Only the lonely…

I know it’s been a while. I know I said in my last post I might be bidding this little blog farewell. But, life never turns out like we think it will, and because I find myself in desperate need of a place to vent, here I am.

I know my problems are small, in comparison to what is currently going on in the world. Ebola. ISIS. Wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes. Droughts. Fires. So much is happening, and in the grand scheme of things, my struggles mean very little.

But however small and insignificant my struggles really are, they’re still my struggles, and, as is so often the case in my life, I find myself with no one nearby to turn to. I’m super busy these days, going to school full-time, working part-time, all in a new city, at a new school, and in a completely new environment. I knew this transition to a four-year university would be a challenge, so I’m not surprised at how tough things have been for me so far, but although there are certain aspects of my new life I’m enjoying, overall I’m not nearly as happy and excited about my new situation as I hoped to be.

The main reason for this is how utterly lonely I feel. Even though I’m surrounded by students at school and live with three roommates, I have no real friends here yet. No one I feel I can really relate to or connect with. I have had moments where I’ve simply had to go for a drive in my car to get a good cry in, to let out all the pent-up emotions I’m feeling, because I have nowhere else to go. I know not having any real friends yet is partially my own fault, due to not venturing more to places like churches, but my overwhelming work-load, crazy schedule, and continuing distrust of churches in general have discouraged and hindered me from venturing out more.

But it’s more than that. I’m realizing, much to my own dismay, how the last several years of incredible pain and isolation have affected me. And though I’m attempting to become a more “normal” person, create a new life for myself, and leave the past behind, such a transition is far easier said than done. For better or worse, as I think I mentioned in my last post, I will be affected by some of my wounds for the rest of my life. And I’m just going to have to get used to the fact that not everyone will understand, that many will judge me wrongly, and that I simply will never be a completely “normal” person (if there is even such a thing) and learn to accept that about myself, whether others do or not.

This process of realization and acceptance is hard, though. And at the moment I’m not handling it too well. Especially when one’s environment is not very accepting and one feels the disconnection and alienation keenly. I’m a woman in my mid-thirties going to a university where I’m surrounded by teenagers to young twenty-somethings, I’m a middle-class, non-preppy person surrounded by mostly upper-class, preppy people, and I live with three young woman in their early-twenties whom, except for our Christian faith, I have very little in common with. (You’d think our faith would draw us together, but to be honest, it’s more of a peripheral issue, and I don’t connect well with other Christian women when I can’t connect with them on a deeper, spiritual level.) I just feel so disconnected, lost and alone. I thought I would at least have a “safe” environment in my living situation, since my roommates are Christians, but I’m definitely the odd one out, not just because of my age, but also because of my personality I suppose, which has not meshed well so far with the other girls. Oh, they’re sweet most of the time, and try to include me in things, but it’s the remarks I get sometimes, the looks, the insensitive laughter and poking fun, the immature reactions and behavior, that drive me up the wall. I simply have no one, either at my current home, or elsewhere, to turn to, to talk to, to vent to. I feel absolutely and utterly alone.

And that is not a good feeling. So here I am. Hello again, little blog. Much in my life has changed, but some things, it seems, never change.

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A different perspective…& thoughts on church

So, no more self-pitying today. Despite my last post, in which a flood of emotions just spilled over onto the written page, I am not in the throes of despair merely because I’m single. I keep telling myself I’ll be more positive on this blog, but as is often the case, this place just ends up being my dumping ground. Sometimes all it takes is a day or two for some perspective to take hold of my wayward emotions, and then I realize how silly those emotions really are.

I’ve told myself if I am to remain single I do not want to be the cranky, bitter, self-pitying old maid that no one wants to be around. I have an aunt who is close to 50 and still single, and though I love her to pieces, I’ve often wondered if her crankiness is part of the reason she’s not married. Whether I ever marry or not, I do not want to be that sort of person. Nor do I want to be angry and bitter. Marriage is not a right or guarantee, and though I desire it strongly some day, to demand it from God is unreasonable. It may be very likely I’ll never marry–and I must come to terms with that. But to hold it against God if He never grants me this desire is selfish and silly. He has given me many other blessings in my life, such as the ability to pursue an education, and I confess getting my degree is the one thing I look forward to most right now. It is probably the one thing keeping me going right now. Like the marathon I trained for a few years ago, I know all the pain and effort I’m putting into pursuing this degree will one day pay off and bring great reward and satisfaction once I cross the finish line. And, God-willing, it will open up many doors of opportunity as far as a career is concerned. Doors that are currently shut to me.

So, no, no more self-pity on the singleness front. At least not today. Maybe my “time” is running out as far as marriage is concerned, but even if it is, I certainly don’t want to waste whatever time I have left on this earth bemoaning the fact that I’m not married instead of doing something positive with my life. I have to keep reminding myself of some of my “heroines” of the faith–Amy Carmichael, Corrie Ten Boom, and Gladys Aylward, for example–all single women who made a tremendous impact with their lives. Singleness is not a curse–often it can be a tremendous blessing. And when I stop and really think about it, there are definitely some aspects of singleness I enjoy very, very much. I don’t think I’ll ever stop desiring marriage, and I won’t stop praying for it, but I must learn to appreciate my freedom and independence more, while I’ve still got it.

