Soapbox Series: Short-Term Missions, Long-Term Damage?

I went on a short-term mission trip during the summer of my junior year back in college. It was within the US, specifically to an inner city with high rates of poverty, crime, and horrifically low school retention and graduation rates. I taught summer school to a class of twenty-something 2nd and 3rd graders, who were the most precious group of kids I’ve ever had the privilege to teach the art of spelling and grammar, and about how much Jesus loves them (which even I couldn’t fathom). They had no reason to trust me or love me, but it only took a few days before they were sitting on my lap and drawing me pictures and telling me that they loved me.

I learned two huge lessons that summer. First, I learned grace in its purest form. On our first day of training, we were told that the kids would push us to our limits every single day, and sometimes, we just weren’t going to like them. Yet we were to treat each child every morning like the drama and grievances of yesterday weren’t a factor. Each day was a brand new day, and the love was to be poured out afresh. I didn’t think I was capable of that kind of grace, but I learned it because those kids gave it right back to me. The second thing I learned that summer? I don’t think I believe in short-term mission trips.

The minute I fell in love with my kids, I wanted to go back to Colorado and somehow erase that experience for all parties involved. The minute I knew they loved me, I started grieving the fact that I was nothing more than a transient on their property, never settling in and never to be seen once I left. I felt like a sham every single day of those three months. Because how do you love someone short-term? How do you love only when it’s convenient for you, when the most sacrifice you made was sending out uncomfortable letters asking for money for the trip and agreeing to not drink alcohol for 3 months while there? How do you tell a child who’s been through more trauma than anyone should experience that Jesus will always be there for her, when you – his hands and feet – walk away two weeks or two months later? I was just another face that claimed to love them and eventually left them. And it killed me.

Here’s a thought: instead of calling them mission trips let’s just call them what they are. Trips. Adventures. Soul-expanding journeys. Because all those things are worthwhile. You should travel – whether to the next state or across the Atlantic – to expand your perspective on life, and people, and love, and God. It is impossible to return unaltered after experiencing a different way of life.  But let’s be honest about the purpose of those trips. I’d sooner give money to someone who simply asked for help to go on a journey because they were desirous to see the world, than to someone who asked for money for a mission trip. Not because I think the desire to spread the gospel to distant lands is wrong, but because I think a lot of people sadly advertise and exploit mission trips as one good way to go to that place you’ve always wanted to visit without paying a dime. I think if more people had to pay out of their own pockets for the trips they take, we’d have less people piling on the mission trip bandwagon for the coolness factor, and more people giving serious thought to the purpose of traveling anywhere in the name of God.

My rationale is simple: if you “have a heart” for orphans, for example, then that heart should break in your city the same way it breaks in Romania. There should neither be an on/off switch for your empathy or passion, nor an exclusive group worthy of your attention. I believe that we are all on a mission. We are all missionaries, right where we are. If my heart doesn’t break for the family of the little boy I nanny who needs Jesus so badly, then I am failing the mission. If I travel to Cambodia for two weeks and weep with rescued sex workers, yet come home and ignore the man holding up a sign asking for any kind of help because he just lost his job, I am failing the mission. If I’m willing to stand on a boardwalk all afternoon handing out surveys to strangers, yet I’m not willing to skip drinks with my friends just so I can afford to buy that lady on 16th St a sandwich and listen to her story, please question the state of my heart and who I’m truly serving.

I fear that mission trips are an ego-boosting, self-serving excursion disguised as ministry. Look what I did this summer. Look how much I gave up to go “love on” poor people for two weeks. Look at how long I went without a shower or a curling iron. Look at the number of people who made a decision for Christ. Look at me, look at me, look at me. At the end of the day, is it about the number of African kids that hugged you daily, or is about carrying out the mission of Christ? Because the latter can be done in simple, less glorified, everyday ways. Travel is good, the mission to share the love of God is good, but those two things do not need each other in order to work. Be a missionary while you’re at home and while you’re abroad. Sacrificial love shouldn’t only exist every summer. Save money and go see the world. But while you’re saving, serve the people who are right in front of you. If you’re only a social activist and a defender of the cause of the forgotten when someone else is paying for you to be, then forgive me if I don’t believe that your motives are pure.

