2017 in Review

2017 was a year of story pitches and new beginnings, and a lot of work winding up to launch my career, which I’ll be completing in the first half of 2018. On a personal level, it’s been a year of recovery, of waiting, of wondering. With so much change flickering on a new and untapped horizon, I’ve found sleep and rest in general difficult these last few weeks.

After the end of 2017, when I think about reviewing the year, I find I want more to stitch it together with the previous two, as part of a season that was filled with struggle and mistakes, guilt and disorientation, and attempts to figure out what to do with the messiness of attempted but impossible irreconcilability, in both relationship and worldview.

I got to sit down with one of my closest friends on New Years’ Eve and catch up, which ended up with me spilling my guts about the last few years and trying to make sense of it all. I’ve been trying to figure out how to unpack it ever sense.

When I decided to go to art school, I had no idea what I was in for. In fact, the rigorous academic schedule has been the easiest part. A preface before I continue: I’m going to start talking a lot about church. I grew up in a conservative American Christian tradition, and the sum of body shaming, cognitive dissonance, and gated-community politics led to a massive falling out between us, from which I wasn’t sure my spiritual life would ever recover.

On the surface, my 2.5-year stint in California was a lot of art school, a lot of anxiety and loneliness and frantic efforts to adjust, along with a couple less-than-ideal roommate relationships that left me dysfunctional and out-of-sorts. Despite a lot of struggle and heartache in the midst of all this, I’ve never felt I wasn’t supposed to continue on this trajectory of art school. A lot of good has come as far as career preparation and maturation as a person, though it’s been an onerous deal every step of the way.

I have six months left of my program. I am at once more excited than ever to see what’s next, but also a little unsure of who I am.

I guess that means somewhere in the last few years, I lost myself and found it again.

Talking with my friend on New Year’s Eve, I ended up bringing up a lot about my sophomore year in undergrad, which I suppose is where all this began. That year, I developed a passion for illustration, wrote the novel I plan to launch my career on. (The Bioroboticist), and had the most spiritually gratifying year to date. God was sitting me down and getting me to start uncovering deeply ingrained lies I’d believed about myself; we were in frequent communication, and He saw me through a flurry of academically-induced meltdowns. I was deciding to let go of what I considered a safe, predictable route, and instead planning to take my longstanding love of storytelling to full professional priority.

One would think, after all that, my faith would be stronger than ever.

But what followed was a feeling that I should take a break from my constant attempts at unrealistic regimens and spiritual self-guilt. Included with this was easing up the pressure to conduct a daily Bible study time, and when I asked God if it was really ok, He said, “It’s ok. Just trust me.” (We were in closer communication those days.)

The following year was blissful. Free of guilt and obligation. I filled my electives with art classes instead of athletic training ones for my original plan of physical therapy. I finished The Bioroboticist and started on another book, and practiced drawing with obsessive focus.

As the distance between me and the way I had always done faith grew, I began to tease apart sources of shame and fear that had been explained away and buried deep. I began to see where the church culture I grew up in was toxic, and where I had sustained burns by it. Where it ran contrary to the compassion it preached and clung to fear and resentment over organic, human empathy.

By my senior year of undergrad, I was burnt out, betrayed, confused, and up to my ears in physical dysphoria (the latter from sexism and purity culture, as you might have guessed). Everything stung. Everything felt fake and at once too bitter and too saccharine.

I wasn’t angry with God. I’ve never been angry with Him. After years of trying to understand and justify the broken areas of American Evangelicalism, I started seeing and calling those parts for what they were.

“Don’t go outside the walls,” it had said. “It’s dangerous and destructive and evil out there. Stay in here, where it’s safe. Where we love you.”

But I saw it wasn’t safe inside either. Inside was teaching me to fear and demonize others, to fear and hate myself. It had given me a foundation to pursue compassion and grace, to heal, to live. And the more those latter qualities drove me to push into civil justice issues to try to understand, the more I saw the dissonance.

I couldn’t breathe inside those walls. So I left.

I learned early on I’m not good at pretending to be what I’m not. I’ve always struggled with belonging. And I’ve long wondered why, if my core use is to evangelize, why God suffused me with this compulsive need to create stories that were not overtly Christian.

I saw it as indulgent at best, idolatrous at worst. A side hobby to something more proper.

