between.

In a world that demands labels, identifications, and sides, it’s a nightmare to be stuck in between.  To not be “normal”, “average”, “white”, “straight”, “American” or “majority” is a constant struggle between two worlds.  I witness this uneasiness everyday working in a high school.  Students are constantly attempting to conform, change, shove, and push their way into the popular, smart, hip, skater, or emo group.  The labels high schoolers place on themselves and peers add pressure to ‘be’ and ‘act’ a certain way.  I especially see the struggle of my students with special needs as they try to make friends, and try to reach out to students who don’t understand why they look or act a certain way.  It seems as though they are seen as different from the start, and their struggle to “fit in” is so much harder than other students.  My heart breaks for them to know how much greater they are than they can even imagine.

I often reflect on my own life and what these labels mean and do to me now.  Life and it’s labels are given by society instead of the peers and colleagues around me.  The expansion of these labels have taught me a lot- mainly that I don’t belong.  Do we ever really belong?

I am a Christian, half Japanese, half American bisexual woman whose labels don’t describe who I am.  The complexity of a human being is fluid and much deeper than any label could describe.  I have felt caught in between many of these labels- it’s a pretty lonely place.

In particular I struggled with my “Christian” label and “bisexual” label.  When you think of what a “Christian” is, you think of a moral, conservative, creation believing, Bible thumper who has all the answers, right?  They are confident about where they’re going, what they believe and sometimes they seem to tell people they’re wrong if they don’t believe what they believe, right?

When it came to my sexuality, I had a picture that Christians were straight.  If they weren’t, they were celibate, that was expected and taught.  So, when I realized I was bi, I felt my “Christianity” was like oil and my sexuality was water.  They couldn’t and weren’t supposed to mix.  I couldn’t be both bi, and Christian.

Because I was told my number one identity was always supposed to be “Christian” (because I believe in Christ), I shoved my struggles with sexuality away.  I wrote it off thinking “I can’t think like that, that’s wrong”, and most of all sinful.

When I think about sin, I think about actions that pull you farther from who God is in a destructive manner, whether that’s destructive toward oneself, ones relationship with God, or ones relationship with others.  When I look back on my denial, ignoring, and bottling of my feelings towards the same sex, I realize how destructive it was towards not only myself and who I am, but also my relationship with Christ and how I relate to Him.  I felt shame, loneliness, uncomfortable, and stuck between two worlds.  When I began to come to terms with my sexuality, that’s when I felt a weight off my shoulders.  I felt God telling me it’s ok, the struggle is ok, and (most importantly) I am ok, the way I am, the way God created me.

The most dynamic, life-changing, view altering thing I’ve learned since coming out to myself and others is how great, deep, and expansive God’s love for us is.  No matter who we are, what we do, or how we hurt ourselves, His love is far deeper than we could ever imagine.  He has taught me how to love Him more deeply, and how to love others more deeply.  Even others who disagree with me.  I’ve realized Christians aren’t tied down to certain stereotypes, certain labels like I described before.  There are Christians who are liberal, independent, straight, gay, transgender, scientists who believe in evolution, smokers; Christians who drink, who aren’t sure, who don’t know everything, who don’t understand all of the universe, and most importantly who don’t know how God works all the time.  When Christ is involved, labels aren’t needed.  Christ is bigger than Christians in this world.  He’s greater than how we label ourselves, and if we go to church every week, or if we go to the biggest church in the country or the smallest.  He is bigger, his work is bigger, and his love for you is bigger.  He is not contained in a label- he’s not contained in a church, or a culture, or a specific bible passage.  He is so much bigger than all of those things.  I’ve found when I step beyond the labels, when I’m stuck in between the labels, although it’s deeply lonely sometimes, I’m able to grasp more fully an understanding of who I am in Christ- and nothing more.

reflections.

(I know I already wrote ‘r’ But I forgot I already had this ‘r’ post written… so here ya go!)

We live in a broken, messed up, selfish, consumeristic, ignorant world that cares nothing for others except what it can give them.  As humans we are always looking for another way to better ourselves or make ourselves more desirable over another.  We’re all puzzle pieces in this huge puzzle trying to find our place.  Some of us float around trying to find a place for us to belong, while some of us insist that we belong in a certain area and we attempt to force ourselves where we want.  But one thing that makes life beautiful is when people step out of this nature and act in opposition to what most people expect.  Like those stories you hear on the internet of people paying for other people’s tabs or leaving a $100 tip; or those who sacrifice their time and give it to those who are homeless, or people who make meals for those who are going through rough times.  But I am convinced one of the greatest gifts one human can give another is the gift of grace.

It’s one thing to give grace to those people who aren’t close to you.  To people who you’ve never met, but you know are in need.  But it’s a completely different thing to give grace to people who are actively in your life who have deeply hurt you. I can only speak for myself when I say this, but I think one of the greatest gifts I have ever received is grace.

I have learned that even when everything seems to be going wrong, God is still there.  He will NEVER leave me and he ALWAYS provides when he takes away.  God has given me a grace that I will never be able to repay or deserve.  Grace is not easy for me to receive, but it is also not easy for me to give.  Like I mentioned before, grace when not related or connected to me in an intimate way is easy for me to give, but when grace means I have to give up my pride for the sake of someone else, it’s terribly hard.

When someone close to me wrongs me, and I have a right to be angry or upset, that’s when grace is hard.  But we have a God who has no right to give us grace, he has every reason to deny us grace, to ban us to hell, to never talk to us again, yet he has taken every opportunity to pursue us.  Even when we run from him, he has given us grace.  Were we not created in his image?  Were we not made to reflect who he is?

