Monday, June 23, 2014

For the Ones Who've Fallen Again

    I know. I'm supposed to say "get back up!"
    I will. Later. Hold on a minute.
    Right now I'm going to sit down here, right beside you. Is that okay? (Because let's be real, I'll fall again real soon anyways. That's just how this life goes).
    Wanna take my hand? No? Okay, want a hug?
    If yes, here's a tight squeeze and lots of love. If no, here's more love, heaps upon heaps of it, overflowing, full love so rich we'll never know a smidgen of it.
    And that's okay. We weren't created to know everything, not yet.
    I do know you.
    Not all of you, not much of you by far, but I know what it feels like to fall again. To go crawling back into your cage, to exercise when you shouldn't have, to commence writing a prayer and instead scribble I'm fat, I'm fat, I'm fat over and over. To curse yourself, to curse your sin, to whimper and curl up in your weariness and in your weakness. To kiss the mud because hey, you've missed the ground from up high.
    Friend, we all have weaknesses. Please don't hide yours. No matter how gaping, no matter how tiny.
    Don't hide.
    I love you. I do. And so does God, I promise. Love's enough to fill our holes.
    Put your hand over your heart. Feel that beat?
    You're alive, and alive is how you were meant to be from the dawn of time. There's a lot of death and shit in this world, and believe me I know sometimes death is life and vice versa, but this isn't one of those cases.   
    You're alive. You breathe. You're supposed to be here.
    Not in the dirt, you say. That's true.
    But you're supposed to be here on Earth: alive. You're already doing something right, at least. Even if you want to die, you're still alive right now, and alive is where you're supposed to be.
    I'm here, and there's a God here too, Who's refilling this Earth with life (although I don't often see this life, and you don't either, it's a hope I will cling to).
    Want to get up now?
    I think this is the part where I'm supposed to encourage you to get back up. You should, we both know it (perhaps begrudgingly).
     But first I'll offer you my hand - and my back if you're tired - and my tears for cleansing if you're dirty. If you're scared, I'll walk by your side, and if you're ashamed, I'll walk right in front of you.
    As long as we keep holding hands, friend. Because I love you, I like you, and here's to those of us who've fallen in the mud. Not because of our actions, but who we are - in our corest core, heaven's image.
Love you, friend.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Guess What? God Is Not Frankenstein

    "Soon after my arrival in the hovel, I discovered some papers in the pocket of the dress which I had taken from your laboratory. At first I had neglected them; but now that I was able to decipher the characters in which they were written, I began to study them with diligence. It was your journal of the four months that preceded my creation. You minutely described in these papers every step you took in the progress of your work; this history was mingled with accounts of domestic occurrences. You, doubtless, recollect these papers. Here they are. Everything is related in them which bears reference to my accursed origin; the whole detail of that series of disgusting circumstances which produced it is set in view; the minutest description of my odious and loathsome person is given, in language which painted your own horrors and rendered mine indelible. I sickened as I read. `Hateful day when I received life!' I exclaimed in agony. `Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?'" - Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
    Don't kill me for suggesting this. But.
    I think we often view God as Frankenstein.

Not God.
    If you're not familiar with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (which differs significantly from the movies), here's a brief summary: a university student named Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with chemistry (can't say that I blame him, tee-hee), and eventually uses his scientific knowledge to search for the means to recreate life. So he creates a creature (who is not named Frankenstein) and successfully animates him. But ... Frankenstein is revolted by this Being who is nothing like he envisioned, so Frankenstein abandons him. The creature, unfortunately, then plots to destroy the life of Victor Frankenstein, and the plot continues from there.
    And yeah, that's how we often view often God: as Victor Frankenstein.
    Oh, I know. All Christians acknowledge that God came down as Man to save us. He didn't abandon us. That's true, and beautiful (come to think of it, can beauty and truth exist without the other? Ahem, back to the subject).
    But other messages pervade:
    God can't stand to be around our sin.
    God hates us.
    God will condemn us to hell because, due to the various effects of sin, we cannot understand or even hear the gospel.
    Et cetera. 
    And so God becomes like Frankenstein, Someone Who repulsed by His own creation. Someone Who seeks to abandon us to sin and hell because we're hurting and too angry at the EVIL that surrounds us to understand Him. Even though He allowed this enormous, intricate, stunning, and often incredibly painful story to occur in the first place.
    This is not okay.
    The Gospel has to be good news. Sure, our understanding of good is dimmed, but nearly everyone has some basic understanding (slapping a person across the face is bad, embracing a hurting friend is good, for example).
    God hating us? I don't think anyone thinks that's good news. Just picture yourself as the hated person. You can only surmise that God's hatred is good if you're not the hated one, which is quite selfish, frankly.
    Seriously, if God hates us, why wouldn't he just say: "Oh good, you're trapped in sin! Now go fry."
    As for the idea that God can't stand to be around our sin? Um, well, as a Christian, I believe Jesus was God...and He lived with us...and the Holy Spirit still lives in us...sooooo.
    I do believe sin pains Him, wounds Him - because He actually cares about us, because He longs for nothing less than the restoration of all creation.
    And then there's hell. I'd ask you: is eternal hell good, especially if that person has been too encumbered by circumstances beyond their control to know God?
     I'm no theologian, but I have to believe something good happens in the end, despite the darkness that surrounds us. Fortunately, you're not the judge of what that good is, and neither am I.
     God is not Frankenstein.
     God is Good.
In fact, God's even better than chocolate cupcakes. Wow.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

