Thursday, October 23, 2014

So I Met Myself Today

And it was a lot less existential than it sounds.
See, I've been helping with the Wednesday Night Kids Thing at the Little Church (Okay, so I won't be anymore, but that's a horse of a different color, and a story I'll tell once I find out if it's worth telling). But anyway, there's this precious little girl, who's about five, and I swear to you, guys, she *is* me. Back when me was not such a fun thing to be.
The Kids Thing is one of those rewards-centric, memorize-your-verses-and-win-prizes sort of things, just like my Sunday school class when I was only a little bit older than the kid in question tonight. And those things make monsters out of perfectionists like yours truly. No, really. I was a terror, mostly to myself, but to others too. See, we're good at that kind of thing, this little kid and I. But then you get used to being the best. And then you get stuck feeling like you have to be the best. And then you beat yourself up whenever you're not the very best, and you feel like the world is going to end.
All that to say. I came in to closing tonight, leading my class of girls who are rather older than the little girl in question, and discovered this little girl sprawled out and sobbing silently. As quietly as I could, because by now the lesson had started and everyone was quiet, I knelt in front of her and got her to choke out what was the matter.
          "I didn't even get to finish one verse tonight," she said quietly.
And it was all in this moment when it dawned on me. This kid is me, you guys. Me back in the day, sure, but those demons still torment me today. The ones that try and convince me that my best isn't good enough, that my value comes from my ability to be perfect, that I'm never going to measure up.
So I tried to give her a pep talk. Remind her that it was all for fun, that it doesn't matter so much, that she did her best, that next week would be better. I convinced her to sit up and listen to the teacher and moved into the seat next to her. And subsequently watched her get more and more upset as her one little hand, in a classroom of thirty-three others that were bigger and louder, kept getting passed over to answer questions. And the one time she got called on, her answer simply wasn't what the teacher was looking for. Neither of these things are an injunction against the teacher - on any other day, the little girl wouldn't have been bothered. But tonight, with her tiny fledgling ego already bruised, it was the end of the world. Her normal avenue for finding value and worth had left her high and dry, and she felt small, invalid, and unimportant. By the time the lesson ended and all the other kids were dismissed, she was sobbing again, slumped over in my arms.
And I held this fragile little thing as she cried and I hated all over again all the voices in her head and in mine whispering that if we're not perfect, we're not worth it.
Another of her leaders came over, and started to giving her the single worst pep talk in the history of girlkind. Some line about how she's so pretty and smart and brilliant, and some day she'll meet a boy who thinks "This girl's so pretty, and smart, and she loves Jesus to boot," and he'll ask her out for ice cream, and wouldn't that be fun?
And I know the man meant well, but I wanted to smack him. Because that's exactly the problem, and there's not a snowball's chance that that's going to help her feel any better. Because she's already putting enough pressure on herself, already finding value in all the wrong places - and telling her that all her hard work is going to pay off when she meets some nice boy who appreciates it? I'm sorry, but that's crap.
So I interrupted him. And I told her exactly what I need to hear (and still, so often, have a time-and-a-half believing) whenever I'm feeling worthless. I told her, over and over again, that the Very Most Important Thing is that God loves her - no matter what. And that she doesn't have to be good enough for God's love, and that God doesn't stop loving her if she gets questions wrong or doesn't get to say her Bible verses. That God loves her even when she's not perfect, and even when she messes up, and that she's so, so, so special, even when she has a bad night at Bible study. And I asked her if she knew that, and she nodded. And I asked her if she believed it, and she nodded again. And I hope, I pray, that this little girl heard my words. Eventually her tiny little shoulders stopped shaking, and I brushed away the hair that was stuck to her tears, and I pulled her away to where I could see her face. And I looked her in the eye, and I said in a no-nonsense kind of voice, "You're gonna be okay."
She got a giggle out, and ran to join her friends. Probably, by now, she's totally forgotten about it; but it's four hours later and I still can't get it out of my head. There's a piece of me that wishes I was going to get to watch this kid grow up so that I can keep trying to help dismantle the demons in her head before she gets too old to get rid of them. But since I might never see her again, I just have to pray that what I said tonight stuck, and that God will send wise friends her way who won't let her beat herself up over stuff, who will remind her to hand her imperfections to God and trust him to love her no matter what. And if I'm ever a mom, and if my little girls (or boys) are anything like this little girl, anything like me (which there's a pretty fair chance of), I'm gonna tell them the same thing. God loves you even when you're not perfect.
Remember that, will you?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Open Letter to Some People I Care About

