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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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Silence Is A Cancer

The thing about pain is that it is universal. It lives inside of us – grief cohabiting with joy, unrest nestling with peace. We can’t escape it but we spend all of our energy trying to surpress it. Sometimes it lets up and joy wins for a time; and sometimes it spreads like a wildfire, consuming everything good.

The thing about me is that I’m a silent sufferer. The more intense the pain, the quieter I become, until I forget how to use my words to ask for help.

I’ve always been crazy about justice, wanting to make sure everyone gets what they deserve. It made me a little unforgiving as a child, and emotionally stunted as an adult living in a broken world. But thank the Lord that mercy triumphs over judgment. I don’t know when it started, but somehow – not by my own might – I began choosing mercy rather than judgment. And now, I’m the girl who can’t bring herself to hate a mass murderer; the girl who can’t bring herself to write a Facebook status about how she doesn’t understand how messed up and evil a person would have to be to kill dozens of people; the girl who feels overwhelming sympathy for the people we label as devils.

You know why? Cause I understand that we’re all in pain. We don’t admit it – I don’t admit it – until it eats away at all our healthy flesh and consumes us from the inside out. Everyone starts off thinking that they’re strong enough to be better than the next person. I’ll never cheat on my husband. I’ll never get to the point where picking up a gun and pointing it at someone is my release. I could never engage in non-consensual sex with a woman. We all start there, but we’re all in pain. And if we don’t choose to find our words and ask for help, if we don’t stop perpetuating this myth that suffering in silence is being strong, if we don’t let each other feel and grieve and mourn and break – we will all end up killing the good things around us too.

I can’t hate a mass murderer because his pain is not foreign to me. I can only imagine that they are silent sufferers too – ones who were told that to be strong is to wear a perma-smile and act like everything’s fine, until it’s not. Sure, I’ve never fired a gun. I don’t even know how. But I’ve at times gotten so deeply lost in my own pain that I begin to lash out at the people around me, even the people who love me. In an effort to find a reprieve, I’ve killed good friendships, hurt good men, used my tongue to lacerate my loved ones, and walked away from people who needed me. Sure, it doesn’t get the position of honor on the 9 o’clock news, but I have left my own trail of wounded, hurting people in my frantic attempt to stop my heart from hurting so much.

I’ve had my own share of trauma and abuse and heartache. And I spent years hating the inflicters of my pain until I realized that they are just as broken as I am. No, that doesn’t excuse what they did or give them any right to repeat it again. But it helps me not to demonize them, because only broken people hurt other people. And we’re all broken in various places.

So I can’t hate them. I will never condone the acts of evil they carry out in their own quest for peace, and I will never underestimate the agony the hearts of those directly affected have to endure. What I will do is remember my own brokenness, and that I am only one step away from their hell. That step is graceful surrender. The only thing that will keep me from being a cheating wife or an abusive mother or a mass murderer is the choice to not rely on my own ability to be good and do what’s right, but instead to make an honest confession that I’m broken and I’m in pain and Jesus’ grace is the only reason why I don’t go out and try to break other people. And that surrender, that choice, needs to happen moment by moment, not one time long ago in the back pew of your parents’ church.

Let’s celebrate together the joy and beauty we discover amidst the filth in this world. But let us also embrace the pain and stop telling each other to be “strong” and suck it up and pretend like we’re fine. Strength is found in raw honesty, in beautiful vulnerability. Don’t entrust your heart to people who tell you that breaking is a sign of weakness, or that feelings are for little girls. Even Jesus wept. If we don’t start breaking on a regular basis, we’re all going to be walking around with emotional tumors that can rupture at any moment.

I’m no better than that guy on the news, and neither are you. We’re all in pain. There’s a time to laugh and dance and sing, and there’s a time to break. If we don’t let ourselves break, we end up breaking others. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break.

***The best gift I’ve ever given myself is going to counseling. No, it’s not for the “crazies” – it’s for everyone who breathes. Yes, it can be expensive and intimidating. But I’d rather starve for a few days every couple of weeks than remain emotionally stunted. Recommend is not a strong enough word for the situation, but if you need a safe place to break and it is in your power to do it, I wholeheartedly recommend seeing a counselor. Your heart will thank you a million times.***

It’s Not You, It’s Us: An Apology

I know. I know. It seems like we’re all hopping around on one foot, permanently holding the other foot in our mouths. It seems like we’re best friends with hypocrisy and married to self-righteousness. It seems like we haven’t fully comprehended the concept of Grace, or Love for that matter. I know. And I’m so sorry.

