Whose Line is it Anyway?

I love comedy. Comedy transforms the ordinary, the absurd, and sometimes even the tragedies of life, into a pleasantly uncontrollable physiological response: laughter. In the TV game show Whose Line is it Anyway?, a few comedians are thrown into various pretend scenarios and games and are asked to improvise. The end result is hit or miss, but when they play off a scenario well, hysterical laughter ensues.

Sometime between the ages of 8 and 12, I wanted to be a comedian. I had always been good at making my family and friends laugh. My best friend and I even had a game we would play, aptly titled: Make Somebody Laugh. We would take turns doing various ridiculous things. The goal was to make the other person laugh ten times (the person would use their fingers to keep track of how many times they laughed). I was always eager to be the comedian, so when I was in the audience, I would often force some laughs so it would be back to my turn in the spotlight.

I was so excited about making people laugh that at eleven or twelve I pushed past my shyness to join an acting class. The first class included an improv game called FREEZE! in which two actors would start a scene. At any time, someone from the audience can shout “Freeze!” and enter the scene. Heart beating rapidly, I watched in exhilaration as the actors started their scene. It was now or never–I had to enter the scene. I knew exactly what to do.

“Freeze!” I said, a little timidly. I tapped one of the actors on the shoulder, they moved out of the way, and I resumed their position, which was in the middle of wrestling a chair. “Crikey! She’s a big one!” I morphed into my best Steve Irwin impression, pretending the chair was a crocodile. A chorus of laughter met my ears, and I felt a thrill of satisfaction, a bolstering of my self-worth. My “co-star” said something to me that moved the scene in a different direction than I was expecting, and my train of thought derailed.

I had thought that once I had jumped in, the rest of the scene would come naturally to me. Instead, I felt an inevitable sinking feeling in my gut as the initial laughter died down and I scrambled for a response. The remaining thirty seconds of the scene was agonizing. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Who am I kidding? I’m not funny. I’m shy. I’m scared. I don’t know what I’m doing! A mingled feeling of relief and embarrassment stirred when someone put me out of my misery and shouted, “freeze!” That was my first and last appearance at that class.

Sometimes life is a lot like an improv sketch.

Just like my first attempt at improv comedy, I jumped into my journey of self-discovery (approaching the year mark now) scared as hell but excited to forge my own path through a confusing scene. I knew the first couple lines to say. I even correctly predicted some of the dialogues and maneuvered my way around them with little difficulty. Like a good comedian, I delivered some one-liners that floored my audience. I’ve taken control of some of the twists and turns and used them as well as I can to my advantage.

But now, the thrill and the laughter has died down. I find myself thinking: Who am I kidding? I’m not equipped for this. I don’t know what I’m doing! And like a painfully awkward improv comedy sketch, I do not know what to say or do next.

I wait for someone to yell “freeze!” and take my place in this scene that I’ve messed up with my determination to force God’s will to align with my own. He isn’t budging on His part. And so far, neither have I. But I’m wearing down. Sometimes I’m worn down by bitterness, anger and grief. At other times, I’m worn down by faith . . . by faith in God’s goodness. It is a faith like Abraham’s, that makes no sense:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.'(Romans 4:18)

Immediately when I feel a hint of that kind of faith, I recoil. Am I being duped? Am I succumbing to some kind of manipulative plan of God’s to draw me to Himself through suffering? Am I losing the wrestling match?  

The Spirit of the sovereign God lives in us (Christ-followers) to transform us into becoming more like Jesus for our good and for His glory. We are also told that we have the free will to reject the Holy Spirit’s leading. Even so, does it not seem at times as if we are pawns in this game of life? Sometimes I ask myself what is speaking to me, keeping me here weighted at the crossroads: my conscience, my shame, or my God? I find it so hard to resist Him . . .

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:19-21)

In Whose Line is It Anyway? former host Drew Carey played a vital role. He introduced scenarios, stopped scenes in their tracks, and sometimes joined in the improv sketches himself. In a way, so it is with God. I’ve resisted Him as Lord of the game show, as Lord of my life. Like the time when I was derailed by how my fellow improv actor responded to my initial Steve Irwin impression, I am thrown off by a God who prefers to use the unexpected (and often the most painful) paths in life to bring about His good and loving purposes.

Heroes and Martyrs

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How many times have I told Him?

How many times have I told God that I do not want to be a martyr?

There are some Christians out there who say, without a doubt (I’ve never understood this), that they would take a bullet before denying Jesus. They would lay down anything, sacrifice whatever they most held dear, to avoid denying that precious relationship. Growing up saturated in a Christian home, a Christ-centered church, with Christ-honoring relationships all around me and involved in all sorts of ministries for Jesus . . . you would think I would be one of those Christians.

But I have never pretended that I could be a martyr.

On the contrary, I have begged God not to ask me to be a martyr.

