Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Seminary Diaries: you aren't there

I've skipped church for a couple of weeks.  Not for any specific reasons, just that between a two week (meets every day) class, doing the laundry, going to orientation, interviews for jobs, and wrapping up last semester's notes, Sunday mornings have been my only retreat.  Extra rest, a decent, not-on-the-fly breakfast, a good walk, and a moment or two to breathe.

So, this past weekend I decided it was time to rejoin the routine and head back to Sunday morning worship.  This week marked the beginning of "seeing clients" at school, so I figured the extra encouragement would be helpful.  I still didn't want to get out of bed, still wanted to sleep and fry an egg instead of microwave oatmeal.  But, I went.

Even in the parking lot, Alex could tell I wasn't fully invested in my decision.  This particular Sunday was also the day for the "newbies" luncheon; a.k.a. sit around tables with strangers and put on some happy faces. (I know, I know, this is not their intent, at all. But it felt and was this awkward for the most part.)  "We could go walk around the outdoor mall?" he said.  No, no we can't trade Sunday morning church for a new pair of flats and a get-me-in-the-mood-for-spring blouse.  So, in we go.

We worshiped, we prayed, we fellowshipped, we listened.  And You weren't there.  I looked and listened and waited, and I couldn't find You.  You weren't in the words or the music; You weren't in the faces of others; You weren't even sitting in Scripture like I thought you would be.

One could blame this on my obvious disinterest, or maybe the fact that I'm sitting in struggle of my own. Or you could blame it on my vocational interest.  Either way, I'm not finding You in the Sunday morning rituals (while good and wonderful) like I'm "supposed" to.  I see You, more clearly, more real, more personal, in the faces of those who have been handed the reality of their brokenness; sitting in sadness, grief, fear, worry, and anger.  I see You in the people who have nothing left, the ones most of us pass by because their strife seems too heavy, too burdensome, too ugly.

And, truthfully, I still see joy and peace and comfort in these faces.  Maybe we're not celebrating, but we're struggling and suffering to find the Spirit within each of us. So, I believe You are celebrating.  I believe the tears, heartache, anger, frustration, and deep, dark thoughts of those of us in strife are more connected to you, than some of the smiles sitting in the pews.

It's not understandable by so many.  But, to me, I'm just not finding you in the songs, the prayers, the bulletins, or the message.  I'm finding you in the people who look like me; sitting and waiting through the difficulty of the human condition.  Sure, I know You love Your church and I know deep down I love her, too.  But, for now, I want to be surrounded by those who are leaning, running, and scraping their way towards you because life is in shambles.  To me, that's where You are, that's where I find You, and that is where I learn who You truly are.

"Here's some questions I've been asking myself; What if I forgive myself? What if  I was sorry?  But if I could go back in time, I wouldn't do a single thing differently. What if all the things I did, were the things that got me here?"
       -Wild, Reese Witherspoon & Cheryl Strayed

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

River and Rest

"I wish there was a river I could float away on...


It's the little things. The teeny, round, glistening, crystallized things like snowflakes. He didn't have to make them this way, either.

When the scientist sees it, he sees dirt and water frozen together, creating droplets of precipitation. Sure, in its simplest forms.

When my dog sees it, she sees the opportunity for frisky play. A frolic in the cool, fluffy matter that has covered her once green playground. She sees the perfect chance to cover her face in a white, lacy beard.

When the child sees it, he sees the coming of Santa, the opportunity for a snowman friend. He sees the liftoff for reindeer, a day away from school, the magic that is winter. If he's truly imaginative, he'll even see Narnia.

And today, I'm tired. I see an opportunity for rest, comfort, celebration of peace on earth. I see a silent night, solemn angels singing, and the dream of a cabin warmed by a real fire (no light switches, please). A cabin with a warm blanket, stockings and hats, and the quiet of piano notes.

Because I am tired. Spent.
Because I am practicing the art of reclusive. (I haven't let go of that word since hearing it last week.)

So, I'm going to celebrate Christmas a little early. I could see the snow in its simplest form. I could see a hindrance on my path to home, or a hazard to my safety. But instead I see the opportunity of play, a chance to make my own Olaf, a beard on sweet Reese's face.

I want to see Narnia. I want to see the magic of winter, the celebration of a baby boy.

Because I am tired and need the rest.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Seminary Diaries: all I know

Did I tell you about the night my "identity" was stripped away?  About the revelation that if God told me to stop being a counselor, I'd feel real empty and real worthless? I think I did...No, pretty sure I did. At least, in any recollection of the past week, I told you about that.

Well, I also took that dream and realization to my counselor today.  Among others, we talked about what I think my self worth looks like.  This guy is just incredible at making me look into multiple aspects of even the tiniest event, to make me realize there are greater depths to the whole of this world.  So, no surprise here, he helped me see that I take a lot of pride in the things I do and the things I am good at.  Sure, nothing horribly wrong with wanting to do well and strive for greatness, but it's poison when your identity is wrapped up in those things and you believe no one loves you or appreciates you aside from those things.

"So," he says, "let's pretend you have no arms and your legs don't work.  You're a paraplegic.  You also can't speak, or do anything with your hands.  You don't have a job or go to school, you don't have tasks or goals. Who are you?"

He lets me sit and think about that for a minute (which is very hard to do...I dare you to try it).

"But don't use your head," he said, "use your heart.  It's you're heart that God sees and it's your heart that relates to others. So tell me who you are."

