Friday, February 28, 2014

last day of February

The harsh reality set in this morning that all while people are encouraging me to not give up hope, or give up all together, there's not a lot right now within my control.

I tell people constantly, pseudo-professionally and personally, to control what they can control.  There are so many variables and often we get so hung up on the ones we have no power over.  Namely, other people

I tell my foster parents to pick their battles.  To watch their proximity and to reward good behavior.  To them, this feels like relinquishing power.  To me, it means creating peace and restoring control.  I tell them not to raise their voice just because a child does.  This concept is lost on them.  I tell them to watch how they express feelings, to watch for triggers, and to pick the non-negotiables.  Operate from there.  A good, solid, healthy baseline.  They don't listen

This is why I go to the gym.  Because I can control my body.  There are parts of my body I cannot control -- like the curvature of my spine, stretch marks, the one leg and arm longer than the other.   But the gym, and the work I put in there, helps me overcome.  I should be controlling what is in my refrigerator, because I can control that too.  But I feel less triumphant after a healthy meal than I do after an hour long workout, so if I'm going only going to pick one battle to fight... I always pick the one that makes me sweat.

Yesterday, I was treated pretty poorly at my gym.  Nothing so bad I would talk to management about.  But enough to make me skip my morning session today out of disdain and/or embarrassment.  I was disregarded and misinterpreted and scoffed at; so many uncontrollable variables all at once my safe place suddenly became a place where I lacked any control again.  I left with my tail tucked between my legs.

Last night I was told, for probably the hundredth time: I was great, but it just wasn't going to work out.  

I was so proud of myself for the casual way I responded and the coolness with which I ended the conversation.  I tricked myself into thinking this week that a lack of attachment will help with all this emotional turmoil.  But man.  Is that against my nature.  So this morning, the tears came.

Not because of him -- the variable and his rejection.  It was a silly conversation and a try-again attempt, which we were both right in believing would have probably wasted our time.

Before this emotionally tumultuous week, in which I cancelled interviews and had corporate arguments and quit grad school, I had a few more difficult conversations with uncaring, unimportant people.  Which went a little something like...

"Anna, you are not.... fill in the blank."

Enough, basically.

Then I tumbled into this emotional train wreck of a week, and I started blocking phone numbers. 

Left and right.  All for good reason, all personally validated, all justified and very much warranted.  I began to use the hard and fast rule Larry always taught us: if I cannot benefit you and you are not benefitting me, there's no need for a relationship.

And I had a hey day.  Cleaned the proverbial house.  And was free from stupid boys for all of a week before the latest one flipped the switch on me.  He doesn't need his number blocked.  But I didn't allow for any lack of clarity.

But it took all the way until this morning.  When I was actively avoiding the gym because of a variable.  To realize how much energy I was spending worrying about those uncontrollable variables.  And not taking my own advice.

I am still sad.  Don't get me wrong.  I walked down the stairs this morning and saw signs of comfort, of family, of belonging sitting huge and glaringly obvious at the foot of my stairs.  Gut wrenching.  The lack of safety of the most craved space. 
People tell me to choose better.  I've been on this soapbox for years now.  I don't do the choosing.  I know how to choose well.  I can pick a good man, a good woman, a good human out of a crowd.  It's my gift.  I'm sensitive to goodness.  But as I sat back today and thought back, I realized I have not been actively pursued by a good human being since before I was 20 years old. 
I have picked a half dozen fine, good, handsome men of character.  Who all ended up with fine, good, beautiful woman of integrity.  But in seven years almost there's not been one worth trusting.
I cannot control that variable.  If I could, I would have a long time ago.  I would have constructed the right man out of thin air and we would not be here right now, dammit.  But here we are.  And I'm not so sure anymore he exists at all. 
The integrity is in the details, you see.  You see the big picture.  Judah and I need a good man.  With a job.  Who loves Jesus.  Maybe you're insightful enough to know we need a man who isn't racist.  But most of you aren't. 

I see the minute details of every day and I know the man who fits here, if he exists, will be one of a kind. 
But I can't control that.  He may not know who he is any more than I do.
He, or the lack of him, is my uncontrollable variable. 

All this to say... I have a new mantra.  I am not sure how it will manifest in the day to day.  But it sounds something like, I am not responsible for them.  I am not responsible for the trainer's arrogance, or his moodiness, or how he interpreted what I had to say.  I am not responsible for another man's insensitivity.  I am not responsible for another man's lack of motivation or the decisions they choose to make.

