The undoing

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.

navy pier

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.

When your biggest fears are all you see

I’ve grown up hating two things everyone around me seemed to love: roller coasters and thunderstorms.

Don’t get me wrong, Space Mountain at Disney World is my jam- I’ve ridden it at least 6 times in the past year.  I’m talking about the big, scary, slinging you around and upside down roller coasters.  Sometimes I would tell myself to muster up the courage to ride them.  I would stand in line with my brothers determined to be brave, but once I got close enough that I could see and hear what I was walking into, I would ever so conveniently need to go to the bathroom and “just wait this one out” with my mom.

roller coaster

And while we’re on the topic of brothers, be ever so grateful you weren’t one of mine during thunderstorms.  I mean it was sheer terror the moment I heard what could have potentially been thunder.  I’m not sure why I’m stuck on Disney today- maybe it’s time for a trip back- but when I was 6 years old my family went to Disney World.  We were in Magic Kingdom on a July evening and it was storming terribly.  I was naturally petrified and waiting for all of us to die there.  But we were eating in a restaurant and Chip and Dale came over so I was fine for a minute.  Then, my brothers convinced me the chairs were just someone moving chairs above us and the lightning was cameras flashing- P.S. this was the year 2000, long before iPhones so everyone had cameras with huge flashes.  Crafty as they were, I bought it and enjoyed our meal not scared at all, because the storm wasn’t real.

I think ultimately what I hate about these two things is that they place a threat on my sense of being safe.  If I am upside down moving at a rapid speed, I am in no way in control, in no way guaranteed my safety, and I don’t enjoy the thrill.  I just terrifies me.  And the storms, they just always made me feel so small and helpless and like some terrible thing was impending ever since a giant tree fell on my neighbor’s house growing up and tore down half of it because of a really bad storm.

I think we’re pretty naturally wired to try and be safe, that is unless you’re a big thrill seeker.  But for most of us, we want to know that we’ll live to see tomorrow and when we don’t believe it, all of the anxiety sets in.

I wrote recently about how the transitions of life are so hard and so scary.  (Read more)  But sometimes it isn’t simply transitions, but just situations or circumstances that threaten these sense of being safe and secure that we’ve created.  And what do we do there and how do we approach God when we know He can give us every good and perfect thing, yet we’re trembling and fearful, wondering if we will even live to see tomorrow?


But there is this cool pattern in scripture of God proving over and over again that He is faithful and that we can trust in Him, which should come at no surprise.

In Ezekiel, God is warning the people to turn from all of their ways of sinfulness and idolatry.  Continuously in this book, we see God’s fierce and zealous love as He talks about how all of the altars they have built to other gods, all of the security they have established in so many things apart from Him will be destroyed.  “And then they will know that I am YHWH their God, who delivered them from Israel.” 

Ezekiel 38 describes when the people are living so securely that they don’t even have walls on their houses, the Lord will come to “remind” them of His zeal and glory by destroying all they have built.  The passage then goes on to describe how the Temple should be constructed and I was reading this like what, I think you missed some key transitions here, Ezekiel?!  But what a pattern I soon discovered through Scripture that God utterly destroys what we are placing our security in apart from Him, and in those moments when we are trembling in fear, He invites us to come and worship Him.  And these are the most intimate moments of worship.

Like when He destroys the whole entire Earth as they knew it, their sense of community, everything that had been established, and invites Noah and his family to build and altar and worship the Lord.

And when He destroys sin and death on a rugged cross and an earthquake and breathless Savior have us at a loss for if we will even live to see tomorrow.  But when the stone rolls away from the tomb, we are invited to come and worship.

Psalm 33

13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds.
16 The king is not saved by his great army;
    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
    and by its great might it cannot rescue.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 that he may deliver their soul from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

So in a season of seeing all of the senses of security and protection I have built, I am learning that having those torn down are not God telling me He doesn’t love me, but in the fear and in the trembling, He is inviting me to come and know and trust Him like never before.

I recently attend an IMPRINTED event, in which Erin Moniz ever so wisely said, “Fear and hope are a double sided coin.  Whatever you fear is what you place your hope in.”  And I had to swallow a big lump in my throat.  Because so often I place my hope in good things, but not necessarily the ultimate things and I fear because I know that I know that they will not be enough for me.  Only my Father can.

So I’m learning that fear is truly having my hope in the wrong things, the things that aren’t worthy of my hope of protection or hope of glory.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face.  And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.