Thursday, November 19, 2015

Who Is My Neighbor?

In the past week I've been stunned at the fearful and xenophobic response of our nation to the plight of Syrian refugees. I've been disappointed at the people I know who support refusing refuge to refugees. Today I saw a map of the US with all the states whose have said they are not accepting refugees highlighted. I was deeply ashamed and disgusted at how many states were marked.

I have a rocky relationship with the Bible. I have read it in its entirety, but I don't read it frequently anymore. That being said, I did grow up hearing Bible stories frequently. I've been a church attender for most of my life. And I can't stop thinking about all the places, both Old and New Testament, where there is mention of welcoming and loving your neighbor. The Mosaic law was specific that the Jews should welcome foreigners as their own and give them the same rights. One of Jesus' most well-known parables was about who our neighbor is (the story of the Good Samaritan). I keep hearing the words, "Love your neighbor as yourself." "And who is my neighbor?" "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" "The one who had mercy on him." "Go and do likewise." (from Luke 10). Not to mention the face that Jesus himself was a refugee who would have been killed by Herod (out of fear) had his family not found safety in Egypt (but of course I AM mentioning it because Advent is almost here).

I see history repeating itself. I think about the Trail of Tears, the refusal to accept Jewish immigrants during WWII, the Japanese internment camps. Absolutely shameful events in America's history. Appalling. My brain cannot comprehend that I am seeing the same attitude now in our country.

I know that this kind of reaction is based on fear. Fear is powerful. I've had to look long and hard at my own fear-based racist prejudices. I've been confessing the sin of racism and praying for a change deep in my heart for months, because I realized that I am part of the problem. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change myself. I can pray for a changed heart. I can actively seek to see the imago dei in every single human being, no matter how different that person may be from me. I am clearly not perfect in this area, but I'm attempting to recognize the blind spots within and open my eyes.

When I see this kind of fear-based reaction in others, it's really easy for me to just get frustrated. Especially if the other person is a Christian. I think, "It's so obvious that we are supposed to welcome and love those in need, and those refugees are in need!" or "It's so obvious that there is a desperate need for reform in the justice system as a devastating number of black people are shot by the police with no consequences for the officers." It is obvious to me, now. I struggle to remember that what may be obvious to me may not be to others, even others who are sincere and otherwise kind. I struggle to remember that I need to call Christians with whom I disagree my neighbor as well. I need to show them mercy and love as well, even when I think they're wrong, even when they think I'm wrong.

Isn't that the foundation of Christianity? Love God, love others. No exceptions. Not love God sort of, be nice to the people you like. Nope. It's love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you. Pray for your enemies. Ugh. It's revolutionary, because my first reaction is to say, nope! I want to holler at and have disdain for the people who are wrong. I want to feel smug and superior in my rejection. I want to elevate myself by pushing others down. It's an awfully good thing God has grace for me, too, because I'm still a messy work in progress. I'm reminding myself today to take a break, breath, and pray for peace in myself and in the world. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Christianity of Boxes

I used to think that there was one right way to be a Christian. In my mind, there was no room for theological differences, or even differences in some preferences. No nuance, no sliding scales, no sometimes or maybes. Simple black and white. My whole childhood was black and white, everything fit into neat, tidy boxes. I remember well the discomfort in high school when I bumped into people with different beliefs; I didn't want any conflict, but they were wrong. I went to a college that was linked with my childhood denomination, and though that school officially agreed with what I had been taught my whole life, I met Christians from different backgrounds. Sure, we agreed on more or less most of the same things, but there was a hint of Christian diversity in my bubble for the first time.

My experience leaving college was messy and painful, and it pretty much destroyed any part of me that was still consciously hanging onto that black and white framework. I had seen too much to believe neat, tidy boxes were the way to sort my faith. As I spent the next years trying to put my life back together and figure out how to navigate as an adult, I found other people of faith who taught me great things. I discovered blogs and books and regular people just doing their best to love Jesus.

I grew up believing that rigidity was the mark of a true Christian. Now I believe that the best posture I can take is one of openness. I know full well that just as I've discarded many things I held onto dearly in the past, one day I may let go of beliefs I hold strongly now. I am more comfortable with uncertainty; I embrace it, in fact. I find great relief in admitting that I don't understand a lot, and there are so many things I don't know.

Sure, there is a part of me that still like rules. I like the tidiness of knowing what's right and what's wrong. But the messy uncertainty of learning to love freely is infinitely more rewarding than checking off boxes for good behavior, even when I know I'm falling short of loving well. The more I discover others who are throwing out checklists in favor of radical love, the less alone I feel, and the more excited I get about the love of Christ. That's when it feels magical, which is the unspiritual way of saying that I think the Holy Spirit likes it when we chase love and share love and revel in love.

