Serving My Time

I spend a lot of time by myself. More time, I think, than most people can deal with. More time, I admit, than even can deal with. But, I’m dealing. I’m smiling. I’m waiting. I’m passing the hours. I’m serving my time in solitude.

The thing I can’t figure out, however, is why I like it so very much. It doesn’t make sense because in moments of weakness, I sometimes fear that my social skills are breaking down into little pieces. I imagine them, one by every last one, slipping my from my grasp. I panic. I complain. I wish I had somewhere to go…someone with whom I could drink coffee.

But that doesn’t happen. So, I stare out the window. I read a book. I listen to music. I sit at the piano. I talk to the dog. Toss another sunflower seed in the gerbils’ cage. Another hour passes. And finally, I survive another day.

Scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I struggle to stifle that old familiar sting of jealousy which rises up inside me when I see endless pictures of everyone hugging their friends. Solitude is more difficult when others seem to be fleeing from it.

Let’s be clear: This isn’t a blog post about how I don’t have friends. Trust me, I have friends.  I’m very blessed with people who love me, but most of them don’t live in Greentown, Indiana. Most of them are busy. Most of them have other friends. Most of them aren’t serving their time right now. Don’t misunderstand. This isn’t me whining, complaining, stressing, crying, etc.. I’m just putting words to my reality. I’m past lamenting the long days I spend at home alone. I’m past worrying that it will never end. Sure, it’s not a gal’s favorite way to spend her time, but it will end.

And despite all the times I just want to throw my hands in the air, tilt my head back, and scream, “When will this end!?”….despite the occasional dreariness of it all…despite the months and months until the fall semester starts….despite it all, as my life continues to unfold into these solitary routines, I remember why, to me, being alone is so irresistible.

Solitude is quiet. The noise of ignorant people, useless distractions, and endless consumerism is not welcome here. When I’m alone, I can hear myself breathe. I can hear my heart thumping in my chest. And I can hear my singing voice bounce off the walls when I sit at the piano. These are the sounds that remind me I’m alive–and that all my hopes and dreams are as well. How ironic that this message is loud and clear when everything else is silent. Probably not a coincidence.

Solitude is deep. A certain superficiality is so hard to avoid when I spend too much time primping my pretty little mask for crowds of people. But I don’t want masks. I don’t want an image. I want me. And it helps to have the time and space to get to know myself before I let someone else barge in to tell me who I ought to be. It helps to dabble in the discipline of depth–even the depth of my solitude. Because somewhere deep down in ‘there’…I find myself and the One who made me.

Solitude is redeeming. When I zoom in too closely on my flaws and failures, I have to retreat to get back to the bigger picture. I know the prognosis of my human condition. I know that my heart is less than pure. And sometimes in the busyness of life, this is all I can see. But, when I’m alone, I have the clarity of thought to see and believe that my brokenness is not the end. It’s like catching my breath after a hard run. I just have to calm down and say yes to Growth and Grace. Being alone gives me a chance to think about how I want to do things better, and to ask the Lord to empower me along the way. It’s like being down on my hands and knees and suddenly sensing an outstretched hand in my peripheral vision. Hope is real. Second chances are available for me, too. Sometimes we get our fresh start huddled between friends, but others times…we have to learn to get along well enough with just ourselves and our Creator. Granted…the journey isn’t easy, but it is redeeming.

I must stress that although I’m often alone, I do not feel lonely. I’ve found comfort in my routine, companionship in the quiet. And I’ve accepted that this is where I am for now. I haven’t really understood what in the world God has been doing in my life for a great long while now, but I don’t doubt He knows what He’s doing.

So, tomorrow I’ll read another chapter, sing another song, grab another sunflower seed for the gerbils, and peer out another window. I’m serving my time…and I’m smiling.

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Because I’m not 20 yet

Today, I’ll spare you the misery of enduring yet another of my let’s-get-really-deep introductions. Of course, you’ll get to read plenty of those before the summer ends. But today…today, we’re going to be trading some fluffy, abstract swirl and twirl for some hefty concision and honesty. I’ve got two things burning inside my brain that I need to articulate.

I always feel a little uncomfortable writing blogs about personal things because I never really know who’s reading this. Even so, I am going to say what I’ve set out to say. Here’s the deal: I will only be 19 for five more months. I’m almost 20 years old. I’ve grown up. I’m naive, I’m pretty innocent, but make no mistake–my mom raised me right. I learned how to grow up. But, it seems the growing never really stops. Because now I’m growing into me, and I have to do what’s best for me. I can’t be my mom. I can’t be my grandparents. I can’t be my brother. And I can’t be gerbil. I have to be Jessica, and I have to learn to stop feeling guilty for wanting to do things for myself. Because even though I’m not 20 yet, I will be soon. I’m about to enter the years when being the real me matters more than ever before.