All I am responsible for is me.  And Judah.  And how we carry ourselves, conduct ourselves, respond to others, reach out to others.  I am responsible for what we choose to ignore.  What I choose to address and how.  My proximity to the chaos.  But only sometimes the chaos itself. 

This goes right along with a thousand other mantras, which get me through my day.  Including "they don't care about you", which is in fact one of the most comforting one-liners to get a social anxious creature like myself through the day.  

And so I went home on lunch and packed a gym bag.  I'll go back to the gym tonight and I will nod and smile like I always do.  I will reclaim my safe spot.  My last courageous act of February.      

Monday, February 10, 2014


Currently I'm living in this weird state of mind, where I am never fully present anywhere.  I just realized this, because I haven't been fully present enough to assess the situation and give this strange mood a name.

But that's it.  I am disengaged. 

Which was not part of the plan.  At all. 

And by "just realized this" I mean I recognized it at the beginning of the year when I reviewed the past year.  So I've been mulling over this idea for a while, but it's February 10th and it's time to fix it.

When I watch a suspenseful movie, the storyteller (and movie goer and human) in me knows when it's about to get scary.  The music changes, so does the camera angle.  A character does something stupid, goes somewhere alone, meets someone dangerous.  You know what I do then?  I squint my eyes.  I let my vision go blurry because things are less scary if you don't really acknowledge them.  Because a lot of us aren't afraid of what we can't see.  And if a monster is going to jump out of my peripheral, at least I've eliminated one of my senses.

This is not good practice, guys.

About six weeks ago I realized I was doing this in real life.

Mine and Judah's life is kind of scary.  We teeter precariously on edges I wish we could distance ourselves from.  We scrape bottoms of barrels and stretch to make ends meet and we fight monsters on a daily basis.  A lot of monsters who pretend not to be monsters.

So I was walking around with squinted eyes.  I let my vision go blurry so that the chaos was a mess of colors and sounds but I was not overstimulated.

But then you miss it.  You risk missing it all.  Being blindsided by time and life and growth and all the dangerous things that sneak up silently.

I was trying to be a mommy, a social worker, a homemaker, a daddy, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a graduate student, an athlete and someone's (I don't know who?) girlfriend all at the same time. 

I'm imagining life right now like an old school game of Mario Brothers we used to play at Granddad's house.  Where Mario or Luigi would navigate a haunted mansion or castle and be bombarded by bombs and rolling stones and explosive fires and collapsing bridges.  That has been our life. 

I was (am) trying to be good at all of it.  But at the end of the day I kept looking at that grad school course load and dipping into my well for whatever was left... and coming up dry.

Which would result in starting out the next day with less than I needed to do well at anything else.  Which cut into story time and meant the dishes were piled up and in my attempt to ignore all things scary... none of it was getting done.  In an attempt to do it all well, I was mediocre at everything.

It took the clogged bathtub drain to help me realize.

Judah and I moved into the house in September and the bathtub upstairs already drained slowly.  Fast forward to February and it just hardly drained at all until the water stopped running, so I hated showering, hated cleaning the tub.  But the drain is not like any I'm used to, so I wasn't really sure how to clean it or unclog it.  So I just dealt with the clogged tub.  And spent additional time cleaning it after the bath water drained out.  And spent additional time being grossed out.  But no additional time resolving the issue.

Until last week.  When I sent Larry upstairs to check on a sink handle and asked him to take a look at the drain in the tub.  How could I unclog this drain, I asked for the first time, out loud. 


Simplest answer.  Logical answer.  Really, an answer I already knew and had explored but hadn't implemented.

Not too long after, I drew the parallel.  I always, eventually, draw the parallel.  Of simple solutions and asking the right questions and using energy wisely.

It's time to fix some things.  Namely, my expectations for myself.

And I start by opening my eyes.  Clearing my vision and allowing my senses to open up.

Because regardless of what I've led myself to believe, the most scary of all monsters are the monsters who have no name.  Who sneak up from behind, who you did not anticipate.  I have been doing myself a disservice and made us very vulnerable.

I feel like a failure, most days.  Maybe I want to justify all the ways I am shitty by saying I do a lot.  Maybe my mediocrity has been justified by the load I carry.  Maybe I've expected too much of myself and believed the lies.

But I didn't do that on purpose.  And I don't want to do it anymore. 

You know what I want to do?  Right now, in this season, for this leg of the journey?

