He loves me

Once a month, I attend a women’s group through my church. We share what’s going on in our lives, what we’re struggling with, what victories we’ve had. Slowly but surely, I am learning to let these girls into my heart.

There’s one thing I haven’t shared with anyone. It’s not that I stopped believing in God; I just stopped believing I mattered to Him. My prayer life was dry and my bible reading was a headache. I started to doubt that God cared about my coming and going. I felt insignificant, like I wasn’t on His radar. And why should I be? I have nothing to offer Him.

So I’m sitting in this women’s group and we’re talking about marriage and someone asks me why I want to get married. And I respond by saying I want a partner to help me do the dishes and pay the bills, pick up the slack so that I don’t have to do it alone. And she responds by saying those aren’t very good reasons to marry someone. A maid could do most of what I’m looking for. She doesn’t tell me what I should be looking for but I break down anyway.

I don’t believe anyone will love me. I don’t believe anyone will be jealous for me. I can’t imagine anyone thinking of me and smiling or praying for my well-being. I give so much of myself to other people, encouraging, helping, praying but I never expect anything in return. It’s not selfless. It’s because I don’t expect anyone to love me back.

My friend suggested that I ask God why I would need a husband. What His heart is for marriage. Because I’ve studied marriage at length but something isn’t connecting. So I asked Him.

A few days later, I was sitting in this meeting surrounded by sixty plus people when I felt God in the room. And He was beckoning to me, I love you, do you not know how much I love you.

In this room full of people, I started crying. I felt like I was 13 again. I remember it vividly, sitting in that church and the pastor was talking about grace, that I didn’t have to earn God in order for Him to love me. No one had ever told me that before.

God loves me. He is jealous for me and chases after me when I stray. He takes care of my needs and considers my wants. He loves me because He wants to, not because of anything I’ve done.

No one can love me like God does but could I believe that my friends and family love me? Could I believe a man would love me? Honestly, I believe the reason I’m not married is because I don’t ever believe anyone loves me. I don’t believe anyone thinks fondly of me. I love others because that’s what God has done in my heart. Could I allow others to love me? Could I be that vulnerable?

It’ll be the scariest thing I’ve ever done but I think God is asking me to go there.

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Inconvenient.

All life-changing love is inconvenient. – Tim Keller

I could probably just begin and end my blog post with that.

A few months ago, God started to ask me to get involved with prison ministry.

My answer was a curt “no” and nothing more.

God just got louder.

If I’m honest, I just felt myself sinking into this wonderful, comfortable place I had never been in before. I’m the girl of chaos, starting waves wherever I go. My hope was that one day, I’d reach this place where I could learn the discipline of contentment, settling into the season God had me in without me trying to make messes of nothing. And I had finally achieved that! Maturity had arrived within myself. I was growing up. I was becoming the type of person I had always been baffled by. The kind with community and steady walks with Christ. The quiet, insightful woman I knew I could be.

But something was missing. The interesting thing about treatment for schizophrenia is that it reconciles you to yourself. I have felt the pieces of myself come back over the last year in beautiful ways. I touch my heart and I know it’s me inside. I found another piece of myself a few weeks ago. It’s a piece of myself that I haven’t seen in over ten years.

It was the story of me and Robbie, a guy who is really just a representation of the type of person I always seemed to engage with. Robbie had an awful reputation. He was violent, addicted to hardcore drugs and had schizophrenia. Classmates would comment that he was sure to shoot up the school. Teachers were scared of him and avoided any sort of confrontation. He was a bad guy.

He was also my friend.

I remember people warning me about him, how dangerous he was. I wasn’t stupid. We never hung out alone. But we talked a lot. He talked about wanting to die, his home life, what he thought of the world. I shared my faith with him, validated his feelings, listened. Outwardly, we were so different but in getting to know him, I saw he was a kindred spirit. Particularly now with my own diagnosis of schizophrenia, I saw there was more common ground than not.

I had a knack for befriending people who start trouble. Most of the friends I had with Robbie’s pedigree have died, many by murder. It was the nature of the lives they chose to live. I never did find out what happened to Robbie. We lost touch after a few years. The last time I saw him, he was happier. He looked healthier.

People were still scared of Robbie. Some people will always be scared of people like Robbie.

All life-changing love is inconvenient. That statement keeps running around my head. I have been so comfortable in the last few months. But God doesn’t ask us to stay there. We don’t grow that way.

