More-than-Jenga faith

For the past few years, I have been building the structure that is my faith. Through reason and experience, exploration and relationship, and through listening to those who have built up their own faith before me, I have created my own makeshift belief system. I have discovered that one of the ways I connect the most to God is through reasoning. God meets me in my curiosity and my inquiries. He gladly allows me the freedom to question and doubt. He reads books with me, and places knowledge in my hands. He journals with me as I seek to fill spaces in my belief structure where I lack understanding. In some areas, this structure feels quite solid and sturdy. In others, it is shaky and unsure. There are moments of solidity, when I feel firm in my beliefs and where they all seem to line up perfectly. In those moments, it feels like I can take on anyone with my arguments because I have filled every possible crack and crevice. And then, there are the moments when anxiety hits.

Anxiety feels like a debate competition with seven million opponents:

They square off, looking at each other in deep-seated anger and determination. With a fierce fury, the first argument is launched and lands with a deafening thud. Solid and convicting, it sits for few seconds and the confidence it holds convinces me that it is the absolute Truth. But those mere seconds soon pass, and the next argument–launched with even more determination than the first–takes its place. This continues until my mind is an angry room of passionate debaters, scrutinizing every side of every possible argument, and screaming at each other in their firm convictions. Meanwhile, my convictions dissolve as the chaos engulfs them all.

One of those anxiety moments hit me recently, through experiencing a friend’s suffering. I casually glanced at my phone to see the words “I was raped” light up on my screen. In that moment every bit of confusion and anger towards God that I have ever faced surfaced, and the arguments began. This time, instead of the war that my mind usually wages against itself, I was the one launching my arguments to the Heaves. My lack of understanding at the situation created panic, and for a few minutes I was entrapped in the feeling of having the floor crumble beneath me. In those sorts of moments, it feels very much like everything that holds me up shatters. Every argument for faith that I carefully placed on my delicate structure crashes to the floor like when the final piece is removed in a game of Jenga.

I read a book by C.S Lewis last year called “A Grief Observed.” After losing his wife to cancer, Lewis kept a journal where he recorded his grief experience. This giant in the faith (as well as one of the people whom I most admire) describes his faith in this book as a house of cards that he feels has come crashing down. It struck me as I read this how someone so intelligent and with an incredibly put-together faith built on solid reasoning (much more solid than my own) experienced this lack of solidity in his process of grieving. Sometimes, the most solid arguments in the world are simply not enough.

This is not an argument against faith that reasons. This is not an attempt to bash intellectual faith. One of the places where I have encountered God the most is through reason and deep thought. There are times when I feel the presence of the Lord more when I am sitting in class listening to a theology lecture than when I am sitting in chapel. However, in the moment when my phone screen lit up and my insides began to churn and scream against the vile injustice that my friend experienced, my arguments became a flimsy house of cards, ready to topple at the coming of the wind. Arguments can be countered by better arguments. Minds are far from perfect, and can easily miss Truth.

In that awful moment I felt that the Lord whisper these words to my heart: “are you going to believe what you believe in?” and I realized that desperately searching for arguments to cling to would not result in anything. All I could do was hold on to who I know my Father is. Because I know Him, and I know that He is good. Though nothing seemed to make sense, and it felt like the ground was shaking beneath me, I made a decision to hold on to the solidity found in knowing His love. Because I know that the Lord loves my friend more than I do, and I know that He is with her more than I can be. There is a level of solidity that only Love can provide. Love cannot be toppled by any wind-storm or loose Jenga piece. My friend, the one I mentioned previously, knows this better than I do. I watch as she faces pains and difficulties that life catapults at her, and yet still stands with rock solid faith. She has more grounds for launching accusations at the Sky than anyone I know, and yet, because she has experienced the depth of Love, she willingly tells anyone who will listen about how very loved she is by her Father, and how very loved they are, too.

The Gardener

Watering can in hand,

I step outside, for the third time today.

I feel anxiety welling up inside of me even before I look to discover what I already know:

The soil looks the same as it did this morning.

