Going it alone

It’s almost spooky how often my life lines up with the sermons I hear at church. I have been working on this blog post all week, and then today the pastor preached on this very topic. Well, at least a close cousin. I will warn you…I’m not sure how long this will get. I am an novelist, after all, and I’m also the Queen of Overthinking, so processing through that muck sometimes takes time. But we’ll have some fun along the way, yeah?

If you know me at all, follow this blog, follow me on Twitter, follow me to work every day, you know that 2015 has been a pretty amazing year for me. Possibly the most amazing year of my life. I signed a book deal, got a promotion to a supervisor position at dayjob, I’m in the process of buying a house, and those are just the big things. There are new friendships, new adventures, a myriad of other things that make each day fun and exciting. I have been beyond blessed.

So when I have nights like Monday last week, nights where I feel sort of sad and melancholy, I feel guilty. Because I should be happy all the time, right? That’s what people expect. That’s how I want people to see me, isn’t it?

And how do I handle those moods? I reach out to friends, of course!

And then I run away.

Before I let myself become too vulnerable. Before I let anyone see that I don’t have things as in control as I pretend to. Before I admit that maybe a snarky quip won’t get me out of this one. I make one anyway. I change the topic. I turn the focus back to my friend(s) before they can guess that I’m anything less than the euphorically happy woman I’m supposed to be. That’s how it went Monday. I reached out, then retracted anything vulnerable. And most everyone fell for it. (This is not a reflection of my friends. I’ve become very adept at dodging.)

Tuesday morning, I had a client who hit close to home, who spoke the words of my soul. I sat and told this kiddo that they should never feel like a burden to parents or friends, that they are WORTHY of love and respect and that they should NEVER feel like they are bothering others when they’re feeling back. I told them that feelings are never wrong, that we’re not meant to deal with them alone. That there were so many people who cared about them and wanted to be able to help in any and every way.

Hmph.

A little while later, I got a text from my friend Sara. She was the one person who wasn’t fooled by my dodging game the night before, and wanted to know what was up. Given everything I had just told my client, I decided to stop dodging and actually talk to Sara about what was going on. Which is good, because Sara doesn’t take my bull. We met at a coffee shop that evening to chat.

Here’s the ironic part. The reason I was feeling down was because despite all the awesomeness happening in my life, I often feel like I’m doing life alone. When I was looking at houses, a friend told me she envied the fact that I get to make all the decisions on my own. I told her I envied the fact that she had a partner to help out in that. There are people all around me, yet, in the end, I am responsible for all these decisions. House decisions. Career decisions. Decisions on what to make for dinner. And yet, when given the opportunity to reach out to people, I tend to run away, which Sara was more than happy to point out. “You’re running again.” I don’t know how many times she said that about one topic or another. Most often relationships.

New friendships are hard for me. I’m really great at talking to people, but it usually stays surface. I don’t go too deep. The deeper into a friendship you get, the more ammunition you give someone else to hurt you. That is the lesson I’ve learned, and one I’m trying hard to unteach.

I don’t know how much I’ve talked on this blog about my past, but the most obvious reason for my scared bunny act is that I was bullied horribly as a child. Mostly through middle school. And I was a weird kid. (Who wasn’t, amiright?) But I was the fat, awkward, bespectacled girl with the bad perm, so I really didn’t stand a chance. Kids are mean, guys. That’s the not point of this post, though.

My safe place growing up, besides books, was the church. I was the pastor’s kid, and I reveled in that role. I got to run crazy all over whatever church my dad was serving at the time. I hung out in the balcony, ate all the extra communion bread, and played hide n seek in the cemetery at the small country church he pastored while attending seminary. I made prank phone calls from his office (sorry, Dad!) and played the organ when the building was empty. Everyone knew who I was. I mattered. I sang solos and starred in the Christmas pageant. Where I felt invisible outside of those walls, at church I was significant.

(It’s kind of incredible how difficult this next part is to write, and I’m only giving an overview. Bear with me.)

The summer of 2003 is the summer church changed from my safe place to a hostile environment. I’d just finished my first year of college and was working at a Bible camp for the summer. It was my week to be in a cabin, but I had a two hour break each day, so I used it to run to staff quarters and check email. I had an email from a friend back home asking how my dad was doing. I freaked and immediately called home.

