Friday, October 28, 2011

Why bask?

I began to realize that I couldn’t love the poor if I didn’t even love my mom or my roommates. If I didn’t love myself.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How I became God’s Basking Case

No, not basket case, (although I’m sure there’s a hint of that, too) basking case.

This story starts with a rebuttal.

When I first came back to church, people started asking me if they could pray for me. Most of the time, I said no.

But after awhile, after racking my brain to come up with anything I might like the almighty creator of the universe to help me out with, I finally decided on the one prayer request I felt comfortable asking.

“I’d like to be able to love and serve others better,” I mumbled more to my feet than to anyone in particular.

And the response?

“No, that is not what you should pray for.”

Excuse me?

Since when do prayer requests have to pass quality control? When I was a junior high youth leader we'd pray for students' sick fish, cats, and nano babies. No prayer was too big or too small.

But the congregation had spoken: I was not to pray to serve others better.

“I have an image for you instead,” they said--they all said, different people on different occasions. All with the same image, the same concept. The same Instead...

Instead they all had an image of me basking in God's love.

One couple told me, "Aly, you are beautiful. I see you lying in a meadow. Soaking in God's love."

Another woman (on a separate occasion) told me: "I see a picture of you in a field of flowers, basking in God's love."

Another person straight up told me, "No, I don't think you should pray to love others. I believe you need to bask in God's love."

The first time I heard this, I scoffed.

The second time I heard this, I scoffed.

The third time I heard this, I started to get nervous.

Basking, really? That’s about the sissiest verb I’ve ever heard and somehow everyone in this church is obsessed with it.

I didn't want images of soaking and basking and laying lazily in a field of wild flowers. I wanted to help people. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted my god to care about injustice and oppression. I wanted my god to help me love others better, to quiet the guilt in my heart for being born to a well-off family in the wealthiest country in the world.

If you're going to give me an image, I thought, let it be of selling all I have and giving it to the poor. An image of writing award winning exposés that shut down sweat shops and bring justice to the marginalized around the world. An image of revolution. Of anger. Of action.

That's not what my church friends had for me. And it's not what God had for me either.

Little did I know this was the beginning of the basking.

Check back next week to read how my skeptical little heart began to bask in God’s love.

Have you ever been given a word or image that didn’t sit right with you at the time? How did you respond?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What if I am worth hating?

When my racing thoughts stop and the productivity and acclaim and noise quiets down, my deepest fear surfaces: what if I am worth hating?

For a long time I didn’t answer that question because I feared the reply.

I lived in a shut-off, tamped-down, disengagement. A low grade depression. A low grade life.

I grew up believing that God’s grace was enough, is enough, and should always be enough. But I wasn’t happy. There was no sense of fulfillment, peace, or “enough” in my life. I thought that made me a bad Christian. I had accepted Jesus into my heart, my sins were forgiven, I was supposed to be happy. I should have been happy. I believed Christians had a duty—a responsibility—to be joyful. Christians had the hope of heaven and the relief of forgiveness, a built in best friend and Savior. Non-Christians had Darwin and Nietzsche, chaos and meaninglessness. I had no idea how they even got up in the morning.

But instead of joy and security I lived in depression and guilt.

When I was little, I was not only a rule follower, I made up my own elaborate rules. There was a right way to do everything from the order I ate my food (from least favorite to favorite, vegetables first) to the right way to be a Christian. I thought God wanted me to do everything perfectly and was constantly afraid of failure. I repeatedly missed my own mark, failed to measure up to rules of my own design.

I carried this into adulthood.

I burdened myself with unrealistic rules and expectations to the point that fear of failure paralyzed me. Then I’d feel guilty. Then I’d feel guilty about feeling guilty. You get the idea.

I wrote last week about the transformative power of asking the flipside to my life’s haunting question. What if I asked not if I’m worth hating, but if I’m worth loving?

When I began to live my life as a Yes to the second question, everything changed.

I began to love myself. I began to believe that God might love me.

I found the true meaning of mercy: a compassion that forbears punishment even when justice demands it. Even when justice demands it.

