The Saturday In-Between

There is an awkward Saturday situated in-between Easter Sunday and Good Friday. In previous years I’ve greatly associated with Easter, or I’ve greatly associated with Good Friday, but this year I’m strangely content to relate most to the Saturday in-between the two big events.

A church I attended once referred to it as ‘dark Saturday’ which I think fits. It is the day after the crucifixion, the day where all of Jesus’ followers would be in mourning. I think along with the mourning they probably asked, “what’s next?” The man they’d followed for years, a man who had performed miracles, healed the sick, and cared for the poor, who promised them heaven and for God to be restored as king, was dead. Crucified at the hands of the Romans. Their Messiah, the chosen one, was gone and I imagine their faith was probably at a standstill.

After all, when your everything ended up hung on a cross and killed for the public to see, it might be hard to imagine moving forward.

They didn’t know that Easter would come the next day. They were oblivious to the fact that the stone would be rolled away, the tomb would be empty, and they would have the chance at new life. Jesus would resurrect and a new point in history would begin.

Saturday was a day of isolation. Loneliness. Uncertainty.

So this year I think Saturday is the day I associate with, because since I’ve moved back to Oregon I’ve felt like I’m in some sort of black hole. Yes, I’ve managed to find work. Yes, I get to be with my family and play with my niece, yes, I’ve been given some awesome opportunities and cool experiences…but it still feels oddly empty. Where things of the world abound in my life, God is strangely absent.

Though I guess absent isn’t the word as much as muted is. God is muted. I attended a Christian school for two and a half years and had God in every aspect of my life. Classes were based in faith, friends always wanted to have faith based conversations, my work was in an environment surrounded by people always challenging and pushing me to pursue Christ. In that time God was a high definition bluray with surround sound.

Now He’s more like a gurgling brook I can hear but can’t see.

I feel like the disciples in that I understand the reality of what happened on the cross, and unlike them in the fact I know that resurrection came, but somehow I still find myself resting in the middle ground. I’m sitting between death and resurrection wondering where exactly I’m going to go next or what I’m supposed to do next.

How can I continue to pursue a resurrection relationship when I feel a strange disconnect from my surroundings?

I have a lot of questions and not really many answers. I will celebrate Easter tomorrow and accept the fact that grace saved me. But I will still meditate on the meaning of the Saturday in-between and keep seeking what comes next.

The Lonely Church Hunt

Church hunting is one of my least favorite things to do.

It is oftentimes frustrating and always nerve-wracking. I had a great church experience when I was going to school in Southern California. I was finally beginning to understand the church culture down there and found an amazing family at a new church plant in Orange, California. When I found them I knew my time with them would be limited but I enjoyed every moment of it.

Being back in Oregon means I have to find a church again. The one I attended through high school and the start of college simply isn’t my home anymore. I wanted to find a church within the community I was living in, anyway, not one twenty minutes away in a town I was out of touch with. So Sunday after Sunday (on the Sundays I can manage to get out of bed which is a different topic) I try new churches and I walk out of them feeling strangely alone.

The past few years have taught me that ‘little c’ church is not the same as ‘big c’ Church. The Church, which is the culmination of all God’s people all around the world regardless of denomination, is different than the little church communities that meet in buildings on Sunday. They are all connected to the bigger idea of Church and I would think that would make it easy to slide into a community and find a home. After all, we believe the same things. Death, burial, resurrection and all of that. Yet it doesn’t seem to be the case in my experience.

A favorite author and blogger of mine, Rachel Held Evans, posted this on Facebook yesterday:

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I appreciated it. I appreciated the admission of loneliness because it finally gave me the description of what I felt as I left churches. The thing is the loneliness doesn’t come from a lack of a connection with God. It comes from a lack of connection with God’s people, with my Christian family.

When I started in at my University I would have said that church was about me and God. It was about me going and connecting with God and then leaving until the following week. My view of church was narrow and consisted of me and God. Sure, interaction with other people was nice but it wasn’t a requirement. As long as I was on good terms with God I was fine.

Then I learned something very important: church isn’t about me it is about connecting with fellow believers. It is about joining into something bigger than just me. It is about communion and collective worship. God is seen in his Church, where ever his people gather together he is there, and I think this is by design because He knows that we need each other. His people need to be with other members of the body in order to grow, mentor, flourish, and change.

So when I walk out of a church building on a Sunday and feel lonely it isn’t because I didn’t get something out of God, or that I feel my connection with Him is lacking. I feel lonely because I felt like an alien, a foreigner, and someone who didn’t belong in that particular church.

I won’t give up my search for a church family and already have an idea of where I will go from here, but I wanted to share because I think what Rachel said is important. Any person – Christian or non Christian – who walks out of a church feeling lonely isn’t alone in that feeling.

You’re in good company. 

Borrowed Thoughts

I was reading an interview with Kerri Caviezel (wife of Jim Caviezel who played Jesus in the Passion of the Christ) and her answer to the last question struck me as profound. In a few paragraphs she manages to sum up a lesson that I am continuing to learn about what it truly means to be in the moment with God and let everything else fall away. You can read the rest of the interview here. 