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,

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.

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.

Therapy Tuesdays

I went into our group counseling session on Tuesday expecting another mediocre class exercise that was supposed to teach me the foundations of effective counseling. We would take turns counseling and being counseled about real issues, and then we would leave and analyze our performance in a paper. The assignment this week was to simply reflect the client’s feelings without asking questions or leading the conversation in any direction. Pretty straightforward. Except the fact that this Tuesday wrecked me irrevocably.

It started when I didn’t give my usual surface-level response to the, “So, what would you like to talk about today?” question. Instead of talking about how I want to graduate with straights As, I took a risk and brought up my tumultuous emotional state regarding romantic relationships. He listened, nodded, and effectively reflected the explicit emotions in my responses. We were doing pretty well. Until he took a step past the explicit emotions and told me that the underlying emotion he was hearing was that my frustrations with relationships [or a lack thereof] stemmed from my desire to maintain control and my aversion to being dependent on others.

Well, damn. My immediate response was the nervous laughter characteristic of discomfort, and eventually, I curled up into a ball on the couch and said, “I’m ready to not talk about this anymore.” I certainly wasn’t expecting my classmate, who has received the same seemingly inconsequential amount of training that I have, to be able to look into my soul and deconstruct my frustrations in one sentence. I’m still reeling.

So, I started asking my absolute favorite question. Why? (Side note: The best part about this profession is that it allows me to ask this question all the time, and even encourages it – as long as it’s phrased creatively. I’m fascinated by stories and uncovering why it is people act and think the way they do. If you aren’t excited about conversations about why serial killers exist, or why women tend to feel entitled to a man’s heroism, then we probably won’t end up being really great friends.)

Back to the topic, I sat down with my journal and asked myself why I was desperate for control in this area of my life. Why am I compulsively self-reliant when it comes to relationships? At first, the answer was because I didn’t trust that someone would actually show up. When the responsibility lies on me to show up and play my part, I trust myself to do it. I show up. I make things happen. I set goals and I work towards their achievement. Not so with other people.

And then I asked myself why I believed people were inherently unreliable. This answer was much easier to get to: there is no precedent for reliability. No man has ever shown up with intentionality, determined to make things happen. This dates back to an absent father and a severely troubled brother. How can I possibly believe in the dependability of the male species when my life’s experiences have taught me otherwise? Well, we’re getting close.

Next, I asked why I could relinquish control in other areas of my life that show no precedence for good yet struggle so terribly with this one. The answer to this question stole the breath from my chest and I collapsed on the table, unable to keep writing. I don’t trust that God is reliable with the protection of my heart. I don’t trust that God is reliable. I don’t trust God.

Me – the supposedly healthy, fresh-out-of-therapy girl who knows who she is and what she wants; the pastor’s kid who can speak Christianese like it’s her native tongue; the former-ministry leader at her old church. Apparently, amidst all that, I don’t trust God. It’s easy to psychoanalyze myself and come up with reasons for my distrust. I grew up around failed relationships – from divorced parents, to relationally incompetent family members, to watching abusive husbands wreck their wives. And in the midst of the mass chaos that is my dysfunctional family, it never seemed like God showed up. Or like he even cared that so many people were hurting, broken, desperate for redemption and healing. He never showed up in the way I expected the all-mighty, all-powerful God of the universe to. So why should I believe he’ll show up now that it’s my turn? Why should I depend on him? Why should I trust in his goodness when I’ve never experienced it in this particular area?

I didn’t know how to process it all, so my favorite ladies and I took to the foosball table and let out our frustrations on the innocent inanimate object. And after that didn’t seem sufficient, we sat around my coffee table for hours talking about expectations and relationships and gender roles. The blessing of being friends with other future therapists is that we’re all terrible at small talk, so our conversations always cut straight to the heart of the matter. It feels like we’re constantly in therapy even in our non-school-related conversations. Yet, even after all the words and laughter and encouragement and conviction of our appropriately dubbed “Therapy Tuesday”, I still feel overwhelmed.