I found a God that loves me even when I deserve punishment and smiting and consequences.

In my weaker moments, that question still haunts me. Am I worth hating?

But I’ve found that it no longer matters what that answer is. That answer is not the reality of who I am.

Regardless of where I’ve failed, God invites me into a new reality of love and being loved and loving others.

The answer no longer matters because I know that I am loved, even when I am worth hating.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

T.S. Tuesday: Consequently I rejoice

From Ash Wednesday:

“Consequently I rejoice, having constructed something upon which to rejoice.”

This line prickles the hair on my Absolute loving neck. Either something is intrinsically praiseworthy or it isn’t. How can you make it up?

On the other hand, so much of my life and my story has been shaped by my choices to move forward, to choose to hope, to choose to rejoice. To participate in actions and beliefs and moments that lead me to rejoice.

I’ve heard love is a verb, love is an action, love is an orientation. I believe Love is a choice.

The power comes not in the pat answers, clichés, or absolutes, but in the choice to seek, to hope, to live.

I will rejoice because I can rejoice. I will hope because I can hope. I will love because I can love. And consequently I rejoice.

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's not you, it's me

For me, actually.

This blog, this place where I share my thoughts and musings and processings, is as much for me as it is for you.

This weekend I read a memoir titled, Stumbling Toward Faith, by Renee Altson.

It was incredible. There are no words for me describe the beauty of reading of someone else’s story, being offered an exquisite glimpse into someone else’s pain and questions, secret fears and fleeting hopes. It was a gift.

I was reminded of my need to write. Of the value of my story (and your story and sharing these stories).

Writing for me is an act of remembering. Even more, it is a discipline of thankfulness.

When God whispered to me to “write my love story” it was a command to share, but it was also a command to remember.

To remember the times I couldn’t step foot in a church. To remember the outrage I felt at injustice. To remember the first time I felt a real, a raw, a ragged hope begin to stir in my own honesty.

To remember so that I may be open to those who are still questioning, still angry, still hurt, still outside the camp, scoffing and alone.

Renee writes, "I like it in this little space of being loved. I like this newness, this fresh perspective, this ordinary holiness weaving itself into the tapestry of my life, and I want to worship something; I want to proclaim my gratitude, my awe, the miracle that I notice, that I see what's happening. I want to hold out my hands and say thank you."

Her book was just that: an offering of thanks.

And I hope that this blog would be a place where I could weave my own words of worship together.

To remember the first flickers of hope that led me to Love. To encourage you as you seek Love, as you seek to weave together the threads of hope and grace and redemption in your own life.

I hope you are encouraged. I hope my thoughts point to something greater than me.

I hope that, together, we can begin to acknowledge this newfound love, this newfound wonder, this everyday miracle that we can notice God's stirrings at all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Helpless to Helpful, One Block at Time

As an empowered, white young woman with a college degree and healthy dose of idealism, the world is my oyster. But instead of embracing this freedom, I love to feign displeasure at all of the overwhelming choices I have to make on a daily basis:

Paper or plastic or BYObag? Grad school or work experience? Skinny jeans or jeggings?

(Don’t worry, I only have one pair of jeggings and I only wear them on casual Fridays #FirstWorldProblems.)

As much as I pretend to get all flustered and overwhelmed and indignant that I am “too empowered,” the truth is, I love being in control. What I don’t love is not knowing what to do with this control. I want quick answers and color coded set of instructions.

I was a meticulous organizer even as a child. I numbered all of my toy blocks and could only build up in numerical order (childhood OCD, anyone?). It was my way of constricting the overwhelming world of construction possibilities into manageable chunks—one block on top of another.

But outside the protected walls of kindergarten and playtime, these manageable chunks are hard to come by and after a guilt-ridden semester abroad I found myself completely paralyzed, unable to determine block number one.

In the midst of depression and guilt, Love began to speak to me, to urge me out of my shell of shame. I discovered that regardless of my circumstances or how I felt about a situation or all of the million and one factors that conspired to render me frozen and hopeless, I could still choose love. You probably all realized this years ago and I'm just a bit of late bloomer, but I found (and still find) it incredibly empowering to know that I can choose my response. I can’t choose whether or not the world is fair or children die of starvation in Nicaragua (well, not as directly as I’d like), but I can choose my attitude and my next steps.

