Monthly Archives: December 2013

2013: It’s okay not to be okay (a love letter to the greatest friends on earth)

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^(that’s for everyone who has been there for me this year. Because I was a mess and you were incredible. I promise to be more dependable next year. Probably)
Maybe if I tell it as a story…
I wrote it boldly on the first page of a journal I never wrote in again. “honest.” Because it was cool to pick a word of the year, and I picked that one. Looking back, I might have picked “brave.”
He stopped me on my way to my car. “Hey, so, just so you know…my story isn’t so nice.” I took a deep breath. Let it out. “Mine neither.” Which is how I ended up sitting against the sliding glass door, looking at the ceiling and telling the whole story for the first time. Letting the words be honest, and feeling so afraid.
As the rest of the year happened, I was so glad you knew. It was so much harder to hide, and I was so afraid at first. But there was so much grace.
In 2013, I jumped off a cliff. Twice. I got hit by a car. I moved. I went to church alone. I went to a counselor alone. I spent Maundy Thursday in a slimy tunnel under campus. I got an icee in downtown Dallas at one in the morning. I wrote a bunch of angry letters, and I apologized a thousand separate times. I learned to drink without making a yuck face. I pulled an all nighter at Prayer Awakening, and then drug a bunch of kids to a basketball game. I played sardines in the church and was scared out of my mind. I hugged a homeless man with my pants inside out while running to an Easter carnival. I also accidentally stole some tables from Woodway, for which I abjectly apologize. Mostly, I bought a lot of Taquis.
In between all that, I was brave. It wasn’t the big things, it was the rest of the things. The places I stopped pretending I was okay. The times I asked for help.
So you’re up on a cliff. You’re alone, looking out on everything around you. Listen to me: jump. You have to jump. Let yourself fall. Let yourself need someone to catch you. This is where grace happens.
I jumped off a cliff in 2013, and the first time I swore the whole way down. But you can’t spend your whole life up there by yourself. You can’t be perfect forever. Being honest means being brave.
Here’s what they don’t tell you: it’s a gift. All of it.
I found all of you here at the bottom. And these honest, real conversations have restarted my heart. And it’s so much less lonely, here with all these other fallen people.
This year started with the best five months of my life, followed by seven of the hardest. But then you wake up on a morning in December, look back, and realize that the pain was a gift…maybe even more than the joy.
You are loved here. You get to learn to be made whole again. You get to need God in a new way. To need the body of Christ in a new way. You get to stop trying to wrestle everything into shape. Sometimes you have to have your hip dislocated to make you stop fighting. You walk with a limp forever, and you never forget the grace of a God who will not let go. It’s a gift because we weren’t promised tomorrow. And it’s grace to be reminded that God is in charge, not us. And He uses our pain, and nothing is in vain. Which means we can keep hoping.
Life is a gift.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Let it out. My story isn’t always nice. But it’s full of grace. I’m glad I finally learned how to tell you. All of it.

Because you’ve been amazing.

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when He does not seem to have brought us any peace

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So many fights. So much anger. I’m exhausted and angry and kind of just in need of some hope. I’m reading Luke, and I get past the Christmas story and see one of my all time favorite passages in chapter four.

So Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. Satan reminded Him that He could gain power by feeding the hungry or by ruling in the government or by taking control of the temple. But instead He prayed, fasted, and then walked into the temple and read these words about Himself:    

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

It is around this time that I begin to fist pump in excitement. I love this. I love the picture of Christ using a revolutionary idea of community to set the world on its head.

But then, a few chapters later, Jesus dies. He comes back for a minute, but then He goes to heaven. And even though the angels shouted about peace and goodwill when He came, they are terse when He leaves. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Okay. That’s less helpful. Apparently we aren’t supposed to just sit and wait for Jesus to come back. But here’s the issue:

We were promised peace and goodwill and liberty and favor…right? But this place doesn’t feel so peaceful. There are people dying all over the world, people who love Jesus. There are families fighting. There are hearts being continually pounded by pain and loneliness and anger…it’s all broken. The world is all broken and it feels more apt to remember Jesus telling us that He was also bringing a sword. That we were sheep sent out to the wolves. That we will be persecuted and abandoned. There is some bad news, not that we needed to hear that. If I know anything at all, it is that life down here is not always peaceful. That I cannot quite get free of sin or anger no matter how hard I try. Trust me, I get it.