So as far as singleness goes, that is my pep talk to myself for the day. However, certainly I’m still dealing with many other painful and discouraging issues in my life right now. And today as I drove home from church, I felt like crying again, because those feelings of being unseen and unknown somehow get highlighted the most when I go to church. The truth is, I’m about fed up with church. I’m tempted to give up on it altogether. I’m just so disillusioned with the emptiness of it. I went to the Christmas party for my singles group a couple weeks ago, and yes, everyone was lovely, and I had a decent time, but is it wrong of me to want more than sitting around eating, making pointless small talk and playing silly games? The pastor talked again today about the church being a family, and he even specifically addressed those of us who still feel like we’re on the fringes and trying to remedy that, but somehow his words only felt hollow to me. Especially when during the service he urged us to get into groups and pray for each other, and though I had plenty of people around me, only one young woman, sitting closest to me, actually prayed with me. Everyone else nearby had already formed their own little groups, or gone off elsewhere to seek another group. And the young woman who prayed with me looked rather reluctant to do so. I wondered if I had spiritual “cooties” or something? Sometimes forcing “togetherness,” instead of drawing those of us on the fringes in, only tends to highlight the fact that some of us are on the fringes. Which is awkward, to say the least.

I’m just sick of this charade called “church.” Occasionally I’ll get something out of it, and I suppose I’m better off getting a tiny bit of spiritual nourishment rather than none, but overall, if I come away from church crying and feeling empty inside rather than feeling uplifted, encouraged and/or convicted, then something’s wrong.

I feel like I’m dying spiritually right now, but I no longer know where to turn to find the life and help I’m seeking. Even the one friend who’s stuck with me through thick and thin over the last couple years no longer provides the spiritual and emotional support she once did. She’s into some weird charismatic stuff I don’t ascribe to, and when I do try to share some of my burdens with her, she seems to barely listen and always seems far more interested in talking about her own affairs. She says she prays for me, and I believe her, and am grateful for that at least, but I no longer feel our friendship is the life-giving, mutual relationship it once was. So I’m understandably frustrated and disappointed. I feel like I have nowhere to turn.

I’m trying to keep my chin up. I’m trying to press on. I’m trying to believe that somewhere, somehow, I’ll find the fellowship, the friendships, and the spiritual family I long for. But the honest truth is that with each passing day I grow more and more disillusioned with this thing called church. I haven’t lost my faith, but even that is on some wobbly ground right now. I don’t know where God is in all of this. I know He’s out there, somewhere, and every once in a while I think I hear His voice, but more and more it feels like He’s led me into a vast wilderness and simply abandoned me here.

But enough of my woefulness. This too shall pass. It must. Some way, somehow.

On singleness, cops, crying in cars & trusting God

Yesterday was a weird day. A day that ended with me sitting in my car crying and having a cute cop pull up beside me, make me roll down my window, ask me if I was ok and offer to help me.

I know I posted my “bucket list” the other day and declared I would hold onto hope for better days and dreams coming true, but sometimes it’s still hard to believe for good things when so much pain, fear and disillusionment stare one in the face. I’ve been struggling over the last few days, even though Christmas itself was filled with family, friends, good food and a good time. This past evening things just seemed to spill over after I spent what was actually an enjoyable time with a sister and a cousin at the movies, watching the second installment of the “Hobbit” trilogy. (I still can’t quite get over the fact that Peter Jackson made three movies out of a very short children’s book…although, as a Tolkien fan, I’m not complaining.)

While we waited for the movie to start, my cousin and I spent some time chatting and catching up, since we don’t see each other very often, and as is usually the case, our conversation turned to our status as single women. She and I are eight days apart, in our thirties, and still, regrettably, unmarried. She related to me how her brother made some insensitive remarks to her on Christmas day, regarding her singleness, basically telling her she was “running out of time,” and not likely to ever get married if she didn’t get her act together soon. My heart went out to her, and as much as I love her brother, if he’d been present, I’d have been tempted to smack him. Anyway, she then went on to lament her single status and wonder why only older men and creepy guys seem to ask her out. I told her I seemed to have the same problem (and occasionally guys that are way too young), and that she certainly wasn’t alone in her feelings of “What’s wrong with me? and why do other people seem to have no problem getting married?” It’s especially demoralizing when those much younger than you–like those you used to babysit as children–are now getting married and having children. I felt that acutely just the other day when I noticed on Facebook the engagement of a young man eleven years my junior that I used to think of as a little brother. Ouch. I couldn’t help but turn my gaze heavenward and say, Ok, God, when’s it my turn?

Strangely enough, however, as my cousin continued to lament her singleness, and even as I commiserated with her, I tried to encourage her as well, especially when she told me she often felt angry at God over her singleness and was afraid she’d be single for the rest of her life. I told her to trust God, no matter what. To leave it in His hands. And, somehow, for her at least, I meant those words. I believed those words. And I genuinely want to see her happy and blessed with a husband. But, as I drove home, I couldn’t believe those words for myself. I’m not angry at God over my singleness like my cousin. But I am discouraged. And in a place of unwilling resignation over the fact that I may never get married. When I was younger, I had hope. But as I get older, that hope is quickly dwindling, as I realize the sad fact that men typically age better than women, and unless you’re the exception and one hot cougar, most men won’t look twice at an older woman. (If someone would like to contradict me on this assessment, I’d be happy to hear it. I’m just stating what I observe.)