Instead of watching helplessly as my guilt spun out of control, I stopped doing the things that made me feel guilty. Shopping made me feel sick and guilty after a semester of living out of a backpack, so I decided not to buy clothes for the rest of the year. My roommates teased me and tempted me with shopping excursions and confounded looks, but I found peace in the fact that my actions were beginning to match my beliefs.

I discovered there were many ways I could help the poor, live more sustainably, and incorporate the ideals I had learned about in Costa Rica. But instead of knowing what I should do, but remaining ensnared in guilt, anger, and despair, I actually started to change, to act, to live. I volunteered my time. I began to let my mom and my friends back into my life. I was more intentional about what I bought and how I spent my money. I started going to church again not because I felt guilty or thought it was something I was supposed to do, but because I missed the community. And I didn’t fight every word the pastor said. In small ways, I found I could make a difference.

It was these manageable chunks—one step at a time, one foot in front of the other—that helped me climb reluctantly out of my post-study abroad poverty stupor.

Regardless of what phase of life you’re in, from complacent to content to contrite, I think these manageable chunks of love are the best way to bring about lasting change, the best way to learn to choose love. And I guess this isn’t so much of a new epiphany for me, but more of an addendum to my early days of block numbering.

It’s these baby, baby steps of selflessness and compassion that spur us toward becoming more loving, more compassionate, and more fully engaged in our world.

The knowledge that I can choose to love and empower and give through my thoughts and actions is has been incredibly redemptive for me. I can make a difference little by little. I can learn and grow little by little. I can love little by little.

Hound me later if you think I’m being trite, but welcome to my favorite obsession: “manageable chunks of love.”


*PS I couldn't resist the urge to post a pic of baby, block numbering Aly with my brothers decked out for Halloween.

Helpful?

February 2007

The acidic pineapple assaulted my mouth and I could barely keep my eyes open. It was 6:30 a.m. We walked on the cobbled dirt road past children in smoothed school uniforms, their dark eyes shining brilliantly in their smiling faces. They looked at me like I was an alien, a goddess, Britney Spears. How could I teach them English? How could I teach them anything? I pleaded with God that I could be helpful, if just for an hour. A year later and I still wanted more than anything to helpful; it’s just that I no longer pleaded with God.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Worship Wednesday

The tempo increased and she recognized the tune of her favorite worship song. The one about new life. She shut her eyes tightly and waited for the Holy Spirit.

Padre, Padre, Padre she murmured, Father, Father, Father, holding her hands out as if a shiny prize would be placed in the deep grooves of her palms if only she believed hard enough. Her body shook with excitement. She swayed slightly as the Spirit descended upon her.

Ven, Espiritu Santo, she entreated. Come, Holy Spirit.

As the words of worship flowed over her body, she relaxed. It was just her and God. His love coursed through her veins, speeding her heartbeat to a quick tempo like the maracas that were being shaken onstage. She felt God inside her chest. He was the air that she breathed, filling her lungs, her heart. She didn’t even feel the tears rolling down her soft cheeks. She could stay here forever, swaying rhythmically and receiving from an All-loving God.

Eres todopoderoso, she exhaled, You are all-powerful.

Her hands shot up in the air as she reached up to Heaven, feeling closer to God as she stretched her finger tips away from her own tired, sinful body and toward His love. Her heart beat with the music, with praise. Peace rained over her as He reigned in her.

Padre, Padre, Padre, she whispered again. Father, Father, Father.

He filled her as she emptied herself. The tempo slowed and everything seemed to hang in that moment, in that space between the heart of God and the heart of man.

The song ended. Her swaying stopped; she dropped her outstretched hands, opened her eyes and blinked. The church was clearing out. She quickly wiped her tears, smoothed her skirt, and went on with the rest of her day.

