Square 1

Previously on Underground voices, we saw that, once again, I was freaking out about making a decision. Do I leave home (sort of) and live at university, risking my very life and relationship with my family? Dun Dun Dun

Well, turns out that the decision wasn’t really mine after all. I didn’t push too hard. I told tell her that I didn’t want to do it if she wasn’t going to give me her blessing. And this was probably a good approach. I mean, what if something did go wrong? I would never hear the end of it.

“Apparently, now’s not the right time.”

“$10,000 for room and board!”

“This might make you happy- it can’t be right.”

“It’s true that you can’t love your family more than God- but if you can’t even help the other members of your household, what makes you think you’ll have any luck in the world at large?”

So here we are, back at square one. The show is over and the status quo is restored.

Why am I not thrilled about this? I was perfectly happy before I got the call. Everything is the same, but why do I feel so disappointed?

I know that I’ve got to stop martyring myself, but I don’t want to. You see, I don’t think I really want to accept and embrace the situation. I don’t even think I want things to get better this year. I just want them to see me bravely suffering, and I want them to feel kind of bad about it. Isn’t that messed up? Oh, sure, I won’t cry all the time, but why not sigh every once in a while? Why not let them see the subtle sadness in my eyes?

I know this is stupid, especially when they think they are doing what’s best for me. They really believe they are. And maybe this is what’s best for me. You can’t really argue with God’s decisions. Or, I guess you can, but why even bother in this case? Why can’t I just be flexible and patient? Just a sliver of good attitude would go a long way.

I know that my “dream” couldn’t have been that great in real life. It’s doubtful that I would have found everything that I was looking for there. At the other end of that tunnel is probably just loneliness and confusion, albeit in a different setting.

I really shouldn’t complain. I mean, what would I really complaining about? “Oh, noooo, I have a nice home and my family loves me, and by the way, I am getting a college education and I have a few friends, and the Lord of all creation sent HIs son to die for me so that I could become His daughter and have eternal life, despite all the pathetic failures and horrible, unspeakable  sins tallied against me that will all be wiped away as if they never existed.”

Yeah, doesn’t get that much worse than that.

Hehe

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Change- So We Finally Meet

Hello change,

You were right, you always stalk on by when I least expect it. Still deciding how I feel about you.

Sincerely…

I was just merrily writing along, happy as a clam. It had been a good day, despite the fact that I felt a little under the weather. It was nice outside, so I hobbled around and looked at the flowers to get some exercise. I watched some TV, and sat down to do a bit of writing. The house was quiet- what I”d been dreaming of- and I had time to spare. Not to mention, my friend writer’s block has been out of town, so there are really no complaints. I only wish I had a little more drive and willpower to really push through.

But anyway, enough about that. I was writing, and I got this phone call. I thought it might be the hospital. For a split second, I probably thought I was dying. But no- it was good news! At university, there were a couple super last-minute openings for on campus housing.

Yes, I did consider that good news. Good news that I hadn’t been expecting at all, especially after the email that I got, twice, which basically said, “Yeah, better luck next time, there’s way too much demand so find some other option.” So, of course, I made peace with it. What choice did I have? Another year of commuting- I was okay with that. Wasn’t I? I was happy!

So, there it was, there was the opportunity that I’d been dreaming of for so long- leaving home. But was it there to just taunt me? I imagined telling my mom about this. I expected an immediate and emphatic “no.” Why disturb the delicate balance?

I waited for what seemed like a long time. When we finally sat around the table with our sandwiches, I spit it out. To my surprise, she did not say “no.” She asked questions, made conditions, and expressed some concerns, but very calmly and cheerfully. I couldn’t believe she was being so reasonable. But it wasn’t a definite yes either.

I couldn’t curb all the youthful excitement. I could see a glimpse of it, of everything that I had ever dreamed of. Not spending two hours a school day in the car, having friends, people to talk to, going to events, meetings, making a difference in the community, being part of people’s lives…

Long story short, I asked my mom for an answer. She went back and forth many times. I cried a little. She obviously doesn’t really want me to go, but she could kind of understand my position. And I could understand her concerns too. Okay, that’s not really true, but I am truing to understand her position.

The reality of the thing hit me. And the price- almost $10,000. I knew it wasn’t going to be the dream I thought it would be, but reality always seems to hit me much harder than I imagined it would.

