Monday, January 5, 2009

It's never too late

"It's never too late" was the occuring phrase of the day today after a near miss here, a panic there and then Oprah.

My mind was buzzing with all sorts of doable, concrete ways to put the jumper cables on my spirituality or as the more familiar cliche goes: "finding God." Over a cup of coffee, I quickly filled three journal pages front and back with my thoughts and feelings about the Almighty now and ways to dig deeper.

Here are some of the things I scribbled down in the morning:

Following in the evangelical Lutheran tradition is definitely not working. Buying into the notion of being "born again" and the idea of a full submersion baptism hasn't payed off either. What I find myself resisting at nearly every turn in the "conservative evangelical free" tradition (the quotes signify the label) is the idea that I am an innately bad, bad, evil person person - a miserable sinner damned to hell without a "merciful" God. Only the Judeo-Christian "God" can save me from hell. Worship thus consists of gleefully praising this wonderful God and constant reminders about what horrible people we are so that we are compelled to beg for forgiveness of all "sins." God is good. I am bad. God knows everything. I know nothing.

I find this version of "God" anything but helpful.

Have you ever wondered why modern western culture attributes the Judeo-Christian God whom we are taught as all knowing, powerful, wise, and a loving diety as masculine? Sometimes I like to think of God as feminine. Why do we associate the word "God" with masculinity? Perhaps a Bible scholar would know.

There are two reasons why I've almost completely rejected the "conservative evangelical free" version of God. One originates from an overzealous elder pastor from an evangelical free church I attended for a while in Iowa. I sought counsel from him while I was struggling in a sinking marriage. He basically insisted that my then-husband's wayward ways were entirely my fault and my responsibility was to pray for him -- but no matter what -- stay married or the fires of hell would certainly consume me. About a year ago, when I was talking about this with my friend Julie, she had this to say, "Yes, divorce is a sin, but it still happens. Just like murder, just like dishonesty. It happens. Do you really think God intended for you to live in that misery, waiting for a husband who simply chooses an addiction over you? That's your husband's choice. Not yours. What he did is not your fault." She knew the pastor I had talked to. What Julie said next and how she said it really grabbed my attention. "F_ _ K what Pastor _____ said. He says the same thing to everybody and it's obviously not always that helpful." Julie helped me realize that forgiving myself was the crucial next step in my healing process. Ouch. Not easy, particularly for the type of addiction I was born with.

Self-loathing. Reason number two why focusing on all my "sins" doesn't compel me "take up my cross and follow thee." Rather than focusing on myself as "bad" and going through an act of contrition every Sunday, I believe it will be healthier for me to be told and to tell myself that I am worthy and deserving of my Creator's love and blessings. Rather than deny negative emotions and speaking words and acting in ways that are not in anyone's best interest, I choose to accept my human frailties and give them over to my Creator. I have a hunch that She has the power to transform unwise choices into miracles to bless everyone.

Temptation to wallow in self-loathing hits me at every turn. An hour or two after journaling, I checked my email and my suspicions that Chatham, one of the MFA programs I'm applying to, had not yet received my undergraduate transcripts were confirmed. And the deadline is today. (Perhaps Chatham isn't the institution I was meant to go, I tried to calm myself.) I faxed a request for the transcripts on December 18. It must have been too late. I called the associate director at Chatham and stated my case. She was actually very understanding, making it clear that I wasn't the only one and a grace period of a couple more days would be granted. It wasn't too late! I called UNI. No record of receiving a fax on December 18 could be found. (idiots!) I raced to my workplace to fax the request AGAIN. This time, I politely asked someone to stand over me and make sure I faxed it correctly. Sure enough. It was MY failure. (Self-loathing begins). I waited 10 minutes after the fax supposedly went through, then called UNI to confirm that it was received. Success! Oops. Wait. Not so fast. I had forgotten to check the overnight box on the form. I made this very clear to the woman on the other end.

A couple of hours later, I turn on Oprah while sifting through a mountain of mail, and this just happens to be the episode where she got brutally honest about her weight gain. It was her talking to the camera. That was the show. But she was talking about some of the very same things I struggle with related to loving yourself and taking care of yourself. It's not about the weight gain. It was only a symptom that she was out of balance in other aspects of her life. Her counselors asked her, "What are you hungry for?" and it's not the potato chips. Oprah's "ah-hah" moment was recognizing her previous cockiness when she was all of 140 pounds and thought she had her addictions to food conquered. That was when her personal trainer informed her in no uncertain terms that ANY addiction is NEVER conquered, but ALWAYS MANAGED. Take that to the bank! Yikes. And we ALL have our addictions.

As human beings, we all seek pleasure, according to Oprah, but it's the way in which one seeks pleasure that matters. I'll agree with that. For her, giving gives her pleasure. Perhaps what gives us pleasure is when we use the talents and gifts we were born with to bless others. For me, writing gives me pleasure. Writing to help others is what I was born to do. The fact that I don't know what "writing to help others" is supposed to look like on a grand scale is my primary frustration. But I have a hunch that if I embark on a "spiritual journey" to "find God" (that sounds like a lofty, cliche and head-in-the-clouds approach) and report back on what I find, it might hold some answers that I'm looking for.

Maybe it's not too late. Maybe it's never too late to search for deeper meaning in one's life. In fact, maybe now is the perfect time. Stay tuned. My creator is out there somewhere, waiting to be found!

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