Feeling better helped

As I’ve been reading my bible more lately, I notice that I remember to surrender my worries to God.

It’s a precarious time of year for someone so ready to move on. I’m learning to lean on God’s strength when I’m ready for college to be over.

Some life hacks I only would have considered by being reminded of God’s power:

  • I’ve spent four years complaining about the Psychology department. I’ve spent 6 months praying for them, my professors and classmates. Am I a fool or just human to waste so much time? Being a Christian only the last two of those years, it took me a while to surrender my worries to God after I took notice of them. Yes, it can be hard to know how to perform without clear expectations, and more often than not, my professors seem scattered. But I prayed the other night that God would show me how not to hate one of my professors, and guess what happened? This random dude named Terrance spent 10 random minutes filling me in on the fact that our professor is just a space cadet, that the way he acts in class is just his personality, and (go figure), I shouldn’t take it too much to heart. I can pray for my professor all the more now. Problem solved. Thanks, Jesus.
  • When I don’t feel like I have enough strength to invest in friendships (especially with underclassmen who look to me for encouragement/direction), I have the option to call on God, who will give me more than enough stamina to help me be kind and lean in. This year has been the biggest growth year of them all, and God has honored me by helping me lean in, despite it being the last year of college. Now that I have definite plans, it’s so easy to back away from people as a self-protection mechanism. But all of that is bullcrap. I can continue to share people’s burdens. The Lord will give me the strength. My best friends ever are from this year. I’m going to keep casting my burdens upon the Lord and he will give me what I need if I just ask him.
  • My gospel choir has a big concert event coming up, and when our exec board told us to each take a pinch of flyers to pass out, I thought to myself: “Oh Lord have mercy.” Feeling overwhelmed and tired of relying on my own strength, I was annoyed, and concerned that I would have no place to post them. So I prayed about it. I asked God to reveal to me the places where I can put these flyers, or where people might see them. Tomorrow we have rehearsal again. I’m picking up another pinch because by the grace of God, I ran out of flyers. I have at least three more spaces I need to put them (places I’ve steadily been noticing), and like that moment where Christ shows up after the Resurrection after Peter and two others have been fruitlessly fishing and they have to cut the net because it’s so full of fish, I may not have enough flyers to go around.
  • I’m working towards gathering people for an interfaith event in my city, where we will ask local government to commit towards making progress on issues of justice for mental health, childhood trauma, and affordable housing. It’s been an interesting time giving up my Saturday mornings to commit towards furthering the goals of the organization that will host it. I’ve overwhelmed because it’s been hard gathering the amount of people we want to show up. The Lord (through the encouragement of my team and ministry friends) has provided a strategy for me to communicate with everyone who committed to go (my section of people). I’ve prayed that the right people would come and that we’d be able to pack the house. Lo and behold, a couple handfuls of people keep contacting me in order to be put on the list. Watch if we don’t run out of tickets.
  • I have a couple good friends who allow me to talk honestly with as much insight as God has given me in a way that doesn’t make me feel awkward. I can explain why I believe Satan has been able to help prosper a certain sin, trace some of the reasons I believe we as a society are stuck in a certain way, and we can talk through the things we see and find a sense of belonging. I’ve felt unappreciated a lot in the past and basically shunned for not being able to stop noticing the things I notice, or care for the people I care about, or believe the things I believe. For now at least, I don’t have to stay silent. I can be understood, and hope that God uses this sorrow/anger/recognition for a holy reason.
  • There is this boy in my Intimate Relationships psych class that looks at me in a way that is like unwanted attention. Some of his body language and general posture of being makes me think he’s insecure. Today in class, I wanted to put my hair up, but didn’t want to draw any extra attention. That line of reasoning no longer works on me. It’s not up to me to save you. It’s not up to me to make you feel a certain way. My hair is heavy, and I want it off my head. Maybe it’s just because I’m a woman who already has to think about everything, but if I need to pull my hair back, it’s not my responsibility to ruminate over your feelings. There is nothing I can do as a woman to help make you secure, and it’s not up to me to police my behavior to not lead you on. If I have no interest, that is obvious. My hair is freaking heavy. I have heavy hair.
  • It’s becoming very obvious that I have no power to make people accept Christ. I can walk out my Christian walk. I can try to be more like Jesus. I can tell people about Jesus. I can tell people about scripture. At the end of the day though, I make a pretty crappy Jesus. And not even Christ could force people to believe in him. They had to receive him. I can’t receive on your behalf. If you wont take the stupid grace, my hands are more or less tied. I will still walk out what it means to be a Christian. Sometimes though, it’s hard to have this overwhelming sense of truth while overwhelmingly aware that the world lives as though they have no need of it.
  • It’s really weird to have people appreciate you for things you weren’t aware were visible. I’ve been in my own little bubble of just trying to do the right thing for so long that when somebody actually notices or appreciates it I’m not even sure how to react. Yes? Yes, I do that. God is good. I’m still surprised that you see these things. I’m used to being the only one who sees these things.
  • It’s like not understanding people’s sarcasm. I know that the person I’m talking to thinks that they have just made a funny joke. I can follow the reasoning for why they probably think it’s funny. What I’m not aware of is whether they are being “ironic” because of the line of reasoning I’ve guessed, whether they’re just pulling my leg and there’s nothing to see, or whether they are using some extra line of crap joke that I have yet to see. Sometimes when people are sarcastic, they make fools of themselves in ways they don’t even realize that can be funnier than their dumb jokes to begin with. Sometimes when a person is sarcastic and I laugh, their jokes aren’t actually as funny as the context. Is it me who doesn’t get the joke, or is it you?

