It feels like a blur already

Like a flat highway in New Mexico,

All the people I’ve met and loved blur together.

The memories of being here and being there are haunting,

And I keep running into the same kind of people where ever I go,

Only to be caught up in clandestine kindness and remember a fresh face for the next round.

God, I keep running because I have to,

And it’s a long time before I find a place of peace off the ground,

And all of my friends run together into the same,

I can’t remember where one person ends and another (with similar traits) begins,

Here, there, everywhere,

I’m disoriented because traveling only makes the world blur together.

God, I wonder how you see it. How you see us. I feel so far from home sometimes. It’s like I’m running down a long highway and I can’t tell whether it’s reality in front of me and another mirage.

Be here, Lord. Be the grace I can’t answer.

I still have so much life to live, but all my friends feel essentially the same. I have to move on and find new ones in new places, but they are all like a reflection of your love. Finding you in every new place is disorienting. My reality is a melting ice cube.

Please be my strength when I don’t feel like fighting. These days, I just see the illusion. It’s hard to know where you’re at. It’s hard to know how to let go so that I can be found.

I wish there were a quicker way. I wish my path were more obvious.

But I look out, and I see a long and skinny road blurring off into the distance, a mirage. And God be my guide, because I have no idea where you’re leading me.

I want to believe that I’ll find the same beauty everywhere. God bless your holy name.

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Reasons not to idealize college

I may be beating a dead horse here, but for those of us who have pushed through the 4-5 years it takes to get a bachelors degree, the end of this specific life season can be much expected or a complete disappointment.

For a lot of people, leaving college is like a bad dream. No more are your friends in close proximity. No longer can you justify eating crap food for most of your diet. No longer will your parents treat you as a junior adult.

I have a hard time having sympathy for college graduates facing this degree of disillusionment. I honestly want to feel sorry for people, but having worked every semester that I’ve been in college (1-2 jobs at a time), I find it difficult.

The people who couldn’t afford binge drinking, or don’t accept it as a legitimate habit actually find jobs. People who have settled for convenient relationships without actually challenging themselves for four years have a really hard time moving on. They are often disappointed when friends who were “really close” when they lived across the hallway become distant. When your entire social circle has to redefine it’s existence in order to conform to the rest of the world’s demands, you might get disappointed. If you don’t have to face the reality of what a non math/science bachelor’s degree is worth until the very end of your college career, that cynicism is going to suck coming all at once.

It’s a lot easier to remain a little skeptical at all times. By taking what you are told with a continuous grain of salt, you develop stronger friendships, and even if some of those friends don’t stick with you as you leave, at least if you meet up again in the future you can say that caring for them was worth it.

Whether or not parents or students want to hear it, the undergraduate experience is over-hyped and over-priced much like Disneyland. Everything, from the lodging to the theme park (classes) to the food is difficult to maintain, and you feel pressured if you can’t keep up with appearances. Some savvy families find ways to eat their own food and lodge off of Disneyland property, but still, most people leave with a handful of pretty decent memories and an overpriced bill. Given all the companies that advertise to students and how students are taught to believe that they need special furniture for their apartment and that their primary goal should be to enjoy college, of course graduating broke and without having invested in long term dreams is going to suck. That should be a given.

A bachelors degree on it’s own really doesn’t prove much. It’s a piece of paper that says that you’ve hopefully learned something. There are so many people in my classes who rarely show up or play on their computers the entire class, and honestly, our work is not hard to turn in and never have to be there. A bachelors degree alone is not why you should do college.

Do college because you want to put work into your classes. Do college because you want to develop long term goals, and learn how to achieve them. Do college because you want to apply yourself to the process of finding a good job. Do college because you want to be capable of providing for a family. Do college because you want to make the world decent, and you have goals outside of yourself. Do not define college by only what you do in your classes, or the friends you meet in your dorm, or holing up in the bars like it will earn you something. It’s a lot easier to know what to expect for getting a job if you manage to work as you receive an education. It’s a lot harder to live blind to what things actually cost and abuse what you can borrow in loan money if you work a job where you only make up to $600 a month. Even if you take out loans while you work, you will look at borrowing money entirely differently.

Take responsibility for yourself and pursue a decent way of living, one that focuses on being a decent friend, a good student, a decent employee, and learning what it means to take care of others. Actually understand what your salary will look like once you leave, and ask people while you are in college (and not just as you are trying to stay above drowning at the end) what career paths or people they would have you consider. Don’t overly rely on their opinions, but have an assortment of people you trust who can give you legitimate feedback. This means you have to go outside of your comfort zone.

Instead of getting the job where you can do your homework, get a job where you actually learn something. Think of it as a paid internship, and invest in growing your skills outside of social trends.

