Sunday, February 28, 2016

An Open Letter of Thanks to My Youth Group: From a "Former" Member

     Thank you for challenging me to be vulnerable. I've experienced enough of what adults like to call the "real world" that I've become too guarded. I know what it feels like to open up to someone only to regret it later, and for that reason I try to be careful about who I share my thoughts and feelings with. But in the midst of all the times you've started talking before I've finished my sentence, usually to say something completely off topic, I've noticed something. You seem to respect me in your own way, similar to the way siblings respect each other. You sometimes challenge what I say, but that proves that you are listening to me. It has also encouraged me to practice standing up for myself and explaining my thoughts, instead of just becoming defensive at the first sign of tension. I have a long way to go in that area, but thank you for making me feel confident enough to try.
     Thank you for making me laugh. This one might raise some eyebrows, because there may be some people who believe that laughing in church is irreverent, but I don't see it that way. Our laughter is reserved for appropriate times, and I see it as a sign of the happiness that comes from being together. I personally don't think God minds hearing us laugh, and I would say that it's better to be in church and laughing than to not be in church at all.
      I get so caught up in going to work and trying to act like an adult and going to class and trying to act smart that sometimes I forget to have fun. Whenever we get together, there always seems to be a lot of laughter. I can honestly say that I've never met a more hilarious group of people, and I'm not even sure you're aware of how funny you're being. I know that even at your age, there are already pressures to "do something with your life" whether it be through sports, academics, or something else, but you are still so carefree and being around you reminds me how important it is to be in the moment and enjoy the people I'm with, and to stop worrying for a while, even if it's just for an hour every week. 
     I often laugh to myself about how ironic it is that God would provide me with an opportunity to spend so much time with teenagers at this point in my life, because that is the one group of people that I never felt like I could relate to. I did not enjoy being a teenager, and as soon as I turned twenty I felt a sense of relief that I had survived those years that confused me so much. Honestly, I had a hard time fitting in during high school, and there were lots of people who excluded me or just weren't very nice to me. There were probably some people who I wasn't very nice to for selfish and misguided reasons. Because of this, I made my return to youth group with a chip on my shoulder.  But you've been so accepting of me, and lately I've noticed that I'm starting to let my guard down a little more each time I'm with you. To my own surprise, I've caught myself thinking lately that maybe I was too quick to judge all teenagers because of how I was treated by a select few. God is using you to teach me a lesson I should have learned a long time ago, and I'm very thankful for that. Thank you for proving me wrong in the greatest way possible. I guess you're not so bad after all. 

I really tried to find a fitting bible verse, but I saw this and it just seemed right. What can I say, we're a group that best shows our love through sarcasm sometimes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Pity Party Has Been Canceled

     I remember once in elementary school, there was a teacher who gave a zero to everyone who forgot to put their name on a paper. Everyone, that is, except me. She pulled me aside after class and handed the paper back to me so I could put my name on it and then graded it. She didn't directly mention my disability, but by the tone of her voice and the look on her face, I could tell that it was the reason I was singled out and given an undeserved second chance. I was happy to not be getting a zero, but my happiness was fleeting. I was being given something that I hadn't earned simply because this person felt sorry for me, and I could take no pride in that. From that incident, I learned what it feels like to be pitied, and the expression on her face and tone in her voice have been echoed throughout many interactions in my life. One place I have heard these echoes are the jobs I have had since I started working.
     One boss decided it was her right to determine what I wasn't "physically capable of", as if she somehow could figure that out better than I could myself, another told me multiple times that I was being disrespected "because of my disability", instead of admitting that there was a much bigger problem she simply didn't feel like fixing. Even though these people were taking something from me and not giving me something like that teacher did, they were expressing a form of pity. They convinced themselves that my disability was not compatible with work, and they assumed I would go along with it so they could justify their actions. They gave the girl with the disability a chance so they could feel like heroes, and then decided it wouldn't work. What a pity, that poor girl. Bless her heart.
      It's because of experiences like this that I feel like I have something to prove in the workplace. I have learned through these incidents that I have to go beyond just doing my job well. I know that I am capable of being a good worker, but I feel like I have to go out of my way to prove that to everyone else. I try not to sit down much, or appear tired or frustrated, because I've learned how those signs of normal exhaustion can be perceived as a weakness related to my birth defect by people who choose to see them that way.
     To be blunt, there are many people in the world who are more physically capable than me, and yet they work less and demand more. Many people feel entitled to a free ride because of circumstances they could have avoided, and yet I don't ask for a free ride in spite of the circumstances I couldn't avoid. It's not fair, and sometimes I get pretty angry about it. But when I think back to that time in elementary school when I was given a free pass, and I remember how it made me feel, I realize something. Receiving something you did not earn, either because someone feels sorry for you or simply because you feel entitled, is not rewarding, at least not for me. I want to earn things the fair way, through hard work and persistence, so I can be proud of myself. Right now it's hard because I have to watch those who took shortcuts enjoy the reward, but I'm telling myself that I'll be able to enjoy them more fully when I do get them, because they will not be pity party gifts, but the positive result of good old fashioned work.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Darkness vs. Light : A Superbowl Story

"You must spend a lot of time handling counterfeit money to know what it looks like," said Ruth Bell Graham to a man from Scotland Yard, who was in charge of identifying counterfeit money. "No," he replied. "We never touch the stuff. All day long, we just handle the real thing: genuine currency. And when a counterfeit bill comes our way—we can quickly detect it."

     Last night, I ventured out from my bedroom, in a sinus headache induced daze, and watched the Superbowl halftime show with my family. In my altered state, I did not have much of a reaction. But this morning when I woke up, that nasty headache had almost subsided and social media was abuzz. It seems as if many people are shocked and appalled because Beyonce did not show up in a choir robe and sing "Jesus Loves Me". Maybe that's a bit harsh, but hear me out.
     I'm not saying I agree with the undertones or motives of her performance, I'm not even sure I fully understand them. I had trouble even deciphering the words she was saying, and like I said, I wasn't feeling very well. But I guess I'm just not as shocked as others seem to be, because I did not watch the halftime show expecting a church service, and it has never occurred to me to look to Beyonce for spiritual guidance. I knew that what I was watching was a very highly anticipated performance at a secular sporting event, and I was not surprised by (or impressed with) her publicity stunt.
     It's easy to point out the bad things in the world that do not reflect my faith. I could sit here right now and name five current pop songs that go against what I believe. That would be very easy, and in fact, I think that's exactly the kind of thing critics expect Christians to do. Do you know what I think would really shock the world? What if, instead of lamenting about all of the darkness around us, we focused our energy on acting as the light? What would happen if I truly tried my hardest to actually be like Jesus, instead of wasting my energy pointing out everyone who isn't?
     There are things that I do feel the need to voice my disapproval about. Things like violence against children and other defenseless people, and anything I consider a direct and deliberate oppression of my faith. But a performance at a football game? I'd rather save up my rants for more important issues, so this is the last time you'll have to listen to me talk about this event.
     Speaking of musical performances, I've never been a fan of Lady Gaga, but I was surprised to hear my mom complementing her rendition of the national anthem, so I watched a video of her performance after the fact. and I will reluctantly admit I was very impressed. Even though she's not perfect and she's done plenty of things I don't agree with, she made me realize that sometimes you just have to put on your sparkly red power suit, hit those high notes, and be the light.