I want to play with blocks with Judah.  And make homemade play dough.  I want to do well at my job while I'm here.  I want to read books I enjoy and I want to write more.  I want to help others again, in some form or fashion.  I want to keep washing my dishes.  I want to cook and I want to share my food and I want to double my back squat.

I turned twenty six in less than three months.  I've set a new goal for myself, because I finally addressed another clogged drain I had chosen to ignore.  Another issue of mediocrity, held together by fear.  Fear of failure, but also a fear of succeeding.  Hiding behind old facades and leaning on old crutches.  I don't want to do that anymore either. 

I want to challenge myself.  Not burden myself. 

And if I am only a few things to a few people, rather than a lot of things to a lot of people, I want to be excellent.  I want to be proud again. 

So, then, it's not quitting after all. 

It's improving.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I Don't Go to Church Very Often ... Either

I wanted to write about this.  And I wanted even more to write about it when I was no longer mad.  Out of the overflow of the mouth, the heart speaks.  Right?  So maybe it's not that we say things we don't mean when we're mad.  It's just we say them the wrong way.

I will preface this with what you already know.  Just to be clear.

I grew up in church.

I've done the "in church every time the doors were opened" thing and I've been there when the vacuums were running and the lights were off.

I grew up in youth groups and on summer camps with curfews and dress codes.  I knew the motions to the songs and didn't participate in games.

For a good long while, I did a lot of consistent tithing too.

I dated two worship leaders.  Was assaulted by a third.

I've left the country four times in the name of "missions".

I memorized scripture.

I was baptized when I was nine with my sisters.  By my dad.  Top ten most vivid, most precious, memories.

So there's the basics.  I know what I'm talking about.  Maybe I'm not right.  Maybe I didn't go to Bible college.  But I am not without experience, exposure, or educated opinion.


I remember going to visit a new church once, when I was halfway through my pregnancy.  And no one knew me.  I was there to watch one of my best friends sing, so my mind was open and I had very little expectations.  But what they did (or didn't do) kept me from ever going back.

Not a single person said hello.  But they looked at my belly.  Then they looked at my left hand.  Back at my belly.  And then kept moving.

So the other day when Don posted a blog about how he doesn't go to church very often, my ears perked.  His post rallied the pitchfork mobs, as most non-traditional ideas do.  And the poor guy, who was just trying to be transparent, has raked over the coals.  He responded, albeit much more defensively than I've ever seen him respond before.  But maintained his opinion and invited the opinions of others, while calling out the ones who had chosen to be so hateful.

Gosh.  You all can be so damn hateful.

Funny.  John Calipari mentioned how personal people take things on Facebook the other day; called us a pack of yelping dogs.  No one got mad at him.  But he's a pretty successful basketball coach who attends Catholic mass.  Not a pretty famous writer who claims to love Jesus.  So I guess that's the difference.

But what gets me, is these writers are being condescending.  Not just hateful.  The undertone of every responsive blog has been "I'm a Christian, I love Jesus, I have to love Don so I won't outright say it.  But quit threatening my way of life, sinner."

Anyway.  One man in particular posted a "Dear Don" letter on his blog.  And I read it.  Thoroughly.  Not unbiasedly, however, since even the URL irritated me.  But, I'll say this upfront.  It appeared to me, this man wasn't trying to talk to Don.  He was trying to defend his beliefs.

But as we saw with the Evolution vs. Creation debate earlier this week... people don't give a damn about much else but authority and publicity.  We defend only when we feel threatened, so the voices who agree with us will get louder.  (Notice, I said "much else".  There's the margin.  Put whomever you'd like in that margin, if that makes you feel better.  But this week's debate was nothing short of tax collectors in the temple.)

So I felt a need to sort through my thoughts this way, in this public forum.  But it is not addressed to Mr. Gospel Coalition dude.  It's addressed to myself (a former, current, unfaithful church go-er) and you.

Here's why**:

1) Churches get lots of teenage girls to volunteer in the nursery.  I leave my child 40-50 hours a week while I go to work.  The weekends are precious to us.  And even though church is an hour long, it's a two or three hour ordeal at the end of the day.  And if I'm going to leave my baby, AGAIN, I am not going to leave him with someone who doesn't reach for him when it's time for me to go.  I got to church a few Sundays ago and immediately left because the highschool student working J's room stared at him like he was a rabid dog when he started crying.  Um.  No.

