Monday, April 25, 2011

The Transforming Identity: A Brief History

Let me start out with a generalization and specify from there:
We are always trying to figure out who we are.

Photo Source:

The past chunk of my life (8 years or so) has been this journey of coming to understand who I am. I think that is generally true for most people going through their teens and twenties. Part of that time for me was spent swimming within the current of my own life and mind and experiences, isolating myself from risks and vulnerability. The latter part of that chunk of time, though, was spent learning about a new way of life and learning about other people's minds and experiences. I've been  both learning and unlearning a lot of things.

The beginning of high school was really rough for me. I had left middle school being friends with everyone in my eighth grade class of 32 people, and when I got to high school I realized maybe I wasn't such good friends with any of them. They all found their niches, and I attempted to find mine. I had "friends" who were in my honors classes, "friends" who played softball with me, and "friends" who would invite me to go to punk rock shows with them. I never felt understood or fully accepted by the majority of my high school friends, and I learned to guard myself against being open with most people. I would attempt to trust someone, and often that trust would be broken.

Things changed for me when I started attending church in high school and found some truly loving and nurturing people there. Pretty soon after I started attending, I decided that I wanted to commit myself to being a part of that community and the Christian community as a whole. Anything with love smack-dab in the center has an element of allure to any human, I think, but it especially drew me in. It's what I was longing for. At that point, I had spent my life living in the identity my parents established for me, feeling like a square peg in a round hole. I felt genuine oppression of who I was at home. Similar to how I felt at school, I couldn't be myself at home or even begin to understand what that meant. My family had no desire to discover or help me discover who I was at the core of my being, and that had a huge effect on me as a whole person-- issues I am still dealing with today. Everyone's family has problems, and mine is no exception despite the fact that I love them dearly. It's funny how you can still love something that makes you hurt so much.

I digress.

It was at church that I began to discover nourishment and true care. It was in that community where I saw people who maintained this unexplained/unexplainable supernatural connection to a powerful being who showed them the same love they had shown me. The moment I decided to follow the prompting in my heart to join this body of people, I saw myself beginning to change, to truly transform into someone new.

Then I went to college. So began a new process-- new people sharing their new ideas and experiences, new community and experiences for myself.

Along with a new school/community experience came a new church experience. I had a really great community of friends at my church back home, but my church as an organization prompted quite a few frustrations in me. I was sad to leave the people I loved, but I knew that my search for a new church would broaden my understanding of what a church could (and should?) look like. After attending a couple different churches in my college town, I started attending a really unique church in another college town about 40 minutes away form my own. This church is nearly the antithesis of my church back home, and that is not necessarily why I chose it, although some of those elements played a factor. This church was a church full of those who didn't seem to fit the popular mold of "church-goers," especially in their town, which is the headquarters for one of the most "American" "Conservative" churches in the US. My identity began to form more strongly as I found a body of people who believed strongly in the elements of ministry and Christianity that I had always believed to be important. Finally, a church with it's priorities straight!

Something I am questioning a bit lately, though, is how much we cling to those identities that we strive so hard to discover. Take my church, for example: some people in our church seem to embrace and promote the "misfit" identity that our church has developed naturally. I would agree that the people in our church do not fit the American Christian mold for certain reasons, I don't think that "misfit" identity is necessarily more Christ-like. I agree with and promote wholeheartedly the redemptive and reconciliatory theology of the church, but I wonder if people in our church are desiring to jump out of their misfit visages into a reconciled and redeemed life. Or maybe it's just not easy to see on the surface. I would love it though if I church got past the "misfit" rhetoric and decided instead to be an all-inclusive church-- a place where everyone fits, not just the place for people who don't normally fit. I don't think that is an accurate portrayal of reconciliation and redemption. We are just as accidentally exclusive as the "Conservative American" churches down the street until we seek to be the place where everyone fits, even the people who might fit more snugly and comfortably somewhere else.

Ultimately, this comes down, again, to our individual identities. Some people relate better to others, which is why we often have homogeneous groups of people in our society. Churches made up of all middle class white midwesterners, bingo nights made up of all 65+ year olds, bars filled with people who want to get wasted, Sufjan Stevens concert filled with every indie-hip fashion to date. Despite the individualism, we are still similar to other people and we gravitate toward those people. There is something bigger about our identities to realize here.

