Mirror, Mirror

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For the first time in nearly five months, I am finally returning to my blog, which I had almost no time to write for throughout this whole semester. It was a long semester, full of multiple emotional blows and academic shortcomings. Pretty much the only thing that went close to well was my internship, and even that was fraught with ups and downs.

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To put it simply, this semester was the semester I lost two friends in ways that affected me deeply. One friend (I’ll call him W, for privacy’s sake) took his own life, right at the beginning of the year, and I haven’t returned to full emotional stability since then. I had very few good days this semester–most of them were either horrible or else just okay. The other friend (who I will call Q) is still alive, but in the aftermath of W’s death, while I was emotionally adrift and needed someone solid and firm to give me a sound anchor in the midst of the storm, Q became instead manipulative, demanding, and negative. Instead of finding something fixed to hang onto, I found myself being dragged deeper into the maelstrom of my emotional chaos. And in the end, the only way for me to prevent Q from dragging me under was to cut all ties with him.

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Losing W and Q in the same semester has really done a number on my emotional balance. W’s death made me realize just how deeply I feel driven to want to protect others. He wasn’t a close friend, but looking back, W should have been one of my closest friends. I still sometimes feel guilt for never having been there to protect and minister to him in his times of spiritual weakness. I still sometimes find myself almost in tears while listening to songs like See You Again and Sound of Silence. I found myself wishing he’d been there to celebrate one more Easter, to be snidely cynical on one more Singles’ (*ahem* Valentine’s) Day, to attend one more pre-finals dorm event, to watch one more graduation ceremony. Because of W, I have learned not only what it really means to be anywhere close to a grenade (in the metaphorical, John Greensian sense), but also how much we really don’t appreciate while we have it. I was well within the emotional blast radius when W exploded, and I didn’t appreciate him until after he was gone.

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Cutting ties with Q, and the leadup to the decision, made me realize just how broken I am already. A lot of people might look at what they can see of my life and tell me that I don’t have it all that bad. That I should be happy for what (and who) I’ve had in my life and for the ease with which I’ve gotten it. Yet that doesn’t cancel out the fact that I’ve been deeply hurt and rejected and looked down on by people I came to trust and to believe in. And each piece of damage, each crack in the vessel that is me, has made it harder for me to trust people and open myself up to them. I find myself isolating myself from people more and more, unwilling to be vulnerable.

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Graduation was also a strange experience. Looking back on the commencement ceremonies, it is saddening that I felt like walking across the stage was the only dream I had had left. And now even that is gone, and I am struggling to not feel like I am about to disappear any minute, vanishing into nothingness as if I were a character in Angel Beats. All I felt after graduation was a sense of relief, and a sense of having nothing more to look forward to. I haven’t found a new dream yet, and I desperately need one.

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In the soundtrack for RWBY, there is a song called Mirror, Mirror, which in Volume 3 has been given a sequel called Mirror, Mirror: Part II. These two songs have resonated with me since I heard their lyrics, and these lines especially keep playing in my head: “Mirror, Mirror, what’s behind you? // Save me from the things I see. // I can keep it from the world; // Why won’t you let me hide from me?” Yet in Part II, the singer responds to herself saying, “Some believe in fairy stories, // And the ghosts that they can’t see. // I know that I could do so much, // If I could just believe in me.” Maybe that’s where I am. Maybe I just need to stop believing in others and start believing in myself a little more often. Maybe then I can find the confidence to start dreaming again.

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Darkness & Light

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In an unprecedented move, I am going to take keystrokes to blogspace twice in one day. Fairly soon after completing my previous post, I had a conversation with a friend about why some of us fall into depression and despair over the fallen state of the world, even though there are many of people working to set the world to rights. During our conversation, we discussed the idea of stars in the night sky. How for many people, the light of the stars is not overcome by the darkness of the night sky and, in fact, makes the night beautiful. Yet for some, the darkness drowns out the pinpoints of light, rendering to us a world draped in ominous shadows and oppressive darkness.

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The thing is, people like me want to see positive progress in the world. But it’s easy for us to look and see the darkness like a massive swamp, sucking all of the moments of light into its murky depths. We know there’s light out there, but it seems so small and weak compared to the darkness. We long for the victory of light, but the power of darkness drives us to despair of that victory. We become discouraged. We lose hope. Some of us keep ploughing on out of a sense of duty, or because we’re afraid of the effect we’ll have on those around us if we give up on everything. And some of do give up and lose hope completely. It’s all too easy to be pushed dangerously close to that breaking point.

