An Open Letter

[This originally started out as a letter to a friend, and half-way through I realized it was supposed to be read by more than one. So I put it on my readerless blog. Ha! The text is about a week old, because of lap top troubles–in itself an answered prayer, as I desperately begged to be able to repair and continue using this one. He seems to have been willing to answer that one in the affirmative.

I want some how to preface this all with some sort of explanation or defense–I can’t,  of course, without defeating the purpose entirely. I guess that is all just to say that, as echoing as this room seems, I still feel very vulnerable. Even in the empty silence, I cringe at putting something so honest into words. It seems so much safer to remain silent, yet I know that it is so much better to learn to speak. Maybe some of us just have to practice speaking into the silence before we can learn to speak into the fray. It’s hard work, did you know?]

So today I found out that I was awarded a $1,000 scholarship! Woo-hoo! It was through Phi Theta Kappa, an honors society that I joined for something like $42 on the off-hand chance it might get me a scholarship when I most needed it.

But really, this is just a small part of a much bigger, much more complicated picture. You probably remember me talking about how I just didn’t feel right applying for the whole financial aid thing.  What has always frustrated me about this is that I really don’t have anything more to go on than “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” No logic, no reason, no explanations. . .and sometimes, that makes it really hard to know how to take things. When do you steadfastly hold to convictions, even when they seem stupid? When do you change your stance because the same God who told you stay is now telling you go? How do you know when you are hearing the voice of God, and when you are trying to make something God’s will?

I remember when I first started contemplating going to [community college] for the first time, I started grappling with the idea of financial aid. It seemed to me like a really big grey area. What about working for what you eat? What about entitlement and free-loading? What about God being able to provide? What about faith?

All I could say was that the whole idea of going seemed so entirely far-fetched in so many ways that money was not the most far-fetched part of it all. I felt certain that if God really wanted me to do this, He would move mountains to get me there. He did. (In many, many ways, although today I’m mostly going on about money.)

I got through my first two semesters okay, but I’d nearly drained my account. I started worrying about how I would pay for the fall semester. I still felt ashamed thinking of taking on government aid, but I started looking into scholarships of all kinds, trying to see how I could make it work. God doesn’t seem to speak in words, but there have been several times when I was suddenly certain of something beyond reason and abruptly have no more desire to even consider the matter further, as the matter has been Decided and there is nothing left to do but accept.

I remember very clearly, sitting on the bench in the lobby [at school], scrolling through the internet on this same laptop, fretting over scholarships, and suddenly feeling with absolute conviction that I should not be looking. God was going to provide; it wasn’t my job to be looking. I closed down the internet and shut my laptop with a good deal of peace, and put the matter out of my mind. God would figure it out.

When you don’t hear words, sometimes it’s a little peculiar trying to figure out the exact meaning. I took “no scholarships” but a few scant months later, the application was literally shoved into my hands, even after I had professed to not being interested. I took the hint. I wasn’t to look for scholarships, because He had one picked out already. I kind of knew I was going to get it before I even filled it out, and although I was very happy to get it, I couldn’t honestly say I was surprised when they called me to tell me I was the one who had been selected. It covered the lack; I graduated entirely free of debt.

Then I started doing online school while I worked, and since I was working, I was paying for it out of my paycheck. I still did not even look into aid, even though my mom basically told me I was stupid. I just felt it was wrong for me at that time, and I couldn’t do anything different about it if I wanted to. But. . .I did keep trying, at odd intervals, to figure out how I could make it work. How long would I have to work to save up enough money to go to the cheapest school for PT? I scrimped and I pinched, and I spent a lot of money on school.

I hated doing school.

I wanted it to be over so badly. I kept trying to figure out how I could speed the process up. Maybe take more classes at a time? Something. Anything.

Nothing.

When things changed, they changed suddenly. When I felt like it was time for me to return to school full time, I felt compelled to go back to school full time. There was no doubt. It was as much a fact as gravity. If anything, there was this pressure to hurry, hurry, hurry where before there had been the pressure to wait and wait and wait.

I felt like the Israelites being told not go, and then being told to go (or was it the other way around?). But I still couldn’t let go of that money thing. How would I pay for those two semesters of school, if I wasn’t working? Conveniently trying very hard not to think about the elephant in the room, namely, tuition of graduate school, and fixating instead on the bachelor’s degree.

