Start With What’s True

This starts with midnight. It starts with a conversation. Because people tend to lay aside their inhibitions late at night. It starts with midnight, and I am sitting with a woman I respect. Someone I trust. She is asking me about spiritual things and it’s good in a confusing way. My faith is confusing sometimes.

Things I used to measure in concrete terms are much more blurred to me now. I used to measure my spiritual health in terms of works. I used to say “I’m part of a great church, I go to home group every week. I’m on day X of this bible reading plan, I’m memorizing this passage, I’m hosting this Bible Study, I have these accountability partners, I’m doing great.”

These are all true statements. And I almost begin to tell her these things. But if the Gospel is the embodiment of grace, not the result of my own works, how can I use religious rituals as a measurement of how the Gospel is changing me? I can’t. So, with her, I said the true thing: “I’m not really sure.”

I question a lot of things a lot of the time. But I am learning that my questions are not the spiritual death traps I once believe them to be, but rather, openings to and opportunities for transformation. What I do now, when I find myself in moments where I must define what I believe, is follow the technique of one of my favorite literary heroines: Katniss Everdeen. It sounds silly, but it works.

“My memories swirl as I try to sort out what is true and what is false. What series of events ed me to be standing in these ruins? My thoughts have a tendency to jumble together so… I use a technique one of the doctors suggested. I start with the simplest things I know to be true and work toward the more complicated”

God is real. He is personal. He is good. He is just. He is mercy. His mercy is the means of His justice. He loves me. Jesus is God fully revealed to man. God is like Jesus.

If God is like Jesus, I should be like Jesus too. Jesus healed the sick, cared for the broken and the poor, he didn’t put up with people who thought they knew all the answers. He loved deeply, selflessly, wholly. He is restorative, redemptive, healing.

These are the things I believe, need to be, and want to do.

I spent almost all of 2014 wrestling with theologies and spiritual disciplines that were only blinding me from the lover of my soul. I turned my faith into its own idol. But, in the words of Richard Rohr, “the great and merciful surprise is that we come to God, not by doing it right, but by doing it wrong.” I often do this wrong, and God’s love for me means he meets me inside of that.

God is present with me, I do not need to search or look for what I already posses. I need only train my eyes to see what is already there. How I came about this relationship with Him, hardly even matters. Was I chosen or did I choose? I have no idea. I have given up on those questions because they aren’t the point. What matters is that He is here with me. What matters is that He loves me. What matters is that I learn to see him, and learn to be like him.

So I start with what I know is true: God is here. I will not spend my time waiting for him to “come back.” I will spend my time allowing him to take away my blindness and see his presence in all the moments I felt alone. For I was not alone at all. Even when I ran, I was not alone. In days to come, when I leave again because, dear God, I am so prone to wander, I will still never be alone.

It’s so easy to feel as though my story fell apart when my faith did. It’s so easy to ride on my past victories instead of being present in the place I am now. But what I am learning is that it is better to sit with the questions and allow Jesus to find me where I am, in his own time. And so, like the Father of the demon-possessed child in Mark 9, my prayer continues: “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.”

Eight Things

I.

“Not one sparrow falls to the ground without the Father knowing.” Of course the Father knows. But those sparrows still fall. They still hit the concrete and are wounded, broken. Sometimes irreparably so.

II.

When I began writing this blog, I was an 8th grader struggling with depression. There were and are certain voids that I could neither fill nor ignore and so I found myself stuck and in 8th grade I began to write my way into acceptance of the fact that there are certain things I will always wrestle with and transparency is not such a terrible idea after all.

Years later, I realized that my efforts to be transparent in Christian community had only resulted in me exchanging one mask for another. I learned to wear Christian hope as a disguise, especially in my writing, and I fed on the people telling me I was so strong, so spiritual, so in love with God. I wasn’t, but I’d worn that mask for so long I no longer knew how to remove it. It’s said that if you tell yourself something long enough, you begin to believe it, and that was true for me. Until it wasn’t.

III.

It’s amazing how prolonged exposure to something can so thoroughly desensitize a person. When I speak to people who weren’t raised in the church I sometimes realize they may have a more objective view of their faith than I do. “God knowing the sparrows fall is an expression of his intimate care for us, not of his absolute promise to prevent us from falling.” Someone who didn’t grow up in church told me that. And I sat there thinking “oh…” Because I am too quick to spew formulaic solutions and tell people “He sees” without telling them why that matters.

IV.

