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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

Testimonies, Interviews and Casual Conversations

As I apply and interview for various Christian organizations, there is one question that is inevitable, and yet the one I dread most: Can you tell us about your faith journey? I struggle with this question every single time. I typically draw together a few strands of my life:

  • I was homeschooled and my curriculum was heavily influenced by Scripture and so Scripture and prayer were a part of my daily life as long as I can remember
  • I was baptized in a Fellowship Baptist church when I was quite young – while my theology on baptism has shifted over the years, this was an important moment in my life and I was earnest. But I smile to think of what I could have shared as my testimony – my being saved from sin and my desire to follow Jesus.
  • We switched denominations a lot so I had a very rich and varied experience of church.
  • In my teens, we went to an Anglican church which is the place and time when I really started to distinguish my own faith from my family’s faith. It was in this church that I was “confirmed” – after weeks of preparation, the bishop laid hands on me and prayed for me, confirming my faith before the congregation.
  • I discovered the daily office in my teenage years and it is one of the things that held me together. I remember fondly lighting a candle, with music by John Michael Talbot in the background, saying evening prayer or compline.
  • I discovered a love for Scripture – a fascination that God would speak through words on a page and that it didn’t matter how many times I read a passage, God would STILL speak and there was something new there.
  • A pivotal moment in my life was feeling that God was calling me to ministry – not just as a member of the body of Christ, but as vocation. Specifically, I felt called to become an Anglican priest when at the time I was wanting to become a doctor. Much of my adult life has been wrestling and figuring out what that calling looks like. I remember one particular Sunday when I was working for an Anglo-Catholic church many years later realizing I am living into who God made me the most when I am working for a church and seeking to share the gospel with those around me and in the neighbourhood.
  • Sometimes I will mention the questioning and wrestling with faith in university and beyond as I seek to understand God in the midst of the broken aspects of my life.

All these things are true.

And all these things can be shared in the expected five minutes or less or paragraph on an application.

But I’ve never been satisfied with any answer that I have given. It seems so disingenuous. Part of this is because so much of my faith journey is intertwined with my healing journey that it’s really hard to separate the two. And, I’m not convinced that all stories are appropriate for interviews or first encounters.

I’ve been dwelling on this lately. And something came to me.

This isn’t just a struggle with what is appropriate to share. It’s a struggle with two very different testimonies.

The first one – and the one that I usually share – is about what *I* have done. I decided to be baptized. I discovered Scripture. I wrestled with God. I pursued theological studies.

But as the days and years go on, I realized that my faith story is not so much what I have done, but what God has done in me. When I think about my faith development and healing, I recognize that there are things that I have done that have contributed to where I am. But healing has only come from God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. When I think about any of the moments that were significant in my faith journey – the really meaty part of my story – I could not have orchestrated those moments. Sometimes God worked through people. But the deepest, most meaningful moments that have had a lasting impact on who I am and my desire to follow God have caught me by surprise, often coming in moments when I am at the weakest for perhaps the same reasons Paul claims he cannot boast about his own life.

And so, I think the way that I have approached interview or casual questions about my faith journey are flawed. I recognize that I am where I am at only by the grace of God and yet answer as if I have achieved this on my own – or, if generous – that God saved me through the cross, but my faith is my recognition, my response and my doing.

Grace

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I submitted my final paper of my undergraduate years. That’s it – for real this time! I joke about this as I have returned to undergrad for various reasons at different times. And now I can pretty confidently say – never again!

Now that this term is behind me, I feel like I can share a little of the challenges and beauty that it held.

My Christmas break was not really a break. Within a few days of my final exam, I had word that my stepfather was starting his sentence in jail and for completely unrelated reasons I needed to leave my house. I started this term tired, and completely unfocused on school. The reasons for leaving my home are complex and much drama ensued the coming months, drama that to some degree is still playing out.

The youth mentorship program that we are launching this summer is exciting and definitely one of the more joyful parts of my life. But to be honest, it has been a lot of work, with deadlines for various things (including much needed funding!) spread throughout the school term. I look back over the past few months and see all that I have accomplished and shake my head wondering how on earth it all happened.

Grace.

This term has been full of grace. It does not take long to discover that I am not perfect. I mess up all the time – in big ways and in small ways. But I yearn to follow God and try. I have seen God honour and bless this yearning even when I’ve messed up big time. I have seen God provide in ways that I hadn’t expected. Financially, emotionally, spiritually, academically.

I have had professors extend grace – grace when there was legitimate reasons, and grace when really I had mismanaged my time or gotten dates wrong. I have seen consistent marks that I used to want to kill for.

I have seen God use me which is both humbling and awesome. I always find that to be an encouragement. I have experienced God’s teaching and loving correction – though very painful at times – throughout all that has happened this term.

