Monday, November 7, 2016

I'm a Trainwreck but Jesus Loves Me

I carried my laptop an hour out into the woods on a very muddy day to write this.  Maybe not wise, but definitely the most pleasant blog post writing experience I've had, except for the occasional mosquito.

I’m not even surprised that anxiety is such a thing for people my age.  I tend to be laid back to a fault, but today I felt that chest-tightening, tear-welling monster creeping up on me as soon as I got out of bed.  I usually fight that beast by tearing the kitchen apart in pursuit of some really elaborate dessert, but since the sink was already full of various chocolate-goo-covered baking implements from my escapade last night, I put on my Chacos and my best / ugliest flannel from Goodwill and disappeared into the woods behind my dorm.  I think Thoreau might have been on to something, because walking in nature does me so much more good than it seems like it should, considering how simple it is.  Greater than the sum of its parts, or something. 

Today I flipped through my well-worn mental list of things that could possibly be making me anxious. Homework That I Have Not Yet Done and Assignments That Have Received Less Than Satisfactory Grades are a given; I am rarely not undergoing some variety of low-level, GPA-related stress.  And next on the list is usually My Relationships With People, followed by How Messy My Room Is and How Many Hours of Sleep I Got Last Night.  Today, I’m settling on My Relationships with People as the cause for my anxious heart.  Dude, people are a mess.   I love them, but wow, would my life be simpler if all I needed or wanted was myself.  Or if they and I were less messy.  A favorite professor last year often told my class (and he meant this in the best possible way), “You’re all little trainwrecks, which makes you endlessly fascinating.” I’m weirdly obsessed with that line, despite the fact that it calls me a trainwreck.  I find it beautifully accurate.  I think it’s comforting to hear what I already kind of know said aloud: humans are anxiety-inducing, inconsistent, trainwrecks. 

Today I feel like an extra-wreckable train, or maybe a train that’s come into contact with one too many other wreck-prone trains.  I realized that a lot of the anxiety I’m feeling goes beyond the typical relational worries of whether I’ve called my mom enough lately or supported my roommates like I feel I should be (and are my dirty dishes still sitting in the sink? probably); it’s brought on by fear caused by the leftovers of having been hurt.  Like, really well-hidden, long-forgotten leftovers, shoved in the back of the fridge to pretend they don’t exist.  I am most certainly speaking from experience.

Over the last couple weeks, my roommate and I started to notice a weird smell in the kitchen.  We ignored it for a while; we took out the trash and pretended that the smell got better when we did or made the air flammable with apple cinnamon Febreeze (because, fall).  Eventually, we investigated a couple Tupperware containers and checked the expiration dates on the dairy products.  The smell shifted a little bit in its composition, but mostly it got worse.  One night, she’d had enough and took every single item out, putting every container through a rigorous inspection and disinfecting everything.  And she found the most evil smelling old chicken beast that has ever disgraced anyone’s nostrils.  I kid you not, I cried when I smelled it.  Ew.  We threw it away promptly, took the trash bag to the dumpster, and with that room 117 rejoiced because the smell was gone.

Maybe the analogy is obvious:  we (unknowingly) hid the chicken breast in the fridge, probably because someone was too busy to deal with it one day, and eventually forgot it was there.  We couldn’t see it, even when we tried, but we most definitely felt the effects of its disgustingness.  Kind of like when I’m hurt and I act like I’m not.  I eventually get busy and forget that I’m hurt, and maybe other people can’t tell, either, because the change starts out subtle. But it affects me.  I end up living hurt – I’m a little less willing to trust, slightly more easily offended, and unsure of my worth.

I’m really good at letting old chicken rot in the fridge of my soul.  Don’t judge me; that’s a great analogy and you know it.  Admitting to having been hurt and then cleaning up the mess of that is so unpleasant, and often the easy way to avoid that responsibility is to fake that I’m fine.  I tell myself that what other people do doesn’t affect me; or that if it did at one time, I’m over it (side note:  isn’t it funny how much easier it is to admit to a past hurt than a present one?); that I don’t have a right to be wounded by a certain thing or another; that I should expect that this will happen – (people have, after all, a trainwreck nature – and haven’t I done my fair share of damage?).  This rationalization takes about 35 seconds, and shortly thereafter I realize that I have a paper due like yesterday or that I promised to call my little sister, and the raw chicken breast that I’m refusing to acknowledge exists is shoved to the back of the shelf.  (Honestly I’m kind of weirded out by this chicken analogy but I’m sticking with it.) Forgotten and rotted and making my life stink, unbeknownst to me.

So, whether I know it or not, the hurt continues to exist and it causes me to live the way that someone who has an unhealed hurt lives.  People with unhealed hurts are (and this is not based on extensive research; I’m speaking only from my personal experience) above all, afraid of being hurt again.  They protect the places where they’re vulnerable.  For me:  I don’t allow myself to care too deeply for people.  Specifically, I’m the first to let go of hugs and to leave conversations and I’m careful not to be too excited to see someone unless I know they’ll act equally as excited to see me.  Big-picture, I wait and try to measure how much someone cares about me before I decide what my actions towards them are going to look like.  I think it’s a very rational approach.  As such, it results in my spending a lot of time in analysis of how I’m being treated by other humans and plugging that into algorithms that output my reciprocating actions.  And then consequently worrying about whether I got it right. 

And yes, it’s highly possible that that’s an anxiety-inducing process.  (By “highly possible” I mean: it definitely is anxiety-producing.)  But, in a really backwards way, when I’m in a place of hurt it makes me feel safe to limit the ways that I love people, therefore limiting my vulnerability and the risk of re-injury.  In a world where people are overwhelmingly likely to be imperfect and I’m so prone to being hurt by their imperfections (or mine), any other less rational, less careful approach would be idiotically reckless.

