Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hiding Our Humanity

Today I read two posts that connected with my past on a deep level. One was an article talking about trigger warnings in classrooms and how there is a trend towards keeping places safe and free from emotionally fraught material. The other post was a blog written by one of my new favorite authors about her experience speaking at her alma mater.

When I remember my time in college, I have to fight to see the good parts. Because there were good parts. There were friendships and wonderful professors and late night giggles and getting yelled at too many times to count for being too loud during quiet hours. There were fall retreats and Battle of the Floors and singing in choir and loving the city I lived in even though it also scared and intimidated me. But mostly I remember how hellish my final time there was. I remember the crippling depression, the eating disorder, the alcohol abuse, the self-injury, the hospitalizations (yes, plural) because I didn't know if I had the strength to keep living. I remember falling HARD and feeling like there was no one to help.

College was where I first got real help. I had a counselor who made me feel less alone, like my problems weren't who I was, just things I was dealing with. So I will forever be grateful for the help I DID receive, because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that that help saved my life. But college was also the place where I learned that my problems were too much, too big. I learned that Christian institutions want shiny, happy, healthy students that they can show off to benefactors, alumni, and potential students. They don't want messy imperfection in their walls. I remember living in fear of being honest with how bad things were because I was afraid of being kicked out, afraid of being rejected. Well, that did happen to me, and it was every bit as horrifying as I had feared.

I am super passionate about people feeling supported when they are down. I have been in the black pit of depression too many times, and I live in a constant state of alert waiting for the next cycle of despair to rear up and try to drag me under. I know how isolating it feels when your friends and family seem happy and healthy and you feel alienated from them in every way. I know how HARD it is to have faith when you can't feel love or joy or peace or hope and everyone who tries to make you feel better feels gratingly fake. So when a friend comes to me and wants to talk about how they're REALLY feeling, I do my very best to be a good listener. Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning and someone asked if they can use my floatation device, too, but I try to listen anyway because I know they might not find another person to help them float a little until it's too late.

Why don't we talk more about how hard it is to be human? Why don't we talk more about how painful it is to be alive? I'm not saying there aren't AMAZING things about life, but I'm so tired of hearing how amazing things are when they most certainly are NOT in my life. It has been 8 years since I had the courage to go to the counselor's office at my college and say that I didn't know why, but my life was hard and I needed help or I wasn't going to make it. Sometimes I wonder how different my life might be if I had known how to ask for help sooner. Part of the problem was that none of the people around me had any understanding of mental illness. Pretty much my first year of counseling was learning what depression was and how to identify what I was feeling. Because I didn't know how to sit with my emotions long enough to identify them and their roots. All I knew was that I was supposed to be happy, but I wasn't.

I want a culture where we don't hide when life is hard. I want an environment when pastors and church leaders can publicly talk about the hard parts of their lives as they live through them, not once it's all over and resolved. I want people to feel safe talking about their pain so we can learn to empathize and understand each other. The more we understand each other, the better we can love each other. We have to stop crucifying people for failing, because THAT'S WHAT HUMANS DO. We fail. But we learn from our failures, and that's how we grow and mature.

Tomorrow will mark 5 months since my dad died. The first month after the funeral, I was more angry at the lack of support from the people around me than I was sad about my dad being gone. Part of that was because anger is easier to deal with than pain and sadness, but part of it was because I was so furious that even after years and years of trying to build a support system for just such an event, it failed spectacularly. I was furious at every person who tried to high five me and be cheerful in my direction. There was NO room in the culture around me for me to mourn openly. I felt anguish and guilt at how poorly I had supported my three friends who lost parents just months before I lost my dad. Being on the other side, I had so much more insight about how to be a good friend in times of tragedy. If I couldn't figure out how to find a safe place to express my true feelings for a loss that people universally recognize is devastating, how am I supposed to create a safe place for people who have hidden, little understood hurts? Why are we so afraid to drop the smile and cry when we are hurting? I know it's hard. My therapist and I have been working closely together for six and a half years, and I think I've only cried twice in front of him.