I’m a goal-oriented person. I want to set “Trust God about relationships” as a goal, and then create five steps to get there. But while my head wants to race ahead to practicalities, my heart is stuck and sinking. I’m heartbroken because I know how much my distrust must break his heart. I’m heartbroken because I keep discovering that my brokenness is entrenched so deeply it sometimes feels like I will never be mended. I’m heartbroken because my beliefs about God are so influenced by my experiences in this messy world. If only my trust in God were separate from my development. But it isn’t. And I must wrestle with reconciling what I feel and what I know, what I’ve experienced and what I am promised. I don’t know how to do that yet. Who knows if I ever will. But I have learned to never underestimate the power of a silly class exercise when God is involved. He wrecks you in the most devastatingly beautiful way.

A Single White Tree

I want to write because it’s been so long since my last post. I want to write consistently because it’s what good bloggers do. I want to be honest and raw, authentic and vulnerable. But I also want you to think of me in a particular way, to put me in the box where your other smart, strong, capable friends and bloggers go.

Except I feel weary. Silly. Needy. And that, other than the incessant demands of grad school, is why it’s taken weeks for me to compose a post. Because I don’t want to be honest about where my head has been or the places my heart has traveled. I don’t want you to think any less of me. I’m clearly doing an excellent job giving up perfectionism.

It only took four weeks of classes for me to arrive at the nervous breakdown station. It will be the first of many, I’m sure. But while I walked around my apartment crying so hysterically that I stopped to laugh at myself a few times, (for a good laugh, picture me softly banging my head against the window and wailing at the falling snow), I wasn’t thinking about how I’d pushed myself too hard or held myself to unattainable standards. The thoughts playing in my head were I’m not smart enough for this and I just want to be held by a man who isn’t a stranger.

It’s the tension that ruins me. I love having my own space to retreat and rejuvenate, but I ache to share it and care for someone within it. So I end up feeding my [very gracious] neighbor roasted pears with goat cheese and zucchini pasta and tiramisu cupcakes because the person I want to share my kitchen and my groceries with isn’t here. I love being independent and autonomous, but sometimes I just want to breathe and break and let someone else take care of me. I’m embarrassingly selfish, yet a part of my soul aches to be given the chance to love sacrificially. I’m still nowhere near ready for the mere idea of marriage, let alone the real thing, but I’m wholeheartedly ready for someone to be sure of me. I’m ready for the ambiguity and indecisiveness and noncommittal behavior that has characterized most of my opposite-sex interactions to be eradicated from my life once and for all. And I’m altogether irritated by the fact that even though the knowledge I’m acquiring here is intoxicating, it is not enough. I hate the wanting, the desiring, the needing; not because it is uncomfortable, but because I fear it will never be satisfied.

And that’s the part I didn’t want you to see – that I’m not as perfectly content as I thought I’d be with the acquisition of knowledge and pursuit of my dreams. And that I sometimes have nervous breakdowns that begin with the stressful demands of school and end in wanting love to find me. I’m learning and growing a little more each day, but no matter how busy I make myself and no matter how excited I am to become a therapist, I can’t escape the desire to be seen and to be intentionally chosen. At least it makes for great songwriting sessions.

IMG_0657

I want to be seen
With a fresh pair of eyes
A single white tree
In a black hood of disguise
– Brooke Waggoner, Fresh Pair of Eyes

Giving Up

I’m not gonna lie, I used to live in the “Lent is stupid” camp for a really long time. I believed it was laughable – like New Year’s Resolutions – and just a silly excuse to give up sugar/tv/cursing. Like everything else in our church calendar, it had become commercialized, and was no longer about the man that hung on the cross. I just couldn’t understand why people needed Lent as an excuse to give up things like sugar or television. Shouldn’t the point of whatever you give up be about closing the distance between you and God? Just give up sugar if you want to, you know?

Honestly, I wish I still lived in that camp. It’s easier to be cynical and judgmental in the name of religion. It’s easy and it feels so damn good. But last year, I gave up something for Lent. No one forced me; I wasn’t dragged to the altar kicking and screaming. In a quiet moment alone in my room, I heard that soft voice I often overlook asking me to give something up. For him. So I obliged – I gave up complaining. For forty days, I wasn’t going to allow myself to complain about anything. And every time I was tempted to grumble, I had to write on a piece of paper something I was thankful for and place it in my “Gratitude Box”.

