Modern-Day Job

I’m struggling with something monumental – something essential to who I am and in whom I place my faith. It’s uncomfortable and messy and I’m only now beginning to process the things my heart has hidden for so long. I wrote about the moment when I realized that I don’t trust God, but that was only scratching the surface as it turns out.

To understand this place I’ve found myself inhabiting, there are a few things you should know about me. My childhood wasn’t one of ease and safety and freedom. I had to grow up fairly quickly because life’s circumstances forced me to – I’ve been referred to as more mature than my peers for as long as I can remember. I guess a hard childhood has its perks. I’ve been taught the ways of the God of the Bible since I was an infant, learning that He was the good father who wouldn’t abandon me like my earthly one did, and that He loves me more than anyone else ever can. I didn’t really understand those concepts until I arrived at college and began embracing – and flaunting – my independence from the ideals and culture I was raised in. And it wasn’t until I went to therapy post-college that I truly began to deal with the pain of my past.

Now, I believe that there is a God, and I believe the bible is inerrant and divinely inspired. In all my soul-searching, I’ve found those two things to be constant. The part I’m having trouble dealing with? My heart cannot reconcile a God who knew of and had the power to stop all the pain of my childhood with this God of goodness, mercy, and grace that I claim to be serving today. I don’t know how to deal with a God who is all-knowing and all-powerful, one who has the ability to stop injustice with one word, and doesn’t. I know that he can bring beauty out of the messiest situations, but I don’t know that I want to serve a God who is just a fixer. Why fix when you can prevent, you know?

It’s funny how it becomes incredibly easy for people to spout off pat answers about issues like this when they’re not directly affected. I was one of those people. Injustice in all its forms, but most especially sex trafficking, breaks my heart to pieces. Sitting safely in my apartment with both bolts secured, I can say that sex trafficking is horrendous but that God is raising up an army of his people who will fight against this atrocity and bring redemption to this fallen world. Why does he let it occur? I don’t know, but I choose to focus on the redemption and freedom that will eventually come. And then there are those precious girls who are told about Jesus after being rescued from the sex trade and they ask, “If your God is so good, why didn’t he stop those men from raping me?” How do you answer that question? When it isn’t just this far off idea, but an actual breathing, broken human in front of you, how do you answer that?

That’s where I find myself today. If I wanted a good Christian pep talk, I could give myself one. But that doesn’t suffice anymore, because those well-intentioned speeches give no comfort and sometimes drive the knife in deeper. Someone pointed out that I’ve never let myself be angry at the people who hurt me. I was taught to forgive and to bury it all away, but I was never allowed the space to be angry. So decades worth of anger have begun to surface, and I find that underneath the smiling God-is-good face that I wear, I’m really angry. At my father, at my brother, at my brother’s father, and as scary as it sounds, at God.

I’m not negating his goodness, or calling his entire character into question. In fact, I still regularly see his goodness in little things like sitting in the sunshine with my feet in the river, listening to the birds chirp. But in the singular occasion where he could have stepped in to save this fragile little girl years ago, he didn’t. And I need time to process that, to ask him why his arm of justice lay still when I needed him the most; to ask him if his plan for redemption and glorification was really worth that much pain. That’s where I’m at – asking hard questions like Job did, and letting myself be angry at the God of the universe.

One of the greatest things my mother taught me was that God isn’t scared of my questions and my doubts. I might terrify all the other good, unquestioning Christians around me, but he can handle it. So it’s just me and God, sitting across from each other, trying to mend my broken heart. It might take forever, and my heart might never be mended, but I sure as hell am not going to pretend like I don’t have these questions. If nothing else, he deserves my honesty; it’s the respectful thing to do.

Boys & Girls: Lovers or Friends?

I’m feeling really grateful for men these days. Particularly, the intelligent, attractive, wonderful ones that I’m privileged to call friends. Yes, friends. As if there aren’t enough things to debate – like whether or not I still want to be a therapist after learning how many ways it is possible for me to get thrown in jail  – we have found ourselves debating recently whether men and women can be friends.

Maybe you’ve seen this video, with its brilliantly researched findings that cover a large span of the human population and their opinions on the matter (read: an afternoon’s worth of stalking people on the Utah State campus). According to this painstaking research, girls always think that they’re friends with the guys while the guys all firmly state that such strictly platonic relationships are impossible to be had. I don’t know, maybe that’s a nice thing to hear if you like to believe that every guy you interact with has a secret crush on you. If that’s you, feel free to disagree with me.

I’m only one person, and my opinion is obviously not law, but I think there are some pretty logical reasons for why this way of thinking is both confusing and nonsensical.