As I moved straight to California after undergrad to start my education in illustration, a part of me felt I’d finally succumbed to making my work my religion. And the cultural institution which had burned me so much, was also where I had learned to connect with God. When my faith in American Christianity crumbled, I no longer knew how to connect with Him. Everything felt wrong and indulgent, so I sought to just be, to keep waiting. To try to honor Him by working hard to hone my gifts. To find what this demanding need to create had to say.

The years I spent in California have been some of the darkest of my life. I felt trapped, and that first year, especially, I was the most anxious and depressed and angry I’ve ever been. I had my first run-in with mental illness in my roommate, with whom I had been friends for a few years prior. We tried to fix what was wrong, but they couldn’t meet me halfway. For lack of experience, I had no idea how to handle communication failure, and I had no immunity against the fallout. We waited until the school year ended and got out of each other’s lives. It took me a very long time to process that first year.

My political views changed drastically. From the outside, I watched the culture I grew up in clutch a victim complex close to its chest, idolize power and control and safety in a system that benefitted them most, declare the world black and white and demonize the rest, demonize me for trying to account for its complexity.

I saw the end of all my ropes. I saw what I become when I am severely off balance and hopelessly empty. That understanding branded itself in the back of my mind, and I always saw its afterimage. A steady, constant fear, a looming ultimatum. I tend to be a stubbornly self-assured person, but that year, 2016 part 2, and far into 2017 saw me feeling more like a liability than an asset.

My next roommate situation was cramped and I put up with more than I should have in the name of not causing trouble. (Which caused trouble.) A lot of good things were happening at school, but I had stopped fully recognizing myself as a person.

I had previously enjoyed a healthy sense of community in undergrad, but it was extremely difficult to make friends in art school. I spent a lot of time alone, too much even for me. (I am very introverted.) I started caving in on myself even while trying to climb back out of a pit of anxiety, depression, and exhaustion I’d been digging, and learning to overwork myself to make deadlines and keep my sense of self afloat.

In many ways, my work was a lifeline. I still considered myself a person of faith, but old me would have likely considered my work to be in full blown idolatry territory.

Yet my efforts continued to be fruitful. I was pushing to be as true to myself as I could, and my work was well received.

I’m a little astounded that I could be struggling so much personally and spiritually, yet have something that was totally competing with any other sense of balance in my life to be so—blessed.

New Year’s Eve 2017, I sat on the end of my friend’s bed, recounting this one time sophomore year of undergrad—roughly 5 years ago now—when I was so paranoid my work was competing with my faith and that God was going to ask me to give it up. He asked me, then, “What if I did ask you to give it up? What would you do?” I took a week to answer, but my reply was ultimately. “I would.”

God didn’t make me give it up. He never asked me about it again.

At that, my friend paused.

“Sara,” she said, astounded, earnest, “that’s what saved you.”

I sat there staring at her for a while, trying to figure out if I was going to cry or laugh or try to deny it all.

This thing that’s been with me my whole life, pushing, competing, propelling me forward; simultaneously something through which I reach out for connection, and something notorious for being socially alienating (I spend a ton of time working), has all along been a connection point to the divine.

Little by little, I’ve been identifying the broken supports the last few years have uncovered, and repairing them with trembling hands. Little by little, I’m learning to forgive as well as fight. I am intimidated to find out what their repair may mean.

I’m starting to see what all this desert season was for. What God had in mind when He said, “It’s ok. Just trust me.”

On the edge of sending my work out into the world, realizing a deep, consuming childhood dream, all these disjointed, confusing pieces have been starting to orient into a readable chapter.

Even when I was most estranged, most confused and unsure if I would ever end up talking to God again the way I used to, I believed that if God puts a desire in your heart, He will honor it. I see now there’s more to it. You must honor it too. You must be willing to surrender it, so that the desire becomes a tool of clarity, and not a mad, toxic scramble for meaning and worth.

Because deep down, the Creator of the world made us human. As a creative human, I’m frequently guilty of putting my work first and my personhood second. Over the last few years, I’ve hardly wanted to deal with my own weak, needy, frightened, exhausted self. I have tried to improve and heal her, but I also attempted to drown her out along the way. The work was somehow positive, but the person was wounded and scared and I didn’t understand what she had to say for herself.

I felt I was somehow weathering punishment, or at least consequences, for walking away. I felt California was my sort of reckoning, a fieldtrip to see how not-nice the world was so I could come crawling back. But I see now that all this struggle actually had a bigger point, a point very closely tied both to my work, and my personhood, and I feel I’ll start to see that purpose soon.

