“Let Go, Let God” (And Other Things I’ve Learned)

A prompt and link-up, originally posted by Addie Zierman; I didn’t have time to join the official  train, but this nevertheless has been poking at me for a while.

 

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Let Go, Let God.

It was out of a Christian romance novel, spoken by the grandmother of a bride leading up to her wedding day. Calming and a lot less cliche than other phrases I’d grown accustomed to, it piqued an interest but I didn’t make much of it. A few years later, as I was still learning the ropes of being a freshman in college, I began to remind myself to “do what you can, and let God take care of the rest.” It seemed powerful enough, giving me peace and reassurance on some physically draining days and even lonelier nights. The words themselves have taken different shapes over the years, but the truth is still the same:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

I will hold you by your right hand, and I will guide you (Isaiah 41:10).

These verses have become pearls that I hold dearly, as I find myself in a position similar to eight years ago: this season of life is wonderful, but it’s also incredibly exhausting. The days (and tasks that come with it) are incredibly long and demanding, summoning a kind of strength that wouldn’t be possible without such promises. There’s a lot of joy in having a more defined purpose (professionally), though my anxiety has skyrocketed because everything involved is rather unpredictable. I have a less active social life because both my body and brain are so tired, where I’m less inclined to plan things and have even skipped out on birthday celebrations because I don’t want my immune system to crash. And while I have never worn busyness like a badge of honor, I have experienced the guilt that comes with saying “no” or “another time.” I have to trust that people will understand that I’m only practicing self-care, and that I shouldn’t spend my energy on those that don’t.

Of course that kind of surrender feels passive at times; oh, our country is in chaos and everybody wants to be savage and aloof, but God will fix it all. We don’t have to take care of the planet because one day He’ll wipe it all out. And there’s no need to believe in modern medicine because faith is always more than enough.

Everybody wants a miracle, but nobody actually wants to be a miracle.

When I show up and do my part, so does He. Wherever I go, He will meet me there (even if it is in the wrong direction). The question is knowing what my part is in whatever I’m being led or called to, and how do I make a difference without compromising my mental health?

For someone who battles anxiousness on a daily basis (and feels like she has to be accountable to everything), there is ultimately comfort in knowing I can only do so much. It’s a relief to be reminded that there are often other people and other factors involved, and one cannot bear the weight of an entire situation or relationship.

There is room for both intention in the future, and contentment in the present season.

And there is room for both comfort and confliction.

Going Back To Church (Or Trying To)

 

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I go to church, but I have not gone regularly since I was seventeen years old.

Around the 2008 election, I began to hear the hissing whispers of what now seems to define the Evangelical Christian movement on the cultural landscape: You have to be a Conservative Republican. Pro-life and Anti-Abortion. Do not support marriage that does not involve a man and a woman. And having sex before that means you will not have anything to give to your future spouse (especially if you are a woman). The Bible is clear on X, Y, and Z. If you don’t fully believe in any of these things, you must not truly love Jesus.

Uh, what?

That led to an even bigger question: should I believe these things because I feel that they truly right? Or have I just been spoon-fed every Sunday to do/say what a pastor tells me to?

I froze, spiritually, as if merely speaking that out loud turned me into an outsider. I was terrified to bring it up with anyone, given the friendships I’d cultivated since that first summer at a youth group camp were beginning to fade and I feared being brushed off and simply told to “check the Bible.” It seemed much easier to just sleep in, rather than try to sing words that sounded hallow or nod along to a message aimed at the absolutes rather than those who dare question and investigate.

God and church. Church and God. Such an intertwine was all I had known back then, and needed to take time to untangle.

College made me both curious and apprehensive to see what faith looked on campus, attending various groups and giving each one a genuine try. There was an emphasis on being different, and I already was fighting a separate battle with unintentionally standing out in the face of ignorance. There was always something off about the atmosphere, a superior us versus them mentality. I was only a freshman, and didn’t want to get pitted against a place I was just beginning to love and would be at for the next four years. I would attend Sunday services every so often, but continued to keep lingering doubts to myself. I wanted belonging, but not enough to risk rejection.

I was far from the pews, but not from the foundation; I still prayed regularly, kept a journal, and read the Bible. I knew that I needed God, but I also needed to see what that looked like between Sundays. I had lived a shelter life as a young girl, and didn’t want to be confined by four walls while on my own. I still had many a spiritual conversation in bars, coffee shops, and even after a weekly summertime tradition of The Bachelorette.  I’m grateful for the friends that reassured me this season was normal and human and nothing to be ashamed of.

