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Friday, November 24, 2017

Owning my spiritual shifts, Part 2



Thanks for joining me again as I share about the deconstruction of my faith and where I am now.  Here's Part 1.  I'm not interested in debating any of the topics I share today, but you are always welcome to reach out via email or Facebook message.  Here we go!

I've had many, many religious beliefs uprooted in my heart and mind this year.  I wouldn't say that I believe something opposite for most or any of these things, but I've very solidly landed in a place where I just don't know the absolute answer anymore.  Or rather, I now believe that I can't know the absolute truth of everything, and putting an answer in the place of that mystery is not something I'm comfortable with.  Basically, I hold a whole lot of the traditional American conservative Protestant beliefs with an open hand at this point.  This may change in the future, but I'm currently comfortable with the understanding and lack of understanding I have.

Here's a selection of some of the very big things my mind has been changed on.  This is lengthy and scandalous a long time coming.

Creation without evolution and Adam and Eve as the first humans
I went to a creationism camp in middle school, watched videos from Ken Ham, and I have a fear of the ocean thanks to the belief that dinosaurs still live in the sea.  To branch off from the literal 6-day creationism belief has been a pretty big deal, but this was one of the first belief layers to fall off when I was trying to find my way back to God.  The biggest difference-makers was the podcast episode from The Liturgists about Genesis & Evolution.  As Lissa puts into words near the end, however God chose to bring this world into being, it is magnificent and it doesn't change His awesomeness, creativity, and worthiness of our worship and adoration.

Inerrancy of the Bible, God compelling the exact writings of the Bible, and literal interpretations of the Bible
When everything had been stripped away from my faith, I was left with great mistrust of the Bible.  How could I know if any of this was true?  I was pretty sure Jesus was a legitimate historical person, he had been verified by 5 independent sources as my husband was quick to remind me, but what about the rest of this?

The Liturgists talked about the Bible, too, and the episodes about it gave me hope that my relationship with scripture could be restored in some way, but it wasn't until immersing myself in Rob Bell's book What is the Bible? that I realized, no, my relationship with scripture would never be the same.  It would be something wildly different and immeasurably better.  Something vibrant, exciting, alive.  Something so absolutely desirable.  I can't help but get excited telling you about it now, and I can't express how much different my perspective and my value for the Bible is here in 2017.  I have so much more wonder and expectation for this library of books, more than I ever had in my entire life, which is truly saying something.  (You may remember I attended private Christian schools from 4th grade to the end of college, I completed 5 books in Awana, and I've loved Jesus since before I can remember.)  This is a really. big. deal. and I'm so, so happy about it.

If you're interested in checking out the book, go ahead and listen to the podcast episode where Rob talks with the guys from The Liturgists.  You'll also enjoy this illuminating episode with Peter Enns, a professor and writer who is where I want to be when I grow up, in regards to Bible knowledge.

I can't believe I used to think I knew everything about this book!  There is so much more that I don't know yet, but I am positive that the scriptures in the Bible were not meant to be a science book, a sex ed book, or an owner's manual, and I hope I never treat it as such again.

The existence of a physical hell
I have one real-life friend nearby who's going through deconstruction, and he absolutely shocked me with this one.  Probably around June or July, while I was starting in my own dismantling, He told me he wasn't sure there was a hell anymore, and for a second I thought this guy had for-real gone off the deep end.  But then I started hearing more from other Christian traditions' interpretation of the scriptures, more about how the scripture authors' understandings expanded and changed as history went on, and then my Orthodox sister-in-law told me that, "yeah, even C.S. Lewis considered the concept that the end of time where God's glory fills all things would feel like hell to people who rejected him."  What?  Right now, I have no definite on this one, and I just have to leave it at that until something changes.

The understanding of God as male or as only or mostly male
I don't think I ever heard any sermons about the masculinity of God, and I never heard any pastor or teacher explicitly say God is male, but even as early as last year, I was noticing how few people were talking about the feminine side of God.  For a long time I've believed that, since man and woman are created in God's image, of course, this means God has all of the masculine and feminine characteristics and traits.