I don't have answers. I know it's hard. But if we all made an effort to reach out just a little, I think it would add up to a lot. If we all just texted one or two people each week to say, "Hey, thinking of you. How are you doing today?" I think maybe we would feel less alone and a little safer to share our true selves. I think we wouldn't be so afraid to share the complex parts of our humanity because we would understand that we belong to each other and together we can do hard things (to borrow two sayings from one of my favorite authors Glennon Doyle Melton). Sometimes when I need support the most, I offer support to a friend, and then we discover that we can support each other and make it through.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Everyone likes eggs, right?

When I was little, I thought that if you didn't go to my church, you weren't a Christian. I don't just mean people who didn't go to church at all; I literally thought that if you went to a different church you weren't going to heaven. I had no concept of denomination or global church or worship style preferences. My entire view of religion was starkly black and white. If I ever have kids, I'm going to explain denominational differences like eggs. Lots of people love eggs. They're so delicious and good for you. But people prefer their eggs cooked in different ways. Scrambled, hard boiled, sunny-side up, omelet. So it is with Christians. They all love Jesus, but he is so much bigger than we are, and people understand him in different ways. Some people love loud music and dancing, some people love silence and stillness. And just like eggs can be harmful if they're not cooked properly (no matter the preparation style), different churches can have harmful theology. It doesn't mean that they don't love Jesus. I follow lots of Christian bloggers online, and I see so much division and bickering. I do understand that people have strong opinions about how Christians are supposed to live their lives, but instead of judging someone else who is sincere in their faith, how about we start being more intentional about loving others and speaking kindness to one another? If all people see is bickering, judgment, and hurtful words , why would they want anything to do with God? It's so much more beneficial to focus on what we have in common instead of blowing up our differences.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Inundated with Depression

I have spent pretty much all of today immersed in depression. I felt it in my heart, my head, read it with my eyes, listened to a talk about depression, cried tears related to depression, craved (and ate) sugar because of depression. It's been rolling over and through me in wave after wave.

I felt raw all day. Last night I cried and stayed up too late trying to sort out how I felt. Today I read blog after blog about depression. When a beloved actor commits suicide, people share all their thoughts about mental illness, even the ones that are ignorant and hurtful. People who should have just listened spoke and caused harm instead of healing.

I've been listening to Jason Gray's latest album for the last few days. He doesn't really have a unique sound. He fits right in with the typical Christian pop music melody-wise. It's his lyrics that make him stand out from the crowd. His songs are the most honest songs I've ever heard.

I keep holding on to the lyrics from the end of this song: "You don't even have to speak/Just sit with me in the ashes here/And together we can pray for peace/To the one acquainted with our grief." It's just the worst when I risk being vulnerable, take off my mask, and let someone know how I've really been doing, how much depression has really been hurting me, and they try to fix it or they brush it off. Sometimes more than anything I just want a friend to bring me some ice cream and sit with me while we watch a couple episodes of Friends. I just want someone to be there, to sit with me in the pain, to walk beside me as I try to make it long enough for it to get better.

I've been feeling incredibly lonely over the past few months. I've been fighting depression mostly by myself. I've had long-distance support from my best friend who lives on the West Coast, and of course my therapist helps. But I'm still left alone most of the time. I was thinking tonight that fighting depression is like training for sports competition. I should disclose that my only experience with playing sports outside of gym class in high school was when I played flag football in college, so the analogy probably isn't perfect. But it's fourth and goal and I'm going for it (I'm so full of sports knowledge!).

I spend all day every day training (fighting depression). I know that I need help to know how to train better, more efficiently, so I hired a coach (counselor/therapist). He gives advice, educates, cheers me on. It's a special kind of relationship, but it's professional. I need more help than just one person can give me, more support, so I've sought out some teammates, as it were (other people who are walking their own journey of mental health). I've attended a depression support group a few times, and it is so encouraging to know I'm not the only one going through this. So now I feel like there are other people on the field who are working towards the same goal I am, and if we help each other we can all get closer to the goal (making it through each day, getting to a place where we feel more in control of our mental illness). What's missing are fans (friends). Fans just show up and cheer on the athletes. They're supportive even though they can't hop on the field and play the game for me. This is a game where critics are not welcome, but fans are deeply appreciated. I keep looking up at the stands hoping for someone to smile and wave at me, cheering me on, but the stands are empty. My family loves me, and I love them dearly, but they don't live near me. It's like they're watching on TV; they're cheering me on, but it's not the same as watching the game live. The thing about fans that is so great is that they're there only if they want to be. I pay my coach. He's totally on my team, helping me, cheering me on, but it's different. I want people to choose to root for me just because they care about me and believe in me. People who are actively in my life because they live here and they like me.

