The Early Years: GenX/Xennial Life
Growing up in the Genx/Xennial age, I was a naïve, yet fiery little idealistic girl with a compassionate streak for the lost, lonely and mistreated. Perhaps my compassion stemmed from feeling alone myself.
I was called a tomboy, or even a bitch, because I was quite opinionated and stubborn. Some may say I still am; it depends on who you talk to and when you catch me on a good or bad day. 😉
However, I was also the girl who regularly visited the old lady with multiple sclerosis in the run down trailer up the street. Our friendship blossomed in a strange way. I had been climbing the pine tree near her trailer and she asked me what I was doing. (I can’t imagine doing that now due to my fear of heights.) We struck up a conversation and that was that…a new friendship. It was an odd friendship to say the least. She was easily upwards of 65+ or older while I was around 10 or 11-years-old. (My family moved from the trailer park to the rival school district nearby after they bought their own property where they built a ranch home.)
As second oldest of a blended family of five children, I had to grow up fairly quickly. When I wasn’t babysitting my younger siblings, I was outside playing War with the local trailer park boys, fighting over sandstone rocks (they took mine, naturally), playing baseball and scraping my knees on the gravel during many, many bicycle rides.
I grew up in a firmly working class family with both parents working. I was a latchkey kid, but without the key. My older sister and I had to regularly climb into an open window to get in the trailer because for some strange reason my parents thought it was a bad idea to give their children a key. Times were different back then. As long as you came back home before the lights came on outside, you were free to roam. And roam we did. I used to ride bikes with my older sister and even my younger brother for MILES to see friends.
Reflections on “Winning” and Perfectionism
I was a strange mixture of intellect, creativity and feistiness. While winning arm-wrestling competitions in the third grade against the boys in the grade-school cafeteria, I also took time to write compelling short stories about a world in which rats were the protagonists and cats were the antagonists. (Oh…and moon over various crushes on the boys…the arm wrestling was a great way to get close to them on their level, of course.)
In art class, my classmates and I had an assignment to create our own comic strip. Mine was about an adorable family of corn kernels with tickets to a sporting event at the local stadium. The sporting event was a ruse to heat up the kernels into popcorn. I’m not sure if they went or even survived. I would like to think so, though (again…that youthful optimism).
I also was featured on the local television news station in fifth grade for a story I wrote about personified leaves excited for the fall and the fall colors. The creativity came into play with not only writing but also drawing. One of my babysitters taught me the blocking method of drawing Disney characters. I easily tired of that method and came up with my own illustrations and stories. In high school, I flourished in advanced art classes. It was where my mind could wander free without the pressures of high school conformity. My last art project, a post-impressionist painting a la Van Gogh of a Victorian lady looking off into the distance for her car ride (Uber/Lyft before it was cool…hahaha) was finished on the very last day of school.
I was the girl who would take charge on the school bus and yell at the top of my lungs at the boys for insulting my older sister or acting up. But, I was somehow still very sensitive and would go home crying to my Dad about the boys calling me fat. I was far from it, but those early insults stuck with me over the years. While my Dad would comfort me, he also used to say, “You need to get a thicker skin.” It was ironic considering I did in some aspects but didn’t in others much like today. I held onto a lot of those emotional scars almost like a girl scout badge of honor. Looking back, I realized it was their way of getting my attention no matter how negative. Somehow I lost some of that fire over the years.
Lack of Consistency: Falling Short
As I got older, I struggled with consistency in all areas of my life. I’m not sure if it’s because of my astrological sign (Libra ⚖️ – if you know, you know… 😉 ) or being a second born, middle child? With four siblings in a blended family, I felt out of place, like I had lost my identity at some point.
I love the challenge of trying something new or starting a new project, however after that challenge wears off, I move onto the next project. I would jump from one subject to another without sticking to one particular subject or focus. (These days I may be labelled as ADHD however I do not have an official diagnosis). So, it comes as no surprise that my spiritual life was no different in that aspect.
Spirituality: A Brief Background
My Christian upbringing was as varied as my siblings personalities – each of us are very different yet somehow we get along in our own ways. My Dad’s side of the family was Presbyterian, while my step-Mom’s was/is Catholic. I got used to bouncing back and forth between these two denominations. I attended Sunday school as a child. During my college years at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, I tried out nearly all of the local churches and on-campus Christian groups with my friends. I was even baptized in the Clarion River by the local Baptist pastor at that time. This is not to say I lived a pious and sinless life. I felt the conviction even back then of the dual life I had been leading between my college ways and everything with which college students typically experiment. But after I settled down and have a family of my own, I taught Sunday school at the church where I had married (the day after the flood of 2004).
