You, me and the dog

I heard a pastor once say that the best sermons are the ones that convict the speaker as much as the listener. So this blog post is as much for me as it is for you. Bear with me while I process out loud.

A few years ago, I asked God to remove the temptation away from me to date anyone other than my husband. This wasn’t a ploy to manipulate what I wanted from God or even protect myself from unnecessary heartbreak. This was a desperate attempt to rid myself of some awful sin in my heart that was destroying my relationship with God.

And He responded. I haven’t been asked out since. Oh, but I have pursued many a man. I have prayed over every man I have ever had an interest in. And with every freaking man, I thought God had told me this man was the one. I found signs everywhere I looked that confirmed this prophecy. Each time, my heart grew sick with waiting and analyzing and hoping and honestly, pretending I had given it to God when in reality, I was holding on to my logic and reasoning. Especially because my spiritual gift is prophecy, I was convinced God had told me who I would marry.

God was patient with me, right up until the third time, when in the middle of my obsession God firmly told me, This isn’t your job.  As a woman, it’s not my place to pursue and while I am a firm believer that a woman should make a move if she wants, God doesn’t want that for me. He just doesn’t. I’m a raging control freak and if I didn’t get it under control, I could never honor my husband in submission.

So I started to let go and experienced a lot of freedom. I prayed for my husband and myself. Most recently, I asked God to remove the desire of other people from both of us. I wanted freedom for myself but I also wanted to be safe with my husband. I don’t compete for a man, not anymore. The hardest thing about this prayer is watching my desire for someone I have wanted forever slowly go away. There’s still a part of me that wants that man but each day, it becomes a little less.

I’ve fought with God over this man probably more than anyone else. I’ve asked God why I can’t have my choice. I would choose him a million times over. Shouldn’t that matter? Shouldn’t my choice matter? But God has been very clear with me. The second I asked God to take away the temptation of other men was the moment I relinquished my choice. I surrendered that to God and He honored that sacrifice.

I have fought that and even at times, regretted it. I questioned how God could love me and let me leave the choice with him. But I realized I had already done that with my job.

Two years ago, I had been struggling to find employment. I had applied for job after job, getting close but not getting hired. There were jobs I interviewed for that I thought was my dream job. They were everything I thought I wanted and I grieved not getting those jobs. I got to this place where I asked God to bring the right job into my life. I was done searching, done looking. I clearly didn’t know what God wanted. And He brought the job into my lap. I didn’t even apply for it. I actually remember not wanting to interview for the job. It was in the same line of work I had done before, where I had gotten burned, and I was wary of going back. But I trusted God through this and I got the job. This job has blessed me more than I could have ever imagined and I’m ultimately grateful I left the choice with Him.

It has only been recently that I have begun to see the treasures in letting God take my choice from me. Not everyone would agree with me. Love is a choice and we honor God through that choice. But for me, I would rather choose God a million times over and have Him give me His best rather than be ordinary by either choosing my spouse on my own or by allowing my emotions to dictate how I make decisions about my spouse.

God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with Him – Jim Elliot

The best advice I could give you is to let go of how you think your life should go and let God direct your path. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Holy Week

For those of you don’t know me personally, I have a knack for meeting people where they’re at spiritually. Some would say I have the gift of evangelism but I’ve always said that evangelism is a discipline, not a gift, but we can agree to disagree on that.

At my absolute worst (or best, depending on how you look at it), I have literally risked my job(s) on numerous occasions for the sake of the leading of the Holy Spirit. From passing out bibles to struggling clients, to leading a bible study in the kids club of a gym, I have tried my best to be a good and faithful servant. This isn’t for me to boast or brag about. I give in to the Spirit out of my gratitude that God has allowed me to fail at life and yet still love me.

As Christians, we talk a lot about how our religion is more about having a relationship with God, rather than adhering to a set of rules or customs. (I’d argue that there is beauty in the traditions of Christianity, though.) When we talk about our relationship with God, it’s all very serious. We discuss prayer and suffering, walking through the tough times with God at our side. It’s rare that we talk about God as friend, what that looks like, what that means.