So all these thoughts and feelings have been rolling around in my head. I'm trying to sort out my faith in the midst of feeling like church is harming more than helping. I started trying to connect with God in different ways and discovered that I love going to mass at the catholic cathedral a mile from my apartment. It brings peace to my soul. It feels a little weird to share all this, to talk about how much depression hurts, to talk about how I'm trying new things which is scary but helpful. Tonight I was at a talk on depression, and after the speaker shared his own story of dealing with depression and anxiety, he shared some scripture. He talked about how the Bible is testimony, and there is tension between the testimonies it contains. The primary testimony is how God relates to the people with whom he chooses to be in relationship, how he sees them, rescues them, loves them. And there are testimonies that are in direct opposition to that primary testimony, people who acknowledge how God has shown up for their ancestors, but they also cry out asking why God has forsaken them. Thinking about how the Bible is a collection of people sharing how they have or haven't encountered God made me want to testify the truth of my life right now. I felt compelled to share more about what depression is like for me, what trying to find God and faith in the midst of the pain is like. For years now I've hoped that somehow my experiences, my story, my testimony could somehow help someone else. They can't do that if I keep everything to myself and hide behind a mask of "I'm fine," so for now this blog feels like a safe way to experiment with sharing.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sometimes I'm Angry at Depression, but Mostly I Don't Have the Energy

There's a really great pastor at my church who is kind and clearly loves serving people. Just about every time he sees me, he asks how I'm doing. "I'm OK," I reply. And I'd say about 75% of the time he follows up with, "Just OK?" If he doesn't say it, the sentiment at least flashes across his face for a moment. I never really know what to do in that moment. Usually "I'm OK" means one of three things for me:
1. I'm having an average, normal day. Nothing especially fantastic has happened, but it's not horrible. It's fine. It's OK.
2. I don't think you want a truthful answer, so I'm just moving the conversation along.
3. I'm feeling really awful and have no idea how to be truthful when it's not the time and place to have a serious discussion.

I don't think people really know what to do when their friends or family members are depressed. I don't even know sometimes. It's not something tangible you can fix. And mental illness can cycle around, so it seems like the same thing over and over again. Sometimes I think my brain is just damaged, that there's nothing that can be done to make my life better, more hopeful, more meaningful.

Depression is not fair. I hate that I find both relief and unspeakable loneliness in isolation. I hate that I struggle to connect with people, to find deep friendships. I hate that asking for help sometimes feels like putting a burden onto people I love, so sometimes I don't ask.

For a majority of the past month, I haven't really felt like myself. Everything just seems like too much. I'm so lonely, but I can't stand to be around people. I spend hours upon hours at home alone, wishing things were different, that I had the energy to be a different, better person. I spend so much time trying to hold myself together that I don't have much room for anything fun. It's not that I'm always miserable, but it's hard work to have fun sometimes. Even as I was writing this I got a text from a friend about Connect Group, but I told her I wasn't going. It's too hard. I feel like a failure when I can't connect with people, when I can't care about other people.

Yesterday I was so jittery it was like I'd been drinking caffeine all day, even though all I'd had was water, but most of the time I am so low in energy it feels like a Herculean task just to get the basics done. Often I use up all my social energy at work and have little or none left at the end of the day. So most nights I go home and watch Netflix or read or even just go to bed because I'm so tired I don't even care.

One of the worst things, the thing that is most unspeakable for me, is how angry I get at God for all of this. I get so angry that I just have to suffer when he could take it away. I get so angry that he is mostly just silent, leaving me feeling unbearably isolated and unwanted. I watch worship at church unable to participate because I just can't, and it makes me feel sad and alienated. I pray and read my Bible most days, but so often it brings little or no comfort. Sometimes I feel a peace that I know isn't coming from me, but mostly I just feel lonely and sad. I watch as friends devote their lives to serving Jesus and sharing him with others while I don't even know what the point is of anything anymore. It's really hard to deal with existential angst when you're supposed to be a Christian. I sometimes fear that all my anger and doubt excludes me from God's love, because who could love someone so broken and fickle? I get really angry at myself for not being able to believe, for being selfish, for being prideful, for knowing that it's probably my fault that God feels far away.