 

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For real though, the joy is out there

I have been spending large quantities of time recently writing privately, and trying to figure out why I’m so regularly happy. While I can’t forget my past history of depression, the joy that I have in Christ seems obscene most days, and it’s lasted long enough that I no longer think it’s temporary.

It feels like a cycle of gratitude. Like the opposite of rumination and unhealthy thinking; like you’re being filled up. I have lived through enough mistakes at this point to understand that a person’s mistakes don’t determine their identity, but lack of health can absolutely distort who we are made to be in Christ. As I get more filled up, I am grateful for having perspective. While I used to despise people who were legitimately happy (including Christians), I now understand that being a few steps ahead of people who are currently suffering has nothing to do with what a jerk I must be (and especially for talking about it), but how I can minister to people in prayer and encouragement.

Honestly, it’s almost better to encourage quietly. While I can sometimes catch the patterns of what God is trying to teach people, it’s only seldom, with hope and guessing. Because I know personally how much mental health problems (or any sort of grief-inducing circumstances) suck, I have the blessed responsibility of interceding for people in prayer. It’s one of those things that is better done discretely because it’s not for your credit anyways. If God saves people from their pain, that is blessing enough.

I always thought the happy people were either “holy than thou” or completely spared from misfortune. Maybe happy people are just lucky, either for a while or a season, and it is just their duty to help intercede for the rest of us. When you live in community, it’s hard not to know when someone else is having a hard time. In my opinion, it’s more effective to ask God to help on the long run than to interject yourself into a person’s friend-zone without getting to know them first. Being kind to people and praying for them can be combined, and you can ask God to give you opportunities to minister to the people who you notice are hurting.

I don’t really know how this joy has come into my life, despite years of working towards it. This kind of joy isn’t something that can be earned, and I’m so grateful that it’s been made available to me in Christ Jesus. As a fairly young Christian, I often wonder if there is any explanation for why some people are willing to encounter this kind of joy, and some people never do. Just like wondering whether there is meaning in suffering, I question whether there is all that much meaning in the joy. Like, is encouraged by self-reflection? Does it have to do with suffering? Is it related to being open to criticism? Is it fair to even talk about joy (because that’s not really a problem)?

If this joy is so rapidly available to all who believe in Jesus, why do so few people follow through long enough to find it? Why is it that there are so few Christians that live truly productive, joyful, and satisfied lives? Do people just not know what they’ve signed up for, or do they just become alien to the Holy Spirit? I don’t really understand. If Christ’s love is the only thing that can heal, and truly heal, how can you be so close to the vine and not crave after it’s fruit? Like, do you even believe it’s there?

I totally didn’t. Part of me still thinks it’s got to be a joke, even if by living it out, I know that it’s real. I thought that perfect happiness was a fad or something Hallmark invented. Every day, I’m a little more sold.

