Pleasant Surprises

People will surprise you, if you let them. People will love you, if you let them.

The last three years of my life could probably be summed up in those two sentences. I tend to be pessimistic, unfortunately, and the world can be quickly be stripped of color and joy after one terrible incident. My most sacred places were wounded before I was old enough to understand how sacred those places were, and since then, my mantra has been that people are unsafe. The world is unsafe. You have to constantly watch your back because it’s the ones you think you can trust that’ll hurt you the most. Fortress built, sword in hand, queen of my lonely land.

But every now and then, someone sees past the defenses and sees the innocent, silly, lovely little girl hiding behind the walls and chooses to love her. And a large section of that insurmountable wall is torn down. And then it happens again with someone else. And another and another and another. All that’s left now is a rather flimsy barrier in comparison to the enormous fortress that once stood before.

I’m amazed at how many men and women have proven me wrong, and have shown me that there is good to be experienced even when you least expect it. I constantly catch myself being surprised that she remembered and texted, or that they drove down to hang out just for a few hours, or that he sent a postcard just because. I didn’t realize that I expect people to forget me when I (or they) leave, until I left and I wasn’t forgotten. I didn’t realize how terribly I ached to be cared for until I was repeatedly cared for in the simplest, yet incredibly profound ways.

I’ve never regretted anything that I’ve chosen to do thus far in my life. Acknowledging that there might have been better choices is one thing, but I can recognize that I need to chart my own path, make my own mistakes, fill the chronicle of my days with humorous mishaps. I’m okay with that. So, to me, it is monumental that this is the first thing I’ve ever regretted. I regret how much time and energy I’ve put into self-preservation, fortifying walls and hiding from life. I regret not realizing sooner that the more pain you shut out, the more joy you shut out, too. I regret not giving myself a thousand more chances to be surprised by care, and love, and hope, and joy.

Because the thing I’ve learned is this: people will love me, but only if I let them. I’m learning to let them. And I’m thanking God everyday for those dear friends who surprise me constantly. What sweet treasures they are to me.

Stretch Marks

I’m covered in scars, mostly up and down my legs, but truthfully, I’m covered in scars everywhere. I wasn’t the most coordinated child or adolescent and I frequently walked into windows or caught my knees on sharp nails sticking out of terribly designed classroom tables. I clearly remember catching the same spot above my right knee three times in one week on the same nail. Or that one time I felt so joyful, an uncharacteristic emotion for my 8-year-old self, that I decided to twirl through the long hallway in my favorite childhood home and slashed my left elbow on a window pane. Somehow, my brain and arms miscommunicated when I was supposed to be reaching up to catch a key thrown in my direction, and it landed right in the center of my forehead and knocked me out. The scar’s so tiny now, but I could point it out to you within a few minutes.

Oh, and the chicken pox. I mean, I was pretty responsible and didn’t go to town on my face or any other typically visible parts. But the parts that offered me reprieve have a multitude of scars to tell the story. And then there are the trillions of mosquito bites that I simply couldn’t resist inflicting equal torment on, some of them leading to malaria, most of them filed under the “Annoying Bug Bite” category. I learned the banana peel trick, and gained some self-control eventually, but I am certain that my blood type is especially attractive to mosquitoes.

Then there was the appendectomy when I was 14 and the tiny little gash it left on the right side of my abdomen, a constant reminder that I am without an appendix. And there’s the tiny scar above my left eyebrow from when I rolled a 4-wheeler on a little farm in Kansas and had to go to the ER. And the odd scar on my left hip from slipping on a sheet of ice and scraping my side while trying to hurry into the hot tub. I still got into the hot tub, bloody wound and all. Yikes.

And that’s not nearly all of them. I’m a walking museum of stories and scars, and it took a million trips and falls and oddly-placed nails for me to get to this place I’m at. This place where I fondly reminisce about each story and laugh about the strange child I was. It’s not a perfect body by any means, but it has so much character and depth because of all it’s been through. And I love it so much more because I know of the stories it carries, of its pains externally and internally inflicted.

And then I think about my heart, and the scars it has collected. Its elasticity and durability constantly surprise me, and with each passing year, I fall in love with my heart a little more. These days, I have become increasingly more hopeful about the concept of successful, happy marriages. Thanks to grad school, I’m learning a lot about relationships and how they work, and the more I learn, the more I think, “Maybe I can actually do this.”

To me, marriage is an expansion of the soul. There is a stretching, a widening, a creation of room for another to live in what used to be your space. It isn’t always comfortable or easy, but the work it does within you is incredibly beautiful and lasting. You don’t believe you can stretch any wider or love any deeper, and then your soul expands just a tiny bit more and you – and the world – are better for it.