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

A: We have this plan for our life—and it doesn’t include any of the challenges. And yet every life at some point, whether at the beginning, middle or at the end there is some challenge. Suffering is universal. What God asks—He puts us on earth at that special time for a special purpose—we have to be present in that moment, not in the past and not in the future.

And we can’t know these things are going to happen. If we did, we wouldn’t have accepted any of them. But He gives us the grace we need at the time we need and asks us to live in that moment. When I have done that I’ve seen amazing things happen.

We all think we’re supposed to do these amazing things—that they are valuable and important—whatever we’re doing at that time, like “when I get married,” or  “when I have a child.” We focus too much on what we think needs to happen and we lose what we’re supposed to do at that time.

We have three children we adopted. My husband and I used to say that if we had had three or four children like we thought, we might never have chosen to adopt. And we would say to each other, “Can you imagine not having them?” We cannot understand God’s plan for us. It’s too immense.

Just some food for thought.

Farewell to 2013

The final day of 2013 is often times a day of reflection. My Facebook has been full of good memories and vows to make the most out of the New Year. 2014 is just around the corner and as I sit here in my living room in Oregon I find myself decidedly underwhelmed, but glad.

2013 has been a year of self-discovery. From beginning to end I have had experiences that have reminded exactly who I am.

My friend Tom has a blog and he picked a word for the year. His word was identity and strangely enough I think it is my word, too. It is really the only one that appropriately sums up the year for me. Facing down the New Year I believe I understand who I am just a bit better than I did when I was waiting eagerly for the clock to strike midnight and 2013 to arrive.

2013 was a year of friendship. I got the chance to live surrounded by people who accepted me, encouraged me, and loved me even when I didn’t necessarily love myself. Through friendship I got a glimpse about what it means to be accepted and finally figured out it is okay to accept myself, too.

2013 was a year of accomplishment. I lived out of state for the first time on my own. I paid rent, bought groceries, and worked nearly full time in two jobs. In the fall I began my own research project. I TA’ed in two classes and learned that I loved teaching and am not half bad at it. I graduated from University. I moved back home.

2013 was a year of challenges. This one is kind of a misnomer because every year has its own challenges. However, this year I faced some new ones. I felt severe loneliness (often self-inflicted) during the summer as I lived on my own for the first time. My grandmother passed away. My dad had a stroke. I had to move back home after graduation to a post-stroke father and a mother with an injured ankle. I have been challenged in many ways but have persevered and learned.

2013 was a year of freedom. I celebrated four years of no self-harm in early December. I learned what it meant to love and be loved. I realized that I did not have to fit a specific mold, graduate on time, get a certain job, or go to grad school right away. I found peace in the fact that the life society thrusts on people from the very start often isn’t attainable and that more often than not life never fits the standard mold.

Finally, 2013 was a year of finding purpose and meaning. The most valuable lesson was one I learned from Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning: every situation has purpose and meaning, even the bad ones…and as long as there is meaning then despair has no place.

What will 2014 bring? I don’t know. A new adventure, perhaps. A new job, I hope. More friendships, accomplishments, challenges, freedom, purpose and meaning, I expect.

So bring on the New Year. Let’s do this. 

Graduation Reflections

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Yesterday I graduated from college with a BA in Psychology. Of course this has left me rather thoughtful as I look back over the past five semesters.

I did not graduate when I planned to, but I think I graduated when I needed to. That is the first thing that sticks out to me. I remember the moment my advisor told me that it was not going to be possible to graduate in May of 2013 unless I was willing to take 18 unit semesters and take courses outside of the University I was attending. I was mortified. I felt like my plans were falling apart and that I had somehow failed to achieve my goals.

In reality the timing worked out better than I had expected because I don’t know what I would have done without this last semester. If it were not for my December graduation date, I would not have gotten the chance to spend a summer living in Southern California. I would not have been able to take a trip to the Grand Canyon, invest in a new church family, or get as connected with my university as I was able to.

It continues to astound me that God’s timing really beats mine every time…and for the better.

I’m grateful that my family let me chase my Southern California dream, and thankful for everyone who encouraged me to leave. I cannot imagine who I would be if I had not packed up my 2001 Buick Century and left for a tiny little private school in the middle of Orange County. The people I have met, the friends I have made, the things I have gotten to do, and the things I have learned have shaped me. Walls were torn down and better, healthier, more functional walls were built up. I made friends and met mentors who will continue to walk with me through this crazy life even when almost the entire state of California is between me and them.

You see, post-graduation I am sad because I am going to be leaving all of these wonderful things, but at the same time I take joy in the fact that I get to leave wonderful things behind.

When I came down to Southern California I was running. I was running from my family, from my past, from the clouds, rain, and cold. I wanted a fresh start, something new, something different, and a place where I could hide from everything that had surrounded me for so many years. Instead of hiding I found a home, and in that home I found people who have taught me that I don’t have to run anymore.

There is nothing I have to try to escape. I’m free.

