Analogies for Christians

[Normally, I would want credit for the perpetuated use of these, as with my coined terms. Here, however, that would make me a bad Christian. These are for your use, Dear Reader, as they are meant to be helpful in explaining some aspects of Christian life. Note: these are not yet Scripture-verified (although they have been honed through conversation and teachings), so be aware of the context in which you use them (if you deem them worthy of usage). If I am diligent (and we all know how that goes), I will update this post as Scripture demands.]

ON LOVING OTHERS: The capacity of a Christian to love should be defined by God’s love for you. He can love you without limit (1 Peter 4:11), and you should spread that love. Think of yourself as a giant cup (Psalm 23:5b-6). God pours his love (John 4:14) into that cup until it overflows. You can let that water splash over onto the ground, or you can collect it in other cups and give them to others.

ON ENDURING TRIALS: You, like me, may have experienced a time of many trials, when it feels like one thing is happening after another, and crap is piling up. It can be hard, in these times, to trust in God or feel at peace with a God who would allow these things. A friend once said to me, “I see God’s provision so much in your life, because you should be homeless, on the street.” At the time, I could not appreciate that, as I was stuck in a mire and could not see the light.
But the truth is that God has made each of us different, and he has designed us for his specific purpose (Ephesians 2:10). That process is ongoing, throughout our lives. God is honing each of us to be his perfect instrument for his specific purpose. Trials are the forge in which he shapes us (Isaiah 48:10). You are being forged (Job 23:10). Yeah, it sucks. But we must embrace trials as part of the higher purpose to which each of us is being called (1 Peter 4:12).

OTHER GREAT VERSES: 2 Cor. 1:3-5, Isaiah 54:11-17, and (of course) Romans 8:38-39

I hope you find this helpful, for yourself and for the others whom you seek to supplant.

Please Don’t Stop Reading My Blog Just Because I Love Jesus

Rouen Cathedral, The Portal (In Sun)
One of my favorite Monets, this painting captures beautifully a subject which I’ve always found spiritually inspiring: cathedrals.

There is one topic which I have thus far avoided. I’m not sure why, although I have a guess: I think I wanted people to read and relate to my blog. And I don’t think that posting on this particular topic will make people unable to relate; I only fear that they will stop reading and never know that this aspect of my life does not hinder my ability to communicate with people who feel differently. Unfortunately, I cannot continue to write about my ManifAustin journey without talking about one of the principal driving forces in my life: my faith.

A little background: I grew up in the United Methodist Church, where people are allowed to believe in God from their earliest memory, where a relationship with God can be a tradition in which one is raised, rather than a conversion that occurs with public profession and fireworks. Now, I believe that my faith is no less real for having been instilled in me from youth, but plenty of people have told me that such is the case, that I needed to come to Jesus in a Don-Draper-convinces-the-lipstick-guys sort of way.

I’m going to fast-forward through all of that because it no longer informs my walk. I struggled in an ultra-conservative Christian high school and an ultra-liberal household. The Church became for me a place where bad people perverted the goodness of the faith which they professed. In college, God blessed me with a roommate and best friend who shined with love that came from God, and who still struggled with a humanity that she was willing to expose, and my faith in good Christians was restored. The winter after I graduated, my reality was broken, and I was lost. I was confused as to why the good and loving God in whom I believed wasn’t protecting me. And for another year, my faith was challenged as my life cycled–every time I had, calamity struck. And every time I was empty, there was a near-miraculous provision.

The story that my life is now, however, really starts toward the end of 2011, when I poured out to a new friend and model Christ-follower that I was ready to walk away from God and no longer be a Christian. It was too hard, too painful, too stressful. My faith was a burden. And she said absolutely nothing comforting. I don’t even remember that she said much of anything. She just looked at me without sympathy. And that turned out to be a turning point in my life. For I realized, in the face of that coolness, in the unyielding logic of one of the most rational people I have ever known, that what I was saying was ridiculous. I could no more stop believing in the existence of God than I could reject the existence of the parents who put me on this Earth.

Joan of Arc
This painting is an especial favorite of mine. It is an exemplary work by Bastien-Lepage depicting a religious scene in a detailed natural setting.

2012 was an extremely important year for me, but I’m also going to fast-forward through it. I began to pray during Lent. Through prayer, God gave me the strength to walk away from a friendship that I recognized as destructive. At Easter, I realized that I needed to go to church regularly. In #Fla2012, my decision to live in prayer was bolstered by the affirmation of my best friend’s dad. I began to see the ups and downs of my life more clearly and to trust when I was in the valleys that the peaks would come. I began to see the ways in which I had been given everything when I deserved nothing. My whole outlook changed. I came to see that I was being forged for a life that would be fraught but profound. And I began to see that I had (with all my qualities and flaws) been designed with grace to meet the challenges and to serve a purpose.

