to sing a song of praise and worship together.

The entire congregation broke down, each of us for our own reasons. But it was in that moment that I related to their message and named it: For me, Advent is a Place of Rejection. It’s a yearly reminder that I’ve been rejected by my family, especially my own father. And like our brave worship leaders, I was longing for him to want me again.

You see, my father is an addict. Both my parents are, although my mom has been clean by God’s grace for around 5 years now. My parents began drug usage recreationally, like every 80s burn-out cliché. I remember attending a Drug Awareness class at school in first or second grade and realizing for the first time that my parents did drugs. I tattled to my Recreation Officer and he promised me that he would investigate. He didn’t, and so I assumed that I just had to ignore my parents because no one was going to help me. As I look back, I can’t help but think about how terrible it is to feel defeated by the justice system at 7 years old.

The drug usage didn’t get bad until my parents agreed to separate. My dad fell heavy into drug usage when my mom officially left him for another man; and when that man would die of a heart attack in my mother’s arms soon after, she would also succumb to addiction. My parents were barely around my teenage years, and several areas of my life showed it. I was fortunate that a family friend introduced me to church as a child; as the church saved my life, provided for my needs, and gave me purpose.

I ran away to college to escape my family. Both my parents separately became homeless when both of their homes were foreclosed on and they began living in family members’ homes. After college, I came home to help transition my sister to living with my grandparents, which saved her life. I was pretty fed up with my parents at this point, but it all peaked at this point: My belongings were stored in a storage shed that my father managed, and he somehow “lost” all my things. We can’t help but wonder if all my things were sold to support his addiction. I gave my parents both separate ultimatums: You need to choose between drugs are me. Both chose drugs.

Six months later, my dad went to jail briefly for several drug-related charges. My mom bailed him out, and it was at this point that she realized that she was alone. I gave both of them the same ultimatum, again: “I’m 23 years old. One day I’m going to fall in love, get married, and have children. If you want to be a part of that, you need to get clean.” My mom got clean. My dad stepped further out of my life.

Both of my parents have never been good communicators, and it has frustrated their families to no end. It’s also conditioned me to forget to communicate well with my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. But part of that was all the shame: shame of hiding secrets and trying to protect my parents. I remember getting into a fight with my mom in college because she never initiated contact with me first. She responded by sending me a letter every day for at least a month, full of jokes and glitter and pictures of my sissy and cat. I am fortunate to still have those letters, and cherish them deeply.

But my dad was a sweet-talker; “I’ll do better, baby, I promise.” 

Christmas of that year, I said goodbye to my family and moved to Indianapolis. I was able to get the four of us together for the very last time to celebrate. In truth, this was bitter-sweet for me: my mom was quickly becoming one of my best friends, after 10 years of really not liking each other.

I wouldn’t hear from my dad at all in the next year. And to be honest, I wasn’t too interested in contacting him, but I did try. In that year, I had heard that his addiction was only progressing. I had also heard that while my uncle was in jail, my father moved into his house and began dating his girlfriend and assumed the father-figure over her kids. I was furious, obviously. The thought of my dad never contacting me, but choosing to be the father of three kids and a grandchild broke my heart. And the fact he didn’t include me or even inform me about this part of his life broke me.

That Christmas I went to his mom’s house, and had a good time catching up with my grandma and cousins and the rest of the family. My older cousin, who had been a best friend to me all of my childhood, turned to me to gossip, “So have you met his girlfriend?” I was taken aback. “How do you know about her?” She responds, “Well, she’s coming…”

I fell apart.

And I needed to leave. I couldn’t be around him, not with her, not with those kids coming, too. It was at this time that I became really honest with my family about his addiction…and they rejected me. I was a liar, my mom deceived me, I am a bad child because I don’t reach out to my dad… I was hurt beyond measure that evening. And when my dad called me that evening to ask “when I was coming,” I cursed him out.

I tried to be honest with my family about him, but no one listened. I was rejected again at Easter by my cousin, who drunk-called me to tell me I needed to get over it and call my dad.

That side of my family had a lot of change and transition otherwise, and it was hard to watch it as an “outsider.” A big piece of this was a cancer diagnosis for my grandmother. Christmas of last year, as I put up her Christmas tree in my living room, I wept. And I called her, as I did every few months, to leave her a message that I needed her back in my life. So we’re working on it, as best as either of us know how.

Two years ago on Thanksgiving, my father texted me. It had been almost a year since the Christmas Incident. My sister (who hadn’t heard from him in two years–since the Christmas I left for Indianapolis) and I met him for Krispy Kreme donuts. We acted normal, until I finally threw it out on the table: We want a relationship with you. We were promised that not only would we rekindle a relationship, that he would initiate it.

We haven’t heard from him in two years.

Why share this? Why now? Because for me, the holidays are hard. I can recount many more moments of rejection over the holidays by my family members–too many to list. And while I can think of many great memories from my childhood with my family, those memories are often overshadowed by the hurt that I constantly feel during this season. And I know that others experience similar hurt over the holidays.

For me, the hardest part is that in a season where we talk about God giving up his son for the sins of the world, I can’t help but wonder why my dad gave me up. For me, Advent is a season of constant longing for someone to want me.

Thank God the Lord wants me. And thank you, Lord, for bringing me people who want me here on earth. I have to recount my blessings constantly: that people know me and love me and go out of their way to show me that their love has no shame or strings attached. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been so conflicted and anxious lately, because being loved wholly by humans for the first time is almost just as hard as rejection.

The verse that I’ve been praying over for the past two years since this last rejection from my earthly father has been Romans 8:15, a Christmas promise for me this season:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”

Thank you, Lord, for adopting me as your daughter. I beg for healing, not only for me but for others who might be reading this and who are also longing for connection with their family. Heal our fears of rejection, of lack of safety, and even of being loved and made whole. Give us people who will make up for the pain we have. And of course, if it’s your will, answer our deepest desires of being connected with our families again.