But then…are we being punked or something?

It’s like an echo in my ears. “You are the salt. You are the light.” We waited a moment, to receive Him, and now that we have Him we are the body. We are the church. We are the plan to bring it all about.

“In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.”

It is Christmas and we celebrate the incarnation. Celebrate peace between God and men. Celebrate that He will return. Hope for it. Pray for it.

But in the meantime…

“You will be my witnesses”

We are not left alone. We have the Spirit. We have one another. I read it as I am aching because there is no peace in this house full of broken people. ”Dum spiro spero. While I breathe, I hope”.

There is no peace apart from him. There is no freedom apart from Him. And if He is in us, perhaps we had better work on making Him visible.

While we are breathing, there is hope. It is in us, and we desperately need to release it.

We make peace, and we are blessed to be called sons and daughters of God. And it might just look like using the kind words instead of the angry ones. It might look like loving the people different than us. It might look like putting someone else above us, even when that is the most unpleasant thing we can imagine.

“Truly He taught us to love one another. His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother. And in His name all oppression shall cease.”

Peace doesn’t just happen. What we were promised here on earth was trouble. But we carry hope inside of us. We get the chance to make God present once again.

The incarnation hasn’t stopped. He is still among us. He has sent a helper.

He came to bring peace and freedom. But when He was tempted to use force or government or anything like that…He chose to use us. 

(there is ice outside, coating all the trees and buildings and rocks and stuff. It’s kind of creepy. But if you touch it, or hold your hand on it, it starts to melt. Your hand gets kind of cold, but the ice melts. Because you have warm blood inside of you.)

yay

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My skin’s pretty thin.

Which is why I’m not a writer. Which is why I’m not much of anything, right now. I grew up in this rough and tumble family that is sarcastic and loud and somehow I never got calluses in the right places. I know that about myself.

Which is why the conversations hit me the way they did. Which is why finals week absolutely tore me into pieces. It doesn’t take a lot of words to hurt me. Just the right ones. Just ones from the right person. It rang in my ears over and over and over and over. When you screw up, sometimes you have to move on. I don’t always do a good job of that.

                I’m working on it. I’m praying about it. But I’m still a massively insecure fourteen year old on the inside a lot of the time. And so it happened that I was awake at four in the morning thinking about a meeting and why I wasn’t going. Only a lunatic goes to an interview for a ministry program in the state I’ve been in. And my blog URL was on the application so it’s not like I can pretend to be sane, yeah?

I went. Mostly because my inner fourteen year old still lives in absolute terror of Jennifer. If we are a wolfpack she is the alpha and I am the quivering mass of mess. Don’t ask me how this happened. I’m just weird sometimes (and had I not gone to this interview out of fear and insecurity her rage would have been very warranted and very real).

So I walk in with my backpack on, still dressed in finals week grunge. The snow is melting, and my shoes are sopping wet. My bangs are all stuck together on one side. But I try to act confident. I sit across the from the two of them, and promptly fail to make eye contact for the next hour. This is who I am: I’m a mess. I’m a mess who has no business being a part of this program.

And they have my application printed out, and I notice she has written all over it in blue. Underlined, circled, starred, the whole spiel. Through my nerves, I can tell that she’s talking about Becky. About being on the phone with Becky. Her voice warms, and I can tell she liked her. I guess it is in that moment that I decide to be honest. Because I cannot possibly stonewall someone who appreciates the value of Becky.

