Archive for Christianity

When Sunday Is the Most Difficult Day of the Week

It took me two tries to make it to church this Sunday. I woke up tired, my mom woke up still feeling the last lingering effects of the cold she had last week. I didn’t get out of bed as quickly as I should of, so was running late. I knew the lesson my small group was going to go over today would be a struggle for me, and I’d either have to speak up and be the one voice of dissent or bite my tongue the whole time, so I decided to just go to the service late and then come home instead of going to group after.

Coffee was spilled on a dress in the car on the way there. The Jeep we parked next to had a Bill O’Reilly air freshener hanging from its rear view mirror, I kid you not. Other cars greeted us with their not-so-friendly NRA and AR-15 stickers. Because we were late, it was hard to spot empty seats. It had already taken everything we had to get to this point, so we left and went home. In this struggle, I was very much The Awkward Spinster.

Knowing full well that a large part of this struggle was my own attitude and feeling convicted, an hour later, we headed back for second service early, got seats, and made it through the whole time. The service was fine.

John 13:34-35 records Christ’s words during the last supper. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Why is this so difficult? Humans, that’s why. We are so bloody difficult. I am difficult. And, as a single woman who is almost 40 trying to integrate back into a city I happily left in my 20s, I am finding it more arduous than ever. Being with my family is fantastic and quite easy. My prayer group of family and a couple close friends is lovely. But church? Church is the hardest part.

And I think I’m failing right now. I’m not really loving the people in my church because I don’t feel like I’m actually part of my church. I feel like the weird spinster aunt who’s just visiting so everyone puts up with her. You know, they all tolerate her odd ideas because she’s just the slightly wild one who never bothered to get married or have kids and actually thinks universal healthcare is a good idea.

I don’t really have a lesson in this or a solution to my problem. This is just the reality of an issue I’m in the middle of. And, since this blog is meant to openly discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of the life of this particular Awkward Spinster, I didn’t want to dodge this aspect of single life.

I do think church is hard for everyone, not just singles like myself. I know many a married mother and father who also struggles with church community, especially in the current political and social climate. But as someone who experienced singleness in the context of an imperfect yet loving, embracing, supportive, empowering church family for years, that makes starting over again even more painful. I don’t have a husband to hold my hand when I’m upset in church, a partner in the awkwardness and pain. It’s just me, sitting in small group surrounded by people, feeling utterly alone.

Sick Days and the Blues

You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as regularly over these past few weeks. You see, I’ve been ill, and between sinus, eye, and now possibly ear infections, my uterus trying to kill me, anemia, dizziness, and exhaustion I haven’t been able to stare at a screen for very long without my head getting floaty. Sigh.

But in the midst of this, today, I still want to blog. Because this is real life, right? We get sick. Our bodies rebel against us. We have to miss work sometimes (I HATE missing work) and we have to rest sometimes (which is not nearly as fun as it sounds if you’re not feeling well) and we have to trust that God is still at work in our lives when we are quarantined and can’t go anywhere or talk to anyone in person.

Today, on top of the illnesses and weaknesses, I am feeling blue. One of the benefits of being ill is I’ve been sleeping in and have missed my usual morning podcasts. I’ve been limiting my screen time so I don’t get dizzy, and therefore haven’t been paying as much attention to the news. But this morning when a local city voted down California’s Sanctuary City laws, and Christian men that I know and respect posted about it in glee, I was done. The tears I’ve been holding in for weeks fell. Seeing Christians celebrate harming people, separating children from their parents, and turning against the beauty that the word “sanctuary” supplies, which should be part of every Christian’s life, just broke my heart. “What happened to compassion?” my mum just breathed in a deep, soul-wrenching sigh.

I tweeted about it, but daren’t post on Facebook because I’ve gotten some brutal backlash there before for posting my “liberal” ideas and I honestly don’t have the energy to deal with that right now.

The battle within me about whether or not I can remain a part of the white evangelical church rages continuously.

A friend’s recent experience at a Biblical Counseling conference in her city isn’t helping. She was texting back and forth with me throughout the day, part excitement for the excellent talks given on anxiety and depression, and part dismay for her experience as a single woman there. She went up to speak with the youngish male director, and right away his wife came and joined the conversation very awkwardly.

She texted “I feel like in some Christian settings girls can’t talk to guys. Like I felt awkward when she joined in some way. Like I can’t control that I am a girl or that I don’t have a ring on my finger. But I am not a threat and I felt that perception in that moment. And if I was a guy with an MABC [Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling, which this friend and I both have] they would be thrilled.”