But it’s out there: true love and joy and perfect peace and happiness and the whole shabaang. It looks exactly the opposite of what we all hope it will look like. Which makes living in happiness feel all that more bizarre. I consistently feel like my life is the living joke no one has the guts to believe in. Believing in death/destruction/pain/suffering/war? Those are such plausible renditions of reality. But joy that transcends death, space, time, and betrayal? That one takes a lot of guts to believe in.

Caring about justice, not knowing how to fix it

One of the biggest lies I have ever met when trying to reconcile my desire for justice with the world is that I have to know what I’m doing. While some people think action is prudent only after you’ve developed a perfectly thought out plan, I want to share a couple reasons I’ve decided to abandon that belief.

Rarely in life do we have a perfect understand of where our actions (or lack thereof) will lead us. We all live within a limited amount of time, and despite comfy illusions to the contrary, none of us knows when it will end. Because we still do not understand how the outcomes of our actions will be described in history books, it’s kind of a touch and go situation most of the time when we are confronted with choices based on whether or not we care.

And while some ambiguity is helpful, what isn’t helpful is the assumption that you have to be in control in order to pray and work towards a solution. I am an independent young woman, and I like to know that my actions are working towards some kind of a solution. While it’s good to examine how solutions are born, sometimes my part to play in that solution is relatively small. It’s not because of who I am. It’s because if I really care about something, I need to be willing to serve long before I am ready to lead. If I really care about something, I need to commit to building up the people who are working with me. If I really care about something, it’s not about how I think something should be done, but what kind of change I can facilitate as part of a group. And though these lessons take years to learn, while I am still able and still relatively young, I need to let go of the delusion that change should always be under my authority.

As someone who desires to live out ministry, I surrender my right to an opinion. For the love of my friends and Christian family, I can make myself less. It’s not because I’m a woman. It’s because more often than not, the roles that no one really wants to take are the most necessary. Listener. Witness. Encouragement. If Christ came in order to serve all of us, then my image of leadership should start with making myself less.

It’s not about what I can do to be a better person, it’s about how I can grow in faith to become more like Jesus Christ. My goal for my ministry here on earth is to empower others in their faith, and to be willing to make myself as a servant in order to invest in all people’s leadership. On my own, I have no clue how to solve nearly all of the world’s problems. One of the most important parts about allowing justice to happen is to follow the people who are most worthy of leadership and know more than you. If who I am needs to be put on the sideline to minister to people and to give them what they need, I accept that.

And you know what? As a follower of Christ, it is my duty to try to understand where hurting people are coming from, based on a Savior that was nailed to the cross. Mark 2:17 “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” How can I pray for God to heal people’s pain if I’m not interested in a ministry of intercession? Disengaging from the world’s pain is not appropriate for someone who believes in God’s almighty power to heal.

Severing friendships and a God who never leaves

Have you ever had one of those days where it’s just hard to continue caring for people when they hurt you? The reason I stay at church isn’t the people. I love the people, but the reason I stay is God.

I have this tendency to sever friendships. I’m not telling you this because I’m looking for opinions, but my theory is that if I leave more evidence of my sin, then I can’t hide from it. That is the entire purpose of my blog; to praise, to explain, and to experience. If I leave enough fragments of broken logic, poor expectations, and false expectations that God should work magically and immediately, when I look over what I’ve written I will know how much he is worth. This isn’t the first time I’ve taken down notes and he’s bailed me out of them.

I sever friendships after they’ve been bad for awhile. Time is important to me, so if I haven’t seen or spent time with someone in a while, they are almost gone for me. I think part of that comes from moving around a lot as a kid, and wondering whose house I’d be living at for a while. The other part is that I’m afraid that I’ll move on and so I read too far into people’s mistakes, using them as excuses. When you judge people because you are afraid that you’ll get sick of them, that is when you have a problem.

