On Starting Over

Over the last few days I’ve been really ruminating on the idea of newness. Beginning again. Starting over. Learning. Observing. Trying to approach things I’ve experienced before as if I’m doing so for the first time. Currently that’s come in the shape of me taking yoga classes that I’ve either never been to before or haven’t been to in years, and seeing what comes up. Fear, unease, apprehension, anxiety. It’s been a practice in releasing the urge to control, or the need to know What’s Coming Next. And of course, it’s been hard. I didn’t recognize how comfortable I had gotten in my routine, knowing that each yoga class I attended would be “different” but I’d still kinnnnnnda know what to expect—even down to being able to successfully guess about how long I’d have to hold each pose. There was enough variation to make me feel good about myself without actually disturbing my comfort zone.

But this…. This has been different. Nothing says “getting out of your comfort zone” like going into a yoga class blind. Not only did I grossly underestimate my need to know what’s coming next, but I also did not realize how judgy I’d gotten about other classes. I was writing off lower level, or slower paced sessions because I thought my practice was “too advanced” for them. Or that if I didn’t feel completely physically spent after a yoga class, it was a waste of time. I know— so rude, not at all what yoga is about, and that level of pride looks good on no one. But it has been good and humbling to go back to the beginning and observe. To let the slower pace of a class give me the opportunity to really listen and pay attention to the movement of my body. And not only that, but to bring up emotions that maybe would not have had space to arise in more “advanced” classes.

Off the mat, the intention has been the same. I’m trying to enter 2017 with a gentle, open handed, and observant posture. Even with things that are more familiar to me than yoga, like my faith. What would happen if I let everything I thought I knew about God fall away, and I let him tell me his story again? What if I released my own ideas of where I would be by now, or who I would be by now, and I observed What Is without judgment?

I think every once in a while it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we don’t know everything. Or maybe even anything. And remember to approach even the things and people we think we know like the backs of our hands with reverence and curiosity. I swear you can learn any thing from any one at any time. And literally every year, every day, every moment gives us a chance to start over.

To Be Seen

A few months ago at the start of yoga class, our teacher offered a quote intended to inspire our meditation. I don’t remember the quote, and when I asked her last night she didn’t either, so I will do my best to paraphrase: “The most joyful meditation is the contemplation of one’s own existence.” In other words, the mere thought that you exist brings the most joy during meditation. In reflecting on that, I was like if that is true, then perhaps the most distressing thing must be to feel like you do not exist. That you cannot be seen, heard, or felt – that you have no impact. It feels abstract, but as I’ve observed my own process through therapy and through sustained observation of human behavior, I’ve noted that we all desire to be seen. Especially through infancy and childhood, we need to know that we are heard, that we can be felt, that our existence is consequential.

And I wondered, is this why we hate getting cut off on the freeway? I know this seems like a silly image to use in illustration of a serious concept, but bear with me. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed in myself that when I get cut off on the freeway, rage swells in me unlike any other experience.  All of a sudden I feel hot— my heart is pounding the righteous drums of indignation. And since I don’t believe in “overreactions”, and in the grand scheme of life being cut off on the freeway seems such a miniscule event, I ask myself, what am I reacting to? What basic plea is being violated? My best guess is that being cut off is infuriating because it is another person operating as though I do not take up space. I’ll often hear myself go HELLOOOOO?! I’M RIGHT FUCKING HERE!!! Is that what we’re all screaming? At parents who abandoned us, literally or figuratively; who carelessly played favorites among siblings? At romantic interests who keep looking us over for someone else— Hello, I’m right here! Why can’t you see me?

