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.

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

Google Images

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.

Feeling scared

I’m scared. Scared of what I might be facing in a few months. Scared of whether or not I’ll have to tell certain family members. Scared of whether other people will have to know. I don’t want anyone to know. And yet, there’s a part of me that wants my pain validated. That wants my story told. I don’t want pity. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. But like any normal human being that’s ever suffered–and suffered alone–sometimes I just want someone to weep with me, to agree with me that I’ve endured some pretty excruciating pain.

I bit the bullet and saw a doctor yesterday. And I’m going to have to see more. The word “surgery” was thrown out there as a possibility. I don’t want to have to have surgery. But if it looks like it’s necessary, my life-long secret pain will no longer be secret. I will have to tell some people I don’t want to tell. One person in particular I dread telling, because I blamed this person most of my life for my pain. There are so many traumatizing memories associated with this pain that it’s taken me over thirty years to finally confront it, and over thirty years to truly forgive certain people associated with it.

So, naturally, I’m feeling a bit frightened. I wish I could crawl into a hole somewhere and this nightmare would just disappear. But I can no longer hide from it or imagine or wish it away. I have to face it. I have to face what has been the primary source of pain and brokenness in my life, starting from the time I was a child. I know I’m not alone in one sense, as I’ve expressed on here before. I know now there are other people out there who’ve suffered as I have, and in some ways worse than I have, so that comforts me somewhat. But in my own social circle–which isn’t that big–only two people have any idea of what I’ve been through and continue to go through. No one in my family knows. I’ve kept it a well-guarded secret, because in my family–as much as I love my family–that’s what you do: you bury things. So I’ve buried it quite deep for over thirty years.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the days ahead. My relationship with God is on the rocks right now, so I find turning to Him for comfort and strength very difficult. (I’ve decided I must be a bipolar Christian–it’s always hot or cold, up or down, with me in my walk with God. Right now I’m in a down period.) I have very few people to turn to either. No one but my counselor even knows I’ve seen a doctor. As usual, I’m alone in facing this mountain in front of me. And while there’s a part of me that wants to keep it that way, there’s another part of me that longs for others to come alongside me and, if nothing else, weep with me and pray with me. So often, when I’ve lain weeping in my bed, or hunched over weeping on my bathroom floor, all I’ve wanted is someone else to weep with me and tell me, yeah, you’re dealing with some pretty crummy stuff. Because carrying a burden of pain all alone has been utterly soul-crushing. And sometimes I wish I felt more freedom to tell my story, to release this burden completely, and somehow find a redemptive ending to it.

Maybe someday I will feel more freedom to tell my story. The fact that I’m finally even confronting this excruciating source of pain is a huge step in and of itself. But my story isn’t over yet. And maybe it won’t be till it’s completely over that I’ll feel free to share it. All I can do now is hope for the best. And try hard not to be scared.

Pressing on…no matter what

This past Saturday I had the opportunity, via my community college, to visit and take a brief tour of the university I intend, Lord willing, to transfer to next fall. The visit excited me about my future goals, but was also a much-needed wake-up call to the realities of the possible major life-changes I am facing in the near future.

I am not your “typical” college student. It has taken me sixteen—sixteen!–years to figure out what I want to do with my life, and so here I am, in my thirties, pursuing a bachelor’s degree. I don’t regret many of my life choices over the last eighteen years or so–I’ve spent nearly a year living abroad, I’ve traveled to other countries, where I’ve done missionary work and volunteer work such as teaching English, and I’ve had many other life-enriching experiences. I’ve also worked at various jobs, some pleasant and rewarding, some very stressful, unpleasant and unfulfilling, which I think have made me a pretty well-rounded, versatile person. All of my experiences since graduating high school oh so many years ago have shaped who I am and have helped me discover where my passions, interests, and strengths lie, so that, finally, I can say with some degree of certainty: THIS is what I want to do with my life. I am definitely a late-bloomer. And I am ok with that.