All life-changing love is inconvenient. I don’t know what to expect from getting involved in the lives of prisoners but I don’t really need to know in order to be obedient. All I need to do is say yes.

A Prayer in the darkness

Nobody taught me how to pray and it really wasn’t modeled for me at home. Prayer, for me, was this way of learning God’s heart. I would submit a desire to God and watch how He would either affirm or deny the desires of my heart by changing me from within.

I’ve learned this practice is uncommon among Christians. It is far more common to attempt to pray in a way that pleases God. But God and I have had an uncommon relationship. He is my best friend, no exaggeration, so I have always spoken to Him candidly. My prayers are neither long nor eloquent. I have often felt out of the ordinary in Christian circles because I don’t multiply my words.

****

A lot has been on my mind lately. Last year, I watched several visions come true from seven years ago that, when I had these visions years ago, I immediately dismissed as false. Without drawing out specifics, the visions stated that I would marry someone I wasn’t particularly a fan of. Vision after vision came true in a matter of months, leading me to believe that ultimately, I would marry this man. A man I was not a fan of.

Despite my feelings against this man, I continually submitted to God. My gut spoke against this man, this was not a good match for me. I struggled to reconcile how my best friend could expect me to marry someone I didn’t like. But I chose God, so I waited for the fulfillment of the visions. Right up until the day he married someone else.

I was so certain that I had done everything right but as God so tactfully told me earlier this week, I had missed the point.

You can’t marry someone if you never actually choose them.

I had chosen God but I had never chosen the man.

****

I learned early on in life to trust my gut. I’m rarely wrong. So when I met him at 19 and liked him right away, I trusted God to make the connection. I wasn’t sure if he liked me back but I distinctly remember his mom whispering to another woman, that woman pointing at me and then his mom calling me by name. When we had never met before. I made the educated guess that he had told his mom about me. He liked me. He had to.

So I waited for him to do something. He never did.

****

Recently, I decided to pray that God would give me the man I did want to be with. I prayed every day for this man. I told no one what I was praying for. I was sure no one would understand what I was doing. I knew that God would either affirm or deny my desires and I needed answers. For seven years, I had had feelings for this man that was built on nothing more  than a gut instinct that this was a man worth my time and energy.

For the first time ever, God didn’t affirm or deny my desires. He gave me contentment in Christ, this deep thirst for Him. My desires had changed. I still wanted to be with this man but not as much as Jesus.

It was a miracle.

****

Over the last year, I have had several false starts with guys. Honestly, I find myself attracted to men but my gut always says the same thing: this isn’t it. The chemistry fizzles, the flirting fades and I’m left with the eventual conclusion that it didn’t matter anyway.

I know people will argue with me on this but I want to know in my gut that it’s right. When you know, you know.

I may have not chosen the man I had visions about but I’d choose the man I’ve prayed for a million times over.

I just hope one day, he chooses me too.

Why I Didn’t Want a Wedding

It’s no secret I’ve never wanted a wedding. For external reasons, including money, hating dancing in public and not wanting a day all about me, I have told anyone who would listen that I fully intend on eloping. It’s never gotten much deeper than that.

And then today, I spent the day packing up a good friend’s house. She and I have known each other for eight years. We’ve bonded, fought, laughed and argued our way through the various seasons of life we’ve both been through. Today, I was thinking how easy it’s become, being friends. I love her like a sister. We packed, ran errands, watched a movie. It was a good day.

Weddings are the things of fantasies. A woman wears a gorgeous gown, all eyes are on the groom as he looks at his bride. The room is full of all the people who love the bride and groom, people who have cheered on the relationship through its various ups and downs. At the center of the wedding is the couple but the celebration is really for all of us.

But of course, my mind drifted to another time in my life. One where I was impossible to know and hard to love. I was alone, drifting in emptiness. I went to parties I didn’t care for and shared conversations with people who couldn’t be bothered to share their story with me. I have no friends from that time in my life. Not one. Nobody stuck around. Nobody tried to fight through the wall I had built for myself. Nobody bothered.

They’re faces of people I see on Facebook but I have no emotional connection to any of them. And they don’t have any connection to me.

I spent all day with someone who loves me like family and I couldn’t stop thinking of the people I never got the chance to love, who never got the chance to love me. But I couldn’t help but feel grateful. Grateful for the friends who stuck around. The friends who tore down the wall I had built for myself. The friends who bothered.