I am unspeakably humbled and awestruck by it all.

As I move forward into another year, a single verse from my childhood keeps coming up in my mind.

Taste and see that the Lord is good,

blessed are those who take refuge in Him

Psalm 34:11

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A/N: I’d love to revive this blog. It’s on my 2018 Goals list. My year will be consumed with a bunch of comics and life things as I graduate art school and move back up to Oregon, so we’ll see. I think I put too much pressure on this space. Need to go with the flow!

Favorite Books 2017

Fiction:

This One Summer, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Not Drunk Enough, Tess Stone

The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury

Nemesis, Isaac Asimov

City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

On Writing, Stephen King

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

 

Nonfiction:

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, Rachel Held Evans

My Name is Hope: Anxiety, Depression, and Life After Melancholy, John Mark Comer

 

Favorite Songs 2017

The entire Worlds album by Porter Robinson

“Shelter,” Porter Robinson and Madeon

“Waving through a Window,” Ben Platt (from “Dear Evan Hansen”)

“Event Horizon,” I Am Waiting For You Last Summer

“Formed by Glaciers,” Kubbi

“Alienation,” Morning Parade

“Because,” Yoko Kanno

“Liar,” The Arcadian Wild

“Your Heart is a Weapon,” POP ETC

“Car Radio,” Twenty One Pilots

I swing left but I’m not going to bite your head off…

I wish I could speak for everyone, but we’re human and humans are stupid and like to fight. We each like to think our sides are the vision of the future and in reality we do some good but we’re also both really lame.

A few weeks ago, I looked up a bunch of recent political cartoons on a whim, to see what passive aggression each side was flinging at the other. What I gathered:

Liberals are stupid, limp-wristed crybabies.

Conservatives are bigoted, narrow-minded hypocrites.

By this point, I’ve weeded my Facebook feed of the political zinger memes that just hurt their targets and negatively rile up those that agree with the sting. I’m not interested in alienating people like that.

As a young person, I inevitably don’t have a lot of chill. Yet as a storyteller, I am constantly looking for ways to connect and harmonize, to soothe and encourage, to assure people they deserve to exist peacefully on this earth.

Growing up, I watched how people who wanted exactly what I wanted—to live in peace and be a force for good—were shunned because they didn’t fit the mold that was prescribed for them. A mold that didn’t really fit me, either.

I am terrified of hurting people by trying to hand someone such a mold. Elitism disguised as piety.

Instead, I want to help people find the courage to learn what their own shape is. How they can be flawed and have room to grow, but can be worthy and good, too. How they best personally fit in the spiritual-physical scheme of things and let them grow at their own pace.

The world needs all types. All types of people, all types of viewpoints. I appreciate the conservative lean toward a strong moral foundation and personal responsibility. This is the environment I grew up in. It had it’s drawbacks, but my religious upbringing ultimately brought me to the things I hold closest to my heart, such as the conviction of compassion and courage I always strive for in my work and in my life as a human being. However, I swing more liberal politically because of that desire to help people find their own unique paths to wellness, since the world is a neverending explosion of hues and shades and I’ve found the conservative end of the spectrum a little too prescribed black and white for me to move as freely as I need to.

A guiding quote for me, in the midst of reaching adulthood and coming to terms with the full intensity of a broken world, navigating concepts of race, privilege, economics, propaganda and bias, trying to repair a faith with singed edges while the group I used to hail from accuses me and everyone like me (good ole’ stereotypes) of being stupid precious snowflakes, is this:

When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t. (Louis C. K.)

And I feel like, the least I can do, is listen to those I don’t understand. Set aside my own ego and amplify the voices of the silenced instead of demonizing them for being problematic to my own convenience. Personal accountability and an open ear, that’s what I strive for when I turn my face to the biting winds of politics.

The two zones, if you will, are complementary. “Liberal” is impassioned and energetic and pushing forward a mile a minute—which runs the risk of spiraling out of control. “Conservative” is sturdy and quiet (generally)—which runs the risk of planting too deep and refusing to move. Push and pull, movement and stability. We need both to check the other. Not assign “evil” to one and applaud yourself for being the epitome of good sense.

Fear disguises itself as common sense, as safety, as dignity. It plays into self-preservation and easy justification. It attaches itself to your pride, draws out your wrath and envy as claws to protect its root and increase its hold. It is noisy and insistent, and highly infectious. It tells you you look stupid or naive or problematic for standing up to it. It will coax you into anger, into closed doors and isolation and inactivity. It will try to exhaust you.

