Monday, October 20, 2008

Finding Myself

People tell me all the time that they love the message I have for my voicemail. It says something along the lines of, "Hey, you've reached Alyssa's cell phone; sorry I missed your call. I'm not sure where I am right now, but if you leave me a message, I'll call you back just as soon as I've found myself."

If my voicemail was telling the truth, I would never call anyone back.

I've always thought the concept of "finding oneself" was rather corny. Recently, however...I feel that's exactly what I have been doing.

I made a monumental decision a few weeks ago. I decided that I am not going to grad school, at least not for quite awhile. Why, you ask? Simple—I don't want to. I also decided that I don't want to go into a career in counseling/social work/etc—if I did, I would no longer be able to give that rather significant part of myself to my friends in the way that I would like to do.

These decisions opened an entire slew of possibilities I hadn't really considered as options for my future before. It's exciting. (It's also terrifying, but for the moment I think it's a good kind of terror.) But this blog isn't really about all of those possibilities. I'll save that for another time. No...this is about what those decisions meant in terms of my identity.

I wrote last month that I was going through something of an identity crisis. While I have come to the aforementioned realizations and so made some progress in solving that crisis, I'm not all the way home yet. I've realized in the past couple of months that I'm really not sure who I am. I have been wrestling with myself a lot lately. For years I've kept up this front of self-confidence, this not-so-subtly aggressive "don't mess with me or I'll kick your ass" attitude. It's served me well—it's allowed me to be the independent woman that I'm striving to be. There's just one problem. A lot of days, a front is all it is. Behind that mask, I'm often terrified—terrified of life, of people, even of myself. Very few people will ever see behind my mask (and I think very few ever need to), but some days, I just have to let someone in. That happened last night. I let a friend see farther behind the mask than anyone else has seen in a very,
long time. It was awful and painful and beautifully liberating all at once, and it reminded me why it's so necessary to have just one person around whom I can be totally comfortable, and totally myself (even if I'm not always sure who I am). It helps that this particular friend and I have a lot in common. It makes me wonder if God sends us such friends because they help us to see ourselves more clearly.

So, what are some of the things that I have been discovering (or, in some cases, rediscovering) about myself?
  • I love music. I love listening to music, I love playing music, I love writing speaks to, through, and from my soul in ways that nothing else can.

  • Bouncing off of that, I love to sing. I have the potential to have a decent voice, but I haven't used it. I'm trying to change that...even if I never get farther than my car.

  • I love spending time with people. Large groups of people still make me want to hide in a corner, but hanging out with a friend or two is quite possibly the best way to spend an evening. Even if it just means sitting together and doing homework, I love being able to spend quality time with people.

  • I also love being close to people. I love to cuddle. I've tried to tone that part of me down a lot in the past, which is fine around most people, but I can't just cut that off completely. (Extra happy points if closeness and quality time go hand in hand.)

  • I have a very low tolerance for liars, cowards, and anyone who goes back on his or her word. (Yes, this sometimes means I have a very low tolerance for myself. I'm working on that.) I just have a very low tolerance for people who won't be real. Say what you mean, not what you think I want to hear. Don't beat around the bush. For example, if you're quoting something or talking about something and in the process you need to write out some sort of four-letter-word that may or may not be a normal part of your vocabulary, just write the damn thing out. Turning it into a string of asterisks is not going to keep you or anyone else from thinking whatever the word is (yes, this is my pet peeve of the week...). A more common example: if you have something you want to tell me, tell me. Don't worry about insulting me. Just say what you have to say and be done with it.

  • In spite of the fact that I am and always will be a tomboy, I like being a girl. I like going out feeling sexy. I like turning heads. I have long neglected that part of me, and I plan to thoroughly indulge it now.

  • I'm a flirt. I don't want to lead anyone on, but I love to tease people. I've said for a long time that sarcasm is my love language. (Please note that there is a difference between being a flirt and stringing people along. There is also a very, very big difference between being a flirt and being a whore. I try to be very careful about this.)