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Soon after the conversation with my friend, I happened across a picture online that contained a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In it, Samwise Gamgee tries to encourage Frodo Baggins thus:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.

Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

This is a quote that I keep returning to, because of how often I need it as a reminder. For me, the darkness both inside and out often threatens to extinguish the light. I often am left holding on to the weakest of sparks, trying my best not to let it go out. At times like those, it’s hard to be reassured that the dawn is coming. It’s hard to keep pushing forward in the hopes that the adventure will end in victory and not in defeat and death.

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I am more fortunate than many, though. For us, it is not enough to be told to hope. Hope is nigh impossible for those of us who doubt the strength of the light. It is not enough to be told to hang onto the light. Sometimes we’re afraid to even admit that our light is almost gone. We long for company, for support, for help in replenishing our fire, yet we cannot bear to ask for that assistance. And I think that is something that those who have not faced our doubts sometimes struggle to understand. It is not enough to answer our questions as you would want them to be answered. We often seek for a deeper assurance, a more compelling reason to have confidence, than most do. We are searching for the strength to stand in the dark, and it does not come easily.

Why I Will Live


Ever since I woke up this morning and remembered last night, the day has felt like a nightmare. A slowly degenerating nightmare that I expect every second to wake up from, to find that what I heard was just made up in my mind and that you are okay and alive, still out there for my second chance at being a friend.

But I don’t wake up that second time that I so deeply desire. The thoughts keep swirling around in my head. It’s my fault. I should have talked to him. Maybe I was the one who had the key. Why? Why did it have to happen? What did I miss out on? I can’t break the cycle. I can’t stop feeling the guilt.

We never talked after that year we were working together. It’s not like we even talked then. You wrote your stuff. I wrote mine. We came to the same meetings, talked to the same people who gave us tasks. And then our paths divided, but I found you on Facebook. And never said anything to you.

A year later, I heard that you weren’t doing okay anymore. That people had seen you change and become a person very different from the glimpse I’d seen of you. But I ignored what I’d heard. I didn’t care. I didn’t stop to ask you how you were doing. Out of the many friends I did stop to keep up with, you were one of the few I didn’t but that I could have.

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I forgot about you for the years after that. All that time that you were sinking and searching. The years that people tried to reach out to you, but somehow never quite got there. The years that I began to go through some of the same struggles and questions. The years that we could have talked and tried to encourage each other. The years you were alone.

Could I have said something that would have changed it all? Something that could have given you a lifeline to hang onto in the midst of the pain and the nothingness? Something to anchor you into the love of God that is still present in this world, even as the Archenemy tried to consume you and nullify you? Did I fail you?

I can’t stop asking. I can’t stop feeling like there was something I should have done. I can’t stop missing you more and more, even though I never knew you. I can’t stop wishing that you weren’t the one to head the list of “friends of mine who sleep and, perchance, who dream.” I can’t stop dreaming that maybe, just maybe, somehow I’ll find you and we’ll battle our way through our regrets and our failures in the Afterlife, just like in Angel Beats. I can’t stop mourning your passing, even though there are many who would say we weren’t close enough for me to need to grieve so much.

I always knew that going out in this way would be like releasing an explosive. What I didn’t know was that it is more like experiencing a nuclear bomb than experiencing a hand grenade. You wounded me by leaving like that. You left a hole in someone who shouldn’t have been touched, someone who shouldn’t feel your passing so deeply. But I do.

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And that’s why I have to live on. No matter how much I hate my life, no matter how much pain and unfairness and doubt and despair conspire together to torture me, I’m going to keep on going. For you. I’ll fight for you, for me, and for those like you and me who are desperately seeking the answers to questions we don’t even know fully how to ask. I’ll fight to find the answers you weren’t able to find. I’ll live the life you weren’t given, count the infinity of numbers you weren’t allotted. It’s the least I can do after failing you like that.

And it’s the least I can do to honor your memory. I’m not going to remember you as someone who simply gave up. I’m going to remember you as someone who tried to push on until there was nothing left to push on with. As someone who tried to bear more weight than he could handle, and in the end was crushed by it. I’m going to remember you as someone strong, not as someone weak.

It’s not just my life anymore. It’s your life too. And the lives of everyone else in our position. I’ll fight to try and make it so that no one around me, no one whose life I am allowed to touch and whose life touches mine, will ever have to despair again like you did. It’s why I will live. Because you didn’t.