I imagined what it would be like to be in a room full of people, all staring at me as I walk down the aisle in a dress I’ll never wear again. People who barely know me, because so few people have walked alongside me in my journey. It’s my living nightmare. The wedding becomes a question of who really loves me and who’s just here out of politeness. It feels false and artificial. Because a wedding is about everyone involved in the process of a relationship, not just the couple. 

I’ve been wrestling with this idea that someday, I’ll get to go back. Go back to that place where I wasn’t particularly loved and show them they were wrong. I’m enough, really enough. I replay it in my head all the time. They’re all in a room and I’m sharing the details of my life now, what this beautiful mess has become, and I finally have their approval. And somehow, in this fantasy, I’ve accomplished completeness. I’ve earned their respect. And they’ll all want to come to my wedding.  

But that fantasy hasn’t come true. It probably never will. What I have now has to be enough. Spending the day packing dishes into old boxes for my friend, I started to believe this could really be enough. And maybe I’ll have a wedding. Maybe I won’t. But it’ll be my choice.

 

Nothing is ever wasted

One of my favorite prose pieces is “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros. In the piece, she proposes this idea that we are not merely the age we are but a collection of the ages we have been. We experience the ages we have been in response to situations we are in

I am 27.

I recently went home for Thanksgiving. It was my first holiday with my family. I expected flash backs and hurt feelings over past memories but that didn’t happen.

I kept having flashbacks to being 19.

I’ve felt 19 on numerous occasions over the last year. I’m not really sure why. I think it has to do with that time in my life feeling so new, ready to embark on a fresh adventure.

 “Tonight feels like the last night of camp. 19, bare feet in wet grass. The sky red with a light breeze. I remember how sweaty I was, my cotton shirt clinging to my back. My hair a greasy mess. I had never felt better. I had spent my last $25 on this treasured Bible that I could carry around everywhere. $22 and some change if I remember correctly. And in that moment, when everything was silent and peaceful, I wasn’t thinking about what 7 years later would look like. I was only thinking about what it would look like when it was over. What redemption would look like.

Tonight, my only emotion is a memory.”

Redemption 7 years later didn’t look like what I thought it’d look like. It was different. I didn’t get married this year or end up where I had wanted to be. What I got was so much better.

I got my health back. Because of medical treatment, I get to have a future. A real one, full of plans and dreams. All with a fully-functioning brain and a heart for Jesus.

For 7 years, I weathered storms of illogical thinking, hallucinations and erratic behavior. I made plans I could never finish, dated men I could never commit to and talked faster than a Gilmore Girl.

Redemption didn’t come the way I thought it would. Instead of a knight in shining armor, it came in the form of a hospital gown and proper medication.

I remember being 19. I remember having my whole adulthood before my eyes and the wild uncertainty that I experienced with elated joy.

Wistfully, I regret the time I lost because I was sick. It would have made my life easier had I had been diagnosed earlier. But God ultimately allows what will bring Him the most glory. Somehow, this mess of a life that I’ve endured is not wasted time.

So as I move forward with making plans, forming commitments and nestling into God’s promises, I’m grateful for the future I get to have. I get to finish my undergrad, go to law school (hopefully) and learn to love this messy life God gave me. I’m grateful for the way things didn’t turn out.

Nothing is ever wasted.

Of mice and butter

I’ve been wrestling lately with pretty significant writer’s block, which is bad when you write professionally for a magazine. My editor has not been pleased with my work.

The last time I couldn’t write like this I was 20, a sophomore in college and making new friends. My social life was thriving. I had an active dating life. Things were good.

Until it wasn’t. You know, if you truly want to understand exactly how well you’re doing in life, fall in love. Falling in love has a way of revealing how miserable you really are.

I didn’t intend to fall in love. He was a friend. I generally have my guard up in relationships. Blame it on trauma. Blame it on my upbringing. I do not come from relational parents. Whatever the case may be, intimacy and I have never quite been on the same terms. I learned early on in life that if I shared my story in all its gory details, nobody would question whether or not I was truly a vulnerable person. Years later, I have been told by friends that my vulnerability fooled no one and they all felt like they never truly connected with me.

I have no good answers for why this friend was different. I think my guard went down most likely because I never saw him as a threat. He came from a wealthy home, drove a car his dad bought him, wore nicer clothes (read: not from a thrift store). There was nothing about him that suggested that we would have anything in common. And yet, despite our superficial differences, we were very much cut from the same cloth.