Except, Jesus.  I’m learning right now about how the presence of Jesus in my life means that what makes sense in my head is not the be all, end all.*  That the standard against which I measure myself is not other human beings, but the holiness of God.  Lol at that concept, because I think if me and Jesus were on a bar chart you probably wouldn’t be able to see my bar.  I KNOW, wow.  Just for fun, let’s run that comparison and see what that looks like. 

Let’s compare me to Jesus.  The God of the Bible didn’t run statistics to decide how to love people.  (I do, informally.)  He created and fiercely committed himself to generations of trainwreck people who would most likely be really ungrateful for it.  They wouldn’t love him back.  They would ignore his existence while he watched, wanting desperately to be close to them.  They’d walk away from him and get into trouble, and he’d bail them out again and again – just for an uncertain chance at a relationship. He would pursue them with the open offer of his whole self while they chased after cheap, fake substitutes.  I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it is to love like that.  Create that story quickly for yourself: what would it look like to pursue every single person with all-out love?  God’s heart is wounded again and again and again, but he hasn’t held back even a little. 

If God loved me like I love people, he surely would have removed himself a safe distance from me as soon as he knew me.  If I met me, and knew my tendencies fully like Jesus does, I can see myself saying, “Wow, is this girl a mess.  She’s volatile.  I don’t think it’s worth the risk.  I’d really, really rather not go there.” All while slowly backing away on violently shaking legs.  But God looks at the mess that I am and knows without a doubt that I am not good enough for him and fully expects that I will hurt him countless times and says, “I don’t care.  I love you.  I love you.  I love you.”  And when I forget about him he stays in hopes that I’ll remember.  And when I love him he rejoices.  And he says the same of you and he does the same for you, whether you ask him to or not.  Are you crying yet?  I’m crying. (I cry at everything.  This is worth it, though.)

You see, my God doesn’t love rationally.  Not even close.  If he did a risk-reward analysis for loving humans and was in this the same way people are in this, he’d be way out – but he’s not.  He fully knows the certain danger that comes with the way that he loves, and then he does it anyway.  That is the kind of love that the God I believe in is made out of.  I am constantly receiving love that isn’t based on the way that I act.  That has big, big implications for the way that I live.

When I make my “How Much Love I Give People” algorithm, the input should no longer be other-people-based.  It’s Jesus-based, because his love is so true and real that it makes everything else irrelevant.  And with that simple (yet astronomically important) change made, the output is me loving like Jesus does rather than loving like a hurt Allie.  Aka, in a way that risks getting hurt, in the same place and way that I was before, again.  It’s knowing that the love I give won’t always be returned to me and caring deeply for the people who won’t return it.

Love like that cannot come from a place of back-of-the-fridge, ignored, unhealed hurt.  Instead, it has to come from a place of perfect love – like, love that is completely independent of outside influences.  Kind of (as in, exactly) like) the way that God loves. 

To be broken and love people wholly at the same time means that the love I give has to have nothing to do with me.  The more that I can be drinking of the perfect love that Jesus gives me constantly, the closer I can be to giving people a love uncolored by how broken I am.  Which allows me to love without fear or the anxiety that comes with desperately protecting myself where I’m vulnerable.  It allows me to be real with myself about how I’m hurt and to love people well at the same time.  And in that way, the perfect love of Jesus can reach in and heal me and the people around me.**

(FYI, my favorite way that I’ve learned about God’s love is in the book of Hosea.  Go read it.  It’s so dang beautiful.)

Recap:  I’m hurt.  I can’t love people when I’m hurt.  Jesus can. So I’d do a lot better to love with Jesus’s love than my love.  I’m still going to mess up.  Maybe something of that sounds like you talking.  If so, it would appear that we’re in this together - let’s do this.   

*What the heck does “be all, end all” even mean?  And why am I using that phrase if I don’t know what it means?

**Before publishing this post, I sent it to my dad for editing.  He responded with, among other things, some pretty wise advice, which I’m using as a disclaimer to what would otherwise be a somewhat unrealistic picture of how relationships between people who know Jesus will look.  Disclaimer: People will still hurt people.  Dad says, “I am certainly one of the people who has wounded you in our relationship with my sometimes blunt words and tendency to be too preoccupied with my own thoughts to listen to others carefully.  I don't lose sleep over it.  A wise Christian writer (Henri Nouwen) clued me in that all human beings wound other human beings because we ourselves are wounded.  Though I have great parents who I wouldn't trade for anything, I have wounds that I carry from them, though I consider them pretty minor.  So I am confident whatever wounds I have inflicted on you will be used by God in his way.”

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Backwards Branch

My mom is an avid Facebook-er.  She grams a lot and can hashtag with the best of them.  Also, her emoji use is on point.

All of those skills add up to her being able to share what's going on in her life in a consistent, direct,  eloquent way (because, let's be honest, can you really express what you're feeling accurately without  emojis?)  She makes me ashamed to call myself a Gen-Yer.  I, on the other hand, am not conscientious about communicating, regardless of the medium.  If I have something going on, I won't yak about it.  I won't talk about it.  I won't write you a letter, nor will I text you.  I won't sign language.  Nothing.  So, if you interact with my mom on any social media platform, you probably know more about my life than if you speak to me in person on a regular basis.

This is my public apology for that.

This is also my public announcement that there's a good chance that that will never change (although I'm trying.)

This is also my public attempt at trying to amend that a little bit.

Sorry attempt at said amendment: Hi, friends. My family's moving.  Which you probably already knew.  Because of my mom (see above).

We're peacing out of our home in the inner suburbs of Detroit, Michigan and will eventually dump everything out of the cardboard Home Depot boxes into a new house somewhere in the vicinity of a single stoplight in westish central Missouri.  Why? God closed doors in Michigan and opened them in Missouri.  The story could get a lot more detailed than that, and if you want to hear the specifics of how good God has been showing Himself to be please ask.  We'll talk.  At the heart of it, though, we're moving because God showed us a better place to be than where we are.  Better as in: closer to where He can shape us and teach us and help us best use our gifts.