The truth is, suffering is something we’re called to walk inside of. And often I am so busy trying to help people get out of it, that I forget this fact. I forget that Jesus suffered, and his disciples suffered, and finding God inside of their suffering neither negated nor ended their suffering. A writer I like, named Seth, said this: “We learn something about the path to Salvation in Jesus march through the passion. He gave into the pain, faced it, took it in the ribs. And in this, what was his parting shot to his torturers? ‘Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.’” Jesus did not run away from that suffering, he faced it, walked in it, found His father in it, and prayed “forgive them” and that is something I am still learning how to do.

V.

I am quick to make idols out of the things that are supposed to draw me to Christ. I think if I do the right things God will answer all the questions. Read your Bible, pray every day and you’ll grow, grow grow. I hum that tune internally, slowing weaving the practice into a perpetual cycle of idol worship. I turn my God into an idol when I worship the idea of worshiping him and the sense of purity and piety it gives me instead of worshiping God Himself in spirit and truth.

VI.

I have a hard time forgiving the people who taught me untrue things about God. I am quick to blame, and slow to hold myself responsible. Lately instead of saying “What I know of God is awful,” I have been trying to say “How can I replace these beliefs built because of tradition, with beliefs built by truth?” I have been learning how to worship God out of the right spirit, not out of a spirit that thinks worship will result in things changing. I am, however, quick to run back to my idolatrous ways. And in Romans one, it talks about me. I have exchanged the truth of God for lies. And when I thought I was wise, strong even, I became a fool, a coward.

VII.

What still gives me hope is that inspite of these things I can still repeat to myself “praise Jesus, my story does not end there or here.” Every time I find myself wrapped up in some new form of doubt I find myself whispering, reminding myself, “my story doesn’t end here.” Is that not the essence of the Christian walk? Not that we don’t worship false Gods, or exchange truth for lies, or revel in our false sense of piety, but that our stories do not end in those places and Jesus is still our lover and still eases the scales off our eyes until we can see him again.

VIII.

Let me walk this journey to a better understanding of my savior. Not looking for ways to get rid of my doubts, my questions, my struggles until I have learned what they have to teach me. Not removing the problems until I have learned better things from them. Forgiving those who hurt me, knowing I have hurt my savior just as much. Singing this anthem daily: “He is not finished with me yet. This journey is not over yet. And day by day, He is making me more like himself even when I don’t see it.”

Strengthen Your Brothers. [Pt 3]

Jesus does not change God, Jesus reveals God.”

Those words saved my faith, because in an instant one of my main issues with Christianity was put to rest. God and Jesus seemed like such opposite personalities. On the one hand I loved Jesus. I read the New Testament and fell in love with the healer I saw depicted there. But God was different. Needlessly harsh, even at times disturbing. The idea that God could actually be like Jesus was shocking to me. 

And yet the Bible confirms this idea over and over again. “The Son… has shown us what God is like” [John 1:18]. “Anyone who looks at [Jesus] sees the one who sent [him]” [John 12:45]. “If you really knew me, you would know my Father also… Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father” [John 14: 7,9] “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me [John 5:39].

So instead of trying to extrapolate from vague passages, how God could be good and still do seemingly horrendous things, I began to look at Jesus. Jesus, who loved so deeply, who healed so freely, who came to save, not to condemn. And I began to see God inside Jesus. And slowly, I began to return.

“When you have returned, strengthen your brothers.”

We need good, Godly, spirit filled Christian homes. But in our effort to raise children who believe the right things, we must be very careful not to impose on them an image of God that is ugly and damaging. We need to teach the importance of conviction, but also the humility it takes to admit when we’re wrong. Our beliefs are going to have flaws, but since God inherently doesn’t, it’s OK to read the Bible differently than we did the first time. It’s OK to find God in things we didn’t think He could be part of before. And it’s OK if we make mistakes along the way, because God is still going to be bigger than we perceive Him to be.

I fully believe that God reveals himself differently to different people. This is not an attack on conservatism or fundamentalism, or Christianity at all. This is an appeal to Christian leaders to allow Jesus to reveal himself to individuals and give spiritual structure without hard limits. Don’t distort the gospel by chaining it to non-essentials. Don’t drive us away by smothering our questions. Let us voice our doubts. Advise us, yes, but also encourage us to find our own way. 

And to my friends, who are still in that place of doubt, keep searching. I ask nothing of you except that you keep searching. There is beauty in Jesus; there is love without condition or qualification, salvation without strings attached, healing in the nature of a savior who is not tied down by theological ambiguities.

