Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fully Alive

One of my heroes and role models, Jamie Tworkowski, said the following about birthdays on the TWLOHA blog:

“At the heart of it is the opportunity to tell someone "I'm glad that you were born", which is also to say "I'm glad that you're alive." Those are powerful statements. The world would be a different better place if we lived that way, if we said and showed those things, more than once a year.”

Those words are what made me look at my birthday this year in a different light. Not as a day to mark everything I've lost in the last year, as it had been before, but a way of allowing myself to be reminded that just the fact that I'm alive has meaning.

I guess this birthday was a little more special than the ones before also because I never expected to reach it. Two years ago, if you had said I would make it to be 18, finishing up my freshman year of college, set to be on the Dean's List for the second semester in a row, and working my second “real” job, I would have assumed you had the wrong person. Growing up I always said I wanted to die when I was 16 or 17. I couldn't bear the thought of living with myself for any longer than that. When I was 16, I was very much certain I wanted to die when I was 16. But God had other ideas.

I used to do a lot of asking God “why.” I've seen a lot of friendships crash and break. The story of any human's life is an epic journey, and as on any journey, companions get lost along the way. I've never accepted change easily, and I've definitely never been able to accept losing things. It's still hard, but I don't ask God why anymore. It has been made known to me over and over again that He really does know better than I do – even when I can't see it.

I am told so often that I seem older than I am. I didn't tell anyone at school how old I was until a month or two ago. When people started finding out I was only 17, they were stunned. I was told over and over again that the assumption had been made that I was older than my brother (who is now 20). In fact, the assumption has also been made multiple times over the past few years that I'm older than my older sister (who will be 23 in a month). This used to confuse me. I think I understand it a little better now; I seem older than other people my age not because I'm in any way smarter or “better” than them. I've just lived a little more.

And it wasn't my choice either. I can't take credit for anything I am right now (except for all the ugly pieces, which are most definitely mine). In a sense my life ended almost two years ago, the summer I was 16 – everything else has been, is, and will be, God's. Every single day I wake up breathing because of Him. Without Him there would be nothing.

I wonder some days – most days, actually – how often people realize how much God has done in the past 22 months of my life. When I help patrons at the library, smile at them and tell them to have a good day, sometimes I stop for a moment and have to remind myself “I'm actually saying this. And it's not even scary.” And every time I do that is another victory for God, another sign of His power and grace.

I have distinct memories of a party, almost exactly two years ago, 7 days after my 16th birthday. I remember it because I was standing in a group of about 6 people, and I had to go off alone because I was starting to hyperventilate. That was my typical reaction to being in a group of more than 2 or 3 people. People at school say I need to hang out with people more. They only say that because they don't know who I was or how much God has done with that.

I think people have this funny impression a lot of the time that I'm strong. I find that hilarious. The fact is that I am very human – excruciatingly so. If I appear strong, it's only because I've learned to understand that I hopelessly and completely weak... and that was the first step to allowing God to become my strength. I like to pray and ask God to give me strength, but even more often, I like to pray and ask Him to be my strength.

I guess what I'm trying to say is not about me, but about Him. If nothing else, my life is a picture of brokenness made beautiful through the intense grace and unconditional love of Christ. I emphasize love a lot – if you've been around me or seen pictures of me over the past year, you may have noticed that I almost always have “love” written over my left wrist. I do that for two reasons. One is to remind me that love has claimed me, and love has saved me, and in that love I am secure, safe, and at rest. The other is to remind me to let that same love be the guide in every interaction, every relationship, that I have.

I don't know exactly what I want to do with my life – I just know that whatever it is, it will involve loving people. And it's funny, because I've found people often mean two totally different things when they say “I love people.” They either mean they get high on people, that friendships are where they find meaning and security... or that they pour themselves into others, not because of how it makes them feel, but because of what it is to others. I strive for something closer to the second.

I don't love people in the sense that I go to social gatherings because I enjoy it, or that I hang out with people all the time – that's definitely a part of what I consider to be loving people, but it's more like a side effect than anything else. If you want me to go to a party or even just out for coffee, I'll probably be hesitant (unless I know for certain it will be an encouragement to you in some way). If you want to have a three hour IM conversation talking about pain and frustration and despair, bring it. No one was meant to face the darkness alone. If God can shine through me even just a tiny, broken reflection of His love and His light and His hope, then in that moment my entire being is fulfilled.

That is why I am alive, why I am turning 18 today, why I'm even writing this blog entry: I was made to be loved and to love with my entire being.

I don't do things by halves. If I care about anything at all, I will either love or hate with a consuming passion. I spend a lot of my life striving to move, to really live, to deny apathy its hold.

I have to quote To Write Love On Her Arms again here, because it really encompasses everything I believe in. These next lines summarize my purpose, my identity in Christ, the reason I'm breathing, better than I ever could:

We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love.


We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don't get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won't solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we're called home.”

If you understand nothing else about me, about the story God is working in my life, or even about why I write these blog entries, I want you to understand that. I have failed so many times. I have been lost, I have been broken, I have been frustrated and alone. Fortunately, God's grace finds me where I am over and over again. Sometimes we have to understand just how dark the night is before we can see the beauty of the starlight.

This blog entry is for you, whoever you are, wherever it finds you. It is, in some crazy way, trying to say something that God has been saying for thousands of years: “I love you. Don't you dare give up.”

- Elraen, the Wandering Star -


Joy said...

Raen, this was beautiful. I read it through once, and then had to read it again.

Your passionate love for people has always been the first thing I connect to you as a person. I don't trust online friends easily at all, but for some reason I trust you, and I think it's because you're real. You're earnest. You don't try to hide or disguise your weaknesses, and you don't condemn any one else for theirs. You're one of the most beautiful people I know.

Happy day-after-your-birthday. :)

MangyCat said...

"I like to pray and ask God to give me strength, but even more often, I like to pray and ask Him to be my strength." That is incredibly poignant and absolutely belongs on a t-shirt.

You have an amazing way with words, Elraen. You really do. You should be writing books to encourage young women someday. I mean that. *hugs*

I know this sounds absurd, but it is the impression I got as I was reading this: I feel that God is grooming and equipping you to use your love of people to encourage others as a public speaker. I can totally see you, in 10 years, speaking at the Women of Faith conference to reach out to young women and tell them, "I was there too. I know how you feel. And there IS hope for tomorrow."

Yes, it's probably a frightening prospect. And I could be totally wrong. But I wanted to write it down here so you could read it, and maybe in 10 years, you'll say, "When I was 18, if you told me I would be standing here today, talking to thousands of people, I would have told you that you had the wrong person."

I love you, Elraen. It is an honor knowing you and being a part of your life.