I know what you may be thinking.  Back in college, I was scandalized when I read The Shack.  How could someone write about God as if God were a woman?  How could the author buy into such blasphemy?!  I'll tell you why!  Because God is as much our mother as God is our father.  It's a bold thing to say, yes, but this is one of the rare things I am absolutely sure of.  It's also brought me great comfort and even honor when I remember how God's image is reflected in my and my character.

God's full, not-only-masculine nature is sometimes a hard thing for me to remember, especially when my default pronouns for God have been He, Him, Him for 29 years, but I am trying to move toward whatever direction my understanding is taking me.  This often means referring to God as "the divine" instead of "Him," which has already caused some disturbance with at least my husband, but it feels more accurate for me to say that.  "The divine."  Saying "Her" would feel antagonistic at this point, though the internal thought of Her doesn't frustrate or disturb me like it did even two months ago.  The verbalization of this one will take some time, but I'm really, really happy and excited about where I'm at.  There's so much more beauty in God when I see Him/Her now, even if the lens is only a touch cleaner.
Female images of God suggest something different [from male images]. God is the one who gave birth to us and all that is. God wills our well-being, as a mother wills the well-being of the children of her womb. God is attached to us with a love that is tender and that will not let us go. And like a mother who sees the children of her womb threatened and oppressed, God can become fierce. 
- from Marcus Borg in Radical Grace via Richard Rohr and the CAC
What comfort there is in that paragraph!  What pure comfort.  I am so glad that I have a God like that.  (And, of course, there's a podcast episode to check out if you're interested in having your perspective challenged head-on.  I'm not kidding, this one is disruptive.)

Complementarian to Egalitarian Marriage
From what I've been learning about women in the church, God's perspective on women, and the writings of Paul and Peter, I think that the best description of a "biblical marriage" or "Christian marriage" looks like mutual submission, not the wife submitting to her husband only.  What changed my mind wasn't modern feminism (looking at you, Sutton boys).  It was noticing more and more how Jesus treated women in the face of how the people of His time and culture treated women.  It was noticing that Ephesians 5:21 comes immediately before the household standard written by Paul.  It was learning more about why household codes were important in this time period and how radical Peter's and Paul's codes were when compared to how the Romans and Greeks treated each other in marriage.

My favorite resource on this is a debate between Rachel Held Evans and Owen Strachan on the Unbelievable podcast.  Rachel shares cultural and historical information that brings this topic and my response to it into a completely different light.  For information on women in the church, I'd recommend checking out The Junia Project.  I also hold women teaching and preaching in the church with an open hand.  It's not something I disagree with at all anymore.  In fact, I'm starting to think that I'd really like to find a female preacher and hear what she has to say.  I've only heard male perspectives from the pulpit, and I know for darn sure that males aren't the only ones God reveals His truths to.

Meditation is awesome.
Growing up in the Southern Baptist tradition, I knew that yoga was demon worship and meditation was emptying your mind, which allowed space for evil forces.  But here I am now, thankful for how well yoga maintains physical health, flexibility, and blood flow in my body, and I can't tell you what a difference meditation has made in my mental awareness.  It's not about emptying your mind, by the way, it's about focusing your mind and allowing everything else to fall away.  So often we are distracted by the millions of things clamoring for our attention.  Even our own selves distract us with what's next or what's past.  So rarely do we really experience the moment of now.  This leads to not being able to recognize how we feel, how healthy our bodies are, or how we're processing and reacting to issues and problems.  We are disconnected from ourselves, and meditation can be the bridge that stands in the gap.

The form of meditation I use is mindful meditation.  Its goal is to cultivate awareness.  It involves slow mental body scans to encourage you to really feel what you're physically feeling.  It involves noticing sensations and emotions that come up and practicing only noticing them instead of responding in grasping or aversion.  It involves prolonged focus, usually on the breath, which promotes focus and attention in daily living, as well.  In fact, the whole goal of meditation isn't to be a good meditator, it's to be a good liver... I mean, a good person who lives.  Okay, I clearly don't know how to say this well, but meditation has helped me live and think and notice better.

Meditation is proven to, over time, build gray matter in the brain, make people less likely to get angry, anxious, and stressed, and it builds compassion for the self and for others.  When I meditate regularly, I've noticed a heightened awareness of my reactions and emotions.  One example would be noticing that, "ah, I'm starting to feel angry... let me take a step back and consider why this is and what I should do about it."  Before meditation, I would have been unaware of what was going on in my heart and mind until after I'd already hurt someone or made a bigger mess of things.

