Friday, May 17, 2013

Speaking Freely

Here's sort of a snapshot into what has been going on in my head the past few days.

I hate her I hate her no I don't she''s my sister and I do love her and want the best for her but she seems so evil and I can't love evil even as badly as I want to.  I want her to get her life together and stop torturing Mom and me and give Blake a chance at not being so royally screwed up which he's almost certainly guaranteed to be if he gets raised by her.  I don't want her dead, I don't deserve to live anymore than she does, no matter what I may say when I'm angry and sad and hurt and exhausted of being around her, but sometimes I wish she would just move far, far away.  So we would never have to see her again and deal with her and my mom could finally get her life back.  Sometimes I feel like even getting to see Blake isn't worth putting up with the emotional torture she seems to enjoy inflicting upon this family.  I love him, more than she can even understand, sometimes I think I would give up my whole life and my whole future to make sure he was safe, but sometimes there's an overwhelming desire in me to protect myself and my sanity first and WHY AM I SO SELFISH?!

Over and over and over again until even the sound of my own voice makes me sick when I haven't actually vocalized a single word.

I can only think of one reason that all of this has come pouring out of me tonight - a book called Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson.  It's a book my friend JD sent me years ago, before I read for fun, when I was still more concerned with making people happy than me being honest.  I liked her so much that I was never going to tell her that that book sat on my bookshelf, moved into a box, moved back and forth back and forth to and from college semester after semester.....without me ever opening it up.  After a while, it wasn't even necessarily that I didn't want to read it - after a while I became more open to hearing "Christian" stories and reading "Christian" books and opening myself up to a piece of the world that I had shut myself off to for so long.  It was mostly that I just didn't like to read.  But more than that, I really didn't like saying no to people so I collected books from people who wanted to share with me and help me without ever telling me they were wasting the postage and should give it to someone else who deserved the time and thought.

Well, as has been somewhat documented on this blog over the past five or so months, I've started reading.  For fun!  And even though during the semester I didn't have time for recreational reading because there was so much school reading in the semester, I started gathering a list of books I wanted to get, books I knew I had but wanted to read, and decided I was going to work my way through them this summer.  Then, I ended up getting a stack of Public Policy stuff from Dr. Mero (because apparently my reading nerdiness doesn't take summer vacation off, either), which left me with quite the impressive stack.  Good thing I've got three months!

I had to make it through that stupid research paper for the end of the semester before I could even think about reading for fun (which, I don't know if I ever mentioned, I got an A so my 3.8 GPA is still in tact), and being sick this week has sort of put everything on hold because I can't really feel like reading when sitting up makes me nauseous.  But I made it through Multiply (the book from my small group) and sent it off to a friend, and sent off two other books I've already read to another friend, and today, since I was supposed to hear back about a job but never did, I was bored and decided to pick up the book on the top of the stack on my dresser.

Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace

It'd been so long since I received this book that I couldn't remember what it was about, so I opened it.  And immediately I was drawn into Anne's words about how she drew all sorts of Internet attention with a simple question she put on her blog: What is one thing you feel you can't say in the church?

Interspersed with pictures and notes and confessions from countless people is Anne's story of how she fought to tell the ugly truth about life in the middle of a "churchisphere" (yes, I may have just made that word up. Go with it) that said the only things that were acceptable were clean and easy and could be answered quickly and tritely.  Our stories come from opposite ends.  She is the daughter of a preacher in a Very Traditional Southern Baptist Church whose family was rejected for not following what they said was God's law closely enough, for her daring to question how well these church elders were teaching the Bible they held so dearly.  I'm a girl not raised in the church, who tried so hard to be the person I thought you had to be to be a Christian, to be accepted, to be one of "God's people", that I became a shell of a person, and when that still wasn't enough, I just ran.  I ran from everything that had "Christian" attached to it.  I ran from talking to people because I was so tired of being judged and abandoned for being what I thought was the person I was made to be.

Heh.  Well, look how times have changed.  No, actually, I'd like to say they've changed, but in reality, while this blog is about as close to a crystal-clear view into my head as you can get, there's still a lot I don't say because I still care about what people think.  I don't want to tell people that sometimes looking at my sister just makes me want to punch her in the face or how sometimes the raging hatred I feel pulsing through every piece of me has me wondering if I'll ever love her again, if I ever loved her in the first place.  Because that's not the Mal everyone knows.  That's not the girl people are familiar with who will do anything to help anyone, who simply loves people.  I feel suddenly so much less like myself if I tell people that the heart, sympathy, compassion, I feel for basically everyone in my life no matter how little we know each other so often runs drier than a broken faucet when I look in the eyes of my next oldest sister.  Like maybe I'm not as nice of a person as I thought I was, maybe I've been fooling everyone all this time about who I really am...including me.  I don't want to tell people I don't understand why this relationship, why my reaction to this one person is so vastly different than every other relationship I have formed despite the fact that my sister is so far from the only screwed up thing in this family.

