Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Olivia, uncensored

Disclaimer: this post is going to shock a lot of people. Maybe even offend some. It’s not meant to be dramatic; it’s just my real life and my attempt to live honestly and be humbly transparent about my walk with Jesus.

I have given my testimony twice. In both cases it was a real struggle to tell the story of how God has worked in my life, because I felt like I couldn’t see God’s hand through most of it. So it seems like a godless story with no good ending.

But my dear friend Carolyn spoke some true encouragement to me. She said the amazing part of my story is that I’m still here. I still stubbornly, obstinately believe, despite a life filled with doubts and questions about my most basic nature. Somehow, through periods of wanting to give up on Jesus, wanting to cast off all the teachings of Christianity and just let my conscience be my guide, Jesus hasn’t given up on me.

The most powerful verses in all of scripture for me are Romans 8:38-39. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In fact the whole of Romans 8 is especially encouraging to those who feel lost and defeated in the Christian fight. It’s quickly becoming my favorite passage in scripture.

On Sunday at church Pastor Rob spoke about singleness and how to view it as a gift and not a curse. Amazingly enough, this is actually not one of my top struggles right now, even though I have been single all my life and often longed for some kind of intimate relationship. I enjoy being single, because I think through not having a commitment to one person above all the other people, I’m able to better serve more people.
I am pretty content with being single to the point that I sometimes think about whether I’m supposed to be single my whole life. It doesn’t scare me as much as I would think. But I also am learning not to try to predict the future in my life. I’m obviously supposed to be single right now, since the right person is clearly not in my life, and I’m happy with that, so that’s all that I need to worry about now, rather than borrowing trouble from my future. That’s just fear, and I’m learning to not live in fear.

But despite all that, this week has been a real struggle. I question what my purpose is in being in Dayton, and in life in general. I don’t feel like I’m making enough of a difference. And as I’ve been owning up to one particular struggle with some of my friends, the devil has been seizing opportunities to steer me off the path of following Christ.

I am primarily attracted to women. This is news to a lot of people, and is a secret I’ve been carrying around for a couple years, letting it eat away at me. Some people have discouraged me from talking about it, or ‘coming out,’ because they think this is a temporary phase that I will get over if I don’t think about it or talk about it too much. Well I’ve tried that approach, and let me tell you, all that leads to is self-loathing. It cultivates this destructive feeling that there’s a part of you that’s too shameful and scary to admit, or to even think about. And it has caused me to ask God, over and over, “Why would you create me to be something that you loathe, if that’s really the case?”

What makes this struggle even more complicated for me is that I’m not exclusively attracted to women. I’ve had some foolish make-out sessions with some guys and hated every second of them, but I do appreciate male beauty and find that part of me craves a stable male-female family dynamic in that hazy future possibility where I’m married and raising children. I don’t know how I would ever get to that future from where I am now, because getting close to men is really hard for me. I have trouble trusting them, partly because I tend to assume they’re really only paying attention to me because of my double D-cup breasts. However, there are some wonderful men in my life who are showing me that this is not the case and is in fact me sinning by pinning a pretty heinous prejudice on them that’s completely undeserved. To those men, I’m really thankful for you, and I’m really sorry for judging you in that way.  But getting back to the point, I do recognize in myself some kind of desire to be with a man, and while it’s weaker and completely contradictory to my desire to be with a woman, it’s valid, and denying it is just as damaging to my soul as denying the female attraction has been.

I spent the week wondering, “What if none of it matters?” which is a scary thought for anyone, and is often discouraged by Christians. But I value every question that my mind wants to ask. If I stuff down questions, especially the weightiest ones, my faith will become superficial. But I’ve been struggling more this week than any I can remember with a desire for sex. Yes I still want to be single, but I’ve been distracted by a desire for intimacy with a girl. I know I couldn’t justify a random hookup with a girl, or a casual encounter with one of my current girlfriends, but my body has been craving it so strongly. I actually want to have a moment of weakness so that I can fulfill these desires, and then deal with the aftermath of my violated conscience later. Because part of me wants to explore that life and see if I can prove everyone wrong, that God doesn’t care if I follow that path. Because maybe none of it matters anyway, right? This is temptation, and the scariest part is the way it has entered my dreams.

