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  • Claire M. Burnett

2016: The Best Nightmare I Never Asked For.

Updated: Oct 3, 2018

An open letter to my friends.

I had what I wanted, and everything I signed up for, I succeeded at. From four degrees (yes, I’m a nerd), working with brands like Gatorade in SoCal and at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, to managing sports sponsorships for one of the world’s largest telecommunications carriers, AT&T. The trend was simple: If I signed up, I won.

And then… I didn’t.

I’m 27 and I’ve checked off a lot of boxes in the

industry, including a Stanley Cup! Most people don’t reap the benefits of a championship in their entire career. In fact, when it happened, I didn’t fully grasp the significance of that moment because “I wasn’t into hockey.” So needless to say, drinking champagne from the cup itself meant nothing to me. I had this list of accomplishments and no matter how many boxes I checked, I wasn’t satisfied. All these things I thought would make me “happy,” didn’t.

::Cue dramatic Christian “come to Jesus” moment:: This unhappiness clearly meant I was destined to drop my entire career and work for a church!

I had pretty much decided that I wasn’t fulfilled, and it was time to find a place with purpose where I could spend the rest of my life. (Man, I’m rolling my eyes so hard at myself as I write this.) And because I was on the “success train,” it came to me! I didn’t even have to look for it. Obviously — this was sent from God, right!? (rolls eyes again) My church at the time asked me if I wanted to come on staff as a Worship Leader while simultaneously helping to lead their social media marketing efforts.

Now — hang tight with me here — a 26-year-old just got offered a job to sing (using her God given talent), song write, talk to people about Jesus, and play on social media. — Um, DUH! Sign me up! Obviously, this was going to be the purpose and fulfillment I was so desperately searching for in my fake mid-life crisis.

Until, 40 days later…when it wasn’t.

That’s right folks, same amount of time Jesus spent in the desert. Things changed, that quickly! Or slowly, depending on your vantage. My worst-case imagined scenario very much became real life. I realized I had no clue what I signed up for… spiritual warfare went into Mortal Kombat mode, and I parted ways with my church. Just like that, just shy over a month later, life flipped like a flapjack in a pan. (Ryan, thank you for the courage you showed sticking to your beliefs. I only now know why that was a big deal!; and Jasmine, I would’ve never met such a wonderful example of a sister, wife and mother had it not been for my time there. Thank you for sticking with me.)

Still, in my initial panic, I went into “get STUFF done mode.” Now, Jesus forgive me, I had a more colorful word for “stuff,” and how I’d describe life in general, but what a journey of self-discovery it was.

There are 55 rejection letters in my inbox. Yes, you read that right. A whopping 55 NO’s. (and it doesn’t matter how pretty the no is…a no is still a no. Am I right or am I right!?) The jobs I could snag, I was grossly overqualified for. It was like everything I wanted, didn’t want me and everything that wanted me, I didn’t want. — Ha! Has your love life ever looked like that?!…I can’t relate…sucks to suck! — “JK” ;)

These rejections were the icing on the cake. It boiled over into my friendships causing me to consistently over explain and justify my worth. Now, imagine this for just a second with me: For an entire year, you are selling yourself

in interviews, and showcasing all your bells and whistles. Can you see how this could potentially become a bad habit pouring over into every other aspect of your life? Constantly feeling the need to win people over. Now think about what that does to your psyche. Can you yell “tired!?” Cause I’m yelling BURNT.

For an entire year, I felt like I was living a nightmare. I found myself in the one chapter that was never in the book I wrote. Mediocre jobs. Still learning to trust friends. In what life?! “This is the one thing in this world I can do really well God. Let me have this!” And God was up there like…“Naa playa. You gon’ learn today!” ::Kevin Hart Voice::

And man, I slipped up folks. Not just slipped, got trippy! (Like Britney Spears with the umbrella!). I looked for validation everywhere, including social media. (That’s the easiest place to feed your unconscious, or conscious narcissist.) And I numbed my feelings however I could. I just didn’t believe that God was good when everyone was saying “No.” I didn’t see his rejection as protection.

But he sent sweet little reminders that I wasn’t alone. Like the listener of listeners, Wes, who unconsiously was such a valuable picture of vulnerability for me. (You’ll see why this is significant later.) Brother, I’m beyond grateful for you. He gave me you early on to remind me I didn’t have to fight by myself. And man oh man, did sweet Chelsea-Shay try her darnedest to help me fill that purpose itch. You were one of my constant “Godwinks!”

Our unfriendly little neighbor, depression, decided to join the party as well. What timing! “Man — not me God. This is not supposed to be my struggle! Christians don’t struggle with this, right!?” ::cue self-shaming:: “I’m clearly having perspective issues. What is up with all this crying? If I cry, these are thug tears, in the closet! What is this nonsense that’s happening to me!? Why are you breaking me?”

I slept my life away because sleep was easier t

han dealing with reality. I spent a lot of time in solitude because I was NOT going to bring the mood down. That’s not “my brand.” If you know even a tiny bit about me — I’m Ronda Rousey tough (anyone that can take knocks like that is tough), not afraid of hard conversation on either end. If I’m going to join the circle, the circle will be brighter. It’s just my rule.

