Saturday, October 22, 2011

Seasons of Satisfaction and Sorrow

To my lovely followers who have asked or been curious about my memoir, here is a little slice pertaining to singleness. The title of this post is the title of the chapter in the book. As you might suspect, it's a bit lengthy, so I'll have to break it up into about four or so more little sections and post them periodically over the next few weeks. So, here goes: True story... :)

Unpublished Blog Entry (found in a journal three years later): March 2007, Age 24

“People tell me that I need to get married.

Ha! As if it were all that easy! The problem, I tell them, is that my single state isn’t entirely up to me (as though I were simply a finicky girl, turning up my nose to the dozens of amazing men fawning daily at my beautifully pedicured feet. Sadly, this was not the case...).

I spent my high-school and college-years with my mascara-enhanced eyes wide open for a potential boyfriend. I was my own perpetual project…ironing out my flaws, updating my style and incorporating the proper flirting techniques into my everyday habits (making it appear seamless, of course). I constantly went back and forth over the question as to the "cause" of my singleness—was it the way I looked, or my personality? This question haunted me for years, and thus, in my insecurity, I beat myself up over things I couldn’t control (my height that had me towering over 98% of guys my age, and a nose that I was convinced took up too much of my face).

Ironically enough, in the years since, I have received genuine complements on each one of the “flaws” I once considered a deterrent to would-be suitors. And you would think that encouragement would make me happy. No, it only frustrated me all the more. If those things aren’t it, what is it? What is wrong with me??????”

(In other words: "Why am I still single?")

Lies I Believed and Advice I Didn’t Take

Ever since I was 12 years old, people have been telling me that getting married would neither be a magic cure-all to my problems, nor a road to instant and fulfilling happiness (Hmmm, what does that say about our society that we can use the words instant and fulfilling in the same sentence without second thought?). Well-meaning adults would encourage me with trite little relationship statements like: “Two halves don’t make a whole!“ and “Make sure you are happy and complete in yourself first!” From youth leaders to college professors to extended relatives, I was bombarded with these words of wisdom...which, of course, increased with every passing lack of relationship year.

To me, each statement seemed terribly cliché and was easily shrugged off. Marrieds were getting the better end of the deal--I was sure of it. They were experiencing the joys of weddings, having a standing date for Saturday night, and of course, sex. Since I was void of all these things, I was convinced that this whole “Marriage won’t make you happy” thing was, indeed, a sham.

It wasn’t until last year that I actually believed it...

Counselling singles, I see two types of people when it comes to their thoughts on marriage: Those who look upon matrimony with bitterness, cynicism and disdain...and those absolutely desperate to walk down the aisle at any cost. The former have witnessed (and been screwed up by) their parents affairs, abuse or multiple marriages. They have seen the reality of marriage--its ugliness and all--and they want no part of it. The latter have faced rejection and fear they won’t measure up as a potential pick for spouse-hood (yet desire it all the more). For them, the idea of finally being accepted and chosen, would certainly be a dream come true.

The first group needs a revelation of Almighty God--the One who has the power to transform who we are and redeem our pasts. The second needs a revelation of Daddy God--the One who generously and graciously gives his children good gifts (they don't deserve) because he delights in their joy. Ultimately, though, both revelations are a journey in trust...

As the "counselee," that second one was my category. At 11 years old, it seemed I was ruined for singleness when I watched my oldest sister get married at the ripe age of 21. Jessica and her husband met in the fall of her freshman year of college...and were engaged to by the time she came home that Christmas. In my little middle-school mind, all the cues around me (the attention to the bride, the congratulations on such a “point of arrival…”) led me to conclude that my quest from that day forward was to look pretty...and start looking for my Husband. (Ick. I hate to see it written out like that, but that is exactly how I pictured it in my head. My Husband idol, with a capital H).

“You’ll find him when you’re not looking,” people would tell me in college (after first semester came and went without so much as a viable prospect). What does that even MEAN? Cruel, torturous irony is what it is! It's like how a friend once described to me how subtly pride can take over your life. Just when you start to think about how humble you are, you realize pride has hit you like a baseball bat to the back of the knees and has taken you down again. When it came to singleness, this Catch-22 situation seemed to be the story of my life. Every now and then, I would realize “Wow, I’m not looking anymore!” Just, of course, to turn around and remind myself what “happens” when I’m not looking. Suddenly, I’m aware of the unawareness of potential men in my life. Damn cycle starts all over again...