Now, where we stand is that I am allowed to go. She won’t hold me back, but she won’t support me either.

I am excited, frustrated, and yes, very apprehensive. I don’t want to ruin my relationship with my family over this. I don’t want to be selfish.

I just want something to change I guess!

Is this what God wants? Would it be best for everyone in the long run?

I’ll sleep on it, I guess. Maybe by tomorrow, the opportunity will be gone, someone would have already taken it. I’m kind of hoping that’s the case so I don’t have to make a decision.

But I don’t really want that to be the case!

Agh- a house divided cannot stand.

I Once Had a Christian Professor

I really think so. On the last day of class, he gave us an inspirational speech on how we shouldn’t be afraid to enter the real world and pursue a career in accounting. It truly was stirring. In the midst of the applause, he showed us the last slide on his slideshow, this verse, or one very similar:

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind”
2 Timothy 1:7

I stared at this slide for a moment as everyone else shuffled out. What bravery, what feeling from my dry professor! I looked at it with that serene, but somehow guarded approval that Christians occasionally bestow upon one another.

Later that night, I was reflecting on these words on the long drive home in the dark. Suddenly, there seemed like so much to fear, but I couldn’t put my finger on any of it. I needed the remembrance of those words to prevent myself from having a panic attack.

These words have special significance to me as a person with anxiety. Fear seems to be the driver of my existence. Power? Love? Soundness of mind? Those all seem like strangers, and I confess that at times I feel so overtaken by darkness that those words seem to have no real meaning.

Why all this despair? You may ask. That is a question that I can’t easily answer. But what I can say is that it springs from a lack of faith. A lack of faith in absolutely everything. Lack of faith in God, lack of faith in good, lack of faith in people. My mind, which hates to take things at face value, questions everything, including the merit of goodness itself. Isn’t that awful?

It seems that the day will come when I’ll run out of energy to fight this. And indeed, I already have. So I crawl at the Lord’s feet and beg for the will to go on, to live, and help others live. And then, feeling just a little recharged, I go out and try to fight Satan’s whole army once again, only to be taken as a prisoner of war, at this point sympathetic to his cause. And then the Lord has to ransom me back all over again.

“Stop going out there by yourself so glaringly unarmed,” he tells me. But do I listen? Do I obey like the good sheep?

No!

I keep waiting for the day that he runs out of patience, love, and forgiveness. I suspect he already has. But how can He? He is God.

The Brood of Vipers

I’ve never been a particular fan of snakes, much less a brood of them (that just sounds disgusting), so if someone called me that, I’d be pretty offended. And that’s just the thing- Jesus is talking to me too.

“You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”
-Matthew 12:34 NASB

We often see the kind, compassionate Jesus, but many are uncomfortable with the angry one. We need to keep in mind that He is God. He has the authority to punish us. This reminds me of a mother or father who hates to watch their child screw up, so they eventually resort to name-calling and anger- anything that will get through to the stubborn kid.

So who is the brood of vipers? The Pharisees. The hypocrites.

Me.

It’s not the prostitutes or thieves that Jesus yells at, but the religious people of his time. The goodie goodies. Why do we think that is?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.”

The other day, I looked in the mirror, and I did not like what I saw. This literally happened, by the way, not just a soul-searching thing. The face that stared back wasn’t the happy face on my student ID or in my old pictures. It looked tired and anxious at the same time. Robbed of joy and the glow of youth. It looked like the face of someone who was very unwell.

What happened to me? Shouldn’t I be holy by now? I’ve been abstaining from stuff, working more, trying harder, eating better…

But in the process, I missed out on something very important. I lost joy, hope, peace, love, sense of humor, energy, and quirkiness. I’d cleaned the outside, but the inside was still very bad and empty, in some ways worse, because I was allowing pride, jealousy, fear, and wrath to remain.

I am beginning to understand all kinds of hypocrisy. I am beginning to understand the Inquisitions, Holy Wars, oppressions, divisions, and squabbles. I am beginning to understand why gossipy church wives have remained gossipy and why many would rather be burned at stake than call themselves a Christian.

But I still don’t blame God. I don’t blame the Gospel for turning people into jerks. I also understand why people don’t want to be Christian. Because I know that I myself have fed into these negative images. I know because someone told me so in a very un-subtle way.

