The Comparison Game

I have a confession to make.

I struggle with comparison.

And not in the traditional sense. Not in the way you imagine, by comparing myself to any woman that crosses my path.

No, there’s really just one woman I compare myself to. You know the type. She’s whimiscal, girly. Her photos get more likes on FB. Our mutual friends respond to her blog more than mine. She’s seen more of the world than I have. She makes more money than I do. She’s almost too perfect. Too put-together.

Let’s be honest: I am of the hodgepodge variety of women. If you saw my outfit today, you would think I got dressed in the dark. (I took a calculated risk. I’ve gotten a few double-takes today and not in the “Hey, Girl” way.) I rarely wear makeup and I’m in the awkward phase of growing out a pixie cut. If you read my blog, you know I am not even slightly perfect or put-together. My life reads like one big messy response to the Gospel and while I’m slowly getting my crap together, I still find myself stumbling over almost too raw authenticity.

Myself and this mystery woman are nowhere near alike but yet, I find myself irked when I’m reminded of her. If women were really honest with themselves, we all have that one person whose life we wish we had. The things we would do with the platform they have or the resources they have at their disposal.

But we don’t have their lives.

A few years ago, I was at this training for this summer camp I was staffing when the trainer was talking about identifying what resources and experiences you bring to the table to help others. He opened it up to the group by asking us what we thought we brought to the table.

And of course, in true me-fashion, I blurted out that I knew what it was like to self-harm and attempt suicide.

In a room full of people that I barely knew, I demonstrated the first spiritual gift God gave me that not everyone has: the gift of vulnerability.

Vulnerability’s messy. I’ve actually tried to stop myself from being vulnerable because it would make my life so much easier. But I can’t stop. Not without suppressing the Holy Spirit at the same time. And that makes it not worth it.

When I think about fighting the comparison game, it’s more about celebrating the differences in gifts and backgrounds we have than in trying to remind ourselves of our value. Like with this woman I am always envious of? She speaks volumes into the lives of people that I can’t relate to. Just like I (aspire to) do with people who share my background. The world needs both of us. I can get down with celebrating her.

So while she’s speaking truth to the ladylike bunch, I’ll be over here being a hot mess of grace and hodgepodge-ness.

 

Hard to Love

I’ve prayed a lot of weird prayers in the last thirteen years. Like a lot. Like things I would never say to another person but I’d tell God because He already knows.

Perhaps one of the weirdest prayers came at a time when I was a complete hot mess. I had come out of an incredibly traumatic household and was knee-deep in the thick of counseling. If you’ve ever experienced what trauma does to a person and what happens when you’re finally free, you already have a picture of my behavior in your head. I was abrasive, decisive and pushy. Of all the things to come out of my relationship with my stepfather, it was this recurring thing he used to say to me when he was angry.

No one would truly love you if they really knew you.

I genuinely believe this one sentence sums up every last damn fear I have ever had. Every isolation, seclusion, tarnished relationship and inability to commit to another person could be traced back to this one sentence.

I’ve absolutely sucked at community. My dating life was a mess of leading men on and walking away before I could be rejected. Or I would swing the other way and pursue men because I never thought I was worth being pursued.

To this day, the idea that a man could be thinking of me and want me is still so farfetched. It’s not that I think I’m a terrible choice. There’s just this part of me that still operates under this one sentence.

In the midst of all this darkness and shame, I asked God for a favor. My heart was starting to open up in this new way that I wanted to love and be loved. I asked God if He would let the man I marry see me at my worst and love me anyway. I wanted my stepfather to be wrong.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Timothy Keller

There’s times I’ve regretted asking for such a difficult request. I’m convinced that’s why now every man I could have been interested in has seen ugly parts of me. I’ve scared away more men than I can count just by continually screwing up.

I think it’ll mean more when the guy sticks around. When he pursues me because he sees who I am becoming through Jesus rather than just who I am now.  He’ll see past the mistakes I make. I’m going to keep telling myself that I did not, in fact, make my dating life exponentially more difficult.

But you know, maybe less weird prayers in the future.

Church, humility and grace

My love for the church runs rivers deep. Sunday has long been my favorite day of the week.

But then this year happened. This year was the year I got sick. I had a schizophrenic episode for eight months before I finally got diagnosed.

