A New Year for New People

It’s the last day of the year, the time that I get really nostalgic about life. 2014 has really seemed to fly by in a blur, though, at the same time, I find myself very aware of change, both in the world around me and in myself. And that hasn’t even been confined to the past twelve months!

I’ve been looking back lately, reading posts from the early days of this blog. And you know what? I don’t think I know that Tani anymore. The person I was, four years ago, three years ago, heck, one year ago… is not the me I am now. And that’s a good thing. As I read back, look back to the kid I was, I see someone manipulative, but scared. Someone who didn’t think she had any worth, or could ever have it. Someone who wanted nothing more than to be loved, but was terrified that she wasn’t good enough for it. I was desperate for control of my life, which I felt was slipping away from me, with my sister going quite literally crazy and my parents not really seeming to care about me, so busy were they with her. I thought I was the only person I could possibly depend on, and that made me bitter, cynical, and even mean to anyone who I felt could shake my tenuous control of my life.

I was distant from God, I didn’t know Him, though I pretended to, and I was sick with worry that people would find that out. I didn’t pray much, and I hated Christian music with a passion, because I didn’t understand how people could be so sure that a seemingly uncaring force could really love them, or that they could love Him back. But at the same time, I wanted that feeling. I craved it, which strangely only made me hate it all the more.

Then, I got sick, and that shattered what small confidence I had in my own supremacy. Looking back, I find it almost funny that I was so utterly despondent at what now seems an irrelevant amount of pain, but it was all-consuming back then. I blamed God for it, of course, sure that my as-yet unknown illness was His fault, a punishment for my very existence. I wasn’t supposed to be alive, I was convinced, and God was just trying to wipe me out, fix what my older sister had termed the “mistake” of me being born. She said it was like the Great Flood… God had messed up when He made me, and just wanted me gone so that all the people He had meant to be there could live as they were supposed to, without me messing them up.

(Have I mentioned yet that my sister was crazy? I think it bears mentioning again. My sister, forgive the language, was batshit insane.)

Now, I’m not saying all this to garner pity from y’all, but rather to make a point to who I am, today, on December 31st, 2014. Who am I?

I’m loved.

Honestly, that’s the most all-encompassing adjective I can use to describe myself now, a word I would never, in a million years, have used to describe myself back in 2011. Broken, ugly, invisible, sinful, stupid, maybe, but never loved. Never beautiful. Never forgiven. I’m writing this, with Lincoln Brewster’s Made New playing in the background. I understand the words now. Looking back, seeing Tani from 2011 and 2012, I can see God’s hand on me the whole way, changing me and making me better so slowly I barely even noticed until now. I may have felt alone, but He was constantly putting people into my life who made me better, helped me grow, and just loved me. I felt powerful in my own strength, and He sent me loving rebukes that humbled me without breaking me down (not that I liked them much in the moment.) I felt unknown and unknowable, and He showered me with little gifts just for me, a shooting star or a song coming on the radio exactly when I needed it, that reminded me He is there and He knows me.

But at the same time, He’s telling me to finally start looking outward, to stop being the self-sufficient and self-obsessed person I was. This past year, I became a youth minister, something I would never have dreamed I would love as much as I do. It’s amazing to me now (and I don’t mean to sound proud, because it’s a really humbling thought) that I am actually teaching other people about God and His love. People started actually reading my blog, and I started writing for two others. I made great new friends, gained an awesome pastor, read good books, grew in confidence (though not in height… I shrunk again!) travelled, sang, laughed. I’m a new person. The old me? Gone. Who am I, that God would care so much?

I’m like you. Really. All of us wonder, I know, if we’re really lovable or if God really cares. We al have that nagging feeling that God won’t take care of us, and so we cling to our own strength as though it will keep us afloat, when, in reality, it’s an anchor that will drag us down. We want grand displays of God’s love, but don’t really notice that He works in the small things and with the small people.

The day that started my journey back to God was just days after I wrote that post about not feeling like I could ever love or be loved by God. It was such a normal day, until I made that pan of brownies that changed everything. And what a silly thing for God to pick! He could have sent angels or done some huge miracle, but He chose something innocuous and irrelevant to work wonders. That’s kinda how He works. You just have to be open to Him.  This new year, if you have any resolutions that you need to keep, let it be this one. Be open. Be broken. Be brought to the lowest point you can, cause that darkness and brokenness is where God starts to work at making you who you’re supposed to be, when all that you’ve made yourself has crumbled away.  His plan is so, so much better.

You’re loved.



Love to Banish Fear, Part Three: On Death

Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return...
Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return…

This year has been full of endings. I graduated from high school and my youth group, and many of my friends left for college. My adventure with RCIA ended, and more friends disappeared into the ether, probably never to be seen again. My favorite pants got torn, and I had to throw them away (all you girls with extreme hourglass shapes will see why the loss of well-fitting pants is a tragedy!)