  • I'm a fighter. This isn't a new discovery, but I wondered with everything else I was figuring out if this might go away. It's not. I'm rough around the edges, and I like it that way. I'm not unnecessarily violent, but I'm interested in learning how to effectively defend myself and others. It's something I already do instinctively; I want to know how to do it well.

  • I love writing. I haven't been keeping that skill up very well, but I want to get back into it. I miss it.

  • Sometimes, I like to swear. For now, that's just the way it's gonna be. I will be respectful and won't swear around those of you who are offended by it, but that doesn't mean I'm always going to censor myself.

  • If I feel like I am being forced to do something, even if it's something I usually love, I will not enjoy it. This is why I will never look at photography or writing as career options.

I'm sure the list will continue to grow. (Mom and Dad, since I'm sure you'll read this at some point, I hope I didn't shock, offend, mortify, or otherwise confuse or frustrate you too much.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

I like hugs.

Actually, I love hugs. I'm not talking about awkward little pat on the back hugs. I mean real hugs. The hugs that make you feel totally loved and protected. Most of my friends will say that I give good hugs. There are a few people who think I hug too tight (which, in all reality, is probably a fair statement), but for the most part, people like my hugs. That's fine with me—I like giving them. I feel the same way about backrubs. I don't get them very often, but I love giving them (and apparently I'm good at giving them . . . so good I've actually put people to sleep.)

In the past couple of months I have been realizing more and more how important touch is to me. I've known and readily acknowledged for a long time that touch is how I most easily express love or concern for someone, but it wasn't until recently that I realized just how much of the world I experience through touch. When I go clothes shopping, I'll reach out and touch things that look like they have an interesting texture, usually without realizing that I'm doing it. When I'm walking just about anywhere I unconsciously position myself in such a way that I can almost always be within arm's length of something (or someone, if I'm with a friend). I am just a very touch-oriented person.

As I've been realizing all of this, I've also been realizing that this particular aspect of my personality is sometimes part of what causes me to struggle in my relationship with God. The friends that I feel most comfortable with (there may be one exception) are the ones that understand my need to be . . . close. I like to cuddle. Again, I love hugs. Just being close to people I care about is really important to me. So when it comes to having a relationship with a God who I know is personal, but who nonetheless is not a tactile presence . . . that's difficult for me. I wouldn't go so far as to say that God is intangible . . . He's just not a physical presence, someone who's right there to give me a hug or a shoulder to cry on when I need one.

The strange thing about all of this is that it never used to be an issue. Once upon a time, way back in the days of junior high when life just plain sucked and there was literally no one else who knew that I wasn't ok . . . back then, I really did feel like God was there, holding me. I know that might sound strange to a lot of people, but that's the way it was. Now, here I am, 20 instead of 12, and I feel like I've taken a baby step or two forward, fallen flat on my back, and slid off to someplace totally removed from where I started or where I was supposed to end up.

I don't think I have any conclusions for this blog . . . I've just been thinking a lot, and I have a sneaking suspicion if I stick this up on the internet I'll get some sort of feedback from those of you who are older and wiser.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Longing for Something More

It's only Wednesday, but this has already been a long week. I worked 32 hours in four days, went to class, did homework, helped my roommates rearrange the apartment, starting requesting information from grad schools, had a minimal social life . . . add to all of that not sleeping enough, probably not eating enough, and definitely not praying enough, and you'll get the picture of how much (or little) energy I have right now.

On top of my busy schedule this week, I've also found myself experiencing something of an identity crisis. It started more or less in conjunction with me requesting info from grad schools. As I've been looking at these different programs at different schools, I've become incredibly overwhelmed. I realized today that less than 16 months from now, I'll be graduating with my B.A. That's terrifying. It means that two years from now, if everything goes according to plan, I'll be starting my first semester of grad school. But that's the problem—I don't really know what the plan is anymore. I've always assumed that I would go to grad school. It seems like the natural course of action for me. But is it really what I want? More importantly, is it really what God is calling me to?