I’m finally excited for that process of enlargement, after spending my whole life terrified of it. In the same way the scars on my body are a treasure map to all my stories and secrets, I want the stretch marks on my heart to tell the stories of the times I let my life be less about me and more about other people. Or the times when I danced for joy with someone I love even when the very thing we were celebrating had the potential to make me cry. Or the times when I saw the higher road and took it. I don’t want just a few stretch marks, spread out and easy to miss. In the words of Andrea Gibson, “In the end I want my heart to be covered in stretch marks.” I guess these days I’m just feeling especially honored and grateful for the opportunity I might one day be given to rearrange the furniture within my sacred internal space, in order to make room for someone else to stay.

Dear Daughter

I bought my first bottle of eau de parfum yesterday. After sniffing more bottles than my olfactory receptors could handle, I decided on one. It’s woody and amber-y, and smells just like I’d want to be remembered. As I swiped my card to pay for my pricey 1oz. bottle of Sensuous Nude, I felt a little more woman. I softly chuckled, imagining spritzing myself with this fragrance, letting it dry as I lean over the sink to apply mascara to my lashes before deciding what to wear. There’s something so decidedly feminine, and sensual, and adult about the ritual of getting ready especially when it involves perfume. It made me think of my mom, and how much like her I’ve become.

And I thought of you – even though you don’t exist yet – and how I hope you get to meet my mom and marvel at one of God’s greatest masterpieces. And I hoped that you too would one day celebrate, and not mourn, the fact that you’ve become more like me with each passing year.

There are many characteristics of mine which I hope you never inherit. My mostly unhelpful ability to over-analyze and dissect any situation – real or imagined – to bits and pieces, or the giant pores on my nose and legs, or  my incredibly coarse, slow-growing hair. I hope you don’t become compulsively self-reliant or mildly pessimistic like I tend to be. Instead, I hope you get my fierce determination to live a story worth telling. I hope you enjoy food – the creating and eating, the complexities of flavor and texture. I hope you love to have people around your table, feasting on delicacies from your kitchen, sharing laughter and pain over steaming plates of mushroom risotto or pasta or bacon mac and cheese. I hope you celebrate your body in all its flaws and glories, treating it with dignity and respect, and not shying away from the admiration it was created to command. I hope you love to dance, both with company and alone. I hope you are sassy and opinionated and confident, as well as selfless, generous, and thoughtful. Good heavens, I hope you love a well-put together outfit or I’ll be biting my tongue for as long as we both live. I hope you inherit some creativity – whether music, or writing, or decorating. I hope you quickly find the thing that brings you the most joy and makes your Abba proud, and spend all your energy running towards it.

I hope you are strong and courageous, resilient and wise. I know that everyone is guaranteed a share of the world’s pain and turmoil, and while I will want to protect you from yours, I hope it molds you into a woman of character who is more empathic because she, too, has been broken. I hope that whether you are the life of the party or the quiet observer, you strive to be a safe place for others to retreat to, where people leave feeling loved, valued, and inspired. I hope that your words are marked with grace and kindness, building up and not tearing down. I hope you find the balance between intellect and faith, asking your own questions and finding your own way. I hope you learn that strength isn’t burying emotions for the sake of trudging onwards, rather it is giving yourself room to break because only then can healing occur. I hope you learn honesty, patience, and love. And above all, I hope you fall madly in love with Jesus because he makes everything else so much sweeter.

If entrusting my wishes and hopes to the care of the universe were enough, I’d stop here. But everything that is beautiful about me today was once a seed planted by my mother. Everything I’ve learned about life, love, and God I have learned from the woman who nursed me. So while I certainly hope you become an extraordinary world-changer, I’ll busy myself with embodying the above characteristics and becoming one first. These passionate, purposeful days of my youth are for you, darling. I will pursue greatness so you can become great also.

With all my love,

Making Room for Grace

I’m a goal setter. That’s how I get from point A to point B. That’s how I stay motivated and keep my feet moving when everything in me just wants to stop. The goal was straight As at the end of this insanely difficult semester. And so my feet kept propelling me to the library, or a coffee shop – wherever it was that I could keep working towards that goal.

Over the last few years, I’ve learned that the process is worth far more than the end product. I’ve learned to honor the journey as a beautiful gift, just as worthy of celebration as the destination. But I can’t deny that I’m a goal setter. And once again, confronted with the endless possibilities of 7 weeks of school-free summer, I have decided who I want to be, come August 26th.

