Maybe I was Brainwashed

I’m pretty sure I grew up in a bubble.  Most of us probably grew up in a bubble.  Up until high school, I only knew Christian people.  I went to Christian camp.  I went to Christian school.  I had friends from church.  Even the after school program I went to was Lutheran.
I was told that “non believer” friends would cause me to “stumble.”  And then, when I got older, I was told to bring those same people to church, but they couldn’t be my friends unless they were Christian.  How was I supposed to bring someone to church without first befriending them.
The Seventh Day Adventist private school I attended for most of my life told me that eating things like pig, or catfish, or any other “bottom feeder” was basically sinful and that it would make me an unhealthy person.  To this day I can’t stomach some of these foods if I’m aware of what I’m eating, even if they taste good, are made right, raised right, and are something I want to eat.
In high school, where a lot of people are discovering who they are and they’re sexuality, I was told that gay was not okay and that abortion was murder.  And I had gay friends that would come to church with me.  I used to be so sad because I was told they weren’t going to go to heaven, all because of who they loved.  If someone felt that they were born the wrong gender, they had to be wrong, or sick, or have some sort of hidden sin in their life, because God doesn’t make mistakes.  Yes, we are God’s creation, but I think a lot of Christians forget that our world is broken, so someone being born the wrong gender isn’t necessarily a God thing or a sin thing, its more of a fallen world thing.  God is in control, but he gave over the reigns a long time ago.

In Acts, God spoke to Peter and told him to not call anything unclean or impure what he has made clean.  Didn’t Christ abolish the law?  So why are we still so legalistic?  We don’t “get to heaven” by following a bunch of rules.  It’s not even really about being  a good person.  But I think if we started seeing everyone as created, seeing everyone as having a purpose, seeing everyone as worthy, maybe some of the hurt in this world would end.

By the way, bacon is awesome, gay is okay, I won’t invite you to church because I don’t have one locally, and I will listen with an open mind and open heart if you need to talk about abortion.

The Worst of These

I think that all Jesus wants is to give us eternal life so we can spend it with him.  I think all he wants is to love us.  No matter what.  I think that he came to the world to save it, to save us, from death.  That’s all.  And what began in the garden, what began with sin, was death.  There’s no escaping this, because although Christ came to save the world, and although he succeeded, we did not suddenly become perfect.  But we do get to have a choice now.  We do get to choose him, if we want to.

It seems to me that a lot of people have forgotten the “if we want to” part.  It seems to me that some people swing to the side of “you must choose him or you deserve to die.”  As if they forget that we all deserve to die, whether we choose Christ or not.  Because you do not suddenly become perfect or sinless just because you call yourself a Christian.  Yes, your slate is wiped clean in his eyes, but he still knows you.  He still knows the judgment in your heart.
In Matthew 18: 21-35, Jesus tells the story of a ruler who decides to collect on his debts.  He calls a man before him who cannot repay him, and the man falls to his knees, begging for more time, begging not to be thrown in prison.  The ruler has mercy on the man and forgives him of his debt completely.  But then the man seeks out someone who owes him money, as if he has learned nothing, and demands the money be repaid.  When the money is not repaid, he has him thrown in prison.  When the ruler hears of this, he throws the first man in prison to be tortured until his debts are repaid.
Forgive as you have been forgiven.
I think a lot of us forget that we have been forgiven already.  We forget about our sin as if it never existed, as if we had never done anything wrong, as if we had never been in debt, and then we try to force others to “turn or burn.”  We tell people little one liners like, “hate the sin, but love the sinner.”  HELLO! WE ARE SINNERS TOO!!  All have sinned and deserve death.  And all sin is equal, because all sin is deserving of death.  
So we do things like telling someone, because they’re gay, they’re probably going to hell.  No.  Because they were born into an imperfect, sinful world, they might miss out on eternity with the Creator.  And you telling them their lifestyle is wrong does not allow them to see the loving God you claim to serve.  Who wants to follow a God who will not accept someone for who they are?  I honestly don’t believe anyone wants to be gay.  Nor do I believe anyone really wants to be straight.  I think you just are gay.  You just are straight.  You just are short.  You just are tall.  You just are lanky.  You just are stocky.  You. Just. Are.  I cannot make myself taller unless I add something that is not myself into the mix (tall shoes).  I cannot make myself love a woman unless I pretend to be something I am not.  Wearing high heels is masking who I really am.  Someone pretending to be straight when they’re not would be masking who they really are.

