A Little Context For Me

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dancing on Mountain Tops - Thoughts From Four In The Morning

I often wonder what God thinks. I look at the world around me, and I try to imagine what it is that he must feel. I get lost in the thought until I must fight my way back in search of air.

Humanity was designed for eternity, and the best of us catch a glimpse of what that means. We stand on the mountain tops with God and know what it is to dance with him in one eternal moment of splendor and glory. And then to be plunged back to the earth, finite once more.

I know why Elijah ran, why he sought shelter in the shadow of the rock. For how can one be that close to the power and glory of our God and not grieve to discover it was only you and not the whole world that was changed? To do less would be lie, a hypocrisy of grave consequence, and yet, we blame him – chastise him for hiding away in his misery.

He did not run from Jezebel. For what power did she have over him? What could her gods do to one who was protect by the God who rained fire upon the mountain for his sake?

He was a man who stepped into an eternal moment. A man who knew what it was to inhabit that sacred space where God reveals himself in history and deed, and then crushed back into the finite dimensions of this reality.

Our scorn for his perceived cowardice reveals our ignorance. It demonstrates that we have not encountered God, but rather that we have only known shadows of him. For how can a great love be that once awakened, can still be appeased in whispered words?

Is it any wonder that he searched for God? That he looked for him in all the grand and majestic elements of our world?  That he was devastated with each failed attempt?

In the whirlwind, in the earthquake, and fire he looked, for these were the grandest forces he knew. What better place to seek a God as powerful as the one he experienced? And yet, God always pushing, always demanding that we learn to see more, to expect more, conceals his grandeur in a whisper.

Was God cruel to withdraw, to whisper when Elijah’s heart had been overwhelmed by God’s presence? Was it heartless to leave the aching void within the breast of his servant? Or was it this wound that drew them to each other in the end? That brought chariots of fire to a man so that he might return to his God?

Could I stand such a wound? Could I carry that ache through my life without becoming embittered at God’s abandonment to this realm for even a moment after having experienced him as Elijah did? Could I be called from my grief with just a whisper? Maybe that is why he does not rain down fire from heaven for me or you. Maybe he is waiting for me to grow strong enough to accept the whisper after I have known what it is to dance on the mountain top with him.

I often wonder what God is thinking. I look at the world around me, and I try to imagine what it is that he must feel. I get lost in the thought until I must fight my way back in search of air.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

My Bipolar Faith - No that's not a joke

One of the million and one fun facts about being Emily is I wrestle with being bipolar. When I tell people this I often get that “Ah, I see you are telling a self-deprecating joke and I am going to play along” giggle, followed closely by the “Oh, crap! She’s serious and I have no idea how to respond” fumbling attempts at politeness. Now, just to be clear, this in no way offends me. After all, that’s exactly the type of joke I would crack about myself and expect you to laugh along. I can’t blame anyone for being confused, but the fact is I have an official diagnosis of “highly functional bipolar complicated by PTSD.” Doesn’t that make me sound like a fun fill bag of unpredictability and chaos?

I decided to write about this because I have recently learned that many of my friends had no clue. I have never considered it to be a secret or an overly sensitive issue that I have tried to keep hidden. It is just part of my life and a part that I have to deal with on a daily basis so I rarely feel the need to bring it up in casual conversation. Besides, it rarely works out well.

“I just repainted my bathroom a lovely green, not too sherberty and not too sagey. What have you been up to?”

"Me? Oh, I haven’t done much. Just got through a hypo-manic episode so I have been on lock down in my house and trying not make obscene posts to Facebook.”

I don’t think that I will ever get to the place where I will celebrate the fact that I have to constantly examine each and every thought, emotion, and impulse because my brain has decided that it didn’t like all the chemicals to be properly balanced. Dealing with that is draining at a level I cannot begin to articulate. However, I can say with conviction that it has forced me to be intentional about many of my life choices that I may have otherwise cruised past without a thought.