When I was fifteen, I bought a book from our local “Bible book store” called I Would Die for You, about a boy who felt like he was called to be a martyr for Jesus. He ended up dying from a sickness he contracted on a mission trip when he was fifteen. For some reason, it sounded to me like an inspiring book at the time. When I finished reading it, I was terrified. I kept on seeing “signs” that I too was going to be a martyr. I remember a song playing on shuffle on my I-pod immediately after finishing the book, and it was all about dying for Christ. I recall seeing the number 41 shining through the blinds in my room and being suddenly convinced that was the year I was going to die (this is what anxiety does to you, folks). I laugh about all this now, but then, I could not have been more scared.

Today, I am not scared of losing my literal life for the sake of following Jesus, because there is no imminent, known threat.

However, today, and every day for ten months and counting, I am scared of losing something very important to me. No…I am scared of purposely leaving behind something very important to me. I am scared to perform my own execution, in effect. How…can…I…do…that?

How many times have I demanded that He give me the answer to my most pressing question in this journey? It is a question that, if answered, could at least anesthetize me before surgery. Why must He allow suffering to go unexplained, in any instance?

You know that verse in James that says perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything? Do you know what I’m discovering the end of perseverance is? Sacrifice. Martyrdom. The laying of Isaac on the altar. The loss upon loss upon loss in Job’s life. The agonizing weight of the destructive thoughts and actions of every single person in the lifespan of humanity nailed to Jesus nailed to the cross.

You must die to live. You must sacrifice. You must trust though it seems like foolishness. You must be born again. That’s the Christian story.

It is a story reflective of all those good, sacrificial, heroic stories we all know and love.

But when it comes down to it, being a hero is a calling I am not sure I can live. That is why I could not write anything about those epic questions I asked in a failed blog post attempt. I was going to write all about how we are all the heroes of our own story, so we need to stay in our stories and keep fighting because it will be worth it in the end. But I found myself endlessly frustrated, tormented by my doubts.

I am still doubting. But the thing about doubt is that it always contains at least one crumb of belief.

So here is the space for my crumb of belief to speak:

It was the joy set before Him that convinced Jesus that dying a miserable death was worth it.

For the love of all that is good and true and hopeful and lovely and pure and beautiful, help us all to see the joy set before us as we endure our personal battles, as we persevere in a progressive world (both within and outside of Christianity) that shows us alternative scripts that seem to offer so much more joy, so many more answers, and so much more peace than the lives we are living. Help us to rest at the various crossroads in our lives for as long as it takes to become the heroes we were born to be.

Still W(rest)ling

It was just today that I noticed that the word wrestling has the word “rest” in it. That is significant to me, perhaps because I’ve been getting an average of 4 – 6 hours of sleep per night and am feeling tired all the time. It is not that I can’t get to sleep or can’t stay asleep . . . I’m choosing to stay awake until ungodly hours because this journey of mine has me unhinged.

Like a swinging door tossed back and forth by massive gusts of wind.

I’ve been talking to God a lot via story and imagination lately. Near the start of my counseling journey, I started writing a story loosely based on the concept of the movie Inside Out, in which I interact with personified different parts of myself (anxiety, hope, anger, etc.) I’ve been asking the Holy Spirit to speak to me there. Though I realize it can’t come close to authoritative Biblical truth, I believe He is revealing wisdom to me in these messed-up pages that I bring to my counseling sessions unceremoniously wrinkled and folded and crammed in my purse.

Today I read a part of the story to her that I’d written over the weekend. If you’ve been following my blog or know me very well, you will know that I have often referenced where I’m at these past several months as wrestling God “at a crossroads” (sarcasm alert: Don’t you love the nebulous, noncommittal nature of that statement?).

Well, in this chapter, I meet with God in a garden that . . .

No matter the season, every flower was on the cusp of blooming. In my entire twenty-four years, not one flower had opened up its petals to display its full beauty. Not one flower had wilted and died, either. It was a premature beauty, this garden—full of a lingering, just-out-of-reach promise, like so many of the places I traveled and lived. It was an infuriating and comforting place all at once, and I would come here when I didn’t know where else to go.

When God comes to meet me at the garden, the flowers blossom at His touch. And at the end of our conversation, I am stunned at how He has also given me the power to reveal beauty–to release the flowers and trees into full bloom.

Spoiler alert: at the end, I find out that the garden is actually the crossroads.

What does all this mean?

It means I get to talk with you in more nebulous metaphors.

Actually, it simply means that I can rest.

I have mistakenly made the crossroads where I must make my monumental decision seem immediate and inescapable and impossible.

In truth, the crossroads was never meant to be just a place of wrestling. It is also meant to be a place of faith, of growth, of beauty in the confusion and indecision.

So here I am, resting in the wrestling. I’m getting a chance to drink some Gatorade and stretch and take a nap and talk with my competition. There is no need to rush to move past the wrestling match. There is no need to panic at my vacillating feelings. God will not be surprised at what path I choose, and if a wrong choice is made, that does not reflect upon my identity. As God’s child, nothing can take me out of His hand, not even myself.