I have been wronged in many ways here on this finite earth.  I’ve been wronged in ways where I have a right to be angry, to ostracize people, to never talk to them again, and to ultimately deny them any sort of grace from me.  But then I remember, the grace I have I don’t deserve, I never will deserve it, and there is nothing I can do to deserve it.  So why can’t I reflect that grace I have to even that person I can’t stand?

dry desert land.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend.  He was telling me that he was really struggling with his faith, not that he lost it but just that he was questioning a lot of things in his life.  Like me, he goes to an Evangelical Christian college.  His words caused me to think about my spiritual life at Wheaton College and how it has changed.

When I was a freshman, I came in on fire and fully trusting God with my life.  My story for why I came to Wheaton was powerful, and it was clear to me, and to everyone around me, God wanted me to be at Wheaton.  I woke up every morning my freshman year and prayed.  I lived on 5 West (fifth floor on the west side) of Fischer Dorm and I loved waking up in the morning and going to the lounge that overlooked the Grammar school below.  I would wake up before school started for them, and I watched the kids as they played on the playground, which was seriously incredibly fascinating.  I remember praying and talking to God about the struggles I was having being at Wheaton College, the supposed “Harvard” of Christian colleges, and how inadequate I felt to be here.  I remember God confirming to me over and over again that He had me exactly where he wanted me.  His provision for me continued and I continually found myself back at Wheaton.

But my sophomore slump came and I really started to struggle with my faith.  I was a DSG leader, and some of the fire in me from my freshman year was still present, but I really struggled with my family situation and bonds I had back at home.  I struggled with healthy boundaries and what it meant to be a Christian.  I began to think for myself and that scared people who expected me to continue to not think for myself.  This is where my faith began to dry up.

Into my junior year, I began to really feel my faith be challenged.  I didn’t understand why if God was so good, all of these terrible things were happening around me.  I didn’t understand why God could and did instantly heal some people and then left others to suffer. I didn’t understand why if I was doing the right thing, why I felt so isolated and alone in doing it.  I didn’t understand why I still couldn’t find a church to call my own and why I still struggled with what the community of Christ was meant to be.  I continued to feel more and more distant from God.  Not rejecting him or turning away from him, but I felt dry.  I couldn’t feel his presence anymore and I wondered where he went or why he left me.

As a freshman I came into Wheaton and felt like I knew what a Christian was and what it was supposed to look like.  I felt like my image of a Christian was neatly packed away in a nice cardboard box.  It was organized and laid out what a Christian did and what a Christian didn’t do.  But then coming to Wheaton, I ran into people who grew up all over the world, in places and cultures that look completely different than American culture.  Slowly, God began to take a part my nice, neatly packed cardboard box.  He took parts out and said, well, yes, but a Christian can also look like this.  My view of what it meant to be a Christian grew and grew.  I became aware of the fact that culture affects the way people live, grow, and relate to Christ.  This expanded my view of God and the way he works in people’s lives.

Looking back on my spiritually dry desert, I questioned my relationship with Christ.  I asked myself, did I know God better when I was a freshman?  Was my relationship with Christ deeper because I read my bible and prayed every morning?  My gut reaction was “Yes”.  But as I began to actually think about it, I realized that it wasn’t.  God tested my faith, and grew me in ways that I couldn’t even fathom when I was a freshman.  In order to get through my sophomore and junior years at Wheaton, I needed to trust God immensely.  Even when I didn’t feel like I was trusting God, I was trusting him to know where he was leading me.  This gave me a deep, deep, sense of freedom.

This freedom was realizing that I don’t need to read my Bible everyday for God to be working in my life.  I don’t need to wake up early and pray for God to work in my life. God is working in my life no matter what I do.  This caused me to realize, God is NOT dependent on ME to do the work he wants to do in my life.  He doesn’t sit back and make sure I’m reading my Bible and praying and then says, good job, now I’ll give you this blessing in your life.  God doesn’t work that way.  It made me realize God has taken ahold of my life and is working in my life no matter what I do.

I told this to a friend and she reminded me of the passage in Genesis where Abraham and God make a covenant, and God upholds His side of the covenant, but also Abraham’s side of the covenant.  We often forget that as Christians, God has lifted the burden of our obligation of the covenant off.  We have Jesus who has taken our sins away and who has taken the old covenant and fulfilled it with himself.

Being at a Christian college and being in Christian community, I think this idea gets muddled.  We feel like we need to act a certain way, follow certain rules to “be Christian”.  I’m not saying that rules are bad, and that we should go off and do whatever we want.  But I am saying that these rules, and legalistic guidelines confine us and our relationship with God to be a certain way.  And because of that confining, we lose the meaning of Christian community.  Christian community should be a place where people are themselves, fully accepted as God’s creation, sharpened by each other, and led closer and closer to Christ and who he is.  When Christian community becomes a place where people can’t be real, share their struggles- including with their own faith- then we lose a sense of the Christian community we are called to.

I want you to know, if you are a Christian in a Christian community struggling with your own faith and what it means, you’re not alone.  More than likely, there are many struggling and asking the same questions.  I don’t think God is opposed to this, questioning.  When questioning is in the right context, state of mind and kind of heart, it is a time of great, great growth.  Questioning can be sought to drive you further from Christ, but when your intentions are to understand more fully, God provides.

I will leave you with this:
“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.” Romans 8:37-39

For more on this idea of questioning, I wrote this post awhile back called “the questioning soul“.