Transitioning from school to work naturally sucks if the time you’ve spent in college lacks substance. Even if it feels like everyone is taking it easy as you are working your butt off, let them. When it’s time to actually look for a job and make good on the skills you’ve been accumulating, things are going to look differently. I won’t say the tables turn completely, but just about. The people in your classes who never contribute to a meaningful discussion and seem to pressure the class to lower their standards are the ones who have a hard time finding gainful employment. Eventually, we all have to leave school, and it’s easier to leave knowing you actually learned/gained/wanted something than to drown in student debt and realize that you’ve wasted your last four years.

Amazed by the kindness of God

I just spent a lovely evening with a friend and her family, and I’m so amazed by the beauty of God’s people.

My friend is a student from Saudia Arabia who has come with her husband, 6-month old baby, and 4 year old daughter to the US. I met her while we were both working (her as a volunteer) to greet new International Students to my campus. Immediately, she has been someone who has been kind to me and very open to receive even botched translations. As we’ve spent time together, I have really enjoyed taking turns holding her baby, interacting with her daughter and asking her about daycare, and talking about the differences between our cultures. She is from the city of Hajj, Saudia Arabia, and they have an enormous mosque there. We spent a lot of time tonight talking about the differences between our faiths (her as a Muslim and me as a Christian), what it means to be modest, what it’s like to go to school and raise a family, and other things.

I just really appreciate her ability to laugh with me about silly cultural details. She is one of few students who understands more of what I say without as many explanations. It is as though she understands what I mean without the specific words. The time I have spent with her, her husband, and their little children has been a blessing. Like many other Muslims from my college, elementary school, and past experiences, not only was she warm and hospitable, but easy to be around. She cooked for me. As we ate rice with meat and potatoes, grapes, soda, Saudia Arabian ginger coffee, cookies, and Mint tea, I really felt free to enjoy her hospitality.

I know that she doesn’t view the world just like me, but I trust God to judge fairly. The more time I spend with people who have different experiences than I do, the more I am amazed by God. I often crave to go back to Chile and China, and I want to see so much of the world. Even if I had bittersweet experiences at different parts of my trips, I miss the people, the food, and the culture. I feel so blessed to be free to love people far from home. The ability to make the best of things and just eat what’s in front of me makes me feel equipped to grow God’s kingdom and be willing to go wherever he calls me. The way he is softening my heart is just awesome.

I spent so much time today receiving love. In kindergarten, I am getting better at discerning what kids need (as in, what they don’t ask for). Being able to spend a lot of quality time with the kids and follow them throughout the day is awesome, because then I learn the art of gentle correction. May God make it even easier for me to care for them. Today, I received a lot of little hugs.

When I spend time in kindergarten, I understand the times I have felt different from my peers. Tutoring at the same elementary school where I was raised, as I try to help them with their work, I remember how I felt doing similar equations. I realize only as an adult (with an external perspective) why I got into trouble, that I probably was fairly smart (to get bored so easily), and BEST OF ALL, how to minister to the kids who are too much like me. I know that often, the arrogance children put on is only a cry for attention. “Bossiness” is basically the desire to do something meaningful. Crying easily over spilled milk and picking fights is like wanting someone to validate how much they care for you (“Do you really see that I’m in pain?”). Being cold and somewhat self-centered is the desire not to be the same (and to not get hurt). If you can recognize it in children, it’s a lot easier to have compassion on adults.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about what I will and will not settle for in marriage, what it means to have a ministry that most elevates children, and the kindness of God. I believe that if we honor children above a lot of our older members, we can fix nearly everything else. These days, I see a lot of my confidence in God resurrecting. The past two weeks, I have felt so vindicated at church. As I hear a living, breathing Pastor say things that I have thought for years and thought I would die before hearing discussed in daylight, I feel risen. I have more compassion on the people who I still think are wrong. The longer I’ve been alive, the more I’ve held to my convictions. Even before Christ was rooted in my heart strongly, I wanted to know God. I always used to assume that if I let go of who I was (but couldn’t be), life would get easier. Funny thing: the more I hold fast to who God made me and the woman he wants me to become, the more he sets me in a place where others will conform to my example, instead of me having to sacrifice parts of myself. I’m not sorry. This is the depth and the width and the height and length of the love of God. He didn’t make me for no reason, but he made me to live out my purpose. For me, that means living passionately, with boldness, and without much fear. I know that God can purify just about anything, even the things that the Devil tells us are too shameful to make holy. In giving thanks to God, I can make most earthly desires reconciled and sanctified to him, provided he brings fruition about.

