Take me back to the time
When I was maybe eight or nine
and I believed
That Jesus walked on waters blue
And if He helped me, I could too
if I believed
Before rationale, analysis, and systematic thinking
robbed me of a sweet simplicity
When wonders and when mysteries
were far less often silly dreams and childhood fantasies
Help me believe
Because I don’t want to miss any miracles
Maybe I’d see much better by closing my eyes
And I would shed this grown up skin I’m in
To touch an angel’s wing
And I would be free
Help me believe
When I signed up to #write31days, there was one part of my brain that knew that meant writing for 31 days in a row, but that part of my brain never really communicated that well to the rest of my brain. Meaning, while I’ve been drowning in work, maintaining my sanity, and spending enough time with my friends/boyfriend to ensure that I still have people at the end of October, the days have been ticking by and here we are, 10 days late into the game.
But if you know me, you should have expected this all along. I always say, if you can’t live with the phrase ‘better late than never,’ you will probably not like me. I’m what I like to call a says-yes-to-too-many-things-person.
Today, it is meaningful for me to write, and this is one of the reasons I am choosing to write. I would rather wait 10 days and give you something heartfelt – something that has been tossed and turned inside my head recently – rather than write just because a hashtag says I’m supposed to and then give you some words that are just sort of out there because I feel like they should be, I guess. This, to me, is better. This is more.
I was walking home from the gym this morning (should’ve added to the above list: maintaining my body so I don’t hermit into oblivion while eating cheesecake), and as I kicked the acorns and stepped on the crunchy leaves, I was trying to figure out why I have felt – and do feel – so isolated from other Christians, and the church (little c).
I am hesitant, a little, here, because I feel like I may say some things that will offend people. And that certainly isn’t my goal. But, if saying some things offend some people, but also help other people who have felt or are feeling the same way, then I am going to say those words anyway. You know why? Because God is bigger than all of it. That’s why I don’t worship the church or put my faith in the church. I worship God. I put my faith in God. And I hope that if you read these words and are offended, you would do the same – that you would worship God for the work he has done for me and will do for me, and that you would put your faith in Him to reveal what is right to all of us. Don’t think too much on me and what I think and what I say and what my perspectives are. Trust me – you can spend your time much better elsewhere.
From my experience, a lot of Christians (and just the general population, too) don’t know how to deal with trauma and tragedy. It’s easy to say – and even fully believe – God is in control – when your biggest obstacle to face is something like passing Chemistry, or leaving a job interview. I am not diminishing these matters, but, they are certainly not life or death. When we deal with circumstances that are quite literally life and death, the shockwaves permeate through the people who surround it. What do we say? What do we do? How can I help? What…. How…. I…. and it often ends with distance, avoidance, and moving on.
And it seems like the church would be better at this, as we are supposed to be a home and a balm for the hurting, but it appears as though we are just as bad as it as any other institution would be.
Now, I want to make a couple of things clear. In the very immediate aftermath of my dad’s death, the church I had grown up in my whole life was very supportive and responsive. We had the resources we needed, we had the counsel and prayer that we needed, and we had the support and assistance we needed for the month, or two, or three that followed. I am in no way diminishing that or have forgotten. It was a beautiful act of grace that we were well cared for and well loved in the ways that were best for us.
The church I had been attending downtown, however, was a different story. When I returned, all of the leadership knew what had happened. Yet not a single person on staff – not even once – asked me if I was okay. If I needed to get coffee. If I needed to get lunch. Come over. Talk. Hang out.
And it’s hard for me to blame them. It’s hard because, do you know how easy it is, in the very near aftermath, to offer condolences and write letters and send flowers and give hugs? It’s a very easy, thoughtful, direct way to say, I care and I’m so sorry. Do you know what is way harder? It is way harder to get into the trenches and sit a while. To get into the trenches and say, I have no clue what to say to you, how to act around you, or what to do for you. But I love you, I am here, and I am praying for you.
And that’s all I wanted someone from leadership from church to do for me. And they didn’t.