Meditation.  10/10 would recommend.  Science Mike (from, you guessed it, The Liturgists) shared a ton of information about the kinds of meditation, including prayerful meditations, and its benefits in this information-packed episode.  If you're interested in meditation, download the Calm app and go through their 7-day trial.  (Apple app store / Google play / Desktop version) It does a great job of and explaining mindful meditation and laying the foundations of how to meditate.  The sessions last around 20 minutes each, and it can be really difficult to sit still and rest and focus for that long, but I encourage you to stick with it and see how it can change your thought processes for the better.

For the record
I still believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, that He died, was buried, and rose again three days later.  I have experienced God's grace, forgiveness, and healing in my life, and I've seen it in the lives of others.  I believe God will redeem all things by the end of time and that I will spend eternity with God and the people who love God in some really awesome place I like to call Paradise.  I don't know what all that will look like, and a lot of times my belief looks much more like faith than certainty, but it's still a faith worth having.  And even though my story is still changing and fluctuating, it's still worth telling.  So is yours.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Owning my spiritual shifts, Part 1



You may remember my post from late August where I opened the door on some of the spiritual upheaval I've had this year.  It's been ongoing since April, actually, and it's been the most terrifying, thrilling, and enlivening experience I've had in a long time.

I'm in a more peaceful place than I was in August, a more excited and eager place, too.  But the calm came as a surprise.  Just this past weekend, I was introduced to The Deconstructionists podcast, and after listening to just one episode, I realized "deconstruction" was the word for what I've been going through.  This in itself, the move from "spiritual crisis" to "deconstruction" has been huge for me.  It's like "going into labor" vs "delivery."  The nuance in these words make such a big difference, and the adoption of "deconstruction" normalized my situation for me.

The Liturgists, the first safe space I found for my doubting and growth, they use this term a lot.  A deconstruction of faith is a tearing down of what you once believed.  Deconstruction can go so far as a complete excavation of every shred of faith and religion, which is almost what happened with me, but then it also often involves the relayering of new foundations and beliefs once the old is peeled away.  

The Liturgists community and The Deconstructionists community both enter into this process and its uncertainty with more questions, very few answers, and a ton of grace and acceptance.  Once I admitted that, yes, that word fits me, too, it felt like I finally belonged.  I had found my tribe, the people who knew what I was going through, the people who didn't judge me or force me to decide what I believe or defend myself.  Instead of sympathy, there was empathy.  Instead of isolation, there was "I totally get that, here's how I dealt with this, remember to have patience."  It was amazing, and it's made all the difference in my acceptance of where I am and in my emotional well being.  It's also made a huge impact in dispelling the last shreds of fear I had.  I'd been so worried, back in the summer, that I wouldn't find the truth.  Accepting my deconstruction showed me that I'll never know the whole truth.  I'll never have all the answers.  And, praise all that is good and holy, I'm so glad I'm now in a place where I find that freeing!

---

Now that I have less mistrust and aversion in my relationship with God, the most unpleasant part of this journey has become interacting with some of the Christians around me who don't accept where I am or who don't understand.  In fact, for months I've been afraid of being "found out" by my parents, or worse, my mother-in-law.  Two days ago, though, I got to speak with my dad and brought up The Big Topic.  After explaining what I'd been going through and where I am now, my dad caught me off guard by saying he was proud of me and that, of course, it makes sense, and "now you're learning to figure out what you believe, Lindsay, not just what we told you to believe.  And we probably only believed what we told you to believe because someone told us to believe it."  Oh, it was such a relief.  I felt so loved and known, and gosh I'm moved as I remember the moment now.  My mother-in-law, too, while I haven't gotten to share with her the breadth and depth of really any of this, reminded me recently of how much she loves me and also how she doesn't expect me to conform to the traditional way of thinking.  I hope we'll get to chat soon, and I'm pretty sure it will be hard for her to hear, but I know she'll still be with me and she'll still support me.