This drive to be acknowledged is universal. We intuitively recognize its presence in archetypes and old stories that cross cultures, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, gender… We all know about the younger sister who always felt like she lived in her older sister’s shadow (remember when Ashlee Simpson actually released a song called “Shadow”? Perhaps a better question might be: does anyone remember Ashlee Simpson? Anyway, we can move on.) We all know about the poor kid’s disappointment when he scores a point at his basketball game and he looks over to see his dad on the phone with his back turned, completely disengaged. How many of us have heard a toddler go “Watch me! Watch me!” when he/she is no doubt about to do something utterly mediocre but is seeking acknowledgement and recognition from an audience? I mean, hell, if we want to get biblical about it, Cain killed his goddamn brother because he felt like he wasn’t getting as much attention from God as he deserved. #Drama. We have a desperate need to be seen. I think this is also why the cry of the marginalized is so great, and why representation in media is so important. We need to see ourselves reflected to know that we exist to our society.

I’ve believed for a long time that the thing that keeps us running is love. It motivates all growth, inspiration, benevolence, trust, goodness, life, compassion, honesty, faith, kindness, you get it. Obviously food, water, and shelter are necessary as well but if we are to connect with our humanity, to feel ourselves and to be ourselves—even to properly inhabit our physical bodies— we need to be loved in some capacity by someone. I believed that love was the most fundamental thing, but you can’t be loved until you are seen. You can’t be loved until you are acknowledged, received, and experienced, hence being seen usurps—or perhaps joins—love in being the most fundamental thing. We have to be seen before we can be anything else. And not just by others, though that is clearly imperative. But I’d argue that as seeing another comes before loving another, seeing yourself comes before loving yourself.

God Will Break Your Heart

I’ve been locked in a titanic struggle with God for the past few weeks— maybe months, I don’t know I’ve lost count. In reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, I learned that God brings us to walls – that is, to dark nights of the soul, or painful circumstances/situations – to rid us of our false perceptions of Him as well as false perceptions of ourselves. So after the bitch of a wall I went through this year, I found myself looking for another God. I thought perhaps the god I thought was God was actually like, God-lite: happy, safe, loving, nice. And whatever asshole who sent me through this hellish year was the real God. So I had thoughts like, is God actually good? Is He supportive of me? Does He love me? Is He indifferent? Is He personal? Can I trust Him? And I went through this really crazy upside down period where I felt like I had absolutely NO grasp on who God is; it was a little scary, and very unnerving for someone who has spent her whole life in the Church. But after some searching and meditation, I was like… I think they might be the same guy? Which honestly felt scarier. My “God-lite”, who I felt so connected to two years ago— who felt safe and supportive and loving and cool— might be the same God who allowed and perhaps even nudged me to walk into a position to have my heart broken. And that feels scarier because I’m like, now what do I do? How do I fit this new information into what I had previously understood to be the character of God? How does God allowing me to be leveled— to be “sifted like wheat” as we discussed a few weeks ago—align with the characterization of being a “Good Father”? Why the fuck would He break me like this? That’s what I’ve found myself asking God the most in the few times I’ve tried talking to Him recently: “What the fuck did you do?!”

For a while I was reading Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller and in it, he talked about how Christianity is relational, as opposed to formulaic. And how that throws us all for a loop because it makes it so that we cannot even begin to predict how God will move. We’re all looking for an A + B = C type situation and God’s like “Hey but do you want to sit down and talk?” I mean sure we all, like God, have core character traits that make our behaviors more or less consistent, but if you’ve ever been in any sort of a relationship with any other living being, you know the last thing we are is predictable. We have free minds and free wills, the way God does. And sometimes He does something where we’re like WHOA HOLD ON GOD THAT WASN’T IN THE SCRIPT, and it’s like, right, yeah, because God isn’t a robot. Which is like fine I guess (read: super annoying), but it makes it veryyyyy difficult when you feel like God has hung you out to dry. If there are things about Him that are true and unchanging, for example that He is fundamentally good, how do we hold that in the moments when it feels like He has opened the floodgates of hell on us? How does God breaking my heart reflect the actions of someone who loves me?