2) when I don't show up, no one misses me.  If I show back up, they croon and hug and smile and say "where have you been?  We've MISSED YOU."  With lots of side hugs and back pats.

3) people, either directly or indirectly, refer to Judah as a sin or a mistake.  And imply because he is biracial, he is either inferior or it "makes sense" I am parenting alone.

4) sermons are boring.  I hardly ever learn anything new or leaving feeling encouraged, convicted, or moved. You know why?  Because I haven't heard a minister talk about hard things in years.  I know a few ministers in Lexington very personally and very well, trust their leadership and love their hearts.  But I can't hear one more sermon about how God loves us and doesn't want us to cuss or have sex.  I guess there are still people who haven't heard that.  Right?  Has the message that the "church" is anti-premarital sex reached the masses yet?  No?  Ok.  Let's keep talking about that.  And not greed.  Not pride.  Because those things aren't a big deal.

5) (addendum to #3) people i know from church pretty consistently say stupid shit like, "i bet that's good birth control", or, "I bet you won't make THAT mistake again", or "I hope you know God has forgiven you", or refer to my shame and guilt.

oops.  Should I not have worked through that so quickly?  I don't know.  The martyrdom of holding onto shame just doesn't suit me.  I am not strong enough to carry that around.

6) church is political and talks about money a lot.  end of discussion.

7) people say things like "hate the sin, love the sinner".

8) people talk about you and yours whether you're there or not.  And will weasel their way into your life as long as they think there are juicy details.  And when the drama dies down, no one is anywhere to be found.

So there it is.  Eight isn't really a glorious number, but I was getting mad again so I decided to cut myself off.

Let's get serious for a minute and take an honest look at this.

I was checking out Mr. Gospel Coalition's blog and trying to be objective, unsuccessfully.  But my tipping point was a paragraph at the end of his pretty lengthy blog, where he makes a statement I think he intended to drive all other points home.  Obviously he was sure he'd hit the nail on the head with this one.  "And here's where the rubber meets the road: I don't know how we can say we love and belong to the church without loving and belonging to a church.  Or saying we want to connect with God, but we won't listen to God's word for only 45 minutes out of all minutes of the week."

Oh man.

I tried so hard, guys.  So freaking hard.

But you know what I heard when I read that?  And if I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, maybe Mr. Coalition guy meant in order to belong to the church we need to identify with people who also belong.  But you know what?  I really don't think that's what he meant.  I really think he meant a Sunday morning service.  With three songs and gold communion trays and nasty red carpet and a really liberal and edgy drum kit.  With a sermon taught by a Christian college graduate and a really good prayer at the end.  Accountability and community and repentance.  That good stuff.

I think he meant the church, which (not who) becomes part of our identity when we choose to attend.  Like our alma mater.  Our graduating class.  Our neighborhood.  Our career.  "Where do you go to church?"

So I felt more sorry for him than anything.  And I really just wanted to tell him stories.  Stories I have told all of you.  Stories you have told me.

About fires on mountainsides in Africa.  About flour mills.  About shoes and quiet boys in Haiti.  About wind blowing and doves and afternoons spent reading and three squeezes.  About foster care referrals.  About storms, delayed.  About hot dogs, multiplied.  About dodge ball and tornadoes and crack cocaine deals gone bad.  About camping in caves with crank radios.  About taking thoughts captive and peace beyond understanding.

And let me tell you what.  Not one of those moments, those numinous, holy, unexplainable, spiritual, God-filled moments happened in a church building.  Not.  One.

Ok.  So the hot dog thing happened in a church.  And so did the shoe thing.  Actually, a red headdress thing did too.  But not on a Sunday morning.  Not during a service.  But they WERE church.  In your entire lifetime you couldn't convince me otherwise.

They happened when our hearts were in the right place.  When we move beyond ourselves to the point where we are willing to see and hear, where we are aware of shortcomings and desperately aware of our need.  And He was there.  Right there, just like always, waiting on us to see.

I pray for Judah before he falls asleep at night.  Well.  I pray for that kid a ton, because he jumps off high things and locks me out of the house and he had that calcium deposit in his heart and doesn't have a daddy.  I pray for him without ceasing, to be honest.  But I pray for him out loud at night, when he's sleepy enough to sit still.  He lets me because he likes it when we whisper in his ear.  And I swear to you I cry every night.

You don't think that's church?

You don't think Jesus hears that?