This current identity crisis definitely follows the theme of the past year or so. It's just one more item on the list of things that have gone wrong. A year ago, I was just beginning another battle with depression that threw me way off my game for the entire school year. The summer wasn't much better—sure, I finally had a job and was starting to make money, but I had next to no human interaction outside of work, and most of my contact with people there happens over the phone. It was definitely a lonely, miserable summer. I was hoping that once I got back to school, back with friends, that things would start looking up. And yet here I sit, still frustrated, still unhappy, still trying to figure out exactly where things went wrong.

Maybe I'm just afraid that this is as good as it's going to get. I want more . . . I want life. I'm finding myself slipping a little more every day, slowly but surely losing a battle I'm losing the will to fight. And do you know what the worst part is? I know what went wrong . . . and it's entirely my fault.

I grew up going to church. I was raised in a strongly evangelical Christian environment. I was super involved in youth group—my senior year of high school I was at church (or church events) at least four nights a week. And then graduation rolled around . . . and I started to realize that I didn't feel at home at church anymore. I stopped going. I kept telling myself that I would have plenty of opportunities to find a church once I got to Northwestern, so it was ok to take a little time off; I was burned out. Only once I got to Northwestern, I didn't take those opportunities. I made almost no effort to get involved in a new church. I left high school feeling bitter and angry toward the church that practically raised me. I had seen too much of the ugly side of church to have any real desire to go back. At first I thought I could get by; after all, I spent time praying with friends, I was taking Bible classes, and I was still keeping up my one-on-one time with God. But then the homework hit, and life got busy, and I made a pretty rapid decline into apathy.

So here I sit, two-and-a-half weeks into my third year of college, still drifting, still frustrated. The spiritual apathy that started taking over two years ago has started working its way into other areas of my life. I haven't been as dedicated to studying as I used to be. I haven't tried very hard to take care of myself. I've even found myself caring about people less. Every day I see people that I know I should be reaching out to . . . someone who needs a hug, a little encouragement, even just a smile . . . and I do nothing. And I hate it. I hate not caring. I'm not supposed to be that person.

I want something more. I want to live. I've just forgotten how.

It's weeks like this that make me particularly thankful that God is so faithful. I will never understand how or why He's still putting up with me . . . but I'm glad He is.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

When Did This Happen?

Over the course of the past few months a realization has slowly been working its way into my brain. I managed to keep it at bay for quite a while, but I think it's time to face it . . . I'm growing up.

I don't really know how it happened. I suppose it's a result of a conglomeration of things . . . me asserting my independence more and more, turning twenty, getting a real job that actually pays a somewhat respectable salary, getting a new car that I'm actually paying off and plan to completely own by the time I graduate, passing the halfway point to getting my undergraduate degree, etc. I knew it was coming. I spent all of high school wanting this to happen. I've craved independence for years now. It's kind of exciting.

At the same time, I don't want to grow up. The thought of having full responsibility for my financial situation terrifies me. Responsibility in general is rather frightening. Knowing that I have to be out in the real world soon . . . yikes. Seriously. It finally started to hit me the other day that I only have three semesters left before I graduate with my B.A. in psychology. It's kind of bizarre.

Until recently, I was absolutely convinced that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Unfortunately, I've been thinking more and more about the future, and the more I think, the less certain I feel. I want to do so many things. I want to get my master's degree in social work, but I don't know if I really want to be a social worker. When I consider how angry I get when I deal with the kinds of situations I'd face in that line of work, I almost think I'd get myself into trouble. I love photography, but I've discovered that if I do it for someone else, it's just not that enjoyable anymore. I love to write, but I don't see myself turning that into a career, either.

Maybe I should just be a hermit.

Friday, May 2, 2008

True Religion

According to Webster, “religion” is:

The outward act or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a god or of gods having power over their destiny, to whom obedience, service, and honor are due; the feeling or expression of human love, fear, or awe of some superhuman and overruling power, whether by profession of belief, by observance of rites and ceremonies, or by the conduct of life; a system of faith and worship; a manifestation of piety.