Some other folks, though, haven't taken to my changes so nicely.  If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me lamenting the fact that someone told me I definitely was NOT a Christian last week.  Yes, he used all caps.  He was also an internet stranger in a conservative worldview Facebook group who I'll most likely never meet, but it still hurt.  It was very easy to feel offended and self-righteous and, are you kidding, do you even know who I am?  Thankfully we had miles and screens between us, and I also completely understand where he's coming from.  Had our roles been reversed and were it 2015, I would have responded the same way he did.  It's a very scary thing to see someone in your Christian circles stepping away from a belief you place so much value on.  I totally get that.

This interaction forced me to recognize that I'm now on what most American Christians would call the fringes of Christianity, the edge, or maybe even beyond the edge.  It's an odd place to be, especially considering how much of the Christian faith I do ascribe to.  I knew all the songs at Vacation Bible School and memorized the Roman Road (one of Christianity's main tools for evangelism, taken from Paul's writings in the book of Romans), and I can tell you that I most certainly am a Christian, if anyone was wondering, but I'm not the same Christian I was before.  I either disagree or don't agree with quite a few things most American Christians take as gospel.  This has brought tension to many conversations with Caleb, who doesn't know how to best respond to having his wife go through deconstruction yet.  This has become the most uncomfortable part of my journey.  To not have my best friend know and understand where I am.  We haven't talked about it, not really, and in my own home, at least, I am still isolated.

---

If you know someone going through deconstruction, please let them wade through the marshes.  Let them doubt and question and challenge.  Let them be angry and distraught and sorrowful.  Just don't let them go through it alone.  Don't try to fix them or their problems.  Don't try to answer their questions for them unless they explicitly ask.  Hug them.  Let them know you're available if they'd like to talk things out or if they need a soundboard.  This is a struggle, and they have to struggle through it.  This is a time of fluidity and testing and there is no magic solution you can offer, but you can offer acceptance, a safe place free of condemnation and pressure, and unconditional love.  If you're afraid that your friend is going the wrong direction, whether you say so or not, remember the trust you have in your God and the Spirit inside your friend.  If you pray, pray for them.  Chances are you believe that, in the end, it's God's sovereignty and truth that will win all things.  Take heart in that, find support for yourself if you need it, and release yourself from the expectation to make things right.  That's not your role, it's Gods.

A few things to ponde that will hopefully encourage you about your friend's journey and show you more of how they're heading in a healthy direction:

"If a person thinks that God is impressed by how certain you are and remaining certain, well you're going to have a phobia of [...] anything that might lessen your certainty, that might throw you into doubt.  So you insulate your faith."  - Greg Boyd via The Deconstructoinists podcast (41:51)

"People think that your faith is as strong as you are doubt-free, and so [they] make a virtue out of not doubting.  That sets so many wrong things in motion.  If you have that model, then you're going to try really never to doubt the rightness of your beliefs, which makes an idol out of your beliefs.  You [then] get life from your rightness, and that's your salvation.  And if you begin doubt too much, then you lose your salvation."  - Greg Boyd via The Deconstructoinists podcast (32:10)


If you're going through deconstruction yourself, know that you are not alone.  There are thousands of people like you who are right now dealing with some of the biggest questions they've ever faced.  You're not the first one to have these doubts.  It's okay to have these doubts.  In fact, faith needs doubt.  Since the Enlightenment, logic and reason have been so highly valued by society and even the church that we've become almost obsessed with having all the answers, but faith was never meant to have all the answers.

"Faith is clearly learning to live without knowing and [to live] trusting that God knows.  We've turned it around 180 degrees to mean people walking around who are certain about everything." - Richard Rohr via The Deconstructionist podast (12:36) 
^ (This whole episode s 100% gold.)
Chances are you'll come through this with a different understanding than you had before.  Chances are what gets left behind needed to get left behind.  As we grow, our relationships change, and it makes perfect sense that our relationship with God would change, too.  This is normal and healthy, and it's quite common for Christians from conservative circles, especially when they reach their 30's.  Where you are is okay.  You're not a bad Christian.  Doubt isn't sinful, and you don't have to be afraid of it.  As Science Mike says, doubt has the power we give it, but that's the only power it has.