The point is there is absolutely nothing wrong with the church service on Sunday morning.It has a sweet way of tying things together.  And is a privilege, friends I know in other countries don't have.  It's just sometimes the church doesn't look much like Jesus.  And most of us have reasons we don't go.

And the sad reality is those reasons are usually the people who do.

Someone else posted ANOTHER responsive blog last night.  Poor Don.  Another blog defending lifestyle and why they choose to go to church and why that's the right choice and they are better for it.  This particular blog drove home the fact the writer would "never leave church".  And I just sighed and made cookies, because now I was mad again.

We don't plan to "leave the church", guys.  Trust me.  You don't need to know how I know this.  But I know it.  It's never part of the five year plan.  Also, Don didn't say he left the church.  He did use some weird language about graduating, and I want to look more into that.  But leaving implies separating yourself.  And this imperfect man has committed his life to helping you live a better story within your relationship with God.  If you try to look at his statement as objectively as I looked at Mr. Gospel Coalition's... I'm wondering what you'd see.

But this second blog, by a guy called Geoff, specifically said this:

"Without the local church I tend to only associate with people I like.  People who are like me.  Within the context of the local church I am forced to love people who are unattractive, unlovable, and unkind."

Objective, Anna.  Be objective.  

Damn, it's just not working for me today.

THAT, guys, did me in.

I really hope Geoff is attractive, lovable, and kind.  Always.

I know I am not.  And neither are my friends.  

Neither are 99% of the people I run into every single day.  

Every.  Single.  Day.


I won't pretend I know the history or background of Mr. Coalition or Mr. Geoff.  My guess is their story isn't "out there" quite like Don's is, and even if it was, it might be a little more tidy.  So I won't assume they haven't been rejected by the church yet.  Or hurt by it.  I won't assume they've haven't trusted the church with their whole heart and found only hypocrites.  I won't assume they don't have gay cousins or sisters who aren't married with babies or uncles who are addicts.  Stuff like that will shake it all out, my friends.

There's a reason people don't seek sanctuary in the church.

There's always a reason.

So if you are part of the church and you meet someone who loves Jesus, but is afraid to walk through your doors, it's time to ask the questions.

Not point the fingers.  Not defend your lifestyle.  Not worry someone is cross examining your belief and the choices you've made.  Those things don't invite Jesus into the mix.  They just don't.  You don't owe us those answers.  

I have never been a part of a large, healthy church.  Ever.

I have been a part of two, very beautiful house churches over the last ten years.  Both, which tried to become a lot more like a big church and fell apart.  Same with a ministry I was wildly devoted to.  Politics and  money and rules weaseled their way in.  Now it ceases to exist, for all intents and purposes.  

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the mega church.  Truth be told when I choose to attend a service it's at the biggest mega church in this area.  But I know what goes on there, when the vacuums are being run and the doors are locked.  The popularity contest which lives and breathes in that space.  That's what slows me down.

Corporate worship, suddenly doesn't mean collective and together and unified.  It means business.


There are a few of you, belonging to "a church", who help me love Jesus more.  Who have been around, unfailingly, for Judah and me.  Who have pursued us relentlessly, even when I didn't want you to.  Who have loved us, not despite anything, but because you valued us.  You don't use jargon or quote scripture.  You just live it.  I know who you are because of the way you love.  (Not because of the service you attend.)  You've been generous and given lots of hugs and asked for no recognition and pried for no details.  But you've asked the good questions and the hard ones.

Thank you for that.

One day I hope to find a Sunday morning gathering Judah and I can join again.  I want him to learn from people, other than me, about Noah and the Resurrection and Joshua and David.  I want to hang those coloring pages on my refrigerator and for Judah to learn there are lots of others who know this Jesus we talk to, who loves us.

But when we do start going regularly again, it won't be what makes us more holy.  It won't be what makes us right with God.  It won't be because we are getting back on the right path.  We won't be "going back to church".   It won't be out of obligation, either.

I'm sure you're biggest argument is that church isn't about me.  Which you're very right.  But I'll let you simmer in that statement; I won't bother to point out the disparities.  Here's the difference: Jesus doesn't need us.  He doesn't need us to worship Him, to love Him, to obey Him.  We don't earn any points, right any wrongs, prove a single thing just because we show up in a building.  Or by singing or reading or memorizing or maintaining appropriate relationships with the opposite sex.

He just loves us and fights for us.  He asks us to love and fight for others.

And how well are you doing that?