So, as cruel and insensitive as my cousin’s words to his sister were, I concede there’s some truth to them. Even my other cousin, his sister, conceded that. And that’s why the words hurt so much. As women in our thirties, my cousin and I are definitely, in some ways, “running out of time.” Does that mean God can’t do the miraculous? I hope not. But, yes, a miracle is probably what it would take. Especially for someone in my situation. I actually have more hope for my cousin than myself because not only am I a woman of a certain age, but I feel led to a very specific calling in my life, one that most men wouldn’t want–or at least, all the men I’ve met so far don’t want. And it’s not something I’m willing to compromise on. As much as I want to get married, I know I wouldn’t be happy married to someone who didn’t share a similar calling/career.

So, I’m having to face the fact that, aside from divine intervention, I might very well never get married. And this thought, stirred up after my conversation with my cousin, as well as thoughts about my other current struggles, disappointments, and afflictions, eventually led to my sitting in my car in front of my house, pouring out frustrated tears to a God Who seems absolutely remote right now, and then having a cop pull up beside me, rap on my window, and shine a flashlight in my face. I looked up to see a young cop staring at me, and at his command, I rolled down my window. I couldn’t disguise the fact that I’d been crying, so he immediately asked if I was ok, and when I mumbled a “sort of,” he then proceeded to insist on helping me in some way. I expressed appreciation at this offer, but told him I lived at the house I was parked in front of, would be fine, and would be going inside momentarily. Thankfully, that seemed to assure him enough, and he left me after that. But, understandably, I was slightly embarrassed about the whole situation. It was certainly a first for me. (And it made me wonder why a cop was patrolling our street late at night.)

It also made me ponder the sad fact that most often the tears I shed are either completely unseen or seen by complete strangers. And that seems to be the story of my life. Unseen. Most of my pain and suffering have been completely hidden from those around me. And, ironically, that was one of the things I was railing against God about in my car. The fact that I’m so tired of feeling alone and unseen. Even though I have a big family and a few good friends who care about me, I just feel like I’m always floating on the fringes. That no one truly knows me. That no one has any idea of what I’m truly going through. Perhaps that’s one reason I desire marriage so much. Because if I felt truly seen and known by even one person, it would mean so much to me.

I’m trying to hold onto hope. To believe that maybe my circumstances will eventually change. To believe that God answers prayers and that some of my dreams will come true. To believe that the scary things I’m facing may not be as bad as I think they’ll be.

But sometimes I can’t help but shed frightened, frustrated tears. Because while it may be easy to tell others to simply “trust God,” trusting God myself is often the hardest thing to do.

Sad

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Google Images

I’m not sure why, but tonight a wave of sadness so overwhelmed me, that directly after dinner I put my pajamas on and crawled into bed. And, as I did so, tears began to trickle down my cheeks. Maybe it’s partly PMS. Maybe it was my grandmother’s snappy attitude toward me when I walked into the house earlier this evening.  Actually, I do know that had something to do with it. But I’d been feeling inexplicably blue all day, and after encountering her bad mood, I just wanted to disappear.

I only dozed off for a little bit, and then I finally sat up in bed to force myself to work on a paper for school. As I sat there, I sort of listened to a sermon being preached in the background on the radio, and when the preacher talked about the Body of Christ being a place to find healing and accountability for our brokenness, tears once more cascaded down my cheeks. Oh, if only, I said to myself, or God, out loud. If only that were true in my experience.

I’m not in a good place right now spiritually. Disappointment and disillusionment, with church, with myself, and–dare I say–even God at times, have hardened a once soft heart. I’m grieved over this, but I also don’t exactly know what to do about it. My counselor has been visibly frustrated with me lately, because, for the last few months I’ve found myself stumbling backwards. You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t try, she told me. You have to keep trying. No matter how many times you fail, you have to keep trying.

So, I’ll keep trying. I’m going to a Christmas party tomorrow evening, for the singles group at the charismatic church I’ve been attending, not really because I want to, but because I feel like I have to. I’m also hoping to join a women’s group at another church I’ve been attending. (Yes, I go to two churches now.) I’m seeking fellowship. I’m trying to put myself out there. And yet, my experiences so far have been so damn frustrating, that I don’t have very high expectations anymore.

It’s the seemingly never-ending source of frustration for me: finding meaningful relationships and accountability within the Body of Christ. I’ll keep trying, like I said. But sometimes I’m flat-out exhausted from trying. From dealing with disappointment after disappointment. So when preachers, or anyone else, claim the Body of Christ is where we’re meant to find healing and accountability, I just break down and sob. Because, apart from a few short-lived experiences in my life, that has not been the case for me. The Body of Christ is where I’ve been hurt the most, disappointed the most, rejected the most. And it shouldn’t be any wonder I have such a difficult time trusting and connecting with other Christians. Of course I blame myself. And then that just heaps more guilt and shame on top of the burdens I’m already carrying.

I am a broken, broken person. I have no problem admitting that. But I’m sick and tired of trying to make myself whole. All alone. I am too weak to keep carrying these burdens alone. While I’m definitely grateful for the few Christian friends I have, none are the sort I can just casually meet up with, or pray with, when I’m going through a rough time. Most live too far away for one thing. And so far I’ve been unable to really connect with anyone at either church I’m attending. (Unless you count going to lunch with a guy and then practically being stalked by him as “connecting.”)

