2018: Not a Travel Story, but Still a Journey
Updated: Dec 31, 2018
This is probably going to be the most difficult piece that I've written so far. In my first post, I promised that I would keep this blog raw and authentic so I'm going to keep that promise at the risk of sounding potentially controversial. This past year has challenged me more than I've ever been challenged in my life. It had a lot of really low points, but it also had some incredibly high points. I'm going to summarize and share it all and hopefully help you to focus on the high points like I was finally able to do.
This year has taken a toll on me - emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Grab the popcorn and let's get this party started.
Emotionally: anyone that knows me personally, it's no secret what drained me and tested me. Or maybe it was a secret. I didn't even fully share everything I was going through with my best friends until it was all over. I couldn't even turn to the people I knew love me the most in my darkest moments. The countless, sleepless nights of trying to continue to "turn the other cheek" and try to respond with love in an extremely toxic situation really did a number on me. Although I've forgiven and moved on, it still makes my heart ache when I think back to those moments of desperation. Desperately pleading God to help me. A relationship that constantly tore me down and belittled my feelings when the person was extremely emotionally and verbally abusive. I was manipulated into apologizing for being hurt, while the other party tried to convince me that I'm "too sensitive and (I) need to get thicker skin for the 'real world'" - to harden my heart. I also somehow convinced myself that instead of the more obvious and healthier option of walking away, that God wanted me to stick by this person through thick and thin. That God was presenting an obstacle and didn't want me to remove myself, but to stay and confront their addictions and shortcomings, and still continue to respond with love. Boy was I wrong.. God wanted me to show my love by not continuing to enable this person's actions and leave.
I begged God to help me every single day for 6+ months. There were nights of being next to that person, yet feeling like the loneliest person in the world.. followed by days of quietly excusing myself to the bathroom to cry, and plead with God some more. I stopped going to my friends when something was wrong because there was something new every day. I got tired of trying to convince everyone that there was some good in that person, and was a hypocrite that didn't want to hear the advice I know I would have given my friends if I was in their shoes. So I suffered in silence. This led to strain on certain friendships, a loss of ~22 lbs and my emotional resilience plummeting. I cut off contact with my absent father, who I had started seeing again, because the similarities in him and the person I was dating scared the crap out of me. Where had the strong, fierce Julia gone? I started to avoid looking in the mirror because I didn't recognize the person staring back at me. Why wasn't God helping me?! Was I being punished? I didn't get it.
Fast forward to June, I realized I wasn't walking away and began to accept this numb feeling of defeat. I prayed to God, admitting that I wouldn't walk away unless the person made a disloyalty decision that involved someone else. Give it a few weeks, and that's exactly what happened. He began dating someone before we ended our relationship, even though it probably actually started to die 6 months prior. The level of selfishness from a girl that knew I was his girlfriend and betrayal from a guy I had given every part of myself to, kept me in a state of shock that stalled the grieving process. I wasn't numb anymore though. My heart was shattered by someone I kept telling myself would never do that to me, even though I was clearly in denial. I had never felt so betrayed and my thoughts couldn't erase the gut-wrenching image I saw of them kissing. Friends of his that I had developed a certain level of friendship with, kept quiet and embraced his new relationship out of loyalty to him instead of loyalty to doing the right thing. I dropped to my knees, crying out to God "this isn't real, God please, no, I can't go through this, I can't take anymore". I asked God to help me and He let this happen?! The realization wasn't overnight, but God did exactly that. He was helping me. He gave me 6+ months of trials filled with opportunities to leave. It came to me finally telling God the cold, hard truth of the only condition I would leave under. God gave me exactly what I prayed for. He helped me through my hurt by allowing me to learn my lessons the not-so-easy way.