And I mean, okay, I guess that is answered in the idea that God uses walls to free us of falsehoods. It’s true that there are a myriad of lessons and traits about myself that I would not have learned had I not been through the specific events of this year. But like what happens when you’re still mad about it? I feel like that’s my problem. I’m like yeah I learned some cool new shit about my latent trauma thanks God but also I’M STILL REALLY FUCKING PISSED YOU BROUGHT ME HERE. Yikes. And it’s worrying because I’m like, honestly I don’t know how I will make it back to Him. I have been mad for what feels like a longgggggg time. God and I have been on the rocks for what feels like a very long time. And I truly don’t know how to return to a place where He feels safe. I will also say that I understand and accept that my perspective is wildly limited and that that could change, but I want to be honest about where I am in the present moment. I mean truthfully, I think this might be part of being a Christian. We go through periods where we feel like we’ve lost God, and we don’t know how or if we’ll find Him again. So fun.

On the other side of it, one of the things that gets me about this process is the last half of that verse in Luke, where Jesus, after implying that He’s allowing the devil to wreck him, tells Simon Peter “I pray that your faith would not fail.” Sooo God allows us to be absolutely shattered, brought to the gaping doors of hell in some cases, but at the same time He cheers for us to pull through? It seems to be a very big risk to take on His part. If it’s true that He loves us, and that He desires to hold us and have us close to Him, what a chance to take, throwing us to the wolves and hoping that we’ll return to Him afterwards. You got some nerve, God. You got someeeeee nerve.  But also maybe that speaks to what we are worth. That God is willing to risk losing us because He believes our growth is that important.

I feel like I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t know what to do with any of this, really. This is just where I am, and these are the truths I’m wrestling with. God will break your heart but He loves you and He’s trying to grow you so it’s supposed to be good. And you’ll probably get really mad about it and you won’t know when you’ll stop being mad about it and it’ll put a huge strain on your relationship with Him. And that’s….. I mean that’s really all of it.

…I feel like I need a drink, anybody else feel like they need a drink? Let’s all go get a drink. Cheers.

Well, This Is Awkward.

Today boys and girls I’d like to share with you my interpretation of a passage of scripture. We’ll go in our bibles to Luke chapter 22, verses 31 and 32. In the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded permission to sift all of you like wheat; but I have prayed especially for you Peter—“ (don’t worry, it’s the same guy) “—that your faith and confidence in Me may not fail; and you, once you have turned back again to Me, strengthen and support your brothers in the faith.”

Now I’ve heard that verse a thousand times and I’ve always thought Jesus was saying to Simon-Slash-Peter something like “Hey yeah so, super awkward, the devil has come asking me to sift you like wheat—“ (which I think is something like being utterly and absolutely broken) “— but hey man don’t worry there’s NO WAY I’m gonna let that happen! We’re bros, I’m God, don’t even worry about it you’re chill.” Also in my mind sometimes Jesus sounds like He’s in a SoCal chapter of SigChi— that’s my own personal struggle. But anyway point is: I always thought Jesus was telling Peter that the devil was trying to fuck him up but that He, being God, was going to keep that from happening. And then a couple months ago I realized JESUS NEVER SAID THAT. *shocked emoji face* Instead he says “I pray your faith would not fail”, to which I’m kind of like
question marks

In my mind, this is how the actual exchange went:

Jesus: Okay so Simon, listen. The devil came by earlier, he asked if he could really fuck you up. Like reallllyyyyyy rake you over the coals you know, we’re talking complete and absolute devastation here. Maybe physical, maybe emotional. Might be both, I dunno, he seemed like he was in a pretty foul mood.
SP: *obviously distraught* Shit, man seriously? That does not sound good, what did you say?
Jesus: …Okay here’s the thing: I didn’t say no.
SP: WHAT THE FU—
Jesus: Hear me out! Hear me out! Alright it’s true, I didn’t say no, I’m gonna let him have at you, BUT! Here’s what I’m gonna do man, I’m gonna pray for you. I’m gonna pray for you that your faith won’t fail! Good deal right? And hey listen, when you’ve made it through the inevitable hell-fire shitstorm that’s coming your way, encourage your brothers as well. Tell them I’m praying for them too! Stay strong dude *gives hearty pat on the back*
SP: ….