Okay. Here's the thing.
Can we talk about Jesus?
Because I'm soul-hungry and soul-thirsty.
And what you're handing me is sawdust, and it leaves me gasping and choking and inside-out-starving.
I'm soul-sick and soul-weary.
And this is not medicine or rest. It's like treating my bleeding places with a sleeping pill and my cancer with a band-aid. It's poking me with a stick and telling me to run faster when what I need is to sit and rest my aching feet. (And doesn't Jesus say "Come to me, all who are weary..."?)
Here's what I need.
I need you to break it down for me. Give it to me real simple, no matter how much I should be able to handle. I know I have teeth and I should be able to chew this, but I really. just. can't.
Because this Elder Sister has a prodigal heart, and I need the wake-up call of radical grace more than I need air. Stop my arguings and ask me questions too small, too simple, to astronomically huge for my intellect to get in the way of my heart answering you.
I'm hungry for gospel, yes, still; Still, after all these years, I need you to tell me the story about the Son of the God who made the stars gave his life so I could live. Tell me again that all that rests on me is to believe it, to accept it, and to walk forward in the knowing of it.
I keep needing to hear this. Over and over again. I never get away from needing to be reminded that I am a sinner saved by grace.
When the weight of your doctrinal debates and your systematized theologies and your theoretical discussions is to much for me, can you reach out a hand to help me up? Can we break it down and take it slow and get back to the things that matter on an eternity-shaping level? Can we, just for a little while, focus on the things I know we agree about?
Not all the time, I promise. I like the deep stuff, most of the time. I enjoy the debate, the up-in-arms that goes away as soon as we step outside of the classroom. I look forward to the stimulating conversation, and I feel like I've accomplished something all day when I get a word in edgewise. And hearing you all disagree about things I've always taken for granted gives me new chances to wrestle with what I believe. In the end, my beliefs are so much stronger for it, and I'm grateful for that. I understand why this is good, and healthy, and fun. But I can't do it all the time. I need the great-big-little-ness of eternal constants and incontrovertible truth. I need for us to talk about Jesus.
And here's my thing, friend. I know my stuff well enough to know that I am not the only one. I used to feel that way. I used to think that it was just me. I used to feel bad about it. But I've learned since then it's the hang-up of many, many, many of us who've grown up within the four walls of an American church struggle with on a much-more-than-daily basis. You, my friend, I know, need to hear this too. Because a soul that gets complacent on knowing stuff and talking about stuff doesn't con-cen-trate (because it's con-cen-tric that's the operative word - we are, by nature, cyclical beings) on the Really Important Stuff anything like often enough to live like a soul that's seeped in Jesus is capable of living. It doesn't get Kingdom-Work done like a soul that's never gotten over the wordless, moment-by-moment gratitude inspired by unfathomable grace. Believe me. I've tried.
I don't know how to treat my faith like an intellectual exercise. I don't know how to spit out John 3:16 (which, I've always been taught, is the hinge-verse of the faith that is the deciding factor of my entire existence) like it's something stuck between my teeth, like I'm back in fifth grade and saying times-tables. Maybe it's the way I was raised, maybe it's my emotionalist, sensational background, maybe it's part of the joys of being raised Baptist in the dirty South (I never thought anything would make me miss Baptists so bad). Maybe it's not you, it's me. But I know that I know that I know that there's more to this faith we're walking in than being able to coolly, as though you were commenting on the weather, toss around phrases like God and sin and grace and love and Jesus.
Seriously, guys, this is base-code-of-the-universe stuff, and I don't know how to talk about it without my chest hurting and my eyes smarting. Can that fire still reach you? Can you feel the heat of that in your chest? When was the last time you let something pierced your soul?
Because I'm pretty sure that tender-heartedness (that sense of cut-me-and-I'll-bleed) is what makes it all work. I'm pretty sure that compassion and humility (I'm slowly learning that humility is what keeps the world spinning on its axis) and desire-to-witness and everything else that is supposed to be a part of what living for Jesus looks like, all springs from tender-heartedness, which springs, ultimately, from gratitude. From being able to feel the sinner-saved-by-grace miracle taking place underneath your skin as fresh as the day you first prayed that sinner's prayer (or whatever it is you did, on the off-chance that's just a Baptist thing).
And this is the thing I'm worst at.
So I need to be reminded.
So can we talk about Jesus?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

