Last week I went on a trip with college students to the great city of Chicago as a part of my job working in college ministry. This trip includes countless secrets I cannot disclose, but one of my favorite parts each year is spending time on Navy Pier. Yes, it is one of the most touristy things to do in all of Chicago, but I love it. I love the peacefulness of the open water that provides a very welcomed break from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Each year, I ride the ferris wheel, providing one of the best views of Chicago I’ve seen. This was at least my third ride on this same ferris wheel spanning over the last five years, yet this one was quite different. Before, I knew this ferris wheel to be a normal ferris wheel with open cars and two rows of seating facing each other. The wheel would jolt each time it needed to stop to let someone out and it was easy to talk to people in the cars around you.
But this year was different. To celebrate its 100 year anniversary of providing a great place to eat, play, and watch the ships on Lake Michigan go by, Navy Pier underwent revitalization. A great focus of this revitalization was Navy Pier’s iconic ferris wheel, so much that it is now know as Navy Pier’s “Centennial Wheel”. The Centennial Wheel is taller, faster, updated, and provides enclosed cars with air condition and eight seats inside.
I boarded the car of the Centennial Wheel with seven friends, unaware of all of that information. I was thankful for the air condition and break from the sun, but not until our second time around the wheel did I begin to think about how it was different. Everything about the wheel, its location, the experience it provided, and even the time of day I was riding was so reminiscent of the times before, but it was different. It was new and changed.
I appreciated these changes and how nice my experience was on the new and improved Centennial Wheel, but it hit me that I was experiencing the new and improved and applauding its changes, overlooking the messiness it took to get there.
For the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel to become the Centennial Wheel, making so many changes and upgrades it merited a new name, it had to be stripped down to its barest beams. I’m sure all who were involved in the process can attest to the great amount of work required and mess that ensued. Demolition of such a large piece of equipment had to have been extensive and time intensive, not to mention the construction that followed. But I didn’t see that process. I just saw the new, shiny, beautiful, clean, air conditioned Centennial Wheel.
There’s been a theme in my life recently of “undoing”. I’ve listened to Steffany Gretzinger’s album entitled “the undoing” countless times because it has been with me in my rawest and messiest of places I have had to walk into. After facing the greatest tragedy of my life so far, I sat across from a trusted counselor who calmly whispered the scariest words to me I had ever heard, “Emily Katherine, I am inviting you to lose it.”
To lose it.
Those words, though spoken at such a low volume reverberated through my head to the point it felt like they were being shouted from one ear to the other.
And she was right. To come to any place of healing or restoration from the hurt, grief, and confusion I was facing, it took a great deal of undoing. A great deal of demolition to my barest beams.
It took demolishing habits of people pleasing, stripping tendencies of poor self care, allowing some of the most pivotal parts of my structure to come completely undone.
And I’ve felt completely undone for a long time. Undone and empty. But strangely enough, the undoing seemed to take much more work and initiative on my end than the rebuilding.
I worked hard to walk head long into the hardest and darkest places in my heart. Goodness it hurt like hell. And I am still on this journey.
But in the most broken places, when I felt like I was sitting in a valley of dry bones lost for any sign of life or love, Jesus met me. He met me and held me and let me be where I was, angry, lost, bitter, confused, and empty.
And somehow he took the empty and broken and began building. He took the fragments I had left and began to piece me back to whole. And not just whole, but an entirely new one. So new and revitalized it almost feels like this change has merited taking on a new name.
This theme of undoing, though, has not solely been a theme in my own life and growth, but in the way God has called and allowed me to minister in this season. Rather than teaching and training students, equipping them with tools and information, so often the role God has given me in students lives this year is to walk with them to the wrecking ball of their own selves. To know the fear of turning on the machine, to be with them in the hesitation and doubt of wondering what will ensue when they truly demolish all of the control they have built up. And to sit with them in the ruins, the questions, the hurt.
A line my counselor has often said is, “I just don’t want to rescue you from that.” From the immense pain and hurt I was feeling. She didn’t want to rescue me because she knew just how much I needed to face it. To face it and feel it and hold its weight.
And as much as I hated those words in the moment, I have grown to see their value as I have sat with students who also underwent undoing. Together, we sat in the mess they found themselves in, stripped down to their barest beams. And at the end of themselves, they have found Jesus in their own valleys.
In my own season of darkness, I sat with a friend and mentor, truly asking what my job would be if I “couldn’t come back from this.” This disbelief and hurt. What would my job be if not ministry?
He shared that of all theologians he has read, the most influential ones are those that have walked through seasons of undoing.
So I enjoyed my ride on Centennial Wheel. And I have so treasured days of feeling whole again. But it still feels weird for me to interact with people that see and know my newly constructed self that the Lord fashioned so kindly, knowing they never saw the mess. The emptiness. The work that it took to lose it, and the sweetness of my Father to piece me back together.
But I’ve learned to see that behind every good thing is a messy thing. Every organized closet meant taking everything out and putting it all over the hallway floor. Every beautiful tall building meant digging endlessly to provide a deep enough foundation.
I’ve learned every bit of creating and making, first calls for undoing.