"If there's a God worth believing in, it's a God big enough to handle this sort of thing.  To handle uncertainty." - Mike McHargue (aka Science Mike) via The Liturgists podcast (23:30)

---

I know I don't often talk about my faith on my blog, but these big changes have been worth writing about.  I'm going to be publishing another post about some of my beliefs that have shifted this year, so keep an eye on this space next Friday to see how much of a heretic I've become (tongue in cheek, friends, tongue in cheek). 

Friday, November 10, 2017

The perks of being an adult

The perks of being an adult


What silly, frivolous ways do you do adult things, like buying pizza and hot chocolate because you feel like it and it's raining and what other late time second dinner could be more perfect for this dreary weather?

Here are some of my indulgences, made possible only by being an out-of-the-house adult with my own paycheck.

  • Ice cream with breakfast.  Sometimes.  Just because.
  • Spoiling myself with routine at-home face masks and skincare
  • Buying organic as much as possible
  • Staying home with a good book, a good tv show, or a good homemade meal instead of going out
  • Applying to work at companies you love because who knows what could happen
  • Taking a class on something new (I love Homestead Atlanta for this.)
  • Cooking up a super fancy dinner at home with wine to drink and king crab legs to eat (because it's cheaper to buy and prepare it yourself and I'm still mostly frugal)
  • Brunch!
  • Buying the cute comfy underwear because why settle for anything less anymore?
  • Choosing to drink tea for its health and calming benefits, but mostly because it feels luxurious, especially when paired with fancy mugs
What about you?  I'd love to hear how you treat yourself.  Share in the comments below.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Balance is fleeting

Balance is Fleeting
While listening to my mother-in-law one day, she dropped a serious truth bomb that came at the very best time.  She was talking about a young woman she's mentoring and about a conversation point they'd been focusing on.  Balance.

I don't think I'd known of the concept of life balance growing up.  My life was pretty well planned out, after all.  Wake up at 7:30, ride to school, classes all day, violin practice or volleyball practice, go home, dinner, piano practice, then read until bedtime.  It may have been a busy childhood, but I don't remember it ever feeling that way.  I remember things starting to feel hectic and out of control once I reached college and my schedule was completely in my own hands.  Between student government, volleyball, and class obligations, there was a boyfriend and friends to hang out with.  Before long, research papers were being completed the night before they were due, bedtime became a nebulous concept, my planner became invaluable, and stress was constant.

I think I crave balance so much because I know how hard the low times can be.  There's no time for what I really want, maybe even what I really need.  Dinners aren't homemade anymore.  Relaxing looks more like scrolling through Instagram.  Sleeping in becomes the ultimate luxury instead of long walks in the woods, brunch with friends, or flowers from the market.

The truth bomb from my mother-in-law was this:  Balance is fleeting, and as unpleasant (and unhealthy) a lack of balance can be, it's not something to be idolized or chased.  Heck, with the chasing comes even more stress!  There will always be an ebb and flow of chaos and tranquility, and when we look back on all our years, we'll see that the mountains and valleys would have come our way no matter how hard we tried to strive against the inevitable.

At the moment, I am in between jobs.  This year I've had more stress, depression, heartbreak, and numbness than any other year before.  When I first started writing this post, however, it was the early in 2016.  I'd like to leave you with  one of the paragraphs I'd written then:

I am currently in a fairly peaceful season.  I've been working part-time for a month and a half.  I've been enjoying staying at home with my dog most days, listening to music out loud, and catching up on reading.  It doesn't seem fair for me to be telling people to relax, but trust me when I say I've been there and when I say that balance is something that should be held with an open hand.

I know that something new will come soon that will require me to adjust.  My schedule will get fuller, and my life margins will get smaller.  Once more I'll have to shift all the pieces of my life again to make everything fit on the calendar.  I know now that prizing balance so highly could force me to compromise and miss out on valuable experiences, lessons, or opportunities to share with others.  As hard as it is, we have to make sure that we're able to roll with the punches.  The hair-pulling alternative never helped anyone, I promise.


Monday, October 16, 2017

When you live with BIG emotions





I don't know why I haven't written about it yet, but as a rule, my emotions are strong and many.  I've been described as tenderhearted and as sincere by folks who just met me.  My joy has been rambunctious and contagious (causing embarrassment for others at least once).  My compassion has stopped me in my tracks and kept me from eating.  Along with great feelings comes great heartache and despair.  When I have dark days, they're really dark.  More than once, I've been frustrated with God, at the end of my rope, and incessantly questioning Him about why I'm like this.