In essence, according to Webster, religion is a profession of some sort of system of belief that may or may not have any real impact on a person’s life.

For several years now, I have referred to myself as “anti-religion.” I grew up seeing religion as something virtually meaningless. Religion, according to my own mental dictionary, was a hyper-conservative set of rules—rules that, if strictly adhered to, would make a person look “righteous” in the eyes of others. While I have almost always been unapologetic of my faith in Christ, I struggle to see myself as a “religious” person. I even own a t-shirt that boldly declares, “Jesus is not religion.”

In some ways, my antipathy toward religion has been influenced by the opinions of several of my non-Christian friends. It is difficult for me to say that they are wrong in bashing religion, because many of their criticisms of it are valid. They claim that religion is all show and that it means nothing, that there is nothing about religion that truly helps humanity other than its potential to make people feel good.

While my aversion to religion was heavily influenced by my non-Christian friends, the “anti-religion” attitude was widely accepted (even supported) by the church as well. In an effort to emphasize the role of grace in salvation and to avoid falling into formalism, the church ran to the opposite extreme, condemning all things “religious” as being Pharisaical and wrong. Religion was something to be avoided and was constantly set dichotomously against a relationship with God.

God has placed in my heart a desire to enter into the field of social work. I have a passion for women and teenage girls who have been in abusive situations. This passion initially was stirred in my heart after I realized that friends of mine who had grown up in the church, in “perfect Christian” families, were actually being raised in abusive environments. I was disgusted by the fact that churches seemed to be in complete ignorance (or denial) of any such situations happening within their communities. These churches could have been reaching out to these families torn apart by abuse, providing love, comfort, and practical care for them and truly operating as the body of Christ. Instead, they ignored (or denied) that there were problems, because problems would mar their “religious” appearance.

My antagonistic attitude toward religion was suiting me just fine until I was reading through James one day. One verse in particular, a verse that I had glossed over hundreds of times before, suddenly stuck out to me: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27, NIV) It stopped me cold. There it was, that term that I was repulsed by, telling me in my Bible that it was something different from everything that I had thought.

The principle behind this verse made me consider what practical implications it may hold for the field in which I have been called to serve. I started thinking, asking myself who else might be included in the same category as “orphans and widows.” In the patriarchal society of the New Testament, orphans and widows would have been the individuals who were essentially helpless—they had no one to care for them; they were the marginalized members of society. In modern American society, many other people fall into this same sort of category: single mothers struggling to make it from week to week and month to month, children whose parents are never there for them, the homeless, individuals recovering from addictions, and victims of abuse, to name a few. The “orphans and widows” of the world are the people that I desire to serve, and according to James, that is true religion.

This discovery brought with it a revelation—I am not, in fact, “anti-religion.” I am vehemently opposed to what the world sees as religion—the list of rules to be followed in order to achieve the end goal of personal bragging rights in “religious” circles instead of sharing Christ’s love with others. What I truly desire to do, not only in my career in but also in the rest of life, is to live out the religion that James describes: religion that is “pure and faultless” and that focuses first on others, and then on self.

So what does this revelation mean for me practically as I look ahead to my future in the field of social work? It means, first and foremost, that I should be viewing my career as an opportunity to truly live out what I believe every moment of every day. It also means that if I help anyone, that help cannot be about me looking like a good person but about giving glory to God. Aside from its message about religion in regards to the way others are to be treated, James does make it very clear that each individual must also be responsible for his- or herself: “and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This statement may have the most weight to it as I look ahead to my career—believing in the one and only “true religion” also means that I cannot allow myself to be dragged down by all of the spiritual darkness that I am bound to encounter. I am going to have the opportunity to be a light in that darkness, to bring hope to those who have been marginalized by the rest of the world. Unless I am willing to take a stand for “religion,” I cannot expect to truly make a difference in anyone’s life.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Falling Down

(If you're looking for the account of my trip to Tijuana, that can be found here.)

