The Condensed Version
This storytelling business is weird to me. People always expect perfectly linear, perfectly resolved, perfectly contrite little stories. I’m sorry, but God doesn’t really do that, not until the end at least.
I would like to take this moment to explain things in a shorter way. Many of my friends and family do not know all of this, in fact, I severely doubt there is any one including my twin sister that could guess even a fraction of this, let alone what goes on in my head most of the time. It is okay. I don’t expect them to. However, this may help clarify where I come from when I talk about what I know, and I hope it helps.
I was raised in Lawrence, Kansas. I have chosen to go the University of Kansas, mostly because it was my best option with as an undecided freshman with barely any savings for college who had just barely survived high school and was severely ready to start over, if only miles from my house. That seems counterintuitive and it is, but it worked.
I know KU like the back of my hand. My mother works on campus. My father and mother lived in a house next to the closest elementary school until I was three and they officially divorced. My mother moved to another house very close to my father’s. My father stayed in that house, living on the same block as my elementary school. I went to the public schools in my town. Most of the towns next door and the surrounding area have less than 10,000 people. We are in the Northeast corner of Kansas in the United States, thus the two of the other largest cities in the state, Topeka and Kansas City (on the boundary of Kansas and Missouri) are within an hour or forty minutes in opposite directions.
I grew up here, and I never left until I was finally afforded the opportunity after working on campus since my first semester, in order to pay for my own expenses and eventually afford enough for personal expenses abroad. I received external scholarships to make that a possibility. I have never not worked since I have gotten to college, and I was never able to before because I was not allowed to learn to drive until the summer before I left for college, and high school was the bane of my existence.
I came into KU as “Undecided”. I took the most interesting class because I didn’t believe in any of the bad advice any one wanted to give me and my parents left that ball in my court. In hindsight, that was very smart, on my part and theirs. I ended up taking a Women’s studies class, and I liked it because it my teacher was kind and most of the topics were interesting and relevant. I took other classes I had to, but I learned to take the classes with the most interesting topics and teachers fairly early. I was paying for everything by myself for the most part and with the help of scholarships. Like hell I was going to miss class and work to pay for it. I eventually chose Psychology as my major after a brief stint as a Womens’ Studies major and flirting with many other possibilities for the sake of knowing where I stand and knowing why.
I went on study abroad to Valparaiso Chile the spring semester of my sophomore year in college. I had taken Spanish since I was in eighth grade, I had always wanted to travel, and I was finally able to get a much needed break from the place I had always been. I left with peace, I came back with peace. Somewhere in there I met Jesus.
With all of this growing up, there were people I met that have changed my life. Many lived with my in the residence hall I was in at campus. I call it a residence hall. It is not. It was a “Scholarship Hall”, where the residents worked shifts cooking or cleaning for 3-6 hours per week to earn severely discounted room and board, about half the price of the dorms. I lived there for a year and a half.
The friends I chose in Chile were followers of Jesus. I was not ready to admit it to myself at the time, but most of the reason I left the United States was to fully commit to my faith. I plotted it out with meticulously spreadsheets and then, just went with the option that gave me the best intuitive feeling. It was a beautiful choice.
The family I was placed with in Chile was a hodgepodge group of three freshman Chilean boys that rented rooms from Myriam, who ran the house. My gringa housemate Selma came about half way through the semester. They are some of the coolest people I know. It was like the adoptive family of your dreams, and Myriam is a class act and a wonderful listener who cares about service and loves people more than she loves basically any social structure. Her late husband Jaime was a philosopher and they have a beautiful family, even though he passed on. I volunteered a lot in Chile because I finally had the means with their public transportation system. It was a beautiful semester.
I got involved at my church in Chile as much as I could. I was part of a young women’s bible study in Spanish with my friend Rachel and six of our friends who are Chilean. We had a fabulous time, including the time they totally surprised me with a tiny birthday celebration. It was good, because I cried when I was having a sleepover with some of my gringa girls because I missed my sister. We had such a great experience that I saw, but it was not so easy for a lot of my friends that went. Actually, I’m not sure why but I think of all the people in my study abroad program of 80ish, I was probably one of the most well-adjusted. Hindsight is 20:20.
