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In Anticipation of Death

Growth is a heady feeling. An intoxicating, soul-warming, heart-swelling wonder.

For a seed to grow, it first must die. I’ve been carrying around this seed within me, deformed from the effort it’s taken to keep it alive. Its name is self-preservation, and I’ve held on to it as tightly as I could since I was old enough to speak. I was taught that if I don’t fight for myself, no one else will. So to avoid the heartache of realizing that no one was fighting for me, I never gave anyone the chance to. I didn’t let myself need anyone. It’s just been me, behind my fortress, fully clothed in my impenetrable armor, shield raised, sword drawn.

In my early teenage years, my sword was my tongue. I was the bitch – the one with the death glare and the amazingly crafted insults that pierced through your chest and never left the corners of your heart. Then I stopped talking and started hiding – my sword of choice in the recent past has been to withdraw my affection. I figured that was better than saying the hurtful things I knew I was capable of speaking. None of it was malicious; I was merely doing as I was told. “If you don’t fight for yourself, no one else will.”

When I came out from behind my fortified walls, I thought I’d done it. I’d made the big leap – I was truly learning vulnerability now. That was back when I started writing this blog and learning how to take baby steps. I laugh now at my naivete, not because I wasn’t growing back then, but because I thought I had arrived at my [vulnerable] destination.

Two years later, I realize that I’ve still been carrying around that armor, still wielding my sword, still cowering behind my shield. Although I’ve stepped out from behind the walls, I’ve been so preoccupied with taking care of myself – with protecting my heart – that I might as well be back in that fortress I built forever ago.

And to discover that it was all from a warped view of God and His role in my life. The things you learn about yourself in therapy are eventually hilarious once it doesn’t hurt so much. As it turns out, I’ve been trying to play God my entire life, trying to take over His protective role. Instead of letting Him protect my heart like He promised to, I’ve been [ineffectively] doing all the work – wielding my sword unnecessarily and creating an incredible mess.

Oh, to have been taught that “guarding your heart” doesn’t mean building a fortress in which to cage your emotions, or living with a strict “three strikes and you’re out” mentality, but instead, radically entrusting your heart and emotions to God for safekeeping and taking your hands off the process. Freeing yourself to love and feel and be disappointed and break and be repaired, knowing that the hurts won’t kill you, and that the One protecting you is also able to repair you – what a wild, wild notion.

I’m not emotionally available to love or be loved because I’m much too concerned with being aloof and keeping my guard up. I’m always on the defensive, worried that if I’m too vulnerable, if I let you in too far, you’ll stick a knife in my gut and gloat as I bleed to death. I’m afraid of collecting more scars because I know just how long it takes for those wounds to heal. I ignore you and become stone cold when I’m romantically interested in you, because letting you know how I feel would be just as terrifying as running down College Avenue naked as the day I was born, screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” I can’t cry around you because I’m afraid you’ll think I’m weak and overly emotional. Hell, I can’t even let myself be super fond of you because what if you aren’t just as fond of me?

What a shitshow. Pardon my French.

And then this week, I had a stunning realization. In the midst of practicing unconditional love (which I wrote about here), I discovered that it really is the nicest feeling to like a person for who they are without any expectation that they like who you are in return. And then it hit me: I’m growing. Sometimes I get so lost in my flaws and shortcomings that I fail to see that I’m not who I once was. I’m growing. My leaves are budding – and even though there’s a fall breeze outside, it feels like spring inside. It tastes like the beginnings of finally being free.

A few months ago, God promised that this new year would be one of rest; a Sabbath. I thought that meant that all the things I’d asked for for so long would finally be mine, and all the pain would magically disappear. But today, I think His rest looks a lot more like me surrendering my armor and my weapons and letting Him fight for me – letting down my guard in order to let Him be my guard. The pain is still there and maybe always will be, and the things I’ve asked for are still not mine, but in contemplating the surrender of my self-protective habits, I feel closer to rest than I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

I’m not free yet – unlearning decades worth of terrible habits is not something that happens in a month, or six. But now I can see what freedom might look like – that when I stop fighting for myself, I can finally be free to live. That there’s more freedom and rest in letting go than in trying so hard to protect myself. That I find my life only when I’m willing to lose it.

Maybe a year from now I’ll have learned what it looks like to let Him do the fighting – to be emotionally available, to wear my heart on my sleeve again, to cry in front of you when I’m awestruck by beauty or when my heart is breaking, to love and let myself be loved.

