Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reflecting on 2010

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve blogged anything. But, with the new year around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on 2010. If anything, I would say that 2010 was a hard year. But, that’s not to say it wasn’t a good year.
The spring is kind of a blur to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the classes I was taking. I felt like I was gaining useful information—for teaching, for editing, and for grant writing. I got to work on practical projects that were immediately relevant. But by March/April, my relationship with my boss turned sour. I’m still not sure what happened, and it seems like it shouldn’t be that big of a deal—I mean, I have plenty of other encouraging relationships in my life. My husband for one! But it was a big deal. I’ve known I’m a “performer” for some time, but if anything, this year was about seeing performance at its worst. And though it’ll likely be a struggle throughout my life, I think seeing my performance this year has given it a sour taste in my mouth.
I was thinking about each month in the last year. We traveled somewhere (even if not very far) at least once every month. From San Antonio and Ft. Davis to Dallas (several times), family reunion at Lake LBJ, and homecoming in San Angelo, we spent a lot of time in the car! Because our families are kinda spread out in Texas, we spend some time in the car around the holidays too. But I was thinking Monday, as we were making the 6 hour trek home from Killeen, how much I enjoy trips with Hal. Just the two of us. Sometimes we talk (seriously or not), but a lot of times we don’t. We might hold hands and listen to music (to which I often sing :)), but it’s so peaceful. It’s the best quality time we get sometimes.
Obviously, going to Guatemala in May/June was the big trip of the year. It came at a time when I was really down and struggling with work. God showed up so big on that trip, but I don’t think I’d processed it much until this month. He literally saved our lives at a moment when we were in real danger. He showed himself in a very real and tangible way on that trip. You would think, having experienced all of that, my faith would have grown, and I would have come to trust him to take care of anything. I wish I could say that it did.
But instead, I spent the rest of the summer feeling really beaten down. My boss and professor at the time had a way of making me feel really lousy and incompetent. I could not measure up in any way. I could not do “it” right, ever. And on top of that, she criticized my writing—which hurt most of all. Instead of running to the Lord, instead of finding my hope and confidence and my expectation in Him (as I know, deep down, I ought to), I kept looking at my “work” as a measure of myself. And, at the moment, I was falling very short—at least in one person’s opinion. When I failed a project in August, I seriously considered quitting the PhD program. Were it not for the graduate director, I might have.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any days off between summer break and fall semester (though there should have been a good 10 or 12 days of rest in there). When I finally quit my job (the Friday before school started), I was preparing to teach—my first semester to teach two sections of 2311, intro to technical communication. My reading- and writing-intensive theory classes began the following week. And just like that, my crazy semester had begun. I was not prepared for it. Emotionally, I was discouraged. Spiritually, I was weak. Instead of running to the Lord with my hurts, I’d been to “busy” trying to get things in order.
Every hour of my day was filled. I read several hundred pages a week. I wrote several pages a week. I had projects. Research. Dissertation committee choices. Lesson plans. And above all—grading. In 15 weeks, I graded 2,334 pages of students' work—not counting quizzes, homeworks, etc. If anything, that gives a brief glimpse into the last four months of my year. But deep down, I was intensely struggling.
Of all semesters, this was the semester to take one class in particular that had a way of subtly denouncing Christianity in almost every class. We studied post-modernism, and I got to hear about why religion was socially constructed and a cultural phenomenon, why God was dead—as Nietzsche had put it. Nearly every day the professor had a way of squeezing politics into the classroom. Praising Obama for this or that, criticizing republicans for every (so-called) failure America has faced in the last few years. Praising Islamics despite the persecution they faced as minorities, but criticizing Christians for being intolerant. At the end of every class period, I was becoming less and less proud to call myself a Christian. It did not help that I had pushed myself very far away from God, becoming more prideful than ever and, especially, bitter over the way things had turned out that summer.
I was almost 6 weeks into the semester before I confessed to Hal how much I was truly struggling. It was the worst “Christian” thing to say out loud, and I knew it. But I was beginning to wonder—what if Christianity really is a socially-constructed thing? The Bible was written by men. Historically, we know things aren’t always recorded as they actually were. What if it’s all a big joke in the end, and everyone else is right? Crying at our kitchen table, I told him I needed proof that God was real (note: as if Guatemala wasn’t enough). And I needed to be able to defend Him because right now, I couldn’t even defend myself, much less what I believed in.
To those who are reading (and likely surprised), I don’t want to give the impression of complete disbelief. It wasn’t that far. The problem was I knew I had experienced God on a deep and personal level. He saved me. He walked me through forgiveness. He healed me. He restored me. But my emotional experiences wouldn’t stand up in “court” as a defense of anything. My real struggle was that I wanted to be able to “prove” that God existed, and I couldn’t find a solid, logical, reasonable argument to make—at a time when the counterarguments seemed pretty reasonable.
Hal, in his precious, patient way, said very little except that he understood, that he didn’t judge me (my biggest fear of all), and that he would be praying. And though I recognized the significance of it more and more in the weeks to come—Hal shared with me a passage God had given him to pray over me. At the time, he thought it was odd that God would tell him that. Once I shared my struggles, it made all the sense in the world. And in the weeks to come, I was humbled and in awe that God would care about me enough to whisper what I needed to hear to Hal—just to show me He was real. (The passage was 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25. Read it. You’ll see why it was the first step to answering my “prove it” question.)