My response: “Yeah. Being a mature, single, educated Christian woman in evangelical circles can be so awkward. I kinda want to wear a sign saying ‘I’m not trying to steal your husband. Calm down.’”

Friend: “I feel like sometimes I am only seen as a threat or someone with ulterior motives or a temptation instead of a person.

Me: “We should make t-shirts!”

Friend: I was going to Master’s Seminary library once. I had to write a 20 page research paper and only the seminary had the books I needed to check out. And the ladies at the circulation desk made a comment about me finding a husband and I felt like as a non-seminary wife, everyone there would think that I just wanted to look for a husband instead of purely intending to study the Bible. I wanted to wear a ring on my ring finger to avoid that perception and awkwardness.”

Me: “Yeah. They did that when I had to work the Shepherd’s Conference. Sigh.”

Friend: 

One of the many sad parts about this conversation with my incredibly intelligent and very conservative (way more conservative than me!) friend was that instead of discussing the wonderful resources for anxiety and depression she’d learned about, or expressing her joy for being accepted into the new Biblical Counseling center as a potential counseling volunteer, she left feeling awkward and unwanted, and possibly even like a threat.

Welcome to how so many of us often feel around other Christians these days: awkward and unwanted, and possibly even like a threat.

But instead of despairing completely, I’ve reached out to some of my closest friends for prayer. My dog snuggled me until I laughed again, not leaving me alone until I was smiling. Our roses and primroses are blooming, and I can enjoy them because they’re some of the flowers my sinuses are cool with. I’m brewing a cup of my favorite apple cinnamon tea. And I will remind myself of God’s love and goodness, remind myself that God does not look at refugees, immigrants, and unmarried women like we are awkward and unwanted, but with compassion and deep deep love.

Psalm 9 speaks to me today. It is long, so I’ll leave you with verses 1-2, 7-11, and 18:

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High . . . But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness. The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forgotten those who seek you. Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds! . . . For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.”

When Memories Come

Today, as the communion cups were finishing their rounds, I sat looking at my hands holding the tiny plastic cup filled with grape juice. And in that moment, I remembered my father’s hands holding a similar cup. Large, strong, tan fingers dwarfing the delicate glass (they were glass back then). As a child I used to watch him, fascinated by how graceful he could be, the cup balanced in his left hand as the finger of his right hand swirled around the rim over and over again. I wouldn’t blink, not wanting to miss if he would spill a drop or get any of the red juice on his finger, but he never did. Now I hold my communion cup just like him, in my left hand as my right hand absently traces its thin plastic lip, unintentionally echoing my father. One of the many ways I’m like him without even meaning to be, I suppose.

Lately, memories like this have been flooding back unbidden though not unwelcome. Little specific moments of time past keep popping up in my memory, brought on by sights, sounds, even scents. Unexpected and strange. While the world changes around me, flowers blossom, trees leaf and grass turns green again, my mind keeps remembering people and moments past.

It’s hard to describe.

I’ve been reflecting on how odd it is that my limited human brain has the capacity to be the only place a specific version of a person exists anymore. Often, my memory is spotty or nonexistent, but then there are these pieces of people, vivid and real, that I will never forget.

An old boyfriend who was once young and sweet and kind but became violent, racist, and angry. I don’t think of him often, but as I stumbled across a video from “The Phantom of the Opera,” which he loved back then, memories came flooding back of the sweet him, pieces of him that no one other than me will remember.

My last serious crush, a funny, witty, complicated man who died a few years ago, suddenly and way too young. A picture of him appeared on Facebook this week, unattached to anything in particular, he just seems to be on more than one person’s mind lately. And in my mind he will always be laughing, beer in hand, twinkle in his eye, trying hard to make sure everyone around him is comfortable and noticed, including the socially awkward me.

Childhood friends I used to spend so much time with who slipped out of my life when I switched schools in the middle of my freshman year. The church I’m now attending is a newer version of my old church, so familiar faces from my past surround me, recognizable but not really known because of over two decades of interruption. I knew them in awkward youth, and they knew me. I wonder how much of that version of me they see when I walk into the room now. I wonder what I’ve missed about them in all these years, what has been lost or gained.

And when one of my former students posted online that he wonders why God took his dad away, didn’t answer his prayers to spare his dad’s life, I think of my dad. And I can tell him I know how he feels, because I was almost the exact same age, because I prayed that same prayer, because I had those same questions. Because I still miss him. And in my mind, beautiful bits and pieces of him still live on.

