Under Vaulted Ceilings

I’ve had this vision in my head, of going to a church one day to talk, alone. The church I walked into is large and vast. The kind that people go to tour and stand in awe of its magnificence. With high, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows covering most of the walls, casting a tainted, colourful light. The kind of place where the floors echo throughout the space and the wooden pews creak when you pass by. I pictured myself walking down the empty centre aisle, my shoes echoing with each step. Walking to a row just past the centre and to the right and sitting down. Letting all the words out, all the questions–saying every last thing until there is nothing left to say. Of a peace at the end of my speaking, a knowing that I knew the answers all along. Standing up, satisfied, and walking out of the room before someone found me.

The reality is something much different. It’s a small chapel I found myself in instead. The only similarity is the wooden pews that creak every time you sit in them. There are windows of stained glass but they don’t contain any grandeur, but serve to mute in the bodies inside and let in the light. The carpet shows its age, the blue darkened by black in strange places. The walls are made of bricks, covered with names, with stories, with dollars, with prayers, with hope of some kind. After the fifteen steps it took to check the place for lurking strangers, I began to talk, my voice shook. All I’d wanted was to talk aloud, pray aloud, but now, it felt strange. I walked as I prayed, my right hand following the pews, looking for something to hold onto. After ten minutes of walking, I wasn’t out of words yet. So I sat on the top step of the small platform at the front, letting out my words and my tears.

I didn’t leave that chapel feeling like I had the answers. I didn’t leave sure of myself. I visited that chapel many times over the next few months and found that singular experience to be one of the most cathartic. Because that’s when I truly got to speak.

I don’t know how it started, but when my faith is shaken, I want to find a sanctuary. I want to talk it out until I’ve figured out whatever is burdening me. I want to push out the doors, renewed to help mend this place and the people around me. And often, the only strength I have is the strength to sit and gain my footing. I long for the closeness of a face to face conversation with the Divine. I want to see the way his face changes when I speak, is he angry that I dare utter these thoughts? Do the things that leave me broken bring tears to his eyes. I want to hear his still, small whispers more clearly. And I want to see the look in his eyes in those moments where he chooses to say nothing.

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When I Can’t Do It All

This weekend, a Christian film premiered in theaters. Before it, radio companies, churches and the like promoted this film through ads, word of mouth and the internet. Not long before that, another Christian film hit theaters, which again was heavily advertised.

I don’t know where it comes from in my sphere of influence, maybe you can identify it in yours, but there is a pressure to support anything and everything with a Christian label on it. Buy this book, see this movie, support this cause.

I used to sit in the chapel of my school, listening to visiting pastors, speakers, missionaries and innovators. Quite often, they had recently released a book and this was another stop on their tours. If there talk was compelling or they were familiar to the audience, students would rush down after chapel to buy a book, get their autograph and meet them. I did it myself quite a few times. But because this happened so frequently, this mingling as we students listened to the captivating words of a speaker, in an event I was required to attend, I noticed how often these words were crafted to gain a response. To open hearts up to the Holy Spirit’s prompting through examples and stories and showing just how much you or someone else needed the help.

When missionaries would come, very often we’d see videos of a poor country and its people from a recent trip students and/or faculty had taken. We’d be encouraged to donate to the sister organization of our school. To sign up for a missions trip to partner. During concerts that came to the school, we’d be encouraged to partner with another organization to sponsor children.

And you know, none of these things are bad, really. But the voices kept coming and coming and begging me to do something. There were days where I’d feel so overwhelmed because it seemed that everyone wanted me to do something. Everyone felt it was my responsibility to do something as a Christian. And I couldn’t. I wasn’t called into missions and didn’t wish to participate in another trip. I didn’t have the money to sponsor a child when I could barely afford attending the expensive college. I was not registered to vote in that state and for that candidate.

It’s so hard to find quiet and peace in the midst of the noise. And it’s hard for deep feelers, like me, to cope knowing how great needs really are. This isn’t a piece to minimize the real needs, because they are there and they are real. But in the middle of the noise, it’s easy to lose a sense of what it’s really all about. The good intentions get lost in a cry to go and do and help. Voices will tell you how you are obligated to help because of commands in sacred texts.

As a member of Evangelical home schooling groups and youth groups and circles, I witnessed quite a few people growing up slamming Catholics because of their stance on works–how they’re misreading the Bible because our salvation doesn’t require works. And yet, I feel at odds with them, because look at what they do, when they go out of their way to promote Christian movies or politicians or television or whatever. Then they look me in the eyes and wonder why I don’t do the same. It’s not because a cause is bad, but I do not want this to become a work I am compelled to keep.

Now I use my voice to stand and say, I cannot do it all. I cannot support everything and will not. Just because something bears the label of Christian does not mean that by my choice of religion I am obligated to support it. I hope that as a Christian, the Spirit will guide you and me to support whatever we wish, to be equipped to support it. But I fear what happens when the good is drowned out by so much noise. I don’t want to fall under the weight of something I was never meant to hold.

