Category Archives: faith

the God I believe in

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intolerance breeds intolerance breeds…

I remember a story a friend once told me about her boyfriend. When they’d drive by homes with republican political signs in the front yard, or come upon vehicles bearing similar bumper stickers, he would scoff. His immediate reaction was to dismiss those dwelling inside as human beings because they were republicans, “closed-minded conservatives.”

I’ve experienced this same attitude when I hear people around me talk about Christians (who, coincidentally, often get lumped in with the hated republican-sign-bearers). Anyone who believes in Jesus and goes to church is automatically intolerant, racist, sexist, stupid and hypocritical. Every single one. Forget that one of those Jesus believers may be sitting among them, fully embraced and accepted by that same group who professes to hate everything in which she has faith. And yet, she is not offended or angry because she knows that’s not her.

I find myself in this situation too often. And I’m too afraid to open my mouth, knowing even if I speak up, even if I say, “Hey, I’m not like that,” the reaction will not be one of surprise (to learn of my beliefs) and eye-opening understanding. Instead, they will challenge me, call me uneducated, ask incredulously how I could believe something so inane. I have to wonder if these people have considered any of it without first having to swallow their malice and contempt. People like Tod who have been through it all and come out on the other side disbelieving—I get that. I respect their opinions. But I get this feeling in the pit of my stomach when these other people talk, this gnawing ache that makes me ask myself, Aren’t they doing exactly what they say you do as a Christian? Aren’t they prejudging and generalizing and being closed-minded?

But I can’t ask. And maybe that makes me a coward and not worthy of calling myself a Christian. Maybe. But I’ve never found any decent in-roads in a situation like this. I will be shut out, mocked or otherwise chastised for my beliefs. And because the entire group (including me) knows there’s no scientific proof that God’s hanging around in the ether waiting to scoop up some of us and leave the rest behind while the Earth burns, I’m not going to be able to convince them I am right. All I will be able to tell them is what I believe, why I believe it, why I just can’t seem to shake it, no matter how many brilliant atheists cross my path.

I am, without a doubt, the least closed-minded Christian you’ll ever meet. And while I may be conservative in my lifestyle, I’m not in my political or social views. I am pretty darn liberal, actually. But I do believe Jesus lived, died and rose. I believe God’s hanging around in the ether. I believe they watch over me in my life and hear me when I speak to them, tell me things when I listen. And maybe that makes me schizophrenic. Or maybe it’s just a mechanism I’ve developed to deal with loneliness and a perceived lack of purpose in my life. But maybe it’s all true. I don’t think any one of us knows for sure.

The problem for me is not being the butt of jokes or on the receiving end of ridicule—I can handle those things. I am not fine with intolerance or hatred for any reason, by anyone, toward anyone. Whether it be about religion, gender, sexual orientation, lifestyle, appearance, behavior, social standing—there should be no hate, no prejudice, no malice or intentional harm. I think we all have the ability to hurt others indirectly, inadvertently. It should never happen on purpose. I should never look another person in the eye and tell him how awful he is, no matter how much he has hurt me or how little I agree with his views. I was hurt too often in my younger years by peers and others to justify ever wanting to hurt someone else like that, no matter how badly they’ve treated me.

Please stop judging based on bumper stickers, at least ones so general as Jesus fish, Darwin fish, republican or democrat. And if you see one that says, “I kill and eat babies—and they are DELICIOUS!” you may want to check and see if that’s a joke before you run them off the road. Y’know, just to be sure.

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sacramental celebrity

So this is probably sacrilegious on some level, but it’s all for Jesus, right? And it’s cool, so I’ll just have to risk it.

Not sure how long it will stay up, but BustedHalo.com is featuring my Ash Wednesday forehead shot in their homepage slider right now. Click that link and check it out! (I’m the one in blue.) If you miss that, hopefully they’ll leave up the subpage shots a little longer: You Showed Us Your Ash!

For those who miss it on the homepage (or are too lazy to click the link), here’s a screenshot for your convenience:

BustedHalo.com

BustedHalo.com

In case you can’t tell, I think their site’s pretty cool. I thought that before they made me famous on the Intarwebs too. =) Catholic or not, you should check it out —lots of good info and insights. BustedHalo

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keep it ashy

Much to report since last time, though it’s been only a few days. It’s a mixed bag, so bear with me…

My first therapy session was at lunch on Monday. I can’t believe I’ve managed to stay away from therapists for the past 24 years—I’ve been needing to visit one since well before high school even started. I think my counselor was pretty aghast at that, too, but she kept her facial expressions under control.