That awkward moment when God has the power to stop something awful from happening to you but lets it happen anyway, am I right? #Yikes. Anyhoo, that’s what I’ve been sitting on this week. And if you too feel like you’re being sifted like wheat by Beelzebub himself, well then. I guess Jesus and I are both praying for you that your faith would not fail. He more than me though, I’ve got my own shit to worry about.

 

This is the Word of God for us today. Namaste, Peace Up A-town Down.

The Problem of Unrequited Love

A few months ago my friend shared with me an interesting thought from an article about unrequited love offering a hypothesis as to why we all fall victim to it eventually. The article said that perhaps it’s because it helps us identify with the Cross (Oh, did I mention it was a Christian article? 🙂 ) Loving someone who can’t or won’t love us back breeds familiarity with an act of love so deep and incomprehensible shown to an audience who at worst, couldn’t care less and at best, fails regularly at offering it in return. I thought about that and God’s inconceivable capacity for nursing a broken heart. Not yours, don’t be selfish. I mean His own. How exhausting it must be to continue offering love to people who can’t help but hurt themselves, each other, and Himself.

So we love without being loved in return, and it hurts. Maybe because it mirrors the way God loves us, maybe because we’re just flat out insane. In either case, the difference between us and God is that at some point, we have to stop. I’ve been thinking about this too because I have a lot of trouble stopping. Countless long ass crushes over the last two decades have really driven that point home for me. And I’ve watched a lot of people have trouble stopping as well. Maybe it’s not a chronic condition as it seems to be in my case, but most people have had that oneeeeee person they just could not shake. And if you haven’t, honestly you can go fuck yourself.

If anyone’s been watching Bachelor in Paradise at all for the last couple years, you’ve at least seen this at work between Jared and Ashley I. I mean there are obviously a whole host of other issues going on there that would fill an entirely separate blog post, but we can all identify on some level with homegirl’s struggle. Wanting someone so badly who, for whatever reason, just does not want you back. And feeling like despite reason, despite being painfully aware of their position, maybe even despite them being an obviously bad fit, you cannot stop hoping. “Maybe they’ll change their mind! Maybe they’ll come around! It only takes one thought to give this a different ending!”

I’m a pretty big believer in the idea that “we were all made in God’s image and in His likeness” (The Bible). Not necessarily with regards to our specific bodies — although maybe, who knows — but I think the way He operates is reflected imperfectly in the way we operate. How we seek connection, how we’re curious and creative, how we are angered by injustice and also show tremendous capacity for mercy and forgiveness, and yes maybe how we continue to love and go after people who are telling us “no”.

Have you guys ever heard of StrengthsFinder? It’s a personality test that gives you a list of your top 5 natural abilities, things that come easily to you. There are strengths like “Activator”, people who are really good at starting projects. Or “Relator”, people who are good at making others feel comfortable and known around them. When I think about the ways God is reflected in us, I think about this list of strengths because I feel like God has all of them. One of my top strengths is called “Restorative”. It’s the problem-solving one, I loveeee a good problem. Big problem, small problem, theoretical problem, emotional problem, give it to me and I will try my damndest to help you solve it.

Recently I watched a video going into more depth on this strength and the speaker noted that the thing about people with Restorative is that they firmly believe no problem is unsolvable. No situation is too complicated, no person is too damaged or too far gone, everyone and everything can find healing and restoration if we work at it enough. Sounds like God right? It’s a beautiful picture of redemption – my problem though, is that I am not God. So I have this desire to endlessly offer myself to these people and problems when I don’t possess the capacity to do so. God can do it. God can chase forever after toxic people (which is all of us to some extent btw), even as they wound Him time and time again. I on the other, much more mortal, hand have to set a boundary. Which is hard, I battle against it constantly. Caught in this tension between pursuing a natural passion to help and fix, but having to respect my own limitations if and when the situation becomes unhealthy. And I think that’s the hard thing about deciding to end an unrequited love, we have boundless hope again that maybe something will change. Maybe they will change and grow. It’s beautiful, but at the end of it, we just don’t possess the capacity for that kind of pain. God does. Let Him chase those people. We have to learn to call it quits and throw in the towel when loving someone comes at our own detriment.