But sometimes we really fail miserably at portraying that. So if you need to leave for a while, leave. Run. Get out and find the answers you need. Get away long enough to heal. When you come back, we will be here with open arms. Despite what perhaps you were taught, or came to believe growing up, there is no room for shame or guilt in the gospel. You are not weak or sinful for leaving. Jesus’ love for you is not dependent on the amount of faith you can scrape together. His presence is not something you have to earn or work for, and if there is anything true in Christianity at all, I believe God will bring you back. 

But that process will take time. Maybe even years. That is OK. Maybe you don’t think you’ll ever come back. If that’s the case, I’m sorry. I’m sorry people gave you such a poor view of God. I’m sorry people ruined the name of Jesus for you. I understand. There is no shame in saying so. There is no shame in admitting you don’t think you can come back. There is no shame in admitting that perhaps you love Jesus but need to heal from the church.

If, however, like me, you can find it in yourself to start again; to throw the false versions of God you’ve been handed or have created, on the trash pile, there is no shame in that either. This too, will take time. You won’t know how to approach some things. You won’t have solid answers to many questions right away, or maybe never at all. Start with Jesus. When you are rebuilding, always start with Jesus.

“Strengthen your brothers.”

Though it has been so twisted and tarnished in today’s church, there is so still so much hope in the Gospel. And if my generation is going to come back, that hope is going to be the thing that brings us back. Not moral codes, or sets of doctrine. It’s going to be Jesus. The hope of Jesus is what brought Peter back. That hope is what brought me back. He gives us that hope so we can return, and strengthen our brothers.

I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And when you have returned, strengthen your brothers.”

See part two & part one

~~~~~

Last year I started attending an incredible church here in Clearwater, where I started to experience the true love of Jesus via a body of believers who let me safely voice my questions while I was still on the brink of running. They helped me rebuild my faith, and for that I am beyond grateful. Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus when I was too disillusioned to see him any other way.

 

That Your Faith May Not Fail… [Pt 2]

I am Peter. And Jesus knew I would return.

But when you return, you see Jesus differently. I see Jesus differently. I wouldn’t have come back if it meant returning to the same god I knew before. I wouldn’t have come back if it weren’t for Jesus. 

“I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.”

I see so much doubt in my peers. I include myself in that statement. I see so much doubt in myself too. I see a group of new adults who were raised inside Christianity. Who know the ins and outs of their faith intimately, but who also have seen the dark and ugly sides of their faith just as intimately.

Even in my first year of college, I had so many friends tell me they either believe drastically different things about God than they grew up with, or they no longer believe in Him at all. I understand this change in worldview, it’s happened to me too.

People say college is where Christian kids go to lose their faith. I almost lost mine. And at risk of being too honest, I want to explain why. 

Second generation Christians, raised in environments similar to my own, are sold a spiritual product. We’re taught our entire lives to believe very specific things. We’re taught that believing a certain way will give us peace. We’re promised eternal security if only we have faith enough to accept it. We are taught this is the only way. That our specific set of theology is the only true theology. 

Children believe whatever those they trust teach them.  And so, children create a portrait of God based on whatever they are fed from a young age. None of those things are necessarily bad or wrong. Children need spiritual structure set up for them, because they are too young to understand most things by themselves. The danger is that we often teach our personal beliefs under the guise of being 100% Biblical truth. And as those children grow up, whether it was the intention or not, they find themselves thinking anything different from their original set of beliefs is sinful and wrong. Caught up in shame, guilt, and constant internal chaos because they’ve been mentally trained to feel that deviating even the slightest bit is dangerous.

How can a teenager personalize his walk with Jesus, when every time he thinks he might disagree, spiritual leaders stomp out his questions with the words, “We are older, wiser, and have more life experience than you, of course our way is the right way”?

I know a good majority of the time this isn’t the intended end. I know leaders are human, and I am human too. But intentions aside, it’s how it looks to us. It’s what we experience. Peoples good intention can sometimes backfire. And that is what happens with us: somewhere in our journey, usually in late high school or college, we realize that outside of basic truths of salvation and the nature of God, theology simply isn’t black and white. We realize, that even if the Bible is the ultimate authority, there just isn’t only one way to interpret Scripture. 

We perceive from the fallible, vaguely worded statements of pastors, parents, and mentors, that truth; God, denominations, politics, social justice, and personal conviction are all synonymous things. That a person can’t believe in God and also lean towards the political left. And perhaps that is result of our own fallibility, and reading between the lines more than we should have, but nevertheless it is what we experience.  So, as Jon Acuff eloquently put it: “[we] cobble together a view of [God] that is untrue. From bad sermons and bad books and bad theology and bad friends, [we] build a bad God.” And as we grow up, we realize how difficult it is, to separate God from the beliefs we may no longer agree with. So, we trash the whole thing.

I was there. A freshman in college with a brain full of theological ideas I had always believed to be 100% accurate, and a heart full of growing doubt. College is the first time most of us have enough independence to even consider rethinking our beliefs. So, when one of my best friends admitted to being a full out agnostic, everything I had formerly believed came crashing down. If someone who had, at one point, been one of my primary sources of spiritual encouragement could now set it all aside and call it all untrue, there had to be a good reason. People don’t come to such conclusions lightly. You don’t go to bed a Christian and wake up an agnostic. And as we discussed the issue, the doubts and issues I’d kept in the back of my heart and head were all suddenly front and center. I didn’t know what God looked like anymore and I was faced with either figuring it out, or dumping Christianity all together.

Jesus saw those events in my life before they happened. He knew I would fall away. “Satan desires to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, that you faith may not fail.”

I am Peter. And Jesus saw me wrestling with the core of my beliefs, unable to separate religious tradition from life-changing relationship. Saw me on the brink of running. Saw me denying Him. “I have prayed for you, that you faith may not fail.”

And inside those moments, He sent words to keep my faith from failing.

“God is perfectly revealed in Jesus. Jesus does not change God, Jesus reveals God… [and] Jesus tells us that the great work of the Father is to give life to the dead” [Zahnd].

I am Peter. And after I had denied my savior, those words saved my faith. 