Part of my late-blooming journey can definitely be attributed not only to my indecisiveness, but to not-so-pleasant life circumstances beyond my control, such as a major health crisis in 2007 that not only sent me spiraling into debt from medical bills, but into a mental and emotional breakdown which I am still trying to recover from. My life has not been easy. It has been characterized by setback after setback, and many physical, emotional and mental struggles, to the point where, even now, if I don’t see things improving in a very dramatic, immediate and tangible way, I am so tempted to give up. To give up on life, to give up on trying to get better, to give up believing anything good, happy, or ultimately lasting will ever come of my turbulent existence.

So my visit to the university this past Saturday left me with mixed emotions. I absolutely loved the campus–it was beautiful, with grand, old buildings, steeped in history (the university was founded by one of our first presidents), and full of a lively academic atmosphere that got my pulse racing with excitement. I could just imagine myself poring over my books in one of its spacious libraries with vaulted ceilings, strolling along its green lawns to my various classes, and just generally immersing myself in this whole new experience known as real college. I know, for most people my age, such feelings of excitement are long over, but having only attended community college so far, going to an actual, four-year university is both daunting and exhilarating at the same time to me.

But even as I pondered the exciting part of possibly going to this university, I also let myself face the inevitable challenges that would await me. I am no stranger to hopping on a plane and traveling half-way across the world completely on my own, to a place where I know no one—I’ve done it more than once, and I enjoyed it. In fact, I’d be doing it now, if I had the money. I was born a wanderer and explorer, and I love immersing myself in new environments and seeing new places. So the idea of moving to another city, only about an hour away from where I live now, to attend a university, shouldn’t frighten me. Admittedly, part of me can’t wait to move to a different city, to get out of the boring, hum-drum place I live now. But, strangely, another part of me is a bit frightened. Even with all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve never faced something quite so daunting as college. On my own. In a city where I know no one. For some reason, this intimidates me more than trekking across the globe on my own (which I’d do in a heartbeat, if it was safe, and I had the money). I know part of it is that I know how awkward, alone and out-of-place I’ll feel, at least initially, amidst a throng of preppy, much-younger, partying-type college “kids.” At least at the community college I currently attend, I am not the only “older” student, and there is much more diversity over-all in the types of students that go there. So I blend in rather well. But I know the environment will be far different at the university. And I wonder how I will cope with trying to connect and form relationships with many of my fellow students. I wonder how I’ll find community in a city where I don’t know anyone. I wonder where I’ll live. If I’ll have roommates. If I’ll like my roommates. Suddenly, all these “what if” scenarios start floating through my mind, filling me with fear.

I have come a long ways from where I used to be. But I’m still struggling. I still feel fragile, faltering and unsure of myself much of the time. So this prospect of going off to a university, in a new place, while exciting, also scares me. Somehow, facing the pressures of a university environment and college life frightens me more than going to live in a country I’ve never been to before. Consequently, over the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling a bit emotionally, as I ponder not only the realities of the challenges ahead of me, but of the continued issues and hurdles I’m dealing with in my everyday life. And that’s when the dark thoughts start to push their way into my mind. You’ll never get better. You’ll never succeed. Your life will end before it’s even begun. Why bother trying. Why bother trying to get a degree. Why bother trying to change your lot in life. If you have trouble finding meaningful relationships and friendships where you are now, what makes you think it’ll be any easier in a different city? Why bother with anything? You are a failure. Yes, despite all the positive things you’ve done in your life, you are still a failure. And that’s all you’ll ever be. So give up. Just give up.

Fighting such thoughts has been very depressing. I try to give myself pep-talks, but they’re only so effective. I try to quote Scriptures to myself, but they seem to only give me temporary relief. I admit shamefacedly that I am tempted, very often, to simply listen to all those dark voices and give up. Give up on myself and give up on life.

But I’ve got to press on, no matter what those dark thoughts tell me. If there’s one thing that frightens me more than any of my other fears, it’s living a wasted, completely self-absorbed life. No matter what those familiar, dark voices of despair tell me, and even though, yes, most of the time all I can see is how far I have to go instead of how far I’ve come, I know I was meant for more than this broken life I’ve lived so far. Somewhere deep in my spirit I know. And it’s this fear of not becoming who God intended me to be that drives me forward, even when it feels like hell itself is standing against me. Perhaps one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received was from my current counselor, who told me I was “remarkably resilient.” This came after she discovered, in greater detail than I’ve told anyone before, exactly what I’ve been through and continue to deal with. I wonder myself sometimes, why, God, am I still here? And that’s when I know, if there is any resilience in me, I certainly can’t take credit for it.