We Have a Voice

    I can't count how many times I've watched people, wanting to join in their conversation, only to freeze, to stare, to mouth words that don't come out because my heart is beating too fast. 
    I have lived too long in the silence.
    I have a voice.
    Yet, I don't remember having it. I lost that voice long ago, beaten back into a cage, and, yes, I was the one who locked the door. But the blame, is it mine?
    I think not. There were too many circumstances for a young girl to handle, and what was I to do, with nowhere to turn?
    Oh, what does it matter? Oh, friend, there's always enough blame to send around. I've lavished it on me, on you, on them. Hey, free blame for everyone!

    My counselor, the first day I saw her, told me "You lost your voice. We have to work to find it again."
    Maybe that's why I write. I began writing as a child because my daydreams could come true on a page. And maybe somewhere, I hoped, they were real. So, you see, writing gives me a voice; it makes me real.
    Maybe here, on this blog, is where the redemption of a voice began. It's a nice thought.
    Because here, here I remain quiet, but I can speak. Freely. I can say what I need to say. It is almost easy.
    And yet ... there are so many voices.
    We have lived too long in the noise.
    We have a voice.
    Yes, and we've used those voices to bless and curse, to tell gay people "I love you so I'm saying you're heading to hell", to shame the pregnant woman while condemning abortion, to mock Catholics and Emergents and anyone who wasn't us. On the flip side, we've called believers idiots and laughed at their core identities. We've all hurt us because we hurt us.
    This is naught but noise and confusion, so is it any wonder those who believe differently are disregarded?

    I don't want to join the noise, despite its attraction (and, yes, it is attractive).
    And so I will lift up my voice and tell you my fears and doubts and dreams and hope. I will try not to be ashamed of believing in God in the midst of rampant doubts. I will cry honesty with every means I have.
     I have a voice, and I can ask, and I want to ask: Do you care? Do you love me, do you hate me? Will you listen?
    I asked, Do you care?
    Will you care if I say I'm scared I've turned liberal? (Or, let's be real: I'm scared because I've become a liberal. Read into that what you will).
    And you? What are your struggles and dreams? Are you happy? I want to hear from you.
    Because I have a voice, I want to listen.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Searching for God After Scrupulosity

    It started on a walk around our neighborhood. Accompanied by my mother and my sister, we were just about to turn back onto our street when a disturbing thought I'd never had before popped into my head.
    Shocked and upset, I was trapped because I couldn't un-think it.
    And so unwanted thoughts kept a-popping in my head for pretty much most of middle and high school. I hated these thoughts, hated myself for thinking such atrocities - you name it, it's probably flown in my head. And I was so disgusted at myself, at my apparent lack of self-control.
    So I prayed about the thoughts, but they kept coming. Randomly, without warning.
    So I prayed more.
    And more.
    Speaking of praying, good heavens, why was I only thinking of my problems? What about my friends and family? What about everyone, for that matter, even the people I glimpsed on the street - surely they needed prayer, too.
    So I made a list, an ever-growing list, and then memorized most of it. I repeated names of people and situations over and over to God, every night or morning. If I sped through the list without thinking, I'd make myself go back, repeat it slower. I had to mean every word, because Jesus didn't like empty prayers.
    I added the Lord's Prayer at the end, too, because that's how Jesus said to pray. I even went in a small bathroom and knelt and closed my eyes.
    I read every word of the Bible, looked up every word I couldn't immediately define. I made sure I found meaning in every verse. (It's hard to derive meaning from temple dimensions, but I'm telling you, I tried).
    Any untruth was a lie, correct? I had to tell the whole truth, every last bit, and confess every time I hadn't. Even sins I'd committed years ago, I had to confess to someone.
    Eventually the urge to obsessively read the Bible and confess began to stop, when my family told me how irrational I was. Slowly, I learned to let go of my need to confess every last sin.
    But the praying? I kept at it. Even when I told God I'd rather be anorexic than have Him in my life, I kept  praying.
    Even when I started following Christ again in college, I kept up the praying. I kept up church attendance and quiet time, especially before exams - lest God punish me for not putting Him above studying.
    Apparently, religious OCD is a thing: scrupulosity, in fact.
    It sucks (I just had to say that).
    But discovering the name - guys, I'm not alone. We're not alone. Funny how learning a name can shift your whole perspective.
    I got tired of the compulsive praying, of the never-ending list. I ended it sometime mid-freshman year.
    And, honestly, I wasn't praying as much anymore. More sincere, yes. But much less. My pride in how much time I prayed died a quiet, painful death, replaced by still relief and stiller guilt.
    Quiet times I altered sophomore year, when I became too busy to be compulsive. But, yeah, I'm still not sure if my quiet time legalism died as a pleasant side effect of my busyness, or if that busyness was a gift to kill my compulsive quiet time.
    This year, due at first to depression, my church attendance and time reading the Bible became spottier and spottier. Later a combination of (admittedly) laziness and fear of returning to my compulsive rituals contributed to my spotty church attendance and briefer Bible readings.
    I like not having these compulsions. I like freedom, fancy that. I like true connections and communication, with God and with people.
    But, I ask you, how do I maintain a functioning relationship with God when quiet time, praying, or reading the Bible - when church itself - reminds me of my compulsions and sometimes even induces full-blown panic attacks?
    I want to keep learning about God - mentally, spiritually, physically, even. I desire God. I'm just not quite sure how to keep experiencing Him, how to reach out to Him.
    Maybe I'm hoping He'll reach outside to me.
    Hi there, God, you said he who asks shall receive. So I'm asking for you to help me, guide me, find me. Amen.
    P.S. - Thank you.