But back to seriousness, this year seems to just be marked with death. First, a close friend lost her sister in a freak accident. Then, my own sister attempted suicide, and I spent several terrible hours not knowing if she was alive or dead. In June, my mom miscarried a younger brother or sister that I never got to meet. Lastly, and this death affected me the most, an old family friend, Anne Schmidt, succumbed to breast cancer. She’s the one who really inspired this post, and so I’m dedicating all these words to her.

Anne was one of those people who just seemed to breathe holiness. With a face that never seemed to have any expression but an affectionate smile, she was a woman who was full of joy and love for everyone, and when you were with her, you got the feeling that she really saw you. When she sang in her parish choir, her voice sang every note tinged with the melody of heaven. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting next to her in the choir room at mass, when she would let me sing with her. She was one of the only people who was never content to let me stay in the shadow of my older sister, who has a marvelous and room-quaking voice. Anne always encouraged me to sing my best, not thinking about how good my sister sounded, and I’ve loved to sing ever since. Anne loved God, loved her family, and loved the people around her. She was always full of joyful peace, even on the last time I saw her, when she told my mother and me that her cancer, beaten once before, had returned. She never seemed that afraid. She was a woman who had faith in God’s love and God’s will.

Here at Surrender the Brownies, we’re all about trust and faith, but that kind of complete trust shocked even me. For years now, since my diagnosis, I’ve been scared and hurt about my own death. A friend joked about it, and I snapped at him. I couldn’t help it; the idea of a diminished life expectancy scares me. Heck, the idea of death scares all of us, and we spend a lot of time doing everything we can to stave it off, to buy a few more years to do whatever it is we think we need to do. We don’t like the idea of a concrete deadline for the completion of whatever it is our purpose in life is. I’ve been spending months now thinking about death, thinking about writing this post, praying for answers, and I think I understand death a little better now. Or at least, I understand one thing… we’re not supposed to be scared of it, and we have the power not to be.

Why shouldn’t we be afraid? Because… it’s a good thing. We shouldn’t be afraid of death. Ultimately, it’s what we’re made to do, the grand imperative that we’re all programmed for. We are born to die. And to say that isn’t morbid or morose, it’s actually the most hopeful, joyful thing I could write.

Let’s talk for a second about love. In parts one and two of this series, I’ve talked about how perfect love casts out fear (all inspired by 1 John 4:18.) God, being perfect love, is the antithesis of fear. And God made us to die. Yes, in the Fall, we brought terror and pain into the equation, but God always intended our earthly lives to end. Even Mary, who never suffered the effects of Original Sin, had to die. My friends, we are scared of death because we don’t really know God anymore. We’ve cut ourselves off from that source of perfect, fear-destroying love, so naturally, we’re scared of death.

St. Damien of Molokai
St. Damien of Molokai

But look to the people who have let themselves love and be loved by God. Look to the peaceful attitude of Saint Damien of Molokai, who, when he learned that he had contracted leprosy from the people he had ministered to for sixteen years, said “Having no doubts about the true nature of the disease, I am calm, resigned, and very happy in the midst of my people. God certainly knows what is best for my sanctification and I gladly repeat: ‘Thy will be done.” The man was going to be covered in sores, slowly lose his human appearance, become something ugly and terrible. He should have been terrified! He should have been angry at God for afflicting him with the disease! But he trusted God completely. He was happy, for Pete’s sake! He saw his descent into death as what it truly was: something natural and necessary for his salvation, a sign of love from God. And that’s a hallmark of sainthood. Saint after saint has said the same thing; that death is something we should think about daily, something we should have no fear about, something we should peacefully welcome. If that’s something that the holiest of people have agreed on, then do you think that maybe, just maybe, they’re right?

I’ve wasted a lot of time being scared and stressed in my life. (I’ve probably also wasted a lot of time thinking about why we’re scared of death, too, but since you’re all getting this lovely post out of it, you can’t complain.) I’ve gotten way too worked up about things that don’t matter, and that includes death. But this year, 2014, is the year that that ended. Here, at the end of the year, I’ve realized something… that after looking death in the face several times, a lot of small and petty annoyances don’t matter. If even the most terrifying thing we humans deal with is harmless, what are the annoying friends and small pains of everyday life? If I really love God, as I’m trying to do, I shouldn’t be worried about anything else. Like St. Damien, like Anne Schmidt, I should be able to joyfully accept everything God decides to send my way. Why be scared of the things of this world? This isn’t our home. We’re just passing through. As one of my favorite songs says, when we’re confronted with the sorrows and pains of life on earth, we should say, “all I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong.” And to get where we belong, we need to die. So stop running. Stop with the injections, the crazy exercise regimens, stop with the kale (unless you really like kale, in which case, you keep eating kale, because life is for living!)

Friends, love. The only way to stop being scared and stressed about everything in life is to love God, to let Him love you, and to share that love with your neighbor.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Love to all!