My husband is on the opposite end of the spectrum, by the way.  His story and experiences bred mistrust toward emotions in general, which translated to incredulity, frustration, and sometimes fear when I would come to him upset.  Needless to say, we had a hefty share of misunderstandings, hurtful words, and harmful actions between us.

For a few years now, I've gone to counseling, not because big emotions are bad or something to be fixed, but because I needed help handling them.  The process took me to a strange place of trying to place boundaries.  The boundaries helped me separate my emotions from reality and refrain from demanding my husband match my feelings when something was wrong.  The boundaries helped me stand up for myself, too, and kept me from ignoring my feelings and allowing them to be invalidated by others.

Talking out and winnowing down my thoughts into Facts and Feelings columns has helped me see where I might be giving into emotions when I don't have to.  Counseling gave me breathing room and a safe space to lay out and think about all the pieces of a situation instead of having to leap to my own defense against someone with a different perspective.  Both counseling and meditation have given me the tools to recognize and regulate my emotions, which means they overwhelm me less, and as cheesy as it sounds, the workbook Don't Let Emotions Run Your Life has also been really helpful.

For the religious among you who believe humans are created images of God, you'll appreciate how each of us reflect His character in a unique way.  I've found some relief in that belief: "If I hurt this much over the evil in this world, surely God hurts even more.  If I experience such happiness over good things, surely God is even happier."  Understand I'm not comparing myself to the divine, but normalizing my experiences.  Essentially, this is how I'm supposed to be.  Gaining a better grasp on my emotions so they don't blindside me so often is helpful for me and those around me, but the fact that I have such a broad and deep range of emotions is not bad or wrong and does not need to be changed.

Another thing that grounds me and brings clarity is the fact that emotions are the best means for connecting with others.  When I tell you how it hurt me when you made that comment, or when I share my elation over getting to meet a puppy, you get a sense of my experience.  This leads to understanding, and understand and communication are foundations of what relationships are, and I believe relationships will change the world.  If I can be a small part of that, then I'm all in.

So.

I feel much, and I feel it strongly.  Thank goodness I've made peace with who I am.  Double thanks for how my husband has also grown in his acceptance (dare I say, appreciation?).  Here's to emotional intelligence, to growing in understanding, and to being fully human and unafraid.

Allow yourself to be compelled.  Tenderness moves us to action.

---

Further reading: Living with big emotions by Sara Tasker

Friday, September 15, 2017

What Hurricane Irma dredged up



Note: I wrote this the afternoon of Tuesday, September 12, and while my situation has changed since then, I wanted to post this now that I have the internet to do so.  I've been writing about myself a lot this summer, and adding this to the series keeps me honest.

After hitching a ride from a mini cooper to the local coffee shop (the driver agreed, “You don’t find many criminals in minis) and after making a call to my husband on a stranger’s phone (twice, two different strangers), I sit here with a delicious caramelatto and with hipster music washing over me along with all the emotions I hadn’t yet uncovered about the last 24 hours.

I figured there would be strong winds and heavy rain, but I didn’t expect the power to be out for over 24 hours.  That’s the marker we’re at right now, at least.  Who knows how long we’ll be without electricity.  About two hours in, I realized we had made absolutely no preparations for such a situation.  Thankfully we are at the very end of our two weeks’ worth of food from our last grocery trip, but we still have many meals’ worth of leftovers, frozen chicken bones I’d been saving for homemade broth, and creamer and milk in the freezer and fridge.  I absolutely hate wasting food, and the reality of everything spoiling in my kitchen is hitting me hard.  This is the greatest surprise of the storm’s effects.  I can handle the discomfort that comes with being without internet, and I can handle the gloomy light that comes through the windows all day, but losing the food and the money we spent on it nearly brings me to tears.