It’s easy to entertain, but it will drown you if it can. It will smother everything good and giving in you to benign, bitter charcoal; to convenience, apathy, destructive anger, to division, to silence.

So quit demonizing each other. No more pompous hand wavin’ “Just sayin’!” tones and tactics (see also: Facebook politics). It’s cheap negativity. Striking a dog, gluing glitter on a leech and declaring it useful. Who has time or energy for that?

Instead, take up your compassion, your courage, your ability to count to ten and take a breath. Bring your ears and leave your stingers and bear traps at the door. Look to your loved ones as allies, not enemies, even when you don’t agree on everything. Go outside, make new friends, admire a dog, call your parents.

The world can be a bleak, cruel, divisive place, but not absolutely every bit of it is out to get you. Find the good, grab ahold, amplify it.

We each bring something unique to the table and we need each other.

Growing Pains

When I was in high school, I always prayed for empathy, and I thought I understood the world perfectly:

There were us humans, created for good but with destructive tendencies.

And there was God.

The world was black and white. Right or wrong.There was a cut and dry answer to every question ever.

Homosexuality was a choice, and it was a sin.

Evolution was a stupid worldly thing that in no way existed. Like global warming.

All of the Bible was objectively, literally true and did not contradict itself whatsoever because if it did, it would delegitimize itself.

A spirit was for sure imbued at conception, and abortion needed to be illegal at all costs. (Darn that liberal agenda.)

American Christianity was the “right religion.”

I knew all the words. I believed them all.

And then college happened. Little by little, what I thought I understood at the ripe old age of 18 was dismantled. Gently, quietly.

Until it wasn’t so quiet anymore.

Halfway through my fall semester senior year, I was sitting wedged between people in the bustling meeting room of a coffee shop. Even more members were due to arrive. It was a jovial space, a safe space. We were going to talk about gender this meeting. I was still trying to feel comfortable in this group, who I sensed had grappled far more than I had, regarding far more difficult questions I still had my collection of easy answers to—although these answers were considerably more tentative than in previous years.

These people had been eschewed from the system I had previously thrived in, hidden under. I knew I had so much to learn and I was terrified of that.

About this time, the pro-life club on my private Christian university campus had made an innocent, but very negatively received mistake regarding flyers in campus bathrooms, and on this particular evening, the college students around me were freely deriding this mistake as I sat among them. I knew they didn’t mean any harm, but I froze.

What seemed so obviously naive and assumptive to them, I had just realized maybe wasn’t a good idea.

They didn’t know I hadn’t thought in depth about this yet.

And in that safe space, quietly, I didn’t feel so safe, anymore.

It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.

But in that moment, I began to understand what I was doing to myself that semester. Something necessary and terrifying and rife with sharp growing pains.

Earlier that summer I’d realized I was asexual. For those unfamiliar with the term, asexuality describes a person who does not experience sexual attraction, as separate from romantic attraction. I’d always thought I was just a late bloomer, and I faked crushes to fit in. I remained sex repulsed for most of my known life up until that point. And it was nice to find out there was a label that fit me better than the assumed one. It was like, after years of adolescent size changes, finding that one pair of jeans that fits like a miracle.

And after that realization, my point of view shifted. I understood, like a pound of concrete settling into place, that alternate sexuality was not a choice. The question of alternate sexuality vs Christianity was no longer just an intellectual topic. It was me. It was the friends who had just come out to me, as well as friends I intended to meet.

And I understood the world was not as black and white as I had presupposed. I felt it as close as my own skin.

As soon as the fall semester started, I reached out to the LGBTQ club created by students from the school; a club which, despite the invaluable support and solidarity it offered other gay and trans students at the university, hadn’t received official recognition by the university.

The leaders enthusiastically welcomed me into the fold.

Also that semester, I was taking a professional writing class, in which there was an overarching public relations project. My friends were starting up a pro-life club on campus, and they agreed to let me do some PR for them.

I sat through the meeting that night, feeling like a complete liar, and bombarded by a confused, panicky sort of shame (self-inflicted, of course). By affiliating myself with the LGBTQ club, was I somehow betraying my conservative Christian friends? And by affiliating myself with the pro-life club at the same time, was I betraying my LGBTQ friends?

I was more afraid of what the latter would think of me if they found out. These people who had endured so much hatred and fear from people like me, finding out that the dictionary illustration of a proper American Christian sat among them. Asexual but still hanging onto ideas she herself hadn’t arrived at on her own.

