Even cockroaches wouldn't survive

This morning I was thinking a bit about the "Year of Suck" and a particular scenario resonated with me. The word that I think about mostly in conjunction with that year is "devastating." Some free association makes me think, devastation, obliteration, complete destruction. Like someone dropped a nuclear bomb onto my life.

They say that cockroaches can survive anything, perhaps even nuclear explosions. That year felt like a bomb was dropped, and then they decided to drop a few more for good measure, just to make sure they would kill the cockroaches. I think about how one thing was hard enough and then how everything else that followed was completely unnecessary, even if to just stamp out the remaining cockroaches.


I'm also alerting myself to how I minimize the value of my emotions. Good coping mechanism but not very kind to myself. It's why I write about the above analogy - a voice in my mind tells me... a little melodramatic, don't you think? People will read this and think you're totally over exaggerating.  I tend to hear that, believe it, and then ignore any strong feelings. I make myself write this, put it in public space so that voice in my mind doesn't win.

Regardless of whether or not this nuclear analogy is over the top, it's what I relate to and rings true to how I feel.

Reading back the first paragraph I noticed that writing "thinking a bit about..." minimizes the reality that lately I wake up every morning not wanting to get out of bed because of how sad I am. So not really "thinking a bit." More like can't stop feeling like crap about it.


Feelings as accessories

My organization is obsessed with the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. I like to notice how long it takes for it to be brought up when a group of InterVarsity staff gather. Within the hour, it's guaranteed.

I'm an ENTP. I described to a student what being a T was like when it comes to how I handle my feelings. 

Feelings are like accessories. They're nice to have around and they may spice up life, but really, they are unnecessary.

I said this in an ENTP, devil's advocate, let's see how many feelers I can rile up way. Because no, I know that's not really how it works.

Sometimes Fs are appalled by Ts, wondering if we have a soul, wondering how we can come across as so heartless. 

Jingle bells, jingle bells...

The holidays are awesome! And by awesome I mean complicated and full of "fun" feelings. Here's how I mark the holidays. Thanksgiving: the last time I saw my mom in person. December: I was pregnant and on bedrest, so I was unable to be with my mom when she died. Christmas: I spent my first Christmas without my parents (they were both dead) or my brother (he was in Taiwan taking care of funeral arrangements). New Years: Isaac was born a preemie and my mom never got to meet him. So yeah. The holidays are AWESOME!

The reality for me is not that I don't feel. The reality is that I'm often feeling feelings that are beyond expression. If I'm paying attention to my feelings, I'm usually feeling devastation, disappointment, sadness, anger... all at the same time. It also hurts, literally.

The experience is best summed up by scripture.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
- Romans 8:25-26

There are so many times that I sit to pray about this stuff and all I can say is... No words can express what I feel...

I know people wonder and are baffled at how I went through the "Year of Suck" and remain stoic or lackadaisical about it. I get the feeling they want me to express the feelings that are supposed to come with that kind of suffering. If I expressed those feelings to the extent that I really feel them though, the people who want to see them would probably regret it. 

I'm thankful that in the past few years God has provided the space, time, and people to be there for the moments when the floodgates open. 

But for now and for the most part, I'll just be groaning.


Rethinking Sunday

Recently I was hanging out with a mommy friend when the inevitable question of my job came up. It was more along the lines of "what exactly do you do?"

The conversation meandered to swapping faith backgrounds, and she told me that she was Russian Orthodox and her husband was Lutheran. She declared that she didn't like Lutheran church services.

How come, I asked.

She began describing how the services were so distracting because of how much they just talk at you. The long sermons where they just talk and talk and talk. She lamented that there was no time to think, reflect, and talk to God. In Russian Orthodox services, they were conducted in a language she couldn't even understand... and she loved being there to reflect on her week and to pray.

I found her observations so fascinating, and it reminded me how we often interpret experiences through our own lenses. I could imagine many typical Protestants assessing a Russian Orthodox service and criticizing how you couldn't learn anything because you couldn't understand what was being said. Because learning during Sunday service was essential.

But really, who gets to decide what "must be" during a church service? Do services have to involve lengthy sermons? From the few times I've been to mass, I will admit that often the simple message of a 5 minute homily stuck with me throughout the week longer than whatever I learned in a 45 minute sermon.

What if church was just the place you showed up to meet with God?

What if there were fewer pews to sit on and there was all this carpeted space for people to freely move around? Well, one benefit I could think of would be that it would be more conducive to lay prostrate. And wouldn't that be a particularly wonderful position to be in before God on a Sunday morning?



I am what you call it... perturbed, disconcerted, dissatisfied, sad.

Over the last couple of days I have met with 3 new students who are coming from Chinese churches. Being from the same spiritual upbringing, I'm always interested to see the state of their faith when they start college.

Here's what I've learned so far:

Two of them talked about being affected by cliques in their youth groups. Another leader texted me later and said she had the same conversation with another freshman.

One of them told me of being asked to leave leadership and then told he would be helped to find a new church because of his attempt to be authentic and transparent about sin that he was repentant of.

One of them identifies as a Christian... when I asked her what grows her faith she said she likes going to camp and watching people be passionate and raising their hands while singing.

One told me about the discovery of high school youth group leaders getting drunk with other youth, and then many of them being asked to leave leadership... which more or less translated to them leaving the youth group. And then the pastor hearing from God that he was "purging" the group.