I don't know how to fix any of it. I do my best to get through each day and fulfill my duties at work, at church. Sometimes I text my friends asking for prayer. Sometimes I just lie in bed and cry, my tears a silent prayer for relief. There are days when I feel like myself, when I have fun, when I revel in an ice cream cone and laughing with people I love. I hope I have more of those days, that those days will start to outnumber the bad ones. They will, eventually. My depression cycles always end at some point. That gives me great hope, or at least enough oomph to carry on.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Rubber Ducks and Anchors

I was thinking about my rubber duck today and had an epiphany.

One of my greatest flaws is my tendency to get swept away by my emotions. I don't mean that in some sort of romantic, happy way. I get swept away in a way that makes it seem like when I feel something, that feeling trumps everything else. When I feel alone, that feeling tends to trump the truth that God is always with me. When I feel worthless, it trumps the truth that Jesus paid the highest price for my salvation.

I have been working hard to improve in this area, and I think especially in the last few months I've started to see some maturity there. I'd describe my life in 2014 as spiritually turbulent. I've been asking really hard questions and finding no satisfactory answer. I've been reading scripture that I can't make sense of and that makes me feel angry and sad. I've cried during sermons and stood silent during worship, unable to utter words that I don't know if I mean. And through all this I've been faithfully praying and reading my Bible, serving in church regularly, having deep conversations with friends, pushing through this chaotic storm just trying to hang on until the waters calm.

This brings me to the rubber duck. A few years ago a friend of mine was being supportive through a similar time of spiritual turbulence. She encouraged me to just keep floating on the water and ride out the storm. She then spent the next week or two looking for just the right rubber ducks before she gifted me one duck with a pirate hat, eye patch, and striped shirt and one duck that was blue so I would have a tangible reminder to ride out the storm.

So I was gazing at my pirate duck (the one I keep on my work desk) and thinking about storms and water when the lyrics "and this hope is an anchor for my soul" floated through my mind. When I think of anchors, I tend to think of sinking and drowning, but today I was thinking about how they are stabilizing. When you're in a storm, you want to stay afloat, but you also don't want to find out that you've blown off course when the waters finally calm and you can see where you are. An anchor keeps you where you need to be regardless of what the water is trying to do.

Somehow this idea of an anchor gave me a new perspective on hope. For a long time I've sort of resented the idea of hope because I had several years where my life was very dark and hope seemed nowhere to be found. Hope seemed so emotionally unstable, so fickle. Now I think maybe hope is more like something that's there subconsciously, waiting for the storm to die down so you can see it was there all along. Remember the story of when Jesus and the disciples were on the water and a storm came up? Jesus was sleeping. The disciples were freaking out. I want to be more like Jesus, calm in the midst of my emotional storms, instead of like the disciples, sure I'm going to die. The great thing is, though, that whether or not I'm able to keep my cool, the anchor is there. My faith is there, anchoring me. Faith is bigger than just how I feel on any given day towards God. It's something that tethers my identity to something bigger than my circumstances. I don't need the right answers, I don't have to try to be a better person or earn more righteousness. I just have to cling to the hope of my anchor to keep me where I need to be so I can emerge from the storm victorious.

It's hard to put into words exactly how I'm feeling right now, but I think the best way to sum this whole post up is to say that this: my whole life it's seemed like there's a disconnect between my head and my heart. I always had all the "right" answers intellectually, but I couldn't make my feelings match what I knew in my head. Somehow this revelation of hope being an anchor has bridged the gap, at least a little. I feel such a confident peace that I will be OK, even knowing that there will still be times I will cry myself to sleep out of fear or despair or feeling utterly alone. I will make it through the storm and keep sailing forward because I am anchored to Jesus. What a beautiful revelation to ponder during Holy Week.

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Dream at University of Northwestern St. Paul: A Review

A Midsummer Night's Dream is my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies. I played Hippolyta in high school, and I've seen two different productions of this show at American Player's Theatre (Spring Green, WI). Tonight I saw Midsummer at University of Northwestern St. Paul, and I found the entire show to be delightful. It exceeded the very high bar I set for this play despite my initial uncertainties about the choice of era.