I want to be in a healthier state than I’m in right now. That means picking up where I left off about a month ago at the gym. It means sitting at that one spot by the river at the same time every morning, coffee and journal in hand, fighting to mend my broken relationship with God. It means going back to therapy, even though those dollars would make for many fun trips and copious amounts of goat cheese always residing in my fridge. It means doing something that scares me every week, like my dear old friend just challenged me to. It means reading a lot, and dancing a lot, and biking a lot, and loving a lot. To borrow the words of my new favorite author, Shauna Niequist, “I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.”

While all of these things are reasonable and commendable, the most important thing I’m certain I’ll forget most days this summer is to give myself grace.

On the days when I skip the gym cause I’m feeling lazy and hormonal, or the mornings when I feel like God’s a no-show at our spot, or the weeks where I choose cowardice instead of bravery, I want to remember that grace applies to me. That grace is for me, and not just the people around me. That grace doesn’t keep count of the many times and ways I mess up, or the terrible decisions I make. That grace is limitless, boundless, offering chance after endless chance. That grace doesn’t demand perfection. That grace unravels the threads of shame and weaves together a story of beauty and freedom and joy.

I want to be fully present wherever I find myself this summer – in sickness and in health, in plenty or famine, in community or lonesome. No beating myself up for not being where I think I should be, at the expense of embracing where I am. At the end of this summer, I’ll ask myself – like I so often do – if I’m proud of the life I’m living. I hope I can say yes, not just because of my list of achieved goals, but because I never once left empty the space where grace should be.

Adventures of an Untethered Heart

Yesterday, I felt really tender in a way I haven’t in a while. It was in the middle of watching The Great Gatsby on the big screen with an old fashioned in hand. I’m not exactly sure what it was. I think it was the way Gatsby (played by the beautiful, wickedly brilliant Leo DiCaprio) looked at Daisy. Maybe it was his ache for her that was so palpable, so visible in his every move. I’m not sure, but I let myself get a little sentimental and soft. In the best way.

You see, I’m at this place I never in a million years thought I’d arrive at. It’s still fairly new – fairly new being a month and a half – so I’m still marveling at the greenery and the simple grandeur. It’s pretty lush, much to my surprise. What is this place, you ask? It’s the “I don’t want to be in a relationship” place. I swear, I never thought I’d say that and mean it.

I’ve said it before – many times, actually. But I was trying to cheat the system because everyone in a relationship has this terrible habit of telling single women that it’s the minute you stop wanting it that you get the man of your dreams. I find that idea very confusing and illogical. So does that work in other aspects of life? Is it the minute I stop wanting my dream job that it comes to me? Or the minute I stop apartment hunting that I find the apartment of my dreams? Maybe my problem is that I’m too logical about these things. I’d rather the old wives’ tale be that it’s the minute you realize there’s more to a grand life than a significant other that you find him.

Any how, because I was told to stop wanting it in order to get it, I tried that plan. I convinced myself that I didn’t want a relationship and I was satisfied with no hand-holding and cuddling. Since it was a lie, it didn’t last for long. Soon, I was bitter and whiny again, and I thought, “To hell with this whole sham!” and instead, talked loudly about how much I wanted it. I wanted it bad. I wanted it because it was all I could control in my life at the time. (This was pointed out to me by a dear friend recently whom I love even more for her honesty). Nothing else in my life was working so I thought I would manipulate my way into a man’s heart to prove that I was at least good for something.

Wonder of all wonders, that didn’t actually work. And here I am, many months later, thinking that my life is marvelous and I am excited to be learning and growing even in the most difficult process of self-analysis. I’m excited to one day be a therapist – at least, most days I am. I’m so excited for this summer where I’m going back to therapy to deal with the entire world of junk this past semester has unearthed in me. I am excited to read books and talk about existential/theological/psychological issues over beers that I brewed. I am excited to travel to the Pacific Northwest for the first time ever and bask in the grandeur of the ocean, hipsters, good coffee, and old friends. I’m excited to meet new people, and have the best conversations with wonderful men who are more than potential lovers. I’m so excited to dance the night away at my friend’s wedding. And for the first time, I am very content with not having someone to take me on a date.

I’m not saying this because there are no romantic prospects in my life. Oh, there are. But I’m so very uninterested at this present moment. I believe that love should be wild, and intoxicating, and breathtaking. There are far too many mediocre things in life for me to settle for a mediocre love. Until then, I’m basking in the glories of being young and beautiful and free to travel and roam as I please.

But then there are those moments like last night that remind me that just because I’m content being single right now doesn’t mean my heart has become hardened and untouchable. I still get breathless and melty when a guy looks at a girl the way Gatsby looked at Daisy. I haven’t given up on the man of my dreams – I’m just realizing for the first time that my life is still full of adventure and worthy of celebration without him. And I’d like to believe that he would be disappointed if I didn’t spend these days enjoying life in all its fullness. I hope he’s doing the same wherever he is.

