Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What My B.S. Stands For

Lots of wonderfully flighty things are floating around in my mind on this humid Tuesday of Finals Week. Firstly and foremost: that final that I took today? That could have gone better. 

Loads better. I think this is the first time in my collegiate career, or rather my schooling overall, that I have been actually legitimately concerned about passing a course. That's a little embarrassing. But alas, regardless of how much time I put into it, or how much I enjoyed the course overall, or how much I would recommend it to my friends, or how much I absolutely adore the professors, that particular course has been my sacrificial lamb this semester. I sacrificed attention to this course so that I could either a) sleep for once, b) visit my graduate school, c) work on an international collaboration in computational physics, or d) make sure that my thesis would not be just mediocre. No, scratch that: d) make sure that my thesis would be damn good, and publishable on top of that. And it is!

And then I began to think about all of the sacrifices that I have made in pursuit of a B.S. in physics as well as a B.S. in astrophysics. I've sacrificed a lot of things; sometimes to the extent that I am now simply unwilling to make such sacrifices anymore. 

I have sacrificed time with friends and family that I won't get back, and perhaps time for which I have tried to make up over the past couple of months. You know, as soon as I realized that I have no turnaround time, and I am absolutely outta here, because I have to do it this way. 

I have sacrificed decent nights of sleep in the interest of finishing assignments (mostly) on time. I have learned exactly how many hours there are in a day, and what a girl can do with them. Most importantly, I learned that the night is not infinite just because you've stayed awake the whole time. The sun still rises, and although it seems like the height of rudeness at the time, the sunrise is, at least, one thing that remains constant and faithful.

I have sacrificed my physical health. In my fatigue and awkward working and schooling hours, I probably haven't worked out in over a year and I am tipping the scale far more than I probably should. However, that's not permanent, and I am looking forward to having a few months to my own devices in the wilderness soon and then moving to Appalachia where I can conquer hilltop after hilltop! 

I have sacrificed my mental health. My mental health has risen and fallen drastically, and I have largely tried to keep that under wraps as well. I have come to the difficult conclusion that just because one fills her time with an impossible amount of school things, it doesn't mean that life stops. Life still happens, and I try to be conscientious of this fact with my peers as well as my students. There is a whole lot of trauma to experience in this life; especially when I largely live my life from one trauma to the next. During my work with the MSU Sexual Assault program, I have learned the meaning of "vicarious trauma" and have linked it back to my own private pains. It's a hard thing to process, sometimes. However, I am happy to say that this July I will be three years depression free and I am learning to accept my anxiety as something that is a gift rather than a crutch. Sometimes, it forces me to rest. Sometimes, it prevents me from jumping head first, eyes closed into an emotionally damaging situation. Sometimes, it simply allows me to feel, reflect upon, and connect with my own body and mind. It is growing me. I am growing, and for the sake of that growth, I am glad for it.

I have sacrificed money; dollars and cents that were not always mine to begin with. There isn't really much that can say about this. I'm eternally in debt, eternally grateful, and eternally blessed. I cannot wait for the opportunities to give back.

With all of these sacrifices, one might wonder why I didn't change plans and just become a singer, like I am in real life. People often ask me if I've ever wanted to just give up, if I've ever wanted to quit. You know what? The miracle here is that I can look such people in the eyes and tell them that no, I've never wanted to give up. I am exhausted in every way a woman can be exhausted, and sometimes I simply can't finish what I've been asked to finish, but I have never wanted to give up all the way. I am so convinced that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to do, and I'll keep fighting for that. That's not something to take for granted. That's a gift.

So when I accept my B.S. on Saturday afternoon, I will remember what it meant. B.S. does not just stand for Bachelor of Science; it stands for Big Sacrifices. There are some things that I will never get back, but they pale in comparison to the things that are coming. Was it worth everything?

Absolutely.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Crisis

I love crises.

That's probably an interesting thing to say, but it's true. I work with sexual assault survivors. I am a sexual assault survivor. I have to love crises. It's not a love that is rooted in a like; it's a love that's rooted in my addiction to community, to bandaging wounds, to lifting faces towards the sun, and if I'm being honest, to making myself useful on a broader scale. It's a love that I've built out of a hate.

So when I heard about the Boston bombings, I had to resist a little bit before jumping on the social media bandwagon, and then, apparently, gave in.

I had several initial thoughts. Against my better judgment or my personality in general, but perhaps excusably, my thoughts went sour. If things like this are just going to happen without any sort of rhyme or reason, and by extension, if I have to watch so many of my friends and family (and myself) deal with the aftermath of our own demons and monsters and terrorists, then by golly, I don't want to live on this planet anymore. We humans have doomed ourselves. If thousands of years of evolution could weed out several of our weaker traits, why hasn't it gotten rid of the sadistic ones? We can't stop this. We can't just get rid of a few bad apples. We all have to die. That's the only way to fix this.