I have been given strength when I have felt sick. Friends when I have felt alone. God’s presence and comfort when I have felt no human can understand what I am going through.

Grace has been the theme of this semester. Yes – I have put in long hours and devotion to studies, work, and the lives of those who are going through difficult times. But I never would have been able to do any of that without grace sustaining me.

I am thankful that grace is bigger than me. I am thankful that God’s plans are not thwarted by my selfishness, insecurity or mistakes. I am thankful that grace can make possible what so frequently seems impossible. I’m thankful that grace can make beauty out of anything.

Outrageous Grace

I’m almost done my paper on a theological response to the sinned-against (a term one of the authors I have read used).

I am so thankful for the opportunity to read and write and pull together strands of thinking and reading from the years. I’ve done so much reading on this topic over the years, trying desparately to make sense of my life, what was done to me, how healing can be found and where God fits into all of this. Things are coming together in my mind and I am about to offer a work of art to my professor that is something I believe with everything within me. It’s not very often I get to write on a topic that holds so much meaning for me.

Some parts have been harder to write than others as I have shared parts of my story as to ground theory in the real world. I have found that too many people provide answers when they themselves have not been victims of crime. Their answers may be right, but they lack a sense of authenticity in that they are theoretical and somewhat removed from real situations. This is something that I can offer. Moreover, it is the situation I know best. I cannot speak for victims of other crimes. I cannot speak on behalf of the mother whose son is murdered or the parapelegic that I read about whose condition was thanks to a brutal physical assault.

At times I’ve wanted to pull my hair out and I’ve struggled to articulate what I believe with the core of my being. But now that I am putting the finishing touches on it, I want to dance and praise God – not so much for helping me finish this paper, but for his outrageous grace! What a beautiful thing to be able to write a paper and want to hug your Saviour for being just so amazing and to find yourself in tears because how he works in and through the painful things of our life.

God is good and faithful. His grace is outrageous!

There’s a lot of pain… but a lot more healing.

There’s a lot of trouble… but a lot more peace.

There’s a lot of hate… but a lot more loving.

There’s a lot sin… but a lot more grace.

 

Oh outrageous grace!

Love unfurled by heaven’s hand

Oh outrageous grace! Oh outrageous grace!

Through my Jesus can stand

 

There’s a lot of fear… but a lot more freedom

There’s a lot of darkness… but a lot more light.

There’s a lot of clouds… but a lot more vision.

There’s a lot of perishing… but a lot more life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Z3q8IIT-XA

Imperfection

Today my neuroscience professor told me I don’t need to be perfect all the time.

He was talking about academics because he had witnessed my anxiety over my midterm and my continued anxiety as I’ve been debating whether I should switch this course to pass/fail or stick it out for the mark.

But I’ve been thinking about perfectionism and how this impacts my life..

i know I am not perfect. I am far from it. In the past few weeks especially, I have been seeing my own imperfection in deeper ways.

As an introvert, I keep many of my struggles inside my head, only telling a few trusted people the ins and outs and sometimes not saying it all. I care about people and can often set aside my own feelings and capacity to attend to needs. I am smart and capable and have read and done a lot of interesting things which can make me appear knowledgeable and put together when really I’m spewing off a bunch of bullshit. In my times of crashing, I have often been met with responses of how people had no idea of how much I am struggling or that they had no idea that I was struggling at all.

As a result of these things, people refer to me as a sweet heart. I am called a hero and people look up to me. I am told that I am strong and courageous. I’m told all sorts of lovely things actually – things that I honestly find hard to see when I look in the mirror.

But I need to be honest – I often feel that I am not allowed to be anything but perfect. Let me explain.

I am utterly and completely human. I have bad days and good days. Some days I can say pretty offensive things. Some days I can react poorly. Some days I’m too stubborn to see your point of view.

Often I feel like there is an expectation for me to extend grace and love when someone else is going through a rough time.  To react perfectly. To say the right things. To respond the right way.

And when I don’t, my words seem to be held against me. Words said in distress. Words said when I am not having the best of days. I am responsible for those things, yes, and I typically come to regret them. But I feel like so often my imperfection is met with anything but grace. And so is it really safe for me to be anything but perfect? I try really hard to understand where people are coming from and what factors have gone into comments. I do try to give the benefit of the doubt. Not always. but I try. But I often feel like I am written off without the whole of me being taken into consideration.

I get frustrated and angry – and say stupid things. I argue over mute points. I am sarcastic. I am impatient. I am judgemental. I can laugh at someone’s expense. I can fail to care. Oh how I fail sometimes – do you know how often I feel like a complete failure in life because of my own short comings? Sometimes this feeling of failure is skewed by depression. But often it is just a grief-stricken look at how I actually do fail to love, to serve, to care or to even try.