I am doing very well at explaining about Jesus. And about ICM. I talk for longer than either of them probably want about ICM. Probably they don’t care who braids Mesha and Kayla’s hair, but I tell them anyway. This is why you shouldn’t ask me open ended questions. I hear myself talking about Charles, kind of like I’m not the actual one talking. I notice, still distantly, that my voice is cracking just a little. But on the whole I don’t sound crazy yet.

It is at this point in the conversation that she asks about my family. She tells me I don’t have to answer. I consider that. But they were so nice about the ICM kids. And they liked Becky. I think my voice breaks the first time at the word seizure, which is further than I generally make it, actually. It falls apart quickly, though (at this point there is a distinct probability that I sound crazy).

So I’m sobbing in a conference room. That’s where I’m at. I’m talking about God and reconciliation and loneliness and seizures and Kelly Clarkson and all of it is gaspy and teary.

Oh well. Doesn’t matter. Tunnel vision. (except I really did want to do this. I really did.)

She is kind of smiling at me. She turns to the guy and asks if he has questions. He says something like “I do, but not important ones.” To me “you’ve got a great heart. I see that. This, right here. This is where change happens. It’s about families and trying and crying and all that. I think you’ll be great.”

Hey. You reading this: Love somebody like that today, okay? Like you’re not afraid of their mess. Because it makes a huge difference. Good grief.

Surprisingly enough it doesn’t make me cry more. I sit there, a little dazed. I realize that I have just seen two people love me so thoroughly that I am somehow more solid than I was before.

Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy but…please let me stay here. Let me learn how to love people like that.

And so it is that I am doing a semester long missional training program called SHARP. It is run by this dandy group of folks called The Spero Project (http://www.thesperoproject.com/ and please please please go look at how cool they are. so cool. ohmygosh. i love people who aren’t afraid of brokenness.) And despite some initial fear of not being ready, I am beginning to be ridiculously excited about learning to love my neighbors from people who seem to do that really, really well.

I will start in January. I’m a mixture of terrified and totally stoked. God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.

prayers wouldn’t be…like…the worst thing. It’s gonna be something, y’all. 

the first semester

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I have had one semester of physical therapy school (unless you count cadaver anatomy which…don’t. That was a completely different animal).

I would tell you, if you were to ask me, that I’m not really sure that I like it. That I’m not really sure I want to keep doing it. That some (most) days I dream about walking out of the building and doing something real. That I’m so tired of living in this theoretical world.

On the other hand, I would also tell you about my ridiculously great job and the lovely ladies I work for who do nothing but encourage me and love me and look out for me. About the kids I’m slowly but steadily falling in love with. I would probably show you the music video I made with one of them, and then we could both laugh in that hopeful kind of way, because you would understand that the people in the clinic are my people, and I’m so glad I found them (and by found, I mean I’m so glad my mom hired them strategically so that she could work in a clinic full of awesome)

So I would tell you I’m confused.

If you asked about my life, I would also mention the church I’ve started going to. I would tell you, talking with my hands because I’m excited, about Hope House OKC, which is a family shelter the church runs literally two blocks from my house. I would tell you about praying for my neighborhood, and how this sort of just happened and now I’m getting to help them with childcare and how we are buying playground balls for the spring and putting up a basketball hoop and…I would spin in little circles trying to explain to you that this is what I want my life to be. I would tell you about the program I’m doing in the spring to teach me how to become the person God is making me. About all the opportunities He has suddenly brought to me.

But it would be a little stressed. I would think about school again, inevitably, and wonder why I keep going. I would tell you about failing as a friend. And about making a lot of really big mistakes. And if you pried a little deeper, I would tell you that in the midst of the blessings there is a palpable silence. That the advent songs ring with an emptiness I never really understood before. That I am begging Jesus to come not because of the season or the liturgy, but because I would sacrifice all the gifts for another moment with the Giver. I would tell you about the thesis my best friend wrote about the silence of God.

Maybe I wouldn’t tell you any of it. Maybe I would just tell you about the difference between a licensed therapist and a tech. I would tell you that the difference between them is that therapists have to have a reason for every touch, every exercise, every stretch. If a tech is hurting you, it’s because they are confused, or maybe doing something wrong. But therapy hurts sometimes. I would tell you that it matters who is holding you.