I don't like admitting defeat. Even when I know I'm wrong, even when I know that I've dug myself into a hole that's too deep to get out of, I hate giving up. But this week, I had to do just that. I had to look at myself and face the fact that this time, I failed.

This blog is not a place that I want to whine about my life. It is not a diary of my personal problems. This last week has been a continuation of what is apparently the lesson I'm supposed to be learning this year—how to be humble. It's been painful and frustrating and confusing and more emotional than I can really explain. In the midst of it all, though, I have had friends surrounding me, reminding me of the truth that I can preach to others (see this post) but struggle to take to heart for myself: the fact that I fail sometimes does not make me a failure. It makes me human. Saying that won't get me out of this particular hole that I've dug for myself, but it might help me find the motivation to start climbing.

We All Fall—Superchick

We all fall
We all let ourselves down
Sometimes there's nothing left but to live with what's been done
And know you're not the only one
Who falls

We all fail
We all let someone down
Sometimes there's thing left but to promise to ourselves
That next time we won't be the one
To fail

I want to tell you you can go on
That beginnings come from ends
I still believe in you
And so does God
He's the one who still believes in those who fail
He's the one who still believes in us who fall

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Happiness, Humility, and Hospital Visits

A couple of days ago I returned home from a week-long missions trip to Tijuana, Mexico at a ministry called La Roca. La Roca is very dear to my heart—I went on the same trip last year, and I fell in love with the place, the people, and the ministry itself. La Roca is a shelter of sorts for women and their children coming out of bad home (or homeless) situations. It offers the families a place to stay, feeding and clothing them, teaching the moms some jobs skills, giving the children a place to go to school for free, and most importantly, sharing the love of Christ with them. It is a ministry that I am passionate about, and I would love to be able to work there long-term someday.

When our team arrived at La Roca on the evening of March 6th, I was so happy I almost cried. I couldn't wait to reconnect with the friends I had made the year before and to start on our work project. The following morning we found out what that work project was—repainting the one-room kindergarten building at La Roca. We got to work right away scraping paint and priming the ceiling and the walls. Our team of 14 women and one very patient man was excited about this chance to be creative—we were given free-rein to design the room however we wanted. We decided on a Noah's Ark theme and started digging through coloring books for animals we could use for the walls.

That night, I went to bed around 10:30 feeling a little bit dehydrated. Shortly after midnight, I woke up, felt a little queasy, rolled over onto my back, and proceeded to vomit all over myself. I ran to the bathroom where I apparently spent the next two hours—I don't remember that much time passing. At some point during that time, one of my leaders knelt down beside me and said, "Look, Lyss, I know you're stubborn and you're not going to want to have to say this, but if you're going to need to go to the hospital, you have to tell me, because I can't make that decision for you." She was absolutely right—I am stubborn and I hate admitting that I need help. By that time, however, I had more or less reached my breaking point. I was losing a lot of water really fast, and I couldn't swallow without gagging, so I was getting incredibly dehydrated. I finally turned to my leader and told her that if I didn't stop throwing up in the next twenty minutes, we would have to go to the emergency room—I needed to get an IV if I hoped to get rehydrated.

I don't remember much of the trip to the hospital. I know that the road was bumpy, and that the guard at the border asked to see my face. Shortly after crossing the border into San Diego, we were at the emergency room. Several hours, some blood work, a CT scan, and one massive IV later, it was concluded that I had some sort of infection, but that it wasn't anything too serious. Once I got somewhat rehydrated, we left the hospital and headed back to La Roca, where I collapsed into bed and slept all but about two hours of the rest of the day.

