Now that I’m Five…

fyo1If you told me in 2012 that my five-year plan would include graduating from a Christian college, joining a church, singing on a worship team, teaching at a Christian school, and staying in Wisconsin, I would’ve laughed and told you,  “*bleep* off.”

Well, not quite; I’ve always been too introverted for that, but my mind would’ve retorted that answer even if my face put on a fake smile.

If you told me in 2012 that my five-year plan would lead me into a horrible job situation, a busted relationship, a lawsuit, and debt, that I’d miss the opportunity to say good-bye to my loving, beautiful, favorite grandmother, that I’d spend sleepless nights wrestling with real nightmares and surfacing family issues, I would’ve neatly executed the suicide plans which had stewed in my mind since I was 13 – only this time my attempt would’ve been successful.

If you told me in 2012 that I would someday be gifted with the undercurrent of joy that connects all of life, I would’ve stuck a pin in your hopeful optimism. I’m a vehement pessimist.

I remember looking in a mirror when I was 17 and strangely seeing myself for real. This exhausted, wounded half-woman believing she bravely carried her assorted sin collection, feeling obligated to hide all the sin collections others branded on her.


Those who know me closely know I attended a Christian college as a last resort, a sort of final chance for God to do something with me since I was so cast away.

Few people know that the weeks before meeting God with my older sister in the college cafeteria were rough. Our family dynamics were wildly changing as ancient skeletons fell out of closets. I wasn’t even supposed to return to college for the spring semester, but my dad, who’d been laid off, insisted on our college educations, tossing our offers of family sacrifice aside. The clan of edgy kids I ran with fall semester hadn’t returned. I was taking 21 credits and working a lot. My sister and I fought … in public. The campus library, no less. Quietest place ever, stupidest location for a fight.

It was over quick; I pushed her down the stairs, I think. I was so blind with rage I remember little beyond running and running. Not very fast, but very far. It wouldn’t be the first or last time I ran off campus. Bless my poor dorm sup…

Few people know that my sister cried out to God that evening, frustrated with trying to draw me to herself and God for comfort and life. I didn’t know this part of the story until later. She was exhausted because we were supposed to be knit together wrestling through all the issues side-by-side, and instead we were each alone.

“I give up honestly.” She confessed to God. “I’m just done with her.”

And yet, the tired, done woman who’d given up sat with the angry, running sinner in the dining hall two nights later saying words that pleased the God who hovered over us and between us and in us.

And that God opened my mind and came in, blowing me, my sin collections, and my small, trampled picture of life away with grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, and a supernatural, arresting presence.

I applaud the kitchen staff who valued my soul more than their bedtimes. They let us stay in the dining hall well beyond closing hours. I remember my brother-in-law-to-be getting in his car and speeding to campus to be the first to know and give me a big hug, welcoming me into another, better family. I can hear the voices of all my dorm sisters when I walked in late to devotions, interrupting the conversation with,

                “Dude, I just met God tonight!”

They were thrilled, hugging me like a sister.

I can see the first professor my sister and I told lighting up and setting aside time to have lunch with us so he could hear the details.

Dear God, bless all the sanctified individuals who lined up to stay in my life – who still are in my life – despite my fumbling, half-formed theology, fatal dedication to logic, countless struggles, and lists of questions … they are priceless.

I’m five. It takes a village to raise a child, and today I’d like to thank my village.




Meeting God

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel
The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel

On February 7th, four years ago, my older sister introduced me to God in our college cafeteria.

I thought I’d already met God, but I was wrong.

As a child, I tried to be a good, obey my parents, and do whatever the occasion required of me to make people happy. By making my parents happy and by making others happy, I was making God happy. If I made God happy, he showed he was pleased by making good things happen; if I did not make God happy, he showed he was displeased by making bad things happen. I felt like those ideals were what I was taught, so my philosophy of God didn’t go much further.

We attended a couple different churches when I was a child, and also, spent some time church-less.

At the end of a service one Sunday, my mom asked;

“Don’t you want to go to heaven?”

Of course I did if it would make her happy with me.

“You should go up and pray. Do you need help?”

I was embarrassed, but proud. “No. That’s ok.”

I got down on my knees in front of the read pew and devoutly closed my eyes:
I’m making my mom happy.

That’s all I remember about the moment that I would hear fed back to me as my “salvation testimony.” I couldn’t remember God crossing my mind that day at all.

God crossed my mind most often on the bad days, when everything went horribly wrong, and someone was mad at me, and I was hurt and scared.

I would go and curl up in the corner of the yard next to the back deck, sitting on the rocks, frightened begging, and ask God:

“I tried so hard to make You happy. Why don’t You love me?”

I always gave God a second chance to change his mind about his feelings toward me:

“I don’t know what I did, but I didn’t mean to make it happen, and I’ll never do it again if it makes You this unhappy. Can You just come down and hug me? Please?”

