I’ve been quite melancholy the last few days, and trying to figure out why. Maybe it’s because Christmas reminds me how painful family is. I want to fix my family, but I can’t. So I want to love them, but I don’t know how. And it’s so broken now. I picture my sisters on the swing set and trampoline outside, living the glorious, American childhood dream our parents managed to provide. I remember playing dolls in the basement for endless hours, pilfering bits and pieces from all over the house for our elaborate doll houses. I recall the intricate societies we built out of sticks and stones outside, and Legos and waffle blocks inside. It was always less about the toys than it was about our unified creativity, about the characters and stories we created. Our fights about who should play the lead role in our production of Sleeping Beauty or whether Lego “trades” were permanent sound so refreshing now that family feuds are more serious.
When I was in middle school my parents went through an odd PDA phase where they would playfully kiss or cuddle. I hated it then, but now I wish I could go back and delight in even the façade of happiness. I wish they didn’t live in different houses, but at the same time I don’t wish things would’ve stayed status quo. That would have been even more painful for everyone involved.
So I was already feeling this after Christmas and then I watched P.S. I Love You with Anele, Elli, and Lauren Dakters. I cried several times during as I contemplated Neil dying, but in the solitude of my car on the drive home I melted into a soggy mess. I’m uptight and mean like the Holly character in the movie, and Neil is my adoring, light-hearted husband. What would I regret? Next I started worrying about if one of my parents or siblings died. Would I feel guilty? From there I moved into fears I never even thought to worry about before: what if Diana died? And I went on and on until I got home and sobbed my eyes out to Neil, who was compassionate and comforting as usual.
Perhaps another factor in my recent grumpiness is that I hate New Year’s Eve. The whole holiday revolves around staying up late, one of my least favorite activities. Night is not my best time of day. In the morning I find it much easier to be upbeat and optimistic; after all, nothing bad has happened yet. But at night I get negative and depressed. I also hate being cold which is the main event at First Night. I know I’m just being a whiner but I feel compelled to put it out there. So there it is. But I am going to try to have a good time. I bought a new coat today with some Christmas gift card/cash action. I wasn’t planning a nap as part of my preparations but after all the sobbing exacted from me today that might be in order, too.
But rather than whine all day, I want to consider 2008 from a spiritual standpoint. So much happened, but did I grow? Here’s what happened:
I lost my friend and disciple of five years, Jen. It was very sad and hurtful to her lose her to such a bad situation. I know I made some mistakes with her but I really experienced God’s grace throughout the six-month drama leading up to her departure. I learned to be bolder when speaking the truth in love. Also, I learned to persevere and love people with hope but without expectation–or at least, fewer expectations. Apparently she got married last Saturday. I’m not sure what to feel. Scared for her? Angry? Sad? Hurt? Mostly I feel sad for the life of pain she’s in for. He always tormented her and I’m sure he still does. But she made her bed and she was warned. So I don’t feel responsibility or regret. I did and said all I could by the end.
I started applying what God taught me from Jen as Yana struggled spiritually. Now I had more zeal for her well-being and was more willing to be uncomfortable when it was necessary to love her well. When she slipped away, with much less drama than Jen, it was very heart-wrenching. And I wondered what was wrong with me, especially because I tried so hard not to make the same mistakes that I did with Jen. Again, God showed me his grace. It’s not about what I did or didn’t do. She too made her choice. But we still talk and I keep praying she will come back.
Love ethics class taught me so much about how love works. I was so frustrated with it at first because I was confronted with my inability to love. But by the end of the class I was convicted to take the steps God showed me, and it has definitely made a difference in my relationships, especially with my family. It’s still very confusing and a source of much pain, but I’m not going to give up. And I need God’s grace for all the mistakes I make with them.
South Street after school program also taught me much about failure. It is so hard to know how to love, discipline, and teach inner city kids! My experience teaching rich high school kids didn’t help as much as I’d hoped. But I learned compassion, humility, and gratitude from serving there. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so much in my life as when we started running two days on our own last year! Now that we’ve had two weeks off for the holidays I really miss those kids.
After all this failure I was depending on God more than ever, but then He threw me a curve-ball: leading in Word. While I’d served there before, I was working with goody-goody girls from other churches. This time I felt like I was getting thrown to the lions in a cell group of emotionally needy, unstable “mean girls”–with a few exceptions. Even as God provided other leaders–super-capable Carrie and super-fun Michelle–I knew failure was probable. With a mixture of fear and hope, I started hanging with Shelby and discipling Anele, Chloe, and Shelly. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing everything wrong. But then I remember that’s not what it’s about, and God can use my efforts under His grace.
Perspectives also changed me spiritually. It gave me a new conviction for the world, for those who couldn’t hear the gospel if they wanted to, who often live in such squalor while we have so much. And it changed my view of God as I learned more about His compassion for all people and the powerful ways He’s working around the world. Asking if we (Neil and I) should “go” is scary, but I want to be open to whatever God has for us. I hope what we’re doing now can prepare us to serve in another country. Interestingly, the Gibsons said that one of the most important qualities for missionaries is the ability to deal with failure and keep going. So maybe that’s what God’s got up his sleeve for me.