*In lieu of T.S. Tuesday (which I apologize I did not get to post yesterday), I was going to post a tardy Tuesday, but instead decided to go with the more timely, and still alliterative, Worship Wednesday. You'll have to catch my latest Eliot musings next Tuesday. This first-ever Worship Wednesday describes an experience I had worshipping in a Pentecostal church in Costa Rica with my host mom. Hope you enjoyed it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What if I am worth loving?

February 2007
I circled the small space in my on-campus apartment bedroom, talking to my mom on the phone. Again my mom was asking if I had gone to church. Again the answer was no.

It was a conversation like hundreds of others we had entertained that fateful year where I spiraled in post-study-abroad-the-world-is-an-unjust-and-awful-place-depression. The conversation consisted of mostly silence, deep breaths, and occasional grunts on my part.

I thought my mom would launch into another tirade about going to church, seeking help, doing anything to get out of the pit I was in.

Instead she told me something that I've never forgotten.

She said, “I want you to feel better about yourself, not just because you should, but because it’s a reality.”

For the first time in probably my whole life, I entertained that thought for real, like really for real. What if I really am lovable? What if that is the reality? What if the guilt and shame and anger I'd placed on myself for not measuring up to whatever impossible standards I'd created was just that, something I myself had created and entrapped myself in?

What if love was the reality?

Within the next few months my depression and self-hatred hit an all-time high and I hit an all-time low, and I realized that I either needed to live like I mattered and life mattered or life would be unbearable. And my mom’s words echoed in my mind.

With the idea that love and acceptance could maybe come from something bigger than and outside of myself, I decided to live what my mom had believed about me all along. Suspending my doubts, I launched my own Love Aly campaign in which I radically rejected any thoughts of self-hatred and did my best to "fake it till you make it," choosing to live like I loved myself even if I didn't feel it.

And it was this experience of unconditional love for myself that brought me back to faith in God.

Friday, October 14, 2011

You Are Not Alone In This

When I look back on my experience of studying abroad, being exposed to poverty, and questioning my faith, I see a lot of anger, outbursts, and alienation. I attacked people who didn't understand my newfound obsession with recycling, fair trade, even Cuba. I didn't know how to communicate the burning burning burning urgency in my heart to DO SOMETHING about injustice.

I thought I was alone. No one knew what I was talking about. Everyone else was a materialistic hypocrite.

Turns out that was not quite healthy. Or true.

Ironically, my newly expanded global worldview led to an implosion of sorts. A narrowing of my world and my interests. Every relationship, every conversation, every action became solely about me: my thoughts, my anger, my doubts, my responsibility.

I thought it was up to me to single handedly save the world, which I quite obviously sucked at. I thought I was the first person to ever be confronted with this dilemma.

In the middle of this all out war on my friends' and families' sanity, I read a poem by Wendell Berry in his book, What are people for?, that actually made me feel quite foolish for wanting to do it all on my own. It was the kick in the pants that I needed and yet subsequently ignored as soon as I read it. (I told you I didn't exercise the healthiest coping mechanisms). Here are a few lines that stood out to me:

“Seeing the work that is to be done, who can help wanting to be the one to do it?
But one is afraid that there will be no rest until the work is finished and the house is in order, the farm is in order, the town is in order, and all loved ones are well.
But it is pride that lies awake in the night with its desire and its grief.
To work at this work alone is to fail. There is no help for it. Loneliness is its failure.
It is despair that sees the work failing in one’s own failure.
This despair is the awkwardest pride of all.”

I lived there, in that awkward pride, for a good couple of years, allowing my deep desire to serve and do good to divide and exclude instead of combine and include. I forgot I was supposed to be fighting against evil, oppression, alienation, and loneliness instead of my country, my social class, my friends, my family, myself.

When I began interning at a non profit called Plant With Purpose, where I now work, I was forced to remember that I was not alone in this fight against poverty.

Plant With Purpose has been around for over 25 years, partnering with the rural poor to overcome poverty. I know I latch onto some pretty unsound ideas from time to time (really, I really think I’m fat at 110 pounds?), but I would have had to have been monstrously dense or delusional to continue to believe that I had invented social justice and no one anywhere was doing anything of any value to end poverty.