I didn’t want to hurt anyone.

But I’d stepped off the dock and there was no denying I’d gotten wet. I couldn’t go back. The mechanism was in motion, and I had no choice but to press forward (or shove my head in the sand but we all know that wasn’t an option).

My attendance of both groups dropped. I was too exhausted and confused to put myself through that anxiety every week, but I grappled long and hard with everything I’d thought I’d known.

I contacted one of the leaders of the LGBTQ club, a friendly political science major named Jen. I admitted my current position regarding the pre-meeting conversation the other day, and said I wanted to know more and hear what her perspective was on the issues of “pro-life vs pro-choice.” Something was off kilter and I really, truly wanted to understand.

We had a long coffee date, and as I walked back to my house on campus through the wet, leafy Oregon autumn, the framework I’d thought was impenetrable–obvious and logical and unquestionable–was breaking.

I talked to my friend who was helping lead the pro-life group, and she, too, was having doubts about how the “pro-life” movement, as it was, currently operated. We sat on a bench one afternoon in the center of campus, which was deserted for the weekend, and talked it over until we didn’t have anything else to say. Neither of us had reached any solutions, but we had at least admitted to ourselves that there were things that needed to change in the way we tackled the issues of maternal health.

I tried to apply more sensitive tactics into my PR material for the pro-life club, most of which weren’t actually used. Which was all right. It was just an assignment, and the club was still young, so it didn’t need much in the way of brochures. I have no idea how it’s doing currently, now that its founders have graduated. I hope maybe it has regrouped.

The LGBTQ club at my alma mater is still going strong, and I am very grateful to everyone who welcomed and supported me. I was asked to say a few words at the club’s graduation ceremony my very last semester, and that was extremely hard for me, since I did not feel the least bit worthy after how absent I had been. Even though I was trying to figure myself out and find some solid ground again.

Then I moved away to the San Francisco Bay Area for graduate school, effectively leaving the white-washed Christian suburban bubble of northwestern Oregon. This led to my current grappling with racism and how to help the violent racial tension in the United States, even though I grew up in a rather benign area. Being out of my home environment has considerably furthered my development into someone that may have shocked my high school self. She’d think I’d have backslid, gone completely off the deep end.

Maybe she’d despair that this version of me looks so different than she envisioned. Maybe she’d be intimidated, but I like to think she would understand, after a while.

I marvel at how much of a difference 6 years make. How a dutiful prayer has turned to genuine desire. When I was a kid, I didn’t fully understand what my pleas meant or why I made them. Only that I wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted to care. I wanted to think. I didn’t want to be left behind.

I’m pleased that this journey, for me, began on a conservative Christian university campus. The familiar space combined with all the people I had the honor to meet and speak with there was the perfect springboard into my adult life, into the deep end that grows ever deeper.

That evening in the fall semester of 2014, I began to understand what it is to be in the middle ground. What it is to think hard about things with a logical, open mind. To not be afraid of nuance and confusion and lack of answers, but to pursue empathy and compassion over being “right,” and to have the courage to show up when I am needed.

I firmly believe that if you search for truth, you will find it, and this is where my own search has led me.

And lately, I’ve been reflecting on how everything I’ve done in my life has fed very deliberately into where I am now, though I didn’t realize it while it was happening. Looking back, I can see the ties, trace the wires, and I stand amazed.

Be careful what you pray for, kids. God does not confine himself to the neat and predictable, and He may just bust your life wide open.

How have I been? Well…

I used to think autopilot was a bad way to live life. I’ve since come to find out that a measure of autopilot-ing in life is good. It frees up headspace for more important things. Avoiding “reinventing the wheel,” so to speak so I have more energy to spend on writing, drawing, and coffee dates.

My autopilot’s kind of out of commission these days because I’m moving away soon; taking a foolhardy, unprepared step further toward full-blown adulthood and my dream career. Admittedly, it’s hard for me to imagine professional life. I’ve learned so much, I have experience in a wide variety of areas, and I learn quickly, but I forever feel like I’m not quite there.

Looking for a job to pay for my rent just intensifies the feeling—that I’m still just a derpy kid not ready for the world. Not ready for anything.

Everything’s displaced and I haven’t even left yet.

This Saturday, my family is accompanying myself, my sister (roommate #1), and my friend (roommate #2) to the SF Bay Area for a week while we scramble to find affordable housing and good work compatible with class schedules.

