discipleship

Seeing Wonder: On Engaging, Grace, and Believing in Love

2017643310c8ce-c5bd-4be0-a914-6e7d10101c02
Source: Warner Brothers Pictures

Every year, our church does a series of sermons on the idea of discipleship and engaging our community. It’s a regular “tradition” in the church calendar, varying only in the Bible verses we’re led to reflect on in our small groups. This year, we pulled from the life of Peter, with the topic of engaging being linked to Peter’s ministering to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert. Our small group material in particular focused on Acts 10:9-16, which is about the vision Peter has before he’s asked to see Cornelius. (TL;DR, In the vision, Jesus reveals that we are called to reach out to all people, building on the Great Commission of “…going into all the world.”)  

It was a really great message, but while my fellow small group mates seemed absolutely hyped on God’s mission, ready to go out there and reach out to people and do some good in the world, all I felt was…resistance. 

Confession: I have never been good at engaging, and every year when my church does this message I sort of…tune out.  I tell myself that, as an introvert, God surely doesn’t intend for me to actually go out there and directly reach out to people.  Nah, let them come to me; I won’t go first. I never go first.

That night, in small group, I realised these were all excuses I was telling myself. The reason for my reluctance wasn’t so much that I was an introvert. No, it was something that ran a little deeper than that.

It was because, when I was twenty-three, I decided I didn’t like people.

This wasn’t some sort of impulsive thought: “Oh, I don’t think I like people today.”  No, this was a conscious choice on my part: I would not, could not like people, and I would not trust or engage with them. It helped that I was a fan of Game of Thrones, which is extremely good at portraying the dark, twisted roots of human motivation. It also helped that around that time, everyone was talking about the fate of Jon Snow: stabbed by people he trusted, by his “brothers,” and left to die.

Something that felt a lot like that—and I won’t go into details—happened to me.  This wasn’t the first time, but it might have been the worst time.  And so, after filing a very long leave from work and stewing alone in my room for several afternoons, I made my decision: I did not like people.

And people did not deserve to know me.

From that moment, I made a conscious effort to start…closing myself off. Some of it made sense: I get a bit anxious in large crowds, am not fond of small talk, and do not like partying.  Again: introvert.  But other things had less to do with introversion and more to do with the satisfaction of pushing away people I did not trust. Who had hurt me (consciously or unconsciously). Who I believed would hurt me again. Years of being bullied in grade school and high school had already made me a little wary of friendships, but this was the first time I was outright refusing them, putting up walls and putting on masks.  It made me feel like I was taking control of my life.  It made me feel good.  And if I ever felt isolated, well, it was better to stand alone than to be fighting alongside and for people who, in the next breath, could be turning their swords on me.

Essentially, I was enacting a closed-door policy on my life, which, as you can guess, does not go along well with the whole Christian commission to engage with the community and care for people.  But I figured, I’d find ways to get around it. I served in church. I still held small groups. I volunteered for orgs that did good work. And I had friends, people I would talk to online even if I avoided meeting them in person.  And I cared about these friends…

…but not as much as I cared about myself.  Real talk: if any of them were in the way of a passing truck, I do not trust that I’d have pushed them out of the way.  If it was them or me, I might have chosen me.

The world—and Game of Thrones—paints this “me first” mentality as wise.  Encourages you to lose your faith in people, to “…kill the girl and let the woman be born.”  Only the naive believe in the fundamental good of humanity; growing up means realising the truth, that man is wolf to other man and that you can trust no one because the more you care, the weaker you are. The more you love, the weaker you are. Because one day the inevitable will happen: those closest to you will either turn on you or leave. Or both.

And so I did not engage, because I did not want to care about people who would turn on me or leave. I kept people at arms length, stayed behind walls, ate at my desk, refused invitations with the bright and beaming smile that was both sword and shield to me.  This was self-defence, I told myself, even as it felt—and kept feeling—wrong. 

Small group was the first blow to this worldview.  The second was Wonder Woman.