I’m not that girl yet, but I’m running towards that freedom with all that I have. Today, I’m celebrating a deeper understanding of unconditional love – and completely relishing my gooey affections that need not be reciprocated at all. And on the day I finally put self-preservation to death, I will throw a giant party. Because it would mean that I have finally chosen to let God be my shield, and my fortress, and my defense. And my soul will finally be at rest.

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Men Are Like Aliens

At least once a year I rant about boys on my blog and get chewed out for it. Here’s the 2012 rant. Proceed with caution, a sense of humor, and hopefully a little less stubborn pride than you possessed last year.

Here’s the thing: men are like aliens. Seriously. I have no desire to figure them out, dissect their souls, and put them in a box. But even if I did, I’d have no clue where to begin. They are different, interesting, wildly confusing creatures and I’ll tell you why I feel this way.

I’ll start with my compatriots in the land of estrogen. We can be downright crazy sometimes. I mean, one day I can’t stop shivering with an amorous fever over some guy, and the very next day – I kid you not – I’m nonchalantly telling my roommate that I’m “kinda over him”. Crazy? Absolutely. And maybe when you were a kid you heard those awful rumors that the Christian girls next door were sitting around writing up lists about the kind of prince they were waiting on to come sweep them off their feet. Yeah, that wasn’t a rumor. It unfortunately happened – I wrote a few of those lists, too. And maybe you were even told by (well-meaning?) older guys that we ladies start planning our weddings and picking out baby names as soon as we go on a fairly decent date with you, so you shouldn’t ask us out until you’re sure we could be the one. For your sake and ours, naturally. Can I just call a major bullshit on that one? Bullshit.

You know, if we were all still thirteen, this would work out just fine. We’d be waiting for princes and you’d be cowering behind your video games fully aware that you’d never be Prince Charming and disinclined to try. Fair enough. But here are a few rumors you can start spreading around. We are not the people we were and we don’t want the things we wanted a decade ago. Stop using excuses that are almost as old as you.

I love weddings – the dresses, the colors, the intricate details, the symbolism, the almost tangible presence of love – heck, I wanted to be a wedding planner for years! But just because I know that I want to get married someday in the Fall surrounded by mountains and the color persimmon doesn’t mean that I’m ready to be married, and certainly not to you after a single date or three. Get over yourself. I certainly won’t stop professing my love for weddings just so I don’t scare a man off. Can I just say it one more time? Just because a girl likes weddings doesn’t mean she wants to marry you.

Oh, and the rumor about us thinking we’re princesses? It’s actually not a rumor – I am a princess, only because my Father is the King over all creation. Naturally, that makes me a princess. Not because I’m pampered, or have an easy life, or want to wear ballroom gowns all day long. Not because I have expectations of a man catering to my every need. I’m a princess because it’s my God-given identity, period. I’m not looking to find a man who will make me royalty – that’s already been taken care of. I’m not Cinderella. So the pressure’s off, gentlemen. We don’t need you to save the day, or save us from our own feminine frailty and incapabilities. Someone greater already did that and to ask you to would show a lack of understanding of what’s already been done for us.

Here’s what I’m trying to say: You confuse us. We think of you as strong and brave in every way, and then it comes down to choosing us and you cower. There’s the “You’re beautiful, and wise, and I would be a fool not to date you, but I just need to seek the Lord” excuse. And then there’s the “I just don’t want to screw up what we have as friends” excuse. And my all-time favorite, “You’re gonna make someone really happy someday.” Oh really? Because that someone could’ve been you.

We’re taught to make excuses for men, to hope upon hope, to ignore blatant signs that he’s not actually interested under the guise of “He just needs time and encouragement.” Maybe he hasn’t responded to your text for three days because his phone caught on fire and then he accidentally dropped it in the toilet. Maybe he didn’t call because he is just so intimidated by your beauty and wisdom. Maybe he’s being a jerk to you because he’s trying to protect your heart.

Or maybe he is a jerk who doesn’t know what he wants and refuses to take any risks to discover it? Ah, but I sound like a whiny spinster if I use such words. So in the interest of being kind, I will say only a few more things.

I don’t want a prince; I want a man who is sure of me. Not sure he wants to spend the rest of his life with me, but sure that he wants to get to know me. Sure enough to pick up the phone and call and make plans to sit and have intentional conversations that aren’t ambiguous. If it’s a date, say it’s a date. If it’s not, don’t act like it is. I cannot explain succinctly how annoying it is to not know what you want from us and for us. Suffice it to say that we’ve had enough of the ambiguity. It’s a date or it’s not. You want to hold my hand or you don’t. Stop straddling lines.