It Is Well With My Soul

This past Sunday at Flood we concluded a series called “Happy Hunting”, about learning what it means to live a Joy-Filled Life. Please don’t stop reading— I know how it sounds. It sounds like a bunch of hysterical, perennially “happy” Christians trying to teach you how to never frown again. “This is how to keep a smile plastered on your face 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the rest of your life!” I swear that’s not what I’m talking about.

Honestly the phrase “joy-filled life” usually reflexively evokes an eye-roll from me. I have seen too many books and heard too many sermons by that title, most of them proving to be extremely trivializing and reductive. As if even though your heart is broken, or you can’t pay your bills, or you have an incurable disease, you’re just supposed to be happy. Just BE happy, what’s the problem?

But I believe we need to reconstruct the definition of “joy”, because I don’t think this manically cheerful, borderline insanity is what joy actually is. Like I said in my post about grief and loss, if we’re to understand spirituality, or just living, we have to first acknowledge and embrace reality. Reality, as some of you may already know, is often times an actual piece of shit. Just the worst. From like, shitty upbringings, to shitty jobs, to shitty relationships… Life is really hard and sometimes really shitty. But the joy we aspire to goes deeper than that. It’s deeper than happiness and deeper than the sometimes-shittiness of reality. I think of it more like a deep well of steadiness, restfulness, and rootedness. Real, actual joy is grounding and stable.

In yoga, the teachers regularly talk about how part of the practice is learning to maintain an even state of being, or contentment, regardless of the circumstances. Regardless of the uncomfortable position your body has been twisted into, or how long you’ve been asked to hold yourself up. We use our breath to return to equilibrium, to become healthily detached from the present. That is not to say that we ignore negative emotions as they surface—again the first step is facing the reality of our situations. But it helps in gaining perspective, and I think the peace, stillness, and contentment that comes from that practice in yoga is the same as the joy I talked about earlier. Living a joy-filled life isn’t a “Christian” thing, it’s a human thing. And you can call it whatever you want: peace, contentment, steadiness, satisfaction. I am on a personal journey to reclaim the word “joy” but please feel free to use whatever nomenclature feels good to you.

I can personally appreciate and attest to the fact that achieving joy is hard, and achieving joy in the midst of a difficult circumstance sometimes feels impossible. But I also believe that joy and unhappiness can exist in the same space, at the same time. We are big enough to hold both. Can’t tell you how yet, still figuring that one out for myself, but I’m sure it’s possible. I’m also sure that if we ever learn to live lives marked by joy, it will have taken our entire lives to get there, so I hope no one’s in a hurry. Just add it to the list of lifelong processes to work through, and be kind to yourself as you learn.

Grief and Loss

Until very recently, I’d always associated grief with death. Mourning the loss of a family member, or a friend who’d passed away. As I started getting more involved in Flood, I’d heard the term used more frequently, as people described their processes of getting over a breakup or a loss of friendship. But I think it’s only been in, really the last week, that I’ve started to realize how integral grieving is to the human experience, and how frequently it’s required.

Grieving is the healthy way of processing a loss we’ve suffered. But in order to process, we first have to acknowledge that we’ve suffered a loss. I’ve found that in happy transitions, like starting a new job, going from high school to college, or getting married, the grieving process tends to be shortchanged because “we’re celebrating!” We completely ignore the fact that there may be parts of our old job, or our hometown, or our singleness that we’ll miss. Then in harder transitions, like a divorce, the aging process, or an ending friendship, though the losses are clearer, we want to skip the grieving process because the pain is too difficult to look at. And it’s true that depending on where you are in your life, and what you’re grieving, the process can look different. Sometimes you skip right through to Acceptance, other times it feels like you will only ever feel Sadness and Anger for the rest of your life. It can get really overwhelming.