I know that most people in the church aren’t really all that transparent with weakness, but this is the truth and it no longer embarrasses me. Friends I’ve hurt already know this. Some of the friends I have already understand, even if they aren’t pleased. The question that it comes down to is whether or not this behavior pleases God. You can’t lie your way into a false answer on this one. Forgiveness is pretty pivotal to being a Christian. Even if the mistakes I use to convict others are legitimate, treating them poorly and managing these decisions out of frustration does not lead to good fruit. I’m learning as I take stock of my selfishness that a lot of what past friends have said is true. This is my life, but it doesn’t have to be my legacy.

If you continuously test your opinions, you come into this space where you have less and less in common with the friends you made at first. As you change your thinking and add nuance to how you see the world, you slowly leave people behind. This is why I think a lot of people deny that they are changing. It’s scary to be as unsure of the future as you are when you know you are growing in a way that some good friends just will not follow. Being a Christian (among other things) is like that. You can’t please them all.

We may change and evolve over time, but how friendships end or naturally dissolve is something you also must steward with grace. Even if you are growing apart from someone, you still have to love them and pray that they’ll go in a good direction. The basis for a friendship ending could be something as legitimate as someone moving away permanently, or as frivolous as the judgment you inserted into a situation. When you look back on good memories with that friend, what do you want to remember?

The strategies we use in friendships transfer into marriage, and cultivating this habit will only lead to disaster. You can’t reject someone when the way they act sucks for a while. You can I guess, but it doesn’t prepare you for months worth of lulls in a good marriage that come naturally and could have been helped by being less judgmental towards your friends. We all have to just bear with people sometimes; whether that is a sibling who is going through a phase, a parent who needs to stop a bad habit, a coworker who is having a hard time, or the people we struggle to understand. I believe in mercy, and that mercy has got to apply to this. You can’t pick and choose salvation.

What good does this do you, to treat people like they only get one second chance? What is it good for? You become a judge and a hypocrite. It’s hard enough when you’ve got one hypocrite, let alone two in any active relationship. If it’s hard to treat our friends well, treating a spouse well has got to be ridiculous. I’m glad that I’m waiting on that. It seems like an absolute mess.

If you’ve been in the faith long, you slowly grow into these moments of seeing how your faith or lack of faith may have impacted others. I have a friend who was recently married, and although we aren’t close, I heard that she was getting married last summer. I talked to her a little about Jesus and what marriage signified. She wanted to come to church with me, but on both of our parts there was never a time. Now, she’s a few months into marriage and having problems with her spouse, who doesn’t believe. She is “mostly spiritual”. I can’t help but wonder if my indecision made her current struggles any worse, or if there is anything I could have done. As someone who is gradually putting on leadership, it’s haunting to see a time where I could have helped and it might have made a difference. I will continue to pray for them, and although it’s ultimately up to personal choice, I worry that she is going to only come to God after it doesn’t work out.

When you’re young in the faith and you don’t have as much trust in following the Holy Spirit, some of the promptings you get as nudges don’t seem all that trustworthy. It was that way in this situation, and if anything, it has taught me to be more steadfast. With serving God, it isn’t as much about how well you lead but how well you listen. Everything is given to you as a matter of grace.

Faith listens, but sin is a judge. Faith cares, while sin only cares about making time in our own schedule. Faith is patient, while sin judges others for not fixing their lives on your time frame. Faith is dependable, faith is enduring, faith at the core is like a really good friendship that provides undeniable benefits to it’s members by a hope that abides. Sin competes and compares in order to diminish, and Faith already knows, so you aren’t afraid to be yourself. You are not less. You can confide in a God who provides.

I really miss talking to some of my friends, but I have more peace in recognizing that God knows. He build his love around it. It is enough to just be. If we only realized how deeply God knows us, we’d also understand that faith is just a better friendship. You can learn to love from a God who never leaves.

Thought 10/14

When you notice patterns in yourself, for better or worse, they lead to bigger and more all-encompassing patterns. For example, this week, I’m noticing that I have a pattern of needing to test others before I trust them. While you could call this discernment when it’s positive, you could call it stubbornness and the need to be absolutely certain when it backfires, and life just doesn’t work like that.

So what about you? Do you have any inconvenient patterns that you’ve ever noticed, or could be noticing? Quilting your flaws together can lead to bigger results, even if it’s just a deeper realization of why you need to invest in forgiveness. For those who are under grace, weakness isn’t the end but the beginning. Embracing criticism when God can heal you is like gutting a fish, but it turns out okay in the end. Fear is a godawful mess no matter whether we stand to acknowledge it, so it’s better to stand with a God who cares about you and is willing to help you through it.