Christ did not come so we could point out people’s differences, flaws, or downfalls.  He did not say to Peter, “stop being so zealous and causing trouble,” he said, “follow me.”  He did not say to Mary, “don’t sleep with so many people,” he said, “follow me.”  Follow me.  The rest will get figured out along the way.
I had a professor in college who told a story about when he first gave his life to Christ.  He went to his pastor and said, “Well, now that I’m a Christian, does that mean I have to stop doing all these things,” and he listed off a bunch of “sins.”  Because he didn’t want to stop.  The pastor told him that he didn’t have to stop doing anything.  It was more about what he started doing.  He started spending time with his savior.  He started serving more.  He started worshipping.  And a lot of those sins?  He stopped doing them when he felt he needed to, when he felt led to, through his personal relationship with the Spirit.
That’s how I honestly believe God wants it to be.  Not every person is the same, so what is “sinful” for one person might not be for someone else.  Yeah, murder in cold blood is probably always a sin, and infidelity, and anything else that can hurt someone else.  But having a few drinks?  Loving someone of the same gender?  Eating shellfish?  Probably not across the board sinful.

Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, said in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.”  Paul equated himself with every other sinner, while we like to call him a saint.  In fact, he put himself below everyone else, because he knew his sins, knew himself, better than he knew anyone else.  Yes, he did his fair share of judging and calling people out.  But you know who he was calling out and judging?  Those who had already turned to Christ.  He was calling out those in the Church!  He wasn’t finding random strangers and telling them they were going to hell because they weren’t in the pews every Sunday.

Be like Paul.  Be like Christ.  And never forget who you are.

 

 

In the Wake

In the wake of the storm
A stillness unsettling
We dwell here
Searching for your peace

Pieces of our brokenness collected
Bringing them to our father
With tears streaming
Not realizing your joy at these gifts

You delight in your children
Yet we hide, ashamed
Believing we are naked in the garden
Not realizing you have already seen

We are not disappointments
Works in progress
You smile upon us
At every step

Every time we stumble
You are there to catch us
Not disappointments
As we chase you

Striving, ever striving
Not accepting rest
Afraid to settle
Your voice says, “just be still”

Leaps and bounds are not expected
The journey is what we were made for
You fall in love with our story
As we tell your story

We battled the storm
And you were with us
Your hand upon us
Carrying us when we couldn’t go on

Now here, in the wake
There is a stillness, unsettling
We can dwell here
Finding your peace

Blogging Everyday in July|Bad things, Good People, and Whatever’s In Between

There is a such a common question that is asked.  It’s asked to trip up those who have faith into doubting what they believe.  It’s asked genuinely, really wanting to understand if God really is as good as we say he is.  It’s asked out of curiosity.  It’s asked, just to see what kind of answer I can come up with.  But I’m okay with not having all of the answers.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

I believe that God is perfect.  He created the world to be perfect.  But we failed, thus the world was corrupted.  However, God continues to love us anyway.  Because his love is perfect where we fall short.
Some people like to think that God orchestrates everything that happens in this world, but that’s not the case.  I mean, yes he could do that, but he gave us free will.  So, as humans, we have choices to make, choices to do evil, and choices to do good.  Hating someone because they’re a different gender or race?  That’s a choice.  Loving someone, even though they’re different, or might not love you back?  That’s also a choice.  And for those of us who had the misfortune to be born after the original sin in the garden, sometimes making the right choice doesn’t make sense.  Because we were born into sin.  So vision gets skewed sometimes.
But choice doesn’t answer the question as to why some people get cancer, or are born with a mental “defect” that makes life harder, or why people develop dysphoria, or even why I’m bipolar.  Am I not a good person?  I’m not answering that.  But it’s because this world is corrupt.  This world has sin in it.  And sin isn’t just an action anymore, it’s in the world.
God did not create the world originally to contain sickness and hurt and anger.  Those all came after sin.  And even if someone tries to live their whole life never sinning, they still live in sin.  Because sin is in the world.  It’s in the air we breathe.  It’s not something we can just escape.  We can’t fix a corrupt world overnight.  I’m not even sure if we can fix it at all.
And if we ask why God doesn’t step in and destroy all of the things that are not of him, I think it’s because he loves us still.  He loves us regardless of if we love him.  It’s not as easy as, “those who don’t accept Christ are going to hell.”  It’s complicated and unexplainable, God’s love.  His desire never was, is, or will be to destroy us.  Even when he told Moses on the mountain that he wanted to kill all the Israelites and start again, he didn’t destroy them, and he never ceased to love them.  Even when he sent the flood to make the world new, he broke his own heart and promised never to do it again.
But all of these answers aren’t really answers.  No answer I can ever give will ever be good enough.  And I’m okay with that.  I’m okay with the mystery of God’s goodness.  I’m okay with simply knowing that we don’t know what he’s doing, because we are inside of time, where he lives outside of it.  We don’t know what awful thing he’s going to use for some amazing goodness in our future.  And we also don’t know what awful thing he hated to allow, but did because of the corrupt nature of the world, and the rampant free will that he didn’t interfere with.