I've spent most of this summer away from my family at camp in northern Michigan, but I'm home this weekend to share some lasts with the family.  Eating in the back yard with 15+ years' worth of people who have shared life with us.  Finally getting up the courage to check out the ultrahipster coffee shop I've had my eye on.  Making a final trip to the 2-minutes-away Kroger and chatting it up with Pearli, the check out lady who's watched us grow up.  Having church in the place where my siblings and I spent our grade school years.  Throwing away as much as possible and packing the rest.  Enjoying our home and our neighbors for a few more days.

Around the same time that I started to become a less permanent fixture in our house, my family decided to start planting a garden during the summer. One of my favorite things to do when I'm home is to look out the kitchen window and see how our plant babies are growing - everything from tiny pokes of green to almost-edible ears of corn is exciting.  This morning, I stood by the coffee maker and looked out the window. A couple green beans are hiding behind leaves in one row, and other plants are weeks away from producing tomatoes or peppers or pumpkins.  As I looked at the yet-to-bloom plants, I mentally rewound them back into the ground, where they were the day we planted them months ago.  The seeds were laid with full anticipation of eating the grown up version of them on the back porch - not just this year, but over and over again.  While seeds began to take root in our backyard dirt patch, we had no idea that we'd be asked to tear ours up and start again somewhere else before our garden was through.  I wonder if we'd have planted anything had we known how soon we'd be leaving it. 

Can I tell the truth?  I'm kind of bummed that we don't get to eat the vegetables from our garden this year.  I feel a little bit entitled to the final product since I was a part of the planting.   And by "eat the vegetables from our garden," I mean that I'm bummed that the dozens of little things that my family's started here and claimed as ours aren't going to continue to grow where I can see them.  My mom has a successful business; my dad was building a varsity volleyball program; my little brother's been growing a swing dance event at our church; my little sister's connecting her community in preparation for high school; we've all got a rich network of friends and support people.  All of that stuff promised a lot for our future here, and it hurts my heart a little bit that those things are being cut off as we're transplanted.  It feels like there's a lot we're missing out on.

The pain that comes with being cut off reveals how thick and tough my connection with the things I've gotten used to has become - it's the kind of connection that should only exist between me and the Giver of all of it.  As usual, Jesus has something to say about that:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. | john 15: 3-8 |

I absolutely love this image of Jesus as a vine and myself as a branch.  Only in him do I produce fruit; (fruit - read: business, volleyball team, dance, circles of friends) without him I simply can't.  In this passage, I'm commanded to remain in Jesus.  I think that, too often, I choose to cling to the fruit rather than to the vine that gives me life.  It sounds really backwards, doesn't it?  But it's such a thing for me.  Instead of abiding in Jesus, I claim whatever he's produced through me and don't let go.  And it works, kind of, because I get to hang on to the fruit.  But before long, my connection with the vine gets weak and the fruit gets heavy and it and me go tumbling off. Which is the opposite of abiding in Jesus.  Which sucks. 

My tendency towards being a backwards, confused branch means that I need regular pruning via the gardener (that's God.)  He cuts away the fruits that I start to depend on too much for comfort or self-promotion or enjoyment to remind me of where the life-giving connection is, apart from which I can do nothing.  I have to be continually shown that "remain in me" does not mean "remain in the circle of friends I gave you" or "remain in the ministry that started here" or "remain in the job you're passionate about."  It means, simply, to grow my connection with the vine and allow fruit to be produced and harvested as it will - acknowledging that it was God's fruit all along, not mine.   Allowing someone else to sit on the patio and eat my green beans. 

The book of James begins with a beautiful picture of that kind of steadfastness to Jesus.  

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  | james 1:2-4 |

Again, we're asked to remain - over time and regardless of circumstances.   That in which we remain is of huge importance.  If we attempt to remain in the way that we've chosen to interpret Jesus - our beliefs, how we feel comfortable practicing our faith, a place we want to be, relationships we want grow - we chase after those things rather than Jesus himself.  We remain in the image we construct of the vine rather than, um, the vine.   I didn't make up that analysis by myself - I'm reading a great book about James by Everett Hill.  He goes on to say,

"The steadfastness that James proposes holds faith with an open hand.  This means being willing to admit fault and deeply desiring to seek out the truth.  Sometimes we overcomplicate simple things and becomes so wrapped up in minutia that we no longer see the cross.  Other times, we build our own religious traditions that pull us away from our main focus, who is Jesus.  No matter how beautiful you make a padded cell, it is still going to keep you from going anywhere.  Sticking proudly with the sinking ship of your own piety is ridiculous when Jesus is right there to rescue."   

With that in perspective, I want to embrace the discomfort that comes from letting go of things that I unrightfully hold tightly as mine,  knowing that the purpose of the cutting-off is to draw me closer to the One from whom all good things come.  I want to broaden my gaze so that I can see that God's vision is way, way bigger than the branch of me and the fruit that I produce - that it's He, not I, who is entitled to see things grow full circle.  Why? Because it's all about God's glorification, not anything to do with me. Jesus said.

"This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

That's it.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

One for the Procrastinators

You know those times when it's the weekend before finals and you tell your group for your very important group project that your part of the paper is going to be done tonight for sure but then somehow you find yourself casually stalking . . . yourself on Facebook?

If you hadn't known about those times before,  you're about to because I bet you're probably trying to write a paper or do something similarly productive right now and you'd rather be stalking yourself on Facebook so now that you know that that's an activity you're going to do it. Yo welcome. (Also, I am about to put forth what I believe is a pretty solid argument for the benefits of stalking yourself on social media. So.)