On Leadership Potential, Stubbornness, Mutual Exclusivity, and Busy Schedules OR You Want Me To Do What?

I'm, erm, kind of, maybe, eventually, being promoted. At work. That is, I'm on my way to being promoted. This means lots of things. It means better money, which is good. It means more hours, which is good and terrifying (for reasons I'll explain in a moment). It means more responsibility, which is just terrifying. It means I'm not actually terrible at my job, they aren't just keeping me around because they can't find an excuse to fire me (which is a relief, actually, 'cause I personally feel like a screw-up so often that I wasn't sure). I'm not sure I want it, but I've accepted it anyway. The most deeply terrifying thing is that I'm younger, in age and seniority, than everyone I'm being promoted ahead of, which could be......intresting. Bad-interesting.
More hours is terrifying because I'm...busy. I'm taking nine credit-hours this summer, six of which are in the first six weeks. As Daddy put it, sleep is for the weak. I'll be okay. But crazy classes and more hours at work is scary. Very scary.
It's been a long time since I sat with my friends and had good long talks and laughed and caught up on the gossip from the Little Mission. I ran into a handful at Starbucks after I got off work last Wednesday, but I didn't have time to stay long. And, the last time I did, sit with a friend, a very, very dear friend, for a long time, we had a scary conversation. She...doesn't think I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. She thinks I'm supposed to, at least partly, come back. Whether that's not yet or no altogether, I don't know yet. But no. She thinks I'm wasting gifts and not living a fulfilling life and not serving God like I need to be. All true? Maybe. But I've got this insurmountable feeling that I'm just not ready yet, which is something this friend doesn't know and probably wouldn't get. After everything that happened at the Little Mission, and everything that's happened there since I left, I just...God and me have been going through a kind of a rough patch. It was the most emotionally, spiritually draining time of my life, and I've mostly just been trying to figure out which way's the ground and which way's the sky and who I am without the Mission and my work. And all the lines blur and the margins shrink and my Faith and my relationship with the God who made the stars gets kind of mixed and muddled in my head with everything else, with my fears and my dreams and my desires my politics and my nostalgia and my social anxiety and my regrets and it gets hard to keep my eyes on Jesus. But maybe not doing God-work because I don't feel ready is the biggest sin of all and maybe I know that already.
Which brings me to: the New Church, desperately, needs help in their children's ministry. Also, it's on the same side of town that I used to work on with the Little Mission. Ergo, if I got involved, I'd probably see some very familiar faces. I might get to see my babies again. And I could jump in with both feet, and I know God would catch me, and I could get to do something I love and be serving again and be useful again and maybe. But, hours at work. But, hours of school. But, here I am in a bind I never thought I would be - what if I can't make the time? But what if I did, and it means I finally feel like I belong here, at the New Church.
Also, what if ministry isn't about me? (This is, actually, something I already know. I promise. The practice...gets a little sticky.)
And, in the mix with all of this, Mum made a new friend. Who lives in our neighborhood. Who has a daughter. Who's a few years younger than me. This girl knows about me (technically, I think, has my phone number, although I haven't heard from her yet). This girl needs a friend. Mum wants me to reach out to her. I need a friend. I'd like to reach out to her.
(For the flaws in this situation, see point a) busy at work, point b) busy with school, point c) currently unqualified to be of any good to anybody, and point d) [maybe] busy at church, and also the fact that I'm rubbish at making friends with people my own age and am grossly out of practice at mentor-ish-ing.)