I had to accept that my emotions lie to me, and if that wasn’t special enough, so do my thoughts. I have to actively work to silence the voices that tell me to get in my car and drive until I hit an ocean, that I can always get more credit cards if I max out the ones I have, or that taking off my clothes in public is great idea. At times like these, when I too big and too great to be contained by anything and every fiber of my being is fighting against the restraints, be it geographical or financial restraints or even just my socks, I have to remember the truth. This is nothing more than the chemicals in my brain lying to me. These are not good options and I would be destroying the good things in my life, things I may not think I love today, but will remember I do love tomorrow, or in a few days at least.

But that is just the beginning, because human beings don’t like confinement and especially not those of us with a major malfunction in our heads. I react to this type of self-imposed discipline with anger - unrealistic, irrational anger that can spew out on those closest to me with the least bit of perceived provocation. (Please note the use of the word perceived in the previous sentence.) In my state of hyper-vigilance, I notice everything and I have to fight the feeling that everything is directed at me on the most personal level ever conceived. Music too loud? You did that to make me mad. Dirty dishes in the sink? Really, you want to set me off. Didn’t call? Did call? You are ignoring me or trying to disrupt my day. Got sick, can’t make our lunch date? Sure, you really just could stand to be near me.

You name it. I can find a reason why you meant it as an attack. So I swing the other way, and deliberately attempt to depersonalize everything. I shut down. I don’t respond, and I keep you at arm’s length. It is easier that way, and I am far less likely to say or do something that is unforgivably cruel. The problem is that safe guard is also cruel to those who genuinely love me and feel as if I don’t care about them when I can shut it down so effectively.

There is no winning this game, but it is one I will play for the rest of my life. It isn’t easy and I there are some days I would give my left leg to be normal. (Whatever that is.) And yes, I am serious. Did you notice the specificity of the limb I would relinquish? You don't get that specific if you didn't put some thought into it, but that is pipe dream, and I have to accept that.

I also have to accept that I have hurt people in the wake of my fury and despondency. I have to own that, because no matter how great the chemical imbalance tempted me towards irrational thoughts or behaviors, I made the choice to do as they dictated or to deny them the right to define me. I get to choose if the sum total of my life would be a disorder or something of my own making. Some days, I choose better than others, and I am learning to be more consistent in those choices. I had to learn to accept help, to be open with my family about those days when I felt the world beginning to spiral and stop acting as if I had it all together all the time, and I had to learn when to say “enough, I need a break” without just running away leaving everyone to feel like I had abandoned them.

It is hard on my pride. I want to be in control, and I want to have it all together. Above all, I want to be there for those who are important to me, and I am still trying to figure out how to do that in better ways than I have in the past. I am also learning how to remain open even in those moments when shutting down is safer and easier than running the risks of annihilating the world around me, and that has got to be the scariest thing I have ever attempted because I know how thin that line between open and out of control really is.

In all the years of fighting this, there has been one saving grace. I had a standard of truth to cling to. I did not have to rely on the thoughts inside my head or the feeling that washed over me to tell me what was good or right. The answers do not come from the inside, they are found in the revelation of God in his Word. I had to decide to hone my ability to empathize so that I could offer what I believe my faith requires of me.  After all, even if I feel like I am huge black hole of impenetrable darkness that does not mean I can act as if everyone else is. So while careening my car into oncoming traffic might solve some of my problems, I have to remember it might put a huge damper on someone else’s big day. And those days when I am too great to be bothered by the pettiness of your life, I am really working on trying to remember that your pain is valid and real and should be honored as such, instead of cavalierly declaring that death of your dog is just part of life and you should get over it.

I had to decide what I believed. By that I don’t mean that I could just make an intellectual assent to my faith or the dictates of it. I had to get honest about how sincere I was about the Christian ethic of love, kindness, and grace. I had to make a cognitive choice to live these things despite what I may or may not be feeling in a moment, and the most beautiful thing of all is I am not expected to give you a feeling that I have to manufacture on my own. I just have to give you the love that I have been given, the love a Savior that is supposed to flow through me – a love that is far superior to any created within my heart or mind. In that there is freedom, from the condemnation of my inadequacies and the shame of not always feeling as Christian as I think should. The command to me, to us all really, isn’t too feel a certain way, but to act in accordance to His word. So that is the part I am working on. You know, the stuff I can control, most days.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Masochist Tendencies, Sin, or Obedient Wisdom?