This production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was set in the 1960s. It actually worked very well with the story. The proper Athens was characterized by formal black and white wear, the forest had all the color and flow of hippies, and the mechanicals were wonderful in their colorful but simple fare. The only costumes I felt didn't fit were those of Oberon and his gang, which felt much more 80s than 60s. The Pyramis armor costume was genius and my favorite of the show. The sets were lovely without being overly complicated, and the set's many levels and playing spaces worked well throughout the show. I enjoyed the short news broadcast transitions that somehow seamlessly blended technology and Shakespeare, reminding me of similar shots from Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet.

I was so impressed by the entire cast's comfortableness with the Elizabethan language. It wasn't jarring in the least to have a modern setting with the older language. The actors delivered their lines with ease and nuance. Everyone was so expressive in their body language and facial expressions. Humor can be hard to deliver well, but I felt this cast really played with the humor without pushing it too far over-the-top. I laughed so hard at the mechanicals' play that I was crying. That scene was the crowing jewel of the show and was a great example of how the entire cast was in tune with each other. Even actors in the background contributed beautifully to the scene, with the "off-stage" mechanicals peering out from behind their set to observe. Starveling was even mouthing the words along with her co-actors as Philostrate cringed at their antics.

A few stand-out actors were Lydia Wildes as Helena, Dr. Keith Jones as Philostrate, and Mitch Geiken as Bottom, who stole the show. Oberon and Puck had fun chemistry, Titania's fairies were wonderfully spritely, the lovers were romantic and fun, the royals presided over the goings-on with stateliness, and the mechanicals were endearing and hilarious. I can't say enough how much I thoroughly enjoyed this production. Hats off to a job phenomenally done by the cast and crew!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Live for More

Last Sunday my church started a sermon series called Live for More. The first week was about volunteering, and they're encouraging people to interact via social media. Well, I decided that I have a whole lot to share, so I decided to write down some of my experiences (photos thrown in for good measure). You might want to grab some popcorn, because I am not a succinct storyteller.

I am something of a life-long church volunteer. I grew up attending church, and even as a kid I spent time volunteering.  When I was in college, I slacked off on church attendance quite a bit, but I had a lovely year when I volunteered for a Wednesday night kids' ministry (where at least twice I painted my hair as a reward for the team with the most points).

In my fourth year of college, I was diagnosed with major depression. Life was pretty awful for me for quite awhile. I had to leave school before I graduated, and I spent almost a year feeling pretty bitter towards God. The people who hurt me the most, who treated me like I was not worth much, were people who said they loved Jesus and made their lives about him, and it made everything feel confusing and painful. Towards the end of the summer of 2009 (the year after I left school), I realized how lonely I was. I had never really made friends outside of church or school, so I decided maybe it was time to give church a chance again. I had tried two different churches without finding the right fit when a friend recommended that I try Substance Church.

I remember how nervous I was that first Sunday. I had given myself a week to work up to it. I checked out the website, looked at a map to make sure I knew where to go and where the parking options were. Trying new things by myself when I know there will be a bunch of people is really hard for me. As I drove onto the Northwestern campus, I was greeted by the parking team. Oh, the parking team! At the other churches I had visited, I didn't know where to park or where to go once I got inside the building. At Substance, there were these crazy joyful people waving bright orange flags guiding me to a spot. When I parked my car, I sat for a moment fighting back tears. I hadn't even set foot in the church yet, and I knew there was a joy here that was unlike any church I'd attended before.

Substance has been my church home ever since that first Sunday. I spent my first few months attending lots of subgroups, trying to find friends even though all of the newness was so uncomfortable for me. In early 2010, I decided I was finally ready to volunteer. I was a little wary, but knowing that I wouldn't have to do it every week and that I could stop if I needed to, I took the plunge. Because of the impact my first visit had on me, I had no doubts that I wanted to join the parking team. I helped out on the last Sunday that Northwestern had only one service, and the next week when we jumped to two services, I began a three-and-half-year journey on the 1st service red team, part of that time as the team lead.