So maybe my sadness today really does have a source. Maybe I’m just so weary of living in this place of brokenness and having so few people–if any–to turn to for support. Maybe I’m tired of hearing “healing only happens in community” when that community has been so hurtful and/or elusive for me. Maybe I’m tired of hearing God is enough, when He hasn’t been enough for me, and I feel incredibly guilty that I even think that. Maybe I hate the person I’ve become…indifferent, selfish, spiritually cold and cynical. Maybe, even though I’m disappointed with God, I still miss Him. Maybe all I want is to believe again all the nice, warm and fuzzy things about God that I used to believe. Maybe I’m so disillusioned with church–at least the way it’s done in America–that I feel like throwing in the towel and giving it up altogether. Maybe I just need to get out of this narcissistic, materialistic, self-centered culture I live in and go live with and serve those who have nothing–to remind myself of what truly matters.

But for now, I still feel like crying.

The ache intensifies…

I am more confused and frustrated than ever.

I have tried to seek out answers to some of my theological questions and doubts recently. In doing so, I came across a good apologetics website, that had a bunch of teaching videos on theological issues, so I watched a few. They were pretty good and got me really thinking. But a remark in one video struck me with particular force, considering my struggles lately. The guy teaching mentioned that having a “personal relationship with Jesus” is actually not Biblical. It is more of a “westernized” phrase. The guy pointed out how a lot of cultural assumptions influence our theology. And here in the US, and other western nations, we have very individualistic societies, as opposed to the collectivistic societies of Bible times and other modern-day nations like China. So, during the early church, for example, having a “personal” relationship with Jesus was a completely foreign concept. Knowing and following Jesus was a communal thing. Which makes perfect sense when you read the book of Acts.

Of course, that’s not to say none of us are to endeavor to know and follow Christ individually–there are plenty of examples throughout the Scriptures of those who walked with God and knew Him on a personal level. Such as Enoch, Abraham, King David, the prophets, and the apostle Paul just to name a few. But no one, especially within the church, is to have that personal walk with God in a vacuum. Yet here in the US, and other western nations, we focus so much on the personal aspect of a walk with God, that we do tend to often put it in a vacuum.

And so suddenly I’m wondering if that’s part of my problem. That because of my cultural background and influences I’m putting my relationship with God in a vacuum, so to speak. Even as there is, at the same time, an ache in my heart for community with believers and a rebellion against the individualistic society I’m a part of. Naturally, this war, or tension, within myself is utterly confusing and exasperating. While I won’t argue with the fact that a “personal relationship with Jesus” is a cultural concept, I think it’s nonetheless Biblical to have, at some level, an individual relationship with Him. We have to, at some level. My confusion lies in where does the individual relationship end and the corporate relationship begin? If God is all I need, then why did God say of Adam (in his perfect, not-yet-fallen state no less), “It is not good for the man to be alone”? And why is the church urged not to forsake assembling together? Clearly, we need each other. Clearly, in some capacity, Christ leaves us incomplete if we need each other. So how does this reconcile with the verses that tell us we are complete in Christ?

I just can’t quite figure all this out. And meanwhile this ache and void in my heart just continues to grow. Because, more than anything, I want intimacy. And I don’t know how to have intimacy with Jesus, because as much as He might care for me, it doesn’t feel like intimacy to me when ultimately I know I’m just a small and insignificant part of His larger Body. And I currently still don’t have intimacy within that Body either, leaving me feeling desolately alone most of the time. Then there’s the desire for intimacy with a husband, that also goes unfulfilled.

So I ache. Desperately. And suddenly I don’t know where to turn to fix that ache. I can’t fix the ache within the church. I can’t fix the ache with a husband. And most frightening of all, right now I can’t fix the ache with God either.

More thoughts on intimacy…

I should be studying my precalculus right about now, but instead I feel the need to unburden the confusing, frustrated, and hurting thoughts milling about my head.

Intimacy. Fellowship. Relationship. Friendship. These are things every human longs for. They are natural desires. They are meant to be fulfilled in some way. We are wired this way by God. He said Himself, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

So, why, I keep asking, both myself, and God, are these things still so elusive for me? Why, throughout all my experiences in the church, do I continually find myself feeling like I don’t quite fit in, that deep and meaningful friendships and relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ are so few and far between? I’ve had so few truly fulfilling, truly satisfying experiences in the church, that I’m tempted to give up hope altogether that the “spiritual family” and spiritual friendships I long for will ever materialize.

I’ve been attending a wonderful, Spirit-filled church for the last several months, that I’ve been greatly been blessed by and thank God for, because it’s been a long time since I’ve even attended a church regularly–but as wonderful as this church is, I still feel that familiar, disconnected feeling there. Even in the singles group I’m a part of, I feel out of place, as sweet and friendly as everyone is. I know that part of that out-of-place feeling simply comes from the fact that I happen to fall in that unpleasant category in Christian singledom: mid-thirties, never married and no children. Most of the people in my singles group are not only much older than me, but also divorced with children. So while I put no limitations on friendship, not being able to chime in when most of the people around me are discussing their kids, ex-spouses, etc., definitely hinders me from establishing meaningful relationships. It’s also frustrating when you’re still the “newbie” after several months, and it’s clear everyone else has known each other for a while and formed a friendly rapport with each other.

