Friday, December 30, 2016

Reflections on 2016

Originally shared at my church's Christmas Eve service.


Good evening. For those who don't know me, my name is April, and I have been attending this church since I was born—I'm what you might call a "lifer." No, but really, I am proud to call Presby home and this year especially I am grateful to be a part of this community—because I could have gotten into some real trouble if not for the grace of God in my life.. I almost made a mistake that could have seriously harmed me and probably would have changed my life forever.

This year I had planned to move to South America to do what I thought would be missionary work: entering into full-time ministry with a local church in Bolivia evangelizing, interceding and teaching. I had a lot of hopes and dreams to glorify God there.

However, a couple months before I had planned to leave, I found out from a couple of friends who were serving that that "church" that the "church" was actually a pretty psychologically and emotionally abusive cult. My friends were not allowed to leave the "church" (where they lived) without supervision, were bullied aggressively by pastors whenever they questioned the way things were run, and my one friend was even locked into the kitchen alone without promise of release. It was a horrific time, and thankfully my two friends left the Bolivian "church" shortly thereafter, around the same time I decided not to go down and join them.

As you might imagine, I spent much of this year coming to terms with this whole fiasco. The main question I had for God was, of course, "Why?"--but also the immediate question of "What now?" I had quit my job! I had been hurtling toward what I had thought was an international ministry opportunity "from God" and now needed to, in many respects, turn on a dime and change course.

I was disappointed and hurt, and felt very confused about God's direction in my life. I didn't know what to do, and God wasn't giving me epiphanies on how he wanted me to "recalculate," as it were. I spent time in reflection and prayer to God, pouring out my heart to him as it's written in Psalm 62. To be fair, though, I also spent a lot of time trying to be numb and trying to survive, in an attempt to ignore my pain and anger towards God for how un-glamorous and stuttering my life had become.

One theme from this year is pretty clear: God has invited me again and again to trust him—to believe he is everything he says he is, taking into full account my painful past, my present shaky circumstances and even my own negative feelings, no matter how strong and all-encompassing they may be.

There were many days this year when my alarm went off in the morning and I just did not want to get out of bed. I didn't feel like I had the energy or the will to face another day. To get motivated, I would sometimes listen to my gospel playlist, which has a song by James Fortune called "I Trust You." The chorus deeply resonates with me and I wanted to share it with you tonight: "I'll trust you/ Lord it's not easy/ Sometimes the pain in my life/ Makes you seen far away/ I'll trust you/ I need to know you're here/ Through the tears and the pain/ Through the heartache and rain/ I'll trust you."

I still don't know a lot of the "whys" behind the whole Bolivia debacle. I'm not yet at a place where I can genuinely thank God for that trial which has tested my faith significantly this year, and brought a fair share of heartache and despair.

However, there are a few things I can say with certainty and conviction:
  1. God warned me and protected me from going to Bolivia; he loves me.
  2. It's not over; God is still writing my story.
  3. Jesus Christ is Lord.
Jesus Christ is Lord. This truth has helped me a lot this year and comforts me greatly.

For me, no matter what happens, no matter how difficult things get, no matter how little things may make sense in the moment, no matter my own helplessness or God's seeming silence—
Jesus Christ is Lord.

In the midst of failure, embarrassment, mistakes and crippling self-doubt—
Jesus Christ is Lord.

When I am lost and don't know what to do—
Jesus Christ is Lord.
"In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:4-5).

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Yeah, I'm single

Yeah, I'm single.

In April I started working at an office where the median age is 55 years old. I am not sure what exactly causes my older female coworkers to be so concerned about my relationship status, but they have all asked me at one time or another (pretty out of the blue, I might add), "Do you have kids? Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend?" When I respond in the negative, they inevitably follow-up with, "What do you think about _____ [insert name of one of the only men between 25-35 years old in our office]? Do you like him?" At this point in the conversation I become very uncomfortable so usually reply evasively, "I'm a ghost" or "I am not real." Then they get really confused.

Maybe they are simply trying to connect with me or maybe I remind them of their daughter who is also in their twenties. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to take these matchmaking efforts personally, because they more or less imply that my life is simply not good enough if I don't have a husband to share it with, or something like that.

This year two of my childhood friends are getting married. It's really exciting and I am happy for them. Even so, I kind of dread attending their weddings. Weddings are a glaring reminder that Yeah, I'm single. They bring up the unanswerable question of "If my friends are getting married, then why not me?"