But God is my dearest friend. I didn’t grow up in a family where relationships with God were modeled appropriately and for the first few years of my new life in Christ, I didn’t have much in the way of Christian fellowship or mentorship. I had to teach myself what it meant to be a new creation in Christ. It meant taking long walks alone, chatting with God about my day or what boy I liked that week. It meant reading my bible and asking God a lot of questions about why He allowed this or that to happen. I look back and smile at those times. While many have lamented about how hard it must have been to walk alone in Christ during that time, I treasure those years. If I could develop a relationship with God independent of others, until such a time came that I needed community to grow, anyone can find Christ buried deep within themselves.

If I could describe my relationship with God to anyone, I would explain a week like this. A holy week.

I should backtrack. For the last nine years, I’ve been practicing the discipline of mediation. Christian mediation is about removing distractions so that you can hear the voice of God. It’s weird at first and kind of awkward but I’ve found that it renews clarity for me when I can’t see the forest for the trees. I was meditating yesterday and through the muddle of my brain, I heard very clearly that this week is a holy week.

I’ve only have two holy weeks before. Stay with me here-it’s not actually that charismatic. It always involves good, free food. I won’t go into too much detail but God usually provides me with copious amounts of my favorite foods…right before He takes something away. The first time I had one of these weeks, He fed me well that week and by the end of that week, He had taken away my home and my job. And I remember what He said while I sat in my apartment, sobbing over my now jobless and homeless existence:

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

I remember how angry I got over everything I had just lost. God had told me that this was a holy week, this was the week my life was going to change directions for the better and here I was, empty-handed. And of course, it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. My life is infinitely better because of that week.

So today, I am thinking of these things as I sit here eating ice cream I did not pay for, drinking coffee that I didn’t ask for, thinking of the dinner I ate for free. Just waiting for what God will take away from me to make room for something better.

This is how I would describe what having a relationship with God is like. To be in union with someone who knows you better than you know yourself, who knows exactly what will bring a smile to your face and what will calm your spirit in the midst of chaos. For someone to love you so much that He would allow truly awful things to happen in your life so that new life can come in.

Do you not know what I am trying to accomplish? Do you not see what I am trying to do? I am making you right for each other. Do you not see it?

You’ll get there. This life with God is so worth it.

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.

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.

When Forgiveness is Hard

I’m really not good at forgiveness.

That’s probably not how I should start this blog post. What I’m bad at.

I’ve been attending this church in the Valley that I like quite a bit, mostly because it’s a culmination of all the churches I’ve been to in the last five years. Sunday, we talked about idolatry in the context of the book of Acts. How we’ve refined it past stone images.

For some, it’s comfort.

Others, it’s security.

Me? I’m pretty entitled when it comes to reconciliation.

The word itself-reconciliation-is not bad in it of itself but I twist it into something I must have. Something I’ll beat a dead horse to get.

Because deep within all of us is this desire to be forgiven. We need to know that we can fail and still be loved and accepted.

We need to hear that we’ve been forgiven.

There’s something that breaks inside of me when I apologize and I’m not forgiven. It’s this raw hurt that eats away at me when I’m met with silence or anger. Something has not been fulfilled in the relationships in the church when we refuse to live out the act of the cross because to do so otherwise would be to lay ourselves down for a repentant person.

And who wants that? Why tell a sinner they are capable of redemption?

I’m in an interesting place in my life. On the one hand, going through a mental health crisis led me to do some incredibly stupid things, things that I have reached out to apologize for with no forgiveness extended back.

On the other hand, my crisis led people I love to do incredibly stupid things that I need to forgive them for.

I crossed my arms in defiance on Sunday. If grown, religious men couldn’t extend forgiveness to me, why should I have to forgive my friends?

I wanted to experience forgiveness first before I was willing to forgive anyone else.