I love the Chinese church and at the same time I am saddened by its brokenness. From what I've heard the past few days, it seems youth pastors, etc. are unequipped to help high school students own their faith in this present culture. The extent of Christian expression is mostly through camps with spiritual highs and looking "righteous" on the outside.

I wish...

I wish someone had taught the students how getting drunk can be foolish and regrettable.

I wish someone had thanked the student for his risk in transparency and asked him to testify of God's conviction.

I wish someone had taught them about true hospitality - welcoming the stranger and being kind to those who aren't your friends.

I wish someone made sure that students were interacting with Jesus and not the culture, the people, and the emotions that run through the group.

I wish students could know that following Jesus can be EXHILARATING on a daily basis... not just when you go away to camp and attend an awesome musical concert.

Jesus, have mercy on us...

At the same time... I see God at work...

The student who told me that she was this close to rushing for a sorority and leaving Christianity altogether, but felt like her camp experience made her want to find a fellowship in college.

The student who says that high school was for God to strengthen her identity in him but she wants to be missional now... and role playing with her to invite her roommate to large group.

The student who still wants to know God even after being burned by the church, and praying for the first time in a long time.

Lord, it will always baffle me how in all this messiness you are still showing your redemption at work.

NOTE: I recognize this is all self-reporting from the students and there are two sides to every story. I am mostly disheartened to see this as a theme among the students I've been meeting. And I'm sure the pastors are trying their very best. I just think they are unequipped and often don't make good use of the resources out there.


An Emotional God

This summer I went to a wedding in SoCal, and during the reception we were seated next to the bride's youth pastor, a gregarious, talkative guy.

As we swapped stories of ministry, this pastor talked about how he was helping his youth understand the Christian perspective on homosexuality. Namely, he was responding to their wrestling on approaching the subject because they had friends who were gay and felt bad for being asked to see them as sinful.

Something he said really caught my attention and stayed with me. He said, "I tell my students that you have to focus on the truth and not let your emotions get in the way. You can't let your emotions decide where you stand on this situation. We have to stick to the truth of what the bible says."

(I won't go into right or wrong or what exactly it is the bible says about homosexuality. There's enough on the blogosphere about that.)

Something about his comment didn't sit right with me. It sounded logical and yeah, I'm all for truth in the bible.

I mulled over it and then realized why it bothered me so much. I told Bryan, "You know, if God made decisions based on truth and didn't let his emotions get in the way, we would all be screwed."

What I meant was, if God decided our fate based on truth, we would all be eternally separated from him. God's decision to restore our relationship with him was an emotional one. Jesus went to the cross because of the joy of our impending reconciliation.

I don't think my "epiphany" warrants any final decisions about where I stand on the topic. I do feel that you can't have an "only truth" approach. It has a tendency to crowd out compassion and other fruits of the Spirit that we're called to.

Note: In these conversations I do like to play devil's advocate. After listening for awhile, I asked the pastor, "What do you do about the youth whose parents are divorced? How do you address the hypocrisy in the church about the double standard when it comes to the sin of divorce?" I'll admit it was fun to hear his wife chime in, "Yeah, I always ask you about that!"


Psalm 142

cry aloud with my voice to the Lord;
make supplication with my voice to the Lord.
pour out my complaint before Him;
I declare my trouble before Him.
When my spirit was overwhelmed within me,
You knew my path.
In the way where I walk
They have hidden a trap for me.
 Look to the right and see;
For there is no one who regards me;
There is no escape for me;
No one cares for my soul.
 I cried out to You, O Lord;
I said, “You are my refuge,
My portion in the land of the living.
 “ Give heed to my cry,
For I am brought very low;
Deliver me from my persecutors,
For they are too strong for me.
 “ Bring my soul out of prison,
So that I may give thanks to Your name;
The righteous will surround me,
For You will deal bountifully with me.”


On being homesick...

We're trying to spend more time in the south bay this summer, hoping to stay connected with my home church. Since my parents died, it's hard to go back and visit. Finding a place to stay can become such a task... not wanting to impose on people. The place I've called home for such a long time just isn't anymore.

When I was going through a rough patch a decade ago, my mentor recommended that I meditate on heaven. It was a novel idea. She pointed out that to most of us, heaven is just a concept in our heads. Rarely is it a reality, except for those who are close to death. Every once in awhile, I will think and consider and ponder about what heaven is like.

Last week at large group we sang "In Christ Alone." I've lost count on how many times I've sung this. It seems to be the go to song for when we need to affirm some truths about our faith. Here is the second half of the last verse:

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from his hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

In so many ways, grief for me just really means I'm homesick. Very homesick. Home isn't necessarily the place where you grew up. It's where the people you belong to are. And for who knows how long I won't be able to go home. So I'm homesick.

May is anniversary month, or the month when my dad died. I actually get to have two per year (lucky me) - the other being in December. I'm practicing being kind and compassionate to myself, which doesn't come easily to me when it comes to emotionally tough situations. My tendency is to just plow through and stay functional.

I suppose blogging is a practice of that, allowing myself, or making myself have space to grieve. To stop, write, think, and remain instead of pushing aside, distract, or vegge out. Only now do I feel okay blogging about my grief process. I suppose that's an indication of some sort of progress.


To sum it up...

This is how I've been experiencing life lately... and the past two years.

The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 
He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 

He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” 

I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” 

Then he said to me, "
Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD."

Ezekiel 37:1-6