The Tipping Point
It’s been easy for me act like I have it all together with this thing called adulting. Until I couldn’t anymore. That façade came crashing down during the separation from my marriage of nearly 12 years at the time and subsequent divorce. All of the stress I was holding onto throughout these years and trying to keep it together took a toll on my mental health in my late thirties. I’ve tried to make myself look like I had this adulting thing down pat. Meanwhile my soul and authenticity was dying a slow, consistent death inside. Apparently and ironically, it was the only consistency in my life at the time.
A New Focus
So, lately, I’ve been very focused on my spiritual life. It hit me out of nowhere to be honest. I was going along making my own career plans and goals (again…as if I was the ultimate problem solver) when it occurred to me that I should make a personal goal for Lent…easy enough…right? I love goals and lists. So, this would be no different…right? Right?!
Lenten Season: The Fire Inside
During Lenten season a lot of Christians make a goal of abstinence or personal improvement from one vice or another whether it’s a type of food (chocolate, donuts, fast food, etc.) or certain behaviors (overeating, smoking, self loathing…). Like New Year’s resolutions, a lot of these goals fall by the wayside after a few days.
What was my goal, you may ask (or not, whatever…I’ll tell you anyway because I love to overshare on social media)? I made it a Lenten goal to consistently read an entire book of the Bible at a time.
I did this in France during my study abroad in Amiens my last semester of college. I still have that same study Bible showing all of the checkmarks going through each book.
Sometimes I have the tendency to become legalistic in my views of approaching my Christian life (do this because that’s what “good” Christians do type of thinking). However, my spiritual life was becoming bankrupt in the process. And, this time, God took notice. Or, more like it, he said, “I’ve been here all along…you’ve been too distracted by the worldly things to notice.” (Again, paraphrasing.)
Well, instead of making it an arbitrary, scripture-reading goal, the Holy Spirit was like: no, no honey…this isn’t going to work. You’ve got to dive DEEP into spiritual waters this time. (Obviously, I paraphrase…but you get the idea).
While I haven’t stuck to the consistency I thought was necessary to this Lenten goal, I have been able to jump around to different scriptures that spoke to me for that day. I feel like the Holy Spirit has been guiding me in this journey. And, God has laid it on my heart that loves me unconditionally, while still firmly in my sinful nature. I can start from where I am to read the Word without the pressure of putting external goals of consistency on such an internal and personal spiritual goal all the while letting go (VERY stubbornly) of my need for validation and perfectionism.
My mental state during this spiritual cleansing and burning process has been nothing short of an emotional wreck. Unfortunately, friends, family and coworkers have witnessed this firsthand. I’m sure they were concerned for my well-being without fully understanding what I was going through.
How could I explain this spiritual fire burning up what was left of my personal perfectionistic charade to completely rely on Him? It’s a very difficult task to make sense of the spiritual in a world based on the seen and scientific to explain faith in the unseen and invisible. It’s the equivalent in the secular world as saying you still believe in the Easter bunny or Santa Claus (you didn’t hear that from me!). Or worse yet…blaming this spiritual rebirth on my mental illness alone. I believe that the two are not mutually exclusive. You can have mental health issues, but ALSO have a spiritual awakening. Many native cultures believe that Western culture is too fast to diagnose mental issues that very well could be spiritual in nature. Some of those that may be labelled as mentally ill here would be considered “healers” there. I’m not saying that is necessarily my case. But, I do find it a compelling argument. Also, I’m not saying that all mentally ill people should not have therapy or medications. No matter our differences, all are created equal according to Jesus and worthy of love (even if we don’t believe it ourselves).
Some have to learn this the hard way. (And by some…I mean me.)
I have a renewed sense of purpose and the feeling of a huge burden or boulder more like it lifted off of my shoulders. I can feel the stress and strain lifting. And, I can see daily that the Lord is my shepherd. Sheep is used in a negative way these days. But, we all sheep in one way or another…We all follow a path of our own choosing whether consciously or unconsciously. Whether it’s religion, politics or otherwise. I am choosing to follow my authentic path with my eyes wide open and my heart wide open with a compassionate ear to hear those different perspectives. Will I be perfect? As a Christian, we are called to strive for perfection by walking in His way. Are we perfect? No, but that’s why we have His grace. Amen for that!
P.S. I do hope you have a very Happy Easter. And, may the Lord open your eyes to how he has worked and continue to work in your life daily. May we continue to show compassion for others as he has for us.