I am super excited about the prospect of attending a university and hopefully one day acquiring my bachelor’s degree. I hope, and pray, with all my heart, that if I get that degree, I can use it to serve God on the mission field. That’s my goal. That’s my dream. But the reality of the difficulties that will cross my path as I go in that direction is ever present to me. I just hope I don’t finally cave to the feelings of discouragement and despair that so often hound me. I’ve come so, so close to caving.

I don’t want to waste my life. No matter how difficult the terrain, I must keep trekking. One foot. In front of. The other.

Come to Jesus

This beautiful song touched me in a profound way the other day, so I thought I’d share:

I’ve been thinking how so often in this blog I vent my tears, frustrations, pains and sorrows–after all, I did title it “Valley of Achor” for good reason–but how few and far between are posts reflecting true joy and thankfulness. The truth is the last several years of my life have definitely been more sorrowful than joyful, more tinged with pain than with sweetness, and I often feel like God has given me the “short end of the stick,” so to speak, when it comes to the amount of pain He has allowed in my life, but lately He’s been convicting me about my attitude to this pain.

I came across this quote a couple weeks ago, posted above someone’s desk, and it really struck me:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on my life. Attitude, to me is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstance, than failure, than success, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

The remarkable thing is, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.

We cannot change our past; we cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…

I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me, and 90 percent how I react to it.

And so it is with you… We are in charge of our attitudes.”

This quote is attributed to Pastor Charles Stanley, although that’s debatable–however, regardless of who said it, how true it is. And it reminds me of what James says in the Scriptures: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

I am no different than anyone else. When things hurt, when things don’t go my way, when my circumstances don’t make sense, when God seems a million miles away and callous to my pain, when He doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want Him to (and when I want Him to), I get angry. I get frustrated. I question Him. I justify my self-pity and my wrong attitude. I vent much of those feelings on this blog. And most would say, hey, that’s ok.

But is it? Of course, we all need to vent, and God would rather me be honest than mask my pain. He’s big enough to handle my anger, frustration and doubts. But I feel like I need to take a step back and reassess my attitude. I am, somehow, in the midst of my pain, my questioning, my frustration and my doubts, to “count it all joy.” Really, God? Joy? Joy when I’ve endured so much already? Isn’t that asking a bit much?

But it’s what He wants. Somehow. Some way. So often my attitude simply sucks. Let me just be blunt. But even though I know it’s still ok to get angry at times, to question, to vent–King David is my role model in being honest with God–I am not to remain in that place. I am, somehow, to count every hard, difficult thing in my life as joy.

So I’m going to endeavor to do that. By God’s grace, of course. I still don’t understand the why of so much of the pain, confusion and frustration in my life. I still ache, long, hope for intimacy in my relationship with God and others. I still know it’s ok to weep and shake my fist at God sometimes. But I’m realizing I can’t let my pain, my past, my failures, and every other negative thing in my life make me a negative person. Because the truth is that I am blessed. I may not have as much as some, I may not have the kind of fellowship and friendships right now that I long for, I may not have the future spouse I pray for, I may feel incredibly lonely most of the time, I may feel like my dark valley is stretching out to infinity, but I do still have so much to be thankful for. I have a few good, precious friends. I have a wonderful, large family, which now includes two adorable baby nieces. (I love being an auntie!) I have a roof over my head. I have food, clothing. I have Jesus. And, as Jesus said, with these I am to be content.

And when the pain and darkness seem overwhelming, as that song above so simply says, I must go to Jesus. Whether it feels like He’s there or not. I’m still figuring out how an intimate relationship with the invisible King of the universe really works, but to whom else can I go? And maybe that’s the point. Sometimes we have to be stripped of everything before we can see what’s right in front of us. Or Who’s right in front of us.