Why is it that we are so bad at helping the hurting heal? I truly believe it’s because we don’t have any concept of the level of grief and the depth of pain that comes alongside tragedy – unless you’ve been there. Or, unless God has created your heart so empathetic that you can quite truly feel what those who suffer feel. I wish I could explain this to more people. I wish that I could somehow tell all people who want and desire to love and lead their church well that hurting lasts a very, very long time. And no – you won’t be able to pull anyone out of their pit. But you sure as hell can get down in there with them and hang out until God does. (that’s a paraphrase of something Jen Hatmaker said once.)
I think that’s why I feel so isolated from the church. I would sit in service, trying hard to continue breathing regularly, and trying so hard to ignore the pain that was tearing apart my insides, and listen to sermons about racial diversity and discrimination. And you know what I was thinking as I listened to every word? Yes. I agree. I want that, too. I have The New Jim Crow sitting on my bedside table. But I haven’t opened my Bible in six months. And some days I can barely get out of bed. And sometimes my head is clouded so thick with replaying memories and reliving the sounds of my heart breaking, that to think about going outside and doing anything practically useful for another cause is a task as impossible as moving the moon.
I sat there and wanted nothing more than to be loved, and to be cared for, and to be nourished, and I felt as though I was receiving more tasks and more callings when I could barely handle the calling of, go forth. eat. work. interact with my creation. love people. I left feeling discouraged, not known, and isolated. Like everyone was running a race and I was trying to lift myself off of the pavement at the starting line, and not a single person leading our race came back to offer me a hand up.
The image popped into my mind this morning of a delicate glass sculpture, plummeting to the ground and breaking into a million pieces. Because that’s how I felt – and often still do feel. Like I am this fragile thing that has been broken into a thousand pieces, and though God is piecing me back together, I don’t have the strength and the naivety and the smoothness of a lot of the Christians around me. I don’t have the shiny glow or the pristine cleanliness; I don’t have the sharpened features or the elegance of the center display.
To be completely honest, I am about 95% okay with that. I don’t particularly care if other people think I’m a good Christian, or a bad Christian, or if I say the wrong things or do the wrong things. Of course, I never want to hurt or offend or do anything intentionally negative – ever – but as far as my personality, my experiences, my perspective, my worldview – I don’t really care if people don’t understand it. I don’t even expect them to. I’m okay with being the broken shards that are slowly being molded and sanded back together. Me and God, we are here, and He is making me new, and I am watching. It is a slow, sometimes excruciating, delicate, process, but I’m okay with that. I’m okay with not looking like the Christians I see around me.
What hurts is not that I feel like I’m different, but rather the effects of that. The effect of feeling like I can’t relate to most people my age. That I can’t talk about what I really think and what I really struggle with with people, because I’m afraid of judgment, of being abandoned, or maybe the worst of the three: the well-intentioned but extremely misguided phrases that almost patronize my pain. Christina, God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle. Just have some faith.
It has taken me a while to really grasp the meaning of different seasons. For so long, my initial reaction to other peoples’ lives and perspectives was always bitterness, or immediate detachment, or complete avoidance. Then it moved to a more arrogant, almost childlike, no one will ever understand me so I won’t ever tell anyone anything ever. I am slowly coming into the realization that we are all living different lives, in different seasons, and we all have different flaws and weaknesses that are being remedied by our King. And that means that you with your happiness and your optimism and your simple pleasures are no less or no greater than me, who feels mostly cynical and pessimistic and burdened. You with your house and your spouse and your kids, you are no greater and no less than me, a single childless apartment-renter. You, with your cancer and your chronic suffering, are no greater and no less than me, someone who has been fortunate and undeserving of a life fairly free of health problems. There are no competitions, here, in the kingdom. I am running my race and you are running yours and God is King over all of it.
