Celebrate returning to faith, hope, culture and life with community.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

an open letter to the newly-graduated, lonely girls







































When the leaves fell from colors in the sky to colors on the ground, three years ago, I realized that life would always be different from outside of the collegiate Christian community.

See, just a few months before, my girlfriends and I whipped the Barney-purple graduation caps (mortar boards for those who are interested) into the air. We were a streamline of celebration: complete in adulthood. All grown up, all set and all-knowing.

But the zeal toward life, particularly life as a Christ-follower, began to simmer as soon as our diplomas were hung on the walls of our childhood homes and graduation checks stopped coming in congratulatory pieces of mail.

And a few of us were convinced that the pictures in our graduation albums wouldn't have been littered with such dazzling, hopeful smiles if we knew what was going to happen just a few months later...

We soon realized that college was what the word "nostalgia" was invented for. Because, just like the Friends theme song: no one told us life was gunna be this way.

We were a lonely, newly-graduated community. And we were dispersed in communities and workplaces that didn't grade our papers. We traded in our collegiate stressors for "real-world"ones.

We didn't just get Fs on papers, we got fired. We didn't just stress about having enough money on our respective dining cards, we worried about having enough money to keep our lights and water turned on. We didn't just worry about our majors–whether or not we were taking the right courses–we worried whether or not we were on the right course all together.

And the bonds we had formed with the Christians we had grown close to in the secular campuses? Dispersed.

Still present, of course, in our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds. But the flesh of those bonds were gone. Only the skeletons and fading memories remained.

We know this because conversations with these once close sisters are sometimes challenging to maintain when we see them at weddings, and bridal or baby showers. We can comment on a meal a friend has had, or a trip they've taken because we've seen pictures of all of this.

They've been so close this whole time–just a foot or two in front of us, displayed like a painting or an electronic mirage on our computer screens–we know where they've been, but we've forgotten who they are. And those sorts of conversations make your bones shake with loneliness.

***

Freshman year of college, we were all practically attacked by little 3x5 fluorescent invitations from Intervarsity, CRU or even DURAG (Divine Unity Righteously Applying God, my favorite). At my college, there was even a Christian a cappella group that I diligently auditioned for (twice), and was (very thankfully) admitted into.

These girls became my best friends. My sisters. We were a stronghold. An army of believers in a party-school. Bringing Rice Krispy treats to keggers, singing worship songs in stairwells and cafeterias.

We prayed fiercely for each other. Holding each other's burdens. Having mental/emotional break downs in front of one another.

Together, each of us walked through parent's divorces, break ups, and addictions. And what a luxury it was to be able to completely lose it. To be able to relish in a community of Believers.

We didn't know how rare this community was at the time. We didn't know what we were leaving when we donned our gowns and walked across the platform.

We didn't think that we'd miss holding hands and praying. We didn't think we'd miss emailing each other in times of personal crises, when our term papers were deleted from our computers, or when we had two exams on the same day.

But, we do.

Three years later, we're all still searching for the same sisterhood. Still searching for the community that looked like it used to: when we would circle up at the drop of an email, text or phone call.

All of this time, our eyes have been shucked like corn. Always open, always exposed, always looking for blades of a grasslike community. Always looking for moments of friendship like we had in college; moments that echo nights of the same worship and prayer.

***

You will find it, again. In your new place. In whatever the "real world" looks like for you right now.

You may have recently graduated. And you may believe that this community doesn't exist any longer.


But, I promise, you will find the people. You will find those who you thank God for every time you remember them. Just like your college girlfriends, the girls who even three years later will mean the absolute world to you.

Even now, three years later, we are all, still, just getting started. Wading in the edge of the sea. But our struggles have changed. We're foraying into Motherhood. Wifehood. Careers. The publishing industry. The music industry.

We email, we text, we call, we cry and we pray.

But we also step into the communities where we've been planted: hanging on to the people who will care for and love us in this stage of life, too.

Maybe we won't go skinny dipping in Ithaca, New York's gorges. Maybe you won't link fingers with them while you pray; symbolizing strengths folding over weaknesses to make a group strong. Some of those things are reserved just for college.

A few months out of college, you may wonder if that season is behind you forever. You'll wonder if you'll ever make connections like you had before.


You will. I promise.