So I’m not going to point out that it’s some kind of logical fallacy to claim that because Christians are bad, Christianity is bad. But I will defend the message and believe in it. I will say that it is not the balmy love and mercy of Jesus Christ that causes us to act like jerks, but it is the cold, self-righteous religion that we impose upon ourselves without even realizing it. It is going through the motions and dressing up the ugliness with a facade of meekness and piety. Cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside is all moldy and gross.

It’s amazing that it’s so easy to get on the wrong track. You get on the wrong track, you realize it, you want to go back because it’s getting dark, but you keep going because something tells you it’ll pay off.

It’s so easy to get caught up in little rules and miss the boat on the big stuff.

“…Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”
Luke 10:41 NRSV

But what, what exactly is that one thing? Don’t we already acknowledge that thing, every time we pray and say things like “With the Lord’s help, with Christ who lives in me, etc?”

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (‭James‬ ‭1‬:‭19-20‬ NKJV)
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (‭James‬ ‭1‬:‭19-20, 23-25‬ NKJV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (‭Ephesians‬ ‭2‬:‭8-10‬ NKJV)

So if I love God, I must prove it. It’s as simple and impossible as that.

What’s Really Going On (Spiritual Warfare Trigger Warning)

I guess I shouldn’t try to exact sympathy. It’s got to be my fault that I’ve let my mind become the violent battleground of God and Satan. I could have just let Christ’s victory on the cross be enough. But no, I had to have my own absurd, psychotic, philosophical war which makes so little sense that I can’t even begin to describe it properly. And yet here I am talking about it. 

I wish there was some kind of drug you could take to wipe your mind clear, like amnesia. I’d trade any intelligence I have for a day of peace. 

But there’s not, and I can’t. The easy way out isn’t the right way out. 

How did this all begin? And what justification is there for it? My life is more peaceful than usual, on the outside. Really, I’ve made peace with a lot of things. I’ve made peace with loneliness in a way. I’m grateful that my family seems to love me, despite all the reasons not to. I’ve slowed down the pace in the rat race. I have no particular beefs with anyone because people have generally been good to me, so it seems that Satan has decided to turn me against the human race in general, forcing me to philosophize, judge, mistrust, and hate when I obviously have no right to do any of that when I am apparently a million times more screwed up than anyone just for entertaining these evil thoughts.

This is all so confusing. I am torn between two poles: a hateful, jealous, violent, destructive, disgusting one, and a kind, loving, forgiving, peaceful one. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. I would just like to be on the second pole. Or would I?

Of course, a lot of this has to do with too much free time and a lack of focus. And that’s certainly part of it. Sometimes these thoughts go away, or God drives them away… but they always seem to return. Because it’s hard to forget what you know. 

I know this all seems really dark and hopeless, and in a way it is, because it’s not an easy problem to solve. But I still believe that I’m saved. I know, I know, Christians are supposed to be good, sane, and normal people. Yeah, I get it. It makes a little sense if you’re a mess before you’re saved, but afterward? That’s just not… good. And I don’t claim to be good. I don’t think this is good, but that doesn’t mean that good can’t come out of it. Good can come out of it in the same way a plant can grow in the ashes of a house fire (that does happen, right?)

I mean this- that I am sharing this story (again) in the hope that it will glorify God. Why not? Why isn’t it to God’s glory if He can save even miserable people like me? Why isn’t it a miracle that I feel loved by Him, in spite of it all?

But right here is where one of my pitfalls is. Sometimes I focus too much on my personal relationship with God, forgetting that so many people have personal relationships with God and will have personal relationships with God. Sometimes I feel that it is just me vs. this evil, superficial society and its endless members whom I am supposed to love, somehow. 

Lord, I’ve admitted the sin, please help me to truly despise it with all my heart and soul and turn from it! Anyone out there who’s reading this, please pray for me, not for my own sake, but for the sake of those around me who deserve my genuine love and not the politeness that masks my depression. If you don’t understand anything I’ve said, then give yourself a pat on the back. You are likely a sane and upright human being. If you do understand, thank you. If you understand too much, please let us bear this burden together in spirit. 

And now I’m a bit teary again, what’s new.

 

 

The Mystery of God… Still Very Much a Mystery (But That’s Okay)

Is God’s will simply what is before us? Or must we carve it out with His guidance?