I let him in. I let myself care about someone wholeheartedly. And there’s something really beautiful about that.

But here we are, seven years later, and I am still struggling to form intimacy with others. Even worse, I am at a place where I am fighting to be vulnerable with where I’m at. I can count on one hand the number of people in my life that I would say know me and vice versa.

 

I’ll be honest-I don’t want to write in this blog anymore. Would it matter if I stopped? This used to matter but I’m at this crossroads of deciding who I want to be. I either choose to stay the same, fall into old patterns of shutting people out or I choose to move forward in faith toward something real. Because I’m getting fed up of living a mediocre life.

I heard a pastor say once that marriage is the ultimate form of intimacy. It’s choosing to let your guard down fully with one person every day for the rest of your life. Inside, I was shaking. I really, really love being single. Like really. I used to think that I had the gift of singleness but I know deep down it’s just the warmth of self-preservation that I’m attracted to. I have driven away every man I’ve ever dated or been interested in by my unwillingness to let my guard down.

But I remember what it felt like to let my friend in. It wasn’t that it felt good all the time or that he didn’t drive me crazy at times. It just felt real, like my feet hit solid ground.

I had bad writer’s block when he came into my life. I was suffocating behind the wall I had built for myself. But maybe that’s why I fell in love with him, because as long as I was comfortable, I wasn’t going to be ready to love anyone. Comfort can be deceitful. I used to believe that I would know I was ready to be with someone when I was settled and secure but that’s not what I’ve seen in my life.

Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. – Catch Me If You Can

Maybe the struggle means I’m on to something important.

Who do you want to be?

One of the most profound things anyone has ever told me was remarkably simple:

A worthy woman keeps the end in mind.

Unlike many people my age, I haven’t thought much of the future. I’ve never thought of growing old or made long-term plans. Where most people would dismiss that as emotional immaturity, for me it’s more complex.

I never thought I’d live this long.

As an adult survivor of abuse, I have attempted suicide and struggled with self-harm as a teenager. In the back of my mind, I just assumed that an attempt would one day be successful. I have struggled to dream of a future because I didn’t anticipate one.

I’ve become healthier in more ways than one so I have attempted to make plans for the future but as God has routinely shown me, I am usually wrong when it comes to my future. So, unlike my peers, I tend to only walk in the few steps I see in front of me and leave the future up to God.

But, a worthy woman keeps the end in mind. She knows who she wants to be and what people will say about her when she’s gone.

***

I ended a friendship earlier this year. It wasn’t easy or impulsive. It took a couple months and some long conversations with a counselor to decide to end the relationship.

She made me feel worthless. Every conversation we had was about something I did wrong. And I was always wrong. I was always a failure in one way or another and honestly, I cannot remember a single time in the four-year-long relationship that she encouraged me or gave me a compliment.

You may ask why I would stay in a relationship with someone who thought so little of me but that wasn’t how I saw it. Her criticism was meant to improve me and as the perfectionist I am, I was always in need of improving. It took a counselor, a life coach and a few friends to speak truth into my life that I was allowing myself to be emotionally abused by someone who had her own issues to work through. It was not the first time I had been in a relationship like this, but I would be sure that it would be my last.

***

So what had I gained by engaging in relationships that broke me? Years of counseling were finally starting to make sense. Somewhere along the way, the cycle of abuse was broken. I was learning to trust my value as a daughter of God and that the relationships I had let in were not reflecting that truth.

A worthy woman keeps the end in mind.

Who did I want to be?

I know very much who I don’t want to be. I have spent the last twelve years in counseling working hard to not be the abuser or the abused. And much like digging up a hidden treasure, the dirt that is dug up gets everywhere before you finally reach the treasure. As I have been diligent in dealing with the mess, I’ve been getting closer to the heart of who I am. How God has wired me.

Of all the things I could be, I want to be what I so desperately have needed myself, a reminder of grace. I want to be the person that people come to be heard, understood and encouraged. I want to point people back to Jesus and that doesn’t happen if all you do is point out their sin. The gospel is not about behavior modification.

When at my lowest point, it was not the pointing out of my sin that brought me back to the cross. It was the moment when someone, having witnessed my sin, told me she loved me anyway, that her love for me was not conditional on how I behaved. Nobody had ever said that to me before. I will never forget that for the rest of my life.

If I look anything like her at the end of my life, that’ll be good enough.