I promise you'll cry the day your coworker's daughter is born. You'll join writer's groups, or church groups that share the same love for the same God.

These people will mean as much to you as your college's Christian community. But, they'll turn up all over the world.

They'll be sprinkled into your workplaces and churches. Your coffee shops and grocery stores.

No one may have ever told you life was gunna be this way–three years later, I can tell you that it's going to be full and rich. It's going to be full of communities of people who love and support you. And you will love them right back.

That it's going to look a little different than college. But that it will be powerful all the same.



Talk to me, sisters. Did you ever go through a bout of loneliness post-college? Are you submerged in a community that you feel welcomed in? How are you dealing with the "real-world" transition? Leave me a comment below!

photo credit: davidwallace via photopin cc
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

trader essau's: exchanging faith for a term paper


What's a synchroblog, you ask? Today, MWWF linked up with Addie Zierman, the author of When We Were On Fire. She asked her readers to link up their stories of a time when they were "on fire" for God, and a moment when that fire was gone.

This is my story.
















Once upon a time I traded in my faith for a term paper.

It was the spring semester of my senior year of college. My Bible as Literature class was where the exchange took place, and I thought it was a pretty good deal at the time.

It was the capstone class for my English degree. And our professor–who my best friend and I called "Mosby"–challenged us to push our notions of faith and reason aside.

"Come in, come in," Mosby would beckon to the class each day. "Let's talk about the Old Testament and all of the tall-tales within it."

Mosby was a strident atheist, and was strict on two fronts: timeliness ("come to class on time or don't come at all," was her catchphrase), and eliminating the Christian faith from our classroom discussions.


"I don't care what religious background you came from," Mosby would say to our class, holding up a disciontary-sized Oxford Bible. "Put all of that behind you–we're reading this text as fiction. As literature."


So, that's what we did. We picked apart the stories and the God of the Old Testament. We picked apart my favorite Biblical characters: Abraham, Joseph, David, Moses, Solomon, Samson...



These people who I had spent my whole life gleaning from became simple, flat stories. Not historical figures. Not flesh-and-blood people of real faith and real wisdom. No more real than Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy, or Elizabeth Bennett. Life-changing people–but alive only on black and white pages of frayed books.

So, it was there in the dingy, chalk-littered classroom every Monday, Wednesday and Friday that I became a rag doll Christ-follower. I was building little sand castles of faith, and my professor’s intelligent cynicism with Christianity was the tide that washed them away every morning.

In order to pass the class, we each needed to leave our faith at the door. For 150 minutes a week, we were instructed to become Atheists. Become absent of faith. Absent of the tradition and belief that wove in and out of my life since its start. Since I was old enough to sing the lines of "Jesus Loves Me" and recite the Lord's prayer.

I learned in the womb that Jesus loved me. I prayed to him on my first day of Kindergarten, telling him that I needed him to come with me to school as I tied my pink, glitter laces. Knowing that I’d be lonely without Him there.

But, in that class, reading the Bible as literature, it was like the curtain was torn, and the walls of Jericho collapsed. The Red Sea parted and my faith dried up.

My best friend, who took the class as an elective, struggled. She couldn’t write about the story about the Prodigal son, or Joseph, or Abraham, or Jacob and Essau without incorporating her understanding of what Christ had done for her in the mix.

Mosby would return her papers with red ink crawling the page. Scratching out words like "Christ" and "faith." Blotting out any words or inklings of Christianity.

For me, though, it was simple. I had found my stride in my English department. Writing was my power tool. And I took pride in my ability to disconnect from the faith I had grown steeped in throughout my whole life.


I ruptured myself. And I began studying, absorbing what my professor spoke into me, like the bread of my very life had been made soggy from dipping it in too much wine of the world.

In that class, my best friend got Cs and Ds and became a youth pastor, with a vibrant life. SHe was a good student, but couldn't bring herself to do what Mosby asked of her. She intertwined her faith in her papers, and she left school with a greater purpose, a bigger picture in mind.

I got A's, because I was trapped in my professor's will.

I didn’t realize that by excluding my faith from my double-spaced ramblings, I had begun the laborious task of detangling the knot of a thread that was what held me together.



Before long, faith was ripped from my soul, sharply, with sting.  With the sound of a million pieces of velcro and bandaids being torn apart with a quick, staccato pull.