Session one was mostly an overview, an intro to my crazy, so she’d be familiar with my background and history. I filled out a questionnaire beforehand, so she referenced some of my answers there, asked about my family, etc.

The funny thing about me: I know a lot about my mental issues. I not only recognize having them, but also can point to where I’m being an idiot about things, what I should be doing differently, what may have caused the issues initially, etc. Basically, one part of our conversation went down like this: “So, you realize that (x, y & z) behaviors not only caused problems in your past relationships but also ended up driving away your significant others completely, and you want to stop this pattern from repeating?” “Yes.” “Well, that’s easy—that trims a couple days from our schedule!” What can I say? I’m an easy therapee.

In the end, it was just nice to talk through some things without feeling any sort of guilt for dragging someone else down. My friends and boyfriends have never indicated irritation at being my sounding board, but I feel guilty nonetheless. Even if that’s “what [they’re] there for,” who wants to be in constant contact with Miss Wet Blanket 1997 – 2009? I wouldn’t. So having someone there who not only understands some of my neuroses but also is being paid to listen to them and help me solve them? Awesome! Session two happens next Monday at lunch.

Monday night held the first meeting of my new Bible study at … wait for it … St. Louis Catholic Church! (Yes, I know. Leave me alone till I can come up with a good explanation.) It’s a 10-week study on the Mass and the Eucharist, topics I feel I’d benefit from knowing a lot more about. So I now own a Cathecism and a workbook and have a daily reading/Q&A assignment. Very exciting! I’ve learned a lot already and we haven’t even had an official “study” session yet.

Basically, Mondays are going to be sweet from here on out. How many people do you know who can say that?

I participated in Ash Wednesday mass today at St. Louis CC as well. As of last night, I was under the impression that A.W. was not for non-Catholics (or those Protestant denominations who don’t find it necessary), but I was wrong. After reading a bit about the difference between a sacramental and a sacrament this morning, I hopped in my car and headed for the noon mass. I was nervous about what would be expected or how it would work, but it was a piece of cake. I even saw three female co-workers there!

The rest of the day, I’ve experienced strange looks but no questions. I was kind of hoping for questions, as I feel I can answer them properly, much more than my high-school classmates could back in the day when asked. That has always been my biggest thing: I do not want to misrepresent. If I’m going to wear ashes, I want to be able to explain their significance, in history, to the church and to me. If I’m going to label myself a Christian, I want to be living a lifestyle that reflects my faith and my obedience to God. Which is why I rarely label myself: I’m not always great at keeping up with things. And not just appearances—realities. I want to truly be who I claim to be, not just look like I am that person.

The boyfriend (hereafter referred to as Dennis, because that is his name) and I are still laughing at each other’s jokes and talking way too much on the phone late at night. We talked last night about a wedding in April that’s taking place on the beach in Gulf Shores, AL. I managed to weasel my way in as his plus-one, so that’s something about which I’m really excited. He narrated the website of the condos rentable at a discount to wedding guests, but that may still prove too rich for our blood unless we can get some roommates, so we’ll see. There is talk of an early arrival on Friday and staying at a seedy motel so we can spend the day on the beach together. Hopeful!

My sister, BIL and niece are planning to visit on Easter weekend! Before my niece’s traveling soccer season starts up and just in time to try to relieve some stress over my BIL’s job-loss fears at Ford, they’re hitting the road and planning to stay at the nearby RV park in Memphis for a few days. I’m looking forward to attempting another tour o’ the town! And considering the rift that once existed between my sister and me, it’s a pretty big deal that they’re coming here. I’m happy about that.

Well, tonight was to be trivia at the local pub (ashes and all)… and apparently it’s still going to be. Peace!