A transitional nudging led me to one of the most popular megachurches in my local area, yet real connections were sparse, and I kept wondering if I would ever find a gathering place to call home, especially as I was evolving into adulthood.

Writing this, home seems to look like a hodgepodge of different cultures and ethnicities, neighborhoods that have their own distinct vibe and flavor. Whenever the fundamentalist/progressive divide becomes apparent, I remember how important it is to be aware, but not afraid (at least to the point of running away from real community). I don’t see the point in debating, because ultimately we can have the same beliefs but different convictions on how to live out those beliefs. I’ve learned that it’s okay to disagree with those you admire, and still gain knowledge and wisdom from them. But yet I cannot deny what has been tugging at the core of my soul for a long time:

There are some things that are just between a person and God, whether it has to do with their body or their sexuality. Sometimes, “speaking the truth in love” means simply listening, and remembering that we humans have a limited perspective in comparison to the One who created us.

Leaving church (for however long) does not equate to abandoning God. Yes, we are called to gather together, but that is no reason to invalidate wounds, pain, and abuse caused by it. There will be seasons where Jesus Calling and online podcasts feel safer than walking through sanctuary doors.

Anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental health struggles have absolutely NOTHING to do with a lack of faith. Pastors are not the same as doctors or psychiatrists, and be wary of those who act like they are. It is wise to seek counseling, and it is just as wise to take medication if you feel moved to do so.

If you don’t want to be lumped in with those that feel they need to hate certain groups of people in order to be “good Christians”, then stand up and live out who you say you are.

I am still wrestling with a lot, especially when it comes to gray, or even flat out bad theology. I don’t like the term “broken” because of how it was used against me as a young girl by those that bullied and ultimately misunderstood me. Phrases like “hungry” or “thirsty” often make me want to draw closer to God than the former; reminding me that I still desperately need Him without feeling less than human.

I could never be an atheist; I have been through too much and experienced enough miracles to know that we didn’t just get here by simply appearing out of nowhere. There is something much bigger than you and I, although I cannot pretend to understand or comprehend all of it. That is why faith is often referred to as a mystery.

Funny how when I first started attending church, I sought out a safe place from what I had no control over. Nearly ten years later, I find myself in similar circumstances, though my brain is still a sponge.

I still have questions and am skeptical at times, but the beauty of faith is being able to discuss it all on a deeper level and be able to grow from it. Wherever my journey takes me, I trust that what is hurt will lead to healing, and what needs transforming will lead to grace.

How Do You…?

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One of my friends since childhood recently passed away, an accident that neither I nor many others saw coming. We grew up together, and his family has become like family to me (and they’re part of the reason why I know and love God like I do today). After attending the funeral I realized that I am a much better writer than a talker, and it has helped tremendously as I celebrate and give thanks for his life. But like all of us that love him, I’m still grappling with questions, trying to find a way to continue on (as he would want me to) while still grieving.

How Do You?

 

The night before

Celebrating, laughing, and dancing

City lights surrounding

Unaware of

The news to come

 

Then come morning

The phone ringing

Knees shaking and eyes blurring

Questions racing

“What do you mean?”

“How can this be?”

Heading in my hands

Anguish

Jesus, where are you?!

 

How do you process what feels like a bad dream

A reality that doesn’t seem true or make any sense at all

How do you pray when you feel like screaming?

And cursing the circumstances

 

A day of mourning

Black and blurry

Many people, many tears

Overwhelmed by the weight of reality

How do you say goodbye

When all you can do is cry

Out to the creator of all things

Holding each other up, sometimes literally

And sometimes in prayer

Words are few

But thoughts are plenty

 

Laid to rest

The person passed

Yet the storm still rages on

How do you move forward without guilt?

As though you’re leaving a brother, son, and friend behind

You don’t want to ignore what happened

But you can’t stay in the dark either

 

So the question becomes

How do we live a life of meaning?

When imperfections blaze like wildfire

How do we love deeper?

To honor who we lost

When our human-ness gets the best of us

Not numbing

But not getting caught up in the bullshit either

 

These feelings

This process

Like fire and rain

They come in waves

Something sparks a memory

And memories spark emotion

You don’t forget

Because you can’t

 

And though heaven is without tears

We’re still wondering down here

What to do, who to be

What “normal” is anymore

More questions than answers

But reassurance

A reunion will be on the other side

What If I Don’t Want to Guard My Heart Anymore?