~~~~~
Part three coming Friday.
See Part One & Part Three

When You Have Returned… [Pt 1]

This is post is the first of a three part series I wrote on doubt, the reasons my generation leaves the church, and what can bring us back. Part two will be coming on Thursday, and Part Three on Saturday.

I am Peter. I am Peter in Luke 22 saying “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 

I am Peter in Luke 22 screaming, “I am not one of them!” 

I used to believe I would follow Jesus to the grave. That I had faith strong enough to do and believe whatever was required of me. That I, of all people, couldn’t possibly ever doubt God. Of course I’d have questions but doubt God? Never. I knew, after all, that God is the ultimate authority. Who was I to question what I couldn’t comprehend? 

Until that wasn’t good enough anymore. Until logic caught up with belief. Until I couldn’t justify issues by telling myself God is God and if something seems unjust, unloving, unholy even, that was only because I had a flawed concept not a flawed God. Until I realized half the things I thought to be absolute truth just weren’t. Until I found myself saying internally and at times even aloud “I am not one of them.” 

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly did have a flawed concept not a flawed God. God was still inherently perfect. I was still inherently imperfect. But the god I was seeing wasn’t perfect. And as such, the god I was seeing wasn’t truly God. 

When I read through the whole bible my first semester of college, I realized a few things, the most important of which is that God is like Jesus. That Jesus and God are not separate entities with entirely different motives. Jesus is not the love aspect of the trinity, and God the justice aspect. It doesn’t work like that. And if Jesus is the essence of God, then Yahweh must look like Jesus, act with the same motives as Jesus, love like Jesus loved.

Jesus prayed for Peter. He knew, despite the well-intentioned and even sincere statements Peter made, that inside the future Peter couldn’t see or plan for, there would be denial. There would be Peter saying “I do not know Him… I am not one of them.” Jesus knew. 

We should be wary of how we look at our faith. If you see yourself as being above doubt, you’re probably not seeing things realistically. Nobody is above doubt. Not even the disciple who walked with Jesus, talked with Him, learned from Him, sincerely loved Him. Even that man, when confronted by his stormy surroundings, doubted the strength of the physical incarnation of God himself. Even that man was afraid when he saw the wind and waves. Even that man, though he loved deeply, sank just as deeply, denied and fell.

I am Peter. 

And in Luke 22, Jesus prays for Peter and says, “when you have returned, strengthen your brothers.”

Not “if you return.” “When you return.”

Jesus knew Peter would deny him. He also knew Peter would return. Jesus knows I will doubt too. He knows my faith is small, and I have a hard time knowing anything with any real certainty. Jesus knows, allows me to walk through my doubt, fall into my waves, and through that, whispers, “When you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” 

I am Peter. And Jesus knew I would return.