Last week I had an intensely vivid dream about kissing a girl that was so real that I can still feel everything I felt in the dream. And the complete implausibility of the situation doesn’t do anything to shake its hold on me. When Satan invades your dreams, he’s out for blood. The scene ran through my head, and really my whole body, nonstop for the next three days, throwing my soul into intense confusion about where my allegiance lies.

Do I follow God or do I follow these deep, controlling, unmet desires? That doesn’t sound like too much of a dilemma when you step back from it. Duh, follow God. But what if the teachings about God’s view of same-sex relationships have been all skewed by sin and prejudice and hatred of anything different, so you’re not even sure what following God looks like in this situation? This next statement will make some people mad, but the thing is, much of the church’s position and attitude toward gay relationships have been so polluted by hate that it’s hard to see any God in them. I’ve struggled with taking a stand on this issue for years now, and I truly do not know what God wants for gay people, but I know it’s not a life of self-loathing, which is a cancer created almost entirely by the doctrine of hatred and exaggeration and misinformation that has been preached from church pulpits and church-backed organizations for decades.

So last week was hard. There have been a lot of conflicting thoughts, desires, fears and beliefs waging war inside my soul. Also my uterus staged a coup and overthrew all my internal organs on Wednesday, so that didn’t help.

But I suppose the good news is, I came out on the other side of a week of constant temptation, and while I let a lot of fantasies play out for too long, I did not act out in any way of which I can be ashamed. And on Sunday I made a decision.

I like to think I can make difficult decisions once and then live them out without any trouble forever after that. I think the conversion moment is sometimes falsely presented as that. “Ask Jesus into your heart and the rest is easy.” But the decision to follow Christ is a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment battle.

“Then (Jesus) said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” Luke 9:23.

There’s two ways to look at that. One says, “Well dang, my act of obedience this moment isn’t worth much since I’m going to face the same temptation again in five minutes.” The other recognizes the second half of that statement, but also rejoices that every time you deny temptation, that is evidence of God working mightily in you. For someone who has struggled to see any trace of God working in her life for the past 21 years, those are powerful words. If I was tempted 48 times today and each time turned away, God was with me 48 times today giving Satan and his lies an ass whooping never to be forgotten. I’m really thankful for that.

But where does that leave me? I can’t in good conscience accept everything that is preached about gay relationships from the traditional biblical perspective right now, even when they are finally stripped of the hate that has clouded the intended message. It’s not a satisfying answer for me when I try to apply universally to my other gay friends this idea that all gay people are called to involuntary celibacy all their lives. However the defenses of gay relationships leave me with a lot of questions as well, because while I agree with the logic point-by-point, I wonder what other kinds of things could be justified by that same logic.

I have felt paralyzed by this fence-straddling position for so long. In fact it is really the tear that almost completely unraveled my faith over the last year. I’ve spent hours crying out to God to please give me an answer on either side so I could move on from this state of limbo, and heard nothing from Him. I questioned every spiritual experience I had ever had, wondering if it was all a meaningless emotional high. I wanted to know what faith was, because I couldn’t define it in any real terms linked to my own experience. I knew it wasn’t just constantly being on an emotional spiritual high, and I knew it wasn’t just a matter of having enough facts to back up claims. It was something stable that tied those two together, but didn’t depend on moods to make it feel real.

I’ve chronicled my journey of discovering what faith is for the past eight months on this blog. The part I haven’t included, mostly out of self-preservation instincts, was the reason for the struggle. I can’t really explain why I decided to lay it all out today, but I am hoping that something in here will speak to some others that may be experiencing a similar struggle, even if for a different reason.

The decision I made came as we sang “Give Me Faith” at church. I got stuck on this line, as I often do: “All I am I surrender.”

Really, God? All I am? That’s an awful lot. I don’t even like most of what I am, so why would I give it to you? That’s my typical response.