Full disclosure: while I am a geek, I’m not a comic book geek.  I have watched zero of the Marvel blockbusters (despite some of them garnering critical acclaim), and, up until recently, had the same batting average for DC. But when a post came out talking about how Wonder Woman seemed like it was being set up to fail at the box office (and thus prove stories about empowered women did not sell), my baby feminist heart could not handle it. I told my mum we had to book tickets to watch this movie when we came out, which we promptly did.

It was, in a word, a wonder.

While I have watched/read female-centered franchises before (I was a huge fan of The Hunger Games, and in Game of Thrones I cheered when the last season featured strong female-centric plotlines), Wonder Woman was…different.  The movie felt so unapologetically idealistic, so full of empathy and tenderness even as it celebrated the superhuman strength of its lead.  It was the total antithesis of the gritty cynicism that seemed the highlight of current male superhero mythology and even my mainstay of GoT.  Wonder Woman did not sugarcoat how dark people could be—“Be careful in the world of men, Diana,” says Queen Hippolyta, early in the film, “They do not deserve you.”—but without completely absolving mankind of that darkness, it still presented a reason to hope.  Yes, people are cruel and easily-corrupted, cowardly and twisted and undeserving, but, as Diana says in the climax of the film, “It’s not about [what people] deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”

Despite the fact that I am an avowed cynic, I do believe in love. In fact, that belief is at the core of who I say I am: as a  Christian, my very existence is founded on the idea of grace, of receiving a love I did not deserve.  I lash out at the people I think hurt me, but the truth is I too am just as cruel, just as unforgiving, just as—or rather, more so–twisted and bitter and dark…and Someone I did not deserve came to fight for me.  To save me, even when I was not worthy of saving.  The very essence of Christianity is that no one deserves anything: love is a gift. Love is a grace. And when you receive it, you can’t help but give it away.

“Only Love will truly save the world.” says Diana. In a world that is hurting and broken and twisted every which way, Love is humanity’s great hope. And while it is tempting to keep safe from the world, stay behind my walls to avoid getting hurt, “How will I be if I stay?”

It was this message that hit home for me and sent me out of the theatre in tears. The truth is, considering the darkness we are capable of, none of us really deserves kindness or grace or an open hand. But it really isn’t about “deserving.”  Instead, it’s about what we believe in, and what I believe in—what I quite loudly shout that I believe in—is Love. A Love big enough to save the world, to cover over a multitude of dark and twisted and awful. A Love that was big enough to save me from myself, and to keep on saving me.

It’s easy to think of yourself as a victim, when you’re hurt, but the truth is the world is hurting. “We all have our own battles,” says another character in Wonder Woman. We all have our own darkness, and at the core of that darkness is pain.  The difference lies in what you decide to do with it.

And, as another of my all-time favourite characters, the Twelfth Doctor, puts it, the right thing to do is this:

“…do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight till it burns your hand, and you say this: No one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will have to feel this pain. Not on my watch!

That is what engaging means: taking the pain, holding it tight, and deciding to fight it instead of letting it own you. And the way to fight it is Love, is sharing Love instead of keeping it all to yourself, hiding it behind walls and never letting anyone close. 

There are people I say I care about. There are people out there who I say matter to me. And there are people out there I don’t like. Who i don’t want to care about. Either way, they all need what I know: Love.  And so, even if the prospect terrifies me, even if I’m not some superhuman with armour and a shield and a magic lasso, I leave my island. I step out behind the wall. I stretch out my hand, and I let my guard down, and I have faith that, despite the pain…I will see grace.

I will see Wonder.

~aRT~

P.S.

For more comprehensive (and awesome) reviews/reflections on Wonder Woman, check out:

https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/5/30/15709572/wonder-woman-review-gadot
https://www.bustle.com/p/wonder-womans-message-of-love-cant-be-repeated-enough-right-now-62157 – Got the blog’s featured image from here, by way of Google Image Search.
http://www.houstonpress.com/arts/wonder-woman-is-the-hero-we-need-but-maybe-not-the-hero-we-deserve-9481938
http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/june/why-we-need-wonder-woman.html

[How To Grow Up] Learning By Example: A young woman’s reflections on her mentor’s ten years of marriage.