Whether you grew up in the church or spent the majority of your teen years in a youth group, you were probably told that your heart was “deceitful” (Jer. 17:9), but that you should “guard” it, because “everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). I mostly heard it in relation to how to navigate the already confusing landscape of dating, particularly when I fell in love for the first time when I was only thirteen.

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Yet that responsibility was also being imparted to me (in a non-religious way) before I walked through the sanctuary doors. I learned to subconsciously believe that being liked and accepted meant that I had to present myself in a certain way. That I shouldn’t allow anyone to see my complex or emotional side until we had known each other for a while. And if I wanted to be loved, I needed to put on a happy face.

I tried to act in a way that was safe and comfortable, but was put off by the concept of friendship (and perhaps more) becoming a revolving door that people would walk in and out of. It was a cycle of hoping, overanalyzing, and then closing myself off. Deep down, all I really want was to get to know others and be known, but I couldn’t tell the difference between what was healthy and unhealthy. I carried it with me from junior high through college, and even today I’m still shaking it off.

But it’s not just about what we learn from our upbringing; unfortunately, we live in a culture that constantly warns us against the dangers of taking risks and getting too close. From relationships to careers to fulfilling our lifelong dreams, it’s all about doing whatever we have to do in order to avoid pain.

Nearly everything these days is saturated in fear. In some respects it’s completely understandable, but when it comes to personal interaction, it’s getting kind of ridiculous. There’s no formula that guarantees love and acceptance after opening up to someone. And because we’re all flawed human beings here, we’re all going to get hurt at some point. But there’s a difference between pain that results from our own impulsive or bad decisions, and pain because we knew what we were getting into and the other person did not show up.

As my own convictions and beliefs have been reshaped through the years, I’m beginning to see that taking “guard your heart” so literally is actually more harmful than it is helpful. It gave me the false idea that I had more control in relationships, and that if I went about it so carefully, I could in turn make people care about me without taking too big of a chance. It led me to believe that I was responsible for others’ emotional reactions and making sure that they didn’t disappear as I peeled back the layers. I glorified self-protection, and eventually became self-reliant. What I thought would bring me closer to God actually took me away from Him, and I regret what I missed out on as a result.

On the contrary, I don’t propose blindly following feelings and emotions either: you can want something so desperately that you can’t stop thinking about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Treating your heart like a runaway train is just as dangerous as treating it like a caged animal that has to be under lock and key. If God created us with this thing that is essentially the center of our bodies and physically keeps us alive, then it can’t be all that terrible; it just needs a little guidance.

I’m entering into a new season, and one that involves a lot of vulnerability and taking leaps of faith. I don’t want to guard my heart anymore as much as I want to guide it. The process itself is for another post, but it really comes down to getting real with God about everything, and being grateful for new opportunities, regardless if they’re just for today or for a lifetime. It’s a matter of trusting Him completely, rather than relying on my own limited understanding of what’s happening at the moment (Proverbs 3:5-6). And it’s experiencing the peace that comes from gratitude and surrender, allowing that to act as a protector rather than trying to do it all myself (Phil. 4:6-8).

Discernment is important, but I refuse to resort to legalistic measures, hoping that God will somehow bless me if I follow some silly formula or outdated process. It’s entirely possible to proceed with caution and listen to your instincts while still enjoying the journey of exploring something new and putting yourself out there. When I don’t do that, I miss out on the joys of learning, growing, and perhaps even healing. Yes, that is the real tragedy in putting up walls; it’s a refusal to have faith that He is in the business of healing and miracles, even those that come from pain, suffering, and re-piecing a broken heart back together.

I’m not going to tell you to not get hurt, because a painless existence is not of God. The truth should set you free, but it shouldn’t hold you back and keep you hidden either. Pay attention, but remember that experiences are meant to be treasured, not dictated.

And remember this: You’re going to be OK.

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Decision and Transformation



I rang in 2015 underneath a balcony of a twenty-plus year old nightclub, my best friends and I trying to find some breathing room in what felt like a crowd of a thousand people. We spent the first twenty minutes of the brand new year trying to avoid getting trampled, albeit when I look back it was somewhat funny having to crowd-surf in order to get down the stairs. We danced, helped ourselves to free cocktails, and met some pretty attractive men in the process. It very much a once in a blue-moon experience, especially on a holiday like New Years Eve.

I often tried to re-create it several times afterward, from birthday celebrations to weekend trips to Iowa City. It’s not that it wasn’t necessarily fun as it used to be, but it didn’t feel as easy or as natural as it did nearly two years ago. I’d go with every intention of staying out late, but literally would be half asleep by midnight. Whenever weekend plans consisted of simply going to dinner and a movie, I’d start to wonder if I was limiting myself in some way:

Was this normal or acceptable for someone my age?

