The Church Didn’t Teach Me The Gospel

Sitting around that worn wooden table, we just glared at one another.

These glares often followed an outburst of saying some things our mothers would not have been proud of.

I never turned to see how many people were staring at us during the times when we would scream at the top of our lungs. Night after night, this happened, inside a room that often held so many people that everyone was forced to sit or stand shoulder to shoulder.

We were finally far enough away from home. Finally, we were an ocean away from the hell we had been in for the last two years. At last, we felt free to say some things we had learned to swallow and choke back down, whenever they had threatened to come spewing out.

No need to whisper anymore, it wasn’t necessary to peek over our shoulders and make sure the coast was clear. We could slam our fists, raise our voices. We could use names, dates, places. No need for discretion, no desire to filter, just brokenness laid bare on the table before us.

I was done with secrets, at least for those few weeks. The strength in my voice had finally cracked under the torturous pain that those secrets had bore into my skin. Bloody and bruised, I gave up the fight to appear brave.

For me, the last leak of light had disappeared. I stopped trying to mask the wretched smell of my own blood, my infections; the way the pain and hopelessness had cut me and left me unbandaged and left for dead. My hands clenched the dirt that my once joyful face now lay on, I knew I could hold out no longer. I knew, then and there, that I was absolutely and undeniably finished with pretending like I could crawl another inch.

These are the things I never said when I came home from that trip.

This was the story that I left at the airport before I boarded the plane to come home. I decided to live by the whole line of what happens there, stays there.

But I didn’t come home healed, clean, or pretty. I managed to bring all of the agony to the surface and then when I stepped foot back home, I felt that sense of urgency to tuck it all away again. I needed people to believe that I had done my holy duty, I had given “our kind” a good name. I wanted the church, my friends, my family to believe I had taken flight, changed the world and come home a little more cultured, a little more experienced, a little older and a little wiser.

The reality was, I’d come home a little more reckless, a lot less reserved, and panicking to pretend like I didn’t see the worst version of myself when I looked in the mirror.

Because the reality was, in the year before that trip, I had seen more death, more defeat, more bitterness, more failure, more ruin than I’ve seen in all my other years combined. There had been things done in that time that had been so hurtful, so downright selfish and toxic. I had seen certain glares of evil that my once naive heart could have never even fathomed. But rather than turning on the light and staring those monsters right in the eye, I had kept my knees to my chest and sat with eyes closed in my bed. In the middle of the darkness with all its demons, I just remember thinking to myself, daylight always comes. It won’t feel this way forever, it can’t last forever.

I would remember thinking about that verse that said, though pain comes in the night, joy will come in the morning.

But when I would wake up in the morning, it was still dark. It was still painful, I was still shaking.

These are not things you expect when reading a Christian blog. These are not the things we paint for you on our stained glass windows. These are not the things I bring up at the breakfast table, or chat about over coffee on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

But this was reality. I cannot say I reached a point of depression to which I could not function. I cannot say that I internally dealt with thoughts or ideas that many people I know have. God kept me from places of self-hatred, of losing my will to live, or of decisions that could have ruined mine or my family’s lives. I was protected from those places, I was kept safe from those corners of darkness. But nevertheless, I faced fear that the church never taught me about. I came face to face with things that no mentor, minister or televangelist had ever fully admitted to walking through.

I had heard lines like, “I’ve gone through some dark times, but the Lord brought me out.”

But no one ever told the details of that darkness. No one had been authentic enough to pour out the gory and raw specifics of what it takes to hold on when you’ve worn out all your black dresses from going to funerals. I hadn’t heard stories of how dim it could get before dawn would come. My Bible sing-a-long songs had never told me that I would feel abandoned, forgotten, paralyzed. I had no grid for what life could look like when I had “done all the right things” and “made good choices” and was still attacked and assaulted by evil.