But Sunday was different. I mentally added this to the lyrics: All I am, including my sexuality and all the confusion and pain that comes with it, I surrender. Because God accepts all I am. His acceptance isn’t conditional on me ignoring my sexuality. It’s the opposite. He wants me to see myself as a broken person made whole through Him, not someone who has to fake a certain identity to be whole.
“And he has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

And I was finally able to move on to the next line in the song. “I may be weak (read: I AM freakin’ weak), but your Spirit’s strong in me. My flesh may fail (WILL fail), but my God you never will!”

I don’t have the answer I’ve been looking for this past year. I don’t have a permanent, one-size-fits-all answer (I don’t know that there is one), but what I have is enough. I have Jesus, leading me daily. Following Jesus will not take me into sin. Right now, God is calling me to be single, and to be pure. For my weak flesh this will be a struggle, but I’m holding fast to the promise that God is with me in every temptation.

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13.

I’m clinging to the promise that the life of obedience to God that He has planned for me is more full, more wonderful and more satisfying than the one of obedience to my desires that I would have chosen for myself.
 It’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18.

It’s been a little while since I blogged last. Blogging has become a cathartic way for me to sort out my tumultuous musings. And I know I may sound strong and faithful in these posts because I end them on a somewhat positive note with encouraging scripture references, but talking the talk and walking the walk are such completely different things. I liken my faith and my life to my Ultimate skills (more accurately my lack thereof).

On the sidelines, I can practice planting my left foot, pivoting around it and throwing a strong forehand or backhand throw around a defender, and making intelligent, reasonable decisions. It looks like the eight months’ worth of coaching I’ve received from 15 different Frisbee enthusiasts is starting to take.

But on the field during a game, it’s a totally different story. Once that disc is in my hands, my feet falter, I’m off balance, and my mind is panicking. I’m just as likely to throw a wobbly flick to a handler behind me as to completely fumble and throw away the disc, forgetting everything I’ve been shown. It’s a constant frustration to me, because as I walk dejectedly back to the line after my team lost a point on account of my error, inevitably someone will come to tell me what I did wrong.

But I already know. Unfortunately, knowing it in my head is not the same thing as actually knowing it in my hands when game-time emotions are running high.

So please pray for me. Because writing all this stuff about my determination to follow Christ doesn’t necessarily translate to living that out daily and hourly, and I really need support.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

The sucky part of faith (a.k.a. doubt)

I’ve been reading God’s Smuggler, by Brother Andrew, aloud to a seventh grader at The Victory Project, and it is changing my life. I hope it’s also teaching him good vocabulary and maybe also teaching him about God, but if not, it’s still worthwhile for the ways it’s impacting my life.  

It’s about a Christian missionary in the 1950s who smuggled thousands of bibles into communist countries, and his journey to faith and the crazy miracles God did in his life.

The following is an excerpt that really hit home with my summer of doubt and searching:

“What I was worried about was a relationship…If I were going to give my life as a servant of the King, I had to know that King. What was He like? In what way could I trust Him? In the same way I trusted a set of impersonal laws? Or could I trust Him as a living leader, as a very present commander in battle? The question was central. Because if He were a King in name only, I would rather go back to the chocolate factory. I would remain a Christian, but I would know that my religion was only a set of principles, excellent and to be followed, but hardly demanding devotion.
Suppose on the other hand that I were to discover God to be a Person, in the sense that He communicated and cared and loved and led. That was something quite different. That was the kind of King I would follow into any battle.”

I want to see God work powerfully in my life. Like the kind of unbelievable, make-seeing-eyes-blind and ring-the-doorbell-with-all-my-worldly-needs miracles that Brother Andrew experienced in his missionary work (you really have to read the book). But I realize that in my life as a reporter, I don’t have the kind of needs that require such dramatic acts of God.

So I think, well, how about I give away all my stuff and hit the streets as a missionary. Then God will definitely show up, right?

And then this weekend, during a wonderful retreat with some amazing women from my bible study group, I heard a fantastic message from Beth Moore on overcoming fear. Now, as a person who has led 20 college students into a river in search of a rope swing with no more instructions than, “It’s on the other side of an island” or gone skinny dipping in a canal in Amsterdam in the middle of the night, it might surprise some people to know I live in fear. But as Beth pointed out, the most frequent command in the Bible is “Don’t be afraid,” or some variation of it, and I am far from immune. I love the adrenaline rush that comes with facing physical fears, like jumping off a cliff or riding roller coasters.  But when it comes to my future, my financial security, my decisions, or something as simple as hard conversations, I am often paralyzed in fear. And that fear is evidence of a lack of trust.