Not everyone is kind, let alone in the Church. I suspect that many of the people who have treated me poorly in specific instances over the course of my life would never have done so if they had any understanding of the stereotypes and wounds they were treading upon. I know that I certainly would not have. I love all my friends, but when you love conflicting groups of people very much, it is like a blow to the chest every time one hurts another by attacking a generalized straw persona stereotype. If both groups attack each other, it is like being poisoned for the person left standing in the middle. Two for the price of one, I guess.
I believed in Roald Dahl’s worlds when I was young and watched the movie Matilda hook line and sinker. Sometimes grown-ups need to be punished. He set a living sword in the stone for children who were bright and yet, miserable. I certainly took it to heart.
I have failed plenty over the years. It took me a long time to accept that yes, certain parts of how my parents behaved was wrong. It took me leaving to fully accept that that was none of my jurisdiction, and it took coming home to practice synthesizing my faith into former realities. Thus, in many respects, I did not come home, but rather returned to find home unravel over time as I lived it. That’s reverse culture shock for ya.
So, having all this informal information, taking all these courses about how people think and liberal art’s theories on thought, involving myself in every student group possible and every opportunity I could (especially those that I could afford) in order to see that different side of reality and absorb all that I could to make all of it of some use upon coming home, all of that was entirely subconscious and exploded like a barrel of gunpowder into snowflakes as I returned home. It was good. I think it would have rendered many people who did not have the practical experiences with diffusing crazy that I have earned pretty helpless, all things considered. But even though I had always been resilient, when I began to have health problems, when I had very few if any close friends, when I struggled with some dark things as I used to under years of high school depression and anxiety, when I fell into all of these beautiful traps of my own devising and also those that the world always had (not the really crappy ones though; I was spared), God helped me figure it out. He was unequivocal. During all this, I also fell in love. That was very hard, and at least in my head, it still continues. I gave all that to God from the first day, so I’m pretty okay however that will turn out.
It was as if an ox carrying everything a person possibly could need collapsed. It was not so great to live through, except for when it was utterly fabulous. This fall semester has been the result of confronting all of that in simpler, alternate ways of the loving the world through no other options, and who knew? Those things are what bring me the most joy.
Now, I realize that this much happiness is something many people never see. I am grateful. I cannot forget, so I try to invest in stewarding it well and growing my faith so that I might do so. God has helped me from the beginning, so it only makes sense that I would give my life to him in every way; professionally, in service, whatever. Not gonna die celibate if all works out alright. But this is my life, and it matters. It is by no means a repayment, but it comes from a very genuine gratitude for being alive and nothing else.
In all this time, I feel as though nothing has changed. It’s like wiping away layers of inequity to uncover my true character and then celebrating it (or not), this growing up business. It is strange to see it happen all around me, in friends I made here and there, in the adults who age in and out of knowing what they are talking about, in the children who I aspire to become. I believe that in writing, in various ways or about various things, it shows a different part of reality that is very important to how I perceive the world. All ego aside, I don’t really care who reads what I write as long as it can be honest. In so many things, people compromise the truth in order to pursue their own selfish desires, and although I know I have just as many of those in me as the next person, I would really not like to hand them the mic, ever. Honestly, I have nothing to say that is all that special, that is the point. We all have truths that are “self-evident”, as in, we all live and walk with a certain amount of truth that can be seen, and yet, no one owns the truth.
I think it is very funny how in pandering to the wants and needs of society over time, the Church has weakened itself. No one can claim they did not see that coming unless you were not looking, it was going to happen from the Garden on out, and it is a very basic and very obvious that for anything to be redeemed, some things have to break for that to happen. That is the basic concept of gratitude: loving what you have and knowing it is still somewhat broken and yet, taking joy in it anyways. That is the whole point of not coveting things, because you cannot take pride in something that you do not appreciate, and if you believe you have to win something to appreciate it, you will probably take great, jealous lengths to own it in whatever means you can. That is why when people marry, that is a lifetime commitment that matters, because you cannot commit to own and steward love without having a good understanding of why it matters. And that is why the world as a whole is breaking apart.
In Topeka, 40 minutes from my house, is the home of the Westboro Baptist Church, arguably the most well-known and hated church in the world, apart from Catholicism. Due to years of hatred and being complete savages in the name of Christ (somehow), they have taken it upon themselves to condemn the entire world on the basis of their beliefs as a group of people, picking military funerals and insinuating death is the just payment based on what they accept. Although their actions are utterly despicable, the foundation and core theology for their faith is very similar to what many churches still believe, and what the disciples of Jesus have fought to protect over history: the Gospel. However, for the most part, regardless of your faith background or your upbringing, no one practices it in any meaningful way because it is 1000 times easier not to.