I was in a war, they told me I had weapons. They handed me verses about armor. They said I’d be able to fight. They never prepared me for the repulsive and vile face of the enemy standing on the other side of that battlefield. They made me think he was a little cartoon with shiny red horns and a laugh like the villain of a Disney movie.

The church did me a disservice when it came to teaching me how to grip hope when darkness would steal so much of the rope that there was not enough threads left to “tie a knot and hold on”.

I finally understood why so many sanctuaries sit empty and the rate of substance abuse, suicide and war were on the rise. We disarmed our best soldiers by training them with a simulation of stories with fluffy vocabulary about “trials and storms” when the reality is they will come face to face with an enemy who doesn’t fight fair and only plays dirty. He can come with excruciating beatings, cause agony with the twisting of his knife, spin hurricanes that knock down everything they pass.

I had been trained to believe that if I read my Bible, sang my songs, quoted my memory verses; then I would “weather the storms”.

They told me God was my shield, but they never told me what I’d need him to cover me from. They said He was my strength, but they never told me how weak I could really get. They said he’d be my joy, but they never really told me how that I’d need it because I could become utterly hopeless.

They used their Christian terms, their catchy (and not so catchy) praise songs. They didn’t tell me the truth. To the ones they raise in their four walls, the sheltered ones, they shut off from the world, they never tell them what it’s really like when they push you out of the nest to “Go to the nations” or “Go make disciples”.

I write this with absolute certainty that many will judge me. I don’t care. Because there are other believers out there, sitting in their pain and believing that for some unknown reason; they are the only Christian to ever know such pain. They are not. You may lie to them, you may dress it up with pretty pictures and a Jesus with a shiny robe and silky soft hair. I will not.

The reality is, I rarely listen to “Christian songs”. Because they’re perky and make me think that I’ll just keep walking on and pumping my fist and quoting Philippians 4:13 and that that is how I will “overcome”.

They write songs about how His love is warm and cuddly and will cause me to be able to do the aforementioned things like skip through life and shine my little light.

When the reality is that His love is not a sunny day that will make all the clouds disappear. It is a fierce and devastating force to be reckoned with, it is what stands up in front of me and fights violently for me when I am face down in utter ruin. When my body and mind are so battered, bruised and broken that I cannot stand, that I can no longer cry, that a whimper would require more strength than my mouth may possess.

And His Word is not a little butter-knife that will trim off bad habits and bad behaviors. Life isn’t just as easy as writing in my prayer journal to add a warm delightful topping to my “daily bread”.

His Words are a sword that cut lies and mutilate evil and dismember the limbs of the ones who come to murder me when I sleep.

This is the Gospel and this is the God I’ve come to know this year. This is not the sing-a-long song that I carried around in my little cassette deck. This is reality, this is the truth. This is what we’re up against. This is my victory. This is what I know about this battle. This is how He won it. This is why I’m a Christian. This is why He was on a cross.

It was not so I could have little arm floats to hold “little ole sinful me” while I splashed in the kiddie pool. It was so that when I hit the bottom of the darkest, deepest nightmares of my life that I could grip an anchor that would bring me back to the place where he could breathe life back into my water-filled lungs and with his scarred hands pump a rhythm back into a heart that stopped beating.

This is the reality. This is hope. This, in all its scandal and controversy and offensive imagery is the Gospel and it is not the one I’ve heard in most churches.

But I have not given up on the church, even so. Even in her disservice to me, I love her more now than I ever have. I do not say these things to start a rebellion, to sway someone to never again darken her doors. I say this to open the platform, to pull back the curtains, to call her higher,  and to challenge her to speak truth. This is to stir up authenticity, and to apologize for her wrongdoings.

I say this to remind her and myself of our first love, of the Man and God who still pursues us. To charge us, to love him back… for who He is, not the Hallmark Movie Hero we tried to make Him out to be.

I say this to say: let’s tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth… so help us, God.