See Part Two & Part Three

Stumbling Towards Jesus

I spent a good portion of this last year praying little more than “Jesus help my unbelief.” I had no particular reason, no emotional life event that triggered the change. Just a slow fade from knowing exactly what I believed to knowing nothing.

I remember mentally going down the list of my beliefs and crossing them off as I found them quite literally unbelievable. It scared me. Because I’ve never been in an environment where I felt it was OK to doubt. Even in the darker things I went through in high school, there was always an element of belief that fueled my anger. I didn’t doubt God then, I was angry at Him. This was different. This was a cold-water-in-the-face reality check. I couldn’t accept my acceptance anymore. And doubting God’s character is different than being angry at Him. I’ve always loved Lewis, and through this whole thing I found myself coming back to his laments in A Grief Observed, seeing myself in his words. “Not that I am in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him. The conclusion I dread isn’t ‘so there’s no God after all’ but ‘so this is what God is really like.'”

People say if you’re doubting God, you should question whether you knew Him in the first place. After all, His presence is supposed to be crystal clear to those who know Him. I don’t think that’s a good approach though. When I was looking back at things, I know I knew God. My struggle was less about doubting his existence and more about realizing, bit by bit, how screwed up my spiritual portrait had become. I knew that God is, but like Lewis, I suddenly wasn’t sure I actually knew what He is. There’s a difference. There’s this girl Amanda who writes beautifully and she phrased it perfectly: “It isn’t that I doubt a creator exists, I just doubt that maybe divine existence means something entirely different than what I was taught.”

I always used to speak of God as if He were only part of my clean-up process: His presence only to be found in the recovery after my storms. Yet, I have seen Him more within my storms than without. I used to think I could find Him only in my contentment, but lately I’ve been finding Him more in my questions. (I’ve found that Divine Care exists more in my broken mire than in my days, weeks, months, years of spotless theology.)

That’s the irony of the whole thing: I’ve experienced Him more truly in my doubt than I did in my certainty. The God I used to believe in was a monster. But when I started to look for God through the lens of the idea that God looks just like Jesus, I found something better. I am still figuring that out.

I am still tossing my inaccurate sketches of God and redrawing them. I am rebuilding. One piece at a time. I used to think faith and doubt were opposites, I don’t think that anymore. (Even Jesus Himself cried out “Why have you forsaken me?”)

The point of this whole thing is that I want people to know this is OK. It’s OK to burn your beliefs to the ground and start again if it’s in the name of truth. It’s OK to have moral frustrations that don’t quickly solve themselves. It’s OK to find God in filthy places, in fact I think it’s better to find God in those places.

I’m not going to wrap this up with a neat conclusion about how everything is OK now. I’m still searching. I’m beginning to understand I may always be searching. I’m beginning to be OK with that. I’m not going to act like I’ve arrived and never have days of feeling completely lost. But, as Micah Murray phrased it, “I am stumbling towards Jesus.” That’s enough.

Finding the Voice of the True Shepherd

“Think. Please. Please think about the effect your words have on your outlook. Please. Please don’t condemn people if you don’t know their heart…”

I was sitting in on a conversation a few of my friends were having about the nature of God. And I was silently screaming those words in my head. Because what was being said about the Bible was so distorted I couldn’t even recognize Jesus in it anymore. It was said that God withdrawing His hand and “giving people up” to their sin, is a form of His mercy because that means they’ll hit rock bottom sooner. What. How can we talk so nonchalantly about people hitting rock bottom and being so broken they have nowhere else to turn. You talk about that like it’s beauty. It’s not. It’s a mess. It was said that even though technically God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, sometimes their death brings about His greater glory and God takes pleasure in His own glory. No. These are people. People you’re saying God tritely sent to hell and you’re ok with it. You’re OK with people going to hell? It was said that God doesn’t just hate sin, He also hates sinners. Except when he doesn’t, and we should be thankful for the fact that for some reason He doesn’t hate us. Have we forgotten that behind the theory is people? Maybe if we could visualize what each of our statement means for individual people around us, we wouldn’t make them so tritely. Maybe we wouldn’t say “God sends people to hell and that’s OK.” so quickly if we saw how many of the people we love are included in that statement. Those statements are heavy. And they shouldn’t be discussed as if they’re not.