But Bethany kept digging till she found that good ol’ flaw in the system. She did what she does best, and commanded me (haha, ok maybe not command, but basically) to talk to someone. Of course, why would I listen? I was “fine.”I was simply figuring things out in my own way, on my own time. Thanking God for Nicholas being that outside voice that relentlessly drilled into my head that I was not ok.

Then someone whom I figured knew me the least, said something that Donkey Kong Giant Punched me the most. He said quite frankly: I don’t know how to be vulnerable! — ::skrrr…that’s the noise the record makes when it scratches:: What the — !?

Now wait — Again!, this isn’t my “brand” and in the moment, it made no kind of sense to me. My immediate thoughts were: “This kid does not know me. I quit this friendship. It is what it is. My brand is called open book: you ask, I tell. Fact, you don’t even have to ask, I’ll tell. Other people know this. They know me. They GET me!” … but did they really? Did even my closest girls really know the deep dark thoughts I’d struggle with?

Now try directly following that conversation, and folks, I mean like five seconds later, with a faithful friend, Dinah, who would shortly thereafter in the most loving way, call me out on my sin (Proverbs 27:6) and ask me to repent and give my heart back to the one who owns it. And I mean, that “covered up, everybody does it, so no one really notices it, unless they’re paying attention and care enough about you, kind of sin.” (Know what I’m talkin’ about? Yea…you know.) If you want to know what it looks like for someone to fight for and love you without condition: try completely screwing up and then having them tell you that they see your heart despite your shortcomings!

I’m so grateful for a self-awareness that allows me to call myself out when my own poo poo stinks — but the truth is, I realized, I had to accept that I had convinced myself otherwise on this one! (Philippians 2:13) Grr. I wasn’t vulnerable. I would give you just enough to be dangerous but not enough to kill. Instead of confessing, I was coping (unhealthily at that).

I had to watch my 22-year-old best friend of a baby sis, Hannah Victoria, struggle and trust me enough to break in front of me to really realize — I wasn’t being fair. How can you fix what you won’t admit is broken? I wanted to be the place where everyone else could fall apart, but I was never giving that vulnerability in return. I could verbally vomit all my bad habits on another sister, Astrid, and watch her handle the heaviness with grace, but never truly expose myself in a way that gave someone ammunition to use against me. I was really good at saying, “hey doc, something hurts” but never identifying the “something.”

2016 was the Best Nightmare I Never Asked For.

2016 exposed me. And I mean, magnifying glass under the sun sort of burn and exposure. My mother was struck by a car as a pedestrian, revealing an unhealthy understanding of the gift of life. I spent 6 months unemployed, revealing huge identity issues, and another 6 months driving out to a completely different suburb for work, revealing major pride issues. On top of that, after thinking I’d found some stability, add learning that my income would be cut more than in half after a “ramp up” period ended. This was the year where if something could go wrong, it did. But wrong, was right.

2016 forced me to be weak and then taught me why weakness is strength. (2 Corinthians 12:10). It taught me to ask for help, like having one of your best friends help submit job applications for you (Christina, you will never know how much you mean) and to find my identity and worth in Christ and Christ alone (Jey & Kevin, thank you for the constant reminders of who my creator is.) It taught me that if you don’t trust God, then you don’t have a full understanding of his character (Thanks Amber & Chan for digesting my synopsis of pretty much every DesiringGod and GotQuestions article in existence).

I’ll be the first to confess, that lesson is one I’ll continue to learn for the rest of my life. It humbled me (Thank you Mallory & Bethany for your couches). It gave me an appreciation for the simplest things but most importantly, 2016 taught me that the only dependable constant in my life, aside from change, is GOD. He was always with me even when I felt the most alone. 2016 forced me to let go and start accepting that the best author of my life is NOT me.

If you’ve never heard the story of the silversmith, the short version goes like this: A silversmith will heat his silver up at the highest possible temperature. In doing so, the impurities will rise to the top. The silversmith will then scrape those impurities to the side and repeat the process. He will repeat this process over and over again, until he can see his reflection in the silver. (Malachi 3:3). 2016 taught me that when God takes me or you through a storm, he is simply heating us up to reflect more of himself. And what a privilege that is! More privilege will come.

Had I not endured, I would not believe I could be this strong today. Most importantly, my faith would not be where it is right now. That is the greatest gift I could’ve ever asked for. I am so far from done and if anything, I’ve realized how much more I have to go. What I can say in the very brief reprieve of this last chapter is this:

Our father is intentional, and he lives in every single detail. Just as much in the moments that bring pain as he does in the ones that bring pleasure. Our fathers on earth know how to give us good gifts, so imagine the gifts our father in heaven is trying to give us (Matthew 7:11). Leaning on our own limited understanding is irrational (Proverbs 3:5–6) when we can lean on the understanding of one who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent (Isaiah 55:8–9).

If you know what my last year looked like, I also want yo

u to know it was worth it. Friend, it was worth every single tear, and you were the reasons joy came in the morning. There are so many of you whom impacted me in ways you don’t even know, and for that, I am eternally grateful. If I detailed every kind (and unkind) thing done for me, we’d be here all day. I believe in Thank You’s…so if I start our next conversation saying just that, this is why! ;) Thanks for showing me God.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” -C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)
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