Open Letter to Every Kid I Met Last Year

First off, I miss you. Like fire. All the time. Always.
Secondly, I'm still kind of scared I did the wrong thing by leaving you guys. (Even though I know that I know that I know that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing right now).
Thirdly, I pray for you, although maybe not as much as I should. I pray that you're happy and healthy and safe and loved and staying out of trouble and getting to know God better and growing in him and that there's somebody in your life telling you more and more and more about how much Jesus loves you.
If there isn't right now? I just hope you remember. Remember everything you learned when we were together.
And if you don't remember that, remember that you had a friend who loved you, who told you about a Friend who Loves you so, so, so, so much more.
Jesus loves you.
I love you.
I miss you.
I'm sorry.

College and Career OR Well This Was Unexpected

Just under two years ago, I posted this. It was the summer after my senior year of high school, just a month and a half before we moved away from our little county and moved in with my grandparents, about six months before I moved away from home all together to come work at the Little Mission. Feels like much, much longer. In that post, I talked about my experiences with visiting my home church's young adult group. It didn't go so well.
Over the course of the last few weeks, we've, kind of, found a new church. Number fourteen for the 'rents and the sibs, though I'm not quite certain how many of those I've accompanied them to. It's a little Community Church, and the people are kind and real and the worship is good and it's starting to feel like home. Kind of. They, erm, they have a College and Career ministry. I've been going to Sunday School. So far the work schedule has prevented me from doing anything else, but anyway. I kind it. Kind of. There's all these people who are older than me, lots of recent college graduates, lots of looking-for-internships, applying-for-jobs. I'm one of four-ish girls, in a class with, well, a lot of guys. Who talk. A lot. Group discussion is kind of male-dominated, and partially consists of me and this other girl giving each other looks across the circle. But it's good. And fun. I'm still kind of learning the lingo, trying to keep up with names. They've all known each other for a crazy-long time, and that can make one feel, kind of, small. And it's hard to start to feel like a part of a group you only see once a week, which would be different if I could pull off being there at any other time, but so far, nada.
Being with people my own age is one of the things I'm worst at. In youth group, it was the Me-and-Joy show, so everything was easy. Then at the Little Mission, being my typical shy, socially inept self was a non-option, seeing as how I spent every waking moment with the same, like, seven people who were everything to me - friends, family, coworkers, support system, etc. That kind of closeness, the kind that forced me to be me, doesn't happen in a Sunday School classroom. So so far, with the New Church, I've laughed. Giggled. Searched for opportunities to interject a clever or on-topic comment. Succeeded maybe half-a-dozen times. It's hard when they're all telling stories from camp together when they were twelve. I was halfway across the country when they were twelve.
This morning, I laughed very hard at a very funny story. I admitted to having watched the first five minutes of Sharknado. I hummed my agreement to a point in the lesson. I almost volunteered to read, but was beat to it by somebody else. I shared a commiserating glance with the girl I, think, I can call my friend. Progress?
The hardest thing is hoping people can look at quiet and see shy and nervous instead of aloof and arrogant. Can look at hardly-ever-here and see busy, not detached and doesn't care. And the fact that I care what people think when they look at me says one thing - I'm here. It was funny, when Mom asked if I was okay with this church being where we stay, I told her, one-hundred-percent seriously, that I never would've set foot in a Sunday School classroom full of people my own age if I hadn't intended on staying at the church.
Wish me luck?