Through the lack of local church leadership intervening to comfort my heart, God has all the more strongly made me grateful for the Church (big C). The people in my life who do love the Lord, and who do pursue me, and who do continue to love me despite all of my very apparent and very heinous flaws. The people who do sit with me in the trenches. My constants. My people. No two have done this for me greater than Kate and Nathan. Did I tell you what Kate did for me for my birthday two years ago? I feel like I did. But it’s so amazing, that I’m going to tell you again. She wrote a whole bunch of notes and prayers and encouragements to me in a journal and mailed it to me. I had no clue. It had been going on for months. Who else do I know that has ever loved me like that?
Kate is the kind of person who, when I say, “Kate, I just, I can’t pray. I am so hurt and so angry and I literally have no words,” she replies, “I don’t know what to tell you, Christina, except that I love you deeply and I have not stopped praying for you.”
And Nathan. Sweet Nathan. I am amazed at God’s timing. Nathan and I started dating in September of 2012, when we sat outside our dorms and talked for a bunch of hours and I basically told him we had to date because I really liked him. I think after enough of my pleading, he said something like, “Ok.” (Bless him for him putting up with me and keeping me this long. That was definitely not the Woman thing to do. Whatever, man). This was just 6 months before my hospital stay; 7 months before my dad’s death. God’s hand was in it every step of the way, providing what I needed before I needed it. (He had been preparing Kate for even longer. One whole year longer.)
Nathan has – and is – battling severe chronic illness, and has been for quite some time. Perhaps there was no one better to share with me in my suffering, and hold me when it hurt, and keep silent when there were no words. Perhaps there was none better to take me into a world of our own, where we could spend hours in his dorm watching The Office and making trips to do his rounds as a Resident Advisor, and going to the vending machine, and going over to the corner store for other snacks, and come back, and six hours to pass without me even realizing how long we had been hanging out.
And these are just two of the many people who loved me so fully and so well during that time – and who still do. Greg and Will come to mind next – two of my dear, dear friends. Daniel, who was my best friend and is now brother; my aunt, and my family. I’m sure there are more names and more love that was poured out, but it’s past midnight now, and my normal bedtime was about 4 hours ago.
My point is, the little-c church did fail me, in my opinion. That is certainly no way I would want to treat another member of the family of God. I’m not saying that it was intentional, or malicious, or that they are even aware of it – as they are likely not – but it did hurt. It does hurt. But here’s the thing: I’m not mad. I really am not. Why on earth would I count on a human or a group of humans to do for me what only God can do? The fact that He has even given me Kate or Nathan or my new family or my friends is solely out of his grace. I deserve none of it and am owed none of it. God has been very kind to my hurting soul, and He has provided what He has deemed necessary and helpful. And I trust that.
But you know what this lack of response has helped me do? It has helped me count all the more only on Jesus. And that sounds so cliche and cheesy, but listen to me. No one can heal you like Jesus does. No one can complete you like Jesus does. No one can teach you and mold you and grow you like Jesus does. No one can give you words – or silence – that hold your heart like Jesus does. And not in some vague spiritual hippie way of just like, ~being with Jesus, man~, but in the real, Biblical sense of being more than conquerors over all this life throws at us because of what He’s accomplished. The Biblical sense of Jesus’s promises, and how they don’t change or shift with time or circumstance. Love was displayed on the cross 2000 years ago, and that cannot be altered or changed or reversed. The people of the church will always fail me. Kate will fail me. Nathan will fail me. My family will fail me. Me will *certainly* fail me. Jesus will never fail. And as every door that I run to so that I can open it and find satisfaction slams shut in my face, the closer I get to understanding that there is one door that leads to a soul satisfied. Written on the door is the name of Jesus. Not church, not friend, not boyfriend, not family, not financial freedom, not success in my career. Jesus.
Sometimes, I’m not content in this season. Because it is hard and it is trying. But right now, I am content in this season. You may look over and see these broken pieces and these shards and it will be the ugliest piece of handiwork that you’ve ever seen. But that’s okay. It’s not ugly to me anymore like it used to be. I know whose pieces they are, and I know that He is doing great things with them. And I’m content to wait in the interim.