Would I miss out if I wasn’t doing something crazy or adventurous?

Am I becoming a boring person because my interests and priorities are changing?

Some days are a yes, and others are a no.



I could talk about how lately the ideal Friday or Saturday night is a combination of catching up over drinks and then eating pizza and watching Netflix or DVR’d TV shows in sweats. I could say that maybe I’m more inclined to explore the nooks and crannies of my favorite concrete jungle as opposed to traveling the entire world. I’m not one for “dating all types” because I of not just what I want, but what I need in a relationship. If I went out with anyone and everyone, I’d be doing it for the wrong reasons.There’s nothing wrong with seeking out substance, and I am becoming more comfortable with resting in the middle, as opposed to going to one extreme or the other. However, I have noticed traces of comparison and even jealousy, which leads me to believe that this is more of an identity issue than anything else.

This is nothing to be proud of, but some areas of my life have definitely been wrapped up in what I was “supposed” to do, or even what I “should” be doing right now. It’s challenging to avoid being swayed by articles detailing the ideal post-grad working person, or habits that need to be broken by the time I’m twenty-five or thirty. Some of us mature faster, and some of us are late bloomers. It might take a lifetime to learn how to be productive, mentally tough, or loving toward ourselves and others. To put a timeline on anything is unrealistic, and eventually becomes more about people-pleasing than becoming a better person.

Self discovery often seems like a thirst-quencher after a major change or transition. It provides comfort and security in the midst of what seems like a big question mark of unknowns. The reality is that we never really “find” ourselves, because we’re constantly changing and evolving. The only thing I can guarantee to be true about myself every single day is that I am a child of God, as well as a human being.

Maybe it’s time to stop searching and start embracing what is in front of me, and what is within me.

It doesn’t mean that I stop paying attention or go wherever the wind blows. When I’m in tune with who I am, I’m more likely to be truthful about the reasons behind why I’m doing something and to set myself back on course, if need be. There are things that I’ve done out of curiosity, but then they slowly turned into self-medication and numbing from what I didn’t want to feel (or face). And no matter what I did to try and escape, it never worked. The real hurt came from the fact that I was refusing to love myself as God made me, and anchoring my heart and spirit in my faith rather than my actions.

It’s a brick wall that I’ve run into on a number of occasions, mostly because every time I’ve tried to get back up, it was by my own strength alone. I know that I need to make some changes in my life, but this time I want to allow myself to be molded by truth, grace, encouragement, and hope instead of trying to do it all on my own.

If you want to call it a transformation of sorts, it is far from complete. It will always be present and always be in progress. This time around, I pray for one major difference: I need accountability, a person or couple of people who can check in with me every so often to see how I’m doing. Whatever this is, it has been a long time coming, and I’m tired of getting stuck in the same dark place on a repeated basis. 

I’m ready. I surrender. And I don’t want to go back.



When Love Came To Stay


 
 
 
Why is it so hard for you to love yourself?
 
I repeatedly ask myself this question as I look at my reflection in the mirror, which is now covered in “name tags,” or words and phrases that come together to form a definition about who we are. This exercise comes from an e-course that I’ve been involved with called Be You and Love It,allowing me to wrestle with my own identity, but to also experience wholeness in the process. I can honestly say that it has been a lifeline, and am beyond grateful for the woman who created it.
 
Yet the question still remains…why is it so hard?
 
From a general standpoint, self-love seems apathetic, as though you don’t care for anyone else around you. If you speak it outwardly, you’re either labeled as conceited, self-involved, or perhaps even bitchy. In some Christian circles, loving yourself is akin to not fully loving Jesus, or not putting Him above all else. And whether I’m looking at it from a spiritual standpoint or not, it seemed superficial and preachy; as though by following a particular formula, you’d somehow find the answer and instantly feel good. And I can’t stand that kind of sugar-coated thinking.
 
In my own experience, it has been challenging because I was never taught how to accept the way that God made me, to embrace my imperfections as opposed to trying to hide or change them. It’s possible that those who should have been examples didn’t know how to love themselves either, therefore passing it onto me.  And because certain messages where coming from those older than I (most of them were adults and family members), it didn’t occur to me that their views were only one perspective. Even after I became a Christian, that perspective often drowned out God’s Truth.
 
That’s exactly why it has taken me thirteen years to fully understand the concept; wherever I turned, there was always somebody telling me that I was not enough, and I felt like I never would be.
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I suppose I’ve been afraid to love myself because it seemed to indicate that I had to walk alone.
 