I’ve always been conscious about how I spend money.  My dad told me after I graduated college that while his work buddies’ college kids often had to ask for more cash, he was glad I never needed more than my monthly allowance of $75.  Living on my own, I always recorded my purchases in my check book ledger, and I felt guilty and embarrassed the one or two times I over-drafted on my account.  Once Caleb and I got engaged and my finances got more complicated, budgets became all important to me.  Somehow Caleb ended up as the overseer of our incomes and purchases, and he would occasionally tell me we needed to stop extra spending for the rest of the month, but typically our money discussions centered around him emphatically trying to convince me that we were okay, that we were financially stable, and that I didn’t have to worry.  Being distanced from the actual numbers myself, it’s been very hard to take his assurance to heart.  In fact, ever since we paid off the last of our debt last November, I’ve only just started to believe him when he's told me that we really can live off of just his income if we need to.  Turns out, as of August, we have needed to.

Let me back up a bit.  The last day of May, our first day back from a long vacation, Caleb was fired from his job.  Then, in July, I found out that I’d be out of a job starting August 2.  This new development of me not being able to bring any money to the equation brought me paralyzing fear.  I knew that Caleb would be fine.  He’s a software developer, the market for his kind of work is still booming, and surely he’d be getting a new job soon.  Even when he got turned down at the end of interview processes twice in a row, I knew he’d be fine, but when my own job security suddenly evaporated, the panic started to creep in.

That first weekend after being told I’d be laid off, we were in Minneapolis for a family wedding.  I spent that Saturday with the bride and bridesmaids building bouquets.  Some of the girls were ordering food for lunch, and someone asked if I needed anything.  I told them no, I would be fine.  On the car ride back to the hotel (which thankfully had complimentary breakfast), I was lost in my worry and barely spoke.  When I got back to our room where Caleb sat reading on the bed, I burst into tears and told him how I skipped lunch because I was so afraid to spend money.

Now it’s taken me nearly 4 years of marriage to learn that it’s not Caleb’s job to “fix me” or make me feel better.  I am 100% responsible for my own emotions and reactions, but I can’t tell you how thankful I am that Caleb stepped in to fight my fears for me that day.

“Lindsay, we’re okay.  We’re okay.  With the money we have left and your income and the severance package, we’ll be just fine until September without even having to dip into our savings.  And not only am I going to have a job by then, but we also have my parents willing to help us if we need them.  And our church if we need them.  And our landlord has already told me she’s willing to work on the rent with us if we need it.  And I’ve already been thinking of picking up a second job in the meantime while I wait for that offer letter that’s coming.  Tomorrow, I want you to get lunch.  Buy yourself a real lunch.  And don’t worry.  You don’t have to worry.  Please don’t worry.”

I know I’m in the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest, but this is where I’m at.  This is what gets to me.  This is what breaks me down and what builds me up.

My last day at work was about two weeks later.  That evening, Caleb got the most welcome call.  He’d been offered a job with a great company, and the salary would be just what we needed.  His smile was so big and pure when he looked at me after hanging up.  We hugged, we kissed, and I probably cried a little.  With all these doubts about God I've been dealing with, and therefore also doubts about God’s provision, it seemed providential that a job for Caleb would come just an hour or two after my own job ended.  I told my close friends afterward that, if this God is real, and if He was listening to my cries and prayers, this was the kindest, most generous thing He could have done for me in that moment.  If He were trying to get my attention and remind me that He loves me, this would be the perfect way to do it.

I think it’s a testament to how stable we really are that Caleb didn’t end up accepting that job, even after they raised the original offer.  He waited to hear back from a second company to see if they would offer him a different job he’d been interviewing for that he would enjoy more.  Almost a week later, the second company told Caleb that, yes, they’d love to have him work for them.  Again, we celebrated, this time with dinner out and Spider-Man in theaters, which we’d been waiting to see until we had a bit more expendable income.  

Today, a month later, we have the security we need, but we also have a new budget that’s been constructed around our new income level.  Even with safeguards in place and our savings still intact, I still have misgivings about money.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever have a relaxed perspective.  A big part of me says that’s a good thing.  My father taught me responsibility, discipline, and hard work, and I’m a very risk-averse person in general.  Surely playing it safe and staying within boundaries is a good thing?

I’m far from the worst areas hit by Hurricane Irma, but today has been one of those depend-on-the-kindness-of-strangers days.  I'm thankful that I'm surrounded by people who can help me when the unplanned comes and throws my sense of control out the window, but gosh it would be better to be able to breathe even without everything going my way.  Becuase as with most normal people, I have my share of things not going my way.