During the summer of 2010, I made a few connections during a volunteer party and found myself connected with someone who was running lighting. I started training for the media team, and for years I planned my schedule around the Sundays when I was either parking or running lighting (sometimes both in one day). I still run lighting regularly for Northwestern, The Well, and for other things like Deeper or Family Fun Night on occasion.

Being a volunteer has drastically changed my experience at Substance, and really my entire life. I feel such ownership; Substance is MY church. I know the staff, the pastors, the interns. I get up earlier on Sundays than I do for work on Mondays, and I'm OK with that. Best of all is the relationships I have made. The people volunteering with me are not just fellow volunteers or church members. They are my friends. They are people who have shown me grace when I have failed spectacularly. They are the people who encourage me when depression makes it seem like there is nothing good in the world. They pray for me when my faith is failing. In the past six months alone I have experienced support from so many of my friends when my car broke down, and they rejoiced with me like crazy when God provided a way to replace it.

Since my depression diagnosis in college, my life cycles through periods of normalcy and periods of bleakness. I think it can be hard for people without depression to understand how inaccessible God can seem when you're in the middle of a dark pit. My friends stick by me even when I'm doubting or angry. I am part of a community that wants health and wholeness but appreciates how complicated the journey to get there can be. I'm in one of those hard times now, and the late-night texts and conversations give me the strength to keep going. I find joy in putting aside the pain that I feel and serving others, even if only for a few hours a week. Volunteering keeps me connected with my friends, but also reminds me to look outside of myself, to try to keep perspective on the bigger picture of the Kingdom of God.

I think what happened at church this morning sums up how being a volunteer has made my life more than just going through the motions. I volunteered to park this morning, and when we were done, the four of us stayed backstage talking for the rest of the service. We talked about really deep things, shared parts of ourselves that we probably don't share with just anyone. And the only reason we even met each other was because of volunteering. Between services I went up to the media booth to say hi to my friends. I mentioned that I hadn't actually attended first service but wasn't sure I was going to stay for the second service, and someone joked about how me coming up to the media booth was church for me. It really is, in a way. In my time volunteering at Substance, I have made friends who make my life richer. These people value me, they assure me that they do not define me by my mistakes, and they appreciate having me be part of the team. The people at Substance aren't perfect, but they continue to show me a love that keeps me going even when everything else is telling me I shouldn't exist. There are days when I fully intend to show up, put in my time serving, and go home, but every single time I am reminded by the people around me that life is so much better when I engage and choose to live for more.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The View from the Booth

For over three years now I've been a volunteer on the media team at my church. My main area is lighting, but when it comes to The Well (our women's ministry), I do a little bit of everything. Tonight was our fall kickoff, and I was thinking about how differently I experience church in general when I'm in the booth.

Being a media volunteer is interesting in that there is both a deeper involvement with the service and a sort of detachment. I get to see the worship band sound check, I get to help set the mood for worship with lighting colors and visual backgrounds, and I get to join the worship team and leads for pre-service prayer. At the same time, during the actual service I am somewhat disengaged from actually worshipping because I am paying attention to changes in tempo, transitions between songs, and making sure that when the MC comes up there is appropriate lighting on stage. Tonight during the message I was helping my amazing VO operator be prepared to put the right slides up on the screen. I hear what's being said, but I don't always retain very much.

As a church volunteer and leader, I know that I can't always get filled up or fed spiritually during weekend services. I have to be intentional on my own time to focus on God, and it can be hard to make that happen when things are busy or I'm tired or I'm just feeling depressed. That's why it's really neat when I make connections in a different way.

Some of the most honest conversations I've ever had have been while I've been in the media booth. There's just something about being in a small, quiet room with just one or two other people that invites you to blurt out things you might not say otherwise. Sometimes it starts with a comment about the service, sometimes it's more intentional. Tonight one of my dear friends was working alongside me, and even though she wasn't feeling great, she stayed late after the service to sit and listen while I spilled what was going on in my life. She gave me the wonderful gift of just listening.

By the time we wrapped up our conversation, most of the people had left. I typically miss most of the after parties at The Well, and that's entirely on purpose. By the time I've been planning all week and then running the service, I'm pretty tapped out. Big crowds of people exhaust me, and I sort of hate meeting new people in general. When I finally emerge from the booth, I am able to spend a little bit of time with my friends who are still there to clean up and shut down the building. I like being useful and helping to tear things down and get the space cleaned up.