I don’t worship that kind of God. I don’t worship the bipolar, narcissistic version of God that’s playing chess with the eternal future of His creation. Saying I should love God and be thankful because I got the lucky numbers and someone else didn’t, is a poor argument. That doesn’t make me grateful to be chosen, it makes me question why me over someone else. As Micah Murray phrased it, that kind of outlook gives me “survivors guilt.” It’s not an issue with the doctrine, it’s an issue with the way people have come to view it: as a lottery. And when portrayal of specific doctrine has the power to intrinsically alter how people view God and view themselves, we have to be very careful. Are we using our presuppositions and opinions to interpret the Bible? Or using the Bible to create our presuppositions and opinions?

I am guilty. I have promoted grievously incorrect portrayals of God in an effort to “win one for the team.” I have done so because it’s what I was taught. What kept me comfortable. What made God fit into my ideas instead of making my ideas line up with truth. And I’m tired of doing that.

So I have been reorganizing and re-evaluating what I believe about the very core of my faith: the Gospel and the nature of God. I have gone back and tried to understand the difference between my religious tradition and Jesus. I have begun to weed out the gross deviance from truth I’ve seen in Western American Christianity. I have questioned a lot of things I didn’t think I’d ever have to question. And I think it’s time to strip away the decorations I have added to my faith, until I can see the heart of it again.

I really don’t know many things right now. But I know that the New Testament paints a beautiful picture of Jesus. I know that true, undefiled religion is helping the poor and orphaned in their affliction. I know that if I’m going to cling to theological purity, I’m eventually going to have to recognize that theological purity can, and too often already has, become its own idol. I know that idolatry, not even idolatry of “good” things, has ever been part of the Gospel. I know that I’m tired of the American Church wanting to be pitied for the so-called persecution it’s facing, and applauded for maintaining morality in legislation no matter who is hurt along the way. I know that Jesus said whatever I have done for the least, I have done for Him. I know I have done too little for the least. And I know if I can no longer hear the voice of the True Shepherd above the bleating of the sheep, it’s time to walk away and let Jesus find me.

I have seen things in the church recently that have broken my heart. I’ve seen individuals and institutions sacrifice integrity and reason in an effort to hold on to tradition. At the very least that’s Pharisaical. Either way, it’s not the sacrifice Jesus wanted us to make. In the end, He wanted us to sacrifice our lives in love for others; not our logic in a debate for a specific theological stance. And I am tired of winning so-called victories for Christianity all the while leaving a trail of victims in my wake.

I have begun to ask these questions and I hope you will ask them too. Because it isn’t true faith to only feed the poor if the food comes with a tract and only touches the hands of someone who shares the exact same theology as you. It isn’t true grace to  only bind of the wounds of the broken if they agree to be converted in the process. It isn’t equality if it only includes those who act, and believe the same way. We have continuously done this. We have lived as if it’s OK to condemn sinners, as long as they’re sinning differently than us. As long as [we think] they’re not part of God’s chosen. As long as God [or so we believe] has already given them over to their sin. We have pursued justice and rightly so but in the process, forgotten to love mercy and walk humbly as well.

I don’t want my definition of Christianity to be chained to a version of God that hurts people. I don’t want to go into conversations trying to prove my theology as the most right. I want my faith to look like Jesus and most of the time what I’ve seen and what I’ve done looks starkly different from the man who loved people so selflessly He’d rather die than condemn them.

These are hard things to write. I have debated whether its worth it to write them at all. I have edited and rephrased and re-evaluated. My dear friend Audrey recently asked on her blog “How honest are you allowed to be on the internet?” and I am asking that question too. Words have extreme power over people and most times my words need to simply be kept to myself. But I am broken by the way I and so many others have tried to reshape Jesus and contain Him inside of our own boxes. So I am working on a more honest conversation. I am working through the problems I have with religious institution and reminding myself that correct theology reveals Him, it doesn’t contain Him. I am hoping to live with more truth as my focus. I am working on a better story.

Not Yet [Who I Wish To Be]

I am not yet the person I wish to be.
This body is full of threads kissing the edges of wounds only sewn half shut.
I am creaking and groaning under the weight of my own bones.
I am held together only by routine, caffeine and eighteen years of
learning how to be seen as more cleaned up than I ever could be.

I am not yet the person that I wish to be.
Sometimes my breathing isn’t as involuntary as it should be,
and my voice cracks when I ask God to be with me.
Sometimes I have to ask my best friends if they love me, even though
I should know it already.
Sometimes I have to ask my heart not to hate me
for the way I flirt with self-destruction,
falling prey to fears seduction.
I do so many things I know I shouldn’t.