You see, we’re kinda like that one guy in that one story [which you may or may not have read] who gets pissed off that his rogue baby brother gets a party thrown in his honor after he squanders the family fortune and takes a piss on the family name. We say we’re humbled by Grace, we claim to be undeserving of the beauty of it all. But really, we’re just entitled older brothers who think that we somehow deserve the Grace we’ve been given because we’re not as bad as you. We’re not romantically interested in people of our own sex, therefore, we have more of a right to Grace than you do.

We claim to model our lives after Jesus, we claim to be living this totally transformed life that embodies everything He stood for. Yet we stand in line for hours to buy a chicken sandwich just to prove a point. A point that leaves you feeling alienated and unloved. Good grief, we deserve every name you’ve called us.

I don’t know where we get it from, this theology that demands us to be right all the time. It’s certainly not from Jesus. He never said we should only love those who agree with everything we believe. He never said to love only when it was easy or felt good. If that were His policy, He wouldn’t love me still. He wouldn’t love any of us still. And the Jesus I know spent a lot of His time with people that the uptight, religious folk of His day avoided and on occasion, stoned to death. He didn’t constantly surround Himself with people who thought the exact same as He did. He did crazy things like completely disregard the Law and save a married woman caught having an affair from getting stoned to death. Or letting a known prostitute kiss his feet infront of everyone. I mean, seriously, do you know the DRAMA that would ensue as a result of that today? A prostitute and a preacher? But that’s the Jesus I love and follow.

So regardless of what we’ve told you and, more importantly, what we’ve shown you, He is crazy about you. Just like He’s crazy about me. Just like he’s crazy about this painfully broken world. And His message isn’t one of tolerance. It’s one of Love. He doesn’t ask us to tolerate people who disagree with us. He doesn’t ask us to tolerate you. He says, “Love, as if your life depends on it.” You know how crazy that is, a Christian loving you so fiercely that it preserves their life? Oh wait, that’s right, you probably don’t because you’ve never seen it modeled.

We are so desperate to be right that we don’t care who gets burned along the way. We want to beat Jesus’ love into people. What a shameful contradiction. What a sad way of living. We’re the ones closer to death – the ones who never left home, never rebelled, and never left the corner of the party He threw for you where we glared – pissed that you of all people, get to share in our Grace. What a sham.

And it’s really not about you at all. We still find ways to alienate each other within the so-called family of believers in the same God. We hold everyone to our own standard of perfection – friend, foe, pastor, blog writer. Once they do or say something we don’t agree with, we write them off. I could list all of my shortcomings on here, but I won’t. You know why? Because my Christian readers probably would judge me for all my sins. You see, it’s not you. It’s us and our inability to let go of our pride and entitlement and our need to be right. It’s us and our inability to let Jesus change us in the most selfish parts of our being. Because selfishness and Love can’t coexist. Neither can self-righteousness and Love. Neither can pride and Love.

I’m sorry that we put proving a point over loving you. I’m sorry that we choose to tell you how much God hates your lifestyle a million times more than we show you how much He is completely in love with you. Not the you that fits into our definition of a good, Christian, never-do-anything-wrong-ever type of person, but the person you are now. Because unlike most of us, God isn’t partial, prideful, or self-righteous. And if He can still love me on the days when I all but flip Him off and do whatever the heck I want, then no one can convince me that He doesn’t love you just as ferociously also.

We’re in desperate need of Grace and Love, because the only type of people who are comfortable enough to disagree with each other without turning it into hatred and alienation are those living deeply from a place of Love and Grace. If we accepted Grace more open-handedly, maybe we would give it more freely too. We say we love God, but the truth is, we love ourselves just a little bit more. Clearly.

And here’s the thing: you are more than your sexual orientation. I’m so deeply sorry that we’ve turned you into a one-faced enemy.

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone…” – Jesus

Finding Rest

I want to learn how to dwell. I’m fully aware that my relationship with God cannot be likened to anything resembling consistency right now, and I find myself pulling away because I’m not as close as I’d like to be. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at that particular reaction – it’s how I treat the people around me as well.

I want to learn how to sit, how to live, how to be in a state of dwelling continuously. I’m tired of quick visits and extended vacations when things get especially rough. I’m sick of my supposed dwelling resembling my church attendance – once a week and emotionally charged. I want my dwelling to savor of normalcy. Like brushing my teeth or brewing my morning cup of coffee. I want to dwell in Him the way I dwell in my house.