Monday, June 2, 2014

A Universe of Choice and Chance: How I Wound Up in the Middle East This Summer

    You're supposed to be here.
    Every day here on project, I hear this. Sometimes several times per day.
    And I think: I - I am the last person to be here right now.
    I - I am not fit, you see. Christianese phrases trigger anxiety; prayer and church, panic attacks. I'm worn out and angry, bitter and confused. Ya know, God?
    I cannot service others when all I am has become shattered glass. I cannot communicate with English-
speaking adults, much less those whose language I do not know. And I've never been able to understand children, no matter their language.
    And so I laugh at this - a bit like Sarah, I suppose. Only she was barren in body; I feel barren in soul.
    Except I am here.
    You're supposed to be here.
    You know, I chose to be here. I wanted to be here, I've wanted to come for the last four years, but this winter I had my breakdown and said screw the application; I'm not fit. I give up.
     As I cried (I cried pretty much every day of Winter Break) and hugged my arms to my chest (because unfortunately you can't hug minds - hey! God! Wanna work on that? Just kidding), I told my sister I was giving up.
    And then my sister was like: "No, you're should apply. I'll help you."
    And I was like, hello? I'm mentally crushed right now. I can't think or feel. Ain't no way someone like me should travel with other Christians for a cultural exchange/service project in the Middle East.
    I may also have mentioned something about how "I prayed about it and God didn't give me any clear direction."
    Sister: "Maybe God wants us to choose." (Well, she said something along those lines).
    So, I obeyed my sister. Maybe I also, somewhere, still wanted to go, and I realized that my mind wasn't the most trustworthy at the moment.
    And when I started crawling out of the depression, I found out I'd been accepted to come, and I was actually excited (until the next panic attack over fundraising, ahem. Oops).
    Yes, you see, I chose to come here.
    And yet: I am supposed to be here as well? It seems a contradiction.
    Truth to be told, I'm not much a believer in fate. Words like "supposed" make me nervous, in this universe of choice and chance.
    How do you know I'm "supposed" to be anywhere? Is that your way of making us feel important? accuses my cynical mind.
    Then, as I'm musing, half-hating myself for my cynicism, half smug (to be disgustingly honest), I'm reminded of something a friend told me freshman year, something I've adopted as a mantra of sort while facing decisions:
    Who are you to think you can mess up God's plan for you?
    Okay. So I have anxiety issues and pride problems. So my carefully constructed faith got demolished and I'm whiplashed from wrestling with it.
    So we're tired. So we've been told we're outsiders, that we have no place doing xyz, whatever. So we've lost.
    So you're freaking enraged, so you're so humiliated you want to die. So you're a hollow can, so you screwed up, real, real bad.
    So you had to burn everything. So you fled, so you stayed, and you feel guilty and isolated either way.
    First things first: It's okay. Here's a hug or a smile if you're not into hugs. But if you are, here's both.
    I'd hesitate to call your situation good, and it's sure not comfortable, but you know what? It's okay.
    Second: Maybe we could dare to believe that God's plan for us (while I don't believe He ever wants evil to happen, either to us or by us) cannot be ruined, because He can bring good out of true evil.
     "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." - Genesis 50:20
    God wants us all abundantly alive, all of us.
    Maybe when I came here, my sister guided me towards choosing life when I couldn't even discern.
    Maybe, for our next step, we can all choose whatever will bring life, and if you're too weak to choose, talk to someone who can help (I'm available).
    Life. For you, for me. Life to share. Maybe that's God's plan. Maybe that's what "supposed" means.
    It's paradoxical, sure, and no, I've not reached the bottom of this mystery. Oh well. Wasn't going to happen in one blog post or twenty, probably (since as far as I know, theologians have been reconciling free will and the sovereignty of God for millennia).
    For myself, I hope that maybe, in this universe of choice and chance, resurrection will occur even in shattered glass.
    Because we're supposed to be alive. 
    We're supposed to be here.