As I write this at a coffee shop, a beautiful tattooed stranger is distracting me with his witty lines about my future career of manipulating people into honesty (aka therapy), and making me laugh really loudly. Maybe we’ll get a beer later, maybe we’ll never see each other again. Either way, I’m having the best damn time just living my life for me and not for the approval of another. Cheers to being young and wild and free.

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

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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.

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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?

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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?”

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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.

When Jesus Isn’t Enough

These days I’m having a rough time with the concept of “enough”. What is enough? Who is enough? Is anything ever enough? I have this ongoing battle in my head, so overwhelming that it threatens to spill out into everyday conversations that should be, in fact, rather simple and lighthearted. Then again, I’ve always been the serious type. In my dilemma with the idea of “enough”, I find that this question puzzles me the most:

Is Jesus enough?

For being a Christian who incidentally is studying at a seminary and is mostly surrounded by other Christians, that is quite the terrifying question. Is Jesus enough? Is he truly all I need? I should probably clear up any misconceptions before I continue. I do believe that he is the source of every good thing. I believe that he is hope and joy, restoration and life. I believe that it is only in him that we live and move and have our being. Without him, none of the grandeur around us or within us would be.

But you know how sometimes you get an awful headache, and while Jesus is certainly the Healer, sometimes you still just need some aspirin? Or you trust God for good health and vitality, but you also still buy some running shoes and make friends with endorphins on a regular basis? What about when you lock your house or your car at night? Is it because you don’t believe Jesus is the protector he claims to be? Not at all; it’s just common sense.

We might all agree on the above situations, because they don’t necessarily deal with the issue of contentment. Well, what about the career of your dreams? What if you couldn’t pursue your dreams to be a doctor, or professor, or designer, or author, or – in my case –  a therapist? Wouldn’t there be an ache left within you for a life you don’t have but believe you were made for? Why do we desire career fulfillment even as Jesus-lovin’ folks? Shouldn’t loving him and making him known be the only career fulfillment we need? And why on earth do we desire relationships, romantic or otherwise, when we’re in a relationship with Love himself? Christiandom tells us that if we have these desires raging within us, we’re not sanctified enough. There’s something wrong with us. May I propose another theory?

“Jesus is enough” is a myth propagated by the Christian circle to shame us into abandoning our desires and living safe and boring lives.

I think we’re too afraid to truly want because we might not get what we deeply desire. And so to keep ourselves insulated from the pain of disappointment, we’ve come up with this clever, super-spiritual-sounding myth that claims that Jesus is all we should ever desire. I’ve sat through sermons where the explicit message was, “the source of your unhappiness is the fact that you’re searching for Jesus AND something else.”

Maybe I’m a heretic. Maybe I’m not Christian enough. But I’m starting to believe that this isn’t what he truly wants for us and from us. We’re so obsessed with this idea of sacrificial living that we offer unsolicited sacrifices to a God who only wants a broken and contrite spirit. Not our renouncement of our [healthy] desires, not our clever shaming of each other when we admit that we want something other than him. I think he might just want us to sit with him and say, “You are the love of my life, and apart from you I have no good thing. But I’m still lonely. And I’m not fulfilled. And I want you but I also want the job of my dreams and the man of my dreams.”

I don’t think he would be offended. In fact, I think it is in the honesty and rawness of our desire that he meets us most fully. Why else would Adam, living in the very presence of the living God and communing with him directly, still feel lonely enough that God created an exquisite creature to satisfy that ache? How else can you explain Jesus asking people who were clearly disabled what they wanted him to do for them? Duh, Jesus. I’m blind – what do you think I want you to do? But he still asked. He wanted them to articulate that desire, to let it envelope them until they weren’t ashamed to ask for it out loud. Did any of those blind men, cripples, or paraplegics say, “Well, I don’t desire anything else but you. Sure, I’m blind and lame, but I don’t need my eyesight and legs when I’ve got you, Jesus.”

Yet, that’s what we’re told today is the good Christian response. I don’t buy it anymore. I love Jesus with every fiber of my being. Sometimes his love for me makes me cry unexpectedly in public places, because it’s so big and beautiful and overwhelming and freeing. His love for me frees me to admit that there are many other things I want with equal fervor. I want Jesus AND a life that’s full of music and art and beauty. I want Jesus AND a career of helping people find wholeness and healing. I want Jesus AND a cabin that houses the man of my dreams, the kitchen of my dreams, and the children of my dreams. And there isn’t a single thing wrong with that.