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buttercream frosting

That’s what’s on my mind at the moment – I just finished icing a dozen and a half cupcakes for a potluck cookout this afternoon. The 1980s singles group from Hope Church is putting it on, the last of my church-related activities this weekend. Yesterday was the Hope blood drive, 5:30 service and attempt at a singles’ concert (didn’t stay as the fun level seemed dangerously low). Today I went to the Heartsong 11 o’clock service and the second half of their two-part class on becoming a “partner” (member) of the church. And I managed to interact with almost no one during any of these events. =P I’m like a loner participant in social stuff. Strange how that works.

My landlady is on the road to Kentucky right now, off to care for her aunt who’s got some pretty advanced cancer. What seems crazy to me is being that close to an aunt. I mean, of course I would be sad and do what I could to be there for that part of my family, but I can’t imagine driving to another state to be at their bedside. Maybe that just makes me a heartless person. =\ I don’t know.

My blood donation last night was pretty eventful. First, the person giving me my initial Q&A/mini physical was a hot EMT named Jim. Later, I reflected that I should’ve given him my number, but that’s never my first instinct. I’m too much of a wimp anyway. I also found out from another blood mobile worker that my blood is without CMV (Cytomegalovirus), which makes my donations viable for babies less than 6 months old. How cool is that?? And she said there’s something else weird about my blood that makes it extra useful in some other way too. GO DONATE BLOOD NOW. Even if yours isn’t as cool as mine, it’s still more than worthwhile. =)

All right, time to head out. Hope everyone’s having a great weekend!

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contrasts

I decided to try out a women’s small group tonight that meets in a home nearby. I got in touch with one of the leaders through Heartsong, the new church I’ve been attending of late. The women were very kind and shared a lot of interesting, heartfelt, funny stories about their lives. But what astounded me was the simultaneous pain and suffering many of them are going through. The end of the meeting was all about prayer requests, and each one of them brought forth at least one major issue that, for me, would be devastating. Five minutes earlier? Not a single trace of that hardship was on their faces. They were laughing, chatting, sharing good news. Then, suddenly, one was worried about cancer, another was losing her mother to an alcoholic loser, yet another was trying to counsel a family dealing with addiction—all so much more than I could handle.

I was so glad not to be asked if I had any prayer requests, because although I’d be happy to offer up some major praises for the way my life has been going, I didn’t want to have to say, “Actually, everything’s great with me—but thanks for asking!” But they didn’t ask, so I didn’t have to tell. Instead, I shared their heartfelt prayers for God to be in each situation and calm the hearts of those involved. What more could I say or do? I was astounded by their burdens… and at the same time by their lightness, which I know comes from the Lord. It’s much greater a joy than any man can produce on his own, that’s for sure.

So, in light of all this, I had to mention how blessed I’m feeling. I still have those nagging worries that it will all fall apart tomorrow—and if something really bad does happen, even if it doesn’t unravel all the good, I will honestly tell you it may just bring me down completely—but I am so glad for even momentary, temporary happiness. As short as the weekend at home was, it fulfilled my need for love and family and friends. As little as my job description will change, it brings me unprecedented pride and joy to say that I have my first real job, to be a permanent part of a great company. As hard as it is to be alone here in Memphis, I am so thankful for those I will maintain ties to in Michigan (and elsewhere), and thankful for my coworkers and acquaintances established locally thus far. I could spend an entire year of days alone and still feel blessed to be where I am, doing what I’m doing. I won’t lie and say I like living in/near Memphis, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t happy here. Even if all I have is my job and the tiniest roots of a church connection in the making—that’s enough for me!

One thing that has been bringing me down a bit lately… I’m wondering: Am I really as smart as people think I am? Because I haven’t been feeling smart recently. Maybe it’s just that I’m surrounded by some radiantly brilliant people, but I have this perpetual sort of haze on the brain. My (desperate) theory is that I’m not getting enough sleep, that if I went to bed a couple hours earlier, my thinking would be clearer, my heart rate lower, my emotions more in check. Possible? Likely? I’m just not sure. I hate to think that my brain is stunted somehow, that I have all these ideas and ponderings (or at least that I used to…) and can’t actually do anything about them. My sleep theory comes about because it’s usually right around 3 o’clock in the afternoon that I suddenly become capable of thinking and doing stuff. Which is pretty lame considering I’ve been at work for 6 hours by then… Anyway, something to try to work on in the coming weeks, I guess. And on that note: Good night!