I know all this in my head, but hopefully I’ll come to know all this in my heart. And in the knowing, that my heart might be healed and made whole.

So, I come, Jesus. And may I somehow count all my sorrows, all my pain, all my frustration, as joy.

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.

Thoughts on intimacy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intimacy. What is intimacy? What does it mean to be in an intimate relationship with someone?

I guess intimacy has been so much on my mind because it is the one thing I feel my life sorely lacks and the one thing I crave, more than anything else.

I am, by nature, an introvert, and reserved and a bit shy with people, so developing intimate relationships with people has never been my strong point. I am also currently single, and while I’ve been in physically intimate relationships with men in the past, I’ve never experienced true intimacy–the emotional and spiritual kind–with a man, and I confess, especially as I get older, it is the one kind of intimacy I long for more than any other. Which, I suppose, is only natural.

I’ve stated before that I know, at least intellectually, that only Jesus Christ can fully satisfy these cravings of my heart. And I still know, at least intellectually, that no person–no man, even–can truly, fully meet the longings and needs of my heart. To place that burden on anyone is unhealthy, and I recognize and accept this. I’ve been on the receiving end of someone placing that burden on me (my first boyfriend), and it suffocated me so much I ended the relationship. So I get it. I get that no human being, no matter how wonderful and fulfilling the relationship may be, can truly be expected to meet all my cravings for intimacy, acceptance and love.

But if this is true, and God alone is supposed to satisfy and fulfill me, and meet my needs for intimacy, then why is intimacy with God something I continue to struggle with? I read books and blogs by lots of Christians who tell me that God alone is always enough, that it is only through an intimate relationship with Him that I will find true fulfillment, and I always nod my head in agreement, even though my own heart is feeling completely empty, thirsty and unsatisfied, in spite of my attempts to “draw close” to God.

So, I’ve been wondering, why is this? Where am I going wrong? And do any other Christians struggle with this? Just the other day I sat on a fence at my old childhood home, surrounded by green forests, softly chirping birds, a blue sky, sunshine and a delicious, peaceful silence (aside from the birds), and I poured out my heart to God, with many tears, asking Him why, if He were to be my first Love, and the One I’m most intimate with, then why is He so hard to know? And why must He be invisible and remote, when, in my deepest moments of pain, all I want is two safe, strong, and very visible arms to hold me close? In my pursuit of God, I often feel like I’m playing hide and seek. He’ll let me catch glimpses of Him, and those glimpses are wonderful, but then He disappears again, and I’m left chasing after Him, trying to find Him again. I have this very vivid picture in my mind of being in this beautiful forest playing hide and seek with God. I know He’s there in the forest with me, so that’s somewhat comforting, but He’s always just out of reach. I’ll see Him just ahead of me, peeking around a tree, and excited, I run toward His direction, hoping to finally catch Him, only to find He’s disappeared again by the time I get to the tree. And on and on this game goes. He’s always just ahead of me, “teasing” me as it were, peeking around trees, but actually getting close to Him, or being caught up in His tangible embrace, is always just out of reach.

Naturally, this game of hide and seek with God is extremely frustrating for me. I know, as wiser Christians keep reminding me, that I’ll never develop intimacy with God unless I spend time with Him, and to spend time with God I am supposed to pray and read His Word. Well, I confess, I do derive some comfort from “spending time” with God in this way, but the truth is, at least lately, even praying and reading His Word seem to give me only so much satisfaction. I still come away, not only feeling thirsty, but asking more and more questions. I’ve been delving into the Old Testament lately, and the more I do, the more I shake my head in bewilderment at many of the passages I read, as I honestly ask myself, How do I develop an intimate relationship with a God who is so beyond my reach, so utterly holy, and, quite frankly, downright frightening at times? I know He is love as well as holy, and there are many beautiful passages that express His love toward me. I know, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, I am supposed to be justified before Him, and given access to Him. But still, I find myself drawing back in fear, because I ask myself, How can a sinful, puny little human truly have an intimate relationship with the God of the universe? Especially the God I believe in, as described in Scripture? How can I truly be intimate with someone I am afraid of? If I were married, I would only be able to have an intimate relationship with my husband if I were not afraid of him. Obviously. So, if intimacy with God is more fulfilling than even a marital relationship, then how does the fear of God factor into this? How is fear truly compatible with intimacy? Is there something I’m missing?