Because the Psalm says that he who dwells…rests. My life has been chaotic these past few weeks and while I’ve complained about the busyness of it all, I’ve welcomed the constant movement as a distraction from the unwanted emotions. The sadness, the uncertainty, the occasional minor freak out, the apathy that’s continuously fighting to rob me of faith. It’s all there – underneath the hysterical laughter and wide smiles and dinner parties. And I’m learning how to embrace it all, how to feel it all. I want to feel it all, but he who dwells rests. I want rest just as much as I want to feel.

In exactly eleven days, I will begin my seventh year away from the country and people I grew up with. It’s not that I miss it – quite honestly, I don’t. But He promised me something at the beginning of this year – He promised me rest. He said the seventh year is His Sabbath and He’s going to give me rest. All the petitioning has made it to His ears, all the tears have been preserved in His bottle. He just wants me to watch and see what He does.

But I can’t watch outside of His presence, can I? I can’t manufacture my own rest in trying to create a plan for myself and struggling to make it work. I can’t be at rest when I’m running away from Him. So I need to learn how to dwell. I need to learn to live inside of Him like He’s the fortress I claim Him to be. I remind myself that He lives inside of me, but sometimes that skews my perception of his grandeur. He lives inside of me, but I also make my home in him because He is bigger than my cavernous depths. I want to learn to live inside my God and find rest from the chaos and uncertainty. His rest is better than my facade of repose.

“You will never be in control of your life circumstances, but you can relax and trust in My control. Instead of striving for a predictable, safe lifestyle, seek to know Me in greater depth and breadth. I long to make your life a glorious adventure, but you must stop clinging to old ways. I am always doing something new within My beloved ones. Be on the lookout for all that I have prepared for you.” – Jesus Calling.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1

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 😉

Get It Wrong, Get It Right

I do this thing quite regularly where I place the blame for almost everything on myself. Maybe I’m not the only one, or maybe I am. But it is second nature to me, and has been since my prepubescent days. Why didn’t we have a good time that night? I probably did something wrong. Why doesn’t she ever call me? I probably said something to offend her. Why am I a 23-year-old who’s awesome (as expressed by biased allies) and yet has never been on a real date? I’m most definitely doing something wrong.

Now, I’m just as skilled as you are in pointing fingers and making charges. But by the time I feel bold enough to blame someone else for an issue, I would have already stood trial before my highly accusatory heart and waited for my exoneration. There are lots of reasons for it – reasons that would probably end up being rants about growing up in a conservative, Nigerian household.

Nevertheless, like a well-worn shirt, I daily put on the belief that if only I were doing something better, I would have the results I want. That, somehow, if life doesn’t work out the way I want it to, it’s because there’s something I need to improve on. This doctrine is ever-present in Christian culture. If it doesn’t work out, then God wants to teach you something through it. Oh, you’re still in this situation because God is waiting for you to change your attitude, THEN He’ll give you what you’re asking for.

We start seeking change, improvement, betterment as a means to an end. We seek to develop, not for the beauty of growth itself, but for the things that will be afforded to us because of the growth. It’s a game – when you reach a new level, you get a thousand points. We take on burdens that aren’t ours to bear, forgetting that we live in an evil world filled with imperfect people and their imperfect responses. We chase after maturity not simply because it is what God desires of us, but because if we’re mature enough, we’ll finally be delivered from this situation/given our significant other/get into grad school/get that dream job/whatever it is. If I figure out what You want me to learn quickly enough, I can skip the rest of this pain and move on to what I really want. Because if I don’t have _____ yet, it’s because I’m doing something wrong.

For this to be true, I must be operating under the assumption that if I do everything right, things will inevitably fall into place. In reality, I could do everything right a thousand times, and things could still fall apart. Just because you speak the truth with grace doesn’t mean it will be received well. Just because you are fiscally responsible doesn’t mean that you won’t one day end up broke because of circumstances out of your control. And just because you’re finally content with being single doesn’t mean your husband is on the way. (And can we, for the love of all things good, stop spreading that little fable around?)

If I do the right thing, it should solely be for the sake of doing the right thing. And it should be done with the expectation that the world could still fall apart and she could still hate me and he might still not be interested and I might still end up broke. Doing the right thing doesn’t guarantee happiness.

So, Universe, this is my official declaration to you and your inhabitants: I refuse to carry your burden along with mine. I will choose to be responsible for myself and act accordingly when I’m wrong, but I will not continue to blame myself for the things you’re responsible for. Sometimes I let myself think that I’m inherently flawed – never enough. Lies. I am enough, it is not [always] my fault, and I refuse to be responsible for you. It’s not my problem, and I’m keeping it that way.

***The idea of being responsible to people and not for them has significantly changed my life. I highly recommend beg you to read Boundaries by Cloud/Townsend for further expansion on that topic, and for your general emotional well-being!***

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