In Which The Girl (Still) Writes

So, anybody remember that thing I used to do? Like, stringing words together? It used to be the only thing that made any sense. The only thing I was absolutely certain about.
Thing is, I've been caught in a slump. Call it permanent writer's block. All my old stories kind of fizzled out over the year I was too busy to work on them, and I've had a hard time picking up the threads. I've been busy with school, and a bit short in the inspiration department. I've been unsure of my own ability, since, as time passes, I keep looking back at things I wrote that I thought were marvelous at the time, and realizing that they're sort of rubbish. I'm not sure I'll ever get better. Also, I don't know what I want to write. I've always thought it was YA, but now I'm not so sure. I don't know what I can write that there is room for in the publishing world. I don't know if I really believe in the current model, with a handful of names skyrocketing to fame and movie deals and the rest getting read by, like, thirteen people, half of which they're related to. Kids like me, armed with dreams and a portfolio of half-finished novels and a handful of decent short stories, are a dime a dozen. I'm not so sure my writing is ever going to get me anywhere.
That is, I wasn't so sure. But the weird thing is, things keep happening. Little things that make me feel like I'm being chastised for giving up too soon.
First, Thought Catalog published a personal essay of mine, something I submitted on a whim because I'd written it for myself and it seemed like something their readers might appreciate. Essay proceeded to do well in the likes-and-shares department - not spectacularly well, but comparatively, respectably well. And that felt pretty cool.
Then there's my English teacher. See, homeschooling, I never got any feedback on my academic writing from anyone who wasn't related to me. Wasn't really sure where I measured up in the scheme of things. But this year, my teacher (who's an utterly spectacular lady, by the way), who has nothing to gain or lose by offering her honest opinion, has given me really positive feedback. Like, "You're a natural at this, you've got grace and style, you need to keep writing," positive.
She also gave the whole class a chance at extra credit if we entered the school literary journal's quarterly writing contest. Never one to say no to seven points of extra credit for doing something I love, I entered two pieces (we could enter up to three): the short story about Vincent Van Gogh that I wrote my senior year of high school, and a new piece I'd written for a Figment prompt contest just a couple of months ago. After having entered them, I didn't give it another thought. Until the email showed up in my inbox. Both stories made it to the semi-finals. Not one or the other. Both.
And then, ehm, I won. First place.
Then there's the strangest thing. There's this subculture of Tumblr users, devoted to writing and consuming, devouring, a thing called reader-insert fan fiction. It's written about characters or celebrities, but with the "reader" acting as a character in the story. It's written in the second person. Have you ever tried to sustain writing in the second person? Ugh. But anyway, I stumbled across this subculture one day, and I wondered if I could do it. If I could pull it off. Second person, yes. Also, writing to a very specific audience. Screw up the characterization of the character you're working with, and you find yourself with angry fangirls on your hands. Also, for a reader to allow you to recruit them into your story requires trust, which you break if you take the reader-character too far into its own personality. Any reader has to be able, not only to identify with, but become this character. This character has to be literally everyone who reads it, not only as they are, but as they'd like to see themselves. Egos are funny things. Is it great, high literature? No. If Really Great Literature is a four-course meal, this brand of fan fiction is, like, chocolate and morphine. But it's a challenge, and it's fun, and it requires minimal commitment. Even by the standards of the blog I submitted it to, it's been popular. I'm going to have to finish the story.
So, I guess, the girl still writes. What does that look like? No clue. Zip. Zilch. Nada. But, erm, I guess we'll find out.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Personal Day

So, Dad's working in the city all day every day this week. Means this girl's stuck at home all week, right? 
See, here's the thing. I just finished an evil two weeks of classes, including but not limited to an evil sociology research paper that ate my brain. I need some fun this week! So, I hatched a plan and I'm going to follow it through. 
I'm gonna ride into the city with Dad. I've been wanting to go to the art museum since I moved here, and Dad's thing isn't exactly close (okay, it'd be a three hour walk), with the intervention of public transportation, I'll get to spend the day in the museum. They have several Van Gogh pieces, which longtime followers will know would be a lifelong dream come true. Just to stand in the same room - amazing. Then, there's a pretty park around the corner that's served by several food trucks, so I can grab a bite to eat. I can take my camera, take some pictures, and I'll bring a journal for sitting in the park. The weather is supposed to be good, not too hot or too cold. I'll be by myself all day, which will be nice, and navigating the city will be good practice. I'm rather excited. Just have to study tomorrow, work tomorrow night, then I get to have my adventure.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Girl Works Retail OR Yes, This Is Actually My First Proper Job