And right now, I’m just sitting alone at the kitchen table, music blaring through my headphones, typing away and thinking. Thinking. Thinking.

I’ve felt a little out of touch with reality lately. The reality I’ve naively tried to ignore.The burnt out biology student throwing herself into graduate art school and needing to work a good 30 hours a week to stay afloat. I don’t want to have to face the dark sides of that reality. I’m not sure if I can take it.

I wish I could hype myself up, get myself to believe that it will be challenging but fun nonetheless like I did freshman year of undergrad. The most recent semester felt like a constant state of being run over, and I can’t stand the thought of that happening again with an added hour commute, alien terrain, and monthly bills on top of it all.

But God has worked me through self-worth issues, an arduous path of personal betterment, and classes that I thought would be the death of me. He has led me into things I never would have thought I’d have the heart or the courage for. He encouraged me in the science route for undergrad, challenged my obsession with writing, pointed me toward professional storytelling the moment I pried my hands off what I thought I wanted for a career. He saw me through 2.5 years of a sport my family couldn’t afford. He found me a good car for under $2000 that I really should have paid a lot more for.

If He can pull off all He’s already done for my family and me in my short 22 years of existence, I think He can get me a job and an apartment in the Bay Area.

As much as I complain in this anxious, listless limbo, I still believe it will work out.

Because there’s still a part of me that leans toward naïve optimism out of a deep sense of necessity. As cynical and burnt out as I still am from the last four years (which really were a good 4 years), and as this move is becoming more and more complicated (impossible housing market, losing a roommate, car trouble, etc. etc. etc.), the interface between logic and faith as I understand it demands I recognize the need to look for the bright side of things. To not lose hope in optimism and the excitement of new seasons realized. To above all look to the God who has proven Himself faithful countless times over.

Bitter

Bats fluttered above the amphitheater.

The two dark figures rose and wheeled, dipping in and out of the trees in the dying light–so close I could almost see their faces as I tipped my own toward the sky.

I stood among hundreds of my classmates. Feeling alone in the crowd, I fought the unidentified emotion tugging at the back of my throat as I sang.

Every word uttered with the music translated to a repeated, burning question.

            Why, God? Why do I feel this way?

Because it was still just the Saturday before school started and I was already overwhelmed. Disillusioned. Angry.

I had little to no interest in meeting new people, of “putting myself out there,” of participating and pressuring myself to go along with everything because I’d be hiding in my room otherwise. But it hadn’t really mattered during the summer, because I spent half of it in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona, and the other half on a relatively deserted campus crunching numbers.

But now, here were my peers, all showing up in excitement and enthusiasm, looking forward to a great year with their friends. Families had helped their loved ones move in. Couples strolled around campus with fingers interlaced. The air was filled with a stifling amount of high spirits and enthusiasm.

Not like I’m a grump and I hate that sort of thing, but it certainly felt a little sand-paper-esque to me.

I had grown accustomed to emptiness and moderate seclusion, partially from my summer exploits, and also because of the fact that the two-story house serving as my on-campus housing this year remained mostly inhabited for a good two weeks before anyone other than myself and my roommate moved in.

An altar call was issued that night in the amphitheater. The instructions were simple. We could make an origami fortuneteller with the provided paper and instructions we received upon arrival, and write inside it what we felt we needed to lay down. To let go.

I sat turbidly on a layer of concrete set in the grass, my back a little sore from standing and sitting upright for the duration of the sermon. I contemplating not having anything to do with the altar call. I wasn’t going to follow along with this. To let myself be inspired to press in, get closer. Again and again I have scoured my soul, searching for what’s wrong, taking everyone’s word as exactly what I needed in the moment I heard it. For years I have done this. Endless repetitions of playing along.

I know something specific is broken these days, but I’m still not sure what.

And I didn’t want to be taught to anymore. I didn’t want to hear a sermon and every single time agree wholeheartedly, to internalize and soul-search and aspire to follow the advice and figure out how I can apply what I heard like Christians typically do.

I wanted to leave as soon as the music stopped, but out of courtesy and an aversion to attracting attention to myself, I stayed through the message.

And when it came time to perform the altar call, I scowled inside, reached over, and grabbed one of the crayons provided. If I couldn’t think of anything, I wouldn’t write anything, simple as that. I wanted to be honest with myself, so I would be honest. Even if it felt like succumbing to a game.