And the church failed me.

At my absolute worst, I was an obsessive emailer who wrestled through bouts of paranoia and shame.

I didn’t walk away from the church. They kicked me out.

I didn’t threaten anyone. I wasn’t physically abusive. I was just scared. And suicidal.

At my absolute worst, I was an obsessive emailer who wrestled through bouts of paranoia and shame.

When I finally did get help, the chaplin summed it up for me: They gave up on you.

I’m grateful every day for God guiding me to the hospital. I’m grateful for good doctors and kind nurses. I’m grateful for medication that works and the friends that didn’t walk away.

But I’ll never forget those pastors. For the rest of my life, I’ll carry those pastors and what they did to me.

A popular story in the bible is the story of the Good Samaritan. If you don’t know the story, basically a Jewish man gets beaten up and left to die along the road. Men of status, from his own community, see this man dying and ignore him. Finally, a Samaritan sees this man and gets him the help he needs. Which is mind-blowing because Samaritans and Jews were enemies.

Pastors use this story to illustrate an important point: It is our responsibility to care for our neighbors.  

But what if the problem is not that the person is beaten up or struggling financially? What if the problem is an illness? How do we respond to a mental health crisis?

Do we know how to care for the neighbor that is clearly struggling with a mental illness? Do we know what resources are available?

The pastors responded in fear. They chose in that fear to remove me from the church. There were a multitude of other actions they could have done, actions that would have conveyed Christ-like love. But they didn’t. They chose fear.

I credit one person for saving my life. I would not be here if he had not seen me hurting and interceded. A gay man who doesn’t have a relationship with Christ saved me from taking my own life. I will be forever grateful to him.Where others walked away and even shamed me for what I was experiencing, he walked alongside me.

That might rub people the wrong way but that’s  what happened. Religion and your position in the church does not make you holy. Faith does. And faith, without works, is dead.

Humility is not about thinking less of yourself but in taking ownership of your identity in Christ. Acknowledging my worth as a daughter of God brings me back every time I experience despair over what happened in that church. And each time I’m brought to that understanding of humility, I extend grace to those pastors a little more.

I found a new church to attend after months of having nowhere to turn and wrestling through months of isolation. I was sharing this part of my story with a new friend recently when I was asked why I would come back to church after such a heavy rejection.

I explained quite simply that to punish the global church over the actions of the local church is unfair. The church is the bride of Christ, beautiful and effective when healthy. I geniunely believe that God allows bad things to happen in our lives for His glory and our redemption. If we all walked away from the church body when things go badly, the church won’t be changed. It won’t grow without pruning sin. Sometimes I think God allowed me to experience excommunication while I was in a mental health crisis because He knew it wouldn’t break me. He knew how deep my love for the church runs.

If you love Christ, love His bride well. 

Don’t walk away.

Dearest Ruth,

It’s no secret that Ruth is one of my favorite books in the bible. It was the first book in the bible I read as a little girl just so I could say I had finished a book in the bible. Each time I read it, I get something different.

Probably the most gut-wrenching part of Ruth is the night she proposes to Boaz. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, instructs Ruth on what she should say and do. Ruth dresses up and travels this walk to Boaz’s home to ask him to redeem her. At this point, I’m with her every step of the way. I feel her anticipation, her fear. She has no idea what’s going to happen. Ruth chooses obedience when Naomi tells her to ask Boaz to redeem her. I love that leap of faith into the unknown. And then she asks him the big question. She asks him to redeem her by taking her as his wife.

He doesn’t say yes. He doesn’t say no either. He says wait. Because he’s a decent guy and wants to make sure he does things right. There’s another guy who can redeem her before Boaz can. If this guy says no, Boaz will take Ruth as his wife. And Naomi is so sure everything will turn out okay. Boaz will take care of things so Ruth won’t have to.

Scripture doesn’t say how long Ruth had to wait before she got an answer (Spoiler alert: Boaz redeemed her) but we can take an educated guess and say it took awhile.

