Saturday, March 7, 2015

On OneWords and a Crisis of Faith

2015 came rushing in as fireworks lit up the neighborhood skyline. I didn't care to watch this time and be reminded that beautiful things last only for a moment.

And then they are gone.

Instead, I sat with tears steaming down my face at midnight. Tears for the things that should have been. Tears for the things that were promised. Tears for those things that I had a hand in didmantling. Tears for the year that was supposed to be better than the one before. Tears for OneWords and promises from God that were as fleeting as the beauty of those fireworks. And likely just as costly in ways of the heart.

I decided I wouldn't choose a word for this year.

I simply don't have the energy to focus on something that is likely to bite me in the ass yet again. I've forgotten what it's like to be excited about a word from God. Does he really care about something as small as a word? I just don't know anymore. And I think that is part of the problem and why I find myself where I am. In this crisis of faith. Or maybe more accurately, this crisis of belief. I've always  had a problem with the whole faith thing. I want to know when things are going to work out and more specifically how they are going to work out. It's only been made worse when people tell me that things aren't working out because I don't have enough faith. Reinforcing the whole works based approach to God.

If I do enough good things then God will love me enough to work all things to my good.

But I found I could never do enough or be enough to make that happen. Yeah, I know that sounds dramatic. And for some of you, overly churchy. It sounds that way to me as well. Yet I have no better way to describe how I got here. At this crossroad. This proverbial fork in the road of life. Torn between the right path or the left. Which one will lead me to the answers that will satisfy the endless sea of questions? Are there ever any real answers? Does God ever throw the life preserver?

Or are we left to drown in the endless tide of doubt unless we make our own way out of the madness.

I simply don't know anymore. I don't know that everything will turn out for good. There are more things falling apart than being restored. And maybe that's the point of all of this. That there has to be a falling apart before there can be a coming together. Death before life. The waiting and the struggle have become overwhelming. I'm tired of fighting against what I used to believe and all of the things that I know now that contradict those beliefs. I bought in, or sold out, depending on which side of the fence you are on. I drank the kool-aid and now I'm left with the bitter taste of something that's gone bad.

I used to have that assurance however misguided. And now, I miss it.

I miss the person I used to be even though I was never really satisfied with who I was. Maybe I only miss the person I thought I was. The person that everyone else thought I was. The illusion of who I wanted to be. Now, I just don't know anymore. So, instead of choosing one word and having that be my sole focus for the year there has been a phrase that just won't let me go.

Be still and know.

I don't know appears to be the theme here. It's time for me to stop forcing the issue. To not only embrace the stillness but also the knowing that comes after the and. I think that's the most important thing for me. Taking the time to sit still in this dying in order to know that new life is around the coner. Knowing that being still is not all there is. The and says that there is more to the story. More to my story. It's time to let my story write itself the way it's meant to. Hopefully finding my way back to the assurance I used to have. Not because I've bought into someone else's experience but because I've lived my own. I want my faith to be hard earned. A living, breathing, progressive thing that's borne out of the stillness. A faith that continues to grow after the and. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

On True Blood and Honest Prayers

I recently finished watching True Blood. It didn't take too many episodes for it to become one of my favorite shows. There were characters that you loved to hate and characters that you simply loved. One of my favorite characters is Lafayette Reynolds, the short order cook at the local hangout, Merlotte's. He is flamboyant, charismatic, black, gay and proud of all of those things. He makes you laugh, makes you care about himself and makes you care about the people who are important to him. He is also a medium and as such has begun to use the powers he has inherited. He comes home one night after almost getting main character Sookie Stackhouse killed by invoking these powers and he has had enough. He is afraid of what he has done. He steps up to his altar, faces his prayer icons, lights some candles, and begins to pray. The icons appear to mock him so he sweeps them to the floor and begins to destroy them, all the while saying I am a good man. I'm not sure who he is trying to convince of this, himself or God. He falls to his knees and in a moment of desperation cries out...