And in response to God’s message for me—I had one thing to say. If you’re real, prove it. Deep in my heart, He quietly gave me my favorite verse of all time, the verse I had etched on my very first bible after I was saved: Jeremiah 29:13. God said to me: Seek me. I am confident you’ll find me. That was in September. I wish I could say I sought him all weekend, and by Sunday, I could laugh at myself for having ever doubted. But instead, I didn’t take much time to seek him at all. I had school. And work. And grading. When would I seek him?
Instead of being filled with His strength, the semester was draining. I was running on empty when the gas light had been on for quite some time. Going to church was so difficult. Not because I don’t love my church or the people there. If anything, that’s what kept me going. But I felt like such a hypocrite. I’m a Sunday-morning greeter and a college ministry leader—not someone who should be struggling with the basic foundation of my faith. I was as ashamed of my doubting as anything—not something I felt like confessing to even my closest friends or family. Apart from Hal and Erika, I tried to pretend things were “business as usual.” But deep down, I was miserable.
In October, I decided to read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I’d never read it, had no clue what it was about, but felt like God had put it on my heart. I waited nearly a week to buy it. I’d try to read some of C.S. Lewis before, but I got bogged down in his complex sentence constructions and big words. What if it didn’t make sense to me? When I finally broke down and bought it at Barnes and Noble, I couldn’t put it down. I read almost half the book in one setting (it took a little longer to read the second half once the end of school business picked up). I soaked everything in—especially the logical way he structured his arguments, the way he used analogies to prove the existence of something and later the existence of God.
But the end of October, November, and first week of December are a blur. I regret to say that I spent weeks not seeking God at all. But He never stopped seeking me. And most importantly, He never stopped proving himself to me, even when I stopped asking him to. He met me again, in our office one morning as I’d just put the last few touches on one of my finals for class. I emailed the final to the professor, and sat back in my chair, stretching, thinking that I was more than halfway done with the “final” things to do for coursework. And that’s when it hit me. I was going to make it. There were moments in September and October that I literally didn’t think I would finish. Not for lack of effort, but for lack of hours in a day, days in a week, etc. With all the plates I had spinning, I genuinely wasn’t sure it would be finished on time. I’d considered seriously asking for an incomplete in more than one course. And here I was, almost done. The worst was over. I was coasting to the finished line.
For the first time in months, I cried. A lot. I hadn’t sought God for help, like I usually would at the busy time of the semester. Of all semesters, this semester seemed particularly wrong to do that. I’d spent most of the semester doubting him, then to make last minute “requests” seemed unfair. That wasn’t the relationship I wanted with him. And most importantly, that wasn’t who he was. He’s not a genie who fulfills “wishes.” I’ve recently started reading W.’s book, Decision Points, and one of his statements says this so perfectly: “The center of Christianity is not the self. It is Christ.” I realized that day, I was tired of having a relationship with God that was all about me and never about him. I don’t know when it got to be that way; it hadn’t always been so self-seeking.
But the point was I hadn’t asked God to help me—perhaps out of pride, perhaps for fear of selfishness. In either case, that morning I was overwhelmed to think that He had helped me. I knew better than to think that I had made it through the semester on my own. I hadn’t. Not for one second. And the beautiful thing was He had carried me, even when I didn’t know it. I remember jokingly saying a few months ago that if I could finish this semester, it would be a miracle. And there I was--about to finish. He had "proven" himself to me.
That day—in the middle of needing to finish my “lists”—I wrote out what I think is a fairly good argument for God’s existence, one that hopes to turn post-modernism on itself. I felt better after that. But the most important thing I learned that day seems so obvious now: I can’t prove God exists. If I could, believing in Him wouldn’t require faith. I thought about all the things God has brought me through in my lifetime (which, yes, is not that long). I thought about all the prayers He had answered. The times He had spoken to me. The times He had spoken to me for someone else, and been “right on.” And I decided—that was enough. Maybe it was more emotional than logical. Maybe it was more enthymemic than analytic logic. But it worked for me. For the first time in months, I was satisfied. God had proven himself faithful when I was unfaithful. And I had found him, even without much seeking, because He was there all along.
So, that is my year. A difficult year indeed. But looking back, it was so necessary for me to experience everything, to walk the tight line of faith and doubt, because for once I feel confident that I could defend my relationship with God. And, more importantly, I feel at peace knowing I don’t have to defend my God to anyone. He can defend himself. In the end, it comes down to choice. I’ve made my choice. I made it a long time ago. And now, having questioned it and tested it, I still choose Him. And I’m more thankful than ever that He chose me long ago.
If you made it to the end of this post—which I apologize, is quite long—then you’ve read one of the most open, vulnerable things I’ve ever written. I knew when I posted it that it was a raw picture of myself. But I felt the need to share it anyway. I’m not ashamed that I doubted anymore because God’s not ashamed of it either. And I hope that my 2010 journey will encourage others to question what they believe in, to really test it until you know it’s true, until you’re confident in it again. I encourage others to guard yourself with believers who will support you and pray for you. I know Hal and Erika’s prayers of protection allowed me to doubt without being swept away by the enemy. And I encourage you to pursue a relationship with God that’s two-sided again—a relationship where you can talk to him for an hour without making it about yourself for even one minute. That’s the direction I hope to be headed in as we begin a new year.
I want to close with another quote from W. that I read a couple days ago. To me, it’s a very powerful statement—especially that proving God cannot be the standard of our belief. Wow.

"If you haven't ever doubted, you haven't thought very hard about what you believe. Ultimately, faith is a walk - a journey toward greater understanding. It's not possible to prove that God exists, but that cannot be the standard for belief. After all, it's equally impossible to prove that He doesn't exist. In the end, whether you believe or don't believe, your position is based on faith."