Thursday, November 10, 2016

Emptiness & Grace.

I have struggled for what feels like months to find the right words. For writing, for friends, for blogging, for God, and for every other arena I am called to speak into and be present in. I'm still not sure I've found them, or if this will just be another instance of intense babbling that leaves the reader questioning whether or not anything of value was said, and couldn't it have been said in a significantly smaller amount of words? Probably. But that's not the way my brain works.

I have always taken immense pride in the ability to be the girl who stands up underneath everything. I have defined myself by my resilience, by my ability to take on the burdens and struggles of those around me and still stay strong beneath the weight. I have enjoyed being a bottomless dumping ground for my friends, a listening ear to process pain, excitement, anxiety, overanalyzation, and any other thought or feeling under the sun. My identity, for as long as I can remember, has been found in my ability to wake up each morning in the glow of the morning sunlight, and somehow still find good in the world despite the fact that things are horrendously awful. When my problems became overwhelming I focused my attention on my friends who were hurting, because if I couldn't fix me I was going to exhaust myself trying to fix them. It is a strange form of self-sufficiency, but it is sufficiency just the same.

This semester I have fought to drag myself out of bed. I have failed more often than I've won. I've spent a shocking amount of time in small, dark places because I couldn't convince myself that nothing bad was going to happen in the span of 24 hours. I've read what feels like every book on suffering, fear, control, and God's grace. I've found myself shaking in the middle of class. I've had anxiety attacks on bathroom floors. I've spent a whole day crying over ridiculous things like the fact that I couldn't reach the pen that rolled off my bed, then somehow not been able to shed a tear or display any emotion when my friend, weeping, tells me that they can't seem to find a reason to believe life truly worth living. I have run to God, run from God, decided to just be sad, decided to never be sad again, filled gratitude journals, googled the clinical diagnosis for every mood disorder under the sun, and finally exhausted myself to the point of admitting that no matter how far or how quickly I run, I cannot outrun something settled in my heart.

And I don't have answers. I have reached no conclusion about why I suddenly, mysteriously, seemingly irreversibly am no longer myself. Which makes it incredibly difficult to be any sort of help to the friends and family who ask me why they no longer feel like themselves. I have no answers, no conclusions, no helpful advice. I have been a fixer my entire life, and I cannot fix anything.

At some point, I looked around and realized that even though every heart friend I have seems to be hurting, aching, and searching, we are all crawling from the rubble together. We are covered in dirt, blood, sweat, tears, and every doubt and fear a human being can possibly carry. But we're moving. And we're doing it together. Occasionally we crawl over another body, dig them up, and drag them with us. When darkness seems all encompassing, one person points to light....and when no one can find that, we all reach for heaven. Somewhere along the way, I realized (through, I'll admit, a lot of ugly sobbing) that this is the church. This is the body of Christ. This is my family. I am surrounded by people that love me when I am absolutely awful, because Christ has loved them.I act out of my emptiness and desperation, and often hurt them because I am hurting, and yet they still love me. I am shown daily the grace of grateful hearts overflowing with mercy, even as they speak truth to me they don't believe themselves. They have never left me where I am, but they have never called me to be more than Christ has made me. To the best of their ability they demonstrate through their broken, fallen humanity who Christ has called them to be. And in their brokenness, I find my faith is strengthened. In the midst of the unconditional, grace-filled, authentic acceptance the very things I hate suffering enable me to love those around me better. It is pain that drives me to community, and it is community that drives me to joy. And when I cannot find joy, it is community that reminds me I am not alone.

We are called to love. Not based on performance, acceptance, agreement, tolerance, allowance, or desire, but because we have been loved, eternally and unconditionally. Our lives encounter others daily, and each interaction has the potential to hold eternal significance. No one is simple. No one is easy. But each has been created by the same God who, for completely unknown mind-boggling reasons, chose me to be His own. In loving others, in walking with them, I understand him. We are not defined by our beliefs, our political ideologies, whom we love, whom we don't, what we believe about the significance of life and death, or how we voted (I had to). And if we don't look past that, we will never, EVER be able to interact with or love one another well. At the end of the day, whether I agree with their choices or not, I am interacting with someone who bears the image of my suffering, glorified, enduring Savior, and one day I will be called to account for how I loved them, forgave them, and cared for them.

