Friday, April 27, 2012

Living in the In-betweens

A few weeks ago, my Greek class went out for coffee. Instead of the usual hour of wrestling with textual variants and translations, we spent time in conversation. As I enjoyed the usual rush of caffeine while watched my longtime classmates interact, I felt a deep, bittersweet ache: I am going to miss them.

I have realized that more and more, this school year. As most of you who have talked to me know, my placement at my University is far from ideal. There have been a lot of really bitter struggles in my time at LeTourneau, enough so that it used to make me feel incredibly trapped and sometimes angry. I eventually burned myself out, but I found grace when I let the ashes cool. And then somehow I began to be given blessings.

It is an odd kind of ache to be given blessings but to only experience them in part. There are finally people who I feel comfortable having conversations with. There are classes I enjoy. There are professors who have shown me unbelievable amounts of kindness. But I still don’t get to spend any time with people outside of the class setting. I don’t get to study most things I’m passionate about, the things that make my heart come alive, the things I would have chosen to study. I am still busy beyond the breaking point and so limited in how much I can do.

So I have these things in part, and I have just begun to have them, and now they are about to be taken away. I will graduate and move on just as I had finally begun to find safe places at school. And that is hard. The temptation is to be angry and bitter again, to let myself turn a hardened heart to my environment. It would make it easier to leave.

A hardened heart is not an option. And since it is not an option, I have to choose: I can either let myself mourn what I’m losing and what I never had, or I can embrace what I do have and choose to offer thanks for each moment, even with the bitter edge of regret. Yes, my world is changing. I will lose my stable workplace and my classmates and my professors and my life with my family. But I can’t cut my heartstrings loose, even when they are stretched nearly to breaking. Love requires a softer heart. Love requires me to keep my heart open, and grace requires me to keep my hands open to whatever I am given.

I think we get this idea that the fact we’re going to lose something means we shouldn’t ever really take hold of it at all. I see this attitude in relationships all the time (including in my own life almost constantly). If we convince ourselves that we’re going to lose people, that the relationship is really only temporary and it’s going to come to an end sooner rather than later, we can use it as an excuse to lock ourselves up. It becomes a reason for detachment, or fear. The problem is, you can’t love anyone that way. If you’ve put yourself in a room and closed and locked everyone on the other side of the door, how will you be able to get through the walls to give them something? For that matter, how will they be able to give you anything?

So how do we live now, in this tension, in these awkward in-betweens when we know losing something is a possibility or even a reality, when these days and hours can’t last? The conclusion I have reached as I face change, and losing things, and trying to get past regret, is the same conclusion I began to reach a year ago: we have to spend more time being thankful for what we have than regretting what we don’t. Yes, these things will soon be changed, but that doesn’t lessen in any way the value of what I have now. I have been given some incredible classmates and professors and classes and coworkers. I have found kindness this past year in places I never would have hoped for. I am certainly not going to be so ungrateful as to turn a hard heart to that now just because I’m losing it.

I think we are called to live in this gratitude, even when it’s not the easiest road. As I live these last days of college and say goodbyes and remember, I am trying so hard to have the grace to say thank you more often than anything else. This is a part of living fully alive... this grateful acceptance even in the face of loss.

I am going to miss my school. Not because it was in any way an ideal or an easy experience, but because I have received so many undeserved blessings in so many unexpected places from so many people. I am not going to let the reality of coming separation deny me the moments I have. I am so tired, but I am so grateful. And on the day of graduation, my prayer is that my gratitude will be greater than my regret.

- Elraen -

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Still Breathing: 21

I think that we human hearts want milestones. We like to have a road marker where we can stand and look back, mentally flipping through the pages of our story thus far, reviewing the highs and flinching as the lows come back to light. Sometimes I think that it can be unhealthy, if we look too intently for too long. Other times I think it can be helpful.

They tell me that 21 means that I will be an adult. My driver’s license will lose the “under 21” caution, my insurance will change, I’ll have more choices opened up to me, and (most importantly for me) I’ll never again get my hands marked with big black sharpie Xs at club shows. And maybe it is fitting that I take on this new status in society so soon before I graduate from college and move out on my own for the first time. I am, in simple terms, labeled as “grown up.”

And yet, this birthday of all birthdays, I feel like life is incredibly fragile. I feel no self-assured acceptance of this new status, no looking back and feeling like the world is finally starting to make sense. In fact, in some ways-- in many ways-- I feel like I am still a 16-year-old trapped in 21-year-old skin.

I have had so much to reflect on lately-- maybe too much. As I get ready to graduate college I look back over my years here. As I get ready to move away from Texas I have a whole lifetime here to reflect on. And as I prepare to move away from my family I have so many relationships to think back on and analyze and pick apart. The result is inevitable for me: regret. I look at the person I have been and the days that were wasted and I wonder if it could have been different. I ask myself over and over again “did I love well?” Often, the only answer my past has to offer me is an uncomfortable silence. My life embarasses me. It’s embarrassing because I could have done so much more and yet I haven’t, and it’s embarrassing because I seem to be so incapable of moving on anyway.

A little over two years ago, a friend of mine stood on stage at a concert and screamed out into a dark, crowded room “if you woke up this morning and you were breathing, then that means that God is not finished with you yet, and He has a purpose for your life. He's not done yet!” It’s a simple thought that I have remembered often. I do not believe that any life is a mistake or chance or coincidence. My life has a purpose beyond myself. And if that is the case, then it’s not a mistake or a coincidence that I wake up still breathing on the morning that marks 21 years since I first drew in this tired air. My mistakes and my regrets haven’t disqualified me yet. We’re only getting started.

There may be times when the air tastes awfully bitter every morning. There are times when I am asked to leave things behind, times when I am asked to bow in obedience to suffering, times when I am called to sacrifice. There will be many of these times. I am only a story barely begun. But the reality I am having to learn to cling to as I survey this narrative of my life is that none of that is the whole picture. Essentially, the imperfect is not the end. I can be little more than a soul-sick cynic at times, but this cynic still believes in the light at the end of the tunnel.

I don’t know yet why I was born or what I am meant to do. I’ve come up with a lot of answers to those questions over my lifetime, but I am continually finding that it is better to live with the questions open than to try to force my own answers. One step at a time, I learn more of love, of hope, of faith. One step at a time, I wake up and see another chance. I may not really know who I am yet or why I have lived my story, but I believe wholeheartedly that it will be worthwhile. Our lives are miracles. We hear them like whispers when they should be screaming like the most piercing song ever sung. I am still breathing. This is a miracle. I get to know you, to write words you will read and maybe even connect to-- this is a miracle. There is beauty still.

Maybe this is all to say that I am hopeful. More hopeful than I ever have been on my birthday, I think, since it is usually the day where I choose to focus in on a new year’s worth of failures. I am not denying that I fail-- I fail to love, I fail to be faithful, I fail to hope, I fail to recognize joy. What I’m beginning to focus on is not that I do not fail, but rather that failure is not all there is. There is breath in my lungs. There is reason to believe that God is not finished writing my story.

For those of you reading this, thank you for being part of my story. Thank you for sticking around through some of the more confusing chapters. Thank you for offering me kindness and grace.

21 might not really mean that I’ve got my life together or that I’m all the way “grown up.” But it does mean that I’ve made it through another year, and maybe if I’ve come this far, there is hope for the days to come...

- Elraen -