Chapter 7 of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (aka EHS, the book I’ve been reading as recommended by my therapist) is about grieving and what it looks like to grieve properly. The first step noted in the book is to pay attention to your emotions. Allow yourself to feel the weight of your anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, heartbreak, fatigue, disappointment, etc. Not only is this counterintuitive because we are choosing to move towards pain, it’s also extremely counter-culture. Suuuuuuuuper un-American. We’re not taught to sit and feel, we’re taught to get up and go. Pick yourself up! Dust yourself off! “If you don’t like your circumstances, change them”—basically the foundation of the American Dream. And hey, if you can’t change it, go grab a drink! Pick up a new hobby, buy a car, go shopping! Distract yourself, because sitting and feeling sad is “wallowing”, it’s pathetic. “Why cry over something you can’t change?” I 100% agree that wallowing and self-pity are not healthy avenues to venture down, but grieving is not either of those things. It’s not getting selfishly absorbed into your own emotions, but rather giving them their due space as you continue to live your life. Because when we don’t— when we ignore, bury, or stuff our feelings— we get numb. We become caricatures of ourselves with painted smiles on our faces (EHS). And to be honest, I think Christians are the worst at this. The WORST. Because for whatever gaps in our counterfeit façade we find, we can plug them right up with a bible scripture at the ready. “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Philippians 4:4) “The joy of the Lord is my strength!’ (Nehemiah 8:10) “He has not given us a spirit of fear but that of power, of love, and of a sound mind!’” (2 Timothy 1:7).  We just say shit— we’re just saying words like robots in an attempt to bury our loneliness, fear, resentment, sorrow, and all the other hard things we’re feeling. And it results in alienating ourselves, because it is literally inhuman to feel happy all the time. God Himself isn’t even happy all the time, it’s unsustainable.

One of my favorite things Pete (we’re on a nickname basis now) says in this book is that true spirituality is rooted in facing reality. If your parents didn’t know how to love you well, and when you look back it makes you sad, be sad about it! If you really need a new job and you’re hitting dead ends and it’s frustrating, be frustrated about it! If you’re single and you want to be in a relationship but it’s just not happening right now, and you’re mad, be mad about it! Don’t try to explain what you’re feeling away with some platitude about how you’re fine because you know God is really working with you through this time. He is, but you’re not fine. Maybe you’re mad at Him. And if you are, I highly encourage you to let yourself feel that. One of the most freeing things I ever learned was how to curse at God, honestly. Because spoiler alert: He already knows you’re pissed. You’re not fooling anyone by praying passive aggressively through gritted teeth.

In the same way we can never successfully hide our emotions from God, I don’t think we can successfully hide our emotions from each other either. I mean we sure do try though, amirite?! Lord knows we give it our best shot, but despite our efforts, we start to “leak” out all over everyone around us (EHS). All that unprocessed anger and sadness comes out in passive aggression, bitterness, judgment, blurred boundaries, and fakeness. Not to pick on Christians again (always picking on Christians), but who hasn’t heard people in the church described with at least one of those things? Yeah, I wonder why.