I cried, because I found myself suddently reaching, striving, yearning just to grab the hem of my Master’s robe.  Just a strand, just a hint of the Savior that I used to know and love without question, hesitation or skepticism.

This class had taught me how to straddle the shoreline of faith–one foot in the sea, the other in the sand. Somehow disconnecting the faith in my heart and the knowledge in my head. And just like Jacob traded his inheritance to Essau for a bowl of soup, I traded my faith for a term paper.

I wrote as if I were an atheist. And I was good at it. I felt smart and strong as a result.

At the end of the day when the final period was dotted on the edge of the last sentence of my term paper, I couldn’t really see evidence of the Christian faith other than fiction. 

When I graduated, my bowl of soup, my grades, my relationships were empty–though I shuffled out of that class with an "A" in my academic bonnet. 

But I was left, like Jacob, with the hypnotic, stupefied trance of his remaining hunger when he heard his spoon echo against the clanking emptiness of his bowl.

I left hungry, and without an inheritance of faith.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

plagued by the "but, what if...?": how do we love others with no record of wrongs?


















Lately, if clutching to grudges was an Olympic sport, I think I'd take home the gold medal.

It must be the weather. Virginia Beach has been plagued with enough rain this week to raise wonder if we should start building arks and welcoming pairs of animals on board. Or maybe it's the fact that I'm not in school anymore and that I'm searching for something to spend my free time doing.

Part of my begrudging, Olympian training comes in the form of asking myself the deadliest sentence in the whole world. Consisting of three haunting words:

But, what if...?

Those three words are devastating to life. At least, they are to me. But, what if they are to you, too?

You see, I'm a recovering commitment-phobe.

I don't like making plans too far in advance (what if I feel tired that night, or something better comes along?). I don't like signing leases (what if I'm trapped in an apartment for a whole year, but my life circumstances change drastically?). I don't like having dreams for the future (what if I'm disappointed in their outcome, or I fail at achieving them?).

I didn't like being in relationships, or being in deep friendships (what if they hurt me?).

My defense mechanism for being plagued by the but what if? Playing the victim. Getting mad and avoiding making plans altogether.

Because you can't get hurt if you're not committed to anything. Right?

It's not like this attitude is unwarranted. Since I'm a champ at holding onto grudges, it makes it really easy to remember why I shouldn't commit myself to taking things too seriously. I've been let down before:

The ballet studio where I spent nearly all of my time in during my elementary, middle and high school careers began rejecting me for senior roles.

People of a church I used to be a member of began treating me differently after I committed to the congregation. I was just another lost lamb returning to the herd.

The writing I pour myself into sometimes doesn't feel like it give me much in return.

A good girlfriend left and packed her bags with two weeks notice. Replying with an "I know," to my heart-felt "I'll miss you."

Another has been too swarmed by her own love story to notice the hurt in the lives of others.

And then I totally fail, too. I fail in my commitments to paying my bills on time. To following through on lunch plans and tennis dates. To volunteering when I said I would, or bringing dinner to a friend in need.

It makes me wonder why we even bother loving and committing to one another, because it just seems that we let each other down time after time after time...

I realized tonight that I've been keeping a roster of wrongdoings with the people I love lately. That's crazy. It needs to stop.

Christ totally never did that.

'll be the first to throw up my hands and yell, "I'M NOT CHRIST." And then neglect to even try. But, I don't want to be a part of a generation of people scared to commit to others. Scared too much by the "but, what if" to even try to keep my promises.

How do we learn to love others without keeping records of wrongs? And how do we keep our promises to them, even when it hurts and even when they don't keep their promises to us?

I think there will always be a "but what if" in our lives.

We will each let someone down every day. Because we're not perfect. Because we're finite. Because we're selfish and rude and proud. And, I'm learning that most of the time, I encompass everything that 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 says that love is not.

I'm easily angered (take a ride with me in the car).

I dishonor others.

I've been keeping a record of wrongs.

But, what if each of us reaches the end of our lives and have nothing that we've harvested with our own two hands? What if, at the end of our days, we're alone because we've listed a daily record of wrongs?

What if we live consistently committing to nothing, not even to lunch dates and signing leases? Can we truly say that we are committed to Christ?