For some reason, I feel these tugs back into the safety net of my childhood. Sometimes I think it’s hard for my loved ones to let me grow up. But more often, I struggle with pushing  back—with saying, “No, this is what I need to do for myself.” I fail to use my big girl voice.  So. This is the connection between the two things I need to write about today: I’m trying to speak up and ask for what I want. And it’s important because I’m not 20 yet.

Item #1: My Faith

Yes. I’m going to an Episcopal Church, and yes, I’m still a Christian. And no, I am not dabbling in other religions. And no, not all Episcopalians are liberal, homosexual, new-age heretics. To be frank, I wish people would trust me a little more than that. I’ve always lived by the rules. I’ve always gone to church with my family. I’ve always acknowledged Jesus Christ as my Savior. I’ve always been a good girl. I’ve always had a strong since of integrity.  And I don’t have plans to change any of that (except maybe going to the same church as my family members. That’s pretty normal.). But remember what I said above; I need to do what is best for me. If that means checking out a different denomination, so be it. I sincerely hope my friends and family can trust me to do what I need to do. I may not be 20 yet, but I’m awfully close. At some point, I’ve got to take ownership of my faith. I’m not trying to run away from what I’ve been taught; instead, I’m trying to save my faith! That’s kind of a big deal! Before I went to Gethsemane Parish the first time, I found myself running away from the Evangelical worship scene as often as I could. It seemed like everyone wanted me to have some intense, emotional experience at church, and I was completely numb. It just wasn’t working for me, and I really started to think I was losing my faith. But in reality, I just needed to find a place where I was more comfortable. That’s why I’m so glad I went somewhere quiet, thoughtful, historical, and also Christ-centered. What I discovered, as I sat in my pew and looked at the crucifix, is that Evangelical Non-Denominational Christians do not have a monopoly on Jesus Christ, Communion, the Gospel, or anything else. And to be fair, my time visiting Roman Catholic Mass and Episcopalian services has shown that they don’t own Jesus Christ either! Imagine my surprise when I went to Mass and found people worshiping Jesus Christ, not Mary or Mother Theresa. And imagine the joy in my heart when I turned my head yesterday during the time of confession just before the Eucharist and saw a young man leaning forward and praying earnestly. Tradition doesn’t mean insincerity, I thought as I watched that man admit his sinfulness and ask for forgiveness. A year ago, I would have told you the only way to worship God is through singing the latest Chris Tomlin songs and having a good preacher. But today I’d tell you that while that is definitely a valid way to meet with God, it’s not the only way.

Is change frightening? Of course. Is questioning and learning about the rest of the Body of Christ a bad thing? Of course not. Every time someone asks me why I would go to an Episcopal Church (or why in the world I would go to Mass or read books about Catholicism), I appreciate the fact that I have so many people who love me and want to keep me safe from harm. But I resent the subtle insinuation that I’m being foolish or that I’m going down a path of deception. Again, I’m so grateful that people want to keep me safe. Heck! I’d like to keep myself safe as well. That’s why I’m researching things and asking questions—to be sure of what exactly I’m doing. Sometimes, people need to wrestle with things and know that people will still love them—even if they end up in a different denomination. 🙂 That’s what I’m asking for today and every day that I trudge along this path toward the discovery of my identity as a Christian.

Item 2: Lifestyle Changes

If that last chunk of reading was kind of heavy, don’t fear! This one won’t be. Because I’m not 20 yet, I’m trying very, VERY hard to start making better choices about what I eat and how much activity I have. In the same way that being pretty close to twenty means taking ownership of faith, it also means taking ownership of one’s lifestyle. It’s absolutely crucial, and it’s incredibly difficult. I already have so many bad habits. Trying to untangle the mess I’ve made of myself physically is nightmarish enough at the age of 19. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through that kind of change later in life. That’s why I’m crossing my fingers, sweating, and lifting weights now.

I’ve also been eating green stuff called spinach and drinking a watery substance called water and running on things called treadmills. The journey is slow, and the food isn’t always what I’d like it to be, but I feel better. I can actually sleep all through the night and wake up at a reasonable time in the morning. Although I can’t run very far even after a few months of training, my progression from 2 minutes of jogging to 15 is evidence of growth. Perhaps even more important than the physical change is the internal one. I can tell myself no. I can tell myself yes. I think we call this ‘confidence’. Even if it comes with peas or sweat, I’ll take it. This sense of personal strength has been the missing puzzle piece in the discovery of my identity for far too long. I rejoice in finding little glimmers of strength and assertiveness in moments of temporary pain and struggle. Because I’m not 20 yet, I’m choosing to take better care of myself. I think of it this way: the cool person inside of me has to live in this body! I should probably take that pretty seriously. So I am. One carrot at time! 🙂