I used to think that believing in God was important because it saved me, or something like that. Because it was an essential item on the checklist. Because it was the status quo. I’m starting to realize that it’s different than that. That believing in God isn’t a rush of emotions or a sweet calm or a feeling of purpose. That maybe it’s waking up and going to school, going to work, visiting a neighbor…and not being afraid of the silence. I think I realized today that I still believe in God. Maybe more than I ever did. That I never stopped. That feeling the lonely silence from the sky was something different entirely. And I think I realize what the song means…”in the seeking. in the doubt”. 

If a man wishes to be sure of the road he’s traveling on, then he must close his eyes and travel in the dark. -St. John of the Cross

 

the church is killing me

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For some of you the title of this is a little frustrating (for some of you who know me better, it’s really frustrating). You’re tired of hearing about church here, about how I can’t seem to make it exist. You’re tired of hearing me throw around words like community and sanctification so glibly, like I understand them. I understand, because I’m tired of it, too.

I tried to explain that it’s like I’m being clubbed in the head with a bat (or maybe a dull axe that will leave me some kind of nearly-headless ghost). That I would prefer a swift execution, neat with a corpse to bury and a soul that is finally free. I would prefer something sharp, to the point, and efficient. But I am so stubborn and so angry and so ugly. There are days I look back on and wonder why God bothers, to be honest.

So, instead I’ve been hit in the stomach so many times. By the words of friends and family here and not here. All of whom love me. All of whom are right. They’re telling me I can’t keep up the apathy. That I can’t keep up the selfishness. That I have to be the change I want in my own life, if I’m too wrapped up in me to care about the change in the world (and I am. Let’s make no mistake about that).

She is so persistent that I go and turn in a form that says I will do something other than hide in my room and watch New Girl that I actually do. I drive there in my car, turn in the paper, and run by the nearby mall for two seconds. I throw up in a trashcan in the middle of the food court.  I prayed for the church to touch me, but I guess I was hoping for a caress instead of a punch to the stomach.

Which goes to show that we don’t know what we need.

I think about the Great Divorce. About the lizard on the man’s shoulder who whispered lies. It had to die, painfully and brutally. But it had to die. Reading it, I’m prone to laugh at the silly ghost who can’t see that. Until I look down and see that I am totally transparent. That I am pierced and destroyed by the realness of the Church. That the accountability and community and sanctification are like the stick in the book, and I could work for a year the way I am now and never pick them up and make proper use of them.

We are supposed to be becoming solid. But I sit on my own shoulder, hissing lies into my ear. I block my ears to the words that might save me. And I know it will hurt terrifically.

But I have to die. I have to kill off all of these scaly pieces of myself, if I can ever hope to do more than stand at the edge of the life God has brought me to.

The church is killing me. It is pushing me outside of the things I want to do. It is speaking the truth when the truth is sharp. It is unsettling, uncomfortable, and inconvenient.

And I wake up, for a second, underneath it all. Open my eyes for the first time in months. I apologize. Over and over again. I wake up, and see that the monster is big, and I am small. See that maybe I ought not to have listened to Eminem and befriended him. And I hear the church still, hacking away at it.

The church is killing me. I will almost certainly not survive.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardlywe are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (from 2 Corinthians 4)

It is a parasitic growth, and neither can live while the other survives. If my soul is going to live, if it is going to crawl outside selfishness and apathy, I am going to have to die. I must decrease, and He must increase. Because my life should be forfeit to Him, anyway.

So when I say the church is killing me, understand that I mean it with a frightened kind of gratitude. With a fearful kind of apology. I’ve known this for so long. That it was inevitable. That so much could not survive. But I’ve gotten so confused. I’ve fallen in love with the parasite sapping myself of all my energy and passion and love for anything other than myself.

When I say the church is killing me, I hope you will hear it as a whisper “Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy”.

Thank you, and I’m sorry.