Not going to lie, I stalk myself on social media pretty frequently.  It might be because I'm obsessed with myself, but usually it's either on Instagram or it's my Facebook photos, so I like to think of it as looking through a scrapbook. Reminiscing, reliving memories, etc. Also, perhaps casually glancing at the rating given to said memories by other people.  Such is the world we live in. I digress.  Today was a Facebook photo stalking kind of day.  As I endlessly clicked the arrow on the right side of the picture to scroll further and further towards August and the beginning of college, trying to numb the guilt of not working on the important group paper that I'm still refusing to write, I was reminded of several things:

1. I ran a half marathon in October.  What?  It was not fast.  It was not pretty.  I stopped being nice to my running buddy around mile 3.  But we didn't stop and I have the t-shirt to prove it, and as I sit on my couch eating cookies, it doesn't seem real.

me 10.17.15

              1. b.  I am definitely no longer capable of running a half marathon.

me currently

2. I go to college in the coolest place ever. The area between Allendale, Grand Rapids, and Holland on the west side of Michigan is beautiful and interesting, with a lot of great places, both outdoorsy and indoorsy, to explore.  Which keeps me really happy.

3. I had my nose pierced for a minute.  (Note:  I kept it in long enough for our family Christmas.  My grandma wasn't a fan.)

On that note, I got to spend Christmas in a giant cabin with a big group of my extended family who I love a lot and rarely see and that's wonderful.

look how cute they are

4. College was really hard at first. (See: This photo from move in day in which I am forcing a smile but am secretly terrified and sad and trying to act like I am enjoying the process of slowly being ripped away from my family like a Bandaid or something else sticky that you get stuck to you and have to rip off yourself.)

 It still is really hard sometimes.  Because life is hard and, although college is a fun part of life, it's still life.  Ya dig?

5. I have been given (by God) some truly amazing human beings throughout the last 9 months.  (I wish I could come up with a less cliche phrase to describe these people than "truly amazing" so that I could better convey their true amazingness.  Maybe that'll happen in the editing stage of writing this post. Let's be honest, this post probably will not be edited.) This is one that really makes my heart (and eyeballs) melt.  The amount of times this year that I've looked around at the people who I get to be around, here at college and at home, and have just been actually amazed, is a lot.  The phrase "my cup overflows" comes to mind.  (Yeah, that's right - I quote the Bible in my thoughts.)  The scariest thing about coming to college was finding new people, and WOW has God showed up. Wow, wow, wow.

6.  I really like my family.  I've spent an above average amount of time with my immediate family this year compared to most college students, partly due to the fact that I love them and partly because I tore my ACL and had to come home for about 4 weekends in a row for doctors' appointments.  Confession: I definitely had some frustration with being at home so often and feeling like I was missing things at school.  Don't worry; I got over it.  God's been teaching me to be content with where I'm placed and to see him working there rather than plotting an escape plan.  I'm not good at it yet but I am at least to the point where I know that it's a thing.  And I realized that, even though now feels like a time that I'm supposed to be very independent and an adult and doing things on my own and not living at home every other weekend, this extra time with them has been a really unique gift that not all college kids get.  Also, my family rocks.

the easter bunny in the bottom right photo is my sister. so yes, it does belong in the family collage.

7. #blessed.  I hate using the word "blessed" to talk only about the happy, comfortable things that happen to me because that implies that the hard, frustrating things aren't of God, and I believe that they are.  So let me take this opportunity to not use "blessed" in that way and to dispel any idea forming in your head that I've spent my year being stereotypically hashtagblessed, buying greeting cards, watching sunsets, eating fancy dessert, laughing nonchalantly with my friends, and doing similarly Insta-friendly things - because, no.  I've spent this year doing those things sometimes, plus having lot of other experiences that haven't been that fun but that I know God's used to grow me and that have probably been more important than the fun things. I've cried frustrated tears a lot of times, and a lot of times they're directed at myself because I've messed up something again and for some reason I still expect perfection of me. I've had pretty heartbreaking conversations with friends.  I've watched family walk through stupid, scary, crappy health issues.  I tore my ACL and crutched around for 3 weeks - not the biggest of bad things to happen by a long shot, but it would admittedly have made my life much easier if my ligaments would have just remained intact.  I've felt lonely and I've said the wrong thing at the wrong time. I've tried to be friends with people who I can't be myself around.  One time my socks got really wet and I had to dry them off in the hand dryer of the Taco Bell bathroom (alone).  It has not been easy.

I don't have pictures of that stuff for whatever reason.  Largely because I feel like it would be really emo to take a picture of myself crying while talking to my mom on the phone.  It's not like the thought has never occurred to me - you guys, I take photos of EVERYTHING.  BUT if I did, if I just took the photos, emo or not, and posted them on social media and then stalked myself, I'd have such a cool picture of the way that God has worked this year, especially in the hard stuff.  Which is what I'm referring to when I say "#blessed".  I'm overwhelmed by his goodness when I'm just looking through the social-media safe pictures, so whatever the next step up from "overwhelmed" is, that's what I am when I consider everything else he's been up to.

Basically, I'm forseeing a very quiet car ride home from school for the summer when my mom picks me up in a week.  As we drive past the place where I had a hole stabbed through my nose - not once, but multiple times - by a man named Eric with dimple piercings.  As the vehicle keeps moving right on past the bus stops.  As I sit in a private car with enough room to shift weight without snuggling up against a stranger in the seat next to me.  As the scent of a million ounces of fried food being prepped at the cafeteria grows weaker.

 I picture myself shedding a single tear. Or several.  Or my eyes might just get a little more moist than usual.   I have a summer worth looking forward to and I love being home with my family and I'll be back in four months, so I'm not sad about leaving.  I do know, however, that driving away at the end my freshman year of college definitely marks the end of a season, and I've never been great at endings.  I need closure and I need to process. So I sit with my laptop and don't study and write this big long mess of stream-of-consciousness and photos.  And then I post a link on Facebook.  And then I maybe study.  Or got to bed.

