Sunday, July 31, 2011

I am not an island, You are not a "Them"

I thought this blog would be about hope, not anger. But anger is a very real part of my journey toward hope.

I used to be really angry about injustice in the world. Don’t get me wrong, it still breaks my heart, still brings tears to my eyes, but it no longer hardens my heart.

I used to be enraged on behalf of others. Particularly the plight of the rural poor.

I used to use this anger as an ideology. As my new religion.

I used this anger as an excuse not to move. To stay stuck. To lash out.

I used it as an excuse to dehumanize the poor. To reduce them to a “them” I could be enraged on behalf of. Not people that I knew and loved. Not people that deserved my hope and my efforts as much as my anger and indignation.

A while back I wrote a poem about this act of dehumanization I masked as romanticized, righteous indignation. And here it is:

I am not an island
You are not a “them”
I remember the romance of the pain
Weathered, leather face
Acidic fumes
I forget you
I talk anger
I feel smug
You are a story I heard
A feeling I felt
Not a person I know
I use you to feel pain
In pain I am Justified
I use you to reject Him
But you praise Him with your chapped lips
Chapped, I said it,
Romanticizing again
I put it on you
It’s never me
I’m the enlightened one
Finally free
Of the guilt on my hands
Of the burden of me
But am I angry for you?
Or angry for me?
In the fury of my rage
You become a “them”
I become a lie
I am not a martyr
Remind me yet again
I am not an island
You are not a them

Pictured to the left: Me with a woman, Grey, that I stayed with in Nicaragua. She shared not only her house and food--mostly pineapples--with me, but also her thoughts, her hopes, and her dreams. She was one of the women I wrote this poem for a year after I came back to the States.

Have any of you experienced a time when you used anger on behalf of someone or a group of someones as an excuse to stay stuck?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Beautiful People Do Not Just Happen

I saw this quote on a friend’s Facebook the other day and had to share it.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep, loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
--Elizabeth Kubler- Ross

I am obsessed with the Holocaust. Well, Holocaust survivors, that is. And for the exact reason that I’m deeply moved when I get to see the world from the perspective of some of the world’s most beautiful people. Maybe it sounds a bit trite or too Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul-ish, but I love reading and hearing about stories of human triumph, transformation, and reconciliation.

When I came back from a semester abroad during college I was filled with anger and righteous indignation at the poverty and injustice that I saw. In the midst of my sulking and clinging to anger, I began to read and hear stories of people who had gone through much greater atrocities than just having their cushy worldview rocked in a study abroad experience. I read about people who’d been oppressed, tormented, and watched their families and friends suffer needlessly.

And they were hopeful.

While I writhed in anger and hopelessness on behalf of a people and a system I barely knew, they were working to make the world a better place. They were teaching forgiveness and dignity and the power of the human spirit. They even said they believed in God.

In reading books by authors like Elie Weisel, I realized I had no excuse to dwell, to sulk, to plummet into the depths. If he could hope, so could I. So must I.

Hope began to stir.

I began to change my spending habits, altered my purchasing power. I started interning at an organization that serves and empowers the type of people on whose behalf I was indignant—I’m still working with this organization.

In the weeks and months to come, I’ll continue to blog about my experience about learning to hope and trust and eventually fall deeper and deeper in love with the God who placed this desire for hope and justice deep within me before I was even born.

For now, I want to thank the beautiful people in my life who’ve traveled with me on this journey. The people who have “known defeat, known suffering, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.” The people who, with their lives and their words, have inspired me, moved me, and helped me become a little less angry and a little more beautiful.

Just a glimpse of some of the beautiful people in my life:

Friday, July 29, 2011

When God Writes Your Love Story

Don't be misled by the title, this isn't a story of boy meets girl. Stealing from one of my favorite authors, Lauren Winner, this is a story of Girl Meets God. Well, more precisely Girl Reconnects with God after a Trial Separation, but that's not quite as catchy.

How about
God Woos Girl? Yes, that fits.

This is a story of God Woos Girl. Like any good love story, it involves poetry. It involves pet names. It involves seduction. It involves both cheesiness and gut-wrenching sincerity. It involves ups and downs, perks and puddles. It involves bouts of insecurity and jealousy and not speaking to each other. But don't worry, there's a happy ending.

I've fought the urge to start a blog for a long time now, writing it off as a self-indulgent endeavor. But the thing is, I love reading other people's blogs, self-indulgent or not.

I am a firm believer in the power of stories to shape, motivate, heal, and transform. A few months ago I distinctly heard God whisper to me "to write My love story." That is, the story of his transforming love and grace in my life.