Man, those first few weeks were every kind of rough you can imagine. In fact, the very next day, I remember having the worst fight with a good friend that made me want to shatter beautiful things left and right. And all I wanted to do was complain about how he was the worst and I couldn’t believe he said that and blah blah blah. Instead, I grunted like a cave man, went into my room and wrote down something I was thankful for. I found that box recently, and in it the sheet of paper from that day. It read, “I’m thankful for growth even when I hate it. I’m thankful for people I care enough about to fight with. I’m thankful that I can feel mad and hurt and sad because it means I’m alive and not numb.”

Those forty days changed my life. It’s now a part of who I am to pause in the middle of my rants about how the world doesn’t work the way I want it to, and say, “But I’m thankful for _____.” My glass is no longer half empty, and I’ve found that it’s much harder to lose your joy when you live in an attitude of gratitude. If you were to read my journal from last year, you’d find the words “thankful” and “thank You” scattered on every page. Every little thing is a gift that I try not to take for granted.

So this year, I thought, Should I give something else up? What needs to change? While my experience last year was awesome, I haven’t at all become an advocate for Lent. In fact, if you asked me if you should participate in it, I’d have a hard time saying yes. Yet, again, in a quiet moment in my apartment this afternoon, another seed was planted in my heart. It’s time to give up your desire to be perfect.

I’m absolutely loving graduate school so far. The professors are all incredible, and every day I am surprised at their frankness and wisdom. I mean, who knew we’d be having an open discussion about masturbation as a part of human development at a Seminary? I’m still picking my jaw up off the floor, and simultaneously applauding. I love it here. But it also scares the air right out of my lungs.

Every time we’re given more information about the requirements for completing this journey successfully, I have a mini panic attack. Yes, it’s incredible that I’ll have a team of mentors who will be monitoring my personal and professional growth for the next two years. It’s incredible that they don’t just care about my grades, but also about the state of my heart. They want to make sure that I’m healthy before I’m given the title of professional helper, and that I’m truly learning the skills essential to be a therapist – empathy, listening well, asking good questions. It’s incredible, really, that so much attention is being paid to me.

But honestly, it makes me want to wet my pants. I want to be the perfect student who graduates with honors, and completes every single requirement in two years instead of the usual 2.5 – 3 years. I want to be the one who can balance a full load every semester while working part-time, being involved at my church, maintaining all my friendships, and flirting with attractive, bearded men. I want to be the one who’s got all the answers, the one who permanently fixes every client she meets with in practicum and internship. I want to graduate at 25 so that if I have the insane urge to pursue a PhD, I can attain that goal by 30. I want to always be ahead in every single class at any given time.

And then I contracted the plague last week and fell behind in all my classes as my brain turned to mush and my lungs worked overtime to keep up with my sickness. Oh, I still dragged myself to every class half-alive, but I couldn’t find the energy to go beyond that. And today, while I freaked out about the two tests I have this week and how I wouldn’t be this behind if I hadn’t gotten sick, I realized that I’d been trying so hard to be perfect that I’d forgotten how to just be.

More than all the things I listed above, I want to be a woman at rest in who she is and where she is. I want to be a woman who can ensure that her laudable desire for excellence doesn’t turn into perfectionism. I want to be okay with screwing this whole therapist thing up, and having to learn from that. I want to be okay with messing up and being a mess. And I don’t want to lose sight of the things I hold most dear in light of living up to these expectations. I love, more than many other things, long, organic, heartfelt conversations. A woman far too concerned with graduating in two years with a 4.0 has no time for people and long conversations. And I have no time for that woman.

So this year, I’m unclenching my fists for Lent. I’m giving up my desire for control and perfection, and I’m reminding myself that my identity doesn’t lie among the many hats I wear, or the title that will eventually be behind my name. My identity is first and foremost found in the Love that set me free, and if I let him, he’ll quiet my frenzied attempts at perfection with that love.

Today, instead of studying for a test, I baked tiramisu cupcakes with my neighbor and laughed at her “That’s what she said” jokes hysterically. It felt good to laugh. It felt good to be. And it felt heavenly to eat those cupcakes.
tiramisu cupcakes