Three words came to mind. Three words I had hoped weren’t actually the things plaguing my aching soul. But they came to mind, so I gruffly shoved my pride behind me. Broodingly, I picked apart the fortuneteller until I found its center, and wrote them down:

 

Bitterness

Cynicism

Fear

 

I’ve been justifying bitter feelings for quite a while. I just never pictured myself as a bitter person, and I loathed to think that I was capable of bitterness. Or that cynicism could truly start to turn dangerous. And fear—that’s always there, isn’t it? Just when I think I’m doing relatively well, fear seeps up through the floorboards like acid.

So those words have appeared, but I still don’t quite know what’s broken. I don’t understand why certain things that shouldn’t hurt still elicit a sharp stab when I encounter them. Why I still feel alone when I know I’m not. Why I run.

But since that night, though I’ve been frustrated, fatigued, and angry over the course of the first week of classes, though I still feel the chronic stabs, while I’m surrounded by droves of new faces, I feel something’s changed.

Not sure what that is, either. Perhaps I’ll never know, but for some reason I’m coming back.

Tentatively, warily, I’m coming back.

Doubt

A couple months ago, I saw the Heaven is for Real trailer in theaters, and it brought tears to my eyes. Not from joy, nor expectation, nor from an overwhelming sense of goodness.

Instead, the sudden, surge of emotion pulling at my ribcage came of desperation.

Most Christians, I imagined, should have been getting chills of excitement to see such an inspirational story become a full-length movie that will probably reach millions, spreading the truth about God. To see Christianity boldly permeating the highly competitive film industry. Perhaps I should have reveled in the anticipation of a strong story of hope and reconciliation.

But it was with a deep sense of grief that I watched the wholesomeness flash across the screen.

I had read an article earlier that afternoon. Honey Grahams had released a commercial involving diverse types of families, including a homosexual couple. And, as with any controversial subject, they received quite a bit of flack for it. So they decided to turn the hateful comments into something beautiful. In a subsequent video, a couple of artists took all the negative comments printed out on pieces of paper, rolled them up, and stood them up to arrange them into the word “Love.” This word, then, was surrounded by a sea of all the positive feedback they had received, which, rolled up and stood on end like the previous words, took up almost the rest of the floor around the word “Love.” The main component of families, they argued, is love.

I was inspired that they could respond so gracefully to the hate.

But then I made the mistake of reading the comments, and the hatred there blew my mind. Hatred toward homosexuals, hatred toward Christians. The caustic discourse just continued on and on, and anyone who tried to step in was chewed out and the argument began anew.

I have seen this trend on tumblr as well. The shift from pushing so hard for acceptance of the trans that people have started to hate the cis. And Christianity has come under fire for being overbearing, traditionalist, and judgmental, supposedly leading the charge in resisting this area of civil justice.

Christians haven’t had a spotless history. Take the Crusades and the Inquisition, for example. We have a reputation for being narrow-minded, judgmental, and hypocritical, and we as a group are often hated for it. Yes, we are human. Everyone struggles, but the sheer amount of judgment and pride that goes on in the church, and the almost venomous secular response against the evangelical, conservative Christian ideals screamed in my face, and I felt I had been stabbed.

What happened to love, I wondered. How have we let this happen?

Where is the line between fudging ideals and being accepting? Are we taking verses out of context or being too literal?

Ultimately, relationship with God is what matters. If a personal choice doesn’t hinder their relationship with God, I’m not going to nit-pick it.

So I commend Honey Graham’s audacity, and I think Heaven is for Real looks like a ridiculously fascinating movie and I want to see it. But it is infuriatingly apparent that both sides of the social change discussion obviously have many prejudices to get over.

As for me, I’m only certain of a few things:

I dislike overbearing traditionalism and hoop-jumping.

I hate arguing (which is why I would make a horrible debater and I avoid opinionated political discussions like the plague…).

I never want to be the one to tell a fellow human being that their feelings, struggles, and victories are invalid.

God is mysterious and unpredictable and if we think we understand something, we don’t.

And finally, that God is loving. So I will love.

 

Noncommittal

The fluorescent study lamp above my desk buzzes fitfully, and I try to ignore it as I struggle to keep my attention on my homework. Week eight of the fall semester is almost over, and I find I still have no attention span for the duties of a student. I used to be so studious, but now I’m simply apathetic.