Out of all things created, the human mind is the most astounding to me. As the flowers in my backyard and in my favorite garden blossom back into life, my mind somehow resurrects people from my past. It’s a kind of haunting – memory – and not totally unpleasant. Sometimes it’s nice to wipe a tear or two away as each vignette slips by, to remember those I have loved and lost, to realize how bizarre life is because, though people are not permanent, they can stay the same forever in my mind.

I wonder, when I’m gone, which memories of me will haunt those who love me. What song will always whisk them back to a concert with me? What scent will remind them of a Disneyland trip with me? What odd mannerism will reflect my influence? What book will forever be associated with my name?

Until we meet again in heaven, what pieces of me will survive in minds and hearts? I will leave behind no children to bear my name, my legacy, just memories.  I pray they’ll be beautiful and silly, sweet and uplifting. May I live my life in such a way that my memory leads to a couple sweet tears instead of bitterness, to small smiles and deep sighs instead of anger, to joy and, ultimately, to thoughts of the love of Christ for each of us. A girl can dream.

Saved by Beauty

Today, I am feeling the melancholy beauty that comes creeping in on a Saturday in Autumn, when the light coming in through my window is a bit dimmer, the air a bit cooler and bourbon butterscotch candle scented, and I can pretend I live somewhere with an actual fall.

Today, I am going through the two journals filled with scribbles and ramblings from my time at English L’Abri last year, looking for that one particular entry on truth, goodness, and beauty. Flipping through these pages brings out tears as I remember the magical Autumn-winter I got to spend in that manor house in the English countryside, trying to piece together my slightly broken life with the help of Christians from all over the world walking alongside me, debating, cooking, cleaning, praying, singing, arguing, discussing, and experiencing. Still broken, but learning to accept that, I look back at my notes from lectures, recordings, books, and sermons and feel such deep joy that it makes me cry. Beauty can do that, you know, make you cry.

You see, though I know my life has been a rather easy one by universal standards, I know what depression feels like. There have been two periods of time in my life when my depression was so deep and seemed so insurmountable that I wanted to end my life. High school was the first period, and a few years ago, another such period began. I am awestruck that God brought me through these times, that for the past few months I have awakened in the morning wanting to live, able to experience real joy again.

As someone who grew up in the church, was a leader in InterVarsity at university, got her Masters in Biblical Counseling, and who counsels others, I’ve studied truth and goodness my whole life. Yet knowing what is true and what is good isn’t always enough. My head is so full of facts, laws, right and wrong, justice, and the righteousness of God and yet somehow I lose sight of him still.

One of my favorite lectures from the listening library at L’Abri was entitled “Recovering Goodness, Beauty and Truth” by Andrew Fellows. This most important, most ancient of triads is the basis for most philosophy. Fellows’ final conclusion echoed that of Dostoyevsky who, in “The Idiot,” claimed “Beauty will save the world.” In a world that has twisted truth, goodness, and our perception of beauty into the unrecognizable, we must ask what is left. Fellows quotes Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s bold response:

“And so perhaps that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady, materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light – yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.”

As much as my head knows what the Bible teaches, and my mind has been trained in the ways of goodness, this means nothing until my heart is able to comprehend it all. Beauty calls me to look more deeply at things, to search for the truth and good because I see its worth. Beauty awakens my soul and points to things beyond myself, beyond comprehension.

Sometimes when we grow up in the church we can forget just how beautiful God is, how lovely his creation which surrounds us, how magnificent each word spoken to us from heaven through his scriptures, how delightful each unique person, plant, and animal is. I spend lots of time thinking of what I should be doing, saying, or thinking that sometimes I forget to look up and see what he has done and what he has made us capable of.

Right now, in our broken world, suffering surrounds us. From hurricanes to earthquakes, racial hatred to vicious politics, floods to famine, poverty to greed I can get caught up in the truth that our world can be horrific and cruel. And yet there is still beauty; there are still people who sacrifice their own lives to rescue their neighbors, there is still music and art that reflects us and yet still lifts us up, there is the friend who texts when they think of you, there are two little boys of different races laughing loudly as they ride their bikes together on my street, and there is Autumn.

As I continue to seek truth and goodness, I must remember to also search out beauty. Instead of always trying to find the right answer, an impossible task, I must remember that there is beauty in the mystery of life, adventure in the ever-pondered and possibly never-answered questions. As Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” And as flawed as we are, I need to embrace the beauty which innately lives inside each person as people who bear the very image of God.

So this week I will light more fall scented candles, read wondrous books to my students, hug my family, eat delicious food, enjoy good art, and try to dwell on the beauty of my Lord and his everlasting love for me – something that just is, that I didn’t earn, and that I don’t have to work to keep.