“Do what you can for yourself, so that you won’t need it from someone else.”
 
But real love isn’t independent, least of all from God. It’s a partnership, an equal partnership.
 
Self-love is hard work, and to espouse it means to be saturated in the love and Grace of God. That love pours out onto you, and you in turn pour that love into others.
 
If we can love others, why shouldn’t we be able to do the same for ourselves? It doesn’t always have to involve making a list of personal attributes or reasons why we have worth. I’ve realized that love and acceptance isn’t just rooted in identity; it’s about what we do for ourselves as well. We need to do things that make us come alive because being ourselves is how we truly live. It means setting boundaries, because we know that we can only give so much before exhaustion and resentment sets in. It means recognizing that some relationships are for a lifetime, while others are for a season. It’s knowing when to keep fighting and when to surrender. It’s taking responsibility for our own actions and choices, but understanding that we’re not responsible for that of others.
 
 For me, it’s nourishing my inner child that adores Disney movies, laughing at random moments, and going on adventures. If I can’t do that, I withdraw.
 
If love is allowing another person to be human, then we must give our own person that same permission.  Permission to show up, mess up, and not stretch ourselves to where we’re trying too damn hard.
 
To love ourselves is to merely be ourselves.
 
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I did the name tag exercise after I wrote those words in my journal; I needed to be alone, without distraction and without needing to explain what I was doing. I used yellow for the “bad” thoughts/opinions, and orange for the “good” ones. I started sticking the yellow tags on my mirror, an instrumental version of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” came on my iPad, followed by Taylor Swift’s “Shake it off.” I don’t usually pay attention to signs or symbolism, but something was happening and it brought tears to my eyes. These words, many of which had been stuck onto me over a decade by peers and others in a state frustration, stared at me like a tiger waiting to pounce.
 
 
 
The orange ones were composed of a much shorter list, and I felt rather indifferent as I wrote them out. It seemed cliché almost, as though I’d heard those words a thousand times before and they no longer meant anything. I knew they were true to some degree, but I’ve always struggled with actually believing them. I can tell the difference between a genuine compliment and being buttered up; it’s why I shudder and bristle when a random guy calls me “beautiful” or “sexy” instead of being flattered. It’s a matter of trust, mostly, as opposed to words themselves. I can trust someone that knows my heart and has seen me at my worst, but definitely not a slime ball who only wants to take me home for the night.
 
But as I looked at them, I kept thinking how none of those names, good or bad, actually define me. Some of them are opinions and some are flat out lies. Others are just reality, and there are even those that have actually become assets over time.
 
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It really is a journey, and one where I continue to grow and evolve, one day at a time. I accept that it is not a singular transformation, and there are days where I’m going to dislike who I see and wish that certain things were different, like the fact that I am deep and sensitive. I’m thankful for those who have been a positive influence, and continue to be as I experience different stages and transitions. I’ve been blessed to know some amazing men and women who exude a confidence and sense of self that I’m almost jealous of. But I’m getting there.
 
 
 

 

Love does not need a thousand reasons or adjectives, but a simple foundation that offers quiet strength. I will keep saying this until I run out of breath: I am a human being and a child of God, and I rest in that. 
 

When Lists Become Prayers






I have never been a huge fan of lists unless they involve groceries. I’m not one to use a variety sticky notes trying to keep track of everything that I need to do or a calendar of events, though perhaps I should. However, there are two kinds of lists that have become sacred to me; ones that I keep tucked away in my journal, and only speak of when asked.

During my last semester of school,  my therapist and I spent several sessions discussing what I wanted, specifically in a romantic relationship. She suggested coming up with at least six non-negotiables, something that I’d never given much thought to up until that point. I’d been told quite often that my expectations were too high, so I usually kept it at “I want a guy who is nice” (high school), and “I want a guy who is nice and will take me out on the weekends” (college). But I wasn’t a child anymore, and if I wanted to find love, it was necessary to not just decide what I wanted, but what I needed as well. It felt refreshing to not only narrow down the important deal breakers, but to proclaim them on paper. Each time I buy a new journal I write them down again on the last few pages, even though by now they’re pretty much stuck in my head. I probably should keep them posted on my bathroom mirror, especially in moments of loneliness where my values can easily take a backseat, or I feel like buying into the “twenty-something free-bird” mentality.