The next day was Sunday. I felt significantly better when I woke up, but after walking down to breakfast, eating most of a pancake, and walking back to my room only to feel like I was going to crash again, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to spend the day with my team. The church everyone at La Roca was going to was 45 minutes away; the service was to be at least two hours long, and then they were planning to go to a park afterwards to have a picnic lunch and play soccer. I just didn't have the strength for a day like that. Andy, the incredibly patient leader who had taken me to the hospital, decided that she was going to stay with me so that I wouldn't spend the day alone. While it ended up being good for both of us (she needed the rest almost as much as I did), I felt terrible at the time. I felt like I was a burden to my team—a feeling that I loathed with every fiber of my being. In spite of that frustration, I knew that there wasn't much I could do about it, so I did my best to accept my temporary state of relative helplessness.

While Andy and I were alone at La Roca, I had to promise her that I would respect her decisions regarding what I could and could not do for the rest of the week as far as work was concerned. I promised that I would tell her if I needed to take a break, rather than being my usual stubborn self and just pushing through. It was not an easy promise to make. I love and respect Andy immensely, and I wanted to honor her as a leader, but I also wanted to keep believing that I could handle everything myself. I didn't want to admit that I needed help.

In the weeks before we left for Mexico, I was so excited to go back to La Roca. The week before the trip was one of the most anxiety-inducing weeks of my life. I was so ready to go down to Tijuana and be able to get my focus off of myself and just spend a week serving and caring for other people, and instead, within 36 hours of arriving, I was the one being served and cared for. The irony of it all was that just hours before I got sick I had shared my testimony with my team, deviating from what I was planning on saying to explain that God had been breaking me over the past couple of weeks, and that if any good came out of me being on the trip, it would be totally God, because I had nothing left to give—I needed to learn to let other people be there for me the way I loved to be there for them.

When the team returned from the park on Sunday, I had a sudden burst of energy. I ran upstairs, threw some regular clothes on, came back outside, and started playing with an adorable little four-year-old girl, picking her up and swinging her around. About ten minutes later, it started sinking in that I was feeling much better than I had been. I wasn't at 100% yet, but I was in a much better place than I was in when I woke up that morning.

Monday I was able to do some work painting and holding ladders for the girls who were painting the ceiling. I was doing well until about an hour before we stopped for the day—they needed people to haul rocks. It sounds crazy, but I wanted more than anything at that moment to be able to help. I knew that if I hadn't gotten sick, that would have been my job—that was what I did for most of the trip last year, and I had been waiting for the chance to do it again. Andy (wisely) wouldn't let me. At that point, my attitude was terrible. I knew that Satan was trying to turn a week that was hard but full of great (and necessary) lessons into something discouraging and negative . . . and it was working. I was determined not to let Satan ruin my week, however, so I did my best to give it over to God and to keep working where I could.

Tuesday was the day that we set aside to spoil the La Roca moms for a few hours. We had presents for each of them; we played games; we did their nails and hair . . . and we gave them backrubs. Some of the girls were doing laundry and cooking and cleaning while the rest of us worked on making the moms feel like princesses. They loved it. While there were some moments of frustration within the team, we were able to reach past that to make the day truly special for those women.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I was finally able to work again. I did everything from hauling bricks to bagging sand to doing detail painting on one of the animals on the wall. It felt wonderful to be able to work alongside my team again.

Leaving on Friday was hard. I had been able to have some great conversations with some of the moms and the kids while we were there, and I felt like I'd developed relationships with a lot of them. I didn't want to leave; several of the kids and moms told me to stay. I left clinging to the hope that I will go back someday . . . but it still hurt to say goodbye.

The night before we left, the question "if you could change one thing about the week, what would it be?" came up. Everyone was kind of laughing and joking that I'd say I wouldn't go to the hospital. The funny thing was . . . that wasn't what I would have changed. I needed to learn to be humble; sadly enough, that was what it took to bring me to my knees before God. He used the frustrations of the week to create something beautiful. I am still processing all of the changes that took place in my heart while I was in Tijuana. I am much more willing to let go of things. I'm finally starting to understand what it means to surrender everything to God and to be content wherever I am, in whatever circumstance—not complacent or apathetic, but content. It was a hard lesson, but it was so worth it. Because my ability to work was taken from me, forcing me to slow down, I was able to develop relationships with people that probably would not have occurred if I had been healthy. If I could have changed anything about the week, I wouldn't have made it easier.