So I pour a few more drops in,

Hoping to expedite the process

Because I’ve placed all my hope in this Seed

That just doesn’t seem to be growing.

 

I pictured this land differently:

More green, a flower bed over there, butterflies fluttering through,

A rabbit. A tree with a swing set.

Joyful sweat beads coming from my brow

Sun-tanned skin

Excited hands, ready to sow.

 

Instead I stand here and look around:

The tree I planted has withered and has been choked out

By a weed I never planned on, but it’s grown all the same

I name her “insecurity”

Because she’s taken over, uninvited

And now she hides the beauty that could have been

Her roots, wrapping around everything

And I guess I never reached down far enough to pull her out completely

Because just when I think she’s gone for good

She comes back

Laughing, at my attempts to create beauty

Because of her

I compare my pitiful soil to the one next-door

And shame builds with every rose that blooms across the fence

 

Again.

I reach for the watering can,

Once a life-giver, now for me a symbol of disgrace

My fingers reach for fertilizer,

Lead by impulse,

And the pressure to see sprouts because,

If green does not start coming from this ground,

Then it must mean that I’ve done this all wrong.

Or maybe this Seed,

The Seed I’ve given everything for,

Is defective.

 

This was supposed to be fun, was it not?

And I almost fail to notice,

In the midst of my pouting

The Great Gardener, Herself!

Has come to visit me here, in MY pitiful garden.

Startled, I look up, and I am amazed by her simple regality.

Hands, green stained, dirt under her fingernails,

Hair in a careless twist with multicolored flowers tucked between braids.

Life seems to bloom from her palms

Her gaze penetrates my self-absorption

And bewildered I ask

“What are you here for? I have nothing to give.

My garden is empty. There is nothing here for you.”

Gently, she whispers,

That my wayward attempts at growing on my own terms

Are choking the very thing that I seek to give life to.

 

Lovingly, she strokes my hair and reminds me that gardens do not blossom in a day

“Learn to appreciate green-less ground,

And the excitement of waiting for the sprout.”

 

She stretches out her hand,

And waits for me to take it.

I hesitate.

Afraid because I know what She is offering:

She wants to grow this with me.

I almost give into the temptation that suddenly engulfs me

To sheepishly refuse and tuck my face away

Because having Her here means that She will gaze upon my failures

That She will touch the weeds that I could not stop from growing

That She will water my empty ground

In that moment,

Giving up seems better than watching Her confront my shame.

 

But I see nothing except love in Her twinkling eyes,

And I realize that She’s my only hope.

So I hold my hand out and watch Her head tilt back

As exhilarated laughter escapes Her wonderful mouth.

I bow my head and wonder how

This Woman here before me

Feels this amount of joy from simply being with me

I have nothing.

And yet to Her, I am everything.

 

So She starts to whisper slowly,

Unraveling the secrets to caressing soil

“We have a lot of work to do here.

It will not be easy

It will not look how you want it to

But it will be beautiful

And we will rejoice all the while.”

 

Featured Picture:

Garden by Victor Camilo Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/victorcamilo/5322070236/in/photolist-97i14E-8mAPuf-noHp65-e3uDyS-9N7SR9-c5o1gu-faxmFJ-81Gswa-e4vnuD-81uDN4-wuGhna-9ZAA8o-bvFe5y-eGq3xH-c7cwt1-e4rt46-9N6BeN-nNJpqa-FgZVun-e4vn5D-ciQ7DE-4LA663-9Tomeh-cnuDES-aesF8i-bVQhL3-cLX5Nb-eawkwz-bNoZnF-TUH5ke-bNoYoR-8uhAUt-9zdgsf-od9Emj-bvFeh1-p1SJ56-bNp1Xz-bzuiij-bzuofs-bzumgW-abMquj-eYF1JD-e4vmUM-9WwSdi-SL4NXm-VJoJM6-TsyetA-4TfK82-Tf6qTL-qECcj9

For anyone who’s ever felt unlovable

I have a friend who once said to me “Cami, if you truly knew the real me, you would not be my friend.” As he said this, I could see the weight of the shame that his past held bearing heavy on him. His inability to separate his identity from the things that he had done caused him to feel dirty and unlikable, even unlovable. He held himself at a distance from others, even his closest friends because he did  not believe that he could be honest with someone about his past and that they would keep the same view of him.