That’s idolatry.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ – Matthew 7:21-23

The will of God is for His children to reflect Christ in all aspects of our lives, to all people. God has this way of pointing us to reflect Christ most to the people we’d like to forget.

Too often, we do this Christian thing backwards. We plant churches, start ministries and lead community groups first and then we focus on reflecting Christ. And usually, we only reflect Jesus when it’s comfortable and easy. With our friends. With our families. With new people who haven’t hurt us yet.

But God isn’t impressed with how many churches we plant. Lead 10. Plant 17 more. We didn’t earn God’s grace by our merits.

Do His will.

I’ll try to do the same.

Biblical justice (For Someone with a Mental Illness)

By Day 3, I know God is fighting for me. For someone with a mental illness, treatment is justice. I tell the doctors that I never knew a brain could feel like this. So clear, easily untangling the irrational thoughts that float into my head.

You need to go to the hospital.

The words cause a stir of panic. I can’t do this, but I’m running out of time. Somewhere in the back of my mind I can hear my friend’s voice. How you handle this will determine if you’ve learned from the mistakes of your upbringing.

I look up at the counselor. It’s a rarity for me to make eye contact with anyone. I’ve never understood why.

You’re declining fast. I can’t force you to get help but I can encourage you.

I decide to go.

The ER feels like a memory. They draw blood and take vitals. My legs won’t stop moving. They kick back and forth while the nurses feed me and tell me how sweet I am. My voice sounds childlike.

It takes two hours from the point of entering the ER to admission into inpatient care. Unheard of, the ER nurse says. Someone upstairs must be looking out for you.

God is, I think. God is providing. 

Inpatient care is no joke. They take away my belongings and fit me in donated clothes. I didn’t bring anything with me. I want to leave within minutes of arriving. I don’t want this. I never wanted to hurt myself. I’m just not well. I don’t know why.

This is the hardest choice I’ve ever made. The doctors and nurses are kind and compassionate. We are all trying to find out what is wrong with me. Because I am the most positive person I know but my thoughts speak darkness over my life. Even as I walk around the ward, my heart is abounding in hope by the Holy Spirit as I trust in God. I know nothing happens without His permission. Something about this screams justice, that God is outpouring His light to take out the darkness that has overwhelmed my life for the last few years. I’m just not sure why it feels this way.

The diagnosis is not a surprise. By the end of Day 1, we know I am on the spectrum. I am sick. I have a new(ish) disability. The friends and family I call are not surprised. They are happy for me. They say my behavior makes sense now. The disconnect between my emotions and thoughts make more sense.

I am fighting for my health in a way that I never have before. Cerebral palsy has nothing on my new diagnosis. It is the end of Day 2 when I start to feel different. My brain feels different. It doesn’t hurt anymore. It feels less cluttered. One little pill has started to change the way my body thinks.

I start talking to the other patients, asking them questions about their lives. I find out quickly where all my experience working with people with disabilities comes to good use. I give the other patients advice on navigating services. I’m teased lovingly for offering help when I’m here to get better.

I can’t help it, I think. No matter where I am, I will always be an advocate.

By Day 3, I know God is fighting for me. For someone with a mental illness, treatment is justice. I tell the doctors that I never knew a brain could feel like this. So clear, easily untangling the irrational thoughts that float into my head. I cry grateful tears. My brain is not typical but it is becoming well at a miraculous speed. This, I am not surprised at. God has always been quick to heal me when I have agreed to surrender.

I get to leave the hospital early. The follow-up appointment has already been made and my brain feels amazing. It is not until I am home the following day that it hits me what God has accomplished in a matter of days.

It is when I realize that I can feel the carpet under my bare feet that tears come rolling down my cheeks. The only words that come out in prayer are Thank you.

I never knew that because of an undiagnosed mental illness, I have never truly felt the ground under my feet. I have not been fully connected mind, body, spirit. As I experience the joy of feeling every fiber of my bedroom carpet, I know God has proclaimed justice over my life. I feel His victory. He won.