Now, I do not believe it is hatred to believe something is wrong, but as someone who has attended Gay Straight Alliances, has many friends and some family who identify on the LGBTQIA spectrum, believes in kindness and not cruelty, justice in the law, and has self-identified as bisexual among other things in the past, being cruel is stupid no matter who does it in any group of people.
You do not have to agree with someone to be kind to them. It is very, very simple for a very simple reason, and that is because the Gospel is extremely simple if you remove the context of everyone’s accumulated egos to qualify it. The credentials come from God. Stop.
Once you know that the truth isn’t yours, you can know that it is not anyone else’s. Once you realize how small you are, you are able to accept that others are just as broken, and you are able to resist the temptation to punish them for what they believe, because who are you to judge? If you preach the Gospel and yet, do not practice it, that hypocrisy will come around at you like a sword, at least if that is the measure you judge by. If you believe that Christ died for you and yet you do not die to yourself, that same measure of judgment will be used against you, and he will not know you regardless of any appearance or semblance of an upbringing you may or may not convey. We all die. It’s all beans to me because I can’t control it. But if you can’t embrace kindness for nothing more or less than what it is as a divine gift from God, you are a clanging cymbal, and folks, I learned that at church.
We all have experiences with the world, some are good and some are bad. It is not right to punish those around you for your miserable existence if you were the person to take it for granted. It will not work. No one likes to be hurt like that, and eventually, after years of not listening, you will end up alone. I know what that looks like. I know how it wounds. It is not the path you want to take.
The whole idea of this faith business is that the first leap is the hardest part. If you can humble yourself to believe in a Savior that defied death, the idea is that everything else from that point forward will be comparatively easier. I get the feeling that that is how God sees it. But, because we are infinitely not God, we see it from our stupid perspectives and use our brokenness as rocks to cast against one another. It’s pathetic. I do it too. I am grateful that in all of my experiences, God has provided me a way out from being cruel, and the voice of crazy has screamed loud enough for me to run the other way.
There are people I know that won’t meet Jesus but can’t work up the strength to become humble enough to abandon their own rationalizations. They have told me so. There are people I know who were grafted in but at experiencing some turmoil that makes a lot of this seem like some cheap joke. I understand what that is like. There are people I know who were born into this and were never necessarily born again. And then there’s just me.
We all have choices. This is not a logical thing. A messiah that would be 100% human and bear the cross is not a logical thing. Lucky thing he was also 100% God. Giving of anything to those who do not deserve it, that is not a logical thing. God coming to us instead of us coming to him? Definitely not a logical thing. It was so big that it was a divine thing, a God thing, a Christ on the cross thing. I does not make sense. It is.
If this is the life you were born into, you need to take ownership of that. If this is your story to be grafted in, take pride and be bold like your Savior who lives. If this is the end of your journey and you need rest, ask God and he will provide it. It is so simple to love in a way that defies Scripture, and with enough practice, it can be simple to live in a way that silently demonstrates it. But it is a choice. You have to shut up and be still (hard won lessons) in silence to find it, trust me, I know. You can’t take on bite out of the apple and just throw it away, going back to the rest of the bushel when you miss that apple taste. You have to leave it on the table and more forward. In this case, I’m talking about bitterness. Accept the consequences and go. Even if that is out of this happy crappy idealism Garden you somehow have still clung to, you have to leave it so that the goodness you find in the desert can counteract the knowledge you’ve just consumed. Christ is the one that lives in the Holy Spirit; that is all you need to know. If you want reality, you can find it in the worst terrible ways, but if you want the truth, you need to ask for it. Trust that God walks with you. Apart from that, God decides.
If you want real healing, close your Bible. Shut your mouth. Look for beauty in where you see it. Accept your limitations. Give them to God, and move forward. And above it all, be grateful. You are alive. That is all that matters, in the grand scheme of things. You don’t need to justify it. Accept grace and be happy, walk with God and let him dwell in how you treat others. It is really that simple. Let it happen progressively. Forgive and offer forgiveness. Paul does a much better job of describing this at 1st Corinthians, if you are lucky, you probably know that passage. We make it so complicated, but it is not. God does the heavy lifting. Just live and live well.