But it’s not enough to trust that God’s not going to let your fears come true, because, lesbehonest, He never promised that. But he promises He has good plans for us, not to harm us, but to give us hope and a future. He’ll get us through whatever He throws at us, so why are we living in fear?

In high school I was asked this question. “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” At the time I thought about some crazy cool traveling career, or going skydiving or something, but I think now my answer would be different. I think one of my biggest fears is rejection and being alone, and so with that removed, I would actually do what this song says and shout it, go on and scream it from the mountains that [Jesus] is God!

But I keep coming back to these thoughts that God has some powerful destiny planned for me, but it couldn’t possibly be here in Dayton, or at least not where I currently work. What can a 21-year-old do? And how will God show up in my life if my basic vitals are all pretty well taken care of by the paychecks that magically show up in my bank account every two weeks?

That’s when the impact of a sermon I heard at Apex Jan. 27th really hits home.

When we pray, Jesus taught us to start with Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

The glory of God’s name comes first. In prayer, in life, in everything. Not Olivia’s desire-misconstrued-as-need to see miracles. Because God never promised to give us proof of all the things we doubt. Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The key point being we don’t get to see it. For someone brought up in a culture that teaches ‘seeing is believing,’ this becomes the part about faith that really, really sucks.

Faith is supposed to be the firm foundation built on a rock that sustains even hurricane-force trials. But my faith often seems so fleeting, that I’m wasting half my emotional energy trying to nail my Jell-O-like-convictions to a wall in the good times, and when the winds of adversity start blowing I’m already half spent.

If this all seems like an unrelated stream of consciousness, just know it’s unified in that it’s pointing out my ever-present need for God. But maybe some of it’s resonating with you.

Today I made an important decision. I agreed to start the process to mentor a kid through Big Brothers Big Sisters. I hope that I will be able to impact some lives through this, and more importantly that God will be glorified through it. I’m sure it will change my perspective.

But the decision had a lot of significance because I’ve been putting it off for months. I came to Dayton with a pretty confident plan to leave after two years. And while I have poured myself into fun activities to find friends, and found a place to volunteer for the time being, I’ve avoided anything that would tie me down here any more than absolutely necessary. Sure BBBS only asks for a one-year commitment, but the goal is that you’ll stay in a kid’s life for much longer, and I think if you formed a close connection and then left after a year you could do more harm than good.

It’s not so much that I’ve decided to stay in Dayton for a certain period of time longer than two years. It’s really that I stopped pretending like right now I have any say in deciding when I leave and where I go. God’s plan for me in two years is so beyond my control, but what matters is what I do now. And leaving my options ‘open’ so that I could up and leave in two years was turning me into a vapid consumer of life, instead of making the most of my time here, no matter how long or short that may be.

I want to blog about this weekend’s retreat, with magical snow falling for hours on end around our cabin as we hunkered down in snuggies and footie PJ’s, but my heart is too heavy to dwell on the jokes, the pranks and the laughs. It’s days like today when I’m convinced that Satan is real because I can feel his attacks, but God still feels so far. In the same weekend as I fell in love with my community, I also discovered that it’s full of sinners, just like me, and I’m hitting phase two of the following relationship cycle, but unsure how to get to phase three…

(This excerpt from was shared with me by a dear friend and housemate from my last year at UNC.)

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, has written, “Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perfect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional -people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. During this time everything becomes dark; people no longer see anything but the faults of others and of the community. They feel they are surrounded by hypocrites. Life becomes intolerable.  The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase — ​that of realism and of true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as people — ​each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.”   

I know that Satan desperately wants to keep me from getting to that third stage, because he’s put in me a cowardly fear of the hard but good conversations that will take my relationships to the next level, and establish mutual trust within this Christian community that I know I need to encourage me and keep me accountable in this crazy Christian journey.  

My thoughts are so tangled tonight I can’t come up with a coherent way to wrap up this post. But if you’re with me on any of this, send up a smoke signal or something and maybe we can figure out this stuff together.