My parents told me that my dad had been forced to resign from his position at the church he’d been at for almost five years. I won’t go into details, partially because it’s just too hard, and partially because this is a monster entry, but it was nasty. It was one of those situations that you see in a movie and you’re like, that couldn’t possibly happen in real life. People don’t behave like that. Christians don’t behave like that. It was ugly and it was devastating and it felt like my entire world had been ripped out from under me. If Christians acted like that, these people who had been my safe haven for years, then who could I possibly trust?

I walked away from the church for months. Completely. I wanted nothing to do with it. I became depressed and attended therapy for a short time, and even took antidepressants, although I hated the way they made me feel and took myself off of them. (I was a terrible client. My poor therapist.) Then during J-term I took a class called Christ-Centered Counseling. Through that class, I came to the realization that I had put all my faith in the people of the church instead of in God. And people are fallible. (Surprise surprise!) Slowly my faith grew again, but it was definitely a more cautious faith.

Again and again over the next several years I was taught that some of the least trustworthy people in my life were those that professed a faith in God. The next church my dad pastored, after being out of the ministry for a year and a half, did the same thing to him. (It’s interesting to note that both those churches, which were thriving under my dad’s leadership, have dwindled. One survives only because of money, the other is little more than a small group that meets sporadically in a basement.) My dad is no longer in ministry. He and my mom are part of a small house church, and generally only attend traditional services when they visit us. I used to attend a service for young adults at a church in Sioux Falls. I hung out with the people in leadership, and helped out when I could. When I entered grad school and had to cut back on commitments, I was shunned until I quit attending.

Obviously there’s a lot more to this, but I think what I’ve shared is more than sufficient for the purposes of this blog. (Yes, there is a purpose. Probably.)

When I moved to Des Moines, I knew I wanted to connect with a church. Despite my dubious feelings towards Christians in general, I knew that it was important to be part of a worship community, and I had high hopes that I would find a place that could once again remind me of the feeling I had as a child, that feeling of home and belonging and safeness.

Wow. Is it ever hard to find a place like that!

I tried. I did. I tried huge churches that wouldn’t have a clue if I was there or not from week to week. I tried small churches where people stared at me like a visiting alien. I tried traditional worship, contemporary worship, and everything in between. I was exhausted.

Through a “random” (read: God) series of events, and through a completely unexpected source, one Sunday morning I found myself at the Historical Building in downtown Des Moines, visiting a little church called rechurch. My first visit, the pastor preached from a beam set up between the stage and the first row of seats. I was hooked. The message of the church was “Love, Grace, Friendship, Acceptance, No Matter What.” It was a church of people who had never been a part of a church, or who had been hurt by churches in the past. My people.

Still. Despite knowing I needed to connect, I held back. Distrust runs deep. For three years I slipped in and out of the services, rarely speaking to anyone. The pastor always greeted me, and his wife sought me out. Without them, I probably would have run away. I attended a group here and there, but didn’t get too involved.

Then came Bekah. A woman I’d never spoken to, though I had seen her lead worship when our main worship leader was absent. She approached me one Sunday after church. “This might be a weird question, but do you sing?” She’d been sitting behind me and down the row, but somehow still heard me singing. She recruited me then and there to help lead worship for a teen girls retreat, and to help lead worship the next time the leader was gone. After singing in church that first time, the worship leader approached me and asked if I would consider joining the team, and I started singing about every other week with the band. And then I helped restart the women’s ministry, leading groups alongside the pastor’s wife.

Less than a year later, rechurch closed its doors. My home. My family. The place I finally belonged. And as much as you say you’ll keep in touch and keep meeting…it never turns out quite as you expect. I still get a small group of women together once or twice a month. Some of the best women I’ve met. They know more about me than almost anyone. Rechurch gave me the place I needed to learn to trust again.

It’s been two years since rechurch closed. It still hurts sometimes. And starting over is hard. I attended a some other churches through those couple years, but it was a battle. Nothing felt right. I ended up staying home most Sunday mornings. That was easier than putting on my church face and mingling with people who also kept their church faces firmly in place. What’s that Casting Crowns song? Stained Glass Masquerade? That’s sort of what it was for me. And those churches had some very good people. Good messages. But they didn’t feel like home. I was an outsider. Always.