 

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Lovely Letters: Jesus is enough, BUT…

This Lovely Letter is coming at you early! I just needed this to be out of my hands today. It’s longer than usual, and it’s quite bold. I know that some of my readers don’t have a religion or belief in God or whatever you want to call it—I do. Whatever you believe, I still want you to read it.

“Everyone always says that loneliness is an opportunity to get closer to God—-I’m failing to see it now. Does that sound like Jesus isn’t enough? Because I know He is, but He can’t go to the beach with me.”

-S

S,

I can already say that this will be one of the toughest things I’ve ever written.  I read that line in your e-mail, but He can’t go to the beach with me. One after another, tears slid down my cheeks and I just sat slowly nodding my head because it was so in sync with the ache in my heart. He’s enough, but He can’t go to the beach with me.

He also can’t go to the doctor with me.

Today, I just sat there on that tacky mauve-colored exam table and stared at the wood paneling on the walls. When those appointments first began, I used to talk to Him. I used to have little conversations and ask Him questions while I waited for the doctor to lightly tap on the door and make an entrance.

But today I just sat there and I waited. I looked at my phone, I read a poster on the wall, I picked at the threads hanging from my shirt. I waited. 

Mostly because that’s all God has been asking me to do lately, and so I didn’t expect anything else from Him.

Then I thought about that Facebook status I posted the other week. “When you’re single, people always say “You should just let Jesus meet every need” while I know what they mean, I wish those people had been here for the last fifteen minutes I just spent praying that He would open the world’s most difficult jar of pickles.”

A lot of people liked it, a lot of people laughed. I knew they would and I meant for them to. But even though I intended to be funny, there was still a raw truth lying in those words. He is enough, but He can’t open a jar of pickles for me.

Sometimes, that makes me cry. Because I’m spending weekends at baby showers and getting bridesmaids dresses altered and beating pickle jars with knives hoping that if I just grip tighter and turn it harder it will finally open.

But sometimes the pickle jar doesn’t open.

Sometimes you go to the beach alone.

Sometimes you go to the doctor alone.

I’m not going to tell you the annoying truth (and yes, it is true) that Jesus is there even though you can’t see Him. I’m not going to throw a Psalm at you and I’m most definitely not going to tell you that you’re a bad Christian.

I’m going to just simply say that today I felt alone.

So, when the appointment was over and I got into my car, I just kind of sat looking at the passenger seat and I felt an incomparable pain at the sight of it being empty.

People offered to come to my appointment with me, and I was the one who declined. But S, even though there may have been ten people I could have called and asked to go to my appointment with me, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that none of them are who I really wanted sitting next to me.

Because when I’m sitting in an office where women are smiling with their protruding little baby bumps and their endearing husbands sitting next to them as they wait for an ultrasound, I didn’t want to be sitting there with a random friend or family member. I didn’t want to be that pathetic girl. Maybe that’s prideful, but the reality is, I would have felt just as alone if any of those people had been next to me.

So many people tell me to let Jesus “be my husband through my singleness”. He might have been sitting there, but I couldn’t see Him and He couldn’t put His hand on my back and tell me I’d be okay. S, if I’m being honest with you, in that moment, I wanted to smack those fluffy-talking Jesus nuts in the back of the head. I wanted to take all those married people (who have lost touch with the loneliness of the single life) and who have fed that line to me and give them a not-so-pretty piece of my mind.

And I don’t think Jesus was angry at me or disappointed in the fact that I just wanted a a husband next to me today.

Last I checked, Adam was only alone on this planet for about 2 seconds before God was like “Hey, no, wait a second! It isn’t good for this guy to be alone!”

S, God’s not sitting up there crafting this hard road of loneliness for you. He’s not trying to make you miserable.

Honestly, I don’t know why you’re in the state you’re in. I don’t know why it seems like He’s not helping you out with this. Because He did make us for companionship and community. I don’t know why you don’t have it. I know you’re trying and there’s not a thing in this world wrong with you. You’re worthy of love and friendship, affection at the greatest magnitude. But today you feel alone, and there’s just no good reason for it.