It’s a lesson I’m still learning (not that I still think I invented social justice), but to work together. Learning that people are more important than ideologies. Learning that cooperation is more important than my beloved creativity. Learning that we are in this together.

Last night I watched the premiere of 58: The Film, a new campaign spearheaded by Compassion International to end extreme poverty. It’s a collaboration of ten Christian non profits working together to DO SOMETHING about poverty.

I admit I’m biased because I work at one of the ten organizations, but I think it’s pretty darn inspiring to see a group of organizations (competitors) joining together not to compete for donations or prove they have the best and most buzzwordy poverty alleviation strategies, but to motivate us all to reject not each other but our apathy. To embark on a radical rebellion against selfishness and competition when we’d rather rebel against our God-given responsibility to love our neighbors well.

It is the opposite of this awkward pride. It is an example of Wendell Berry’s “good work” that “finds the way between pride and despair.” By which, “we lose loneliness: we clasp the hands of those who go before us, and the hands of those who come after us.”

Thank you to everyone in my life who has reached out their hand to me and ushered me out of loneliness, pride, and despair, and into the good work we were created to do.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

When "I Love You" Comes Alive


As much as I viewed Praying to Love as a new revelation in my life, it was really more of a continuation of the Love I was already experiencing, not as an idea or a belief or a piece of information, but as a reality. In fits and starts, this Love began to come alive not only in my thoughts and reasonings, but in heart and in my life. In Margaret Feinberg's book, The Sacred Echo, she explains this transforming power of love better than I ever could. She says,

"When God echoes I love you, it’s not a slice of information but a feast of transformation. I am invited to experience the fullness of God’s love in my life, heart, and spirit. The holy metamorphosis is designed to ring so genuine and true that others can’t help but notice. When I love you is alive in my heart, I become freer to love others. When I love you is alive in my mind, I become better at expressing that love. When I love you is alive in my life, I become a smidgen closer to being who God has called and created me to be."


I've had this quote posted on my bathroom wall for the past two years as a reminder of the transformation that has already taken place in my heart, mind, and life. I started experiencing this 'I Love You' long before I could mentally package it as piece of information, and this quote serves as a daily call to actively surrender the notion that 'I Love You' is a just a sentimental fact to file away.

I hope Love and 'I Love You' comes alive a little more in your heart, mind, and life today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

T.S. Tuesday: A grace of sense and a conversation with Love

[To be shouted in Oxiclean infomercial fashion:]

"Praying to Love offers all the benefits of a life-giving relationship with the Creator of the universe, without any of the pesky “religious” baggage of traditional Christian language. Try it today, no money down. What have you got to lose but your pride?"

I've thought a lot about how to write this blog post. I wanted it to be witty and pithy, angry and abrupt.

I wanted to compare my new age, religious wordplay to the golden-tongued trickery of used car salesmen, excuse me, I mean certified pre-owned vehicles sales associates.

I wanted to reference linguistic terms and demonstrate the sheer magnitude of this revelation in my life through my impressive diction and impeccable metaphors.

But it’s been four years since my last linguistics class, and as much as I’d like to think I was smart enough to market God to myself, the truth is that it happened not by my own intelligence or trickery or marketing skills, but in yet another Fit of Unwarranted Compassion that I can neither explain or claim as my own.

In my memoir, this story will appear in the section after I tell my well meaning Christian friends that, no, I would not like them to pray for me thank you very much and before I, to my own astonishment, began praying myself.

In fact, this was the revelation that first loosed the chains of my dogged dependence on doubt and anger.

On May 31, 2009, I had a revelation, which I wrote in my journal as thus:

May 31, 2009

I have had a revelation: I can now say that I am not completely opposed to maybe someday admitting that I could possibly believe that ...dun, da, da,da...God is Love.

At the time I wrote this entry, I couldn't pray or open the Bible. I could barely go to church without fuming inside.