God has been good this year.  Just like all of the other years.  Don't worry; he hasn't changed.  If you're reading this, he's probably used you to provide for me in some way, because I do not have it together and I would not be okay by myself.  Thanks for letting him do that.  May the knowledge of his goodness, which never ever changes, stay rooted in my heart and alive in my actions.

 And may I also get 100s on my finals.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

He Chooses Me - Anyway

The goal here is to be open.  Not too open, of course, because this is the internet and nothing goes away and we both know that oversharing is a thing, but maybe a little more open than I'd usually like to be, because that terrifies me so it's probably a good thing to do.

Confession: I just logged into my Webkinz account again and I'm not proud of how long I've spent with my white terrier named Snowflake.  That's not even a joke, I'm actually not proud of it at all.  But I'm pretty close to beating my high score in Goober's Atomic Adventure, and then I'll stop.

Confession:  My roommate made Oreo cheesecake and told me "It's good! You should try some!" so I ate like 3/4 of the pan. But it had Greek yogurt in it so it was healthy. And it was over a span of days, and Oreo cheesecake can definitely be a part of a balanced diet. Get off my back.

Confession: I was craving chocolate yesterday and the only chocolate I had in my room was all cute in a mason jar because it was supposed to be my friend's Christmas present two months ago ... I ate it.   I plan to replace it, but still. #classy #donttellbecky

Okay, it's about to get real. Better writers than me would transition smoothly into the more serious portion of the post so that you wouldn't even notice the shift in tone until it had happened, but I'm struggling so I'll just tell you: we are now moving to the more serious portion of this post. Thanks for your cooperation. Here it is:

Confession:  Jealousy is so real, you guys, and I know firsthand that it's real in my heart.  I'm pretty sure that the root of jealousy is in fear, and I know for a fact that fear isn't from God.  So, as a person who's striving to become more like Christ and to rid my heart of everything that isn't Him in favor of knowing Him better, that's a problem.

Since I was little, writing has been my thing to some extent.  I dictated stories (and elaborate pictures) to my mom before I could handle a pen myself.  As soon as I could write, I started my first novel, which went on to span three pages in a thick red notebook.  I even remember my dad telling my middle-school self that what I wrote was easily better than what some college students produced - so, yeah, I'm kind of a big deal.  I started a blog in high school and enrolled in writing classes in college, and words have always come to me pretty easily - I see it as a skill that God's given me to work with.

Let's not assume that the fact that I just told you that my talent is God-given means that I'm always mindful of that.  I'm just not that good - or good at all - and I don't give him credit.  I forget really easily that I can't claim any skill that I have, because it was God who knit me together in this way.  I've definitely used my writing ability to wait until the night before to begin essays for school, to write cover letters that make me sound better than I am, and to produce clever Instagram captions - meeting self-serving, ultimately meaningless ends. The biggest investment of my talent has been the hours poured into a blog that I secretly kind of hoped would make me famous. (It hasn't, if you were wondering.)  Because I know that writing is something that's naturally pretty easy for me, it's always been a matter of self-centered pride that I do it well. 

Recently, a bunch of other people who do writing well have been brought to my attention, via the Odyssey, via Facebook.  If you're not familiar, The Odyssey is an amalgamation of various average college-ish age people who are either hired to write or submit pieces to the website.  It's  a collective blog.  And apparently, everyone I know has a friend who has had something published.  At least daily, I see a shared post from someone's friend paired with a line or two about how talented and wonderful the writer is.  A lot of them are posts about Jesus, and the praise often includes a bit about the author's pursuit of God and how He is working through them.  And I didn't realize it at first, but every time I'd see one of those posts, there'd be a twinge in my heart. I'm a talented writer too, right? Why isn't it my name at the end of the page with a headshot and a byline? The similarities between them and me - a love for words and for Jesus - make it way too easy for me to draw comparisons; the one glaring difference - level of worldly recognition - makes it way too easy for me to see myself as coming out behind.

All of this heart build-up (that sounds like a commercial for cholesterol medication - maybe that's why I'm not famous yet? I try to write about spiritual turmoil and end up eliciting images of little molecules sticking in an artery.) culminated in one final post from The Odyssey - I don't know what it was, but eventually the jealousy that I didn't know I had got to me. I saw another post written by a passionately Jesus- loving person, and I lost it.  And you can stop picturing a technically-adult girl throwing a temper tantrum because I promise my distress wasn't visible.  But my heart ached; my chest is tightening as I write this.  I read all of the comments, things like "Beautiful words!" "You're so talented!" "You have such a heart for Jesus!" - things that should have made me, as a friend and follower of Jesus, full of joy.  My sinful heart couldn't stop asking, "What about me? This is supposed to be my gift.  I should be the one being praised for my work and used by God. Why is she the one who gets all of that?" 

There is so much pride and insecurity tied up in my questioning, and both of those are rooted in fear.  My fear of being seen for what I am - not good enough - makes me insecure.  My insecurity leads to puffed up, selfish pride in what inconsequential things I can do on my own - because I feel that I need something that I can control to hold up and say "I'm good!  I'm making it!"  Fear is the root of that whole mess, and it's been made clear to me that fear is literally a lie from the devil, always.  Fear is a lie because Christ's victory over everything that I'd ever need to be afraid of is reality - fear cannot exist in the presence of that which has defeated everything truly scary. 

I've seen a pattern develop in my life - the enemy loves to make me afraid so that I'm paralyzed.  He's stronger than me, and brilliant, and so he can use even the beautiful way that my friends serve God to wound my fragile pride, revealing incompetency and insecurity, and keep me from moving into what God wills me to do.  When I see my friends living for Jesus, the enemy loves to whisper lies of "You'll never be like that - why bother?"  and "What you have to offer is already being done - you're not needed" and "Your heart is not devoted to God fully enough - he can't use you." It makes sense that he'd do that.  If I were him, I'd do anything I could to keep the church from being encouraged by God being glorified.  I'd do my best to breed resent and insecurity and negativity among those who, when united, could be used powerfully for God's kingdom.  That's exactly what he does.  And sometimes I'm like, "Hey, you're right.  What I do probably doesn't matter.  So I'll just sit here and play some Webkinz and not try to do anything that could have a lasting impact."