Only one thing about our individual identities is determined-- we are determined to be like Christ because we were made in His image. I am but a partial expression of who God is because if I encompassed all of who he was, I would be Him and that just wouldn't make sense because there is only one of him! God has placed certain people in my life and certain genes in my body to determine the parts of him that I will reveal to those around me. Some people will share similar traits to me because we are all parts of God. That's why a church should not look like a homogeneous group of people. It should instead look like a mosaic of parts that make up one beautiful, holistic picture of God himself. We were meant to be his revelation on this earth-- when we hold onto who we think we are, at any given point in time, we are missing out on who he is constantly making us to be. He is making us new. He is transforming us if we let him. The body is a growing and changing one, but are we open to that change? If it means better understanding God and our purpose on earth, I think we should be.

Monday, April 11, 2011

My life is a prayer, the secrets I reveal in vain.

Lord, teach me how to love like you love me.

There's a line in a popular worship song that mirrors my prayer, and sometimes when I have sung that song, the line gets lost amongst other glimpses of humanity's ardor manifested through that song. Today, though, I see clearly that I am loved. Some days it is less clear to me than others. Some days I see how people love me. Some days I have a hard time seeing any love around me. Today, I trust the invisible promise of love from God. Sounds so weird. Some days I scoff at such a statement, but it resonates and reverberates in my heart chambers today.

Today was really an ordinary day. Actually it was a little less than the ordinary day. It's my first day back after Spring Break-- feeling tired, overwhelmed, inadequate, self-conscious, not confident, not outgoing. I just felt blah. The weather today was also blah.

At the school in which I am teaching, I feel really out of place. All the teachers are at least married, most have children or are in the process of having children (One just came back from a maternity leave, I am subbing for one currently on maternity leave, and at least two women are currently pregnant). Stories of daycare, family vacations, sickness traveling around the school and teachers' homes all abound in the lunchroom, and today was no exception. The latest buzz was all of their fabulous Spring Break trips and what fabulous trips they were planning on taking once the school year is over...

I simply cannot relate to most of the people I work with.

I am poor, single, childless, houseless, vacationless, etc. I sit nearly silent at lunch everyday. I sit and think about my work and my students and how I can be a better teacher or at least survive this year and do an okay job. I have a hard time making conversation with other teachers unless it's about my schedule or my students. I feel isolated because hardly anyone knows what to say to me either. I can't blame them, since the street clearly runs both ways.

Only one person even inquired about my Spring Break, which really was okay considering my Spring Break was a bit low on the fabulous scale. I went back home to visit my family, who I haven't seen since Christmas. Sounded like a needed time. My few days there ended with a family feud rehashed and my person completely torn apart. The drive back was beautiful, and I was graciously awaiting my personal space and safe haven again, despite the fact that also meant loads of work to catch up on (what I did not do on my Spring Break despite my intentions) and back to waking up early to be at school and work some more.

Dublin, Ireland
An edifice demolished by a heavy tidal wave. A man crushed by the weight of his own world. A girl trapped in and trying to push free from the mistakes of those who raised her. It's heavy. And it hurts.

But there is hope because I am not crushed by the weight of everything I carry, even though it feels like I could and should be. There is hope because despite all of this heaviness, I keep going and learning and changing. Perseverance begets character. Giving up is not an option because I am learning how to grieve and let go of control when I know I am only trying to manipulate what I can't really control. Within my sauntering steps, I hear faint music that keeps my heart beating steady and my feet moving forward. That music drives out fear, and the melody is a selfless, unconditional, untainted, un-human love--the only kind of love that is reliable. It comes from a reliable, trustworthy source. He never fails those who seek him. He holds us closely when everyone else ignores us. I want to love like him.

My life is vain, yet he loves me.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Life Happens

It's been a really long time since I have written anything on my blog! I'm excited to share all the new things that have been happening in my life. I truly cherish the times that I get to spend processing things, but life has taken a turn into busyness. Hopefully I can catch you up in one post.

The month of March FLEW by like a flock of angry birds. No need to beware the ides of March because March brought about such wonderful things and people.

My bff from home, Raelene, visited the same weekend that my friend Owen came out with his family to play a show here in Indy. Here's a lovely picture from the weekend of Owen, Jillian, me and, Raelene (courtesy of Jillian!):

Even though the time we got to spend all together was pretty short, it was still such a blessing to be able to be with such lovely people. It was a weekend filled with friends, music, haircuts, frisbee, and Starbucks--all very good things.