Perhaps, after everything, beauty will indeed save the world. Or maybe it’ll just help save me today, which is enough.

*To find lectures by L’Abri such as the one mentioned above, you can go to the L’Abri Ideas Library or subscribe to the podcast English L’Abri by L’Abri Fellowship on iTunes.

My Country Is Broken

My country is broken. It always has been. Yet, somehow, this fact seems to take so many of us by surprise. Not me, I’m a cynic who sees the worst before I can even think of the better. But for many of those around me, there is surprise. A great shock. “How could this be America? This isn’t the America I know and love.” But when we dig deeper, we see this has always been part of America. Divided. Racist. Sexist. Greedy. Selfish. Violent. Yes, there has been beauty and courage, heroism and greatness as well. Being surprised by the bad is the privilege of those who happen to be white, happen to be educated, happen to have medical insurance, happen to not be handicapped or mentally ill, happen to be attracted to the opposite sex, happen to have been raised in “Christian” traditions instead of other religions, happen to not struggle with addiction, happen to be what America has deemed “typically American.”

I fit into this category, for the most part. I have had my own struggles with depression, had periods of my life where my family was incredibly poor, and am currently on Medi-Cal – so I don’t fit every aspect of this picture, but I’m pretty close. I don’t get to look at those around me who have always had a tougher time of it and tell them they’ve been imagining it, that America didn’t use to be this way, that they’re making it up and making it worse. That would be a sin on my part – a grievous lie created just to make me feel better, to make me feel justified if I were to try to perpetuate a system that favors me and those like me while crushing anyone different.

This has been weighing on me for much of my life, not just after this horrible week. I struggled with it as I decorated our house for the 4th of July this year, conflicted about the patriotism around me, which led me to write this poem.

A Nonpartisan Christian’s 4th of July

 

America, I love you?
But you are not first in my heart.
God.
Family, friends, church,
the poor and lost,
the weak and vulnerable,
those who cannot speak for themselves,
these own bigger pieces of my heart.
You, this beautiful mess of a country,
this idea of freedom that only exists for some,
this warped worship of capitalism and greed,
this lie of liberty,
this brutal hope –
you I love too, America,
even as you break my heart.

We are broken. Always have been. But the cracks are starting to grow bigger, more obvious. Yet again (this is not the first time, nor will it be the last). And, tragically, many Christians are assisting in making these cracks even bigger with overt white supremacy, with the lack of acknowledgment of white privilege, support for a vile leader and the rest of his regime, applause for hateful policies, judgment and lack of compassion for the poor and downtrodden, backing exclusive laws, with disbelief, defensiveness, dismissal, and with silence.

White evangelical Christians, I challenge you to stop excusing what is happening by saying you voted for the party, not the man. Stop using getting an anti-abortion and gay marriage supreme court justice as your one ticket item that somehow excuses immense evil. Stop claiming the possibility of socialized medicine is somehow justification for stripping away rights and humanity from others.

It shouldn’t have taken this long for people to see Trump and the rest of his White House, and many Republicans, for what they truly are. The minute he said to “grab women by the pussy,” or defrauded his Trump University students, or encouraged his constituents to beat reporters and protesters, or brought up Obama’s birth certificate, or accepted support from Breitbart and other hate-mongering sites, or I dunno, opened his mouth, Christians everywhere should have done everything in their power to turn conservative parties away from him and those like him. The line was crossed ages ago. Step up. It’s time to stop looking at just one or two issues, but all of them. Time to put others first in more than one area. Time to treat people the way Christ did.

Speak up. Vote differently. Call your representatives. Pray. Listen to those who are hurting. Just listen and process. Drop your defenses for a moment. Be willing to be wrong. Allow this to break your heart. Pray. Search the Bible for Christ’s example of loving others. Gently confront the injustice, prejudice, and hateful things you see around you. Boldly confront those who need boldness. Ask questions. Challenge. Pray. Read books, tweets, blogs, and articles by minorities dealing with America’s history and current culture. Be willing to learn. Pray. Step up.

The only answer to this brokenness is Christ. Ask yourself, are you actually being the light and salt right now that a follower of Christ is meant to be? All of those broken souls out there, would they look at you as someone who can help them, or as someone who hates them? Are you loving your neighbor or are you just loving yourself and those like you? Are you treating people the way Christ did, or the way the pharisees did.

Step up. It is late, it should have happened ages ago. But you need to step up now. When people look at the church they should see Christ, not Trump.