But more than any of these things, it frustrates me most of all that the majority of the people in this singles group seem more preoccupied with superficial, trivial things than the things of God. Unless we’re actually sitting down in our official “discussion” time, it seems most of the chatter revolves around sports, recreation, painted toenails (for the women), and other trivial matters–which, in and of themselves, there’s nothing wrong with, and I’m certainly not opposed to, but when I gather with fellow believers on a Sunday morning, I’m not really there to talk about trivial things. I want to share Christ. I want to pray. I want to be prayed for. I want to see Jesus show up. But how can He, when we’re so preoccupied with everything BUT Him? And how can I ever truly find the sweet, intimate, Christ-centered fellowship I long for, when those around me seem more satisfied with talking about who won the football game and what color their toenails are?

I’m not claiming to be more spiritual than any of these people. Far from it. I like painting my toenails, and I love watching football, but there is a time and place for those things. I just don’t think Sunday mornings are that time and place. And when I sit there, as those around me discuss everything but Jesus, something inside me just aches with loneliness. And I walk away feeling so empty and disappointed. Feeling once again that I don’t fit in. That as much as I long for relationships, apparently I’m not going to find them in church. Or at least I haven’t yet. I’m there, but I’m not there. I’m there, but I’m not known. I’m there, but I’m sitting on the outside looking in. And this is the feeling I’ve had throughout my life, in nearly every church I’ve attended. Most often, it’s been outside the four walls of “church” that I’ve found, in brief periods, sweet, Christ-centered fellowship with other believers. Like the time I sat outside for nearly a whole afternoon, in Brazil, talking in Portuguese with a sweet, sweet Brazilian man who told me he was disappointed that most Christians he knew didn’t want to talk about Jesus. So for nearly a whole afternoon he and I simply talked about Jesus. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, and one that, sadly, I really haven’t replicated in my life since then.

Is there something wrong with me? Or is it more than just me? Why is that kind of friendship, fellowship and intimacy so elusive for me? Why do I only seem to find it in isolated pockets and experiences in my life? I’ve been crying out to God for a while now for more Christian friends, deeper relationships, and just a Christian “family” where I feel safe being vulnerable, but so far, even at this church I now attend, such relationships feel so out of reach for me.

I long for intimacy. And I don’t just mean the romantic kind (though I certainly want that too). I long to be known. I long for more than “Hi’s” and half-hearted “How-are-you’s” on Sunday mornings. I long to sit over a cup of coffee with someone, pour out my heart, pray, and just talk about Jesus. But I don’t have that. And I can’t figure out why I don’t. Especially when I pray so much for it, and I’m trying to do all the right things to find it.

So for now, God is all I have. And while having Him is certainly a great comfort, I still struggle in attaining intimacy with Him as well. Sometimes all I want is “Jesus with skin on.”

So here I am, just aching inside, and just wishing the ache would go away.

Imprisoned by the past

“Why can’t we just sweep all of that under the rug and let the past be the past?” So says an old man, pleadingly, angrily, to his daughter, who has, once again, unintentionally embarrassed him by reminding him of his past life.

A little while later, after being confronted by someone from his past, he is seen collapsing into a chair, his body convulsing with heart-rending sobs.

Both these scenes are from a BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel “Little Dorrit.” I am a huge Charles Dickens fan, and I just recently watched this masterpiece of a drama for the second time. However, this time the movie touched me in a way it hadn’t before, as I suddenly realized how much of myself I saw in one of the drama’s main characters–old Mr. Dorrit.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story, “Little Dorrit” tells the tale of a man, and his family (the Dorrits), who, after being stuck in a debtors’ prison for over twenty years, suddenly find freedom and wealth when they learn of an unclaimed inheritance. Transitioning from the bottom rungs of society to the very top proves to be a challenge for all of the Dorrits, but most especially for the father, Mr. Dorrit, who, having been accustomed to prison for so long, finds his newfound freedom, wealth, and “respect” exhilerating at first, but eventually more than he can handle.

Even as he moves among the elite in society, travels Europe, and does his best to “fit in” with those of the upper-class, he is continually reminded of his humble, painful days in the prison. Mostly by his youngest daughter Amy–known affectionately as “Little Dorrit”–who finds it difficult to give up her humble ways and become a proper “lady of leisure,” but also by former friends and aquaintances who knew him during his stay in the prison. Finally, toward the end of the story, his mind begins to crack, as paranoia sets in and he begins to imagine everyone is mocking him and talking badly of him, and at last, he loses his mind completely and then he dies.

There are other happier parts to the story, thankfully, but Mr. Dorrit’s storyline, as tragic as it is, is what struck me most profoundly, for although I’ve never been in an actual prison, I, like Mr. Dorrit, know what it’s like to live daily in the prison of my own mind, which, even once it finds freedom externally, can never forget the past–especially when people from the past continually return to refresh painful memories and reinforce old lies. It’s like an analogy I once was told about elephants: once they are trained via chains to remain standing in one spot, even when those chains are removed, they still stand there, unwilling to run away, convinced in their scarred minds that the chains are still there.

This, unfortunately, is the reality of anyone, like myself, or a fictional Mr. Dorrit, who has gone through tremendously painful, humiliating, and/or traumatic experiences. As Richard Lovelace put it so eloquently in his poem “To Althea, from Prison:”

“Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage;

If I have freedom in my love

And in my soul am free,

Angels alone, that soar above,

Enjoy such liberty.”