Normally, I over-think everything. I worry I’m not going to measure up, or that I’ll fall behind. I’m afraid of not caring enough, even when this shows I actually care quite a bit. This semester, however I have been experiencing the mystifying sensation of truly not caring. I find it freeing, fascinating, and concerning all in one confusing mix.

Is it acceptable to be noncommittal? This is a question I have been pondering over the last several months. Is it all right to decide not to force oneself to do something when the right “feeling” just isn’t there? (An excuse I have been using to procrastinate on homework lately.)

Since May, I’ve been attempting to take obligation in moderation, feeling out life and my relationship with God and trying to escape overbearing self-inflicted guilt-tripping. After spending twenty years in a cycle of making plans, attempting to be disciplined, reworking reformed plans over and over again, I think I finally grew sick of it. I was never content, never measuring up to my own standards. I just wanted to learn to be content, which I think is the purpose of this season. I need to learn to operate within my ambitious personality and move forward without feeling so incredibly pressured to improve.

So, essentially, I have been cruising, ignoring the idea that I should be more disciplined. I haven’t really read my Bible in months. I refrain from guilt-tripping myself for not trying to sit myself down to pray often.

But God calls us to be intentional, disciplined, and audacious in our faith, which makes me worry. I feel like I’ve sat myself down in a corner, engulfed by a huge garish sweater of complacency, the collar pulled up over my nose. Does my current lifestyle serve a purpose, or am I just trying to justify being disgustingly self-indulgent? Where does respite become avoidance?

During the summer, the descent into this vacation from life was largely unintentional, and it worried me. I asked God about it, and he replied with instructions to simply trust Him. The way things are going, I think I may finally learn what it means to be content with what I am.

So, though my actions have been making me a little nervous, I will continue to trust God to lead me in this season and to keep me from crossing the line. No matter what happens, no matter how ineffective my attention span becomes or how long these confusing, noncommittal times persist, my heart will always belong to Him.

I blame the art tablet…among other things

I was looking up computer art tablets on Amazon last October.

Innocent and mundane, right?

Wouldn’t it be funny, I remember thinking.  If getting something like this actually ended up changing something?

After all, life-altering events can trace back to the most inadvertent of moments—my watching of the 2004 Olympics, for example, which instilled a love of gymnastics that eventually landed me in competitive gymnastics in high school. Or my decision one day that I didn’t want to dismiss a somewhat bizarre idea for a science fiction story, which ended up leading to  being three-hundred pages closer to my dream of publishing novels.

Anything can change everything, and my random interest in computer art tablets began just as unassumingly. I admired digital art, and I thought it would be fun to be able to draw on the computer too, though I had mostly just played around with drawing most of my life.

What if? I had wondered.

My idle speculations that day might as well have been prophetic.

I came into college fully convinced I would be a physical therapist, but now, just two years later, my interests are leaning quite drastically toward writing and illustration—and I blame my art tablet as an accomplice to the eventual detonation of my prior career plan.

I suppose the first few hints had already begun to materialize during those same months that I recognized an art tablet as a worthwhile financial investment. I found myself drawing more, and casual interest increased to a more concrete bullet point on my list of hobbies.

Receiving a computer art tablet for Christmas that year sparked the crossover from hobby to preoccupation. It became a fervent creative outlet and a stress reliever. With an art tablet, I began to see endless possibility I hadn’t thought to look for before. And then I realized how satisfying drawing was as a storytelling medium.

Spring semester of my sophomore year in college, my interests in drawing increased exponentially, growing to match my already ardent love of writing. I soon became discontent with my prior decision to make writing and drawing side pursuits to a much different profession. I fought with myself for a while, and then finally thought I had come to terms with staying with my original plan. However, whatever stability I had found soon crumbled again, and I launched back into soul-searching to figure out where my heart truly lay.

It was somewhere I had suspected it to be all along.

May 31, 2013, I made a brutally honest list in one of the earlier pages of a new sketchbook, demanding a straight answer of how I wanted to use my time—seeking to ignore all misgivings. At the end of my short bout of aggressive scribbling, physical therapy was not on the list.

And I had mustered the audacity to emphasize an intimidating concluding statement—a leap of faith: 

I WANT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL WRITER AND ARTIST.

There. I said it. Let it begin.

The change was gradual, but in the four short months after writing the above declaration in my sketchbook, I have concretely decided to pursue illustration after finishing my biology major at George Fox University. I’m not sure where this crazy dream will take me, but God has brought me this far, and I believe He’ll see me through to the end.