I am free to live, be joyful, sing, laugh, form new friendships, and continue with old ones. I do not have to separate myself from my Southern California life because it is just as much a part of me as my life in Oregon will be. Slowly but surely I have managed to become an integrated person. My life is no longer a series of separate little boxes, with each one having its own expectations of who I am supposed to be and how I am supposed to act. I am me, a dynamic, living, breathing person who is the same in Southern California as she is in Oregon and will be anywhere else I end up.

I’m just me and I’m okay with that, because somehow God still uses me to do cool things. That last statement, more than anything else, is worth more than my college degree ever will be. 

The story doesn’t end with a single chapter

Through the years I have looked at the phases of my life and considered them chapters. When one chapter is done it is time to close it out and move on to the next one. Yet tonight I’m staring down my college graduation date and have realized something: I’ve been working off of a misunderstanding of chapters.

You see, I like to package everything up in a nice little box, stick a bow on it, and call it done. When one chapter ends I move on to the next and try to conceal what happened in the last. I finished high school and then started college as if high school never happened. I ignored the events of four years of my life simply because I had considered the chapter to be complete and believe it to be the only way to move on with my life.

Tonight, though, I’ve realized that chapters are not about endings and beginning. After all, if each chapter of an overarching novel were its own contained book, the story would not make much sense. Rather, chapters are connected by lessons, memories, and character development. They are woven together by relationships and meaningful conversations. The things that happen in the last chapter often carry over into the next. So why, for so many years, have I boxed up each season of my life and tried to separate myself from it?

What am I running from?

As I prepare to go back to the Oregon drizzle and leave sunny Southern California in my rearview mirror I have realized that this chapter is not over, it is just going to be continued in the next. I do not have to run away and separate myself from everything and everyone I have learned to love in Southern California. I do not have to ditch the memories and seal them away never to see the light of day again. The end of a chapter does not mean the end of the story, and I still have a lot of pages left to fill.

My story is a finely woven tapestry and each chapter blends into the next as I grow, change, mature, and learn.

When I leave Southern California I will take with me all of the things I have treasured up in my heart. I am a different person than the one who showed up on my university’s doorstep that first, fateful August day. That different person does not end here. Rather, the person I have become will go with me to the next destination, and the next one after that, and even the next one after that one, and along the way my chapters will continue to be woven together to create a beautiful story filled with all of the things that make good stories.

The chapter is ending but the greater story isn’t, and God and I still have a lot more to write.

Four Years of Freedom

I don’t really like to talk about self harm. Strangely enough I’d prefer to discuss pornography and the Church than talk about self harm.

Today, though, I get to celebrate four years of no self harm. So I’m going to talk about it. 

I have a difficult time being proud of that because there is always a little voice in the back of my head that tells me it is a dumb accomplishment. Every year I feel as if I’m able to conquer that voice just a little more and this year I’m shoving this blog post in its face because four years of no self harm is something to celebrate.

So if you haven’t figured it out yet, I used to be a self harmer. I had some dysfunctional family dynamics growing up that led to some unhealthy coping mechanisms. One was porn, which I’ve blogged about before, but another was self harm. Out of a place of utter desperation and frustration I used to cut myself. It is hard to even type that because it seems so irrational. Even as a former self harmer I have a difficult time explaining exactly why it helped. All I know is that it did. It was not healthy, but it got me through moments where I felt like I had no other choice.

There are a lot of stigmas surrounding self harm. The biggest one is that people self harm for attention. I hear a lot of people use this one when they see teenagers hurt themselves and it breaks my heart. Even if there is some truth, maybe it is time to give that hurting teenager positive attention, because if they need attention so badly that they resort to harming themselves then odds are there is a deeper issue.

Don’t just dismiss the deeper issue because someone is doing something for attention.

Another one is less of a stigma, more of an assumption. When I talk about self harm most people think it refers to cutting. In my case that is true. It is not, however, true in all cases. There are many other ways people hurt themselves and unfortunately a lot of them are easy to hide. Some people bruise themselves (“Oh, I just ran into a door”), others burn themselves (“Yeah, hurt myself baking again”), others pull out their hair, bang their heads into things, claw and pick at their skin, and a million other things that constitute self harm. Self harm is more than cutting.

So on the fourth anniversary of my sobriety, I wanted to bring attention to something that is very much a problem. I also wanted to share because I know there are strugglers out there who need to hear that they are not alone and that there is hope. I won’t lie and say that everything is perfect. There are moments where I feel like I am spiraling out of control and all I want to do is track down a knife and cope in my old unhealthy ways…but those days are few and far between, and thanks to the people in my life I don’t have to go through them alone anymore.

My biggest advice to anyone struggling, whether it is with self harm, pornography, or anything else that hinders your ability to find joy in life and brings you shame, is to reach out. Tell someone. E-mail a pastor anonymously, post it on an anonymous board, tell it to your dog, to your hamster, or if you’re brave tell it to a friend, an adult, a parent. The first step to learning how to cope in a healthy manner is this: Learn to cope with people, not alone.

As always, my e-mail inbox is open to anyone who needs to share: rdlenix@yahoo.com

Above all else I give thanks to God for being with me every step of the way. Here is to year five.