(We’re closing in on 2,000 words, folks. I told you it was going to be a beast.)

And now here I am. Ridiculously happy at the church I’ve been attending since January. It feels like home. I have felt my heart changing, softening a bit again. Feeling hopeful. (Which is fitting, since the church is called Hope.) I’m excited for Sunday mornings again. I devour the messages, and can always find something to mull over for days. The music is always on point, and I’ve had the privilege of singing with the band a couple of times.

And yet.

Every time I pull up to attend a service or a rehearsal or an event solo, I have to take deep breaths before getting out of the car. It takes everything in me not to run for the door at the end of the service, to stay and find people to talk to. I always enjoy it when I do, and I’ve met some amazing people, but my instinct for running is still strong. My instinct to keep things on a surface level is stronger. I’m trying, more here than I ever have before, but my past experiences are in a constant battle with my need for a deeper connection.

So what’s the point of sharing all of this? Hahahaha I have no idea.

Kidding. Sort of. My life and my experiences have made me into the person I am. Into the writer I am. Writing is a pretty isolating thing. We spend a lot of time alone in dimly lit rooms, researching, writing, editing. It’s easy to feel alone, because, well, we are alone much of the time.

I had a friend tell me recently, and she’s not the first, that all this writing stuff seemed to come really easily to me. That I “got it” right away. And after reading through my entire blog last weekend, I’m not surprised, because that’s exactly how I presented it. Sunshine and daisies. Rainbows and unicorns. (See a similar post on this topic here.) A few little blips but hey, such is life. When in reality it was HARD. I fought for every word, for every stinking edit note. And while I’m proud of the final product, I’m also intensely terrified. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is NOT sharing that part of me, at least with my close writing friends. We all need that support, that feeling of not being alone. Yes, a lot of what we do is alone, but a lot doesn’t have to be.

Okay, bottom line. In writing and in life, REACH OUT. People are not going to feel like you’re bugging them. Your friends, your family, they WANT to be there for them. Being vulnerable is more difficult for me than almost anything in the world. I hate asking for help. (When I broke my leg in college, I hobbled all the way across campus in the pouring rain rather than call for a ride and inconveniencing anyone.) I am challenging myself to be better about that. To know that it’s okay to share those darker parts, it’s okay to not always be happy, it’s okay to be vulnerable with people. (Ugh, seriously, the thought is terrifying.) If you don’t struggle with that, find someone who does, get their story, be their safe place. We’re all looking for one. We all need connection. We’re not meant to do life alone.

At over 2500 words, I think I’m done. As always, apologies for any discombobulation. It’s just how my brain works, and I still haven’t found that blog post editor 😉

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14 Responses to Going it alone

  1. Moonstruck says:

    Having been born and raised in the southern Bible Belt I can attest that the mark of a good preacher is to make every person in the congregation feel as if the sermon is directed in some unique way to them.

    Nice post, I enjoyed reading every word.
    Moonstruck

  2. Kathy Palm says:

    Yup. All of it… yup. I’ll never leave you. ❤

  3. mmgage says:

    Oh I hear you. Reaching out, opening up is TOUGH. I’ve just… JUST… started admitting to friends that I write, that being an author is what I want to do with my life. And it feels very scary to put that into words anywhere outside of my head.

    • Rena says:

      That’s one thing I’m challenging myself to do, to actually tell people that I’m an AUTHOR. That word is so hard to say. My friends and family know, of course, but to most people it’s just a weird little hobby. But I am an author, and SO ARE YOU.

  4. Maggie says:

    You are a phenomenally talented writer Rena. I so enjoy reading your words on this blog and on Twitter. Would you mind if I share this with an adult client of mine?

  5. Tana says:

    Lovely post, Rena!
    It’s hard to talk about the things that hurt us, but I’m glad you are able to share these feelings, and that you have found a new place that feels like home! 🙂
    ❤ you!
    Tana

  6. Tim Olsen says:

    With tears in my eyes I say to you, I’m a proud papa! I need to apologize to you. There is a lot of me in you.

  7. Pingback: What if… | Rena Olsen

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