"Listen up, I ain't never put too much stock in you, Lord God, but if you up there, I'm tired of all this bullshit! . . . Fuck this shitty stuff! Cut me a break!"

Some of you couldn't get past the fact that Lafayette is black and gay. For some of you, medium and powers lost you. For some of you, the only thing you notice in this prayer is the profanity and that negates it for you. For others, it's the fact that he admits to not giving God a whole lot of credit in his life. It's irreverent. It's bold. It's raw. Those can be offensive on the face of them, but especially in the context of where they are found. Prayers are not typically where you expect to find those things. Prayer is, after all, supposed to be reverent. The place where we meet God face to face. Holy ground as it were.

The thing that struck me the most was the transparency and fearlessness of the request. He's not at all afraid to say exactly how he feels. To ask for exactly what he needs. Isn't it funny how desperation can bring that boldness out in a person. I immediately thought that's the most honest prayer I've heard in a long time. And I have been feeling exactly the same way . . . cut me a break.

I know especially for me as I shed the trappings of organized religion, holy ground is most often found in the questioning. It's in those moments of doubting, when I question the very stock that I put in God, that I meet him more and more frequently. He knows I feel this way already. He knows I want to cry out in the very same way that Lafayette has done. It is in the rawness of those moments I know he hears me. In those moments when my guard is down, my self-imposed righteousness cast aside and I am completely at the end of myself that he sees me. That I see me for who I am. That I see what I truly need. It is in those moments when I am being brutally honest with myself and with God that I feel I am actually standing on holy ground.

I think we have been so desensitized by the church to our actual feelings that we forget we have them sometimes. We've been told we should be humble and repentant, a new creation. All of that old stuff supposedly has passed away. We stand before God with our Sunday Best on - not just our clothing, but our attitudes, mannerisms and language as well. We spend so much time and effort trying to be what we think God wants us to be before we come to him that when we come before him we've forgotten who we really are. I know I have. My prayers have become sanitized. As if I might somehow offend God by simply being who I really am. As I said earlier, he already knows how I really feel anyway. Why do I think I need to make my feelings presentable before I ever express them?

Let's be honest. Sometimes life really sucks. Children die tragically and suddenly. Couples who have been together for a lifetime find themselves newly single and alone wondering what in the world happened. Jobs are lost. Homes are lost. Families are destroyed. We go to church in search of comfort. In search of God. Wanting and needing to be seen and found lacking. Made to feel we are not worthy because we haven't checked our real feelings at the door. Because in the eyes of religion we haven't spent the required time making ourselves presentable for God. Because our messiness, our brokenness, our shitty stuff is too much to deal with and nobody wants to get their hands dirty.

I'm done with the games. Done with the platitudes and the pretense of religion. I'm done with being afraid of showing who I really am. Expressing what I really feel. I'm done with being ashamed of my messiness, my brokenness, and all the stuff life has thrown at me that I am not handling very well.

I think God can cut us a break. The way of the cross encompasses our messiness. It's all about our brokenness. In its honest brutality the cross made a way for us to bear those very things.

So, here's to you and me embracing who we really are and what we really feel.

Here's to honest prayers...

Friday, January 2, 2015

How Do You Wrap Up a Year?

How do you wrap up a year you wish had never taken place? How do you find any good things in a year filled with heartache and loss? Broken promises and shattered trust? I don't doubt that there have been good things that have happened, it just seems that the scales are weighted on the side of broken.

I'll let my 5 most read posts speak for themselves...

5) Genie, You're Free
"When all of our hope has slipped through our fingers, when we have nothing else to hold onto, all we want is to be free. Because the end of hope really is where hell begins. And none of us want to live a life in hell. We need you to accept that life is not black and white. That there are no simple answers. that we can't pray this away. We need you to understand that until you walk a mile in our shoes, you really have no idea what you are talking about.

We need you to walk alongside us, to love us without judgment. To walk with us for help. We need to know that we are not alone..."