 

When we see the world from a perspective that focuses solely on what is in front of us, when we fail to view life from an eternal perspective, what are human beings but merely the sum of their past decisions? What are we but the thoughts that pass through our minds and the actions we carry out daily?

 

My friend saw all of the ugliness in himself, and the decisions that he has made that he’s not proud of, and decided that this was just the truth of who he was at his core

 

Sometimes, when we see the ugliness in ourselves that nobody else sees (or maybe the ugliness that others do see), we get trapped in the lie of believing that this is fundamentally a part of who we are. Humanity has for centuries struggled with an important question: is human nature basically good? Or is it basically evil? And we struggle with this question on an individual level as well.

 

Well, the bible tells us quite clearly that the church (us) is the glory of God. We are His GLORY. That means that we portray His great achievements and His qualities and I don’t think that God wants to be portrayed by something that is fundamentally evil at its core.

 

We were made in the image of our Creator. We know that His nature is perfect and good and righteous and holy and kind and caring and merciful and forgiving, and each and every single one of us have these characteristics imprinted on our souls in unique and special ways. I believe that each human being on the planet represents a particular part of God that no one else holds and that can only be seen through that person. This is why we are called His body, because together, we make up a representation of who He is.

 

We are like a gigantic puzzle. Right now, some of the pieces are scattered and upside down, but when we are placed rightfully were we are meant to go, we reveal a picture that holds the truest of Truths.

 

So, if this image that is imprinted on our souls (aka the image of God) is the greatest Truth, that means that everything that is not a part of this image is a Lie. When we do not know Truth, the brokenness around us forces us to warp our identity around it’s twisted ways. We can try our best to be good, but we cannot truly know what goodness is if we do not have a solid foundation to stand upon. Then, when all of our best attempts at being good fail and we can’t help but give into our brokenness, shame seeps in and says that this inability to measure up is just a part of who we are. It makes the beauty that is in you seem non-existent. It covers the masterpiece that is your heart because its makes your God-given attributes seem irrelevant in comparison to the darkness that you’re fighting. But if this all is really a lie, if it all really is a result of brokenness and from the fact that we fell from what we are supposed to be, then how do we get back to the truth that is inside of us? How to we reveal the Imago Dei that is at the very core of each and every single one of us?

 

I watched my friend believe that he was nothing more than an upside down, cast aside, unneeded, forgotten and scratched out puzzle piece who’s original image was hardly recognizable. I watched him attempt to draw something on his own for him to show, maybe trying to make up his own image all by himself. And then, I watched him discover the power of redemption.

 

Thankfully, we have a God who wants His image to show. We have a God who wants His glory to shine in the Earth. And we have a God who so lovingly has given us the task of portraying who He is, simply by being true to who we really are. Thankfully, this God specializes in healing, and loves to wipe away all the gunk that has been smeared on us, and progressively stitch together every wound. He came so that we could get back to the truth of ourselves. He came to reveal who God is, but also to reveal who we are supposed to be as human beings.

 

I’ve watched my friend progressively discover this truth, and find healing through the redemption offered to him. I’ve watched the hurt of his past and the weight of the shame that he carried fall away, bit by bit, revealing the extraordinary beauty of his heart. I’ve watched him struggle through this process, and he still does, because healing is progressive and not a quick fix. And I see him now, sharing the light of who he is with the world. No longer is he a lonely puzzle piece on his own and incomplete. No longer is he cast aside an forgotten. Nowadays, he stands confident. Nowadays he walks in the excitement and in the beauty of discovering his rightful place among this glorious puzzle made up of saints.