This will be quick (I hope), because I have finish a deck and send it off before midnight because I have an early-morning photoshoot tomorrow, but more on that some other time.

Last Friday, my discipler, May De Jesus-Palacpac (or “Miss May,” as I call her–it’s sort of a Filipino honorific to refer to a young woman in authority as ‘Miss’, regardless of marital status) of Fully Housewifed, celebrated the anniversary of her marriage to Jay Palacpac (Sir Jay–no, he hasn’t been knighted; again, Filipino honorific), our Team Leader (Overall Coordinator? I AM REALLY BAD WITH TITLES, ACK.) in the Kids Ministry Music Team.  They have been married ten years now (a decade!  The first number of years that gets a special name!), and have three sons: Pablo, Judah, and Lukas.  As Miss May’s disciple and one of Sir Jay’s volunteers, I’ve been very privileged to be a part, however small, in the lives of this God-fearing family, and it’s been an experience that has required some reflection.

I met Miss May last year, while I was going through a spiritual crisis which led me to contemplate permanently exiting the Kids Music Ministry.  Sir Jay referred me to a regular Bible Study held by Miss May with the other women worship leaders in Kids Ministry, and after attending one session, I had a one-on-one session with Miss May which led to me becoming her disciple.  We were soon joined by my best friend, Esther, and the three of us make a gregarious, words- and music-loving trio that meet weekly at–where else?–Fully Booked.

What amazes me most about my current group is how much we all understand each other, and, on a more personal note, how much Miss May understands me, to the point that even when I am agitated and communicating in what I must admit is a distinctly disrespectful tone–I’m not completely over that “spiritual crisis,” to be honest–she is firm, but very patient with me, and consistently reminds me that she values my friendship, that she likes me.  We’re also rather similar in personality, beyond the obvious links of being ambiverted, digital-native writers-slash-singers-slash-hungry learners with a habit of chronicling thoughts for the internet.  And I suppose it is that fact that makes seeing her relationship with Sir Jay a personal blessing for me, because it’s an object lesson in what navigating a Godly marriage could be like, for someone with my similar “quirks.”

(Though, to be honest, I must confess myself significantly more quirk-laden than my mentor.  Miss May has learned to submit to, and walk with, God, while I have not completely yet, and have all the rough edges to prove it.)

Having just turned twenty-one this month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the world of “adults.”  Arguably, I was an adult at eighteen, but there is something about being the big 2-1 that brings the reality of maturity–or learning to mature, in my case–closer to home.  And while perhaps it is too early to think about marriage–I’m still trying to launch a career, for crying out loud!–a part of me has felt that prayerfully considering what it means to be married is somehow an essential part in knowing what it means to be mature.

Of course, this is all totally foreign territory for me.  Boy-girl relationships are completely different from man-woman ones, and I am ignorant of both, having been single since birth.  A firm believer in courtship versus the “just-for-kicks, let’s-have-fun” atmosphere of worldly dating, my personal conviction, to be honest, has been to not consider getting into a relationship until I am open to thinking about marriage–not necessarily as an immediate concern, but at least as a long-term certainty; a “strategic direction,” if you will.  I realize this is a prospect that sounds absolutely cray-cray to people my age (honestly, it scares me out of my wits too), specifically boys my age, which is why I’m plenty sure that, at least for the foreseeable future, I am going to be single (and rightfully so, because I am in no fit state to be in a relationship right now, what with my…issues).