Not cut out to be a flying squirrel (I will be content)

Contentedness has got to be why Pastors would be willing to spend so much time building their congregations, right? Like, given all the hard work that pastoring a church can be, given all the time you spend there, given the money you sink into it and how hard you have to work beforehand, the most legitimate reason to see all of it to completion would have to be faith maintained in resting in who God is, right?

Is it?

As I’m getting closer to graduation, I look at the rest of my life like a race. My career post-college will be a large portion of my life, which is basically unnecessary to even write out; that’s obvious. What isn’t obvious is what I do with it, the company I keep, or most importantly, the pace. I know that God calls us out upon the waters, but if you aren’t cultivating a peace based on God’s character, why do any of it? I understand that it’s super fashionable to launch yourself into the world post-graduation like a flying squirrel, and I recognize that ultimately, just getting a job is the priority. I get that not freaking out right now could easily be judged as being lazy, but since when did any good decision come by being spastic? Because I can’t think of anything that is worth doing that wouldn’t be enhanced by being secure in who I am and where I stand in God. There is literally nothing.

Graduating college is weird because all you see until this point is an indefinite amount of school. What is free time, exactly? It’s been a good life, but I’d have more time if I was starting most entry level jobs.

The beginning of figuring out where I am going to end up in the world is to be content with what is already there. I have a sneaking suspicion that if I continue on this path, everything will unfold not out of a sense of panic, but out of a sense of security and pursing what was good from the beginning. I am willing to bet good money on that path, even if it’s not easy. How else will you have the stamina to do everything else if you aren’t cultivating the peace that comes from God? It’s utter nonsense.

It comes down to knowing that what you are doing and who you are serving is important regardless of your conditions. If my life is not for myself, then I can be happy serving in a variety of different contexts. It’s okay to not be “successful”. I’m not willing to bet my heart on that.

I’m just going to keep praying and see what happens, like always. God is so good. He is so good in what he does. If there is anyone I’d be willing to stake my hopes on, it’s him. I can’t think of anyone that worthy.

And when I tell my elders that I actually have only a vague idea of what I’m going to do with my life, I’ll get used to more awkward conversations and best intentions, because it’s okay if they don’t have the perfect words either. That’s okay. You guys can have the room to screw up and my feelings won’t get hurt. Y’all didn’t know either, at one point. It’s okay. We can all be small together.

The Glow (and the things that I have seen it cast out)

Psalm 34:5 “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame” (NIV).

About sometime last fall at a women’s event at my church, I heard Psalm 34:5 read aloud for the first time. Having newly arrived at my church, I was looking for a way to connect with other women in our growing body of Christ there and this verse has continued to catch my attention ever sense. Before ever hearing it, this scripture was spoken over my life in a way that slowly transformed my walk with Christ and brought me to the point where I am at today. Like portions of Isaiah that speak to the redemption of Zion, in casting off the chains of depression, in coming to Christ, in taking bold risks with unexpected forms of pay off, I have stumbled across the glow.

The glow is something you can see on a person when they have been especially blessed. Think of it like annointing oil or broken chains. The Bride of Christ, the Church as she stands, is meant to be glorious, like a city on a hill or a light unto the world. For whatever reason, when I examine the lives of women I know who have been blessed and redeemed, the glow has come with it.

The glow is healthy. The glow is giving. It is compassionate, wholesome, good to be around, honest, pure, and simple. It laughs easily, like Proverbs 31:25, laughing at the days to come (which was also woven into the scripture at that women’s event). You see, the glow is something that comes into your life when you have enough to share (think Luke 6:38). Like any spiritual phenomena, the glow isn’t something that we as humans always see, but it exists on the same level with other routine spiritual events that we don’t pick up on unless we’ve seen them in passing. When you get the feeling that a woman gives life to be around, I’m pretty sure you can find it there.