After a whirlwind semester abroad on what I like to call the “Poverty Tour of Central America,” my faith was ravaged. I had visited multiple city dumps and met with displaced farmers crammed into barrio after barrio filled with burning trash, bloated bellies, and pleading eyes. I stayed with families without electricity or running water in Nicaragua. I daily heard rants and cries from blind and crippled beggars calling out to me on the narrow streets of San Jose, Costa Rica. I listened to mothers and sisters and sons talk about their husbands and fathers and friends that went missing during the Guatemalan civil war. I heard horror stories of violence and desperation. I saw the devastating effects of globalization on small farmers.

I met a lot of people and heard a lot of stories that collided with my squeaky clean and comfortable view of God and the world.

Three years later, I still couldn't reconcile how to pray to a God that allowed children to starve and ignorant consumers to participate in modern day slavery, oppression, and environmental degradation.

I had come to a mental place where I couldn't under any circumstances pray without it meaning in my mind that I didn't care. If I prayed to this God, it would mean the people I met and the stories I heard while abroad were meaningless. It would mean I was a liar and a hypocrite.

But one day in church—don’t ask me why I was still going to church because even now I can’t explain it—I began to think about a God not associated with white, wealthy Americans or prosperity or politics, but a God of Love.

Well, more accurately, out of the jumble of thoughts and ideas and emotions swirling in my mind while I scowled in my seat as an act of willful unparticipation in worship, this revelation popped into my head:

GOD IS LOVE.

A couple weeks earlier I had explained to a friend that I had been experiencing these “fits of unwarranted compassion” that I couldn’t explain. And I told him that “those fits of unwarranted compassion are what I now call God—if I had to put a name to it.”

At church I discovered an even better name for this compassion: love. And isn’t there a verse in the Bible (that I wasn’t reading) that talks about God being love?

I realized I had experienced this compassion, this love, in my life; I just couldn’t call it God.

So what if I changed the name?

What if I prayed not to the God who allows suffering, but to the God who allows joy, who offers hope, and who redeems the pain of his children?

What if I prayed to the God of Love? The God who IS love? What if I prayed to Love?

This momentary revelation literally changed my life; it’s the closest thing I have to a conversion experience.

This revelation meant not only that I could begin to have a conversation with Love (code for ‘begin to pray again’), but also that I could choose Love at any time. And, thinking back, I realized that I had always had the choice to Love. Which meant that Love had always been with me. Even in the dark night of my love story. Even in my questioning of poverty and injustice. Even in my rebellion. Even in my fear that I would never, ever find God again. Love was with me.

And somehow that brought me the freedom and comfort I desperately needed but didn’t think I deserved as an affluent American.

One of my favorite T.S. Eliot phrases (don’t think I forgot the T.S. tie in!) is the term “a grace of sense” from the poem “Burnt Norton.” Not a sense of grace, but a grace of sense. I believe that this revelation was one of those moments.

That day at Coast Vineyard, I was graced with the sense to stop quibbling with semantics and start living and following this Love I’d experienced, that I could no longer deny.

Because, seriously, what did I have to lose but my pride?


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dark Night of the Love Story

Here's my next confession: God hasn't always made me swoon.

My love story with God resembles Pride and Prejudice a little too much for my Elizabethan ego, with me being the sole bearer of the prideful and prejudicial attributes. Here's a little taste of the events leading up to our Trial Separation.

The Beginning of the End (which is actually my beginning)*
April 14, 2006

The last night of my semester abroad, I sat alone at the kitchen table. After one of the program facilitators read my class journal—which was littered with f-bombs, doubt, and confusion—he suggested that I take some time to have a DTR with God: “Define the Relationship.” It sounded like a good idea at the time, and the date was set for my last night in Costa Rica. I had actually been nervous as I tiptoed down the narrow hall of the quiet house, journal in hand, half-expecting a miracle as I screeched back the dark wooden chair to sit. I stared into the space across the table from me, as if God was actually sitting there ready to discuss our future and “what went wrong.” We’d talk things over, I’d put Him back in his place, and I would go on with my life, I had hoped.

