Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Borrowed Faith

I stood in the corridor, still and mildly confident. The warehouse church had emptied aside from a few staff stragglers. Christmas season was a upon us. I was in a weird place all my own not quite knowing which way was up or which way was down, but my life felt down. 

I had graduated from college 6 months earlier and where I had imagined being was not where I was. With a degree taking me nowhere, a job donning an aloha shirt at a hotel front desk, living in my mother’s 2-sheets-as-walls dining room, I was sure twenty-two was a punishment. If it weren’t for Karen, I know I wouldn’t have been standing in church that night. 

I am the oldest of three children but quintessentially an only child. My parents divorced when I was five. Truth be told, I have no idea how they were ever together, but at thirty-two, I am beginning to understand people really ARE just people! Early on I became my mother’s best friend & at five, it emotionally matured me to thirteen. I carried her burdens, I cared for her in my heart as my own child, I sot to protect her from everything, not because she asked, but because it just came to be. I looked after my brother and sister (only a year and one week apart, they were like twins and I was too old to fit in), I championed for them in wars that were not mine to fight. At fourteen I internally became mother to my siblings, best friend to my mother, distanced from my father, and broken teenage girl. 

My first memories of religion were formed in pre-school and Sunday school. I remember the Sunday mornings my mom towed us 3 kids under 4 in a Jeep Wagoneer to Sunday school alone, “Daddy isn’t coming. He is sleeping.” It didn’t matter to me then, but the message was built on a thousand other actions & statements: Daddy is absent. 

Mom took us to church throughout our lives, but after the divorce and the move five hours north of Dad, Sunday school wasn’t a comfort, it was a tension, a cause of separation anxiety. So, I grew up in “big church,” listening to messages far above my head, bored to drawing on the church handouts, but eventually deciding I wanted to be baptized at 12. Perhaps because, that’s what good girls do. 

It was December 16, 1992, and my brother and I in our Arroyo Grande, California church, made our public statement of faith. I had invited a few friends and don’t remember much else except for plugging my nose, getting wet, & receiving a gold cross necklace, yet every December 16, I remember it. 

Life carried on in what I called my traveling circus but the further on the years went, the more I tried to lose myself in everyone else’s God. 

Catholic school presented the opportunities to perform and behave within the right groups yet break the right rules. I was Christian Ministry leader, a speaker at retreats, yet, so broken inside that boys were the hollow answer to feeling loved. No matter how many religious talks I could give, or chances I had to turn down drugs & alcohol, I always managed to find the ways to become the monocle of spiritual failure. At 19, standing outside of my college dorm building, freshly home from a month living in Italy, I made it clear to God, “I’m done with YOU to punish them. I’m never good enough so this dance I’ve done is over.”

I was angry. So, so angry. I was in an abyss years deep of isolation from my family. My platform in life existed to champion for one victim & hold contempt for one villain. I felt I had every excuse to have been a statistic of what goes wrong when parents suck, but I kept fighting to be the antithesis (and failed).

I wandered through Catholic college bouncing between the vision of devoted bible student and entertaining the party life. I found the wrong boyfriend & learned how good it felt to fight. All of my pent up frustration came out in the form of this one awful relationship. Truth is I was as bad for him as he was for me. Somehow, though, I left college without that engagement ring we had talked about and moving back to the land of the trapped yet free. 

I was 22. I was home and lost. I stood in a church my life-long friend had invited me into. I was tied up in a bondage of depression and I wanted more. I was ready for more. 

I stood in the corridor, still and mildly confident. The warehouse church had emptied aside from a few staff stragglers. Christmas season was a upon us. I was in a weird place all my own not quite knowing which way was up or which way was down, but my life felt down. I was ready for up. I was ready for Jesus. I realized, with two sets of hands on me,  answering yes to the question, “Do you believe that Jesus is your savior?” that all of these years of thinking I was a Christian, I was merely living on borrowed faith. 

A brush of wind pulled from my back as I was prayed over to be made new. I felt Jesus then. Jesus became mine, not my mother's, not the church’s, but mine. On December 21, 2004, I wasn’t just a Christian by title, I knew I was God’s daughter. That night I understood Jesus is REAL. He is safe, forgiving, ever-present, the one who works all my brokenness for His good. 

This Christmas, I am taking a moment to hold closely what Karen invited me into ten years ago and celebrate His perfect love for my constant imperfection.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

O Come O Come Emmanuel

I'm wondering where Christmas is, because it doesn't quite feel like it's here.
It should be here, as in my heart, nestling in and rooting itself within me, but I'm detached, feeling it slip by, aching for a way to hold on.
The ornaments aren't hung, and I kind of like it like this.
The outside brought in.
The rearranging of furniture to make it fit.
Now...if only I could rearrange my mind and my soul to make it fit inside my heart.
The glory of Jesus' birth brought in.
I am going through the motions.
Staring at boxes nestled away 11 months of the year and the part of me that was eager to open them two weeks ago is tired now.
I'm tired of the "clean up your toys" battle.
It makes me feel like I'm failing at nurturing gratitude & is robbing me of the joy I find in giving.
It makes me feel like Christmas decorations are just another mess.
I want to embrace my Savior's birth.
I want to remember the Christmas I lost our second baby but gained a sliver of perspective on JUST what Mary gave.
She gave her son.
HER baby boy.
Born in a barn, far from home, fulfilling promise for mankind.
For ME!
I will come to the table and meet with Him.
Over and over each day
Laying down my heart churning with both gratitude & burden.
I'll let Him in to change the spirit of Christmas from adorned home to adored life.
And I will praise.
That is what I will do.