But despite the fact that relationships, and by extension marriage, are kind-of far off right now, occasionally I’ve had cause to reflect on the concept of it, of what it would be like for me to be committed to someone.  Some of that contemplation has been the little-girl fantasy stuff: what the wedding will be like, what the wedding AVP will be like (today I picked the song for it: the live version of Coldplay‘s “Yellow”), how many kids we’ll have, what their names might be.  Some of it, though, has been the more serious stuff: What would it be like to be a wife?  A mother?  To have to submit to a husband?  Parent a child?  How would we handle the finances, our kids’ wants, our own wants and needs?  What about our respective dreams?  How will I manage submitting as a wife if he asks me to do something I think is unreasonable?  What will he be like as a father?  

In an ordinary circumstance, these questions are big and scary all by themselves, but they are a bit scarier for me because I did not grow up in a family with a functional marriage.  I’m the product of a broken home–my mum and dad legally separated when I was four and the marriage was annulled when I was thirteen–and while my mother has been an excellent example of what it means to be a Godly woman and mother, and a great counselor even when it comes to questions about what it means to be a Christian wife…it’s one thing to have someone who can tell me, and quite another to witness things firsthand.  I do not have an insider look at a marriage upon which I can base my “analysis.”  Also, to be very honest, the failure of my parents’ marriage has made me worry about the potential state of my own: not only have I had it impressed upon me the necessity of being careful of whom I marry, but I am acutely aware of how difficult marriages can get.

Add to this my commitment to living a Godly marriage, with all the requirements of humility and submission that entails for the woman, and you have the makings of a mini-crisis.  Me?  Humble?  Submissive?  WHAT?!  I’ll be the first to admit that my personality fits none of these things.  I have a huge ego and a strong personality, am ridiculously bull-headed, and do not like to be forced to do things especially if I think my way is better.  Of course, I do know how to give in and compromise, but many times I do so grudgingly, soothing my ego with the inner mantra of “I was right anyway.”  None of these factor into a good relationship partner, let alone a wife.

This is why I am thankful for being able to witness, to some extent, the “ordinariness” of Miss May and Sir Jay’s marriage.  By no means do I accuse Miss May of having the same faults I do, but she does have a strong personality (it’s why I love and respect her so much) that reminds me of a (much better) version of my own.  Her ten years of a strong, God-fearing, God-filled marriage, set against the backdrop of a life that I personally find amazing (work-at-home mother, homeschool teacher, blogger, singer, eternal scholar), show me that it is still possible for this twenty-one year old Lonelygirl to become a woman of Christ, ready for all that role entails, including obedience in marriage.  It is possible for any woman, actually, so long as they commit themselves, as I have seen Miss May has, to constant pruning and refining and Lordship in her walk with the Father.

More than just the role of witness, though, I’m also benefitting from being witnessed to.  Miss May has taken her role of discipler very seriously, holding herself accountable for my walk even as she trusts me with a part of hers.  She is quick on the draw to lovingly (emphasis on lovingly) call me out on my behavior, even down to the posts I make on social media–little details in the discipline of learning to submit a life to Christ, guarding my mind and heart against giving in to the things that would make the process harder.  Both she and her husband pray for me, and I’m grateful for that, grateful that this couple is putting a protective “hedge”** around me even as they have put that “hedge” around their marriage, their shared journey with Christ.

So I’m taking this time to honor my mentor and my team leader in their spiritual walk and their marriage.  Here’s to you, Miss May and Sir Jay!  Thank you for your God-fearing example over ten years, and may God continue to bless you with the richness of his ministry in the many many many many many MANY years more to come!

~ARoamingTsinay~

P.S.

I know I’ve taken time to honor Miss May in this post for her participation in my spiritual walk, but I honestly feel the need to honor my mother too.  Miss May has been helping me as a friend and sister in Christ, but it’s one thing to have a sister, and another thing to have a mother.  My zany mum is another source of wisdom and guidance in my life, and honestly I would not even be thinking like this, about the necessity of surrounding myself with Godly women to mentor me, if it wasn’t for her guidance.  Thank you, Mama.  Love you!

(Even if you’ve stolen Boo Bear.  Mleh.)

** I borrowed the “hedge” illustration from Teach With Joy, the blog of another model of Godly wife- and mother-hood, Joy Mendoza.