I recently took a trip to Washington DC, this big, life-affirming trip, and it was on the plane trip back that I sensed a shift had happened in that week. For the last few years, I’ve been weeding through some pretty broken relationships. God stripped me of things I wanted, things I held over Him. Of all the relationships most damaged, it was walking away from my family and the abusive situation I was in that changed me the most. It has seemed like there is no end in sight to wreckage caused by conflict and pride. And yet, I was sitting on this plane heading home and I felt like my life had shifted directions. Like restoration and reconciliation was finally on the agenda.

And in a matter of days, it seemed like things were starting to move in that direction for multiple situations, including my relationship with my stepfather. In a matter of days, I could see God leading me down this path of restoring what He allowed to be broken in the first place. But as the weeks go by without restoration, I’ve realized just how much time this season of healing will take. I have to hold fast to the process of waiting in a way I haven’t before. It will be at least a month before the process of restoration even happens with my family and there is no foreseeing of when other relationships will be mended. It’s during this time that I’m reminded of Ruth, resting in fellowship with a woman who carried a lot of baggage and had to wait for her redemption.

I’ve learned that God usually makes us wait when He knows what devastation awaits us if He gives us what we want when we want it. He cuts down the weeds that threaten healing so that we can be restored on good soil.

Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out. – Ruth 3:18

Baseball Camp

One of my favorite childhood memories is of my summer at baseball camp.

It’s one of the stories I tell a guy I’m interested in because I want him to know I’m not just a cute girl in a dress.

Probably the most interesting part of the story is that I had only been walking for about a year after being told by the doctors I would never walk.

And yet, by age eight, you would find me running through the hallways of my school just for the heck of it. Breathless laughter as I pretended I could play soccer with my classmates and dodge balls in gym class. When I found out there would be a baseball camp offered through my church, I begged my parents to let me go.

I love baseball!

Since when? My mom asked.

I let out an exasperated sigh. Since always Mom! I just wanna go!

Secretly, I think my parents delighted in the fact that I was so eager to try anything and seemed oblivious to people’s perception of me.

For someone so small, I was never afraid of the flying balls. I could never hit them very far but I did my best to get to at least first base before I got caught. I never kept score or thought about winning. I was just thrilled to be living a life different than what was expected of me.

The future seemed uncertain for the first time in my young life and I relished in it. Everyone had been so convinced that I would end up a certain way, my future grim and dark.

But I never considered it to be true. Somewhere deep inside me, I had joy lit on fire, igniting this hope, this certainty that said surely everyone would be wrong.

It’s still there, that joy. Still guiding me and reminding me that people’s perception of me is not as significant as the security of hope I have in Christ.

I don’t know much more about baseball than I did at eight years old but the memory of that summer is the reminder that the hope that lives in me has never been put to shame.   

What We Do with Privilege

Today is my 13th birthday. Not in the traditional sense. I gave my life to Christ 13 years ago today.

In past years, I would celebrate with a night out alone, a longer quiet time and some solid reflection over the last year. But this year is different. The celebration of this year has to be different.

This year I went through a mental health crisis and came out alive. This year I was asked to leave a church during my episode. This year I was promoted at work and made peace with my biological father. This year I lost a relationship with two people I thought loved me. This year I went to Washington D.C. for the first time. This year I wanted to end my life. This year I survived.

 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

The greatest privilege I will ever experience is suffering, because it binds me closer to Jesus. This year changed the game for me. At some point, suffering stopped looking like grief. It started to look like opportunity and growth. It looked like meaning. In the thick of chaos and shame, I began to see where God is leading me towards. I felt a responsibility to make the most of the shatters.

When I was in DC, I visited the Holocaust Museum. I heard stories from people who had walked tougher paths than me. At the end of the tour, I saw a quote displayed on the wall:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.  – Martin Niemöller

This year has been a season of what could have been. What my life could have looked like if even just a few things had gone differently. That acknowledgement within my own story led me to ask “What do I do with that privilege?”

I’m so damn grateful.

That week in DC marked a shift in where I’m headed. My life became more about what I do with the privilege I’ve been given and less about the melancholy reflection of what I don’t have.

Privilege doesn’t always look like the able-bodied white male who has never known what it’s like to go hungry or struggle through systematic barriers just to get a job. Sometimes, it looks like the biracial woman with a disability who spent Christmas alone because she left her abusive situation in the middle of the night. More is expected of that woman than the man.

It feels like privilege. It feels like purpose and personal responsibility.

What a year.