4) Tu Me Manques
"Love makes knots; love brutally tears them apart. I have been knotted. I have been torn apart."
Virginia Woolf

3) Living at the Edge
"It's in these margins that we can speak our truth. It's here that we see Jesus as he really is. He's the one who stoops down and writes quietly in the sand at our feet while those who would judge us look on. He takes the time to sit with us by the wells that are brimming with our mistakes, our addictions, our anger, our bitterness, and our depression. He loves us enough to simply be with us in our brokenness. He accepts us just as we are. He wraps us in arms of Grace. His breath against our cheek, hope whispered. He never promised us that everything would be perfect. He only promised that he would never leave us nor forsake us.

2) Longing for Grace
"There have been many more things over the years that have contributed to the reasons I'm not in church this morning. The above was only the beginning. Where judgment and legalism took root in my soul and haunt me to this very day. The place where the trappings of religion wrapped themselves around my heart and have slowly been strangling the life right out of me.

And I know I'm not the only one. I see stories every day of those who have suffered abuse at the hands of the church. In the name of a denomination. In the name of reputation. In the name of legalism. In the name of judgment. In the name of religion. All under the guise of being in the name of Christ."

1) Following the Ache
"But there's another side to justice. In the bible we see that justice also deals with benefits given to those in need; the widow, the orphan, the poor, the sick. In these instances, justice looks a lot like love and grace. And aren't we all in need at one time or another? Even those who have hurt us. Especially when they have done everything in their power to make things right. They are in need of the exact same love and grace that we expect for ourselves.

But it's just too damn hard sometimes..."

I'm also going to include my least read post of this last year. It was the closing piece I wrote for my guest series on Hope. It really captures the essence of what this year has been about for me.

When Hope Escapes Me
"Sometimes when you can't find your own way it's okay to get lost in someone else's story. To find that me too moment and hold on for dear life. Sometimes that's all we can muster. Grabbing onto the hope someone else extends to us in their story.

When hope escapes me, I'll find refuge in your stories. I'll grab the lifeline you throw me and hold on for dear life..."

That last sentence, "I'll grab the lifeline you throw me and hold on for dear life...", really does say it all. I feel as if that's all I have been capable of this past year. Holding on. Barely sometimes, but holding on nonetheless. Thank you for being that lifeline. For all of the encouragement, your love and your understanding. For sitting with me in the ugly, broken places. I wouldn't have made it without you!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

When Hope Escapes Me

I sit here trying to figure out a way to cleverly close out this series. To wrap everything up in a pretty little package with a beautiful bow on top. I truly have no idea how to do so. Nothing about these last weeks has been pretty or particularly bow worthy. I'm left with just as many questions now as I had when I started.

It seems I've lost my lifeline.

You know how you have days where nothing seems to go your way? Where you can't do anything right? Where everything you touch crumbles in your hands...and spills over into the lives of those around you?

This last month has been full of those days for me.

I lost my mother three years ago this past October. Grief carries its own agenda. You're never prepared for how it can sneak up on you seemingly out of nowhere. Our relationship was a complicated one and I think I am mourning the things we didn't have more than the things we did have. Do I have regrets? Yes. And I'm plagued with the they saids, and the should haves. Not one of which I can do anything about...

I hope my daughter doesn't have the same regrets when she finds herself where I am.

Until last December, my husband played guitar for 7 years at a large church. That July I wrote my OneWord mid-year update. I had been struggling with trust and in a moment of brutal honesty, I dropped the f-bomb, simply a guttural response to what I was feeling at the time. Nothing more. Someone in the church saw the post when my husband shared it on his FB page and called the minister of music. The post had to be removed from his page and he was asked to stay home that weekend. Two weeks later there was a meeting in which he was told they would no longer be needing him to play, assuring him it had absolutely nothing to do with my post, and everything to do with changes they wanted to implement. We found out a couple of weeks ago that none of the reasons given for no longer needing his services were ever put into place. So of course it's my fault. All because I was being honest. And the kicker is, not one person involved in that church ever asked if everything was ok...

I hope to someday find a church where I am accepted regardless of the words I use.