Maybe we can dig into the evils / addictive nature of Webkinz another day.

Let's be aware of the existence of those lies and of the very fact that they. are. lies.  I believe that God can use me incredibly, not because I'm good, but because he's good enough to use even someone like me.  He doesn't need me to be perfect - but He does need me, even in my imperfection, to move.  I need to do something, no matter how much I seem to suck at it, but even the task of doing something badly feels daunting in the face of paralyzing fear.  Why bother. You're not needed.  God can't use someone like you. I don't even want to try, because the devil's lies get so loud that I'm distanced from the fact of how big and strong and good my God is.  All I see is me - incapable, with a divided heart and feeble will, standing afraid as I'm faced with the truth of my weakness.

I can't do things perfectly on my own.  I can't even do things imperfectly on my own, because I'm afraid to.  Praise God that the words of 1 John 4 are true: "God is love. . . . There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear."  The presence of God drives out my fear.  When the enemy tells me:

You'll never be like that - why bother?
What you have to offer is being done - you're not needed.
Your heart is not devoted to God fully enough - he can't use you.

my loving God says:

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. All the days ordained for you were written in my book before one of them came to be.  My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 

When he tells me that, I believe him.  Unlike my dad telling his eleven-year-old daughter that her writing is as good as a college student's, God has no bias.  He is holy and all-knowing and just, so he's very aware of all the ways in which I fall short. He's the almighty creator of the whole entire universe, so I don't think he has to be nice to me.  My strength compared to his is so small - he doesn't need me. 

In his great love, he chooses me anyway. 

With a God whose love is powerful enough to override every way in which I don't measure up, what can I possibly be afraid of?  What insecurity is so big that God's "I love you anyway" isn't enough to put it to rest?  I don't ever have to be afraid that God can't use me, and I definitely don't have to compare myself to any other person.  My God calls me his, so what does anyone else matter?

Praise God for all of that, am I right? Wow.

May I remember that I'm not good enough, but that my not-good-enough is covered in His more-than-enough, always. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

GR - Where to Go

I’m kind of a city person, for a number of reasons. ( I used the term "city person" pretty lightly.  I'm not street smart. I haven't been to that many big cities.  I'd probably get lost, stolen from, stepped on, and otherwise abused on a subway. I have no sense of direction. I just like cities.)  1. I like food.  I mean, I really like it.  This Sunday, I ate some chocolate – covered – pretzel stuffed pancakes with caramel sauce on top and, as of 10 AM on Wednesday, that first bite moment is still the highlight of my week.  2.  I like to look at things.  Cities are stuffed blue in the face with novelties – old skyscrapers, street art, cobblestone roads.  When I walk around, I do a lot of almost running into things because I'm so busy trying to take it all in.  3.  I like to walk.  I appreciate the fact a lot of big cities are set up in a way that lets me walk wherever I want to go, or walk just for the sake of walking and stumble across food or novel things in the meantime. 

The city of Grand Rapids satisfies all of those desires nicely.  I’ve eaten cookie dough cheesecake and turkey quinoa salad and sweet potato sushi and barbecue quesadillas and feta cheese bread and a jalapeno popper omelet and banana bread French toast; I’ve had espresso in various forms at The Lantern, The Bitter End, Madcap, Local Mocha, Go Java, and the local Starbucks and Biggby franchises.  I’ve seen a 10-foot-tall blue giraffe and walked through an elevated tunnel that crosses several blocks and wandered through what used to be the grand early 20th century Pantlind Hotel and tried to act cooler than I am at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and geeked out at the marble-columned public library and pretended to have a deep understanding of hockey at a Griffins game and walked the river and taken photos on the lit-up blue people bridge at night and by the Pearl Street Bridge mural of the fish jumping out of the water.  I’ve probably walked at least fifty miles.  I don’t know.  That’s a very rough estimate, based on no actual data. 

I like all of those things about cities, and that list of experiences should make it hard to choose just one location to recommend. Except it’s not.  I like food and novelties and walking, but I absolutely love people watching.  And the best people-watching I’ve found so far has been on a bench in Rosa Parks circle. 

Some tips, if you’re looking to have the same results that I did:  

1.       | Go alone.  Chances are that if you bring a friend or two to people watch with you, a) your well-meaning friend will distract you from your task or b) someone will tell a joke or trip on a sidewalk crack the two of you will become a spectacle, thus becoming the watched rather than the watchers.  When people watching, it’s of utmost important that you remain unobserved, a meticulously camouflaged stock character reading the newspaper or drinking a coffee.

2.      |That being said, be safe.  Don’t go people watching by yourself and follow voices into an abandoned building.  Don’t go people watching by yourself in an unfamiliar area late at night.  Don’t go people watching by yourself in a stranger’s car.  As interesting as all of those experiences would almost definitely be, I can’t recommend any of them in good conscious.

3.      | That being said, keep an open mind.  Strangers aren’t inherently dangerous.  Not every person dressed in old clothes is going to approach you and ask for money.  And not everyone who asks for money is going to use it to buy drugs. (And even if they do – I can’t help but wonder – so what?) Assume the best – be smart – but assume the best.

If you find the right park bench in Rosa Parks Circle, you can sit comfortably with enough room for your backpack on one side and another person on the other.  (Another reason to go alone: your backpack needs somewhere to sit.  The other person needs somewhere to sit. Rosa Parks Circle benches are 3-person benches, so it works.) 