I’m bipolar.  And I accepted my crazy a long time ago.  I used to believe that God created me this way, and that somehow it was going to be used someday, and I spent so many hours angry at him for it.  But maybe he didn’t create me this way.  Maybe I just am this way because of the corruptness of this earth.  But that doesn’t mean it won’t be used someday.
I both do and do not try to hide my crazy.  I can get really excited and feel so much love for my friends and want to do so many fun things.  But that excitement will get used up.  I’ll hit the mountaintop and drop off a cliff.  I woke up yesterday knowing I shouldn’t see people.  But I chose to drive to Nashville for the first time with them instead.  If it had been smooth, with a plan, and a city tour guide like I had in Michael Glenn, or Jackson, or even Jamie with his San Francisco list, or Aaron with his Portland list, and maybe a whole day, then my landing at the bottom of my depression might have been smoother.  My city exploring might have been something worth doing.  But instead, instead the chaos inside my head matched the chaos outside.  Instead I didn’t know what I was doing.  Instead, it was as if I had never been to a city before and things like paying for parking had to be mansplained to me.  Instead, I saw no river or beauty, I saw the ugliness that comes with all downtowns.  It was loud and hot and too much.  Why I ever thought that kind of adventure on a bad day would have been a good idea is beyond me.  Because I can’t explain my broken soul to those around me.  I’m unhelpable.  I’m broken.  But I’ve accepted it.  It’s just embarrassing when I’m spilling out onto the floor and the only thing that can be done is to mop me up.
Life is chaos.  Life is chaos.  Life is chaos.  And I could go on screaming at God to take me from it, because I’m not going to do it on my own.  Or I could find a way to take this chaos and make it art.  Find the beauty in the ugly.  Be Tyra Banks for a moment.  That’s not something I know how to do at the bottom of the cliff, but I will find my moment at the top again, and I will be living amongst the beauty again.
And none of this is to say that I had zero fun in Nashville, because I did have fun.  I love my friends here, they care about me.  It wasn’t there fault that I can’t handle my own existence sometimes.  That will never be anyone else’s fault.  That’s not what I want to be taken from this.  I am flawed.  We are all flawed.  Welcome to honesty hour.

 

Blogging Everyday in July|A Poem About Mass Attacks

I’m sure everyone is aware of the shooting that happened at Pulse, the club in Orlando.  It was a terrible thing to happen.  Any shooting is a terrible thing.  Any mass killing spree is a terrible thing.  And a lot of them seem to happen in the name of something, whether it’s a god someone believes in or something that a person believes that they stand for.  Battles like this are things that I try to stay out of.  My thoughts are controversial for some Christians.
I believe that if I follow the God that I say I do, then my first job is to love.  God loves and accepts his children.  Whether or not we live the way he originally created us to or not is besides the point.  So I choose to love and accept everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, preference, or religion.  I hope that everyone would act the same toward me, but that’s not always the case.  Not every person knows how to love.

The man responsible for that shooting, it is assumed, did it because he believes homosexuality is wrong.  However, it has since come out that he “struggled” with homosexuality himself.  I put struggled in quotes, because once accepted, sexual orientation is no longer a struggle.  One only struggles when one is resisting something they believe is wrong or sinful.  (In my opinion, of course).  So he hated something he saw in himself.

In saying all of this, after the shooting I felt compelled to write a poem about conviction.  I don’t usually explain my poetry, but there you go.

Conviction
Maybe it’s conviction
That causes so much pain
Believing so strongly that something is wrong
Then finding it within your own self
Must be terrifying
There is either hatred or acceptance
So many choose wrong

This whole world might be broken
Thought it was held together by perfect beliefs
Beliefs that keep getting challenged
It’s not so black and white anymore
Finding more truth in the grey areas than we’d care to admit

How could someone live their life that way?
Is it sin nature?
Or just sin?
Or could it honestly just be nature?
Something we found we hated in our genetic code
Refusing to evolve with it
Resisting until we feel we might just give in
Or give up
Take a gun to your head
Or harm someone else in this wrongful conviction

Alabamily

I haven’t done this in a while.  Just stopped and let my thoughts flow here.  So maybe it’s time to do that again.