I’ve keep gratitude lists on and off since I was a teenager, but couldn’t stay disciplined enough to do it every day. Sometimes the concept seems like one of those happy-go-lucky fads, a band-aid to put on when desperate to ignore reality. Yet, I’ve picked it back up again recently; instead of waiting until the end of the day and looking back, I record thankfulness as I experience it. I focus on the small, mundane things that don’t seem worth being grateful for, but it helps me to recognize the beauty right in front of me as opposed to looking too far ahead or around me. For anyone who has read Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts, it’s very similar to her practice. I also took a bit of guiding from Soul Keeping, which my church did a series on about a year ago. 

Translating these practices to a communion with God is a work in progress. When I have my quiet time each morning, I experience the self-pressure to say things a certain way, to make sure that I balance gratitude with what is on my heart. Sometimes I cry when giving thanks, understanding at that moment how much I’ve been blessed with. 

And in terms of praying about relationships, that can be a tough one. I have moments where I almost don’t know what to say, let alone how to say it. I toggle between praying about a person I have yet to meet, and wondering if I’ve already met him but the timing isn’t quite right. More than anything, I don’t pray about it often because I don’t want to become obsessed or stressed over it. I don’t want to use love is a bargaining chip (i.e. Lord if you give me an affection man, I won’t curse like a sailor ever again!)

In my faith journey, I’ve been told that God created us so that He knows our words and thoughts, even before we say them. Realistically, there’s no need to pray out loud if I don’t feel moved to do so. I’m still getting used to the whole pray-like-you’re-talking-to-a-friend formula. 

I think lists are like prayers because they often get to the heart of things, the bare bones of what we want and need. In hindsight, that’s what God wants when we pray to him; no embellishments, no ancient language or ritual. Just what is. 

It seems very silly; almost as silly as saying, “and please let the Bears/Blackhawks/Hawkeyes/Cubs win, AMEN!!” But if that’s how God made me, than why not welcome the cheesiness? Who says sacred can’t be light-hearted and almost humorous?

Writing that stuff down (length aside) is a way of remembering. I want to look back. I want to remember. For the memories, no matter how painful, are the ultimate prayers. 

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Faith (In Moments)




“Where is your Hope tonight?”

The guitar chords began to strum faintly, signaling us to stand. I could feel the tears start to prickle at my eyes, the weight of the week threatening to overcome me. I was homesick, exhausted, and a little overwhelmed. It was my first time at camp ever, away from my parents, having all these experiences and emotions that I didn’t know what to do with.

My camp counselor leaned over and quietly asked if I wanted to go talk. Without a word, we both stood up and began making our way out of the makeshift sanctuary toward a nearby park. We sat down on the edge of a sandbox as I attempted to explain all that was going on in my thirteen year-old mind. 

She asked me if I wanted to know God, though I thought I knew him well enough from all the pleading and bargaining I did in the past. Part of the reason why I was on that trip in the first place was because of going to my neighbor’s youth group for the last six months. The pastor explained everything in a way that made more sense than multiple years of Catholic religious education ever could, and this whole week I could feel a deeper sense of longing. I wanted that connection, that wholeness that was discussed literally every single night, but I couldn’t find the words.

“Alyx, you are a treasure, and God desperately wants you to know and understand that.”

I nodded and bowed my head, something deep down indicating that I had reached the end of my rope. I closed my eyes and prayed along with her, something that in various Christian circles is known as the Sinner’s Prayer. I recall that when I opened my eyes, the sun was shining almost blindingly through the Montana pine trees, and I seriously wondered if I was witnessing a supernatural phenomenon.

 I would not recognize the impact of that decision for a very long time, but in that moment I was just grateful to feel lighter, and actually have a smile on my face.
This past Monday marked ten years since that day. Ten life-changing, wonderful, awkward, painful, side-splitting, breath-taking, joyful, insightful years.

I look back on that time and can now admit that I had no idea what I was actually doing. Not that I didn’t want it or didn’t mean it; I had scars on my wrist and on my heart that needed healing. I had anger and self-hatred that was consuming my whole being, and continuing down that road would have killed me. That being said, I was young and hadn’t been raised with any particular set of beliefs, having to investigate and practice my faith on my own. When you’re only thirteen, fourteen years old, you can only grasp or comprehend so much.

As a teenager, I often equated my relationship with God to my relationship with church. Church was my safe haven, a place I could go to when school or life at home became too chaotic. If I understood the sermon, I understood God a little bit better. If I felt close with my friends at youth group, I felt close with God. We would go on weekend trips and experience a kind of “Jesus high”, then come back and lose it in the midst of every-day, real-life stuff. It was very surface-level, and on the outside it probably looked like I was doing everything for the wrong reasons. The next four years were like being tossed around in a tiny boat in the middle of violent storm: my parents’ marriage was collapsing, and I was using every ounce of emotional strength in me to hold onto the idea of my family that I had grown up with. Being a sensitive and observant person, I was more aware of the tension than I needed to be. I had very little self-confidence, and that definitely affected how I interacted with others.
My need to survive eclipsed a willingness to fully embrace and rest in God’s love.