This question is central to the turmoil that I have been experiencing all day. Turmoil because I felt that I made a decision contrary to God’s pleasure, and that I will surely be punished for it.

The decision was to continue summer school. Doesn’t that seem like the most trivial thing in the world? Isn’t worrying the real sin? And yet I couldn’t feel good about my decision, even though economy and reason were on its side. I figured that this decision could surely benefit God. I can glorify Him in all circumstances, and these seem favorable circumstances, I thought. And yet peace did not descend. The alternative to my decision is what I perceive as God’s will because it is the less attractive one. Does that make sense at all?

Nonetheless, I seem somewhat trapped in this situation. If I do drop, my family will be upset, and why upset them needlessly? Where is this all leading? Surely, God, you could bring good out of that because you can bring good out of anything… But is it the better decision?

And so, I have been entirely unable to find peace. On top of this absurdity. Satan has been at attacking with a vengeance in different ways. He’s really quite relentless. He makes me question everything- including the reason that I choose to follow God. He asks me if I’m really good enough for God, if I’m really good at all. He asked me to join him.

I found myself going along with this way too much. I found myself only distantly admiring God, if at all. Like the tragic old cynic with a face weathered by brushes with demons, who can only exhort her descendants to turn out differently.

But what’s the use in that hopelessness? Why not seek out God and make things right? I knew that I needed Him, more than ever, so I opened His word. I knew that without Him I would be worse than nothing, so I accepted His help. Once again, He was there with open arms.

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (‭Philippians‬ ‭4‬:‭4-7‬ NKJV)

Philippians 4 is awesome, please read the whole thing if you get the chance. I believe this. Yes, Lord, I believe You and I know You are good! It doesn’t matter what I’ve done, You are still the same, You are always the same wonderful God! You are peace, You are joy, You are the antidote to this toxic existence! Oh, please give me the strength to love You! Give me the strength to care! Give me the strength that I don’t have to keep on going! Lord, for some reason I still don’t feel right about my decision; but let me at least stop focusing so much on my own salvation and start focusing on the salvation of others who deserve it so much more than I do. You, in Your gentle way, Lord, win their hearts!

Wonderful Blessings When I Least Expected Them

I wrote this a couple weeks ago and forgot to post! Reading it now has been a comfort.0

I was in the desert for a while. It seemed that the whole world was just ignoring / judging me. I grappled with it. I tried to understand it in any way I could. What’s wrong with me? Is this a punishment or a trial? Should I discard hope? Love myself? Reach out- no, they’re all better off without me.

I finally came to the conclusion that I should stop thinking about myself so much. 

Then, starting a couple days ago, everything seemed to change for the better. Old friends whom I thought I would never see again started texting me. A family member was nicer to me. An email I sent out a long time ago finally got answered. A couple people very sweetly reached out through the internet. I even had an employer ask me for my resume in an email! 

I was happy yesterday- not just that “Christian joy”- but I was really happy in my own unusual way because I was thinking about how God is taking care of me. After all, all these things happened without me lifting a finger. To me, it’s a sign that He cares and He listens, and yes, that He loves me. 

Where is this all going to lead? I don’t know. I’m sure that it can all end as abruptly as it began. Perhaps my old friends just felt obligated to see me, and it won’t even come to fruition. Maybe the same resume request was sent to everyone or it’s some kind of scam (I don’t really believe I’ll get the job, by the way). Maybe my family will get mad at me and I’ll feel lonely again. 

But you know what? Why should I care? Why does any of that matter? Why can’t I allow this happiness and blessing to bring me closer to God? Why can’t I feel good even though I know that at any moment it can all come crashing down and I’ll feel depressed again? Why do I need more when I already have so much more love than I deserve? 

Why can’t I believe in people a little, for a change? Do all those good times mean nothing? Should I just forget how I feel now and go on feeling disillusioned and bitter? I think not! 

If being content with the pathetic, fleeting joys of this world, that God is merciful enough to let me experience is foolish, then I don’t ever want to be wise. And if rejoicing in the unchanging and all-powerful God even in the worst of times is silly, then shove me in a tiny car with twenty other clowns and call me Bozo.

I only hope that when the inevitable happens, I will be just as happy or even happier than I am now.