He never did.

I stopped asking. I stopped going to church, and I stopped trying to make people happy with me.

Not too many years later, I’d slipped far, demanding of my older sister, an amazing strong Christian who consistently set a high standard and a good example;

“Why should I even care what some stupid man did 2,000 years ago?”

I hated men. Honestly, I hated everybody. I’d formed my own brand of religious philosophy:

I hate everybody, and everybody hates me.

My “church service” became doing whatever I could to take care of myself and protect myself because no one else would.

God never struck me dead for hating him, so I believed in his indifference.
I didn’t reject God’s existence; life doesn’t make any sense without understanding a supernatural force is behind the world. No, I just assumed that any God floating around out there had no interest in me. After all, whoever God was, he or she or it hadn’t been into me when I was good nor when I was bad.

I was worse than miserable, and my older sister convinced me to leave home for college.

Skip ahead to the college cafeteria with my older sister, talking about something she’d learned about the creation of the world in one of her doctrine classes.

And God came into my mind.

In my mind’s eye, I saw the world suspended in space, and a hand, two fingers, reaching out to smush it like a grape. I could feel the great and good desire behind that hand, aching to destroy it and start all over again. Like the way artists feel when they paint a masterpiece and some bystander purposely smears it.

But God held the world gently, never crushing it.

“World in God’s Hands” by Code Scythe

I formed two concrete beliefs about God in that moment; God is love and God is forgiveness, but not the way I’d known love and forgiveness.

Love means self-control.

If you truly love someone, you control your needs, desires, wants, and rights when you are around them for their benefit, even if it puts you in a hard, hurtful position. God loved me because God controlled the desire and the right to crush me. For my benefit.

Forgiveness means double-hurt.

When you forgive someone, you can’t just throw the words, “I forgive you” at them. You forgive them by not only accepting the hurt they’ve inflicted on you originally, but also by absorbing your desire, your “right,” to avenge yourself. In essence, you take what they did to hurt you, and you let it hurt you again. You pay for the fact that they hurt you.

I’d wounded Love, and then, I’d stiff-armed Forgiveness.

I realized how rare love and forgiveness are when I saw their true meanings. The realization helped me see God, not as myself or anyone else, but as completely Other.

God is not a man.

The world’s presentation of God as a man confused me as a child. I perceived God as some kind of superman figure: incredibly strong, able to read minds, invisible, full of superpowers, capable of blessing and cursing everyone.

But God isn’t. God isn’t even some ultimate perfection of what mankind would look like at the peak of righteous faultlessness. God is completely Other.

Grasping a handful of the Otherness of God freed me to throw away the motherload of ideas I’d held about why God hadn’t seemed to love me and be around for me. God didn’t operate on my time schedule, and I couldn’t compare God with my dad or my mom or any other person I’d ever known.

God is Love.
God is Forgiveness.
God is Other.

In less than a minute, I knew three things about God.

It wasn’t even like I had a choice whether to accept or reject God. I never remember thinking, “Now I can accept God, or I can reject God.” God was suddenly in my mind, and everything was suddenly different.

“Help me!” I panicked, grabbing my older sister’s hand. “I just met God, and I don’t know what to do!”

Somewhere in my childhood I’d learned the Romans Road and John 3:16, but I couldn’t remember a single verse.

My older sister was so excited. She was jumping up and down and crying. I was crying. Something felt different, but I couldn’t even put my finger on it. We prayed together, but I can’t even remember what I said.

It was the week before Valentine’s Day, and I felt incredibly loved.

You-Are-Loved-MGI only knew four things about God, but I had a feeling that the quantity of things I’d learn about God would grow inexhaustibly.

“Going to heaven” never even played a role in my real introduction to God. I mean, what kind of genuine relationship starts just because you’re so pumped to see someone’s house? Heaven didn’t occur to me until several weeks after I met God, and then I was, like;

“Oh yeah! That’s right! Now I get to see heaven.”

It’s kinda like the sprinkles on top of the frosting already on my cake.

My Own Ugly-Beautiful Cross

Luke 9:23 – And Jesus said to all, If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