  1. If this were true, then we’re just creating an army of little narcissists – ladies who are walking around thinking that every.single.man they are “friends” with is secretly jonesing for them. I mean, come on. I’m all for self-confidence and embracing your beauty and wit, but I happen to believe that I can be appreciated for the person I am without that immediately leading to romantic attraction. In fact, I regularly describe my guy friends as the most attractive, eligible guys I know. Does this mean I want to date them all? For goodness sake, no.
  2. This automatically makes all men liars. If you really don’t just think of me as a friend, why do you pretend to be my friend? Why don’t you just hold my hand and play with my hair so I know we’re more than just friends? Just kidding, please never touch a black woman’s hair. In any case, I’d rather not think that all my guy friends are pathological liars, and that when they treat me as a friend or as a sister, they actually mean it.
  3. I once was told by a guy that he couldn’t be friends with me because he found me too attractive for our relationship to remain simply platonic. He said he could definitely be friends with a woman as long as she’s unattractive. That’s all fine and dandy – and wierdly complimentary? – but what does the fact that I have a fair number of guy friends today say about me? I refuse to believe that my looks have significantly deteriorated to the point where I’m easy to be friends with because ain’t nobody wanna look at that. No sir.

Friendships with people whose emotions do not follow a monthly cycle are the best. I’ve always appreciated the constancy, and the different perspective they bring. But I also appreciate that they care about me, affirm me, get drinks with me, and give me giant bear hugs without it changing the ease and comfort of our relationships. Sure, I used to do the thing where every compliment from a guy had to mean something other than the words spoken. But most of the time, “You look really pretty today” means quite simply, you look really pretty today. I’ve learned to curtsy and say thank ye kindly and move the heck on with a smile on my face.

The process of me learning to not crush on every single guy I know coincides really nicely with the process of me discovering my worth and value. The more I came to understand that I am good enough and worthy of love and affection as a whole and not just because of my feminine body parts, I started to appreciate what others had been seeing all along. I am a whole, complete individual – not just a face, or breasts, or a small waist and an average butt. In the same way, a guy has become more than just a potential cure for a lonely season, but a whole person deserving of love and affection just like I am.

The other side of this argument is the fact that I’ve routinely been called the most oblivious woman alive by my female friends. Maybe it’s true; maybe my literal [almost legal] blindness has infected my relational eyesight as well. If that’s the case – if ALL of my guy friends actually want to recite love poetry, perhaps from Song of Songs, to me – then I will stand corrected. But until then, I refuse to be a narcissist, and I refuse to make them liars.

I guess this is an ode to my menfolk. Thanks for helping me disprove the myth that girls and guys can’t be friends. You’re the tops.

In Pursuit of Life

photo_3

Last night, I started a tradition. Sunday Night Dinner. It’s really an idea I’ve had for the longest time, long before this year even began. I think a large part of it can be attributed to being raised as an only child, in a family of adults. Dinner was rarely eaten around the table – each person off in their own room, engrossed in a book or the news or silence.

I didn’t discover my love for the kitchen until I left home, and when I fell in love, I fell hard. I love good food – making it, eating it, sharing it. I love the thought that goes into planning a meal and executing it. I love the community that is built and strengthened over food whether at home or out somewhere. I love entertaining people in my space – I feel warm, and maternal, and incredibly joyful when I get to fill people’s bellies with delicacies from my kitchen. It just feels right, like I’m reflecting the image of my Father when I create something cohesive and delicious out of previously unrelated ingredients.

photo (15)

When I was in New York a few weeks ago, I complained loudly to my best friend about all the things I wasn’t satisfied with back in Denver. The list was embarrassingly long. And then she said something that sounded very much like my old therapist. She said, “Well, just go do stuff by yourself. Or start XYZ and invite other people.” That’s the polite version of “Get off your butt, quit complaining about everything, and go get what you want.”

So I did. Last night, my little apartment was filled with food, people, laughter, and the sounds of Billy Joel filling the empty spaces between our words. We sat on the floor around my coffee table because my dining table wasn’t big enough. I lit candles and danced around my kitchen as I chopped onions and sautéed Italian sausage in a giant skillet. And I thought, man, this is good.  A number of my favorite things – food, conversations, and laughter – were happening in that room all at the same time because I got off my butt and invited people to join me in celebrating life and each other. Who knew it was that easy?

photo_4

 