And for the love, if you don’t remember anything from this rant, please remember this: going on dates is not that big of a deal. We’re twenty-somethings – surely we can have a great conversation and drink some beer without either one of us freaking out and vomiting hormones and future baby names everywhere. I assure you, it can be done.

And here’s the thing about rumors – you either blindly accept them, or you seek to disprove them. When was the last time you got presented with a 50 Things I’m Looking For in a Godly Man list over a romantic dinner? Can’t remember? Yeah, that’s probably because you also can’t remember the last time you were on a real date. Make those generalizations about women when it has actually happened to you, because there are a lot of us considering lesbianism thanks to the rumors you refuse to disprove. Half kidding.

You’re a better man than you know. Stop worrying that we will make it a big deal. Stop making it a big deal for yourself. Stop telling us we are beautiful and wonderful and then spending Friday night with your Xbox. We may not be compatible in the long run, but how will you know if you never ask a girl out?

My therapist says, “There’s a shortage of strong men out there, but you can’t sell yourself short and settle for a wuss who had to be talked into liking you. You need a man who knows what he wants, and goes for it confidently against all odds. Don’t settle.”

I’m just obeying doctor’s orders 😉

Celebrating Unanswered Prayers

Sometimes we complain about never hearing any yeses from God, and only hearing nos instead. It seems like He’s silent when we want His nod of approval, but emphatically against the things we really desire. My reality, however, has been vastly different recently.

Over the last six months I’ve heard more yeses than I bargained for. There were a few things I would’ve been fine hearing a no about. But God was not only speaking clearly, He was affirming the things I was asking him for. I thought, of course, that His yes meant that things would turn out like I wanted. I thought that if He wasn’t stopping me from going ahead with these plans and these people, it meant that my vision of the future was accurate.

What I didn’t take into consideration was the fact that I had specifically asked Him to give me a sense of unease if these decisions would be harmful to my heart in the long run. He did exactly what I asked – just not in the way I expected.

None of the situations where I heard a definite “Yes” panned out the way I thought they would. But if He never said yes, I would have promptly extracted myself from the process. And all along, his plan was the process. He knew we wouldn’t end up together, but He said yes so that I would learn things about myself that I needed to face – learning what I actually need as well as how willing I am to compromise my needs for what’s readily available. He knew that I wouldn’t actually get the internship of my dreams, but He gave a firm yes so that I could finally figure out who I am and what I want. The process of trying to convince an organization to choose me showed me that I, contrary to my old beliefs, have a lot to offer. It showed me that I’m being useful and fruitful right where I’m at.

My process has been one of self-discovery and truth-telling. I’m learning to be honest with myself about who I really am, and honest with the people around me as well. As I learned from this incredible TED talk, the original definition of courage is simply to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. I’m learning courage. My process has led me away from unhealthy, immature relationships that I would never have had the audacity to walk away from otherwise. It’s opened up new doors for new relationships that are being built on healthy foundations. My process has shown me the depths of my own self-loathing, my insecurities, my lack of boundaries, my propensity for blaming others, my unhealthy desire to emotionally control people.

There’s just no way to describe in words the newness I have found in the small steps I’ve taken to be free of my old ways. My roommate suggested that we recreate our photoshoot from last August just so we could document the stark differences in the people we used to be and the ones we are today. It’s that obvious. Everyone I catch up with these days begins by saying, “You seem so happy.” And I am. I’m exuding bliss from my very pores.

All because of the process. A year ago, I would’ve been shattered by the recent series of events in my life. I would’ve questioned God’s character – how could He say yes when He knew it wouldn’t happen? How could He lie to me? But today, I can finally see that sometimes, his Yes is given because He knows the process will change me more than the end result I’m asking for. Sometimes we simply need to be transformed so that we realize that what we asked for isn’t really what we needed or truly desired after all.

Don’t get me wrong, this process has been difficult, painful, and emotionally draining at times. But the beauty of being such an introspective person is that right now I can see myself being unfurled, transformed, set free. This is the kind of pain I welcome with open arms – the pain that strips me of the decaying, unhealthy parts and forces me into the light, and into growth. And this will be the pattern for the rest of my life because, as I’ve previously written, I don’t believe in the destination points anymore. This process is what changes me. Here’s to not dating that guy, and not moving to California – the best unanswered prayers of my year.

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