I stepped outside and the scent of sunshine, of warm wind, of a very specific olfactory sensation hit me. It made me think of hope and memories yet to be made from late-night dorm talks, the smell of change and excitement and bewilderment, of discovering twenty one pilots and having eyes wide open to every experience happening to me.

I felt 18 again for a moment.

I’ve always been the type of person to take in everything and savor it, remember it, feeling the weight of the small hours and seconds that make up our lives. Sometimes a small voice shouts in my head, Remember, remember this!  when a this tangibility happens, a snapshot that I ought to grab and file away and hold.

2020 has been one large roller coaster of weirdness, fear, hope, and curiosity. No one could have predicted what has happened in our world. I’ll never forget trying to plan a wedding during this time, of suddenly working remotely for long stretches, or how I’ve learned the new skill of wearing a mask for hours on end and not minding anymore. Economic bungee jumps, racial upheaval and uprising, political insanity, and a pandemic that we still don’t completely understand, and life feels jagged. Like when something doesn’t load correctly, or like that episode of “Gravity Falls” where Dipper copies himself and accidentally creates a messed-up clone that got jammed in the magic copier.

People ask where God is, what is He doing. I find myself wondering more often, how long, O Lord? And reflecting on my own view of the world. My life has overall been really good; have I just continued to expect life to overall be really good, have minimal difficulties, and keep running smoothly until Jesus comes back or He takes me home? Is the world not going to get worse before the end? What are we guaranteed?

My theology has been shaken up, and I believe it’s been a very good thing. Out of His great love, Jesus prunes away the smudges in our hearts so we can see Him more clearly. He uses painful circumstances to refine us, to draw us more closely to Himself in deep, deep ways that regular life simply cannot.

I’ve been sobered up. Reminded of the preciousness of life, reminded that there is absolutely nothing at all we can take for granted at that at any given time we could lose what we assume will just always be there.

I was sitting in Lincoln Park last week with a friend eating an overpriced chicken sandwich and she asked me how I’ve grown during this chaotic time. I’ve become a lot more thankful, I realized. Every day when I wake up and my legs work and I can breathe, I am praising God. Each morning when I am able to get out of bed and work at a job I love, and call family and see my fiance and read Scripture and bake banana bread – these are all magnanimous blessings that are priceless, and can be easily taken away like *that*. The Lord can give and take away at any time. That used to scare me a lot more than it does now. It still does a bit, but I’m learning that our Shepherd is good and His way is truly higher and greater and more loving than any path I could carve out on earth. If He chooses to take something away, it is for my best.

Hard things to chew on. I certainly don’t want suffering or pain or loss. And yet to go deeper into knowing and loving God, He sometimes (okay, a lot of times) uses these tools to do just that. The Christians who have known Christ most intimately are usually the ones who have

  1. Spent the most time with Him in His word and prayer, and
  2. Spent the most time intimately acquainted with suffering, requiring them to lean fully into Him.

I continually pray for increased faith. I want to know Him, I’m afraid of suffering, and I’m trusting Him knowing that He will give me the strength and grace to do hard things. I think of what Paul said, that he wanted to know Christ (Phil 3:10), to know His Creator and be so close to Him. I desire this too! I want to make it my life’s goal and end, to enjoy Him and know Him and love Him. Whatever it may involve.

My 18-year-old self would’ve agreed, I’m pretty sure, just with a less weathered and battered face. I’d like to think, though, that my face shines brighter than hers did from being closer to the Shepherd. That I would not trade for anything.