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.

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I Love You. Yes, You.

I am saying “I love you” all the freaking time now.  And I am meaning it, and I am loving it.  This is not exactly something new, but it is something that has definitely grown since I came to Austin.  And this is a journey of understanding what it means to love, possibly beginning from college (everything goes back to college…I would say that I grew up there and made my first true home there, but my mother would burst into tears upon reading this [and not unfairly–it maligns the hard work of my loving family, but it also captures the sense that I was ill-at-ease in every environment–except NYC–until I went to Rice]).  But, as it turns out, everything up to Superstorm Sandy was just exposition.

Jocie and I watched The Day After Tomorrow the night that the storm hit the Northeast.  Because we’re bitches.  No, it was actually because we didn’t take the storm seriously (we lived in Houston, where there are real hurricanes).  And neither, it seems, did much of the area devastated by Sandy…not until it was too late.  It hurt my heart to see my beloved dream, that Land of My Great Future, buried.  I felt bad for my flippant attitude.  But then I saw something that made me feel ashamed.

It was a news story about a second grade class that had written letters as part of “NOLA to New York”, an effort best captured here: http://sandykatrina.tumblr.com/about/press.  A teacher in New Orleans had assigned his students the task of writing letters to go to those affected by Sandy.  The students had written notes of encouragement, messages to let victims know that they were not alone.  And the message that came from NOLA was clear: “We survived what many said was the end of our city.  We have known your pain.  And we support you as you face this devastation”.  But the message that came from this particular class went one step further.  Most of the students had written some form of “I love you.”

“I love you.”  It is such a profound thing, such an important thing, such an abused thing.  It is used to express so many feelings, ranging from enthusiasm over bacon to the promise that seals a marriage.  I have always taken issue with this, believing that not all things are worthy of the term.  Even now, I wish that there were more ways to express how I feel about Lawless or mixed prints or other fans at a Lady Gaga concert.  But my perspective has shifted somewhat.

Children love easily, and they love everybody.  Their love is innocent, unaffected, and undifferentiated.  My friend’s children love me because it’s Christmas.  I loved every teacher I had growing up.  The children in this story love the victims of Superstorm Sandy.

I love deeply but mistrustfully.  I love jealously and sometimes on merit.  I never withdraw my love, but sometimes I let it turn to anger or even bitterness.  But seeing that image opened my heart a little bit.  I immediately wondered why I withhold the term, “I love you”, trying to increase its value by using it sparingly.  Why do I let my love be spoiled by the actions of other people?  Is this right?  Why can’t I love people openly?

Jesus teaches us two things that have really helped shape me here: that we are to love one another and that we are to mold our faith after children.  We are God’s children, and our love should be distributed with a childlike generosity.  God gives us so much love, and all that he asks is that we return it and that we push it to other devices.  Humanity should be a network of love.  Ugh, I sound like a hippie.  No.  I sound like a Christian!  There are people in this world who love me because God loves me.  Why on earth do I think that my love is worth more than theirs?

At Servant Church, here in Austin, this lesson was delivered to me firsthand, in a way that filled me up so fully.  There were people around me who said “I love you” the day that I met them.  And they truly meant it.  And I could say it back and truly mean it.  Because I felt poured into by the Lord and able to pour out from my own heart.  And, faith aside, I felt a kinship with them that applies to all humanity.  You are the same stuff as me, dear Reader.  Wherever that stuff comes from, or whatever you think it is, I love you.  I love you because you are here, because you have seen and understood my effort to connect.  I love you because God loves you, and because I believe that there is something in you that is valuable.  I love you because you are like me: you struggle, and you win, and you lose, and you delight, and you suffer, and you are born, and you are reborn many times over, and you die.  You fear and love and hurt and laugh and play and cry and long.  I love you.

Do I love you the same way that I love my family or my friends, or the way I will one day love my husband?  Absolutely not.  My family raised me, and I love them with a gratitude for things that can never be repaid.  My friends have supported me and cherished me and made me happy, and I love them from a depth that cannot be expressed by words.  And, when I one day (hopefully) make that promise in matrimony, I expect I’ll be in love, which is, as they say, a whole different ballgame.  But I probably love you more than Jessica Chastain.  Or Slurpees.  Maybe even more than Harry Potter.  But possibly not more than my iPhone.