Then there is that pesky internal soundtrack we all carry around with us. You know, the negative one we try to avoid listening to. There are times though, that it is so incredibly loud that it is deafening. And then it's reinforced by things that are said about you. You are untrustworthy. You ruin everything. You're a liar. You aren't enough. You aren't important. You're words don't carry any weight. You can' aren' don't. That soundtrack is screaming at me these days.

I hope that this is not the legacy I leave.

I haven't been well for several months. Physically and emotionally these months have taken their toll. Last week it all caught up with me. My blood pressure spiked at stroke levels and stayed that way for days. A visit to the doctor finds me on meds for my blood pressure and an appointment next week to make a plan to address my depression.

I hope this is the beginning of better days for me.

I realize that this post seems like a real downer but look at the common thread throughout...hope. I hope for more. I hope for better. So I guess I haven't really lost my lifeline after all. Somewhere along the way I simply stopped looking for it. Depression will do that to you. Being physically ill for long periods of time will do that to you.

I think what I have learned from this series is that, no matter the situation, no matter the person, there is always that common denominator. It manifests itself differently for everyone but is always there when you take the time to look for it.

Sometimes when you can't find your own way it's okay to get lost in someone else's story. To find that me too moment and hold on for dear life. Sometimes that's all we can muster. Grabbing on to the hope someone else extends to us in their own story.

Hope. Hope seems to be the lifeline that sustains us through the hard things. It's the thing that keeps us getting out of bed every morning. The thing allowing us to be able to face our days, however difficult, one small step at a time.

When hope escapes me, I'll find refuge in your stories. I'll grab the lifeline you throw me and hold on for dear life...

I want to thank everyone who participated in this series. You truly have been my lifeline during this time. Your encouragement and your prayers have meant more to me than you can know. Thank you for throwing me something to hang onto, for allowing me to get lost in your stories.

You can find all of the posts in the series here, "Finding Hope in Our Stories Compilation". 

Finding Hope in Our Stories Compilation

Here you can find links to all of the posts in the "Finding Hope in Our Stories" series. 

Sometimes the most healing thing you can do is lose yourself in someone else's story. It's there that you find the lifeline that you so desperately need. To know that someone else found hope. That there is something better on the other side of the storm that you are in. That you found something to hold onto when you felt you had nothing.

Sometimes, simply being able to say, "yes, me too" is all you need to be able to take one more step. If I have learned anything at all from these posts it's that this life is a journey. Beautiful and messy, and never the same for any of us.  The one thing we do have in common is that hope is the lifeline we all share. 

I pray you found hope in our stories...

"Finding Hope in Our Stories"

"We Have Hope" ~ Juan Lopez

"Hope Is" ~ Aaron Smith

"Hope in the Wilderness" ~ Andrea Osterberberg

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

About {Hope}

My next guest in the series is Ben Moberg. Even though our lives are on different paths we struggle with the same things; being accepted, being known and loved for who we are. His writing never fails to speak truth and encouragement to me and I am grateful we are friends. 

What I wish I could tell you is that it's simple.

I wish I could tell you that it comes from a few moving Bible verses sung over an acoustic guitar, written in ink on your wrist. I wish I could point it out to you with twenty-two images that will "restore your faith in humanity" and ten thousand proofs of how heaven is truly breaking through and a million photos of smiling children and old people and rescued animals. I want to wrap hope up, drop it in your hands like a gift.

If only it were simple.

If only hope weren't that vital drink of water in an endless desert, the bird there and then shooting away when you move. I should know. I've got a history of chasing after hope...and calling off the search.

White noise was all I could hear during the darkest days of my depression. I went about my days numb and half-asleep. During the nights, I cried, but with a still face, like it was no big deal, as if my body was keeping up the routines while I fell away from living in it. I would think: There's no hope for me. Then I'd stop thinking all together.