Love and validation from family, friends, and peers seemed more tangible than eternal promises in heavily interpreted texts.

I knew that God loved me, but genuinely believing it was and has been a different story. And that has always been my struggle, causing me to chase after false hopes and depend on circumstances that had no guarantees.

When I went to college, I realized that church was slowly eclipsing God, and I did not want to relate to my creator based on a checklist, performance, or exclusiveness. That is another post for another time, but I stepped away from church for a while. I needed to learn how to separate the two, to measure myself by Grace instead of perfection.
There was no singular moment, no epiphany of sorts, but a lot of moments that I revisited on a regular basis. A lot of writing; poetry, journals, essays, questions. Praying for the anxiety to subside and the tears to dry.

I ran into walls multiple times over, reminding me that partying, boys, and climbing the career ladder was not going to give me what I needed.

And I knew deep down that I needed God; I always have and I always will. Knowing the challenges that I’ve faced, I can’t go through life just simply existing without some sort of foundation, an anchor that keeps me grounded. I want to seek Him in the midst of all the cacophony, without the fear of becoming hateful or judgmental. That’s why I’ve hesitated to immerse myself in my faith, because of what Christianity is associated with now a days. I have my own opinions about a variety of topics, but it’s easy to start second-guessing them when I hear enough people screaming and shouting about Truth and love and supposedly being right. It makes me want to run.
But I don’t want to run anymore, at least not for the sake of survival. If I’m going to run, it’s going to be towards something.

From the outside, I don’t always act like a Christian, and haven’t really been during this last year or so. I curse. I drink. I let my imagination go for joyrides. I’ve learned more toward anger and defensiveness than forgiveness.  I raise my voice (and am tempted to raise my fists), when I should be hitting my knees.

When I reflect on the last ten years, I’m honestly not sure how to feel. But when I think about now, and occasionally down the road, I want more than anything to just be healthy, free, and secure. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To not live inside my head anymore, but to live out what is on my heart; to be vulnerable, so that I can be reminded of who I am and why I’m here. That will take time, discipline, strength, gentleness, and accountability.  And perhaps it’s not necessarily about forcing myself to change, but allowing myself to be changed in the process. To be molded by the unseen, but still shrouded in love.
May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
-Romans 15:13

Amen.

photo credit: Deeply enchanted evening via photopin (license)

Marks and Measures (Of a Woman)

 

 
 
Marks and Measures (Of a Woman)
 
 
What makes a real woman?
She asks
As she curls her hair, her lashes
While trying to stand up-right
*Stares at unpainted nails*
Her closet begs for change
Sentimental remnants long-since hanging by thread
Wear the black heels, they said
Raise your height so that you can actually be seen and heard
Take care of yourself so that others can take you seriously
Walk right, speak firmly but softly, don’t appear foolish
Act the part, and she might believe it
She sees her body as a vessel
Yet unsure of the role it’s meant to play
She’s no Victoria’s Secret Angel
Child-sized with flesh and muscles
Meant to give life and share intimacy
Untouched, but demanded to perform and please
Though not just in media or magazines
Sacred texts take it to the other extreme
Let a man lead without question
A clean home paves the wave to a clean heart
Look up at others, because she doesn’t know any better
She was not raised, but she can be taught!
Sensuality is a light switch
Still a performance, albeit joined by a ring
The images come together as I quiz my reflection
Preferring what’s in my head to what’s in the mirror
Fighting labels the way some have fought for autonomy
I am
Complex
Layered
Worthy of love and connection
A child-like heart molded by my Creator
Eclectic and multi-faceted
Wanting to be wanted, but still valuing independence
Dancing and laughing
Simultaneously wearing a cross around my neck
Shining gold or silver pairs with red lipstick
You cannot measure a woman by the size of her jeans
Or the height of her shoes
Beauty doesn’t necessarily fade
But it changes
We’re all different kinds of colors and flavors
Sweet, spicy, determined, and feisty
Marked not just by what we give
But how we love, embrace, and honor
Let’s honor ourselves as human beings
Speaking in kindness and bravery, with-holding judgement
That’s the real thing


 

photo credit: Time. via photopin (license)

Our Stories, Our Selves



I am absolutely fascinated by people, and I wish I had more gumption to ask “What’s your story?” in order to start a conversation. It might be the creative in me, where I’ve realized that it’s part of my job to take notice of things and capture details. It might be the fact that I’m constantly curious about how the world works. Or it might be it might be the extreme sensitivity in me, cultivated by my own experiences and awareness of the kind of culture that we live in. A culture that seems to be losing the ability to be human, to walk on beaten paths that are filled with more questions than answers. Instead we scream, we threaten, and we profess to hate when we’re really just scared.