So much, at least externally, has changed for me for the better recently. Like Mr. Dorrit, I’m tasting freedom for the first time in many areas of my life. Outwardly, most would say I am doing well. But true freedom is never found in external circumstances. True freedom only really happens in one’s mind and spirit. The cruelest, darkest prisons are not physical ones, but the ones imposed in our own minds. As Lovelace says, a mind “innocent and quiet” could take even an actual iron-barred prison and find peace there. I envy those with such unscarred, peaceful minds. Minds not continually haunted by memories of a painful past. Minds not tormented by a past that one wishes every day one could forget. Minds not continually reminded of the person one used to be by people from that past who continue to reject and turn a cold shoulder, seeing you always as “that person.”

Like Mr. Dorrit, there are days, especially after running into people I used to know, when I retreat somewhere and simply weep. Weep in agony that, no matter how hard I try to escape my past, no matter how much I change, no matter how affirming close friends and family are, no matter how well some aspects of my life may be going, all it takes to send me spiraling downward is a confrontation with those who hurt me in the past and continue to hurt me with their coldness and disregard. I know I shouldn’t let these people get to me. I try to remind myself of all those who have built me up instead of torn me down, but my mind much more easily believes the negative over the positive. Like the elephant, I know that, in reality, my chains are gone. But in my mind those chains are never really gone. And when others treat you as if those chains are still there, it’s even easier for the mind to believe that somehow one can never truly escape. That one is forever imprisoned by one’s past.

I know in Christ I am supposed to be free. I know all about “renewing one’s mind.” I know, at least intellectually, that I am loved by Christ–that no matter my past, no matter how others perceive me and treat me–I am who He says I am, and not who others say I am.

But still I struggle. And I believe I struggle because my painful past involves a cult-like church and many hypocritical Christians who, instead of loving and reaching out to a lonely, broken, hurting outcast, contributed to her pain. And who, even to this day, when I should come across them, turn away from me as if I somehow have the plague. Like Mr. Dorrit, I just want to say, why can’t the past be left where it is? In the past? Why must it continually thrust its ugly face into my own via the voices of those whose looks alone tell me all I need to know about myself? “You’re unloveable.” “Something’s wrong with you.” “You’re wicked.” “You’re not godly enough.” “You’re messed up.” “Once an outcast, always an outcast.”

The mind is a cruel prison. A cruel prison I long to escape from. And I keep trying to escape. But, like Mr. Dorrit, I’m so accustomed to my imprisonment, that freedom itself is a scary, overwhelming thing that I’m not sure I would know how to handle.

I hope I don’t succumb to paranoia one day and lose my mind completely (though I’ve felt I’ve come close before)–I hope the end to my story is a happy one and not a sad one–but, as of now, I don’t know how to break free of my mental chains. I don’t know how to handle those reminders of my past (mainly people) that keep me locked up behind bars thicker and stronger than ones of actual iron.

I can only hope and trust that the grace of God will somehow do what I cannot do. And that someday I will possess a soul, and mind, that is completely free and, with the angels soaring above, able to “enjoy such liberty”…

We never suffer alone

Sometimes just knowing one isn’t alone and that others have it even worse than you do is enough to bring comfort and hope in the midst of the deepest of deepest agonies.

Two weeks ago, feeling overwhelmed with despair at my situation, I sped down a darkened interstate after midnight, just driving and driving, crying my eyes out and pleading with God to speak to me. To at least let me know He understood and cared about my pain. I drove for over an hour to a nearby city and finally turned around and headed home, feeling sleepy…but God was silent. Or at least it seemed He was. Although I heard no voice from heaven, I did see two curious sights on my midnight journey. I drove past two crosses beside the highway. One, on the way, was lit up in front of a building; the other, which I passed on my way back, was simply a string of lights in the shape of a cross sitting near the highway. I don’t know if these were “signs” from above–God’s way of simply saying “I’m here”–but I wondered. I especially wondered the next day.

The next day I went and saw my counselor, still feeling down, and I confessed this spur-of-the-moment emotional collapse that propelled me down the interstate in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, she wanted to know what caused this breakdown. I felt that tugging again, to spill one of my deepest, darkest, most shameful secrets–one that I have borne in silence my entire life, and one that has caused me excruciating pain. I told a few other people a while ago, including my last counselor, but none of these people seemed to know how to reach out to me or help me deal with it. So I feared spilling my guts once again. But, as scared as I was, I agreed to share what was troubling me one more time. Via writing. I’ll take another chance, I thought.

So I took the chance. And her reaction, like those before her, took me by surprise. There was no rejection. No judgment. Only compassion. And even admiration that I had been able to cope as long as I have with this incredible source of pain. She called me “resilient.” But more than simply showing me kindness and being a listening ear, she has begun to give me practical ideas and suggestions on how to deal with my pain. No drugs were pushed on me. No magical prayer that would supposedly “heal” me. For the first time, someone has given me more than “fluffy” or “overly spiritual” advice. She tends to be very practical, and I really like this about her. So, at her suggestion, the first thing I did was some searching on the internet, and I discovered that, wonder of wonders…I am not alone in my pain. This shocked me. It also saddened me, because, after reading some people’s horror stories, I now realize, as bad as I’ve had it, some have had it even worse.