Intellectually I have it all sorted out (as much as you can ever sort things out). I know what I feel in my heart, how I want to love and be loved and not feel as if I have to earn love. The reality is that I still have the echos of my childhood rules flitting through my head, so sometimes (OK, a lot of the time), I still feel as if I need to check off all the boxes even though my brain tells me the boxes are no longer helpful for me or even good for me. Often I am able to help block those echos by reading authors whose work speaks to the part of my heat that loves rather than the authors who like lists. Authors like Sarah Bessey and Glennon Doyle Melton make me feel like the only box I need to check is the one that asks if I am trying to love people (including myself). No caveats, no followup questions, not even a perfect response or completion. I like to remind myself that generally everyone is just trying to do the best they can, and that means I need to accept that my best probably doesn't equal perfection, but that's OK because nobody's does.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Why Christian?

I've been trying to figure out how to talk about the Why Christian? conference I attended a few weeks ago without sharing every single detail, because the details matter less than the big picture. I chose to attend the conference because I had been greatly impacted by the writing of the hosts of the conference (Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber), plus WX15 was in my backyard (aka Minneapolis), so it was logistically possible to attend.

Big picture: the Holy Spirit was moving in St. Mark's Cathedral. Every woman who stood before the crowd shared her story, shared her love for Jesus. To see strong, female leaders of such diversity was something I had never seen, and it was, quite simply, a thing of beauty. To hear from women of different denominations, different ethnicities, different sexual orientations, different lives all share the one thing they had in common was so powerful. It makes me think of Paul's words in Gal 2:28, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

So often in Christianity it feels like we are talking about how we're different. How we're different from the world, how we're different from those Christians over there who are doing it wrong, how we're not like THOSE people over there. It was so life-giving to celebrate our commonalities instead and have our differences fall to the wayside in light of truth of who Jesus is.

Jesus chose to inhabit a human body. He lived among regular, ordinary people. He was the recipient of judgment, scorn, and violence. And yet he loves us. His love is so much bigger than I can even dare to imagine. One of the most powerful moments of the weekend for me was receiving communion. At my churches we've always had a pass-the-plate or go-get-your-elements-and-then-take-it-to-your-seat-so-we-can-take-it-together sort of approach to communion. Taking communion at St. Mark's was different. I was looked in the eye and told that Jesus broke his body for me, that he shed his blood for me. For ME. It was intimate and personal in a way communion has never been for me, and so different from the shame and guilt that often leaves me not participating in communion at my own church.

I spent so much of day two (Saturday) in tears. Part of that was grieving the loss of my aunt who passed away that morning. Part of it was simply responding to the stirring in my soul. When redemption and grace showed up in the form of Amazing Grace played on the trombone, when I was told I am worth Christ's sacrifice, when my soul yearned for a kingdom where our pain and hurt will be no more and our sorrow is turned to joy, I couldn't help but weep. And let me be clear: I am not a public cryer. I think I've only cried in front of my therapist twice in the six and a half years we've worked together. It's really a testament that I felt safe enough even among strangers to let my heart flow through my eyes.

That weekend was the first time I'd ever heard gay, bi, and trans people share their stories in person from a place of wholeness. My whole life I have been told that first and foremost gay people are sinning. That's always what the emphasis was. At Why Christian? gender and sexual orientation were not the emphasis. Sure, people talked about them as they pertained to their own stories and the church in general, but the emphasis was love and passion for Jesus. How Jesus loves us as we are. How God created us and it was good. It was such a beautiful reminder to see the dignity in every human being, to call out and respect the Imago Dei in each of us. I felt so deeply in my soul the importance of loving others well, especially the people we don't understand, the people on the fringes, the people who are hurting. I felt the importance of loving myself, of recognizing God's love for me even when I feel my sin disqualifies me from being worthy of love.

Love God, love others. This is how I've been describing my faith lately. I just don't know about so many things, but I know that I believe in love. I truly believe that the love that was shown among the conference speakers and attendees was a sliver of a taste of what God's kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven will be like. It was such a sacred, moving, healing experience. I was reminded of why I choose to be a Christian even when I doubt, even when I face unspeakable loss, even when I am in the depths of despair and when my friends let me down. I cling to the hope of love like Christ showed, that he laid down his life for us. Love is powerful. That's what keeps me hanging on for dear life in the depths of my soul even when I feel like I'm drowning. It is an addicting, intoxicating love, and even when I can't feel it or even believe it fully, I have the hope that it's true.

I am so grateful for the stories shared, for the grace extended, for the unity displayed. I was changed at WX15 and so very encouraged. God is love, and love wins.

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.