Realizing how much people long for love but don’t have it, I have a lot of hope for my ministry. My friend Angela thinks that if she and I end up marrying husbands someday, it will be to show the world how good God is, and to demonstrate his redemption through our own immediate families. I think she’s right. I don’t need to get married, but it would be one helluva testimony of God. As I sit in my Intimate Relationships Psychology course, I am so aware of how many people long for the answers about love and don’t have them. I want to live out a compassionate response that can actually demonstrate why people need Jesus, and how much better my life is because of him. I’m not going to crucify people based on relationship sins because if people sin, they probably don’t know what it feels like to be satisfied. I’m not going to be that person who misrepresents the truth by bringing a spirit of constant judgment. If the Holy spirit convicts, he also corrects, encourages, testifies on behalf of God and intercedes for the rest of us sinners. Why can’t everyday Christians be more like that? I’m going to demonstrate what that means and if the Lord wants it, maybe that will be good for all of us. I’m not going to be afraid of this.

It’s a lukewarm truth if it’s not coming out of love. I really do believe that Jesus has power unlike anything else, and I’m going to live my life as a fulfillment of that love. To love people is to fulfill God’s expectations for my life because how else should I testify? Without love, I am a poor steward. My actions will not invalidate the truth.

 

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?

 

Articulating the dark

I’m at this weird spot where God is showing me how he works by absolutely suspending my ability to articulate it. I’m watching him weave through a bunch of different people’s lives, and when it comes to my life, we are just at the beginning of exploring wounds I didn’t even know I had. This is gonna be great. (lol)

It’s like staring at the bottom 98% of an iceberg you really thought was only gonna be an icicle, but it’s here now, and you have to deal with it. Have fun stumbling through that dank and dark cave. You better get used to feeling your way around in there, because so help you, you wont be able to see.

Which honestly is awesome. That’s exactly what I needed to follow a season of gathering confidence to use words in a way that directly makes sense to me. My sense of bravery and the ability to cope was just cut off from me. Ironically, there went my courage.

So it’s weird metaphor soup and verbal surgery, trying to explain the work of the Holy Spirit. But I can see it. I can try to explain it. Still, my words won’t get at that sense of permanence that you get when the spirit really moves. It can’t demonstrate what you see when you are watching chains fall off. I am not God. My words will not do.

To be honest, this is a season that comes after a brief but seemingly lengthy season of people legitimately appreciating my gifts. So I now know that what the Holy Spirit is legit, but whatever I’m supposed to do with them is still a running joke that operates smoothly due to my blindness and God’s omnipotence alone. I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. The things I say and do; I swear it feels like doing the hokey pokey blindfolded. I don’t think I could embarrass myself at this point, because I’m not even sure what standard I’m supposed to be meeting. I can definitely be afraid, and most of the time, I definitely am. Lord only knows why. Cue the underside of the iceberg.

I am curious as to how God wants to unravel the icey block of my cowardice. Feeling the weight of failed opportunities to grow closer. My sense of security is going to have to die. Good thing I can only make sense of other’s understanding and how they are being woven into God’s story, right? Now I know that when the good stuff comes, I can’t make it up. I have no idea what logically follows after this. One day, maybe it’ll make sense strung together, but I doubt I will be the one to make sense of my own words. I guess I’m going to have to get used to speaking things I don’t even understand as truth, and go with the flow of whatever the hell they mean. For the record, that feels really uncomfortable.

Speaking something that somehow blesses someone but having no idea what did it (other than just God at the maximum level of vagueness) is really uncomfortable. Do I smile and nod or just keep listening? Like, cool? If I could understand what I’m doing then I could see what I’m doing and I could make up my own gospel, but that is no longer a reality. It feels like that tunnel in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. All images, some scary stuff, some weirdly graphic insect pictures, and an indecipherable stream of consciousness. Ironically, I think that part of the story was meant to symbolize what it’s meant to grow up.

I know that my weakness is probably a clever scheme by which God will (hopefully) be glorified, but in the meantime, I’m just a tad bit confused. Stay tuned to stumble with me, and figure out where exactly that sense of clarity comes from.

 

Leave it up to God

I have many questions for how I’m supposed to live my life.

How will I find a spouse who respects my body, my gifts, and my mind?

How will I raise my children in a way that is better than my parents did, and gets progressively better every generation?

How do I find meaningful work to use what God has given me?

It’s a lot easier to trust that his will be done.

Here is something that I realized early this morning, while I still couldn’t sleep:

The Lord is my defender. He knows exactly what he is doing. I don’t have to know as much as him or be as talented as he is, because he is guiding me. He is good in literally everything he does.

I will leave the explanations up to God. Sometimes I speak and I don’t even understand what I’ve just spoken; I come to understand it months, days, or years later. The funny thing about God is that he can put words in me and I have no idea why he wants them spoken. But perhaps that’s not up to me.

The Lord is a righteous judge. He knows what he’s doing. All that is required of me is to cling to his word, his Son, and his Spirit, and be willing to move as his will be done. The heavy lifting I surrender to him. It is not my responsibility to fight for myself.

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.