This was such an eye-opening experience for me. To simply no longer feel alone in one’s pain–to know there are others out there who can empathize–is such an amazing comfort. One of the things that has driven to me to such feelings of despair is feeling like no one else out there could possibly relate. And it has been this feeling of “aloneness” that has led me to hide my pain for so long. I’ve always thought I was the only one. Now I know I’m not.

God hears. He sees. He knows. And for the first time in my life, I feel He has given me a concrete source of hope. I can’t explain how liberated this makes me feel. I don’t know what the next steps for me are, and I’m still a bit frightened, but I have a courage to face this I’ve never had before.

Maybe there is a way out for me. It won’t be easy. I still have many obstacles to face. But, praise God, I am no longer in this fight alone. To suffer is one thing. To suffer alone–completely alone–is a million times worse.

No matter how “scary” or “intimidating” or “shameful” one’s secrets are, what I’m learning is that holding onto one’s secrets and not bringing them into the light is far more scary. It is only in the light that healing comes. Not everyone will understand. Some won’t know how to deal with your pain. Some will reject you for it. Some will give you bad advice. But persevere. Trust God. Let it into the light. Own it. Accept it. Face it.

It’s only there that healing comes. Never, ever feel like you must suffer alone. Because, in reality, none of us really does.

I have a dream…

I have a dream.

A dream of a beautiful church. A church where rich, poor, black, white, prep, goth, beautiful, not-so-beautiful, broken, whole, American, Asian, African and every other nationality and ethnicity worship together. A church without partiality. A heterogeneous church. A church made beautiful by its diversity and yet made one by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. A church where the only head is Christ, not a single man labelled a “pastor”–a church where truth and love are not mutually exclusive–a church where no one is marginalized or “slips through the cracks”–a church where discipleship is a way of life–a church where the Spirit is allowed to move freely–a church that is neither hyper-charismatic nor cessationist–a church that doesn’t water down the Gospel–a church that is worship-driven, and not entertainment-driven–a church that seeks out the lost and broken–a church where, most of all, Christ is glorified, and not man.

This is my dream. But, sadly, in the worldly and divided church that makes up most of Western Christendom, I recognize this dream most likely will never be a reality. And I also recognize I am just as much a part of the problem as anyone else. But as I deal with my own issues, and seek to become the more godly woman God wants me to be, I’ve become more and more frustrated at my inability to find a church where at least a few of the above qualities are exhibited. I know, in this fallen world, and within a church made up of saints who still sin, there will never be such a thing as a “perfect” church, and I don’t seek a “perfect” church–but I continue to wrestle with so much disillusionment when it comes to the modern, Western church.

I realize my background of growing up in a nearly-cult-like church that left me deeply scarred still influences how I perceive the church, and what I feel it should look like, but in the thirteen years since I left that negative environment, I’ve struggled to find a church where I have truly felt at home. I have felt like an “outsider” within the Body of Christ for most of my life, and while I’ve questioned over and over if this is entirely my fault or not, lately I’ve begun to wonder if my perspective as an “outsider” is God’s way of giving me more of a heart for other “outsiders.”  Maybe, just maybe, instead of seeing my difficulties as a curse, I should instead see them as a blessing in disguise. Maybe I was never meant to “fit in.” At least not in the way that most homogeneous churches these days qualify “fitting in.” If fitting in means dressing a certain way, acting a certain way, and presenting a superficial spirituality to those around me, then I absolutely will never “fit in.” And I no longer want to. I’m tired of trying to live up to other Christians’ superficial expectations of me.

But even as I’m learning that feeling like an “outsider” is not necessarily a bad thing, and that hopefully God can use this “outsider” to reach out to other “outsiders,” I’m still frustrated at my inability to find a church home. Or at least a group of believers who would be able to provide me with safe, Biblical fellowship and discipleship. It seems every time I think I’ve found a group to “plug into,” there is at least one aspect of the group that troubles me and causes me to leave. I met with a group in a home for a short time, and while they were some of the most loving people I’d ever met, they were into some crazy, charismatic stuff that really disturbed me, and I knew I couldn’t, in good conscience, participate in or agree with everything they were doing and teaching. So I left.

Then, just recently, I started attending a megachurch (much to my own astonishment, as, generally, I’m not a big fan of megachurches). It’s very entertainment-driven, with dance, rock-and-roll music, and watered-down preaching, but I liked the fact that it was full of the very sort of people I don’t see in most churches: the poor, the broken, the homeless, the “outsiders.” The kind of people I wish were in more churches. So I was willing to overlook the things I didn’t like about the church, all for the sake of being in a less stuffy, more heterogeneous atmosphere, until I found out, quite unexpectedly, that there were issues of immorality and spiritual abuse going on with the pastor and leadership. So once again I’m left with a stricken conscience, wondering if I should stop going.