If you’re around on a cloudless, almost - fall day, you chance a meeting with the peacekeeper of Rosa Parks Circle.  He’s not the police, but he says they’re tight.  When I met him, he was monochromatic in black boots, jeans, and band t-shirt.  His face is blurry now – I know that he definitely had a constellation of facial piercings and his hair was longish.  I vaguely recall tattoos, but that could very well be my mind completing a stereotype to make him fit into my understanding of the world better. He was fresh from his most recent peace-keeping mission – he’d broken up a fight the night before, held things under control until the police showed up. 

“People know not to mess with me.”

Which easily could have been seen as a threat, but I continued eating my turkey sub and let him continue talking.  He had plans to go pick up his wages from his employer later that day, and I told him about how I was killing time waiting for the bus to Holland.  He likes movies – he listed off a dozen that day that I’ve still never heard of other than from him. If you meet him, he’s good for a recommendation about anything that’s showing at the time. 

As we talke, conversation stalled a couple times - I didn't feel obligated to turn it over again, but chewed through the pauses.  His boss is a good guy, he told me.  They eat dinner together sometimes - they were planning to later that night.  I wish I could remember more of the conversation.

I stood up to go catch my bus – and I admit, I left earlier than I needed to because I was sick of how uncomfortable the encounter made me.  He told me that I was beautiful, and I said “thanks” and “have a good day.”  I walked towards Monroe; he didn’t follow, although the paranoid part of my brain wouldn’t have been surprised. 
I’d recommend the bench in Rosa Parks circle. Some tips, if you’re looking to have better results than I did:

1.     | Introduce yourself like they teach you to in interviews when you meet someone for the first time.  Look him or her in the eye, give your name and ask for theirs, shake hands.  Treat whoever asks to sit down like they matter without looking first, because they do and looking isn’t the most useful way of gathering information, anyway. 

2.      | Offer your extra apple – not like you would to someone who you’re sorry for, but like you would to a friend.  Just casual, ya know? 

3.    |  Stay until the bus comes.  Ask for more stories, and then nod and listen. Make eye contact – again, even if you keep getting distracted by the piercings or you’d rather just not. Glean as much vicarious human experience as you can and pour out dignified personal interaction.  

It’d probably be helpful if I could remember the exact bench – your best bet is to keep trying them until you find one that works.  I’m sure it depends on the day and the season and other factors like that. Also, I wouldn’t be mad if you updated me on how it goes.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Day in the Life

9:03 pm, January 30, 2016.  (So, yesterday night.)  I took the elevator down one flight of stairs and hobbled across the building to visit my friend Anna in her room for an evening of chick flick watching and homework doing.  (But, let's be honest, what did we actually do? Not much homework.)  You'd never guess, but Anna's big into Hallmark movies.  I mean, she's probably seen all of them.  She recognizes like every single actor - "I liked him better when his hair was longer and he was with that blonde girl" - and she's got the basic plot structure down to a science.  We watched a Hallmark movie.

She'd been marathoning, but by the time I got there it was "Dater's Handbook."  You know, the one where the girl has a bad dating history and is about to give up until two handsome men fall into her lap simultaneously and she has to choose just one (it's a hard life), but then a conflict happens and all seems lost until the dramatic resolution in the last ten seconds of the movie.  This one featured Cass, Robert, and George.  You guys, George was the worst and Robert had the cutest dog ever, but of course Cass chose George first before realizing how awful he was and meeting Robert at the lantern festival to say she was sorry.  I yell at the TV during chick flicks more than most probably all all guys yell at the TV watching football. 

The problem with me and Hallmark movies is that, sometimes, I have a hard time understanding that they are not reality.  I mean, I realize that it's probably unlikely that I'll be seated with a handsome stranger at a wedding and immediately hit it off, happen serendipitously upon him the next day while we're both out running (in our matching running outfits, with our very similar dogs who immediately become BFFs), that he'll find out my mom's favorite band and take both of us to see them in concert (complete with limousine service), and we'll finally realize how much we love each other right at the moment that the lanterns are released at the festival.  But it's possible. It definitely is.  Statistically speaking, it could happen to me any time.  So, last night, after being reminded by "Dater's Handbook" of the (albeit improbable) reality that is a good Hallmark ending, I told Anna that I was going to get up early to do my hair today.  I said something like "I might be meeting my future husband tomorrow, so I have to be ready."  And  you know what? I did.  I even washed my hair in the same morning, and I went to church where all the attractive Christian young men are, totally convinced that I was probably going to meet my future husband.

Well, bummer you guys, because today (so far) is not that kind of day. It's 8:34 p.m., and all I've gotten is a yak from a girl hoping that I was gay. So.

After church, I got back to my room with about 15 minutes until I needed to leave for a Mary Kay appointment.  I hadn't had lunch, so I ate a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter instead.  I do that a lot.  I ALMOST ran out the door without brushing my teeth, but then I realized that peanut butter breath is not appealing, so I stopped to take care of mine.  I didn't bother to turn the lights on, because I was in a hurry and I am nothing if not efficiency itself.  I grabbed the toothpaste and made sure to use plenty - you know, to realllly mask the smell of peanut butter.  I was brushing so fast that it took me a while to realize that it didn't taste the same. 

"Oh, it must just be kind of old." (What? No. Why would that even-? No.)

As I continued brushing, I realized that what I was distributing all over my teeth was definitely not expired toothpaste.  This toothpaste was just way too not-toothpastey.  It tasted bitter, and it wasn't dissolving in my mouth - it was slimy and it wasn't going away.  As reality set in, I checked the bottle, juuuust in case.