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joy by association?

For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my little basement apartment in Holt. In so many ways, I didn’t like that place (landlady with gun, tiny dogs on my bed, gurgling register in the bathroom – just to name a few), but in a few, I really did. And I think it’s because I associate that place (and vice versa) with a time in my life when I felt spiritually alive. That was when I was most deeply involved with Riverview, more specifically Epic (college ministry), Catalyst (leadership off-shoot) and life groups (bible study). That was the apartment where Laura and I decorated Halloween cookies for our fellow women. And where I lived literally one “block” (country road) from the church itself. I walked there the afternoon we left for the Fall Retreat, sleeping bag in one hand and shouldering a backpack full of clothes and toiletries for the two-day trip. And even though I never really made any close friends (lots of friends and acquaintances, but no FRIEND friends, you know?) that was my peak. I learned the most about God through those groups and that church. I had fire under me to make something of myself spiritually. I was baptized for the first time there, among my peers, with my family and close friends in attendance. Even though I attended for less than a year, Riverview was the apex of my Christian life.

Tonight, I went to Hope again for their Wednesday evening NEXT service. I ate so much at lunchtime that I opted to skip dinner, instead taking a walk around the lake at work, talking to Mandy on the phone and showing up in time for the class portion of the evening. Walking in the door, the coffee smell reminded me of Riv. And I went to that other session that I mentioned before – the non-touchy-feely one? – and it was SO. MUCH. BETTER. Oh, man. It totally took me back to Riv and Chuck Wynn’s Route 66 class (Old Testament in, like, a month of Sundays), and that morning I attended the welcome day at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. And, you know, to this day, biblical history gets me excited. Regular history – world, U.S., etc. – is OK, definitely interesting, all that. But biblical history hits me harder for some reason. Even in moments of extreme doubt, I will still be taking notes like a ravenous hobo who finds some clean crusts of bread near the top of the Dumpster. I really get into it.

While eating lunch with the singles ministry people the other day, I was chatting with a girl named Shelley, and mentioned my visit to the seminary, how I wished it made more sense to enroll even if you can’t see yourself in ministry in the future. But it just doesn’t. Everyone around me was “called” to pursue a career as a pastor or a permanent missionary. They’d been pondering it for years and asking God’s advice all along the way. They were relocating several hundred miles to heed God’s call. I, on the other hand, had been considering the notion for several … days? And I really just wanted to go to classes about history and theory and languages? Yeah, different worlds. I loved Old & New Testament at MSU, even if they were taught by two of the most hellacious professors in my college career. (Though I will admit I took a second course with one of them – I like a challenge!) These professors didn’t (seem to) believe in the faith behind the scripture whatsoever, so it balanced perfectly with Chuck Wynn’s totally faith-based teaching in Route 66. I ate up every bit of all three courses.

Anyway, I miss learning. I miss biblical history, theory and archeology. I miss scribbling notes like a fiend and finding out all the different translations of Greek and Hebrew words. I will always remember Laura bringing devotion passages from Sparkling Gems from the Greek, which looked like an extra-cheesy textbook covered in jewels but held so many great passages about the original Greek and today’s translations. I miss the Riverview family so much, even though I didn’t know more than 10 people of the thousands in attendance.

That Holt apartment and Riverview (even though it was huge in its own right) really represent for me a more down-to-earth, compact life than I could ever live here in Memphis. Not only is it a big place, but the roads are paved and busy, the street corners don’t feel safe, I can’t smell any manure and there are no places to walk. Holt was too far from East Lansing to walk to the Dairy Plant for work, but I drove there on empty roads at 6:30 in the morning. I watched the sun rise over fields full of either cows, sheep and a donkey, or geese nibbling at the remnants of recent threshings. I stopped my car, turned off the radio and turned to God for 15 minutes before I walked inside and faced days of making cheese and freezing ice cream. It wasn’t all perfect, and some of it was really hard, but it was my favorite time. I know I don’t need to be back in that exact spot to reawaken the joy of it, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to experience it here. Not in this house in the ‘burbs or dealing with crazy southern drivers every morning and evening. Probably not even in the Mid-South in general.

But maybe all I need is God to get me there. God and a strong pull to Him, to learn more about Him. We’ll see…

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