I wish I could say that I took the high road when it came to accepting my singleness. For many years, however, this was simply not so. Being the “heart on my sleeve” type that I am, it seems I let my disappointment slip to, well, just about everyone in my life. My mini quarter-life crises usually stemmed from this topic, and in my early twenties, I admit I wasn’t so classy in the way I expressed things (there is a little collection of things done or said out of impulse that I desperately wish I could erase from the minds of others…as well as my own).

Amazingly and thankfully, however, God’s incredible grace and wisdom completely transformed my view of singleness...and shut my self-pitying mouth. I see singleness quite differently now, but it took an unexpected and painful season to get me there...

To be Continued


Friday, October 14, 2011

Hello, My Name Is... (Part Two)

Nature vs. Nurture: The great debate. Are we who we are because of our genes (aka God's design) or because of our great (or ghastly) upbringing? Hmmmm...ponder, ponder. Scholars have debated it for centuries. But now in the 21st, we have a new philosopher shedding light on this ever important dilemma of the origin of identity.

Her name is Lady Gaga... 

"Oh, there ain't no other way, baby, I was BORN THIS WAY." A simple statement couched in a catchy tune; who knew it would help start a brand new sexual revolution fifty years or so after "free love" shed it's taboo? In 2011, however, it's not just about "Do what you want! Be free!" The message has morphed into a far more philosophical (and perhaps even more dangerous...), "Do what you want! It's who you ARE! It feels so good because you were made for this..."

Lately, I've been thinking about all these lame-ass excuses we make for our sin (note the "we" there...this is my story too...). Like I said in the last post, anyone can rationalize away their thoughts/behaviors simply by shifting the blame to the Lord. "This is just the way God made me!" we easily say of our desires. (Incidentally, Lady Gaga reinforces this view in Born This Way with the line "'Cause God makes no mistakes").

Since the dawn of time (I'm sure), people have been quick to point the finger at God for the death, destruction and heartbreak present in our world. It's only fitting, then, that now people look to the Lord as the source of their sin. Because He made us, we think, He must be the author of not just the good, but also the bad (i.e. Sexual desires gone awry, mental illness, my craving for sin and death...). Tack on Lady Gaga's logic to that, and it suddenly goes one step further. Since God is good and doesn't make mistakes, everything we feel or think, therefore, MUST be good. There is no such thing as doing or being "bad."

What a friggin' Slip N Slide of a thought process! But this is exactly the slippery slope that society is caught up on! And what makes it all the more dangerous is that even pop icons recognize the Truth of God's character...He IS good! He DOESN'T make mistakes! And those two assumptions are absolutely correct. But what a fallacy to stop short and say that those Truths suddenly equal "Nothing is bad if (a good) God made it."

Now it all makes sense: This is why you get labeled a "bigot" if you make a clear distinction between right and wrong. This is why you are accused of being intolerant if you don't tout "To each his own" when it comes to people's choices and desires (even your own). If you're worldview is rooted in the concept of original sin (that's a pretty basic belief for Christians...recognizing that you were sinful from the start and that you despertately need a savior), it's gonna be an uphill battle to live in the last days (ahem, the present...). Because that conviction stands in stark contrast to that of the rest of society. Mainstream America (whose collective worldview tends to be reflected by the imitates life...) will go to the grave convinced that human beings are inherently good. And so it goes...who needs a savior when you haven't done anything wrong? After all, your so-called "sin" was merely "following your instincts"...Or, according to those who love to twist scripture to make themselves feel better, you were just acting upon "who God made you" to be.

Wait a minute! Is anyone paying attention to what is really going on here? There is a manipulative ENEMY out there, disguised as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), whose very goal is to wreak havoc on our desires. He makes sin look good...not just compelling, but normal and natural. The lies are subtle, but powerful: "God is good. You are His child. Of course, anything IN you is good. Right...?"