I was depressed, yes, but I was also, more importantly, devastatingly disenchanted. Early on, when the sad feelings were so strong and startling, I fought the good fight of faith. I pulled out every victorious scripture I knew, I confessed to my Bible Study that I was very low, I attended a church with a stand of  prayer candles meant to symbolize prayers made on behalf of others, and I secretly lit several for myself. I was so desperate. I was falling. I did everything in the Christian manual. I prayed long and exhaustive prayers into the night sky, holding out with a forced assurance that he would show up, he would heal me on the spot.

And after all of that, I ended up smudged out and silenced - a phantom of my former self. I went numb.

I watched, apathetically, as my life nosedived into the basement of a bar, soaking with spilled drink I could only faintly feel the wetness of. From the busy curb outside, I heard the sound of the dark siren. And I almost surrendered to it. I nearly did.

But then I didn't. By a mix of magical resolve and zero hour grace, I went home the next day and confessed everything. I came out of the closet, with both my sexuality and suicidal desires. Like a squeezed sponge, I emptied it all onto my people.

And it was a relief, yes, it was magical, sure, but I soon figured out that hope doesn't work like a light switch. I soon discovered that depression wasn't a failure in faith.

Here's where I think we get this whole hope thing wrong: We want it to happen in a snap. We want it to come after a dramatic release of feelings and honesty and hard truths. We want it to be fair. We want it to repay us for the courage we just shelled out.

But like the slow descending steps into depression, recovering hope is also a long winding process. It requires patience and pragmatism. It needs you to trust in the long way around, even when the quick answer seems just a few leaps away. It needs you to do the steadfast work of laying a foundation, brick by small brick.

Days after my big night, I sat at the kitchen table hovering over a cup of coffee, when my aunt handed my my first one.

She had done her time in depression, years ago. She knew that uplifting palatial proverbs about darkness before the dawn, and how God always works for those He loves were not what I needed to hear. She knew I needed a listener. And abider. And she also believed I needed something simple, practical.

"Make a list," she said. "Everyday make a point to write down ten things you are grateful for. Anything at all. And after a while, do twenty things, then thirty and so on. I know it sounds...well, small,but it really helped me."

Perhaps I would've been more reluctant to this had I been better, but I had tried every other way. I had nothing to lose.

That day I sat down, opened a fresh new notebook and wrote my ten things. I said I was thankful for beautiful things, like a partly cloudy sky, and funny things, like every film with Steve Martin, and privileged things, like having a car. I did it again and again, day after day, and it wasn't so much that this was the sure path to freedom, but it was the only bite I could really chew. It was a brick that I had the strength to carry.

Not long after, I became an artist again, building sculptures with my hands, mixing colors into new exciting tones, stretching canvas and hammering frames. I swallowed my pride with a couple egg-shaped "happy" pills and began weekly therapy. I prayed for awareness. I prayed for strenth. I prayed for patience. Patience. Patience.

And gradually, gently, I became hopeful. The world softened and balanced and soon enough, I was not afraid to live.

What I want you to know about real hope is that it doesn't just come in a tiny tract or a good book or a session with a therapist. It doesn't come all at once. It takes time. It takes perseverance. It takes months, years, and there's never a point where things click and you suddenly have hope, but there is a point when you realize how much stronger you are. How much wiser. You know the fragility of circumstances to throw you back in the pit, but you also know the way out by heart.

You know the path, and you know the transformation that comes, if only you walk it.

Ben Moberg is a Christian gay man and is becoming less and less anxious about saying that. After spending his life in the closet, behind the lines of conservative evangelicalism, Ben, at last, came out and found only love and freedom patiently waiting for him on the other side. It's been a beautiful last few years for him and his.

Other than that, in much more interesting areas of his life, Ben is a lifelong Minnesotan, a brother to four siblings, a son, an uncle, a world traveler, a slow writer, a Netflix binger, and he works at a high school as a paraprofessional. He has been hit by evangelicalism like a hundred thousand times, and he is a sluggish forgiver, but grace is having a go at him. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

You can read his whole story here at his personal blog Registered Runaway and at A Deeper Story where he is a monthly contributor.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hope in the Wilderness

Up next in our series is Andrea Osterberg. She is also one of my online friends. Her walk in the wilderness is something that resonates with me in a very real way. I see myself in her writing so often. It's encouraging to know that someone, even someone you haven't met, has your back. Maybe you will see yourself in her story.