 

Featured picture:

Puzzle by Olga Berrios Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/ofernandezberrios/2719772907/in/photolist-3ZTt4i-5EXnpQ-59kxJk-59pGDh-59pEN7-5EXnDh-59kv7i-59kx4r-59ktwT-59kunk-59pHBJ-5EXmV5-59pEbG-5EXmFA-59ku6t-59kwHv-4zBtYw-59pJpu-riLkvp-9U3veb-a5pHf4-os52eb-4zBv73-5FAQT5-59pJKm-5F4Qv1-nJQJkk-5FAQnf-4zBtGq-4pgVka-5FANom-5FARdW-5ET3mc-59pLYm-5F4R5Y-3quwQ-5EXncf-59pC9Y-5ET33g-4zBvub-59kxoc-5EZweH-5Fwwei-5F4Qg3-59pKod-5Fwz2H-5F4Pqs-5FwwPZ-5F4PBS-59pDRS/

 

Insecurities

Lately I’ve been dealing a lot with my insecurities. And I’ve been realizing how very harmful they are. They seep into your relationships, into your thought processes, into your work. After giving into them repetitively, you do not even notice how extensively they affect your daily life, because they become a normal part of it.

The other day I tasted a day without insecurities, and it was one of those “I w as blind and now I see” experiences. I was able to speak freely, without the voice in the back of my head telling me that no one cares.

I laughed freely and spoke to all who I wanted to. I shared my voice, and my hope. I shared my joy and my affection. In the moments when you are free, you see how the things that bind you are substance-less. I saw how my insecurities were made of faulty arguments and false accusations. They are nothing, they do not exist. They are only made real when I believe them.

I could SEE so much of people. So much of God’s love for them. I was able to love them so truly, because there was nothing holding me back from seeing their Truths. I was able to see how much each individual shines, and how much each person holds individual reflections of God. I was able to see how much the people close to me love me and not in a prideful way. I think that an important part of loving another is to acknowledge how much that person loves you. Because if you don’t internally know this, you will always be greedily searching for proof of a love that you already have.

Since I had this great epiphany, I thought that I was done. That I would live out the rest of my days in full freedom, shining the way that I know I am meant to, and loving without barriers. How disappointed I was when I felt them creep back in just a few days later.

Today I spent the day battling insecurities. Battling the cease-less cry in my mind saying that I am not doing enough. That I am not good enough. That I have not been stewarding my gifts correctly. That I will never accomplish, because I am keeping myself from what I am meant to do.

Today insecurity made me angry at my boyfriend, because I see him reaching for all that he is meant to hold, with open hands and no fear to hold him back. I see him embracing his gifts and achieving and accomplishing and its like a lamp that shines on all of my failures. And this voice that I am writing in to describe this sounds melodramatic, because insecurity IS melodramatic. It is not based on truth, it is based on substance-less lies.

Because the truth is, I have been growing, and accomplishing, and doing. Insecurity lies, and tries to cover progress, saying that it hasn’t happened by pointing out all the ways that you don’t match up to the ideal version of yourself that you have created in your mind (even though this self does not exist). Insecurity keeps you from rejoicing when beautiful things happen to the people that you love. Because I prayed to see what is happening to my boyfriend happen. And so darling, I just want to tell you that I am sorry for giving into these lies, and that I love you, and that I am rejoicing greatly in who you are.

Just a side note: have you ever noticed how much insecurity and pride go together? One stems from the other. Some of the people who I have talked to that hold the most insecurity also hold the most pride. Because we try to overcompensate in our minds for the things we believe that we lack when we listen to the voice of insecurity. For example, the other day I was talking to someone who I very much look up to, and who I feel insecure around at times because of how much they achieve. So I was talking to this person and they told me about an area that they were struggling that I was confident in, and the same voice in my head that tells me to compare myself to this person, and that I should be achieving as much as they have said “ha! I’m doing great in that area!” This voice delighted in someone else’s pain, and since this is not who I am, I realized how much insecurity I had allowed to enter my mind in regards to this.