Sometimes I am quite certain that I am a masochist at heart. I mean who else would try to learn Hebrew and Greek at the same time? And who else would go out of their way to read, listen to, and watch teachings that run counter to their deeply held beliefs? Yet, time and time again that is precisely what I find myself doing with my time.

Usually, I look at these works as an attempt to understand those whose ideas and faith differs from mine. Many times it is a rewarding experience getting to rummage around in someone else’s brain for a while – a sort of mental vacation from my world. My response is much the same as I might experience on a real life trip wherein I view the artifacts of a differing culture with the full knowledge that I am indulging my intellectual curiosity rather than looking for a new home.

Then there are times when I deliberately set myself in the path of ideas that are counter to mine, hoping to be challenged so that I can know what my faith is really made of. These times are more like a scaling Everest, less of a pleasure trip and more a test of self, a grueling trek made in a hostile environment while still trying to convince myself that this is a fun and rewarding experience. I know that experience can change me, for better or worse. I may well walk away knowing something new about what I believe that could only come through pushing my faith to the limits.

I won’t lie. There have been times when I pushed myself too far had to be medevacked off that mountain side because I broke something or got spiritually dehydrated on the trip. It is cold out there, and the winds of opposing ideas tug at your mind the way the winds of the Himalayas must tug at a hiker’s clothes. Is it any wonder that my fellow Christians wonder why I do it and if there is a point to these journeys? Sure, I learn some new things. I meet some fascinating people along the way. I even have some amazing travel stories and some really awesome pictures, if you can get past the fact that in most of them I am standing on the edge of a cliff, but most of my friends wonder why I do it in pretty much the same manner I wonder why anyone in their right mind would bother to climb a treacherous mountain covered in snow and frozen poop. Just as the desire to make the physical journey leaves me baffled and questioning the sanity of those who climb mountains, my forays into the wilds of opposing world views and faiths leave my brothers and sisters questioning mine.

One of the consequences of my exploratory hikes is having to deal with those who question the validity of my faith. After all what true Christian would deliberately go there? Be it a bar, a pagan festival, or just a webpage that promotes something counter to my faith, the most repeated phrase I hear is “I don’t need to mess with/be distracted by that trash/those lies when I already know the truth.”

The irony, that most of them will not acknowledge, is that I am the one they turn to when circumstance pushes them outside their Christian bubble. I am the one who gets the message asking me to explain the terms like pansexual, kundalini, or Jonesing, and the conversation usually sounds starts with the phrase, “You are the only person I could think of who might know anything about…”

Personally, I find that sad. In fact, if I wanted to be real honest, I find it rather abhorrent because it is nothing more than disobedience glorified as holiness.

Jesus told us that we are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, and too many of us succumb to our natural aversion to snakes and act as if the first part of that command didn’t exist. Doves are nicer, they coo so prettily, and the Bible has so many great things to say about them, not to mention they taste great!  Snakes on the other hand don’t have such a great reputation, the sounds they make aren’t nearly so reassuring, and they rarely make it to a plate. (Deep fried on stick if you get down to Texas, but plates not so much.)

But that is kind of the point – doves get eaten if they aren’t smart enough to avoid it, and based on the number I find in the grill of my truck, I don’t place a high value on their intelligence. Neither, does it seem, did Jesus. Why else would he offer the characteristics of the dove as only one part of that equation?

Boys and girls, we can’t afford to just be doves anymore. We have to start taking the whole of this command seriously, and we need to be acquiring wisdom, actively striving to know more about our faith and about our culture. We need to be learning the language of our world the way Paul understood the language of his, drawing from all the resources he had available from Torah to pop poet of his day. We need to be aware of the schemes of the devil, and I am not talking about the latest sensationalized trend that Christian fear-mongers use to keep us trembling and ineffective before a wicked world. That path leads us nowhere, it teaches us nothing, and defies the promise of God who says he did not give us a spirit of fear.