The second thing Pete says we have to do to grieve properly is to wait. I know, it just got worse. Literally the only thing less appealing than allowing ourselves to actually feel all of our negative emotions is to then release control over when it will end. Again, I’m not advocating wallowing, or abdicating from your life. Sometimes in certain grieving processes, taking a break becomes necessary (#BereavementDays). Do as much as you can, be around people who love you, but keep allowing yourself to feel what you feel. This is when it gets gnarly because then we’re like “Well for how long? How fucking long am I going to cry about this? How long is my blood pressure going to shoot up every time I think of this situation? How many times am I going to want to punch a wall when that person comes up in conversation?” And you know what man, I don’t know. There was more to Pete’s step-by-step but it kind of all boiled down to these two things. We feel and then we wait. And then at some point, through continuing to process, wrestle, and surrender, we make it to the other side— usually well outside of our preferred timetable. Because I don’t know anything about you, your life, your process, or God’s process with you, I can’t guarantee what the end of your grieving will look like. Hell, I can’t even guarantee what the end of my grieving will look like. But I have to think that as scary and as painful as grieving can be, it’s better than burying our emotions, trying to paint a happy face on, and then leaking passive aggressively all over our friends. Be honest with yourself about how you feel. Be honest with God. And if it requires so, be honest with trustworthy people you’re in relationship with. I know it hurts, but I’d rather that than the painted face. If you would rather the painted face though, I mean hey, no shame, we’re all just trying to figure it out. But if you need me, I’ll be in the corner crying.

 

“The quickest way to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west chasing after it, but to head east into the darkness until you finally reach the sunrise.”

#TruthTour2016

I’m not going to lie, this post almost didn’t happen. Baby New Year ran me over like a goddamn freight train — I hope 2016 was gentler to you in her arrival. But, as I read on Tumblr yesterday, “You can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good” (Jerry West). So here we are.

I originally wanted to write about waiting and what it means to actively wait and the trials and triumphs surrounding that, but in the last few days I’ve felt it weighing more on me to talk about the importance of honesty and telling the truth. Mind you this idea came to me literally two days ago so sorry if it’s a little rough around the edges.

Okay so honesty. Most of my friends will tell you that I’m a pretty straight shooter, blunt almost to a fault. Almost. I will always tell you if you look bad in something, if you’ve said something stupid, if I like or dislike you, etc. Sometimes it goes really well, sometimes I get into fights, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that being honest requires courage, and I’ve found that it’s way easier to be honest when someone asks you “How does this fit me?” than it is to tell someone how they’ve hurt you.

I’ve been the first kind of honest my whole life. The second kind, the kind that requires some level of emotional vulnerability, I’m just starting to learn. I read an article a while ago by Mark Manson about how we all have emotional baggage and how dating or romantic relationships in particular can reveal the emotional baggage we might be carrying. The article noted that if someone stands us up for a business meeting, it’s annoying, but by 8 pm we’ve lost ourselves in wine and Netflix and forgotten all about it. But if someone stands us up for a date, all of a sudden we’re on the phone with our best friends for hours, or sitting in our therapist’s office crying about how our parents divorced when we were 8 and we never saw our mom much after that. (Too close to home? I told you guys, no holds barred in 2016).

To me this is why being emotionally honest and ergo emotionally vulnerable seems so daunting. What if we’re rejected? And in that rejection we hear the echoes of a thousand rejections we’ve faced before that, all screaming in our ears that we are unlovable? What if we’re invalidated? And in that invalidation our biggest fears are confirmed that we are a waste of space? That we don’t matter, our existence is without consequence?

On top of all of this, emotional honesty is twofold in that it requires that we first be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with anyone else. And I can’t decide what’s more difficult, diving inward to discover and confront the ugly underbelly of your Self, or finding the courage to voice that ugly underbelly to another human being without knowing how it will be received. It’s all terrifying, really.

But I also don’t think it’s possible to have healthy relationships without it. There can be no trust built without someone first deciding to go out on a limb. There can be no bonding fostered without deciding to confront the fear of unveiling yourself. I picture it like trying to adhere a sticker to something without first peeling off the protective backing. We all realize pretty quickly that it’s not gonna work.