But I wasn’t talking to God. I didn’t even know if I believed in God. I found it pretty difficult to define the relationship when there wasn’t a relationship in the first place. Instead of a DTR that night, I only found that I couldn’t put God back in a box no matter how hard I tried. I had outgrown my childlike faith and it hurt. In my journal I wrote to the God I was not speaking to, that was not, in fact, seated in the chair across the table from me as much as I wanted him to be:

How can I relate to a God I can’t define? I want to make a list of goals and rules so I don’t feel so aimless, but I don’t even know why I want to be a better person. I can’t just move on from this painful place of uncertainty and anger just because I want to feel better.

I was paralyzed, trapped. I wanted God, but only to appease my guilt and questions, which only spawned more guilt and questions.

My worst fears had come true—I had lost my faith.

That night I drifted off to sleep scared that I would never find or feel God again.


Spoiler Alert: This is not the end. This post is meant to serve as the "get to know the main character" and "introduce the conflict" part of the plot. I am thankful to report that this night no longer falls at the climax of my story.

*Sneaking in some T.S. Eliot when it's not even a Tuesday. Yep, I like him that much.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

T.S. Tuesday: How Far is Too Far?

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T.S. Eliot

This past week (and especially weekend) has been particularly rife with nuggets of words, wisdom, and fits of unwarranted compassion. Every meager attempt I've made to write down these tidbits and stirrings in any coherent, accessible way have ended in writers block. Which, by the way, is a condition I don't even believe exists. More accurately, they've ended in writers procrastination with a hefty dose of divided attention disorder. But more than that, for one of the few times in my life, I am awed speechless, or wordless.


I've been reminded of the immense gift it is to even say the words "God speaks to me." I've been sobered by the weight of that statement. Don't get me wrong, I love being loved (who doesn't?), but I've been reminded of the great responsibility that comes with being loved. The responsibility to receive and respond to that love, to reciprocate.


While I'm usually thrilled to share what I've learned or am learning on this blog, this past week I've been hesitant to commit to writing the many exhortations God has spoken to me. I'm scared to share what God has spoken in fear that I will not hold up my end of the bargain.


The past four years have been a time of basking in God's love (more on this later), and learning to love myself and receive inordinate amounts of grace.


Of course God has still been speaking that love to me, but I also have a greater sense that he's asking me to participate, to give back. Not that I haven't reciprocated or worshiped or served these past few years--I have--but the thing is, I had never felt asked to do it. Everything I have given or expressed has been completely voluntary, an organic response to these fits of unwarranted compassion.


Like the beginning of a dating relationship, I had no expectations for God and he had no expectations for me (at least that's what I told myself). I think we both surprised each other. But what happens when you get to the point where you have to make a commitment? When words like 'compromise' and 'sacrifice' begin to enter the equation?


What if God is asking me to die to this self he has just taught me to love?


Right now it feels like I'm going a little too far. A little too uncomfortable. I have an unease with language like "a first time decision for Christ." Shouldn't we be making decisions for Christ daily, hourly, minutely? My story is more of a weaving of thoughts and ideas and experiences than an Old and New Testament divide.


I have to remind myself that this command is from the same God who wants me to bask in His love. Who in the same breath of the command to die to myself also whispered, "I have good things for you."


I'm scared that as soon as I put expectations on God, he's going to let me down.


But that's not the God I know. That's not the God of Love who taught me to love myself. Who gave me friends and a church community that helped me see his face and his presence in my life and the world around me. That's not the God who loves me whether or not I serve the poor or work at non-profit, shop fair trade organic or don't whine to my mom on the phone.


He's not a God of letdowns, but a God of surprises. Is it really that hard for me to see that he has good things for me?


It's scary, but it's also a privilege. I have dreams of starting a support group for people who struggle with eating disorders. I can think of nothing more meaningful or humbling than to see people set free from the bondage of believing their worth is intrinsically linked to their body fat percentage or sex appeal.


I need to remember that the reason he is calling me to serve is that I now have something to give: Him.


So, here's my confession: I'm scared to lead. Scared to fail. Scared to go farther.


But if I'm not willing to risk going too far, how can I possibly find out how far One can go?