Yes, I am familiar with the many platitudes meant to soothe a despondent single woman such as myself:
  • God knows you want a boyfriend/husband, and he will answer your prayers.
  • God has someone in mind for you and he will be perfect for you!
  • God's timing is better than your timing.
  • Being single is great! You have so much flexibility!
  • I'm sure there are plenty of guys who like you and you don't even know it.
These kinds of comments make me both angry and want to say, "Well, f--- it then" and just be numb about it all. I know they come from a place of wanting me to feel better, but perhaps a more appropriate response is, "That sucks that you aren't in a relationship but want to be. How can I support you?" The agony of being a single Christian woman is having to live in this really vulnerable place of simply waiting on God.

Perhaps the public persona I project is one of independence, competence, intelligence and strength, but those close to me know that I am sensitive, sentimental and quite the romantic. I haven't dated since 2010 and have had my fair share of unrequited crushes since then. I am not single by choice. The painful reality of my singleness is at times quite acute.

That being said, I am doing what I can to resist wallowing for too terribly long. I know how to soldier on, even if it means having to crawl in the times that I cannot even bring myself to walk.

Yeah, I'm single today and maybe I am not fully okay with it. I might cry about it today but tomorrow could be better. Yeah, it may just be.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Reboot

So I'm back to blogging! Hooray! Shut down the site for a bit while I was job searching (prospective employers would probably have been understandably alarmed/concerned if they had perused my social media accounts), but now that I've been hired, I figure I'm more or less in the clear now (though, jury's always still out; I'm an at-will employee).

It's been quite an interesting journey, these past four months of unemployment followed by a month of temporary employment followed by what will (hopefully) be a year of term-limited temporary employment. There's been plenty of time for soul-searching and tears, but thankfully it appears that the worst of the crisis is over. I may not ever fully understand the "whats" and "whys" of the entire Bolivia debacle, but I'm just so glad that chapter is now more or less over. It was definitely scary, and I still cringe knowing that three of my friends are still in that "church," being psychologically and spiritually taken advantage of in a very icky way. Yet, in order to cope, I have had to face the fact that since they do not want to leave, and I have done my part to try and convince them otherwise, the situation must be left in God's hands. I have had to relinquish responsibility and trust that the eventual arc of their lives will bend towards wholeness, wellness and healing, though for the present it is not.

Adulthood can be disorienting at times. I've had so many folks give me well-meaning yet disparate advice of what I should do and how I should live my life, but when it came to Bolivia, and the choices I had to make afterwards, there came a point where I just had to decide to do something and live with the consequences. Bolivia eroded a lot of my self-confidence, especially in my intuition, judgment and discernment. However, living life at a standstill, paralyzed and afraid of making the "wrong" choice, I found, was simply impractical.

I am wary of religious perfectionism, which requires that each and every personal decision made must be tested and approved as the explicit "will of God." This requires much agonizing, weighing of options, and hours of prayer devoted to receiving "confirmation" or God's "blessing" on moving forward with something. Is life really that spiritual? Yes, there is absolutely Biblical precedent for asking God for guidance and direction for important decisions (2 Chronicles 20:12; Acts 13:1-3), but I just am highly skeptical that this level of intense scrying is altogether necessary. God obviously intervenes when there is, in fact, a "wrong" choice to be made (case in point: me returning to Bolivia). However, is every little choice and decision judged in a moral/spiritual scale, implying there are gradations of spiritualized choices, with God keeping score? I've decided this is a miserable way to live, full of regret for what could have been, and fear of what could be (see the psychic headache that is The Adjustment Bureau). Thus, I've nixed this approach to life.

I'm also wary of the other extreme, self-protective human secularism, i.e. taking matters into my own hands and barreling forward in life assuming God approves/I know his will absolutely. This would mean "running after" food, clothing and housing (a la Matthew 6:28-34) as ends in themselves and winding up a materialistic, "self-made" woman. It would also require a certain amount of hard-heartedness towards God (relationship with him is implied/assumed rather than deep/actual), which I'm not willing to stomach. Again, hard pass.

My latest strategy has mostly just been to not really take things so seriously or overthink them. I can be intense, perfectionistic and exacting; so in other words, I'm trying to "lighten up." I'm just trying to respond to situations as they occur and make peace with the fact that I won't always get things right the first time. I'm seeing that there's a lot of safety in knowing God and belonging to him. Sure, due to my own choices, I can get myself into a lot of trouble. That's always going to be a possibility. Yet, having made it out of a couple of pretty dramatic tough scrapes so far, God's care and faithfulness is undeniable.

Is this what it feels like to "wing it"?

Followers