My good friend Bryant also visited that same week, and we met up with a bunch of friends for pizza at Greek's (mmm). I was so glad to get to hang out with him a bit. We don't get to see each other too often since he is now working on his Masters/Doctorate at Notre Dame. Sad that I don't get to see him, but also very proud of him for all the hard work he is doing! I'm going to have Dr. Bryant as my friend pretty soon! :)

Toward the end of the month, I had another wonderful weekend with a visit from my mom-- we played board games, went out to eat, hung out with friends, went to Borders, made cookies, went grocery shopping and made meals (always the best with such a good cook), and went to see Amos Lee in concert. All in all it was very relaxing and rejuvenating.

Check out Amos's music if you don't know it-- he's a truly influential musician and philanthropist. I loved hearing how his songs are often inspired by the stories of people he comes in contact with through this organization in Philly he works for called Artists on Call. Through this program, he goes to people who are in hospitals or hospice and cannot get out to see live music. A lot of the stories he told were real tear-jerkers, and you could see the compassion he has and the deep desire to love people and connect to them through his music.

Also during the month of March, I started working a new job! I have been substitute teaching since January, and in February I landed a 3-week substitute position in an elementary school doing reading and math intervention with the kids. It was nice to have the security of a three week position because as a sub I had been working, on average, a day and a half every week. During my time subbing there, though, I received a call to interview for a music teaching maternity leave that I had applied for in a different district. In the interview they informed me that the teacher had already been out for a month and that they wanted me to start right away, so I left in the middle of the 3-week position in order to jump right into a music classroom. My experience as an interventionalist served me well also because this music teacher also had some of those same duties. I was able to be hired full time instead of just the half-time music position!

I have already spent many hours planning and learning about my new job and new school, and I am on Spring Break this week so I will be spending additional hours doing more of the same. Even though it is hard work, my colleagues are all very friendly and helpful, and my principal is very understanding, letting me ease myself into the work load. I am blessed to know that I will be making about 4 times as much as I was making as a sporadic substitute teacher. I am finally able to save up some money and maybe not have to rely on my parents for any of my expenses! I am very grateful for everything my parents have done for me to be able to stay in Indy and look for jobs, but being financially independent is definitely a priority.

During this fun-filled month, I also found out that I would be working as a YMCA Day Camp Counselor for the summer! This will be my fourth summer working in this position but my first summer working as a counselor in Indy! I am SUPER excited-- the branch I am working with is huge, and it seems to be very well organized and progressive in its commitment to the camp programs. I think it will be a sweet summer. Also, I am really grateful that I will be working over the summer on top of landing this job for the rest of the school year!

Despite all of this providential provision in my life (for which I am extremely grateful), a significant element of uncertainty still exists. I do not know anything what is going to happen after the summer. My lease will be up in July, and I don't know where I will be living after July 31st. I do not have a job lined up for after camp is over. I have applied for music teaching jobs in Indy for next year, but I don't yet know if I will able to stay in Indy. I could go anywhere in the world if some opportunity presented itself and required me to do so. If I don't have a job in Indy, I cannot really justify staying here. If I do not have another roommate for next school year, I cannot financially justify staying in my apartment.

It is a bit stressful realizing that I only have a few months before I am supposed to have these things figured out. I trust that they will work out somehow, but not knowing what to prepare for and how to prepare myself is unnerving. There are many possibilities of what could happen, but those possibilities are not narrowed down to a point of focus. I don't know what the possibilities are, necessarily, so I don't know where to begin searching and applying myself outside of what obvious opportunities I have already been seeking.

Then there's this dreamer side of me who wants to pursue making my own music. I don't even know what to do with that or how it fits into any part of my future or present life. I have a hard time wanting to really step out in that dream because I have seen a few of my friends take that step, and it has led to some pretty crazy life changes taking place. I am often fearful of taking big risks like that, but if the Lord wills that dream to manifest, I just might start thinking about how it could.

All in all, my life is one I do not have much control over, and I am glad for that because my Father brings me great joy through that relinquishing of power and blesses the things I participate in and the people I interact with. I know that he is faithful, and I know that my next step will be made clear to me at the right timing. Faith is feeling secure in the unknown, and I will continue to practice having faith like that.