The only ray of hope so far in all of this is another church service I’ve attended twice now. It’s a little Spanish congregation that’s affiliated with the megachurch, but meets in a different building and has a different pastor, and both times I’ve gone I’ve been welcomed warmly. The service is entirely in Spanish, and everyone but me are Hispanics, most of whom look as if they come from rougher parts of town, but so far I’ve really enjoyed my visits, and I’ve already been befriended and introduced to several people. They’re very enthusiastic in their worship, the pastor preaches fiery sermons that rouse loud claps, “Amens,” and other exclamations in Spanish, and I’ve been surprised at how much I actually understand, despite my rusty Spanish. I’m hoping that attending this church will, at the very least, give me an avenue to serve. I hope to begin helping out with their ESL classes–I sat in on one two nights ago and had a lovely time meeting some of the students and getting to know one of the teachers, a friendly and sweet Hispanic guy.

So I’m thankful I seem to have found some sort of fellowship for the time being, but my heart aches to be connected in a deeper way to other believers, and to receive the sort of discipleship and accountability I so desperately need. Going to church every Sunday is one thing, but I want so much more, and I continue to feel frustrated at my inability to find that “more” I want and need.

I’m tired of feeling like an island, but, so far, when I look around me at most churches, I find myself so disillusioned I want to give up altogether trying to find a place I can call “home.”

I’ll keep praying, I’ll keep searching, but maybe I simply have to lower my expectations and try to come to terms with the fact that my dream of the church, or anything remotely similar, is just that: a dream.

Asking & not receiving

I wept in agony last night in my bed.

Overcome by pain, shame, frustration and despair.

I’d been doing relatively well recently, until, over the last several days, certain triggers sent me into a downward spiral.

Last night’s breakdown was triggered by an event earlier in the day. A happy event. An event that at least made me happy for someone else. I attended the wedding of a friend, and it was one of the sweetest, most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to. I was genuinely happy for my friend, for if anyone deserved the kind of happiness she’d attained, it would be her. She’s one of the sweetest, kindest, godliest women I know, and she’s been through a lot, so I could never wish anything but the best for her, and seeing her happy, with a wonderful man, made me happy as well.

But as happy as I was for her, seeing her attain what I’ve longed for for so long, and seeing the kind of person she is–the kind of person I long to be, but feel I can never be–left me reeling in pain. I told God–I’d do almost anything to be like this friend of mine. I’d do almost anything to have her character and sweetness. I’d do almost anything to one day gain the kind of happiness she’d attained. But that’s when reality sunk in. Yes, I was feeling some self-pity and envy–I won’t deny it–but more than that I felt despair. And I still feel that despair. Because, after years of struggling to find my way out of an incredibly dark valley of pain, and doing all that I can think of doing to find help toward that end, I am no closer than I was at the beginning to attaining freedom, healing, and wholeness. I feel trapped. And when I feel trapped, I lose hope.

So, overwhelmed by this sense of hopelessness over my situation, and who I am, I sat in my bed last night and wept. I wept tears that only God could see. I vented the pain that only He knows about. Desperate for comfort, I opened up my Daily Light devotional and read today’s Scriptures, and they just happened to be about asking God for things. Here’s what I read, taken from various Scriptures:

“Ye have not because ye ask not. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth…This is the confidence we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him…Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it–Men ought always to pray, and not to faint. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. The Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles…Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”

These Scriptures sound comforting. It sounds so easy. Ask, and God will answer. Ask, and you shall receive. The problem is, what if you ask, and you don’t receive? What if you ask, and God doesn’t answer? I’m not talking about asking for materialistic, petty, selfish, and shallow things. Jesus said that the Father doesn’t give His children stones when they ask for bread. But sometimes I feel like that’s exactly what He gives me. I’ve been asking for bread–wholeness in body, mind and spirit, deeper friendships, meaningful fellowship–for a long time. But all of these still elude me. I’ve had tantalizing tastes of each, but every time it seems I come close to gaining these things, and breaking out of my darkness, I’m thrown back in, with more devastating force each time. And so I begin to question God. I begin to doubt His goodness or that He even hears my prayers. Because it seems to me that the things I’m asking for are good things. Things that any loving Father would want to give His child, especially if He wants that child to grow in holiness. So what am I doing wrong, I wonder? Am I so screwed up and sinful there’s no hope for me? Am I beyond redemption? Has God just tossed me aside?

I hope one day I can look back on what I’m writing now and say to myself, you silly fool. O you of little faith. But when you’re in the midst of pain so deep and excruciating that it feels like a knife through your soul, and God seems apathetic to your cries, it’s tempting to simply give up. Especially if you’ve been crying out for deliverance from your pain for many years.

I hope I can trudge on. I know that I’m merely venting right now. But hopelessness and despair are crushing my soul more and more often these days, and if something doesn’t happen in my life soon to bring me some hope, I’m scared of what might happen to me.

In my moments of darkest despair, I simply want to see Jesus’ face, like the sinful woman I wrote about in my previous entry. I wish I could have an encounter like hers. Because I’m just like her. I know I have the Holy Spirit. I know I have the Word of God. But the thing I long for the most, when the pain and shame are the deepest, is simply to see Jesus. Face to face. To have Him tangibly in front of me. Because sometimes walking by faith, and not by sight, is the most frustrating thing for me. I long to touch, to be touched, to feel, to know. And having a relationship with an invisible Person, Who’s often silent and distant, isn’t conducive to these longings, and is never easy, no matter what anyone says.

I’ll keep on praying, as the Scriptures urge me to do, and try not to “faint,” but I don’t know how long I can hang on, if God doesn’t answer at least one of my prayers soon. All I can hope for is that He hangs on to me when I have no strength to hang on myself.