You know, I think there must be something about me that causes the universe to have a small stroke. Or at least twitch a little. Uncomfortably.
Because when normal people talk to five year old girls they discuss Barbie dolls and hide and go seek, when little girls talk to me, they change the subject to zombies. I don’t mean mentioning them in passing either. I mean telling me how to become a zombie and what noises to make when I become one. Also, anacondas and worms are great conversation starters, apparently.
Normal people don’t have forty five minute conversations with the repairman who came to change a lightbulb. He was quite nice by the way, he taught me how to work the breaker in my house and wanted to be assured of my safety.
While I was writing this, my roommate brought me the bubble wrap she’d been saving for me. That’s probably not normal either.
Normal people probably don’t become friends with people they’ve never met because of a business email. Or because they’re crossing the street. Or because they’re failing miserably to stuff a dollar into the self checkout at Kroger.
They also probably don’t obsess about going to the zoo or Google if Macy’s Christmas elves have height requirements. Particularly not in August.
Maybe it’s because popping bubble wrap is very therapeutic right now, but I have to say that all of my life’s dysfunction is worth God making me laugh.
You know, I’ve tried not to make any bold claims about my life in the past five months, but I’m procrastinating homework, and I think it’s time. God’s been working a lot in my life lately through a series of events that I could hardly describe as ideal. I’ve been really confused and hurt and have cried so hard I laughed and laughed so hard I wept.
But, let’s skip ahead to the important part of this: What does all of that get you?
Loving people isn’t easy, it’s actually really hard. Things happen, you know. People make decisions that you don’t approve of. They hurt each other, they hurt you. They mess up really bad and sometimes they don’t even say they’re sorry. When you love your friends, or your mom, or your significant other, you expect to be loved in return to a certain extent that you’ve pre-established without even knowing it. When you’re a perfectionist like I’ll admit that I am, those expectations can be pretty high. And the more you love people, and invest in them, the more it hurts when those expectations aren’t met. Sometimes they leave forever, sometimes they exhaust us, sometimes they even try really hard to talk us out of loving them. This isn’t a bad thing. Perfectionism just means you know that there’s better out there, and there is.
There’s no way for people to 100 percent meet our expectations all of the time. This doesn’t mean that we can’t love them. It just means that they’re just as flawed as you and me, right? If Jesus can die for us, people that mess up over and over and over again, then can’t you at least love the people that sometimes get in the way of the plans we make? Call them our friends, our family? To revisit my last point, it’s not going to be easy. I really like a line that Paul uses to the Corinthians. “If I love you more, will you love me less?” We act like that’s the outcome a lot of the time. I’ve been really distressed and worried and upset over the past 4 months, and I’ve been asked multiple times by multiple people why I don’t just cut the people that hurt me out of my life. And I’ve weighed it heavily. But, when I tried it, it didn’t provide the relief I thought it would. Loving people and hurting at the same time is really difficult. Loving people and healing is filled with abundant hope. Why, you ask?
If people fail to meet expectations, it’s safe to say that God always exceeds them. Remember when I said perfectionism was a sign that you know that there’s better out there? Well, this is it. People mess up, they have flaws. We scrape like sandpaper against each other, wearing each other down, leaving raw patches and scrapes and sometimes even scars. But, we have this overwhelming tendency to make things really small. We want to live our lives in this safe little box, right? Because that’s where we’re comfortable. And when other people mess up the lines of our box, sometimes even completely obliterate the box, we get really upset. It’s like our world is falling apart. Because it is. Our LIFE is the box. But, it’s really a cool moment when you figure out that the sky isn’t really falling, that we’re dwelling on one tiny piece of a much larger picture. We’re the ones making our lives small. Our life isn’t really the box at all. We aren’t boxes. We just made that up because it seemed like we should. Because of this, we lose hope really easily, and it can seem that God is leaving you alone on this one. But, maybe He’s just trying to get you to zoom out a little bit. He has so many more plans for you than you have for yourself. And they’re probably bigger than you think, too. And to be honest, they’re probably going to require a lot of work on your part. But, think about it. Jesus didn’t come to Earth to take a great vacation— he was tempted, he grew weary and overburdened, he was sad sometimes, and angry too. He came to reflect God’s light on the world. And I want to do that too, because God always exceeds expectations. He loves us enough that He was willing to suffer for us by allowing His only son to die on the cross. Did anyone expect Jesus to save the whole world? No, not really. I certainly can’t say that I was worth his death. So, what does that give me? Yet another piece of proof that God is way too big for my box. It’s pretty much impossible to stay hurt forever since I know that God’s love is so much bigger than my hurt. He really, really, no-faking-it loves us.
If God suffered because He loves me, shouldn’t I expect to suffer because I love others? Isn’t that something I want? Jesus didn’t run away when things got rough. Sure, he prayed for rescue. Sure, he wanted out. Don’t we all sometimes? Don’t our prayers all get a little desperate when the going gets rough? Hope isn’t something that’s lost forever. Expecting to be permanently hopeful and happy is missing half the story. Even the most optimistic among us give up hopes every now and again. Even Jesus cried. There has to be death before resurrection. However, just because a bird lands, doesn’t mean it can’t fly again. Sorry if that’s kind of a weird metaphor, but that’s the best way I can think to explain it.