The point is that it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t have to be categorized or assigned value or assessed.  Love is without definition or explanation or bounds.  And it comes from a place that I don’t understand.  But I accept it so often, and I’m ready to start giving it–not back, but out.  I have more than enough to share.

So I resolve to mean it when I say it, and to say it to everyone: “I love you.”

nola to ny

One of the letters written by a 4th grader in New Orleans

Forgiveness (Pt. 2)

In my last post, I explored forgiveness as an act of desperation–an unburdening.

But is this the only way to choose forgiveness? My recent trip to NYC has offered me an another option, one that is kinder (and perhaps more fulfilling) than forgiving from a place of emptiness. Can I instead forgive from a place of fulfillment? Is this a stronger act of grace? How do I work through moments that require forgiveness even as I come down off of the cloud of joy that brought me to this decision?

Prior to this period in my life, I have only struggled with forgiveness once. Someone hurt me deeply and profoundly, and that pain was an active, destructive force in my life for months. But they apologized, and I said, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!” to forgiving them. It came from a place of need, but not need for myself. I needed that person in my life. But, in addition, I also felt a deep relief hearing an explanation and knowing that I could offer absolution and thus erase the last few months.

Unfortunately, it seems the act of forgiveness couldn’t erase those months. And it was nearly half a year before I realized that I was not dispensing that forgiveness which I had prescribed so freely. In fact, I was holding the sins of that person against them–I couldn’t trust them not to hurt me again. As time went on and the fact that I was struggling to repair that relationship became more apparent, I had to wonder if I had ever forgiven in the first place.

Our relationship progressed thus for a time, and I can’t say now when exactly I forgave. We had to rebuild the friendship from that day of apology. There was no atonement, no restitution. But there was a moment (one I couldn’t name) when I realized that we were not only close again, but that our friendship was so much more healthy, satisfying, and rich than it had been before. It took over a year, and I’ve no idea now how it happened; but I can look back and say with confidence that once the affection replaced the pain, I had truly forgiven.

So what does this have to do with my New York trip? You, dear reader, can’t begin to understand what that weekend meant to me. I was truly smothered, not only by love, but by an understanding that I’m not sure I even knew my friends had. I mean, I’ve always known that my friends understand me, but I don’t think I could’ve expected that it ran this deep. Everything we did, every activity they planned, was exactly tailored to my interests and passions. Every consideration had been taken for my enjoyment and my happiness, and they got it right each time. My friends demonstrated that they understand me as well as I understand myself.

I would like at this point to reiterate that my need to forgive does not stem from an unusual number of trespasses done me, but rather from an inability to let it go when people fail to meet my (too-high) expectations. That said, one of the things that needs to be forgiven is that someone in my life can’t seem to understand me. I feel like I have told this person who and what I am countless times, but she still doesn’t seem to get it. Every time I am miscalculated or judged by her, I feel it deeply as a failure to comprehend my character–even as a failure to know me at all. How could someone not understand me? I am wildly transparent, impossibly candid, prone to oversharing, and fastidious about analyzing myself. So I feel slighted by such failure because I see it as a failure to listen, to hear, to notice, to comprehend, or to take me seriously.

But here’s the thing: why do I need this one person to know me, see me, understand me (and, by the way, I know that this person loves me a lot)? There are no fewer than six people in my life who know me, understand me, care for me, and love me in spite of all of it. And three of those people spent an entire weekend proving that to me. Any which way you slice the pie, six is more than one. And so what is it that I need here, if I have the love and acceptance of those people? It’s possible that I need nothing, that I can be satisfied with that love and acceptance. It’s possible that I can forgive from a full place as well as from an empty one.

Once again, I can only meet each test as it comes. So far, it’s been easy enough, in a moment of vexation, to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and think of my perfect birthday celebration. But I have not been truly tested yet, in an incident that goes beyond vexation, when my blood is boiling and my emotions take over. And I’m still working at it. Already my life has improved so much with these two forgiveness-es. In one instance I can close my eyes and choose not to carry pain. In another, I can close my eyes and push out the pain with love.

So today I resolve again to forgive–from a place of joy and fullness. Because the darkness cannot overcome the light. So I will not let my memory of the light fade. As long as I carry it with me, the darkness cannot come in.

{Note: If you are wondering if one of these persons is you, it is not.  Anyone referenced here knows who they are.  This is not Passive Aggressive Notes.  This is a record of events that have already been addressed with the relevant parties.  Regards, &c.}

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.