Last September I went to Ireland on a trip that changed my life.  While there, I felt God calling me elsewhere.  I felt like he was saying Florence.
I came back to Mammoth with no definite place to live, but found myself stuck in a lease with my brother instead.  I thought I would move in a month or two, felt my heart screaming at me to get out.  But instead, we couldn’t find a roommate to take my place, and I settled.  And then the snow got good, so I decided to stay a little bit longer.  I became someone I’m not.

I went to LA and spent some time with some old friends.  One of them gave me the wise advice to pick a date and go with it.  So I did.  I chose March 15th, and I was all ready to move then.  Until everyone around started dragging me down.  Until everyone around me had their own opinion.  Until everyone around me couldn’t understand why I could move to a Southern state, a “less progressive” state, a humid state.  How could that ever be home?  I honestly don’t know.  I just know what my heart says.  With every beat, it says get out.  Get out.  Get out.  Get out of Mammoth.  Get out of California.  Get out of this stagnant life you have let consume you.  What the hell are you still doing here?

I started doing things that have dragged me down.  I started spending time with people who I have allowed to change who I am.  I have all but cut ties with the people that I love here.  I let someone have my heart who definitely doesn’t deserve it, but that’s always the case anyway.
I feel torn.  I feel pulled in a thousand directions.  I feel like my life is out of control, as if I don’t get a say anymore.  My mom kept telling me how I need to save more money.  My brother wants me to stay longer so he can have more time to find a roommate, because he’s being picky.  My manager wants me to stay because he doesn’t want to find a replacement.  My new friends want me to stay longer because we can hang longer.
But what about what is right for me?  What about my life?  Where is it going?  Am I still holding onto something that is broken?  Because it feels as though my hands have been sliced open and are dripping blood.

I might be past my breaking point again.  I think I’m done here.  I probably should have left a while ago.
I need to find an Alabamily.  I need there to be something ahead of me again.
Because I’ve forgotten who I was.  I’ve been ignoring my soul.  I’ve been ignoring God.  I’ve made mistakes.  So I’m still here.

In My Doubting Midst

I gave my heart to Jesus when I was five years old.  I even have a rock that says so at my parents’ house.  Is this something that I remember?  Not really.  Are there tons of other people who probably had the same rock and have since tossed it out?  Probably.  Are these people still considering themselves Christians?  Maybe, maybe not.  But that’s not the point, is it?  I just wonder, was I brainwashed?

I’ve only known a Christian life, even when I haven’t wanted to.  I went to church with my family every week, and it was normal.  I went to a Christian school for eight years.  I read the Bible in class.  I sang songs about Jesus with my classmates.  I was warned of the dangers of having non-believing friends.  So I never even had a choice not to believe.  

The small town I grew up in didn’t have a Christian high school, and there were so many other things happening in my family, that I had no choice but to go to a public high school.  The thing is, I was excited.  I never talked about my faith or my upbringing at school, because growing up it was something that had just always been known.  Everyone had always known I was a Christian, because they were all Christians too.  We had all made commitments to stay “pure” until marriage, and to not drink, and to never smoke.  There was never really any discussion.  So going to a public high school where very few people knew me was a chance for me to entirely reinvent myself.  

However, there were some other factors.  Right before I started high school, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had to leave town for treatments quite frequently.  I also was experiencing my first conscious episode of depression.  It never occurred to me to wonder where God was in any of it, though.  

I started cutting myself, but I still prayed.  I dated guys, but I didn’t have sex with them.  If I liked someone, I would bargain with God.  I would tell him that I would stop cutting myself if just this next guy would ask me to be his girlfriend.  And after that happened, I would start again, because I couldn’t stop.  

By the time I reached my sophomore year of high school, I had isolated myself from my Christian family, too afraid to tell them that I might have doubts.  I started hanging out with two friends that had no desire to have anything to do with God, one of which was homosexual.  My mother really frowned upon it, but it was okay.  I told my friends that it would be less scary to tell my parents that I was pregnant than it would be to tell them that I didn’t want to be a Christian.  Neither of which really seemed like a possibility anyway.  I wasn’t pregnant, and I didn’t know how to not be a Christian.

I had taken God out of the equation entirely.  My faith had become about church, and family, and shame.  