Amidst all of this, I’m learning to truly accept and own parts of myself that don’t always seem to fit into this Colorado culture. I’m learning to be okay admitting that I’m the girl who’d rather read a book/bake cupcakes/go to a jazz bar and drink scotch/ride bikes for hours, and not the girl who wants to hike a 14-er or go camping or skiing. It’s easy to feel subpar and silly around people who idolize the outdoors. If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked, “You live in Colorado and you don’t [insert some outdoor activity here]? What’s wrong with you?”

photo

Instead of feeling subpar and consequently complaining about it, I’m taking my best lady’s advice and just doing the things that bring me life. I’m going to spend my summer valuing and loving this quiet heart that prefers a different kind of adventure. So while my friends are out hiking and climbing, I’m going to take myself on a food tour of Denver. I’ll learn Spanish, finally, and then I’ll go salsa dancing and practice the language while I’m breathlessly reacquainting my hips with the rhythms of the merengue. I’ll read lots of grand books, maybe even join a summer book club where we drink wine and talk about our opinions about whatever great literary work we’re reading. I’ll find a band and play music again for the first time in almost two years. I’ll do the hour-long bike ride along the river from my apartment to Downtown Denver. I’ll take little weekend adventures to beautiful places in order to hold on to my sense of wonder and awe. I’ll learn how to brew beer, and I’ll feel so damn proud of myself. And every Sunday at 6pm, my house, my heart, and my belly will be filled with the goodness of God in the form of people and food. Man, this life is a good one. There are no complaints here.

“I live according to my faith when I love a meal that has been prepared carefully, when I notice texture and color and taste, when I let the flavor and scent of something fresh from the ground surprise me and bring me back to life. I demonstrate my theology when I dance all night with people I love, because this life is worth the best celebration we can offer up to it. I thank God every time I eat crusty bread and garlicky olives, and when I smell clean laundry and hear that little squeak of fingers on a guitar. For me, what God said when he made the world is a prayer: It is good. This world, it is good. The beauty of a perfect green apple is good. The first steps of a child are good. Watching my grandparents dance in their kitchen is good. It is good.”
– Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines.

 

Tongue Biting & Name Calling

I’m just going to go ahead and say it: it’s fun to be mean and degrading. Giving people nicknames you’d never repeat in front of them, making jokes about a person’s mannerisms or appearance, talking smack about the people you don’t like – all of that makes for entertaining, hilarious conversations. And boy, am I good at it. I mean, really good.

Then the other day, I was listening to someone talk about how lust is simply the act of dehumanizing a person, making them into an object without seeing the value of their entirety. And I thought, holy hell, I do that all the time with my name calling. It’s not any different, you see. A person who is a brother, a son, a friend, an uncle, a grandson, a child of God becomes [insert derogatory nickname here]. That’s all I see when I look at them or encounter them. Pretty quickly, that’s all they become to me. My words dehumanize them without them even knowing it, and their worth is reduced to the singular thing that made me mad or the mannerism that irks me.

Most of the time, the name calling starts because I have expectations of people that don’t get met. I expect that super attractive guy I’m flirting with to eventually ask me out, and when he doesn’t he becomes an asshole. Or I expect that other person to be aware of the fact that laundry shouldn’t be done only once every couple months, so when they don’t grasp that concept, they become the dirty asshole. Eventually, I can’t speak of this person with respect. I can’t look them in the eye and value who they are because all I see are my unmet expectations. Like a two-year-old, I throw a tantrum when people don’t give me what I want but it’s cleverly disguised under the adult variant of sarcasm and disrespectful humor.

How am I that different from that guy who only sees a body to mentally disrobe when he looks at me? I get furious when the conversations of lust and shame and who’s to blame come up. I have strong opinions, and I’m not ashamed of them. But what makes his dehumanization of me worse than my dehumanization of him? We’re reducing each other’s humanity to fragments either way, but my method of choice just happens to be more socially acceptable.

I think a lot about the woman I want to be – the kind of wife or mom or friend I aspire to become. Her beauty shines from the inside out, and you come away from any time with her feeling valued, loved, and at peace. That woman will not miraculously appear as soon as someone puts a ring on my finger. Her beauty is cultivated now  – in my words, and speech, and thoughts today. If today, I become mean and degrading as soon as my expectations are not met, how much more when I’m faced with someone else’s humanity in my heart and in my bed till death do us part?

I want to learn to celebrate a person’s humanity and imperfections even when it’s uncomfortable and everything in me wants to berate them. I want to love selflessly, not just the people I’m friends with, but everyone I encounter. I want to be like my mom, with her quiet dignity and gracious words about the people who did her the most harm. So I’m starting by keeping my mouth shut and my eyes open to see and appreciate the value of the whole person. After all, we’re all more than the sum of our broken parts.

“Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.” – Colossians 4:6.