Hope finds new energy after a period of disappearance, of death. And it’s in this way God can carefully point out that there’s so much more than we thought was in store. And because of that, we can all continue to love in our imperfect way. Imperfect love hurts, and by itself, that isn’t enough. Perfect love is perfect. And our imperfect human love is very much an earthly reflection of the perfect love that we can only get from God. We need both to get by. However, one leads to hope and one leads to death. Add them together, and what do you get? Death and hope. Isn’t it cool how love can mirror the resurrection? It’s how I know that giving my own flawed, imperfect love is worth it, even when it’s hard and I see no tangible benefits. Even when I want out, when I really don’t want to. It’s how God knows that I’m not just in this for me, and it’s how I know that I’m not in this without Him.
Sure, sometimes the way that you love people changes. Some people I’m loving by not leaving when that’s really what I want to do. Some people I’m loving right now by staying out of the way, by letting them make the discovery themselves. But, I still love them and want more for them than they want for themselves right now. Just like God has done for me, as I stumble into messes that are much more elaborate than I could ever imagine going in. And I pray that their life lights up as much as mine has when they figure it out.
I’ll use a phrase that I’ve used many a time to explain my emotional state in the past 5 months. It’s complicated.
"No one said it would be easy, but no one said that it would be this hard." -The Scientist, Coldplay
"You’re 19 years old, in some cultures you would have been married by four or five kids with this point, I think you can make a judgment call about ice cream." -Mom, trying to coax me into ice cream before dinner
I don’t know when I became a senior citizen.
Really, I have no idea. But, it’s happened, and I’m not exactly fighting it. Last night I was asleep at 10 PM. I’ve started napping during the day. And suddenly, my idea of a good time is a movie in the mid-afternoon and a cup of coffee with one or two close friends. It’s terrifying, really. I suppose it all started with my love of car rides, but somewhere in the span of this last three months or so, I’ve plunged off the cliff of safe predictability to become the most safe, the most predictable. I feel like there’s probably no turning back. I can only imagine what this new development means for my future. I’M NOT EVEN TWENTY YET. This is all very unsettling.
Literally the calm before the storm. There was a thud above me just now that sounded more than a little like the roof was fixing to peel back. But, it’s also the Sunday before dead week. So, it’s about to get real. But, right now I’m listening to some very chill Simon and Garfunkel in a study room, just me and my laptop and Vanilla Biscotti in the new coffee cup that I got for Christmas. Life isn’t looking so rough right now. I’m sure it’ll be more stressful later, but I’m glad that there are these moments. It’s so funny how many times it’s seemed like I’m in the eye of the storm this semester. But, I’d much rather be in the eye of the storm than in the fray, so I’m definitely not complaining. I’d say it makes it a lot easier to work under the pressure. It’s definitely something that’s out of my hands, of course, but it’s an easy reminder of how much God has been taking care of me, difficult as this semester has been.
"So, now you have two rules:
1. Don’t mess with the Russian Mafia.
2. Don’t go to a coup d’état.”
I’m coming to appreciate all of the highly entertaining, albeit strange things that take place in my life at any given point in time. Without them, where would I be? So, I’m thankful for a mom that only gives me two rules. I’m thankful for a brother that gives me Christmas presents in November and that changes his Twitter profile photo to a picture of us trying on sunglasses on vacation three years ago. I’m thankful for two dogs that fight over the same toy when they both have one. I’m thankful for a dad that says he doesn’t want to talk to me on the phone. I’m thankful for great friends that have no problem with back-sassing me, even on Thanksgiving Day. I’m thankful that my friends realize that sometimes I just need to be back-sassed. I’m thankful for having an accountability partner to keep me in line in so many ways. I’m thankful for having a roommate that listens to bedtime stories with me every night. I’m thankful for having the rarest personality type. I’m thankful for grace, I certainly need it badly enough. I’m thankful for all of the great role models in my life. I’m thankful for Italian food. I’m thankful for my family’s Kitchen-Aid mixer. I’m thankful for all the work that God has done and will do on me and through me. I’m thankful for adventure. I’m thankful for unconditional love. I’m thankful for good books. I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend all day yesterday catching up on the last season of Covert Affairs. I’m thankful for the one-year-old that cried when I left Thanksgiving lunch. I’m thankful that love does. I’m thankful that my dog is sleeping on my right arm right now. I’m thankful that I don’t have to have it all together. I’m thankful that my friends don’t think I’m really weird even though I have an ukulele, sometimes don’t feel like texting in English, and collect animal sweaters. I’m thankful that canned cranberry sauce is forever shrouded in mystery.
I’m sure there’s plenty more, but that’s a good start, I think.
Christians: there are some of you, there are some of you who don’t open up to people because you’re afraid that if someone really sees you, all the way down inside, at best they’ll yawn, at worst they’ll flee. But don’t you see? Jesus Christ did not say, ‘I’ve been looking at you, and I’ve decided you’re worthy of being my friends.’ That’s not what He says. He says, ‘I have chosen you.’
'You did not choose me,' He said. 'I have chosen you to be my friend. I have laid down my life, simply because I love you.'
… Jesus Christ says to His disciples at the garden, He says, ‘Will you please stay awake with me for one hour? I’m about to die, I’m under such pressure.’ Isn’t that a normal thing? Somebody calls you up and says, ‘I’m having the worst night of my life, if you’re my friend, why don’t you come over and just sit with me? I don’t know what’s gonna happen, I think I’m gonna die.’ So, you run over, you sit down on the couch the person starts to pour his heart out for you and you promptly go to sleep. What kind of friend is that?
In the garden, remember the three disciples? Jesus says just stay awake for me and pray for me and they instantly fall asleep. That’s a picture of you and me. The reason that Jesus Christ is a good friend to you and me is not because we’re good friends. He loves you not because you’re perfect, but because He’s perfect.