It wasn't until the past couple years, when I started forming true, authentic friendships - through the blog/Twitter world, through school, through the Vespers, through church - that I started finding the courage to tell people, most importantly of all myself, that the brokenness is okay.  I knew that hat I didn't have to hide behind a mask of the person that I thought people wanted me to be, that I really was made this person for a reason and that if I kept waiting, I kept trying, I never quit being me, I would find people who could love me through my own brokenness and let me love them through theirs, too.  I didn't believe it would actually work...until it did.  And I didn't realize it did until I found myself in places like at my computer at 2 am having a conversation with a woman I've never met about how she understands what it feels like to look at your own family and think that you hate them...and the surprises that can come when out of nowhere relationships you thought were beyond hope start to take shape again.  Places like an online chat community talking to a church full of strangers in Texas who take the time to tell this "nobody" 20-year-old girl in North Carolina that I'm helping them, ministering to them, simply by telling them that they aren't alone and that I get it.

See, one of the things that Anne's booked helped me realize is that I think we all have a nagging fear of being alone - not in the physical sense, but alone in the sense that we're the only ones going through the struggle that feels like it's seconds away from swallowing us whole.  Like if one of us stands up and says "Hey, I don't know what I'm doing.  I hate this and this about myself and I want to change but I don't know how to start." then the people we thought were friends might actually turn out not to be and tell us we're too different to belong.  But one of the most poignant and essential lessons I found in these pages was that sometimes all it takes is one person willing to stand up and say what's raw, what's real, what's true, even if it's ugly and broken, to tell the people around them that it's okay, it's safe, for them to tell their own secrets, too.

I have real friends, now.  These friends, these big brothers and big sisters who have given me Christian, God-honoring, patient guidance through times and situations when I didn't know where I'd get it from, are true role models of mine.  And I can say that they are my role models because I know their faults, too; they've allowed to see past their imperfections to see the heart that lies beneath all the confusion and dirt and crap that screws up our views.  Like that woman, whom I've never met, who let me say I think I hate my sister and told me that was okay.  Or the friends who just listen when I need them to and will tell me when they have advice to give, or when they have no idea what to say at all.  They are just there, with tears, with prayers, with presence.  And they know that the refuge they have offered to me time and time again is an offer that is always on the table for them, 24/7, no matter what.

These friendships brought me to life.  Their patient, persistent, unfailing determination to love me when the easy option wold be to leave me behind tore down the grip that fear had on my entire being.  Their voices that said it's okay to be just Mal became louder than the one that said I had to be someone specific to be okay and be wanted.  It's not a one-time fix kind of thing; it's a lesson I have to learn again and again every time I wonder if it's okay to say what I want to say to someone that I know I ultimately do trust just because I don't want them to get the wrong idea.  I remind myself, they remind me, we love each other through it and before either of us realizes what happened, we feel free enough to tell each other anything.

There is so much freedom in authenticity; I know that now.  I just had to find the people who wanted to hear it.  But I did, in some crazy and unexpected ways with people the old me never would've even dreamed of being friends with.  It was like I looked at these people and told God I knew I didn't deserve them, but if He could just let me have someone like them, then that'd be good, because I couldn't understand why they would ever want to be friends with me in the first place.  They had it "together", and I was like a baby giraffe trying to figure out what walking felt like.  I didn't know why I should trust them, when people titled "Christians" right in front of my face had burned me so harshly right here in my own life, but I was so desperate for community that I knew I needed to try.  And with every time that, in all my inexperience, my fumbling, my questions, one of these friends told me the ways in which my words and my friendship had helped them, I learned that they are no more put together than I am.  We're all just different kinds of broken.

Lately, I've had comments that I need to write a book, or I need to take my story and message to a larger stage, coming in much more frequently.  I'll be honest - do I have a dream tucked away somewhere that that is what my future will look like?  Yes, I've said exactly that here right on this website.  But reading this book helped me realize the root reason behind why I want that - because I want to help give a voice to all the people who, like me, let fear silence theirs for far too long.  I would never intend to imply that I have all of this figured out, but I want to walk with people the way I've had people walk with me even when I didn't know I wanted them there.   I want to be the one who shouts from every platform available that you are good enough, your story is worth telling, as long as it's you.  The world doesn't need more voices trying to cram the problems of life back into little boxes to be hidden away in secrecy.  The world needs people who are going to look the weak and broken and scarred in the eyes and say that there is still grace for them at the foot of the Cross.  Jesus spent his time with the rejects for a reason.  There is always enough grace.

I just hope that no matter what the platform that God puts in front of me, a year, five years, ten, twenty years from now, He continues to give me the courage to stand up and speak.  Because I don't want to stop.

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