A lot of times when speaking of things like these, specially from a Christian perspective, we take the standpoint of “this is what I was dealing with before, but Jesus heals so its all good now,” and I am not saying that this standpoint is always a false one (sometimes it is, sometimes I think it’s a way of covering up pain) because Jesus is awesome and can totally do this if He wants, but I just want to say that I am not writing from this standpoint. Because yes, Jesus is teaching me about overcoming. And yes, He is strengthening me. But today I felt very weak. Today I cried at things that are not cry-worthy. Today my flesh was stronger than my spirit. Jesus did not sprinkle magic  dust on my insecurities and made them disappear. I think that the reason why He doesn’t simply take our internal problems from us is because He teaches us how to be co-laborers through our battles with ourselves. He teaches us how dependent we are on Him, and how impossible it is to battle in our own strength, but He also teaches us that its not all on Him. That He has called us to die, and that a life with Him is not about passively succumbing to His will, but about actively submitting to it.

So, Jesus, how do I make these insecurities go away?  Because man, that day I tasted without them was so beautiful.

“Look at me,” He answers. And I already knew this answer. Insecurity is so self-focused. So selfish and self-consumed. When I look at God it disappears completely, because His light is blinding, and it uncovers Truths and makes Lies disappear. If I truly believe in His love with all of my heart, then these insecurities vanish, because I can trust God to grow me in the way that He wants. Since my life is surrendered to Him, I can trust that I am not strong enough to mess up the plans that He has for me, even when I do mess up.

So now I ask “Jesus help me to look at you, please,” because I’ve been giving into these lies for a long time. And I need Your help to reject them, because I cannot do it on my own.

Featured picture:

Black Pines by Eric Vondy  Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY2.0) Accessed  11 December, 2016. https://www.flickr.com/photos/vondy/4620639516/in/photolist-83iZ9y-bPPSe2-oMDE2Y-nnNyjX-nZyFZH-owxpJ4-aPsMQX-qkax2K-7Larho-oByVvr-9uywqs-pLnv6T-i3DXbn-8WKdYo-mhF9nb-quvSRf-4NGrp-okpsDc-6yhbj9-sGhGGd-au1vxA-5fF9j6-6LJqAv-kNvQj2-6mabLy-mAWdxt-qZK4U8-8V27ix-jhpEen-psCjs9-dX8pZB-5MSVKd-bBAaBJ-ompNoi-6ueyzE-6BzGe1-ezqhBw-aFK7eg-8rN8m2-7EEt8V-oX6rta-c9d3i9-gL3V3G-oMWsyY-so11r6-9FYPqG-rk7MDZ-s2PfUE-6JPhVr-667YEk

Because you are more than your fight

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:37-38

Part of the human experience is that we battle. We battle against emotions that seek to rule us. We battle against the parts of ourselves that long to succumb to what we know is not good. We battle against outside circumstances that threaten to turn our lives upside down.

And it is quite easy to allow yourself to be defined by your battle. It’s easy to accept it as part of your identity, as something that you simply have to “cope with” or “learn to live with.” As something that is such a part of who you are that, though it brings you heartache, it’s hard to imagine yourself without it.

Let’s take for example, anxiety. This is one of my struggles, and one that I face on a regular basis. It threatens to reduce who I am to this fight in my mind. Some days, it’s so consistent that I feel like all I am is Fighting. Sometimes, my days become filled with coping mechanisms that I’ve taught myself and thoughts about how to think properly. But Anxiety is not who I am, and I am not my fight against it.

Social workers are taught to think and speak in “person first” language (I’m currently majoring in social work). Which simply means that, instead of calling someone, for example, a ‘schizophrenic  woman’, you would call her a ‘woman with schizophrenia’. This is taught so that social workers change their mindsets on how people are viewed. By changing the word order, this woman’s identity in your mind is not overtaken by her condition, rather, the condition is something that she HAS instead of who she IS.

It’s the same with every battle.