I miss you, Ben. Goodnight, my friend.

Reflection

A common theme in movies, TV shows, and fiction stories today is the concept of being true to oneself, or of being whoever or whatever one desires to be. Everywhere one looks, one can see it–from kids’ movies (Brave and Tangled, anyone?) to popular series (Divergent, e.g.) to blogs and self-help books all over the country. This idea has become so universal that it has even infiltrated the Church on occasion–the so-called “prosperity gospel” being one example. It pervades our culture and impels people toward political activism, due to their desires to legalize and normalize whatever minority they might lie in.

It also distracts from the true form of community.

So deeply has this concept become embedded in society that it has begun to cripple the Church and, consequently, society in general. When one’s focus is on being “unique” and “genuine,” it is easy to lose sight of what one is called to be: a servant.

Not a powerful leader. Not an impressive pioneer. Not a trend-setting visionary.

A humble servant. That is the call of the Christian. It is the act of being not the conquering king everyone expects, but the lowly foot-washer that everyone needs. It is the act of not asking how high in the Kingdom one may rise, but of instinctively climbing down to the deepest bottom in order to help raise others up out of the darkness. It is the act not of preserving oneself to “prepare for later,” but of giving one’s all in the pursuit of the good of the Kingdom.

Sometimes life doesn’t go the way we dream it will go. Sometimes our desires and dreams must die one by one, sacrificed on the altar of sanctifying faith. Sometimes our views of who we are and what we could be must be denied in submission to our God-given identity and path. Sometimes that which we would choose for ourselves and that which God has chosen for us are the complete opposites . . . and every time, it is God’s will that must come first.

Lately, I have been having to very deeply question my personal views of what I see as my identity. To ask myself whether I see myself in the way the world desires to see me and the way I desire to see myself, or whether I instead see myself as who I am in God. If I choose the first way, then I can be many things, whoever I desire to be . . . but at the price of living a life with any sincerity and true meaning. If I choose the latter way, then I may also be many things, but they will be dictated by God’s will . . . and provide me a life well worth the living. It may be a hard life; it may be a life of pain; it may be a life in which I am constantly being called to sacrifice a significant aspect of myself in order to continue pursuing God’s will. But it is the path I have chosen to walk, and a life I am choosing to lead.

Being a servant isn’t easy. But then again . . . easy isn’t for Christians. The true Gospel doesn’t promise a life of prosperity and ease. It doesn’t promise that we will be allowed to openly embrace parts of ourselves that the world might encourage us to embrace. It doesn’t promise that we will be given any of our hearts’ desires. What it does promise us, though, is the mercy and love of God poured out liberally upon us. What it does promise us is lives that, even if we didn’t live them the ways we wanted to, we lived them in the ways we needed to. And in the long run, we will have lived and served the Kingdom in greater ways than we could ever imagine if we were to blindly pursue our dreams.

Remember

team avatarThis is a poem I wrote back in October 2013 about the nature of a well-developed friendship. Although we often speak of friendship as “having each other’s backs,” in a lot of ways a true friendship involves “having each other’s fronts”: taking and softening the blows that life deals to each of us, and sharing the pain and the joy so that no one has to bear on his or her own the weight of the darkness and the weight of the light.

Remember

Remember those days, those days of yore,
Those days of triumph and of trial?
Faced we the enemy; we fell and rose,
Conquering all with a unified mind.

Oh, those days and those years, so full of memories!
We stand upright, now, tho’ covered in scars.
Our weapons they rest in the coveted places,
Memorials grim of the darkness we’ve faced.

But, friend, where’s your shield? I see here your sword,
Your horn, and your arrows–but nowhere your armor.
Look at these scars on my hands and my heart.
It was I who then shielded you, I who protected.

Forget not those bygone days, dangers, and toils,
Lest these my love-rich wounds be all in vain.
Keep to the path, and I will yet support you.
All I ask, my dear friend, is us two together again.

Sunny Days and Long Thoughts

Today should be one of the best days of the week. It’s Wednesday, sunny, and not too cold despite this being Colorado. We’ve been making progress on our coding project and are more or less on schedule to finish it by end of week, including spending today as a kind of “vacation” day. Everything seems to be going well.

So why, as I’m starting to draft this entry, am I sitting on a log outside trying not to cry? Trying not to feel completely discouraged? Trying to ignore the feeling like I’m standing on a thin surface that’s about to crumble and fall apart underneath me?