A couple of months ago I saw a movie called The Age of Adeline, a romantic drama about a woman who is both blessed and cursed with the gift of youth. Not too long afterward I sat down to watch the heavily-discussed Diane Sawyer interview with the person whom we now know as Caitlyn Jenner, simultaneously cheering and tearing up as she bared her soul and revealed her true self. I couldn’t help but pick out a common thread between these two narratives, though one is fictional and the other is not.  By running from what one knows to be true, they think that their lives will (eventually) be easier, that their struggle will somehow fade with the passage of time. Their greatest fear is being found out, the possibilities and fallout almost unthinkable. But it is only when we’re found out that we truly find ourselves, and only by being brutally honest that we set ourselves free.

Yet, sometimes the only truth that seems to glare at me straight in the face is the one where being yourself is pretty damn hard now a days. And not always because you’re still figuring it out, but because those that you’re surrounded by are constantly telling you that you’re wrong, in some capacity. I do remember a part of my life where it was constantly insinuated that I needed to be “fixed.” In the eyes of my peers it was my legs, and in the eyes of the adults it was my personality. There were a lot of mixed messages, leaving me isolated and trying to avoid natural reactions and emotions that were being equated to a bad attitude or not trying hard enough.

I was never taught how to love myself, and it took four years to college to actually grasp what it meant. My group of friends were wonderful, all different from one another, and yet we still made an effort to celebrate each other’s quirks and messiness. On a fluke I came across this post by one of them on Instagram, and to this day it still gets me (in a good way): 


That was when I knew that it wasn’t about trying to change myself; it was about embracing the person that I actually was, and have been for all of my life. She was still there, but had been buried underneath a plethora of what others told her to be, a mold that never really fit.

Which is why though our journeys pale in comparison, seeing Caitlyn stand in her freedom motivates me to boldly stand in mine. Amidst all the media hoopla and debate, there’s a bigger picture to been seen. Between knowing what I’ve been through and witnessing the disgusting backlash on the internet and otherwise, I could never bring myself to go against anyone that looks or feels different, regardless of the reasons why. I get that this kind of stuff makes people uncomfortable and not everyone will agree with it, but is it not enough to just leave it at that? While there is freedom of speech, a freedom is only free until it starts being abused for the sake of being “right.” If you don’t have something meaningful or constructive to add to the conversation, then take step back.

I’m aware of what the Bible says about many of these topics, but there’s so much more than just the verses about judgement, sin, and how to address others. In the last ten years, I’ve realized just how important it is to put my complete trust in Him, rather than try to constantly figure it out myself (Proverbs 3:5-6). There are some aspects of the Trinity, Scripture, and life as a whole that I probably won’t ever understand or comprehend, and that’s OK. If we understood everything or had all the answers, there wouldn’t be a desperate need to have faith.

It comes down to loving God and loving each other as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). It’s knowing that God created each of us in His image, and if we don’t always understand what God is like, than we won’t always understand what people are like. The best thing that I can do for anybody is to remember that whatever they’re dealing with is between them and God, and to affirm that they are loved and heard. That’s not to say that it’s always easy; I’m learning that love means accepting the things you don’t necessarily like about a person, as well as what they’re able to give you and what they can’t. There are battles worth fighting for, and then there are those that aren’t; especially if it leads to such self-hatred where one believes that it’s better to be dead than alive.

I’ve begun to wonder if the best way to show God’s love is to fully embrace the person that He created; both in terms of who we see in the mirror, and who we see standing on the other side. There will always be critics of choices and personality traits, those that look at you through a certain political, religious, or generational lens. If you choose to share your story, you risk being analyzed  and being accused of taking advantage of your situation. To rise above all of that is a challenge, but staying true to oneself is one of many things that get taken for granted.

For those that argue about how we should care about more important things going on in the world, remember that we all have different gifts and callings. Instead of berating each other for feeling strongly about one thing and not something else, let’s encourage one another to use our strengths and gifts to the best of our ability.

Amen.