But then I had the opportunity to go to LA with my church’s youth group to go to a conference for New Year’s Eve.  My parents, with no idea of my doubts, were all for me going.  So I went.  And I experienced my first real encounter with God.  During one of the services, while I was dwelling in my own darkness, one of the speakers called me out.  Not by name, but by heart.  He said exactly what was on my mind.  He spoke of being unlovable, of being broken, of wanting to die.  Which was everything that I let define me.  At that moment, everything inside of me came pouring out.  God spoke to me.  I gave him my life, for real.  He told me where to go to college, and from that day forward, I made plans.  

I thought I was healed.  I thought that I was only dealing with depression because I was trying to walk away from God.  It wasn’t long before I found that I was entirely wrong.  But instead of being honest about my depression, I hid it, because if you’re a Christian, you must be happy.  Although all evidence spoke otherwise, I for some reason believed that following God meant that there were no more problems in your life.  This meant that I was doing something wrong if I was still experiencing crippling depression.

I ended up graduating high school and going to Bible college, heading toward a theological degree, and thinking I’d maybe be a youth pastor.  Except I had social anxiety that was only getting worse, and the idea of leading any kind of group was terrifying.  It took me more than a year to realize that I had maybe made the wrong career choice.  

I suddenly fell in love with writing, but knew that God had called me to be where I was at.  And then I broke completely.  Everything within me screamed at me to end my life.  I had no reason to feel depressed and empty, but I was.  I experienced small highs, and devastating lows.  I wanted to transfer schools and get a degree in creative writing, but even more, I wanted to end my life entirely.  

I had a good group of friends who begged me to get help, and when I wouldn’t do it on my own, walked with me as I did what I needed to do to get healthy.  I was finally diagnosed with manic depression.  I went home for Christmas break and decided to end my life.  Instead, I failed.  

I couldn’t understand where God was in this.  I couldn’t understand why God would make me with a mind that didn’t function correctly.  I wanted to know his plan.  And I wondered if he had no plan at all.  I wondered if he was cruel.  But after a few months of meds and counseling, I stopped wondering this.  I was better.  I was okay with the way I was made.  

A few months later, I stopped taking meds all together.  Probably a mistake at the time, but I had made it through.  I spent another year and a half without having any major episodes.  I didn’t want to end my life.  I wrote a lot of poetry and music.  And I accepted myself for who I am, because it made me a better writer.  However, that wasn’t good enough.

Towards the end of my senior year of college, I started dating a guy who wasn’t a Christian.  And then my grandmother died.  And then he stopped talking to me.  And I went on a drive up a mountain, wondering if I should drive off of it.  I sat, with my feet hanging off the edge, and I contemplated.

I contemplated the pros and cons of continuing on.  I contemplated leaving my faith behind.  I contemplated what my life would have been like if I had gone to a different school, if I had pursued something else, if I had lived somewhere else.  Because I couldn’t come to terms with a God who would allow me to go through life unable to have rational emotions.  I couldn’t grasp why he hadn’t healed me.  I could see no good in this, I could see no plan.  But I decided to drive home anyway.  I yelled at God.  I told him how angry I was.  He had to know that I didn’t want to follow him anymore.  Even though I was about to graduate with my degree in theology and ministry.

For the most part, I kept my doubts to myself.  I blogged about them some, but to the majority, I was a good Christian girl.  I had decided I was going to move to Portland and live with strangers and get a crappy job and write and drink.  But instead, my mom went out of remission, and I felt God calling me home, even though I was angry.  Even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to follow him.  Even though I was broken.  

But that was more than a year ago.  And I spent the last year learning to hear God again.  I stopped dwelling on the theological implications of my doubts and my beliefs, and I just listened.  

A couple months ago, I found myself at a jungle church in Costa Rica with my Finnish roommate and a team of missionaries who barely spoke Spanish.  God pointed out an elderly woman to me and told me he was going to heal her.  So my roommate and I started praying for her back, because that was where she had said there was pain.  A minute or so later, she looked up at the light and started crying.  With my limited Spanish, I could only deduce that she could see.  She could see the light.  She could see the light!  But wait, we were praying for her back.  And that was healed too.  

So yeah, sometimes I doubt.  But maybe I don’t need to anymore.  Because I saw God do exactly what he said he would, without knowing or understanding his plan.  He healed the blind in the Bible.  And he healed the blind right in front of me.  So in my doubting midst, there is hope.  That day, that woman saw the light.  That day, I saw the light too.