I turned on the light and looked at the tube on the counter.

pc: google
And promptly spit my mouthful of anti itch cream straight at the mirror, because I didn't have time to aim for the sink.  And screamed something like EW EW EW LOOK WHAT I JUST DID EW EW EW and ran into the living room and threw the stupid anti itch cream at my roommate, who, bless her soul, did not throw it back at me, but calmly read the label and told me it wasn't poisonous between fits of laughter. 
It takes a LOT of toothpaste to counteract the affects of brushing your teeth with hydrocortisone. 
Moral of the story: sometimes you go into the day expecting to meet your future husband, and most of the time (in my experience thus far) it's not that kind of day.  It's the kind of day where you brush your teeth with freaking anti itch cream and find out that someone is hoping that "the girl in the maroon baseball tee with the crutches" is gay. 
Good news, though.  I still believe in Hallmark movies.  Someone thinks I'm attractive.  My mouth isn't remotely itchy.  And I might be meeting my future husband tomorrow.
P.S. Lol at this real toothpaste that perfectly describes me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How to Get People to be Nice to You

Basically, get yourself some crutches, stat.  (I just googled "stat." Your friends at Wikipedia say it's from the Latin statis, which means immediately.  If you were wondering.) Don't believe me? Please enjoy this log of nice things that people have done for me while I have been on crutches.

-told me "You rock" for walking up some stairs
-carried my food
-let me call shotgun before the car was even in sight
-opened doors
-said my name excitedly when we passed by each other
-gave up their seat for me on the bus
-let me get in front of them in line for the bus (at prime bus riding time)
-put the handicap ramp down so I could get on the bus as easily as possible
-not judged me for taking the elevator to go down or up one floor
-offered me a ride to my classes
-offered to switch beds with me
-offered to steal her ex-boyfriend's truck to take me to the doctor
-asked how I was doing
-gave me a quarter
-brought me crutches
-let me borrow various items (mixed vegetables, ibuprofen, ice pack, ace bandage, page protectors)
-told me "I hope you feel better"
-told me that I was probably capable of ice skating on one leg (it feels good to be believed in)
-offered to walk places that I didn't want to for me
-offered to carry me around

That's a twenty item list, if you weren't counting.  So, I'm just saying, invest in some crutches.  Use them when you feel a little hopeless about humans.  So, we might ignore each other and let doors close behind us most of the time, but crutch chivalry is still alive and well.

Really, though, what if we were always as nice to each other as we are to people on crutches?  I mean, I'm not about to use these things any more than I have to, but I like having people be nice to me.  Maybe we should all just view each other as if we're all on crutches.  Or maybe more like 50%, so that the other 50% could be the ones doing nice things for the crutch people.

Treat someone like they're on crutches today.

(Someone should make that into a cute graphic in white calligraphy over a picture of the outdoors or coffee or happy, attractive people or something.)

Oops, just did.  That's pinnable.  Go nuts.

Real talk, though.  God has been so cool in providing for what I need.  Within 12 hours of hurting myself, I had crutches, a ride to classes, a ride to the doctor, stuff to ice my knee with, and had received a really cool text about relying on Jesus for strength and joy from someone who had no idea that I needed it a little extra.  Also, I LOVE sleeping on the couch and I get to do it every day for at least this week, so I'm pretty content.  


Monday, January 18, 2016

Hi, Mom!

My mom misses the blog.

So I'm writing.  Except this time I'm just writing for my mom.  So, if you're not my mom and you're here, that's great, but just keep in my mind that this content might be a little bit off for you, because, well, you're not my mom.

College is good.  This semester especially - I'm pretty excited about it.  I have a couple of pretty cool opportunities coming up in the near future.  One of them involves working with the GVSU version of Humans of New York, which I'm so excited about.  The outline for what I'll be doing as a part of that is still very, very vague, but, man, I'm just so pumped anyway!

I've also recently (as in, earlier this afternoon) been offered an interview to become an RA at my school.  Interviews happen in two weeks, and whenever I get nervous I just drown that out with images of myself baking endless batches of cookies for my adoring residents.  It's pretty competitive here - there are about 200 of us going for 50 positions.  I feel like my camp counselor skills are going to come in handy, but we'll see.  Sometimes no amount of skill can white out the innate awkwardness in me that tends to rear its head in high-pressure, interview situations. 

Most of all, though, I'm excited to see what God does in my life.  I have a great community of Christian people to support me here at GV - our on-campus ministry is incredible, and I love my small group and my church.  Really, though, those things are usually the highlights of my week.  I'm blessed to have small group leaders and friends who not only teach the Bible but set an example of a life devoted to Jesus, and I am constantly thankful for that. 

God's been working around me in some very God ways, doing things that I know can only be of him.  He's calling me to live boldly, embracing the uniqueness of who I am as a child of God and proclaiming his name loudly and often.  I don't really like that last sentence, because that makes it sound like living for God like that looks like this perfect, heroic thing.  In real life, "embracing uniqueness" means being weird.  I'm still learning how that works (I always will be), and so it's almost always awkward and uncomfortable for at least one party involved (me) (let's be honest, probably both of us).  "Proclaiming his name loudly and often" equals saying "Jesus loves me" and strange times or staking out the doors of a church in order to pray for a barely-not-stranger whose name I can't remember (true story.)  Today, it ended up being sitting on the couch of my dorm room and struggling through the really tough questions with my roommate while a DIY project from earlier today crashed down over my head (literally - a shelf fell off the wall; the only casualty was the baby Christmas tree that I'm pretty sure was never going to grow anyway.)

Anyway: God's been doing stuff.  The idea that he's going to keep working and that I get to keep joining him makes me excited to get up in the morning.  The knowledge that he's already beaten any little thing that Satan wants to use to hold me back keeps me joyful beyond what makes sense based on the circumstances.  And I can rest easy knowing that he's plenty good enough to work something amazing through my awkward, muddled attempts at describing Him. 

So, that's what I'd tell my mom right now.  That, and also that I met a girl who went to the same college as my cousin the other day.  And how much I love the new skincare class opening that she texted me.  And that I love her. 


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