On confronting my fears

I don’t know when this idea made its way into my head, sneaking through my defenses and somehow rooting itself without my knowledge or consent. But today, when I was cathartically writing I realized that I was thinking as though I could mess up my future with one wrong choice.

One wrong choice means I don’t get the right boyfriend. One wrong choice means I live somewhere I’m miserable. One wrong choice and I’ve messed it all up beyond repair.

I once swore I’d never date and marry a man from Florida. Though I don’t feel bound to that anymore, I know the reasons why younger me swore that and was quite emphatic about it. Many of the people who come to live here, love it and they want to stay. “It’s too cold up north and we’re so close to the beach here,” that’s the mindset I’d encountered.

I’ll confess that sometimes it can get too cold up north but then, I grew up in Florida and I wear some sort of coat when it gets around 50 degrees. (But then, I’m also embarrassingly in love with snow) When I ventured away from Florida, moving to another state, I experienced the seasons for the first time. I fell in love with the swift changes and the colors that surround them. The flowers that bloom on the trees, purple, yellow, pink and white blossoms bring the joy of new life after a winter bundled up. I gathered those flowers, picking beautiful pink blossoms off my favorite tree and twirling the stem in my fingers, lifting it up to smell its sweet fragrance, fresh with a hint of honey and apple.  Fall became my favorite of seasons, the leaves turning in color to gold, orange, deep red and burgundy.

I didn’t want to be with someone who would keep me in Florida and wouldn’t want to explore the great world around us. Who would be content with his surroundings and wouldn’t be the adventurous sort. I couldn’t name it then, but I was adventurous. I was also just coming out of being homeschooled and didn’t want to rush into being a second generation homeschool parent, like some of my peers. I wanted to forge my own path that would be good for me. I wanted to see what else was out there, beyond my sphere.

I used to fear that I’d get trapped into a situation I couldn’t escape without compromising my moral integrity. I thought I knew better than that, I didn’t think I feared that anymore, but it seems to have returned. Part of thriving is realizing that’s not true—that’s not something I need to fear. If I’m ever in a situation I didn’t anticipate, I have options. I won’t be trapped. I won’t have to compromise. I’ve seen stories in my life that illustrate that to me. And with each reminder, I slowly begin to feel more free.

I think thriving will mean figuring out how to forge my own path again. I’ve been so focused upon healing, upon the tasks I know I need to do, that I haven’t thought about it. I don’t have a complete picture of what that forging will look like in this season of my life. Except that it will involve lots of coffee and tea. And I will be braver for it. I hope thriving for me will mean getting to see the spring blossoms and fall leaves again soon.

One Word 2014

I’ve never participated in one word year before. The idea of picking one idea, pinning it down and sticking to it, always seemed so restrictive for me. I’d seen so many seasons of my life where one word for a year would be too short. Last year was the first year that I strongly wanted to choose one, but I couldn’t settle on a single word.

In those feeble first moments of 2013, I wanted hope. I longed for a year of All Things New. In 2012, I felt like I’d been swept up into a tornado, then dropped into the aftermath, injured and unable to fully pick myself up. I struggled with a lot of self-doubt—and really I just wanted everything to go back to the way it had been. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened in 2013. What the new year brought me was not what I had been expecting and All Things New is a process that is going to take more than a calendar year.

I was starting to find hope at the end of 2012, which carried through 2013. It came through the voices of good friends who spoke truth into my life that I couldn’t see at the time. I began to find hope in their words; I couldn’t see that truth for myself yet, but if they could, it had to be there. It was the beginnings of a healing process that’s still in motion for me right now.

I started thinking about a word for 2014 as I saw the blog posts starting to pop up. At first, it felt tender to me. I thought about brave and courageous…but faltered, a bit. They felt oversized, like something I would need to go into but something I didn’t fit into yet. They were also heavy, ripe with expectations I didn’t (and still don’t) know if I can achieve yet.

The word had popped into my head but it wasn’t until a blog post from Bethany Suckrow when I began to feel confident in it. Thrive. It seemed to encompass what I wanted this new year to be.

And as I’ve pondered over it, I know, this is what I want. This is what, I hope, will usher in a new season of my life. I want to heal, and I want to be able to thrive in all aspects of my life. I want to do new things (hopefully without crippling anxiety). I want to laugh more. I want to be successful. I want to accomplish goals. I want to be a better artist. I want to find wonder in the world around me.

In 2014, I want to be brave, I want to be courageous, and I want to thrive. I hope that those words will take roots and grow into something beautiful. And I hope that the experiences I have this year will be positive.

If you haven’t read the post from Bethany I linked earlier, go read it. It’s really good. I’m grateful for her post and that inspiration she gave me.

What do you hope to accomplish in 2014?