I would have made it longer.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


That is the question I have been asking myself today.

Have you ever had one of those inexplicably lonely days, the days when you just can't shake that gnawing feeling that you're missing out on something, even though you have no good reason to feel that way? I had one of those days today. It was also the sort of day that had me frustrated with someone even though I know that I shouldn't be, because I know that the person I've been frustrated with didn't mean any harm, but I was still feeling hurt, and that just added to the general loneliness of the day.

And now that it's almost 2 o'clock in the morning, I find myself asking, "Why?" Why on earth am I feeling like this right now? Part of me wants to just blame it on the fact that I'm on a rather powerful prescription medication for the duration of the weekend—the sort of thing that tends to make one crabby. However, after living with myself for almost 20 years, I generally know when I'm looking for a cop-out.

I guess I've come to the conclusion that I hate feeling needy, and therefore when I do feel like I just need a friend to be there for awhile, I try to ignore the feeling, and then I end up being all hurt and emo when no one else notices that I'm down. I'm afraid of being a leech. I'm afraid of taking away someone else's time, energy . . . maybe even love. I've been leeched off of so much in the past that I tend to push myself to the other extreme, to the point that I won't ask for help when I need it, which generally means getting myself into a funk that I will almost inevitably be stuck in for a week or two, and that could have been avoided had I gotten over myself and just asked someone for a hug or something when the whole darn thing started. (I don't think I've ever written a blog with so many ridiculously long sentences.)

Perhaps the question I should be asking right now is, "Why on earth am I so darn stubborn?"

(I apologize for the overwhelming vagueness and general lack of content in this post.)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Misplaced Sorrow?

I have been rather astounded this week and how attached I can become to certain inanimate objects.

My car died this week. The power steering is, for all practical purposes, gone. It is technically fixable, but my family doesn't really want to put that much more money into a minivan with almost 140,000 miles on it.

Those of you who know me well can probably guess that I was pretty devastated when it happened. I love that car. It's an 1998 Ford Windstar Limited . . . a pretty nice looking minivan (though it only has one back door . . . a characteristic that made my car exceedingly ghetto in the eyes of the kids I nannied last summer). It's the car I've driven since I got my permit. I've driven very few other cars . . . I've avoided it as much as possible. The Beast, as I've affectionately called it for years now (Becky the Beast, actually), has a character all its own. There's a short in both turn signals that occasionally causes them to buzz before actually turning on. The engine was pretty powerful for a minivan, and because of its rather advanced age, it absolutely roars when accelerating even a little bit. There are a few scuffs on some of the corners (learning experiences that, thankfully, haven't been repeated), and there's rust around one of the rear wheel-wells and under the gas cap, and there are two holes in the back bumper (recent installments . . . the result of me getting rear-ended just after school started).

I know just about every dent in the car. I can tell you where about half of them came from. I can tell you that the car pulls to the left no matter how many times the tires are realigned. I can tell you that on a good day, until the power steering went out, the car could handle going 80 down the freeway without any trouble. The fastest I ever got the car to go was 90 . . . I slowed down when I smelled something burning, and never saw any other negative results of that 5-second rush. :)

I just loved driving the Beast. I'd go get myself lost out in the middle of nowhere and just drive, perfectly content.

My car's been with me to hell and back. It's always been my place of safety . . . whenever I've needed to get away from everything, whenever I've just needed somewhere to be alone to think or pray or cry, I've hidden in my car. Thinking back on how many accidents I've probably narrowly avoided (the whole driving and crying thing doesn't work very well), I'm beginning to think that the Beast has been my inanimate guardian angel for the past few years.

I had to say goodbye to the Beast this afternoon.

I cried.

The whole time I kept trying to tell myself that it was just a car . . . that I shouldn't be so upset. After all, God has been faithful and has provided a "new" minivan (new being very relative . . . this one has just over 117k miles on it), so I still have a car that I can feel comfortable driving. And yet . . . part of me still feels like I lost a close friend today.