I am not yet the person that I wish to be.
But despite the ways I have failed myself
and those around me,
there is something inside me that keeps my heart beating
64 times a minute,
even when I’d rather it didn’t.

And that is why, though I am not yet the person I wish to be,
I still believe that I am getting there.
I am still choosing to believe that my soul
is composed of a million tiny seeds of hope
trying to grow in ice and snow.
And my broken pieces have taught me
how to wear my scars like trophies
won through prayer, without comparing my stains
and tarnish to the stitched up veins
and darkness of others.

I am not yet the person I wish to be.
But I am more alive now than I ever knew I could be.
I will thrive where I am planted
and arrive when I’m meant to do so.
I’ll derive life from mere survival until
I love the sky I’m under,
no matter what’s on either side of me.

I am not yet the person I wish to be.
But I am better than I was last year or last week.
And I know the dead never rise all at once, so
I won’t expect myself too either.
But I will still brush the dust off my bones and slowly
feel my pulse grow from barely beating to a repeating anthem
of second chances greeting the ones I love
with the possibility of life not just fleeting moments.

And I will not try to compete with those around me
when I am already complete on my own.
I will break myself down
and build myself back up until
I’m toughened up enough to believe
I am enough.

I am not yet the person that I wish to be.
But in this moment, I am all that I need to be.

Deeper [Than My Feet Could Ever Wander]

“I spent this year as a ghost and I’m not sure where home is anymore.”

I’ve been absent from this blog for a few months now. Not because I didn’t try to write posts: I did try more than once. I’ve been absent because for the first time in I think my entire life, I’ve been spending more time actually living than I’ve spent thinking and writing about living.

The initial quote is something I came across on a friends blog. I identified with it. At least, I identified with it for the first part of the year. If one looks closely, at the progression of my posts here this past year they could probably pick up on that fact. There are a lot of things I’m proud of that happened this year and then there are the things I’m less proud of. And because I am constantly talking about honesty and the importance of story, here is my honesty: this year brought so many doubts into my life, there were times I struggled to simply keep my head above water. My senior year of high school, I was doing so many things I’d always wanted to do. After graduation, I had a great summer job, college on the horizon, and nothing to worry about except having fun.

But spring and summer proved to be more of an emotional train wreck than anything else. I’d wake up and go to work. After work, I’d usually go to some social outing with my friends and get home late. Rinse and repeat. It was draining, I was sick for pretty much all of it, and looking forward to a different routine.

I don’t believe anyone can or should run from their problems. But I have learned that sometimes distance is a healthy thing. Sometimes you don’t even really have a reason for the depression, the feeling of being boxed in. Sometimes, without any clear cause at all, you feel like you’re suffocating and can’t seem to get enough air, no matter what you do. And sometimes, because of that, you have to remove yourself from your old life completely before you can breathe deeply enough to create a better one. That’s what college was for a me: a new start and a catalyst for something better.

I learned a lot of things this semester. A lot of those things had to do with saying no to voices calling me to be selfish, or unhealthy. A lot of those things had to do with saying yes to voices calling me to be more honest, more kind. Sometimes those things involved learning how to ask for help. Taking advantage of a professors offer to talk about life problems, not just class problems. Sitting with my friends at Starbucks, and being honest when they asked how they could step into my life and help me. Those same people constantly following up, day after day, praying, talking, living a better story than I knew was possible.

I don’t cry over many things, but at 3 am when someone I loved tried to hurt herself, again, despite all the time I’d spent trying to convince her how much I loved her. I was weeping like a child and my roommate, my dear, amazing roommate, told me she loved me even though I hadn’t meant to wake her up. Even though I couldn’t talk about it. Even though a few weeks earlier we’d been nothing more than strangers and bonded more over our mutual fear of large crowds than anything else.

I have seen a lot of things, but when, in the first few days of school, three people sat down with me, and willingly opened themselves up to and with me; sharing their stories while we were still strangers. Praying there, together, aloud, honestly with one another. I felt the true Christian community I’d been craving for so long. And I still feel it, cause we didn’t let it end there. We stuck  with each other through the semester, and with others who joined us. We created something true, and honest, and pure, and Godly, and I’d like to say I hope it lasts for the remaining years we have together.

If I could explain in just one sentence how the past few months has affected me, I would merely say that in leaving home, I found a different home.