Because we are MORE than conquerors. Victory over these things is a part of our identity, because of Love and the power of Truth over lies and deception, and the power of redemption over brokenness. But we are more than just a victory. Even though we face brokenness daily in our own life and in the lives of others, we are more than our fight against it, no matter how often we feel like we are wielding our swords. Our identity lies in who God created us to be, and through His love, we can discover the fullness of identity, because His Love is the ultimate Truth. And when we know the ultimate Truth, the lies and deceptions that the world feeds us about ourselves and the things that we wrap around our identities are seen for what they are.

Encompassing All

me:
And its in moments like these where all I can believe is sadness
And occurrences(.) that rip open perfectly put together hearts
And leave scars with wounds that never heal completely
And pits of empty: a tummy abyss with no promise of infinity or an  end that screams “what about me?”
And
Me/You: compassion? Intercessory, incomprehensible (but not) groans. I long to emphasize, I learn the weight (give it Up) and
YOU(inME): Compassion. We weep like for Lazarus: in the  full weight of Truth and Hope and an Infinity and an End, but weeping anyways, because we  do not want these little ones weeping alone.

(These words are an acknowledgement of the separations between them.)

me:
And it’s in moments like this one where all I can believe is happiness
Because it is spring now. It is spring NOW.
Now is the moment that is the only moment in existence. Now is filled with caffeine highs and no thoughts of crashing. And right now, I’m refusing to acknowledge any (or anyone’s) sadness.  Because how can I believe in sadness
Me/You: When juxtaposed with Glory, and all that Is Existence.
“Fear’s only a choice” I heard that in a song once
So is Truth, minus the “only”.
And so is poetry.
There IS-
YOU(inME): Joy. We laugh like for the lost sheep returned: with the full weight of the need for Redemption and the Grace to extend it by giving ALL until the End, in Infinity.

(It’s a paradox to me, the transgression of the boundary between grief and joy)

Re-Thinking Purpose

Lately, I’ve been discovering more and more about myself (as most people do my age), and I’ve come to find that one of the things that I’m most passionate about is helping people heal. My heart breaks so much for the hurting. It’s a part of myself that I’m still learning and growing and it’s a part of myself that I want to devote my life to, hence, why I’m majoring in social work.

So I was talking to God about this part of myself because He’s the only one who knows it better than I do, and I asked Him “God, did you create me for the purpose of helping people heal?”

To which He quickly (and much to my surprise) replied “Nope. I created you for the purpose of being loved”

In Christian circles, you’ll often hear that people are searching for “their purpose” and praying about “their purpose.” This is specially popular with Christian young adults.

However, if I create something–lets say for example, a toothbrush–I have created this toothbrush for the purpose of cleaning things, like teeth. Outside of that, this toothbrush doesn’t do much (unless you decide to use it for cleaning a toilet or something but still, its being used for the purpose of cleaning). After it is done with its job the toothbrush just sits there, waiting until the next time it can be of use, and when it does not work any longer, it is discarded.

If God created me for the purpose of helping others heal, all the use He would have for me, all that He would ever talk to me about, all that He would care about from me would be helping others heal. But, this is not true. Only a portion of my life is devoted to this call on my heart, and my relationship with God stretches much, much farther. However, NOTHING that I ever do in life will be outside of God’s love for me. No matter what I do or don’t do, no matter how successful or unsuccessful I am, no matter how many people I help or how many people I hurt in this life, God will never stop loving me.

Your primary purpose in life is to be loved. Period. Anything else that you accomplish comes from that place of God’s love. People search for “purpose” as if what they can accomplish is what will give them any worth or value as human beings. Your purpose is already there, your value is already there. And God loves you so much, that He has placed passions on your heart and wants your passions to be fulfilled. You can be a writer, or an architect, or an artist, or a teacher. But you are also much more than just that.

Pursue first Love, and all these things will come as well. And they will come in a manner that is rectified and full, because you have not placed your hope or your worth in them.

The featured picture was taken by Hailee Febres. Check out her photography page febresphotography.com or follow her on Instagram @febresphotography