This contributed to the majority of my pain this past year, but it wasn't over yet! It also led to some of the most exciting discoveries of myself that I have now acquired. I have always had a relationship with God, but I clearly pulled away when I felt like He wasn't by my side. I feel horrible for doing that, but pushed myself to pray in the silence. Every day, I asked God to please help me choose to rely on Him when I felt like turning away. I stopped praying for what I wanted, and started praying for God's will and asking Him to help my wants be His will. I started to reach a new depth in my relationship with God that I had never felt. I fully leaned into Him. Doing things my way most definitely has not worked in the past, so I (finally) was like "welp, You were right, I'm ready to hand You the keys to my car and let you be the driver in my life". It was on my pilgrimage to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of September when I had my breakthrough. Nothing particularly exciting was taking place. I had sat in this little crepe cafe to take some alone time and this revelation happened. Every pain I had ever experienced in my life HAD to happen to get to this level of depth in my relationship with Jesus. I probably looked like a weirdo because I had the biggest grin I've ever had in my life. I couldn't stop smiling. It felt like liquid gold was pulsing through my soul. I attempted to think of past sadness to test if I was just on some sort of "holy high" from being in such a spiritual place. Nope, I would do it all again. I would experience my darkest hours all over again if it meant having God so fully. Fully holy. Ha, sorry, had to add a fun pun in there! I have since seen my ex a few times, talked here and there, invited him to church with me and, most importantly, forgiven him. If God can forgive every wrong I've done, every sin that has crossed my mind, then of course I need to forgive this person.
I still have a lot of lessons to learn as well as character flaws to continually work on every day, but God showed me the ultimate gift - His unconditional love. If I had to pinpoint a description of my mom in two words, it would be "unconditional love". She was a real life physical form demonstrating Jesus' love. I would like to think that I have put this into the works and was able to move on so quickly because of my love being unconditional. It emotionally drained me, but I didn't feel like he truly took away my love at the end of it all. The endless faucet I have was the greatest gift God could've possibly shown me. This post wasn't meant to bitterly display the dark sides of someone. Quite the opposite. I still firmly believe that there is some good deep down in that person - he's just currently lost and needs to find his way back to Jesus. We all could use more Jesus in our lives. I've made peace with my past and have to be honest with it when describing my spiritual journey.
Fast forward a few months to some more heart ache. I met someone. Not just anyone, someone who's presence is like sunshine and brings warmth to everyone around him. Who also acknowledges the desperate need for Jesus in every part of our lives and is in the same constant pursuit of Jesus in every moment. This person gave me faith in humanity and, although it didn't work out for reasons out of our control, this person's placement in my life, and now friendship, helped me to trust again and demonstrate God's pure love.
Even during the sadness afterward, I had moments in the past couple months that let me rejoice in God's goodness. Two of my best friends in the world went from past heartbreak to the happiest relationships - I couldn't have possibly hand-picked a better match. One of my closest friends gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby boy. Another close friend got engaged to the love of her life. Another is on her way to having a baby girl that will be surrounded with limitless love. Another is pursuing her dreams of moving to Germany this upcoming month. I got to be included in witnessing two close friends exchange their wedding vows. My sister and her husband gave birth to the sweetest baby boy, as well as started their own business together. I moved into a great apartment with two awesome girls that I have grown a close, sisterly friendship with. I started a prayer group that has allowed me to see my friends flourish in their relationship with God, and one of my closest friends just put in a leadership application at her church while working and taking on a challenging role of step-motherhood. The list could go on and on. I've experienced incredible growth of my soul and went from miserable a year ago to the fullest relationship with God I couldn't have ever imagined. Sure, there was a lot of heart ache, but there have been amazing triumphs of the heart and soul in every place I look. God's presence is everywhere and in everything. He is in the fluffy clouds that make your day. He is in the person who lets you cut them in line at the store. He is in the way your friend hugs you when you are sad and just need to be held. He is in the birth of a beautiful baby. He is in the bathroom holding you when you are quietly feeling your heart break. Even in the darkest corners, His light will shine through. There were plenty of trips I could go into detail about (and will in another post), but this past year's journey was like any other. Take a moment and just thank God for every part of 2018, the good AND bad, because His timing is perfect. You are exactly where He needs you at in your pursuit to pull closer to Him. Keep going.