I'm not saying abandon truth, or stop urging one another towards holiness, righteousness, and integrity. I'm not saying stop having hard conversations, or to let the friends in your life barrel headfirst towards destruction because you're loving them well, and that's all that counts. What I AM saying, is that if the foundation of love, unconditionally given, is not present, then nothing you say will make a difference anyways. And if we continue to abuse, hate, and attack people based on things that are true about them but are not who they are, then we will be called to account for that as well. If I had been bombarded with truth this semester, and not told that I was loved despite where I was, what I believed, or what I could offer, I'm not sure I'd still be here. But here I am, by the grace of God and the unbelievable, life-giving love of my friends and family. It is love that makes the difference. Not argument, not fighting, not self-righteousness, not legalism, but love. Love shaped by truth, gospel, grace, and holiness, but love just the same.

Thanks you guys.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

I Don't Have To Be Right To Be A Friend

The large majority of my days are spent in Columbia, South Carolina. Though its claim to fame is being the capital of a beautiful state, life echoes relatively slowly. My days are brightened by the people I know and love, the friends that have finally after many, many years spent together become closer to family. 

Though I could fill my blog post with handfuls of people who make me smile, the large majority of my day generally revolves around two beautiful blondes and it is them I will dedicate the beginning of my post to. These two people have loved me, lived with me, cried with me, laughed at me (this happens more often than anything else), cuddled me, fed me, and generally made the darker days infinitely lighter. As they know me, I have grown to know them. 

I've learned what they look like when they're sad, and what they look like when they're happy, regardless of what their face seems to indicate. I've had to learn (through MUCH error) when her yelling "leave me alone" means "help, I'm hurting" and when it means "leave or I murder you". I've feel incredible pride when she hits notes higher than I thought the human vocal chord could produce. When he produces a piece of writing that I read and then raise my hands to cheeks, confused, only to realize that I'm crying. I hurt as they hurt, laugh when they laugh, and occasionally hope for their success harder than they do. Not only do I get the incredible blessing of being a part of their lives, but step for step, gesture for gesture, love for love, they are also a part of mine. 

Orlando hurts. Orlando continues hurting. It echoes every time I hug my friends and am reminded that there are Floridians who will never get that chance again. Because I realize, have to realize, am forced to realize that regardless of my beliefs about Pulse, gay marriage, homosexuality, there are 49 people who were and are viewed by the people they love in the same overwhelming way that I view the people I love. There were mothers who waited for the sons to call, best friends who giggled over a glass of wine, women watching the driveway for their wives to come home. They were musicians, writers, intellectuals, dancers, parents, children, daughters, sons, people. They were image bearers. 

People whose creativity, loving nature, suffering, intelligence, and life reflects the God who made them regardless of whether they acknowledge it or not. 

I don't have to agree with them to mourn them. I love them because I look at the people God has allowed me to love, and realize that somewhere there is an image bearer feeling the absence of the person they love most. Most likely they are carrying the weight of that pain, absence, world changing loss without any Jesus to help. And that makes me love them more. 

For better or worse, we are living in a historic time. More than that, we are making history. We wake up every morning, and individually contribute to our own story. I contribute to my own and my friend's and my family's and my school's and each new chapter is an honor and a blessing. As the church we contribute to more than just our own. We contribute to theirs. To those hurting in Orlando, or South Carolina, or the US, or the UK, or anywhere on this earth that God has created. Because we can not share the truth if they don't believe that we love them, and we cannot love them if we don't remember that we were first loved unconditionally. Before we accepted the Lord, before we stopped running, before we stopped cursing and burrowing into dirt because the light was absolutely terrifying. 