I haven’t read any books, or heard any sermons, that address this issue. And so I am left, for the time being, wrestling on my own with these thoughts, questions and frustrations. The only comfort and quasi-answers I’m finding in Scripture are passages written by the apostle John. I like to call John the “apostle of love,” because he seems to write more about the love of God than any other writer in the New Testament. Even he states in 1 John 4:18–a favorite Scripture of mine–that “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” So how do I reconcile this statement with so many other Scriptures that tell me to fear God and portray God as a fearful Being? This is where I’m struggling. I understand the need to fear God. I understand the seriousness of sin. I understand how that separates us from God. I understand Jesus’ blood cleanses us and reconciles us to God. But somehow, none of these truths make me feel truly secure in my relationship with God. They don’t make me feel close to Him or able to truly enter into any kind of intimacy with Him.

When I think of God, I think of my earthly father, who, while never failing to tell me of his love for me, and even showing it to me in different ways, still caused me to draw back from him in fear because he was the strict disciplinarian in our family, and he could/can often be quite intimidating in his “wrath.” I’ve never been able to have an intimate relationship with him, despite his repeated assurances of his love for me, because I’m too afraid of him. Likewise, I feel too afraid of God to truly have intimacy with Him, even though His Word assures me of His love for me. I’m afraid of His anger. I’m afraid of His wrath. I’m afraid of His holiness.

So when people tell me to have an intimate relationship with God, is this really possible? And for those Christians that claim to have this kind of relationship with God, not only am I envious, but I want to know how they enjoy this sort of relationship. Because I’m not sure what I’m missing. I’m envious of the apostle John, who the Scriptures always portray as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and resting against Jesus’ breast. That’s the kind of intimacy I want with God. I don’t think Jesus loved John more than any other disciple–at least that’s not how I interpret those passages of Scripture. I simply think John was somehow able to enter into a more intimate relationship with Jesus than any other disciple, and because of this intimacy with Christ, he had perhaps greater insight into the love of God than the other disciples. Which is why he wrote about love so much. But that is just my hunch.

So, practically speaking, how do I find this all-satisfying intimacy with Christ, that apparently John had, and other Christians have? Why is it so elusive to me personally? Is it really, truly possible to have intimacy with an invisible Spirit? To find satisfaction, when one’s faith wants so desperately to be sight? Or, is it more like the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13–“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known”? Must I learn to simply be content with dissatisfaction, as contradictory as that sounds? Is true intimacy, whether with God, or another human being, even possible? And if not, what do I do with this cavernous thirst, this profound emptiness, that haunts my soul? I feel like an utter failure as a Christian for even admitting I’m wrestling with these things.

I’m sharing these struggles here because, sadly, I don’t currently have any brothers or sisters in Christ I feel safe admitting these questions and frustrations to. And that in itself only frustrates me more. Despite the fact that I’ve found a church, and that I’ve even made some new friends there, all my relationships there, and with other believers, are mostly surface-level relationships only. I have no one right now I can truly open up to. Either most people I know aren’t on the same page spiritually, or they are simply not interested in developing anything beyond a very superficial relationship. So, even though I have some fellowship now, and I’m definitely grateful for that, I still feel like I’m starving relationally.

I’m starving for intimacy. Even in the midst of a loving family, even in the midst of a wonderful church, even in the midst of new friendships…I feel alone. Desperately alone. And I wonder if there is anyone else who feels the way I do.

How do I find the intimacy I crave? Will I ever find it with a husband? Will I ever find it with God? Will this emptiness, this thirstiness, this hunger, ever go away? Or will it haunt me till I die? Will it only be satisfied when I leave this mortal body?

I wish I had the answers. For now I’m simply searching. Praying. Wrestling. Hoping this gaping hole in my heart will one day be filled.

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”…