Then my best friend moved to Oxford. And I was truly apart from her for the first time in 6 years (pretty much exactly). And I thought I would break. But I didn’t. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever felt so loved. Every email she took the time to write (and she is busy) reaffirmed that she loved me deeply, that she would always love me deeply. She loves me as a co-member of God’s fellowship and as a blessed sister (well, also as a friend in the non-faith-based sense, but that was harder to hold on to with her so far away). She loves me because God loves me. And that love (which I return) is unbreakable. The fights we had had, as friends, as sinners, and as humans, mean nothing in the face of the fact that we are united by the love of Christ; and our friendship will never be broken by any of that earthly nonsense. And in 2012, as I prepared for her departure, we had not one fight. All was love.

This is the present in which I live in Austin. I am apart from friends who are closer than family, for the first time in 6 and a half years. My spiritual guides are all far away. And yet my faith has been the unexpected foundation of my new life. At Servant Church, I have been instantly loved in this same way, as a blessed creation of God. My mentor told me I am “ripe for growth” and encouraged me to begin a journey that involves all this forgives stuff and other self-improvement measures to put me on the road to being a whole daughter of The Lord. And this church has been the cornerstone of my social life, which hasn’t been easy for me to build, given the one I left behind.

And They Still Say That Fish Is Expensive!
By Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, this painting (with its title) serves to remind me of how much I have and how much I owe. It is a sort of cross above my bed, reminding me more of Christ’s work than his sacrifice.

So that’s the story of my faith.  It’s a large part of my life, but it’s not necessarily a large part of my writing.  So I hope that those of you who do not share my beliefs will both accept this as a context of my postings and keep coming back for writing that makes a conscientious effort to be relatable to people coming from a variety of backgrounds.  And I hope you’ll bear with me for the occasional posting about faith-based issues.  Because these are a part of who I am.  And that’s what ManifAustin is all about.

Forgiveness (Pt. 1 of What Is Likely to Be Many)

One thing that has been on my mind quite a bit lately is the concept of forgiveness.  I have been thinking about it, talking about it, and testing it as a theory.  But I want to be doing it.  You see, I generally consider myself to be a forgiving person.  You commit an offense against me, you apologize, I forgive.  It’s done.  But how do you forgive someone whose offense is perpetual, who you know will hurt you again, or whose crime has repercussions in your life that may never be rectified?  How do I forgive acts that continue to have a negative effect on me?  This is a question that I cannot answer today, but that I will probably be working to answer for months to come.

There are many things in my life that I need to forgive, none of which I plan to share at this time, so you’ll have to bear with me through this discussion.  Recently, I met a woman named Periwinkle, a woman who already has had, and who is likely to have, an incalculable effect on my life.  She is part of my new church life, which I would like to talk about…later.  But the first time I met her, on Ash Wednesday, she said the words that launched this journey: “I don’t know why, I don’t know you, but I am feeling that there are some things you need to forgive.”  Periwinkle saw the bitterness to which I almost cling, and she prompted me to take this first step: to realize that I need to want to forgive.

There are things that have happened to me which I can’t even contemplate forgiving right now.  They are still happening to me, still keeping me from living my whole life and experiencing my world fully.  They are not necessarily grievous ills, but their echoes have, through the compounding effect of years, become as resonant to me as my own thoughts.  I do not want to forgive the people who have perpetrated these things.  But I do know now what I did not understand before: I want to be free from those echoes.

And the other night, I truly found direction along this path.  I found the ability to forgive, not a person, but a failing by that person.  That morning I had asked my therapist the question, “How do I forgive a person who has done so much and still continues to do so much that hurts me?”  And she told me not to forgive them all at once–to forgive the parts of that failing separately.  I had had a terrible weekend with my caregiving and with world events, and I was desperate.  Sitting on the floor, crying hysterically, sick with worry for the present and future, I reached out from a place of brokenness and offered a forgiveness I didn’t know I could manage.

I have realized since that night that I don’t believe that forgiveness always comes from a place of bounty or benevolence.  Because underneath my forgiveness was the realization that I could no longer carry my anger and my hurt at the person who had hurt me.  I couldn’t stand under that weight.  It was an unburdening, an opportunity to be free from my own pain, rather than being free from the person’s offense.  And I don’t know what that will look like.  But I know that I need that forgiveness too much to withhold it any longer.

I would like to propose that forgiveness is not actionary, but reactionary.  I am hoping that forgiving will mean that I place a lens between what the person I have forgiven does and how I respond to it.  Because of my faith, I do believe that God’s grace is a part of that.  But because of my biology, I think that there is a cognitive component to it.  I don’t think forgiveness will simply happen.  I think that I will have to choose, in every moment, to pass this person’s actions through that spiritual-rational lens and respond with grace and courtesy and love.

Today I resolve to forgive–not all at once and not by myself.  But I will do it all the same.  Because I cannot carry anger and darkness anymore.  I need to make room for love and for light.