I’m not going to try and write this big long speech about community or the value of finding a small group or Bible Study of people to invest in. I’m just going to tell you that I felt the same thing today. That I don’t know why. Sometimes God doesn’t make sense. My heart will always know that He is good, but sometimes this human flesh of mine just isn’t going to always have a grasp on Him and why He lets us go to the beach alone.

But I can tell you that He’s not happy about it. I don’t know why He allows it, S. But it doesn’t bring God joy to watch you sit on the shore with no one to share that view with.

He is not selfish. I know that much and I am certain that He is not threatened. I don’t care what the church told you, He is not sitting up there biting His nails, worried that if you get a husband that you’ll lose focus on Him. God is not in a competition with your future spouse.

And I know that fifteen people will probably e-mail me with scripture about how God is jealous. I’ll probably delete them. Because I know that He wants my heart and my affection. I know that He wants all of me. But I also know that Adam walked in perfect unity with God and God still saw that He needed someone else.

So, let’s get real here, God’s not making you be alone because He thinks you are so immature that you will abandon Him for a spouse. His jealousy for you and me isn’t rooted in fear. Jesus isn’t intimidated when someone takes you out on a date. He doesn’t go into strategic counter mission planning. Jesus isn’t threatened by marriage, or dating, or friendships.  He can sustain his pursuit of you no matter what stage of life you are in. So, if someone made you think that He says it’s good for you to be alone, they’re preaching from the wrong Bible.

I’m not going to give you a theology about “the one” or about “true love waits” or whatever other wagons there are to jump on when we need a theology to defend his goodness in regards to our loneliness. I’m just going to tell you that it is hard, that there are no clear answers. That God didn’t have Paul write a book about dating and finding Mr. Right (though I think that may have saved God a lot of time listening to all of us whine).

He knows when you feel alone. He knows when I’m being stubborn in my silence at the doctors’ office. He knows when my flesh and faith are failing. He is not unmoved by my pain, but nor is he unnerved by my doubt. He is still there, whether I feel Him or not. Even if He isn’t physically here to take me for a milkshake and pull the car up to the door for me when it’s raining.

S, it’s hard. I wish I could come to where you are, sit on that beach with you. I wish I could wrap you up in a good conversation. I wish that I could make this all a little easier somehow. So, if I, a complete stranger, could want to do those things for you; I’m certain that a God of love longs to do them more.

That’s why He came, that’s why He isn’t finished here. Because He hates our loneliness, our lack, our pain far more than we do.

I think that’s why He told Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe and have not seen. That’s my proof that Jesus knew it would hurt. He knew I would cry at the frustration of not being able to have him physically hold my hand. He knows the weight of that pain. He feels it and he cares.

But there’s a timing, and a reason, and a purpose. It’s all for my good and somehow in the grand scheme of everything, it makes sense. And even though He knows the end and all the reasons, He still hates the incomplete things in our lives, the things that are not yet made right.

But they will be and He is working on it. He’s got you, in your uncertainty and in your blindness, He’s got you, S. 

You don’t have to figure it all out. You don’t have to come up with a list of ways you plan to change your loneliness. You just have to know that though I sit in my corner of the world, uncertain of how far that is from you, that I feel it too.  So let the words on your screen be tangible proof that despite it all… He’s got you. 

I may not be there to hug you, S. I can’t buy you a coffee right now. I can’t watch a good movie with you and laugh over a big bowl of popcorn…but it doesn’t mean I’m not with you.

That’s what I’m saying, and I’m pretty sure that’s what He’s saying too.

 

 Love,

Ashlin

P.S. I hope it makes you laugh that I’m adding the disclaimer that despite the fact that there were a lot of pregnant women there, my appointment was not because I’m pregnant.