In my own life, I have been so lucky to have made two best friends with whom I can practice complete emotional vulnerability, and God has been so gracious to show me that I can also practice with Him. That’s not to say that I’m now great at it, or even good at it. But I have areas where I can try, and my hope would be that you find some place, a safe place, where you can try as well. Be it a friend’s couch, a school auditorium that doubles as a church on the weekends, a therapist’s office decorated like Anthropologie, wherever. I firmly believe there is no other way we can be and relate to each other. That being said, do not go to into your boss’s office and start crying about how her constructive criticism in that meeting this morning reminded you of how your parents always felt that you were never good enough lol. Don’t be silly. Again, find safe spaces. And honestly sometimes it happens that you think you’ve found a safe place in someone and they show themselves to be completely unsafe. That’s the hard thing about practice, it’s trial and error, and there’s no guarantee that at some point you won’t get hurt. In fact I would probably go the opposite way and guarantee that you will get hurt in the process. But that gives room for healing, as well as more growth, connection, understanding, and learning. I feel like at the end, it’s worth it.

IT’S CHRISTMAS Y’ALL!!!

Merry Christmas month you guys! At my church we just started a series for the season of Advent called “Wait For it… Something Something About Waiting and the Season of Advent” lol. Clearly I’ve forgotten the actual title, but MY POINT IS it got me thinking about the season in general. I feel like it’s cool to celebrate the Christmas story that happened 2000 years ago or whatever, but I think sometimes we forget that the Christmas story is still happening now. For example— I’m gonna talk about myself because that’s the subject I know most about :). But Matt, one of the pastors at Flood, often describes the Christmas story as “God interjecting Himself into the Human Story to bring us life and restoration.” I dunno, I may have made half of that up, but it’s something like that. And I feel like I had my own personal Christmas story a little over two years ago when God interjected himself into my story to save my life – again. And I was no picnic to save either, believe you me. I was broken-hearted, apathetic, and on top of everything else, a complete and total asshole. You know how when lifeguards save a drowning person, the victim is supposed to relax and stop flailing so the lifeguard can do their job? I was the 300 pound man still kicking and thrashing as God was trying to bring me to shore—it wasn’t pretty.

But I was sooooo in the dark—and I want to talk about that phrase “in the dark” for a second too because I feel like, at least for me growing up in the Church, that phrase was always used to describe non-Christians or “unbelievers” with only the thinnest veiled tone of condescension. Pastors and patrons always talking about how we needed to reach those poor “lost souls” who don’t know Jesus yet, and needed to be saved. But I never really heard them talk about Christians needing to be saved, and I would argue that Christians and non-Christians alike are in need of saving ALL the time. I know plenty of non-Christians who have their shit way more together than I do, and I know plenty of Christians who need to figure it the fuck out. People, both pre- and post-salvation prayer, need help. Here I was 23, a Christian for as far back as I could remember, and I couldn’t see shit, let alone have any idea who Jesus was yet.
There’s a Mumford & Sons lyric in “Roll Away Your Stone” that goes “Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think? And yet it dominates the things I see.”
Boom.
Called out.
Roasted.
I heard that line and it hit me that “darkness” doesn’t necessarily mean evil, the way it’s often touted from the pulpit. It’s literally just the absence of light. The absence of clarity. Standing in a pitch black room that may be as familiar to you as your own bedroom, and still not being sure where the dresser is. You don’t have to be a non-Christian to find yourself in the dark. Darkness will come, I think it’s just a thing that happens. At some point you’re gonna feel lost, or mad, or confused, or maybe hate God. And having recited a prayer a week ago, a month ago, ten years ago, 50 years ago, is not going to save you from that. But it helps me to remember this story. That 2000 years ago, God interjected himself into the human story to help us out. That 2 years ago, God interjected himself into my story to help me out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for celebrating Christmas (obviously, I’ve already bought and/or constructed 5 fake Christmas trees and accumulated literal POUNDS of tinsel), but I also think it’s important to stop and think, how is God trying to interject himself into my story now? Do I feel like He is? How do I feel about the fact that I don’t think He is? I expect a written paper and thoughtful discussion next time we meet.

In the meantime, please enjoy pictures of my 5 Christmas trees and pounds of tinsel 🙂