Here’s the dealio. I’m okay. I’m making some changes, but I’m growing and learning more about life every day. I couldn’t be more blessed with people who love and support me on my journey into adulthood! Hey, that means you—whoever is reading this! Some of you are grandparents, former teachers, college friends, and old church buddies. I know you from different places and at different levels, but you have all got at least one thing in common. Anyone who regularly takes time to read my ramblings must have made some significant investment in my life. Always remember that all of you have given me the tools I need to grow in Christ and in my personhood. If I haven’t said thank you for your love, friendship, support, encouragement, or concern lately, let me give my thanks here and now. I’m not even 20 yet…and I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up without the help of all of you. Indeed, the richness of the relationships I have with all of you is better than the flavor of any variety of chocolate I might be craving right now. Peace to you all!

Shadows

Some people perch high up in trees and write about butterflies and ponies. Others send out poetry full of imagery and romantic thought that they’ve been writing at their bedside table since their early teens. But I write from the shadows, and I write about the things I find there. 

This is a difficult task, you see, because shadowy places are usually the ones without words, without certainty, without security. Some shadows are small, shrinking as the sun beams them back to the dark place from whence they came. But some shadows stay a long time, and we can’t see the place where the dark becomes light. Some shadows can swallow us whole–and sometimes that’s alright. 

Shadows are places where we wait for revelation. We go there to ask our questions, or sometimes we go there to give our answers. Sometimes we go there alone, and sometimes, as we spin in circles and struggle our way out, we bump into the people God has called to be our friends. They aren’t always lonely places. But always, always…shadows are places of deep, deep growth. They usually change people. When I came out, squinting up at newly found light, I wasn’t the same person who went in. 

During my second semester at Indiana Wesleyan, I started working on a research paper. I had one direction I wanted to take the paper, but as I began writing, the paper took me into the shadows–where my faith no longer made sense, where I had to look deeply into myself and separate the lies I told myself from the truth of my identity. This was the place where I had to figure out what I believed. My research paper turned into an exploration of spiritual doubt. My first version of the introduction was simply informative. Christians often go through doubt–something the Church often frowns upon. etc This intro was empty, but I turned it in anyway.

But my writing professor wasn’t satisfied, and neither was I. One day, I turned up the music in my earbuds, sat down in McConn, and started a new introduction. When I wrote the last sentence, I surprised myself. The words came back to me, and it felt like someone punched me in the face. I came to college to learn, and instead, I’m losing my faith.

That one confession was enough to transform the entire focus of my paper, and it also sent me into the shadow from which I’m slowly emerging today. It didn’t matter how much I researched, or how I transitioned from paragraph to paragraph; if I wasn’t telling my story in the paper, there wasn’t a point at all. I learned to continue confessing my doubt, giving it names and pictures and life. It became real to me. I had to own my shadow, and I learned to stop trying to escape. I found my peace in asking questions, in writing, in drinking coffee with people who told me about their days in the shadows. 

This brings me to my next point. Shadows are spiritual. Sure, one can’t really hear the singing from Sunday morning worship from the heart of her ugly shadow, but God is in there. Doubt is powerful because He is listening to every question. And when we can’t pray (as I couldn’t for some time), the shadow is a place where silence is ok. God is cool with some quiet time. I think God and I had a mutual agreement to stare at the ceiling together late at night when I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t need to explain why I couldn’t say anything more than “Dear God…”. He already knew. 

 Shadows have borders. I used to think my period of doubt was something like serving time in prison. Even though I had stopped raising my hands in worship and posting facebook statuses with scripture, I wasn’t blind to the reality that other people were still able to do those things. It was like being behind bars and witnessing life going on everywhere but where you are. And at a Christian university like IWU, trust me! I was witnessing plenty of spiritual lives! But I soon learned that the edge of my shadow–the lines between me and the other worshipers–weren’t walls keeping me in, but rather walls keeping them out. This was a place for me and God–just the two of us. This was a safe place for me to get things straight with Him. I didn’t need people quoting scripture at me or playing Chris Tomlin songs. I just needed a space to think and be and wait. My shadow, no matter its dimensions, gave me the room I needed to truly look at my walk with God. It was a special kind of privacy I learned to cherish.

My shadow made me feel small at first–like a “weak” Christian who should have studied more to fight off the questions. But I learned throughout the course of the semester that dark places are often big simply to allow me room to grow. 

Today, I continue to ask questions, and God continues to walk the shadowy journey with me. And I’ve learned something along the way: Most of us are in some kind of dark place where we’re wrestling and growing and learning about who we are and who God is. I believe God has redeemed the unlit places of our lives, and He will use them for our good. We just have to step in and trust.