Monday, August 28, 2017

When the big picture shifts, part 3

Monastery of the Holy Spirit
2017 has been one hell of a ride for me.  The scariest personal struggles came this spring, the summer saw both my husband and I become unemployed, and I'm currently in the midst of my second big "is God even real?" dilemma (and this go round is lasting much longer than the first one in 2010).  With the first hard situation, relationship problems if I'm honest, it was a very few close friends and my faith that pulled me out of the darkness.  I couldn't have made it toward the light without either of those two strongholds.  Here in August, I have this new, hard, jobless situation on my hands and my faith is weaker and not as steady, and it absolutely sucks not having that assurance in my heart in the midst of the turmoil.

What makes the job problem easier to bear are the skills, experience, and professional network I have on my side.  Sure, God may be there, too, but the tangible safety net feels much more real these days.  For those of you who don't walk in faith or religion, please understand me when I say that having the physical safety net without the spiritual is very, very uncomfortable for me.  For as long as I can remember living, I've had a near constant belief that there is a God, that this God loves me, and that this God provides for me in everything.  This concept is such a comfort and encouragement, and I have my own experiences where that reality, the reality of God's existence, was made glaringly true to me.  I even have collected stories of the miraculous and supernatural in the lives of my friends and my immediate family.  (My immediate family.  As in, I can call up my sister right now and have her tell you about her back being healed through prayer and the laying on of hands.  Strange happenings, my friends.)

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This spring, a friend of mine introduced me to The Liturgists podcast, and while it has been a breeding ground for my doubt, I think that's only because it's a safe place for doubt.  One of the first episodes I listened to wrapped the warmest blanket around me when the speaker said doubt only has the power we give it.  It doesn't have to be dangerous, and you don't have to be afraid of it.  Our perspective of God changes as we change, just like all our relationships change.  And as we grow and learn more about ourselves, our history, the Bible, and whatever else it is you're delving deeper in, our beliefs and ideas will naturally shift.  This is what life looks like, everyone goes through this, and where you are right now with your faith or lack thereof is okay.  You don't have to pretend everything's fine if it's not.

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I can't tell you how thankful I am to not be in the environment where I grew up anymore.  I went to a Southern Baptist church and went to a private Christian school ran by an Independent Baptist church.  Philosophical curiosity wasn't encouraged much in either of those arenas, nor in my home, for that matter.  (I remember taking a break from my encyclopedia computer game, pausing on a snake I clicked that brought up information about the snake's significance in Hinduism.  My mom saw the screen and forbade me from playing the game any longer.)  Perhaps it's a good thing my mind was so young and eager to please at that time.  I never had theistic doubts or concerns.  Instead, I got straight A's in my Bible classes.  I do know, though, that wrestling with these things in school or maybe even at home wouldn't have been met with much understanding or kindness.  And that's why I'm glad my mind waited until adulthood to start looking sideways at what I've been brought up to believe for 29 years.

Now I have a live-in best friend who tells me it's okay, that he loves me, and that if I have any questions or if I'd like to talk about it, he's there to listen and chat.  My BFF in Oregon is a rock of faith herself but doesn't force anything in our conversations and gives such beautiful rest from worry.  Other friends around me are going through similar doubts and also have no judgment for me whatsoever, which is an amazing and unexpected breath of fresh air.  The lack of condemnation makes this struggle easier, safer, and much less scary.

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As bizarre as it may sound, at this moment I am content as I wait for answers and confirmation, and I think I'd be content if I never have the certainty I used to.  I'm starting to accept that God, whatever or whomever God is, is mystery.  One of our pastors shared last year that, if there is a God, we're not going to understand Him/Her/It completely.  It doesn't make sense to try to put God in a box to we've made to better understand the divine, either.  Furthermore, if God were someone or something we could explain absolutely and comprehend absolutely, it wouldn't be much of a God.

So this is where I'm at.  Generally comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing.  Open to the possibilities of having my mind changed.  Hopeful that I will find the truth and that the truth will be a benevolent God who's on our side, working everything for our good.  The moments when my mind goes deeper and starts to consider the possibility of that not being the truth are terrifying, especially when considering the afterlife, but I've started to move forward and to search for answers.  I hope what I find is beautiful.