I love them because Jesus loves me and because I love my best friends (there are more than 2) and sometimes Jesus even lets me love them well. 

That is my story. It is why love wins....because love is love is love is love is love is Jesus and me when I accept that I don't have to prove I am unmovable in my beliefs before I can sit down and fellowship with another hurting soul. Because I don't have to prove that I'm right to make a friend, and it is when we make friends that we start healing wounds. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Year I Didn't Read My Bible

I know that the title sounds strange coming from a girl who just received the bible degree she's been working four years for, so let me see if I can add a little clarification.

My senior year of college, I did not read my bible.

I think it started when the school year picked up and I realized that I had too many questions that there weren't easy answers for. I had spent the summer reading through a "get through the Bible in 90 days" program, but apart from giving me a distinct sense of accomplishment at being halfway through the Old Testament, it hadn't done much. As the school year dawned I tried everything I could to experience my quiet times in a way that left me feeling content, rested, full, anything that made me feel closer to the Lord. I looked around at my friends and classmates who seemed to be getting so much from so little effort to "do it right" and finally landed on the (drawn from comparison, whoops) conclusion that I must be doing something very wrong. I was frantically flipping pages, attempting to read between the lines, re-reading the same verse repeatedly, viewing the bible as a whole and then in pieces, before finally sitting down exhausted and admitting that maybe I wasn't getting very much out of this at all. So, I stopped trying to read.

I'm not saying it sat on my shelf, untouched and gathering dust for a full 365 days. There were times when I'd take it to class to look up a verse, or grab it on my way out the door to church out of habit. There were times when I'd shove it in my book bag and carry it around with me because knowing it was nearby made me feel a little bit safer. But that was the extent of my interaction, for a full year, with God's word.

What started in exhaustion, blossomed into unfamiliarity. After two months away from it, I found trying to come back and have a traditional quiet time felt like walking into a book club and finding out everyone else had finished the book you were one chapter into. I looked back through my journals to times when I wrote about the depth of joy and comfort I was finding in my time spent with just Jesus, and wondered pretty often what it said about me as a Christian if  I was learning more from my literature classes then I was from Scripture itself. And around October, I finally gave up.

I ignored the incessant voice in the back of my head that whispered I was a failure for not wanting to spend time with Jesus. I scrolled past super artsy pictures of my friends with their bibles and journals and heartfelt captions about how the Lord was working in their lives and pretended that it didn't bother me. Instead, I kept praying that somehow, something would change. I woke up every morning and yearned to meet the Lord in a new way, a way that made me want Him more. I prayed and hoped and wished on every dandelion I passed that I would be able to love those around me in a way that reflected the gospel, even if I couldn't really find it myself.

I kept living my life. And somewhere, the Lord met me.

And I found that sometimes when you're not being bogged down in figuring out what you believe, and which theology you adhere to, and whether something is 100% right or only ok, you look at people and just see people. And all of a sudden loving them becomes more important than anything else in the whole world. I found that when my friends talked to me about what they were struggling with, I could just listen. I wasn't spending half the conversation scrolling through a list of verses I could give them, or trying to figure out how I could lovingly point out to them that the position they were holding was very, very wrong. Several times I found myself wondering whether or not the position they were holding was in fact wrong, or if I was just incredibly proud, incredibly set in my thinking, and incredibly unwilling to consider any other options. And it led me into some of the most beautiful, grace defined relationships I've ever experienced in my (almost) 23 years.

So my senior year, I stopped reading my bible. But my senior year, I also found the Lord in a way I never had before....easily. And I'm not saying that's the answer. But I am saying, if you find yourself struggling to remember why you do what you do, maybe think about taking a break for a second. Don't shove yourself into routine just because it's what you think you have to do as a Christian. Be willing to take a breath and let the Lord work in new ways. Let people teach you, and let yourself learn. Along the way, you might find yourself wishing for that thing that made it so hard to find Jesus in the first place.