So here, in a mismatched collection of posts riddled with my thoughts and percolations and amateur attempts at poetry and wisdom, is a love story. Amid self-indulgence (okay, I admit I like it when people read my stuff) I hope to find grace and connection. I hope that in this space I can be true to myself, to the heart and brain that God has created me with, and to the story of God's love for me.

I hope also that my stories connect with you, that they allow me in some small way to befriend not only my past, myself, and my creator, but you. So these are my memoirs. These are my attempts to "write my love story."

This is a story of God Woos Girl.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I Love Lucy to I Love Aly

"Your Absence Has Gone Through Me Like Thread Through A Needle. Everything I Do Is Stitched With Its Color"

Today, July 28th, would have been my grandmother's 85th birthday. When I was little I was convinced my grandmother and I were identical twins. Never mind the 60-year age difference, Nini was my soul twin and sister. Miraculously, we loved all of the same things—her homemade spaghetti and meatballs, reruns of I Love Lucy, bedtime stories like Make Way for Ducklings, and rummy tournaments that lasted over a decade. She also had a keen interest in my gymnastics practices, the third grade spelling bee, and any boy I had a crush on from elementary school through high school.

It wasn’t until she passed away that I discovered the secret behind our enduring bond: her love for me.

Turns out we didn’t just so happen to love exactly the same things. She made my interests her own. She made my trials and letdowns her own. She made my excitement her own. Now she may have been more apt to enjoy an I Love Lucy episode with me than a Power Rangers episode with my brothers, but I highly doubt she had an unbiased interest in the Agatha Christie novels I would recount to her in murderous detail or how a velvet leotard did not provide the same amount of cooling power as a Lycra one during a four hour gymnastics practice in a gym with only a declining swamp cooler to combat the sweltering heat. Always my biggest fan and partner in crime, Nini actively looked for ways to connect with me, to value me, to listen to me, and to encourage me. She made me feel loved and valuable no matter what.

Whenever I read Compassion by Henri Nouwen (which is about once a year), I am reminded more and more of Nini. Nouwen says, “When we have discovered that our sense of self does not depend on our differences and that our self-esteem is based on a love much deeper than the praise that can be acquired by unusual performances, we can see our unique talents as gifts for others.”

My grandma’s unconditional love gave me a sense of self and confidence that helped me see myself as a gifted and valuable person. Not to espouse selfishness, egocentrism or self-addiction, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that the key to loving others starts with loving myself or at least starting to believe that maybe, just maybe, there is something lovable and redeemable about me. Why else would Jesus command that we love others as ourselves? What reason would I have to believe that others have gifts and talents to offer the world if I don’t believe that I have anything to offer?

We all have a natural aptitude for selfishness, that’s not the issue. Self-centeredness has nothing to do with truly loving yourself and everything to do with seeking to fill the gaps in us that ache for love and acceptance. One of Nouwen’s antidotes to selfishness while interacting with others is to “Pay attention in a way that they begin to recognize their own value.” Perhaps we could apply this advice to ourselves as well. What if we paid attention to ourselves in a way that allows us to recognize our own value? And what if this belief in our own value spurred us to value others, to serve others, to encourage others?
When we believe we are loved and valued, we can shift our focus from seeking attention to seeking to love.

Thanks, Nini, for using I Love Lucy to help me believe I Love Aly.

Happy Birthday to the woman who paid attention to in a way that I began to recognize my own value.

Friday, July 15, 2011

If it weren't for You...

If your giant hands hadn’t burned their warmth around my heart, my egg yolk blood would have spilled out and over beyond redemption.
I would be as numb and stale as the dried pink flowers fading into her tombstone.
My hands would sit idle and useless, and my eyes would be a vacant lot, abandoned and lifeless.
The urgent foreign language of cruelty and oppression would flicker across the screen of Fox News as indecipherable hieroglyphs before my eyes.
I would give my body to anyone who asked, ignoring the venomous effects of lustful intoxication.
I would laugh with my friends, but tears would be pumping through my veins.
I would obediently recite a mantra of justice, love, and helping the poor, but I would treat myself with cruel injustice and self-loathing.
My situation would evoke more pity than starving children, protruding bellies, and skies dense with smoke and sorrow.
All of my knowledge, A’s, and nods of approval would sink like pencil shavings to the bottom of a wasted life.
The pain and hurt would dissolve into emptiness.
If there’s no reason to love then there’s no reason to hurt.
If there’s no reason to hurt then there’s no reason to feel.
Feeling would become a memory like my timid first day of kindergarten or my skeptical, yet steadfast belief in the Easter bunny.
If your giant hands hadn’t burned their warmth around my heart, my egg yolk blood would have spilled out and over beyond redemption.
If it weren’t for You…