But I can't afford to think like that. Evolution can't suppress something that is innately and inertly human. But luckily, there is a counterpoint to all of the madness. This is the beauty and the curse of a crisis: nothing else allows us to experience the extremes of human capability over such a short period of time.

Nothing.

It begins with the bad, and evolves somehow into this brilliant example of inter-woven community. Mr. Rogers said it best when he talked about what his mother would say when he saw something awful happening. "Look for the helpers. You will always find people that are helping."

Look for the helpers. That is our saving grace. Grace, the theme of my life, that beautiful, sweet redemption. Because being human is about experiencing those extremes. It's about our capability to destroy, but more importantly, it's about our capability and responsibility to repair. It is our thoughts and our prayers and our hard-working hands that save our species from becoming as barbaric as our darker halves suggest. Our spirit is what develops us, changes us, and keeps us human. We have been and have become a species capable of surviving adverse situations. And when we survive, we grow.

Just keep growing.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pre-Thesis Implosions

Ignore this. Ignore this. Ignore me for right now, because it's a real shitshow over here.

But I just need to write, and to pass this energy somehow. 

I've heard that things are not this way everywhere in the world. Now, that's a relatively ignorant thing to say; or rather, it makes me sound quite exceptionally ignorant. But, I suppose I am, to some extent. I've been exclusively stateside for several years now, and I guess I've forgotten that the rest of the world can't be described as just "that other country just like America." 

I mean...obviously. But sympathize with me for a second. I live in an incredibly loud nation, and everyone seems to be obsessed with every shade of American business; that is, whenever they're not self-obsessing.

And I'm a little sick of it. I could use a getaway. I could use some quiet. Happily, there are such places within the States, places of peace and quiet, of wilderness, of spirit. I'm going to those places, soon.

But I guess I'm tired of such abrasive American attitudes. Specifically, I have absolutely had it with people who systematically and unapologetically put their own agendas and wants before the needs of others. I live in a nation of self-indulgence, sure; but even worse, I live in a nation of thieves. 

Takers of rights, stealers of soapboxes, quenchers of revolutionary thinking. Because somehow, it's still okay to...

...I trailed off there, because I'm a coward. I can't say what the bottom line is for me. I can't express what I'm really thinking, because I know that it all stems from the root of what is wrong with me. I wish there were somebody who understood what was going on with me without my saying anything, because I want impossible things. What's the big deal, Becca? Why can't you just be honest for a goddamn second? What are you so afraid of, girl who claims to be fearless? 

I dance around my core, like a proto-planetary disk, because I don't want to implode like a dying star. But I'm almost past that critical point when there isn't anything left that I can do to prevent that inevitable supernova. I will die, somehow, if I don't talk about this sometime soon. Because it has to be fixed, and I don't know how to fix it, and once I say things out loud, they aren't so impossible to overcome.

For now, I will just say that I yearn to live open-armed. I want the tired and lonely and broken souls to come into mine, and realize that there is so much of a reason to live. I feel for their tiny tremors and oceans of tears, and I want those tremors to mean something, and the oceans to rise in tidal waves, and for those trauma symptoms to become sources of energy and power in otherwise feeble, tired, violated, powerless little bodies. I want to help us create out of what others have attempted to destroy. I want to help.

Also, I want to get better. I want to get better. I want to get better. Please. I will get better.

For now, though, I'll write my thesis and continue to live a wonderful life.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Confessions of a Newly-Hatched Chreaster

Firstly, the happiest of Easter tidings to my small following! I'm a big fan of this day and everything it stands for. From its ancient roots celebrating fertility, to the triumph of Christ's resurrection, to consuming enormous amounts of chocolate bunnies, I'm down with it all.

In my last year of undergrad, I came home for probably the last Easter for a while. I had already decided in my mind that I would go to my home church, and everything would be fine, and it would be lovely, and a great production, and a meaningful message, etcetera etcetera etcetera. Easter is a family holiday. I wasn't going to let my selfishness get in the way of family time at my family's church.

But I haven't been since Christmas.

And during the car ride, there was much discussion about people who only attend church on Christmas and Easter, while those participating were clearly unaware that I am among such people. 

Whoops.

Admittedly, I've been traveling on my weekends lately, and I did attend another church (just once), and I've also been sleeping in and catching up on the week's chaos. Laundry, groceries, chores, thesis, St. Patrick's Day, etcetera. I'm not overtly rebelling, I'm just not going. 

I won't name my home church because I believe that it is a wonderful establishment that is overflowing with success and potential, and I wouldn't tarnish that reputation. But I do not exist to be silent. I exist to tell the truth. But it is my truth; my side of the story. Proceed with a large grain of salt, if necessary.