I think that home is stepping into moments before you know how they’ll end. It’s being able to speak truth into peoples lives and help them grow with grace and love. It’s being able to live a transparent life. Not with everyone, but with a few people, who are there, with you, alive and in person. Who are reading the Bible with you, and losing sleep with you, studying with you, and living with you. That’s what I found this semester. And that’s a hard thing to write about, because most of the time I’m just trying to live it.

My roommate and I read the entire bible through together in 90 days this semester. I want to do that at least two more times in 2014. Here’s to knowing Jesus better than I did 6 months ago, and the possibility of knowing Him even deeper in the year to come.

[[Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, / And my faith will be
made stronger  / in the presence of my savior.]]

You Gave Me Life [Worth Dying For]

I began to write these things because I didn’t know how to help someone. I understood exactly where she was at, but didn’t know how to help her move forward from that spot. Experience produces empathy, not answers. So in those moments when people I love are looking for change, but looking in the wrong places, what am I to do?

What can I say that I haven’t said a thousand times before? Words don’t work if someone doesn’t truly want to change. Words don’t work if they’re only empty solutions. And you could say I just wanted to point out that there comes a time when we all must face the harsh truth that even wanting to change is not always enough to save us. Actions inevitably have equal and opposite reactions. Choices inevitably have unintended consequences and at some point we have to wake up and understand that this isn’t a game anymore. Eventually we all have to take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror and realize this is not just our life. Yes, we own it, our lungs breathe in and out. But the tiny threads of ourselves that we’ve distributed and entangled and woven throughout the stories of other people are no longer ours to control. We can’t just cut off the oxygen and expect things to continue on as normal. Life isn’t like that. People aren’t like that. And in my head that seems so obvious, but I know it wasn’t always obvious.

And then I thought, perhaps, what she needs is grace as well. After all, I’m just repeating things she knows, and even claims to believe. After all, I know firsthand there is a marked difference in rationally knowing something and letting it radically change you. That doesn’t devalue repetition. We need reminders all the time. But while I’m not here to be a Savior, I should have the same level of compassion, understanding, and mercy, that my Savior so quickly offers me. Grace to know there is no time span after which I can call someone a lost cause. Nobody is ever a lost cause, my human nature just makes me give up too easily. So I remind myself to remind her that I love her. Even if it’s completely obvious, to remind her over and over again.

While I was thinking all these things, I all at once realized: these feelings are not unique to how I relate to her. Do I not do this to my savior every day and wonder why nothing changes? Do I not scream to him “show me you love me, because I don’t believe it in this moment!” Do I not deny the grace He’s provided for me, thinking I need to change my actions first, not my heart? Do I not endlessly compare and contrast, excusing myself if there’s someone worse; condemning myself if there’s someone better? Do I not spit in the face of the only thing and the everything that I need, day after wretched day, because I think I’ve arrived, or think I’ve fallen too far?

Am I not every bit that weak and wounded sinner, constantly pursuing, as Paul describes, a form of so called Godliness, but denying the power found in it?

Suddenly I was acutely aware of the fact that perhaps, she is not the only one who needs her eyes opened.

Praise God, the story needn’t end there. Not for her, not for me. Today does not have to end in self-righteousness or self-destruction. Today is not over, and this story isn’t over, and the ending can still be Jesus. The ending should always be Jesus. Even when I hopelessly misconstrue Him, He doesn’t stop pursuing me either. And these days, these moments, yes we inevitably fall into them, but He has never failed to bring us out of them. When day after day, my own legs fall out from underneath me, His everlasting arms have yet to let me hit the floor. Life is a struggle, and we are sinners who can’t seem to stop sinning, but He is forgiveness. He is mercy. He is endless second chances. And never once has He made me walk alone.

And that’s when I realized, what she needs to know, is not how her self-concept is flawed. What she needs to know is how God is not. Maybe what she needs to find is not my reassurance; but a better picture of who God is. And maybe I need to fix myself before I try to fix her.

I think I had somehow got a picture in my head that wasn’t quite an accurate representation of God. So I’ll remind myself, and remind her, that He is relentless. He is not shaking under the weight of her mistakes or mine. He’s using them, every single time, to teach and sanctify our hearts.

Let me repeat until my own heart is calmed, then let me use those same words to help calm hers: My flesh and my heart may fail, but You are the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. (Psalm 73)

[[I was chasing healing when I’d been made well. / I was fighting battles when you
conquered hell. / 
Living free, but from a prison cell. / Lord, I lay that down today.]]