I was petting my dogs just now, and the words that have been echoing in my head steadily as I’ve contemplated what it means to be beloved came back in full force: “I am the one you love.” Those words speak to Christ, but they can be taken up by all of us. Speaking those words in my heart, it was a weird moment. The sense of warmth I get when others have off-handedly noticed the glow in me came out at the expression of those words, and it was a haze of love for a second.

One of best lies people cling to when they disown spiritual truths is that God’s love is impractical, irrational, and fruit loops at best. While a Savior who would die by us for us is certainly fruit loops, spiritual happenings are not inherently unscientific, they aren’t inherently illogical, and they aren’t made up. As a different way of intuiting truths that no one has the cajones to admit we all look for and quietly disown, you can see the fruit of the spirit all around you if you try. No, you cannot prove it. You cannot prove Christ either, which is good, because proof is beside the point. I’m not trying to start any false doctrine here, but if you open your heart to the work of the spirit, you will run into more and more stuff like this. The weird way concepts interweave and conversations echo in a way that answer your questions sometimes immediately. The weird way you were able to strengthen a person in passing without realizing that for them, it was much needed. The weird way that God throws us into “mistakes” or situations we didn’t sign up for just to prove a point. Y’all can think that’s mostly fruit loops, but as for me, embracing the fruit loops was one of the best unwilling, dragged into it by the nudges of the Holy Spirit decision’s I’ve ever made. Some “crazy” is meant to be heard until you accept that it’s not going anywhere, and maybe crazy is a definition we should reconsider. Although I haven’t heard any voices in my head as of today, I think the nudges of the Holy Spirit definitely qualify as a pre-requisite to cast most commonplace conversations into a realm of immediate awkwardness for nearly all people you’re talking to. Which is ironic, since I’ve learned more about health and recovery from depression through learning to trust in all the crazy I can’t explain.

In my psychology classes, I often wonder if we design guidelines for what is and is not clinical to exclude the experiences of people who have been helped spiritually by accepting what others might see as crazy. It’s like casting crooked lines for voting districts sometimes, in what people accept, don’t accept, and only accept if you are paying thousand of dollars for therapy where professionals may or may not address your “problems”. I believe God in Christ is the cure. I don’t accept how conveniently we designate psychologists and psychiatrists to be the definitive and squabbling audience for deciding what counts as crazy. If the vine is the solution, what need is there for so many trained professionals?

For me, depression was an intensely spiritual thing. The amount of willful resistance I had to any kind of treatment, (especially anything that would cast out sin) was fierce. I was not down for other people telling me how to fix my problems. Without being able to remember, without being able to sleep well, with constant chronic body pain, an erratic appetite, chemical dependence that I wasn’t happy about, constant low self-worth and feelings that no one would ever accept me as I am in love, I didn’t really know what there was to live for. Being gradually dragged into faith cast so much of that out. The first major thing to go was sexual sin and thoughts that I would have to compromise unconditionally if I ever wanted anyone to love me. The last thing thus far has been ignorance of what it means to be redeemed (and what a man of character even looks like, through the lens of faith). It took me years to believe that I didn’t need anything to buy me my happiness, whether medication, close friends, male approval, being “smart”, etc. Having peace over the past and how awful living was back then has only come from the blood and the life of Jesus Christ working in my life. Without him, I’d be just as screwed as I was before.

The root of so much sin that capitalized my life was the false belief that no one would ever love me. Given the love I have encountered in Christ, no love could ever replace or come close to that. I know that anything is possible in Christ because I remember. I know that he is capable because years later, he is still just as faithful.

So tell me which is more fruit loops: Striving to seek out healing in academic accomplishment, beauty, the company of others, “success”, money, men, etc., or the all-saving power of grace that I could do literally nothing to earn? Part of the way you know that Christ has the power to heal is that what he gives is free. This is no magical snake oil, because the Son of God has nothing to prove. It has already been proven because it has already been given. What exactly is there to lose but a bunch of sin that was making you sick to begin with? Godspeed.

I don’t need to prove myself because my story and the life I am living now is all the proof I need that my Father heals. It’s a radical faith that is intensely practical, based on having experienced how the spirit moves and knowing for a fact that he is willing to meet us. Above all things, I plan on continuing to invest in the spirit of love and the fruit of peace that God intentionally places in my life in order to minister to others. He is more than capable.