About 6 years ago, I climbed a mountain in very southern Mexico, perhaps we were even in Guatemala at times. I had never hiked in mountains before but thought, hey, they say it's an easy hike, so I'm good. What was failed to be mentioned was that really, it was an expert type hike. Like major inclines for basically 70% of it, and that it would take hours. Or that I'd be in the clouds, in ankle deep mud, and that I'd truly question if I was going to die. That I'd ask God to take me home more than once. (I'm a little happens.) I wish I were exaggerating. At whatever 1000's of feet we were at, I'd also not been prepared for the fact I wouldn't be able to take a deep breath of air, or that when crying and hiking hyperventilating does indeed occur.

Obviously I survived.

That hike changed my life. But I remember on hour 3 or 4, the intense disappointment for every bend we went around, that there was another bend. I got to the point where I would feel this intense hopelessness at every bend because still, STILL we were not at the top. When we finally came around the very last bend and I saw a village, and I saw people, I began to weep. And by weep, I mean ugly crying. The relief that flooded over me that this was over. I didn't have to walk anymore. I could catch my breath. I could let my body relax. I have never felt a relief to the extent that it created such strong emotion like that.

I compare my relationship with hope with that hike.

I am in the wilderness and I walk a long, dusty road right now. Twice I've dreamed about this, and while I'm not a huge, oh hey...God gave me a dream type, I think these were. It looks like the Sahara and the trail is windy. It's dusty. It's dirty. There is not water. Everything is brown. And worse, I'm alone. Or at least seeing with my eyes in the dream, I look alone, with the occasional person in the distance that I always watch, and I never call out to them. I feel hopeless for every bend that I turn on, because there is more road. And hope leaves me. I feel hopeless for my dreams that I always felt were from God, and if I ever really heard his voice. I feel hopeless for my family as they struggle with so much, and I wonder if prayers do any good at all for them. I mean, I hoped for healing for my dad to the end, and that didn't happen. I feel hopeless in this faith. Some days I wonder if anything of what I have believed is real. Simply, my life feels hopeless right now.

Maybe this is it. My life will always be the wilderness. Maybe.

But here is what I do know. Hope, at least for me, stubbornly refuses to let me go. And I have fought her, I've wrestled with her, and over and over all I hear is this very till small whisper..."Hold on a little longer, sweet girl. Walk...just walk a little longer. If you can't walk, then crawl. Sit, take a breath on the road. You are not left alone."

I am unable to give up hope, and I have wanted to. Others would have by now.

So I am limping currently down that dusty road, and lately, I have run into others there. Friends have come alongside me, and they offer to carry hope for what I struggle hoping for. I'm not foolish enough to say I have my shit together anymore, I'll tell you I struggle. Oddly, I've found these tears to be something that frees me, even though I think they make many uncomfortable. I can't care about that anymore.

Lamenting in this place has been freedom for me.

Isaiah 40:31 in the NIV version says, "they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength..." and today, that verse and the surrounding verses to that, have been some water in a dry, dry place for me along with those friends who have helped me keep walking.

I struggled with a way to end this, I always struggle with a way to end my ramblings, but for fellow wilderness walkers, I'm on that road with you. I understand the frustration and the tears, and the anger and the pain. I do. My prayer for myself lately, is the simple statement asking for hope to arise in me. That she would be bright like the sun. I offer the same simple, maybe ridiculous prayer to you who I may never meet or talk to. That hope would arise. Whether that road ends tomorrow, or the walking goes on for years.

That just as the sun rises every morning after the dark, that hope would so the same for you and you would hear the whisper that you aren't alone there. 

I'm not alone there either.

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31

I am a woman living life in the state of Oklahoma where I'd call myself a wilderness walker, lover of people and truth seeker. I love writing, deep conversations over coffee and my dog, Oakley. If you'd like to read more of what I have to say you can find me at The Honest Wanderer.