There was a season in my life when I lost an ability to fight for me. If you’re done fighting you, then you’re done fighting for everyone. Warriors can’t be warriors without a fight in their spirit, and mine was nearly gone.
It’s not easy to describe that lonely place but I remember some of what lead to it…
the worst feedback loops
toxicity in circles of people I longed to trust
misogynistic decisions in places where equality was meant to lead us
loss of identity
All of this was happening in the middle of what looked to be a pretty “successful” life and ministry. I’d created the job of my dreams and worked with beloved humans around the world. It was everything while I was feeling nothing.
I oscillated between feelings of overwhelming gratitude to places of anger and hurt. It was a scary place and I wondered if maybe I was crazy?
In the middle of the waiting in the deepest valley, God whispered a verse to me through a series of tangential events (a Christina Perry song, a yes to therapy, a couple who offered their home as a sanctuary in Georgia, rare alone time to think).
Zephaniah 3:20, “At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.”
There’s a lot more context within this verse, but in that moment it was clear to me that God was going to do a work in my life that I hadn’t experienced before, one that required that I stand up again. From a place of face down in the dirt to a place of standing up in the dirt, I could feel hope growing. The hope of home.A home that exists beyond circumstances and job descriptions.
I listened. Slowly, I began to grow. I felt blood in my veins again. I could see “home” becoming an echo quieting the fear and pain caused by lies and hurt. I learned about nature, about healing, about parts of my heritage that I hadn’t known before. In the learning I came across a word that describes the whole-hearted living I longed to return to.
Only Finns truly know and feel and fully get this, but I am grateful for the ways they have shared their courage with others and offered us a view into a way of life that words can only begin to describe.
It’s a Finnish word: SISU
More than a word – it’s a national quality, a fight within, an inner grit.
GRIT is what I needed; stamina was what I had run out of and needed desperately.
God was showing me what home looked like, no matter what country, city, relationship, job, valley, mountaintop, or place in between I found myself.
I didn’t find out until a few years later that my bloodline traces back to Northern Europe, to places where people refined their character while standing up again after every defeat.
Finland had an ability to overcome countries much larger than they were—through a communal quality that said “I am because you are”. I hear my African friends crying “UBUNTU”in a similar dream.
On a day in October during this lonely season, I felt Jesus saying in Aramaic, “Talitha Koum”, translated “little girl, ARISE”. Come back from the dead. You are free and you are home.
I scribbled the idea for the tattoo on a napkin in the tattoo shop with my own uneven handwriting. I asked God to remind me of the stability and whole-hearted life that is available through Jesus.
A whole heart. Sisu.
Red: the color of fire and blood. It’s the color of energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination, as well as passion, desire, and love. Red is emotionally intense. It’s living. Just looking at the color red can shift human metabolism, increases your respiration rate, and raise your blood pressure. The tattoo artist drew the outline of the heart that I had drawn. He asked, “do you want me to fill the whole thing in?”
I paused. Because pain. But only for a second. “Fill it in. I want a whole heart."
I want red to be the color I see, the color that reminds me of who I am, and the blood that was spent fighting for my life, the blood that flows through my veins so I can fight for mine.
While traveling in Indonesia for work some time after this experience, someone from Fiji commented on my tattoo.
“Does your tattoo say JISU?!”
“It says SISU, what is JISU?!”
“JISU is what we call JESUS in Fiji.”
Across the world, with people I had just met, a dam of tears broke and I was smiling.
The young woman beside me gently touched my shoulder and added her thoughts,
“I am from Korea and JI-SU is the name given to Jesus. It seems like you may know Jesus very well? I am just remembering Jesus because I am sitting here with you. I see JISU in you. I see so much kindness and feel home even while I’m so far away."
Circumstances that lead to the need for tenacious grit became my compass that turns my head, heart, thoughts, and prayers to Jesus.
Warriors, find your Sisu.
Know that Jesus, even in your weakness, will help you find the flicker of hope you need to hold strong and stand tall, dirt and all.