I'm already crying.  Actually, I've been crying since he said I didn't have arms or legs, not because I lost my arms and legs, but because there is a very important person in my life who had neither.  He couldn't talk or walk, he didn't have a job or go to school like me and my brother went to school.  He didn't have jobs and tasks and lists.

But, what my brother Adam did have was more soul and love than anyone I've ever known. His eyes were full of caring, full of compassion, and full of life.  Those eyes lit up when I was around.  Adam couldn't speak, but he told me more about this world than any person with words ever will.  His smile told you he loved you and needed you, but never was he selfish.  Adam gave and gave, even though he was the one needing constant care.

So, though I didn't know who that God guy really was in Awana, I experienced Him very young.  I didn't really comprehend who He was in my life or that He was the Creator, but I'll tell you this; I never doubted that God had deep and great love for Adam.  I never once believed that Adam didn't have a purpose.  I always understood that God's love for Adam was deep and wide; it was strong and full.  And Adam did nothing to earn this.

When my counselor asks who knew me best as a child, I tell him Adam.  Adam related to me in a way that no one else ever will, but certainly in a way that has everlasting effects.  He smiled and giggled when I spoke, and I knew he understood me.  When we held hands, I knew he understood me. And though there were never any words exchanged, we had deep, great, conversation that expands across years and realms.

So this is my tribute to you, sweet brother--you taught me everything I know.  You taught me who God was and you taught me how important meaningful relationships are.  Though you weren't the best on the football team, the kid with the highest grades, or the sibling in the family with the best job, you were the brother and sibling with the greatest love and understanding. Even after you've left me for better places, you are teaching me what God's love really is.  It is not conditional on my performance, my abilities, or my accomplishments; it solely depends on the goodness of Him.  You served a million purposes in my life, and a million more I'll never know, but most of all, you gave me the closest glimpse of God I'll ever have this side of heaven.

If I could only be more like you, give as much as you did, or live so fully in God's love and grace...
You gave me the greatest gifts I have and you taught me all I know.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Seminary Diaries: herein lies your identity

It had already been a long day, full of homework catch up, lots of obscure reading (that did not stick), and our new life group (that was completely wonderful, btw).  I'm searching for my much missed REM sleep, praying my thanksgiving to God, and I thank Him for the opportunity to attend seminary and for this giant calling He has brought me to.  Then, very clearly, and almost audibly, He said:

"Imagine if I stopped calling you to counseling."

I don't believe those were His exact words, but in that instant it's almost as if I went back to a former self and was living in a world where I hadn't been called to seminary.  Suddenly, I was no longer equipped with the gifts to be a counselor; I was no longer on a path towards career counseling and helping others. 

And I panicked.  I'm talking tight chest, tearful eyes, panicked.  I was suddenly caught in a place where I pleaded for something that had only hypothetically occurred.  "But what about all the schooling I've done?"  "What about this deep passion you've given me for people and for studying this material?"  "What about the dreams I've had for 4 years now?"

And He responded, "herein lies your identity".


I've been so grateful to be given the gifts of empathy, support, wisdom, and shepherding, and I've done my best to be obedient wherever God calls.  I've spent much time pondering all that God has had to do in my life to get me to this place (no easy feat, I'm sure), and yet, Counselor is still where I am hanging my identity hat each night.

He's right. If He took that away, I would be devastated.  I would feel as if my whole life had been taken out from under me.  And just like that, there's the hole.  I cannot place my identity in something worldly, in a career, or in how people see me; all of those things can and will be taken away and will not leave a lasting identity.  I will be completely empty when they do.


Of course, when I woke up this morning, I was still being called to counseling and to seminary, that was very clear.  What was even more clear is what God was going to do through this midnight premonition.  In my first class, two students, whom I've never met before, were able to point out two things about me--"perfectionist" and "controlled".  (Like a Mack truck in the face, those words were).  In the second class, "identity formation is what we're doing here".  In the third class, "therapy is a way of stripping away the old stuff and building new thought processes". And finally, the fourth class, Professor Adam Wilson so profoundly declares, "In a grad program, there is a high desire for approval (the best grades, being noticed, climbing to the top, etc.), but if you only focus on that, you'll miss what God is wanting to teach you here".

A high desire for approval, he said.  Stripping away and building of identity she said. It was very obvious that this was the beginning of God pull away the things I hold so dear in this world and the things that I think protect me from bullies and critics.  It's very clear that God will be removing every security blanket I have, leaving me completely empty and bare, for the world to see.  The irony of this, however, is that's exactly why I chose this school.  The obvious choice was always Alex's place of work which was closer and offered a similar grad program.  But when Dr. Nesbit said to me, "Seminary is going to refine you and break you down, so that you can be the truest version of you that God has called you to be...", well, it was love at first sight...like feeding candy to a baby....hook, line, and sinker.

So I knew this was coming; I knew there were things about me that had to be stripped and peeled away before I could truly be in the place God wants me to be.  However, I didn't realize it would be the things I think make me, me.  Regardless of where and how I built these identities and securities (oh, it'll come up), they have to be removed.  For me to stand fully in God's grace and holiness, I have to give up the things that make me the one in control. 

I will never proclaim to you that the life of a Christ-follower is a "happy" one.  In fact, I apologize to you if you've been promised that before.  Happy is superficial, happy is selfish.  Instead, it's the joy (not like the Ho,Ho,Ho kind) that comes after you've endured beautiful suffering and the joy that is long-lasting; because, after all, it's this beautiful suffering that makes us grip tightly to God and His goodness, and makes us remember why we could never do it alone. It's in this suffering that He reveals to us who we truly are.