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I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Lovely Letters is a series that happens every Wednesday (and apparently, on the occasional Monday)! I’ve gotten such an amazing e-mail response from many of my readers and I try to respond to as many as I can directly; and some of them have inspired me to share thoughts and ideas on my blog. You guys seriously inspire me and what you’re going through is universal and I think other people need to hear that they’re not alone.

So… if you’re interested in inspiring the next Lovely Letters post, send me an e-mail and let me know what’s going on in your life. I absolutely love hearing from all of you!

E-mail:  ashlinkayh@gmail.com

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Sometimes You Just Walk

“Baby, you’re going to be quite alright.”

These are the words I heard sitting in my car this morning. I was just staring at bare tree branches during the final moments of the morning’s thunderstorm.

Just seconds before, it had taken everything I could muster not to just sit down in the floor of Target’s fitting room and let my eyes pour their own kind of rain.

I’m going to Ireland. I have two (pretty much three) amazing jobs. I am living my dreams, doing all the things I love. I am exactly (well, for the most part) where I hoped I would be at twenty-one. Honestly, I’m doing better than I ever expected.

But… and isn’t there always one of those? That word, she follows me everywhere I go; her fingers are almost always laced with mine. Sometimes, she sits on my shoulders and she is forever kicking me in the gut.

The truth is, no matter how seemingly perfect it’s all going, there are always those things that can knock the wind right out of you. One minute, you’re admiring a clearance lamp shade and the next thing you know, you’re hyperventilating next to a horrid burnt-orange vase.

It hits you…you’re not perfect. You feel like a worn out puzzle and as though your pieces are scattered in a million places. Every day has been a prayer for finding the right fit for at least one of them.

Somehow, you’ve got to accept it. You have got to get over the fact that you’re going to do some things that you’ll immediately regret. You will make decisions that will forsake everything you ever stood for. You will betray yourself over and over again. You will at some point be your own greatest disappointment. You will break your own heart.

But then you’ll hear those words, “Baby, you’re going to be quite alright.”

Maybe you can’t hear Him when He says those words to you. Maybe you’ve never really known where to lean your ear to hear what your maker has to say to you. Well, I think He’d be okay with me relaying this message to you.

You’re going to be quite alright. I know there are loose ends. Oh, and there are dreams that fell off somewhere along the way. You lost some pieces of yourself, and you left behind some important stuff that you needed. You’re tired and you’re disappointed and really, you’re a little bit angry.

But you’re quite alright. You, with your bloodshot eyes and your faded sweatshirt, you are going to be just fine.

I took a walk on the edge of a busy street sidewalk today. As I balanced my weight on those strips of concrete, I decided that sometimes it’s okay to take a walk having nowhere to end up. I didn’t have a destination and sometimes, you won’t. Sometimes you just walk and you end up wherever you end up. Sometimes, it leads you somewhere else, but a lot of times you end up turning around. Yeah, sometimes you just walk.

And It’s okay to wander a little. The wanderers are the learners. They are the ones with stories and they almost always come back with a little more strength in their bones.

When I noticed the green starting to peak out from the ground, I closed my eyes and I told Him that I wish He would go ahead and tell her to wake up. I wish the hands that formed this earth would wake her up. I need to see her crawl out from under the winter covers. I think it’s time she and I both pull ourselves out from the beds we’ve made.

I know it’s not always so simple. We’re going to wander aimlessly, we are going to screw up and the winter is going to come and it’s going to feel barren and cold. At first, you might be enchanted with the change, but quickly you will remember how much you long for growth and green. When you do, and the winter has not quite passed, know that you’re doing just fine.

And you’re going to find your way. The pieces will eventually start to show up and they’ll fit where they were always meant to. 

You will disappoint yourself and then you’ll learn how to forgive your own heart.  The things you pick up and leave behind will mold who you are going to be… and as for us, we’re going to be quite alright.