What if tonight was a chance to change? What if it was an invitation to make a commitment to loving others and abolishing the record of wrongs you've kept tied around your wrist?

What if that's where love actually began?





I'm going to challenge myself to make one commitment this week and keep it with no exception. Even if it means inconveniencing myself. Even if it means saying "no" to a better offer. I'll challenge you all to do the same. Let me know what you commit to do in the comments below! It can be a lunch date with a friend you keep canceling on. It could be a phone call to a friend who you've been meaning to call. Do it. No ifs, ands or but, what ifs!

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

pots and pans: thoughts on making a joyful noise




















About six months ago, my life was consumed by seeking justice for a series of wrongdoings that unfolded throughout a former relationship.



These wrongdoings happened gradually, and I fell victim to them again and again. Slowly. Naively. And a little bit because I thought I was in love.


It wasn't until much later (a full year later) after the relationship ceased, that I started seeking help. This help came in the form of a mentor I frequently call "my Mordecai," referring, of course, to Esther's uncle, the man who guided the new queen to seek justice on behalf of the Jewish nation.

Though, my Mordecai only really wanted me to realize that I needed to seek justice on behalf of myself.

So, it was six months ago. Six months ago that I started a new job, moved into a new apartment, and moved into a place of finding healing and redemption.

This new job put me in a place where I was going to have to write a story about a woman who was visiting campus. A woman who's story was a little different than mine, but the themes remained the same: robbed of joy, robbed of pride, robbed of worth.

She was going to speak at an event. And it was my job to ask questions, take pictures, and write about it. And I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

I told my Mordecai that I just couldn't write the story. That this woman's voice was going to be too much like mine. That I was too fragile to be able to dwell on someone's 

He told me to keep going. To do my job. That I was a professional, and that I shouldn't let events like this win over my life.

He was, of course, right. 

So the day the woman arrived on campus, I had my camera around my neck, my pad and pen poised, and a shield of distrust and bitterness surrounding me.

"I'll get in and get out," I thought. "I won't speak to a soul, I'll write the story and I'll get on with it."

I walked into the auditorium, and saw the woman I was trying to avoid just a few yards away. And made the fatal mistake of making eye contact.

Whoops.


"Focus, Brett, focus. You can do this. You can compartmentalize," I reminded myself. "You can separate business from your personal life."

And who is it who begins walking toward me but the speaker? This woman who would share her story with an entire community of strangers. This woman whose burdens have been made light by helping others in similar situations. 

So much for keeping it professional. I hugged her. I thanked her for sharing her story and for being such a brave, courageous woman.

"It makes all of the difference," I told her.

Today, six months later (a.k.a. today) she returned to campus. To my workplace. And was heading up another event that I was assigned to cover. 
But first, she was going to lead a special chapel service. One, as luck would have it, that I was singing in.


"It won't be a problem though," I told myself. "You've already gotten over the hump. You know you can handle being involved these things--because you've done it before."

It was our choir director who broke my train of thoughts.

"We need to show people the redemptive message of the cross," He explained. "This message is hard, and people need to hear about the cross so that they can be delivered from their pain and heartbreak--and even if we're banging on pots and pans, we need to make a joyful noise. Even banging on pots and pans would honor God if we do it worship-fully."

Great Lord,
I thought. Now you actually want me to be joyful on behalf of others? Keeping
my cool in a professional atmosphere is one thing, but now you actually expect me to be joyful about it?!
His answer was yes.

So, I "made a deal" with God.

I prayed: Okay, Lord. I may not be able to sound pretty. The notes may be stuck in my throat. My voice may be raw. But I will stand here, "banging on pots and pans" if it brings you joy.

And in that moment, I got it. I understood what it meant to be able to find gladness in life's trials. What it meant to, not just be okay or be capable of compartmentalizing after a trauma or trial.

As I stood singing, making a joyful noise in worship, I understood what it was that God challenging me to do.

He was challenging me to be healed.

He was challenging me to be redeemed.

And He was letting me live it out--allowing me to realize that healing and redemption sometimes sounds a lot like banging on pots and pans.


Talk to me, sisters! Has there ever been a time in your life when you have felt like being "just okay" wasn't good enough, and that the Lord was calling you to find "joy in your present sufferings?" Tell me about it below!



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