If I give off the impression everything is fine, then I’m sorry – for that is not the full picture. There is so much that I don’t share. Sometimes I feel like if I share I am complaining too much or people don’t really need to know. Sometimes the timing just doesn’t seem right. Sometimes I am in a bit of a dissociative state which is both a positive and negative thing as it allows me to get through the moment without being connected to my feelings. In a crisis, this comes in handy – but when it dominates it’s a real pain in the neck.

I am not sleeping much these days. Even with heavy sedating medication, it takes me hours to fall asleep. And then my sleep is disturbed by nightmares. Trauma memories have been coming up for me in really painful ways to the point that I’ve sought out additional support to help me get through this time. I miss my family dearly. Christmas is coming which is a season I hate and I tend to long for my family and end up crashing afterwards – something that I am trying so very hard to prevent from happening this year! I fear a retrial and going through that hellish experience again. I love school and my two jobs – but it is stressful…. and, this is what my prof was getting at today, I am wanting excellent (perfect!) marks and working my butt off to attain them… and I am, but I’m stressed. I’m grieving the loss of super close friendships that have changed due mostly to life circumstances. Finances, while they are on the up and up, are a continued stressor. I have friends that I am really worried about who are going through terrible times. I have random panic attacks throughout the day that can last from minutes to an hour or so and the triggers have been practically impossible to ascertain. i’m struggling with old patterns of self-harm urges that thankfully with God’s continued support I’ve been able to resist but I feel like I am at war with myself. I have several health issues that are becoming increasingly problematic and I’m waiting to see a specialist in a couple of months. Sometimes I can’t stop shaking and my heart is racing and the pain in my chest is fierce because of the amount of stress I feel. Typically tears come at least once in the day.

I am not asking for sympathy – people who know me well know that I balk at such things. I’ve kinda adopted an “it is what it is” attitude about everything that is going on in my life and striving towards wholeness in the midst of the insanity. Honestly, my relationship with God has only deepened through this intense time as God is the only constant refuge I have at the moment and he never sleeps or slumbers.

But I feel like I do need permission and grace to be imperfect.

I am imperfect. i say and do the wrong things. Often. I fail. I am not a sweetheart.

And yes – when I do or say or even think unloving things, I am wrong to do so.

But please love me and offer me grace anyways.

Cause I can’t be perfect all the time. Or even a lot of the time.

And sometimes, I am just as broken and messed up as the next person whose pain is all consuming and prevents me from seeing someone else’s needs or point of view. And sometimes I need a listening ear or love or a hug even if I appear on the outside to be fine. sometimes I need assurance that people love me and care for me and are thinking of me.

please see me trying to love. please don’t think the worst of me when I fail. please don’t write me off.

i need more love and grace than I can ever give even in my best moments.

for I am not perfect all the time

Closer to the Light

 A friend of mine gave me the whole collection of Bruce Cockburn’s music (a large collection indeed!) and I have been enjoying becoming reacquainted with songs that I once knew and discovering some real gems. There’s one that I have been listening a lot to lately called “Closer to the Light” (It’s a beautiful song – have a listen here)

Gone from mystery into mystery/ Gone from daylight into night/ Another step deeper into darkness/ Closer to the light.

As some of you may know, I have been trying to understand my faith as I wrestle with depression and the impact of the things that have happened to me and the unrelenting longing that I have for my family to be reconciled. These few words have really spoken to me and challenged me. I feel like for the past couple of months I have moved from daylight into night, again, and some days feel the night more than others. I have gone from a period of mysterious joy to a time that is just as mysterious, but in a different way.

I’ve had people suggest that what I need to do is some focused work on my past. That scares me, as it is a step deeper into darkness. I do not know the mystery beyond the night I already feel. I have already done so much work, but to go the extra step, a step deeper, has felt overwhelming in just the thought of it.

But perhaps Cockburn is right. Perhaps a step deeper into the darkness will bring me closer to the Light. I got thinking today about Christ in Gethsemane, praying that God would take this cup from him. But he had to go through the darkness of suffering, the Cross, and death before he was resurrected. That night He took a step deeper into darkness, but moved closer to the Light. I look back in my life at all the times I have waded the darkness and each time I move beyond the darkness, I come out changed, with a new sense of healing and a passion for what God is doing in my life and what he is preparing me for.

Could I reach the light without the darkness?

I’m not sure what the right answer is. But it seems as if my life is a cycle of going through dark nights and arising from them with a greater sense of God’s presence, love and grace. Maybe, this thorn in my side, is there so that I might also say that God’s grace is sufficient for me and His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Maybe I will be like Paul and “boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:10). Maybe I will come to the place in my faith where I can say that for Christ’s sake, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Lord, I’ve gone from daylight into night. Help me to take another step deeper into the darkness so that I might step closer to the light. Amen.