And it's making me wonder how my life would be different if I cared about the fate of people as much as I cared about my car.

I mean, really . . . we're donating the Beast to Courage Center (since it will be perfectly drivable once the power steering is replaced), so it's not really dying. I'm just not going to be able to see it anymore. But I have friends who are spiritually dead . . . friends who, if they died tomorrow, I would lose for all eternity. However . . . I can't remember the last time that made me cry.

I'm thinking there's something wrong with this picture.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thinking about the Future

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately . . . particularly about the semester after I graduate from Northwestern. I'm graduating a semester early, so the plan has been me working for that spring semester and then going off to grad school the next fall. At least . . . that's been the plan until recently.

Last spring break I went on a missions trip to Tijuana, Mexico. We worked at a mission called La Roca . . . it's basically a shelter for battered women and their children, a place where they can stay as long as they're willing to earn their keep helping with chores and such, where the children can go to school, where they can learn skills to help them make it on their own when they decide to leave, and most importantly, where their souls can be fed. In the week or so that I was there, I absolutely fell in love with the place. The ministry is one that is very dear to my heart—it shares my passion for battered women. While I was there, I felt for the first time in my life that I could possibly live and work quite happily outside of the country . . . or even outside of the Twin Cities.

That feeling hasn't left me in the almost 11 months since I returned from that trip. I could probably count on one hand how many days have gone by since then that I haven't thought about Mexico. Now, I'm gearing up to go back in less than 6 weeks for another spring break missions trip to the same location . . . and I've made a decision that could mean me taking the greatest step of faith of my life so far. When I go back to Tijuana, I'm going to ask the director of La Roca about the possibility of working there for the 6 months or so between graduation and grad school.

Even as I'm writing this, the idea sort of startles me. I've thought about the possibility off and on since I was there last, but not until the last couple of weeks has it seemed real to me. Never in my life had I considered going into missions, even short term. I simply didn't see that as my future. Even now, going to a Bible college, I'm not majoring or even minoring in missions. All that I know of missions is what I have seen and heard from friends and family who have served/are serving around the world. I cannot see myself as a missionary.

However . . . I can see myself working and serving others in another country, at least short term. I suppose they're really the same thing, but me being a missionary is just . . . such a foreign concept. I can love people, I can serve people, I can help people . . . but win people to Christ? I'm tempted to laugh out loud at the thought. I know very well how wretched of a sinner I am. I don't need a fire and brimstone sermon to convince me of that. I fail in so many ways every single day of my walk with God. Half the time I don't even really know what I believe beyond the very basics of Christianity, but I do know that I do NOT believe in shoving my beliefs down anyone's throat. I can engage someone in a philosophical and theological debate, but unless I feel a clear nudge from God, I won't push such a debate into a "you're going to hell unless you believe in Christ as your Savior" conversation.

It's ridiculous that such an image comes to my mind when I think of myself being a missionary. None of the missionaries I have ever had the privilege of knowing come across that way. Unfortunately, that seems to be the general impression that the rest of the world has of Christianity, and because of certain encounters that I've had with other "Christians," I'm afraid I often find myself agreeing with that impression.

Maybe that's why I feel like God might be calling me into . . . well, a missionary role of sorts. Maybe He's calling me because I could use the proof that even someone as confused and sinful (and often stupid) as I am can be used by Him.

The idea of going into missions (at least short term . . . after grad school, God alone knows what I'll be doing) scares me. A lot. But not nearly as much as I would have expected it to. I know that I can't possibly do it on my own . . . but if God is working in and through me, the possibilities are virtually endless. So whether I wind up in Mexico, somewhere else in Latin America, or on the other side of the globe . . . I think it's going to be ok. Challenging, yes . . . uncomfortable, yes . . . but good. Because no matter what happens, God will still be good, and He will still be God . . . so what in the world am I worrying about?