Several months ago, the leadership at my church began receiving anonymous and accusatory phone calls about me from people who, clearly, do not know me at all. Long story short, I went under investigation for living an inappropriate and unconventional life, and was told that even though I was probably being judged unfairly, I would have to essentially plead my case in front of one of the church's elders if I wanted to continue leading vocal worship at church.

At first, I didn't really take it seriously. The accusations were mostly so far-fetched and far-right that I figured that anybody with an ounce of perspective could see that my methods of outreach and evangelism and living, though unorthodox, are effective and genuine. I cannot apologize for being human, and I won't apologize for the relationships that I have formed with people who wouldn't fit into the typical "church crowd." It has been in these relationships that I have found the most perspective and enormous amounts of grace.

But it didn't stop. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the target off of my back. Arrows kept flying, and I couldn't block them. I didn't have time for this. I'm teaching two classes, taking classes myself, and writing a thesis. I'm trying to graduate. Didn't these people also have other things to do? To make matters more confusing, some of the leadership at church seemed to act as if their hands were tied, as if they couldn't really advocate for me, as if I were guilty to a degree...or at least until I had been proven innocent. On the other hand, others at church encouraged and affirmed my life, professing that I was an example of somebody who is willing to extend her comfort zone for the greater good.

My paranoia grew, as did the feeling that I was unwelcome; a criminal in the house of God.

I refused to meet with the elders. I felt uneasy and prematurely condemned. I, as graciously as I could, backed out and backed down.

After nights of tossing and turning and pulling over to the side of the road and crying harder than my heart had ever cried before, I began the grieving process. I was, and still am, heartbroken over the loss. I loved that place. It was home, and it is God's home, and if I felt unwelcome and unfit in the house of God, then where...? Fortunately, nothing about this experience has altered my faith in God. At all. There is no way that it possibly could, because I've walked through more fierce refining fires and I've been rescued from deeper depths. He is doing this for a reason, even if I can't quite sort it out yet.

Unfortunately though, this has deeply shaken my faith in church communities and corporate worship in general, and has essentially erased my willingness to share my love for Jesus with others. I just...don't anymore. I don't have the support system at my home church, so what's the point? I remember, just a few short months before this happened, living nearly penniless in Boulder, CO with only faith and physics to get through. There, I met a woman who would soon become my dear big-sister figure, and one of the first things I can remember sharing with her was that my default is love. I try to love with Christ's love, and I love not just because we're commanded to love but because I want to love, and because I want to invest in the lives of others because Christ has invested in mine. And I could tell already that I recognized her heart, and that she would be one of those people that you meet and just know that the friendship had been there all along. And that woman, this dyed-in-the-wool atheist, loves me back tenfold. She loves me and she respects my beliefs, preposterous as she believes they may be, and she has walked through this whole ordeal by my side, patiently listening, offering advice and perspective, and telling me that I have the right to be here, and that she loves me exactly as I am.

That is the love that we are supposed to have for everybody, as a church family, as a church, as a community, as God's children. But, we're too busy fixating on other things. Like the Chreasters. Why do they get to only come to church on Christmas and Easter and call themselves "Christians?" What phonies. What pretenders. So we shout louder, we add more lights, we add more electric guitar, we make a bigger production in order to hide our bigger judgments. 

But Jesus commanded us to go to church, right? So people that don't go are sinners, right? Sure. That's biblically-based. But I think that the context is bigger, here. What if we read between the lines and dug a little deeper? I think that we'd find that what Jesus wanted was a community, a support system. Things weren't too great for the early Christians. They needed to have each other's backs. And when two or three are gathered, well. We can pray for each other, fight for each other, intercede for each other, account for each other, rejoice with each other, celebrate with each other, give thanks together, worship together, be together.

That is church.


But we're open-armed, to an extent. We have open doors, if you fit. We love you, if you're in the crowd. We'll keep in touch, if you keep coming back to church. What kind of love is that?

It's conditional. It's the kind of love that lets fear drive, and that isn't love at all.


Who are we to judge people for not coming to church each Sunday, or for doing anything else, for that matter? Judgment is the fruit of fear, and the moment you allow fear to drive is the moment your church becomes irrelevant.

Please. Don't become irrelevant in this broken and seeking world. The stakes are too high to be blind. Open your eyes. Wake up. Wake up!

Now, I remain optimistic for my home church. As unenthused as I was to be there this morning, it's irrelevant. There are worshippers there. It's going to be awesome. It is awesome, but I believe that it will be more so. So much potential there. So many hearts on fire. So much work to do, so many workers. I remain optimistic for myself, as well. I'm moving away next month, and I couldn't possibly be happier. Perhaps I will find a new church family, and even if I don't for a while, I will, with the help of the Big Man, begin to talk again about how much I love Jesus. I am excited to begin building new, genuine, deep relationships. I am excited for this depth. I am hungry, willing, and ready. I am ready for community.

Let's challenge ourselves to be the community, and keep our eyes open. Let's love without abandon. Let's love like Jesus does. Let's love.