Wisdom is learned in the journey. Faith is tested and refined on that trek into the wilds. The pathways are not easy and they aren’t always pretty, but we were commanded to go into the world for a reason. A reason that not only encompasses sharing the good news but also that we might learn the depths and limits of our faith. For we will never know how much we have to learn until we have been forced to cling to the hand Father along treacherous paths.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Riddles of Faith and Waves of Doubt

If I have one trap that fall into it is the idea that I can figure everything out given enough time, energy, and sufficient resources. I like to think that I can take just about any problem, break it down into bite sized chunks and chew through it a piece at a time until there is nothing left of the quandary except a few crumbs waiting to be swept up.

Over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time delving into the objections raised against my faith. I have read articles and posts that support my view with no verifiable evidence to be seen, and I have read scientific articles that refute my faith without an ounce of grace for the ineffable. I read with the intent of proving myself wrong. I like the challenge of submerging myself in the chaotic seas of conflicting ideas and values, and then fighting my way back to the surface in hopes of catching my breath and experiencing that glow of blissful self-affirmation.

But sometimes those waters are deep and murky, and I have a moment of panic as I realize that there may not be any easy answers to be found – that all those opposing views that I let wash over me could drown my faith if I am not careful.

It is in those moments that I have to remember that faith isn’t about having all the answers. It isn’t about having it all figured out, the pieces and the parts carefully wrapped up and labeled with the appropriate supporting evidence, or even being able to make sense of it all.

Faith is about knowing there is a God who is smarter than I will ever be, whose ways are not my ways, and whose thoughts definitely are not my thoughts. Faith is about being okay with mystery, allowing that great unknown to sweep over you, and fill you with awe – not panic.

I am learning that none of this contingent on me knowing all the answers, and I don’t have to make sense of or defend every aspect of what I believe. If that was all there was to it, I would be worshipping my own intellect and not God. And I hate having to relinquish that control, I like the illusion of “knowing” and perfect sense. I like the comfort of fooling myself into thinking that all this world needs is one more brilliantly articulated argument for celebrating my King as I do, but the truth is that was never what the world needed.

Men and women far smarter and wiser than I have already shared dazzling and brilliant insights that illustrate the beauty of my faith, and they are seldom heard. Prophets, priests, preachers, and kings have declared truth, but truth often falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts. Even the words of Jesus inspired contempt and violence because they made no sense to many who heard his voice.

But what did the world hear when he spoke? What element of his life still rings through the ages, even among those who deny his divinity while offering some respect for his humanity?

For many all they know of him was that he loved. In the face of those who wished him silent, he loved. When he was mocked, called a heretic, and condemned for blasphemy, he loved. His message never weakened or softened, he never wavered in before his critics, or spurned his calling when it demanded all of him. Instead, he continued to love with such great depth and integrity that even those who oppose his worship will grant him that honesty.

Did he have it all figured out during his time here as a man? I don’t think so. He talks of the Father alone knowing the day and hour of his return, he wept at the grave of a friend, and he sweat blood as he faced his destiny on that cross. To me these things speak of a man who chose submission to his God and Father, not of one who knew that a friend would cast off grave clothes at his word, or that the agony of crucifixion would give way to the glories of resurrection.

Am I right? Do I have it figured out? I don’t know. Scholars have debated this point for millennia, but I like to think that he knows what it feels like to wonder, to fear, even to doubt. Selfish of me? Completely, but it makes my not knowing feel a little less overwhelming to think that he knows what I face in this life.

The only question of any importance that remains – is can I follow in his example? Can I learn to be at peace with the mystery of faith? Can I grieve with my friends while never doubting the promises of my Lord? Can I question who I am, what I have been called to do and agonize over the cost while still acting in obedience? Can I love so deep that even when other’s become enraged with my words that my life will be remembered not as a tribute to my intellect, but celebrated for the love I showed with such integrity that it cannot be denied?

For if I can do these things - if I can submerge myself in his presence and allow myself to be swept up in the waves of his love, I will have truly lived a life sharing in the experience of my Lord than if I had solved every enigma of faith, and I will know the joy of awe as greater than a God who submits to demands to be solved.