I'm convinced that what the Church in America needs most is NOT to change surface-y logistics like shifting from the mega churches to home groups, doing more outreach projects, or striving to be more "culturally relevant" (although those are all valid and important things). No, I think that followers of Christ in this country desperately need to study and actively EMBRACE the concept of spiritual warfare.

If the battle analogy is too cliche for you...get over it, because it's Biblical :) The Truth is, our world IS a war zone and we need to be diligent about living "set apart" (aka holy) lives and FIGHTING to keep our minds renewed in a world saturated with incredibly cunning lies. Do I know what I believe enough not to sucumb to the enemy's false (even "Christiany" sounding...throwing God in the mix) logic? Am I doing battle not just for my friends and family, but also for myself and my own mind?

My most recent internal discipleship debate is what exactly it means to wash your mind with water through the Word (Eph 5:26). My personal litmus test is this...What comes to my mind first when I'm washing dishes or driving in my car? A song lyric telling me that I am, in fact, good (without God's redemption) and I just need to be myself. Or the Scripture that says "Apart from [Christ] I can do nothing."

Maybe I need to turn down the radio...

Yet Lady Gaga tells me exactly what I want to hear: That I'm amazing and awesome..."Rah, rah, rah! Go me!" While she gives a token nod to the Big Guy (make the church kids feel a little less guilty...and pisses off the fundamentalists), the whole concept is clearly about taking pride in yourself and your unique design...not giving praise to the Designer.Yet, isn't this the focus of thousands of children's books and kids cartoons? "Be yourself! You're great! Accept who you are! Don't apologize for being you!" It seems that that deceptive "discipleship" of self-love and pride starts early...

Truth is, it's much easier to swallow (seemingly) shallow song lyrics than it is the Gospel. Because when I take the Gospel seriously, I am forced to see myself for what I truly am without Christ: "Naked and poor," spending my days surrendering myself to man-made idols like a whore, amassing filthy rags of "good deeds" that fool others into thinking I'm good, yet are nothing but a stench in the nostrils of God. The Gospel tells me that I am fallen, selfish, empty and incomplete without a Savior.

And Scripture doesn't pull any punches in assuming this concept will sit right with us. "Who can accept such things?" people asked Jesus. THE GOSPEL IS OFFENSIVE, Peter reminds us (1 Peter 2:8). It's a stumbling block that many people can't get around. 'Cause they don't have the guts to say that they are bad...and they need help.

But we do need help. I need help. To the world, I earn major "Good Girl" points for my "Never done drugs/got drunk/had sex" record. Yet, for the last 28 years, living day in and day out in my naturally depraved body/mind, all too aware of my own selfishness, filth and messed-up, sin-soaked desires. In the past, I denied them. In the past, I downplayed them. But in the light of Christ's stunning perfection, I can't deceive myself any longer.

The Truth is...God did make me. My original design was good. But some of my ancestors way back in the day, while chillin' in this amazing Garden, suddenly up and decided to trade God's glory in for a lie. In the process, they passed that generational curse of sin onto me. The Truth is, I am NOT who I was meant to be. In and of myself, I am NOT good.

YET...I am unfathomably adored by my Creator. So much so that He let people kill His completely righteous son, so that my broken and rebellious self could have life. He ransomed me from my own destruction of self-love and pride. He redeemed me and put His perfectly good (Holy!) Spirit inside me. Now I am truly FREE to do good. Not because I am good, but only because HE is good. And He is gracious enough to allow His goodness to flow through me.

And if that whole thing weren't enough of a paradox, it is only in Him that I find my identity. It is not because I am somehow special/wonderful/"beautiful in my way" (as Gaga would say). My identity is not found in my face, my talents or even my desires. My confidence comes from believing that Christ is standing between me and the Father.

The other day, I worshiping and this one amazing line came to my mind. I kept singing it over and over: "You see me as pure. You see me as clean. Even though, there is nothing good in me." While we MUST remember that last part (and begin our worldview from that standpoint), we can truly accept the Father's grace and walk in His love when we finally get that revelation: That He is looking at us through Jesus.

I am who I am because Christ has made me new. There is no other basis for my identity.

So, how do I really know when I've begun to grasp this whole identity thing? When the Gospel makes me cry. Because in that moment, I suddenly remember that what it says is absolutely true...