Black Cross of New Mexico
An item placed front and center on a church altar.
A 3D bumper decal.
Stamped on a graphic tee.
Clasped in praying hands with fistfuls of beads.
On the delicate silver chain around a girl’s neck.
Dangling from a woman’s earlobe.
Captured in a gorgeous oil painting, stark onyx against the pastel lines of dawn, like Georgia O’Keeffe’s pictured “Black Cross of New Mexico”.
In today’s culture, the cross is beloved, hailed and promoted as symbolic and claimed as the icon for several different reasons and movements, even by those ignorant of its true meaning.
But it wasn’t always.
In college, I was forced to read a long, detailed article on the methods of Roman crucifixion. At the end of the article, I wanted to wrap my angry hands around the warped minds that contrived this worst-possible-way to die and choke them. Words fail to detail the pain of the crucifixion.
Yet, God created those minds that warped themselves toward the study of painful deaths. He created the mouth of the one who kissed Him in betrayal. He created the hands that nailed Him to the cross, and the hands that attempted to wash themselves of His blood. He created the people who committed the sins that killed Him, including me.
Because He loves us and hates sin and wants to make all things new.
God is occupied with the redemption of the world. Yes, He’s redeemed His people, but He’s also in the business of redeeming and remaking music, business, fashion, symbols, and more. He loves to take not just ugly, dead people that others despise and transform them, but He also loves to take ugly, dead things that others despise and transform them.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 says that God loves to dumbfound people by choosing the weak, the humble, the low, the hated, even the non-existent in order to showcase His power and His message.
When I spent a summer in Mexico, I had the privilege of meeting many amazing, strong, and wonderfully transformed Christians. Because of their interest in me and their emotional openness to me, I was gifted with their stories, told by them in their own words. One amazing man possessed a story in some ways similar to mine – only he was bold enough to share it where I faltered in silence. He told me about his parent’s rough relationship and divorce, about the poverty his broken family faced, about his loneliness, about the time he spent in an orphanage.
“But, Anna,” he told me in Spanish as I barely managed a stumbling “lo siento mucho…que horrible” at the conclusion of his story, “if none of that had happened, I wouldn’t have met God at the orphanage, or learned to play guitar, or lived in this city, or met you.”
I couldn’t say anything – not in Spanish, not in English. I can still hardly say anything about the genuine glimmer in his eyes, like he honestly believed the “all things happen for good” verse in the Bible.
Up until that point (I’d only been a Christian for 2 years), I’d held to a futuristic view of Romans 8:28, a “well, in heaven when we’re with God in the very end of the world, of course all things will be good” idea.
But this man had a very present, intimate view of a God right now, right there in his life, working divorces and orphaned children and poverty out for good in his world. I feel immensely blessed to have learned a little of that present, intimate God view from him. The time he spent in my life, although brief, was ripe with spiritual growth. For that, I am forever grateful.
What he had, that I did not at the time, was a big picture view of the past. Not just the past of the world, but his own past.

Turquoise Wall Cross
My past and I have never been on good terms, partially because I remember things vividly and partially because the majority of my past was without God (yeah for the day that I’m old enough to reverse that statistic!). But I do love big pictures!
I’ve stood in the halls of museums, mesmerized by huge, intricate paintings, beckoning me to look at all the elements in all locations on the canvas. The lovely thing about those paintings is that each aspect is so detailed and planned, I hardly know where to look first. All the brush strokes and figures correspond aesthetically or uniquely within the setting, complementing the other elements. I’ve sat in gorgeous cathedrals giving myself whiplash from craning my neck to see how all the details of the painted, sculpted ceiling and walls fit together.
God loves big pictures. Since He isn’t limited by time and space, He creates some pretty long-term (to us), gorgeous, huge pictures.
Like the cross.
Many years after the crucifixion, the majority of the known world still despised the cross as ugly. In 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, Paul talks about how the cross was ridiculous and shameful to both the Jews and the Gentiles. Crucifixions were still taking place. One of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, was crucified upside down years after Jesus was, refusing to be crucified upright because he believed himself unworthy of suffering the same death Jesus had suffered. The cross remained ugly throughout the ancient world for hundreds of years.
But God is fine with waiting to develop long-term, lovely transformations. After all, He makes everything beautiful in His time, not in ours.
The cross was the ugliest, cruelest thing possible in the ancient world. Yet the cross happened to Jesus and God made it beautiful. He transformed a horrible death into a memorable, supernatural paradox that I get to see daily.
Picking up my own cross becomes something like that paradox; seeing the ugliest, cruelest thing possible that has happened to me to-date and beautifying it – yes, even publically displaying it – maybe when I have to stare at its hurtful effects daily, maybe when I have to shoulder its painful consequences daily, maybe when I still can’t even bring myself to look at it daily…
And God gives more grace.
In helping us to transform our own cross experiences, God’s strength is perfected in the midst of my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I can’t look at my cross without God’s help, I can’t bear my cross without God’s help, and I definitely can’t beautify and display my cross for God’s glory without His help. My cross becomes simultaneously my lowest, ugliest, most painful moment, and a daily reminder of God’s transforming power and grace. Like looking at an orphanage and a divorce and seeing salvation, music, and precious new acquaintances. That’s beautiful. God is so beautiful.

Cross Necklace
I get to see His beauty on the golden chain around my neck, in the gruesome article about an ancient death, in a Spanish conversation with an amazing Christian, in the hall paintings in a museum, and in my sometimes ugly, painful memories – my personal cross that He promised I won’t have to bear alone.
I am with you always… Matthew 28:20