Inquired, interviewed, interviewed again, got the gig. I work selling kids' clothes - shirt-folding and sign-changing and people-helping and weird is that?
What's funny is how incredulous people seem to get that I've never done this before. Yeah, I'm twenty. No, I've never worked in retail before, no I didn't work in a restaurant before this, no, I've never had a proper job. My life just didn't work that way. But it does now, and I'm grateful to be working, and it's been going, surprisingly, well. Yes, I'm folding shirts at an outlet mall. No, I don't plan to be here forever, or hopefully very long at all. But it's fun, and challenging, and pushes me out of my comfort zone, so it's good.
Like with most things, I was terrified at first. But I've been very careful to manage that, not to let it be a big deal. The great thing about a normal job is that it's just that - a job. I can leave my work at work and it doesn't have to affect my life outside. And I'm a quick study, and I'm easy to work with and eager to please, so I think everything's going to be alright.
The hardest part is being loud enough. This bit-of-a-hermit just does not have the personality for salespersoning. Oh, you don't want to buy that? Okay. Yes, I hate shopping too. Okay, well, bye then. There's a sort of aggressiveness - one I don't have - that's required for working in an industry focused mainly on separating people from their money. I don't have it. Not even sure where I stand on it ethically. However. Right now, it'll pay my phone bill, help put gas in the car, and help me not have to rely on my parents for everything. These are all good things, and well worth a little minimum-wage-moral-stretching. Sell baby-sized skinny jeans and fedoras I shall.
Love me anyway?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Almost There OR Things What I Get to Do with My Spring Break

Two more essays. Five hundred words. Five more hours in which to complete them. And then I'm there. I get my spring break. And I'm Al. Most. There. Can you tell I'm over it?
So I told myself I could write this list, a list of things that I get to do over my spring break. And maybe that will motivate me to finish.
Write the fanfiction that's been bugging me.
Read Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
Read poetry.
Go shopping for embroidery floss and start the geek-cross-stitch projects I've charted out.
Starbucks. Don't judge me.
Watch ALL the movies. Or TV shows. I could pick a tv show to binge on. That could be fun.
Go to the gym. There's one in the clubhouse of our apartments. I will have time. I will not have an excuse. Yes. I will do it.

But, I can only do all these things AFTER I finish this midterm. Write, woman! Write!

Monday, March 3, 2014

How To Make Caramel and Be Brave

Little bird,
Quit biting your fingernails, there's nothing left to bite. Don't be afraid of what other people say, or think, or do, because in the end, you're the one who's got to go on living inside your head - and you're going to have to do whatever it takes to make that okay. You're gonna have to love yourself, which once in a while means taking care of yourself. Which once in a while means protecting yourself.
What does a bird do when something is hurting it? When something threatens it? When something isn't safe? It spreads its wings and flies away. It protects itself. If something is bringing you pain, you don't have to stay. Give yourself permission to fly away. End toxic relationships. Cut out toxic people. If something is bringing you pain, you don't have to allow it to stay a part of your life. You are amazing and wonderful and awesome and special and important and there isn't room in your blessed, beautiful life for repeat offenders in the pain department.
Consolidate. Take stock of your resources, and rethink where you're investing of yourself and your time. Re-invest in the things that bring you joy, the things that get you closer to your goals, the things that matter.
Find what makes you happy. It's high time you were happy again.
You have my permission to be happy.

 (Bring a pot of water to a boil. Stick an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in the water. Boil for 2.5 hours. Remove from water, stick into fridge for 1.5 hours. Remove from fridge, open lid, and enjoy!)