Because all of my fears, doubts, and burdens are suddenly bearing down on me. Without anything to keep my attention, my thoughts are free to go spinning in whatever direction they desire, and right now that’s where they choose to dwell.

Many of my friends know how overwhelmingly busy I tend to be. Every time I seemingly overload myself, I always say I’ll take on less next time. But I never do. It’s because being swamped with activity is my way of running away from things. From thoughts that will noisily fill up the silence. From memories that will bring pain and regret into the present.

It’s easy to say that I should just hand my troubles to God. Even I tell myself that. But for me, at least, there is a major disconnect between saying it and actually being able to do it. I struggle to give to Him my burdens of loneliness, of failure, of anxiety, of shame, of sexuality, of pride, of self-hatred, of selfishness . . . all of my burdens that He is more than ready to take, but that I am unready to give Him.

That is why I will continue to keep moving, to keep running. Because if I stop, everything will come crashing on top of me like it did today. I don’t want that to happen. It hurts when it does. So I’ll keep making myself push forward, until I can’t do it anymore . . . or until I finally learn how to give it all to God unreservedly.

1 Corinthians 13

burning roseEveryone has a deep, indwelling need for something. For some, it might be finding companionship. For some, it might be seeking purpose. For some, it might be desiring calling. For some, it might be wanting healing. Whatever it is, each and every person on this earth has a need that they may or may not know about.

Sometimes we feel like we can easily help fulfill that need, by simply being a friend who helps out and checks on someone every now and then. But sometimes it’s harder–sometimes seemingly impossible–to do anything that seems to come anywhere close to helping.

In those times, it’s often easy to simply say, “God is all you need.” “Let go and let God.” “Just make God your everything.” “God will take care of it.” Words that, while ultimately the true solutions to every problem we might face, are sometimes little more than a quick cop-out way to avoid having to join in the crusade to fight the exhausting fight. I’ve had those words said to me at times when what I really needed at that moment was someone to come alongside me and be there to constantly push me forward and strengthen me. God has worked all of those situations out according to His will, of course, but I can’t help thinking that those words, however well meant they may have been, were not the best solution to my problems. To be honest, I never want to hear someone say those words to me again, though I’m sure they will be spoken to me many a time in the future.

If those statements about God being all we need are ultimately true, why do I complain? I complain because I believe God calls us to be a body for a reason. If God were truly everything we needed, and if it were that easy to depend on Him for everything, then there would be no reason for God to require corporate worship and fellowship from us. If God were the only thing we ever needed, then John Donne’s quote of “No man is an island” would be utterly false. For me, the reason God placed us together and calls us to cooperate and act together is that He made us so we need each other as well as Him. Genesis 2, I think, points towards this, for if God was all Adam needed, then there was no reason for Eve to have been created. As humans, we are supposed to interact with each other and be there for each other, however little we may feel like it at the time. Because God made us that way.

The obvious counter to this claim of mine is that God did all of this because it’s “for His glory.” Yes, that’s partly true. But I think it’s only a small part of the truth–an infinite truth definitely, but proportionately a small part of that infinity. Telling those who are struggling “God is all you need” doesn’t help if they desperately need someone to be there physically for them. It is easy enough to cry out to God, but it is sometimes hard to hear His response, and sometimes He chooses not to respond directly at all, instead leaving it up to time or to people to give us His answer. God didn’t have to make mankind into two (Adam and Eve) to multiply and occupy the whole earth. He didn’t have to let us choose the Fall and start a process of redemption that would lead to the death (and resurrection) of God Himself. God never has to do any of the complex guiding and interventions that He does in our lives. He would be infinitely glorified just from the creation of perfect Adam into perfect Earth unbared to evil and destruction. Saying that “God’s doing it for His glory” when people are undergoing trials isn’t glorifying God if we don’t follow the example He set and step in to aid each other.

So next time you feel like saying, “Just let go and let God,” or “God is all you need,” to someone who is struggling inside, stop and think. Is it really what he or she needs to hear right now? Or is what needs to be said the words “Let me fight this alongside you–let me help you deal with this”? Don’t just offer a Christian-flavored platitude and walk away. Be willing to offer yourself wholly for the crusade that God is calling each and every one of us to fight in–and be ready to leap into someone’s struggles and to get your spiritual hands bloodied fighting Satan in the name of Almighty God.