Sometimes I think about how nice it would be to get to join in the worship and not have to focus on anything but my experience with God, but mostly I'm thankful that I've found a way to engage in the church without constantly feeling uncomfortable or out of place. Most people probably have no idea what I'm doing, but I know that I'm useful. I like getting to be part of the action in a more hands-on way. And I'm really thankful for the amazing friendships I've found because of my willingness to sit in the back and work hard. There is a special joy in serving alongside people you love.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Envy and Worth

Sometimes when a friend is doing something amazing, I feel genuinely excited for them. I cheer them on, send encouraging notes, and try to be a good friend all around. But sometimes, something good happens to someone I know, and it happens. I feel it creep up on me, sinking its ugly teeth deep into my soul. Envy worms its way into my heart.

Envy is not about wanting what other people have. It's about believing deep down that because someone else has something that you do not, you are less valuable. For me, envy says that because she is married and I am single, I am worth less. Because he is more respected than I am, I am worth less. Because she is prettier than I am, because she can act better than I can, she is more valuable than I am.

That is NOT how God sees things. Jesus told a story of a lost sheep where a shepherd left the 99 he had to go look for the missing one, and when he found it he rejoiced. Jesus told a story of a father and his two sons, and when one son screwed up big time and the other had a bad attitude, the father loved them both. He did not rebuke his sons but declared his love in a way that showed there was nothing they could do to make him love them less.

Yesterday I texted a friend some thoughts about how great it is that God does not have a finite number of blessings. This friend and I have both been in similar areas of need, and I thought about how great it is that she doesn't have to worry that the fact that God provided a computer for me does not negate his ability to provide a computer for her. God isn't up in heaven crunching the numbers and feeling bad because he already used up his computer blessing quota. He is not picking and choosing blessings giving only to the perfect favorites.

My thoughts are a little scattered, but I feel a need to remind myself (and maybe you) that "Beloved" is not a title we can lose. It is not a name God hands out on a whim and takes it back when we are bad. We are each God's favorite, we are each worth so much to Him that he sacrificed His son for us. I don't pretend to really understand that or even believe it very well, but it bears repeating: God rejoices over us even when we're slinking back to Him ashamed of where we've been. He will not give up on us, he will not neglect us. God loves us more than we can comprehend.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Who I Am

Last night was the first meeting of the summer book group in which I am participating. We're reading "Girls with Swords," by Lisa Bevere. We've only hit up the first chapter, but its about choosing who you will be. Will you be a hero in your story, in other people's stories? I'm pretty excited about it, and we had a great group of women there.

Today I finally remembered to look up a music video that a friend told me about weeks ago. I'm already on the 3rd 4th 5th listen through, and I wanted to share it.

This is a constant struggle for me, to discern if the things that have been said to me are truth or lies. It's especially hard when some of the most awful things people have said or done to me are by people I was supposed to be able to trust, people who were supposed to be looking out for me. I am trying to embrace the truth that I am a daughter of the most high King, that I am loved, wanted, cherished. In a world where people grow, change, and move in and out of seasons of life, it can be really hard for me to accept that God does not change. He does not love me more or less based on how I act. He doesn't get tired of me and move on, or get married and have no time for me anymore.

This is where it gets hard for me: I FEEL like God doesn't love me, or none of my friends care about me. It can be really hard for me to acknowledge that my feelings do not determine how others feel. That's why I still have birthday cards up on my VCR. They (and the kind words inside) are tangible reminders of the friends I have, things that I can't deny. And when I focus on those, my feelings start to change, to line up with the truth that I have amazing friends who love me.

That's why I started trying to memorize the book of Ephesians earlier this year. Sadly, I dropped the ball, but I intend to pick it back up and keep going. Meditating verse by verse, even sentence by sentence, helps the truth of God's love to sink in deep down. As a wise friend pointed out to me yesterday, sometimes what I really need is to take my problems and hurts to God first. It's ridiculous how easy it is for me to forget how healing being in His presence can be.

I am a beloved daughter of Christ. I have been purchased at a high price. I am God's masterpiece. I am a warrior. I left normal behind and am now covered in righteousness.