There I was, working and re-working the numbers in a spiral bound notebook, trying to figure out how many weeks I would have to work in order to get the bills covered—and then the same sudden feeling that I was out of place. Not my job. Close the notebook. I did. I quit my job knowing full well it wouldn’t leave me with enough money for tuition and that I still could not conscious financial aid.

I wrestled with this a lot, once school started. I had enough money for the first semester, I knew that. I did not have enough money for the second semester, I knew that. In between was this monster of faith and doubt, fear and certainty, that I could not tame. I was here because I was sent here, I knew that, but I could not find that same certainty that the money would just show up—even though I wanted to be able to believe that.

I wanted to be serene. I wanted to say, “He’s been faithful before and He’ll be faithful again,” and live without a care in the world. I couldn’t. And I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, because it felt like no one would understand. One camp would think I was stupid for not applying for aid, and the other camp would think I was stupid for quitting my job without actually having a plan on what I was going to do.

And in between that was the growing realization that I was getting personally stuck on this, too—there was a lot of pride involved with being able to say, “I paid my way through school. The only help I had was merit scholarships. No charity, no loans.” On the other hand was the fact that, feeling compelled to go on, I was desperate to find funding and very aware that it was going to be very easy to “decide” that it was okay to apply for aid, just to get things settled and know how things were going to be funded. After all, even if some incredible, impossible thing happened to pay for my BS—I was still going to have to accept aid for graduate school, right? And trying so hard to believe that God could pay even for graduate school however He wanted, too.

There was only a gradual shift in how I felt toward applying for aid, and I didn’t trust it. It seemed very convenient. I mean, I stopped having the feeling that I would have to give an answer before the throne of God if I went and did it. And I kind of started feeling more and more like I was resisting on principle (I’ve come this far, I’ll go the rest of the way too!), rather than on conviction. But I wasn’t really at rest, either.

I finally drove myself to a melt-down I still really don’t understand. I don’t know what fueled it or when it started or how it happened. I only know that scared me pretty bad when I was utterly exhausted and couldn’t sleep. Insomnia I found to be frightening. When you can no longer even do the things you’ve taken for granted, like eating and sleeping, you’ve kind of hit bottom. Or a bottom. Or at least a sharp, jarring, wake-up call.

I guess.

I dunno.

Because I still don’t understand how I came OUT of a complete melt-down. Only that when all the dust settled, I had peace again, and I knew that God was going to provide somehow. I just knew it, deep inside of me, even though it still looked just as impossible. And I was pretty certain it was time to give up on my stubborn pride regarding financial aid.

So how could I be surprised when I got a phone call regarding the scholarship application I’d forgotten I’d filled out? I mean, I was happy—but how could I be surprised? And the scholarship application had asked if I’d filled out a FASFA, and I had put down No. And the answer is supposed to be Yes. And they were calling to tell me to fix that, so that they could (though they couldn’t put it quite so very bluntly) give me the scholarship.

So I filled out the FASFA. And now I needed to fill out the [online] College Financial Aid Worksheet. Like God leading the way with a breadcrumb trail. I filled out that work sheet, and became confused and muddled and couldn’t figure out how to finish it, and wound up calling my advisor who helped me through half of it and then transferred me to the Financial Aid office, where, after asking more questions, I was transferred again.

Here I was finally told that I was actually eligible for the full time TAP award (despite being told previously that I wouldn’t be). That was yesterday. Today I got the scholarship. Tomorrow I need to finish submitting the TAP. 3 guesses as to whether or not I will wind up with sufficient funding for the next semester? [ed. Note: since this was written, it appears TAP may or may not be falling through, but that’s okay. I still have that indefinable peace.]

It’s incredible, and it’s beautiful, and it’s confusing and frustrating. Why wasn’t it okay to apply for aid before? Was it stupid? Was I confused about what He meant? Does it matter? I hate that it doesn’t make any sense to me. I hate that I don’t have reasons and logic. I’m kind of resentful that I’ve spent so many years scrimping and pinching. I don’t want to scrimp and pinch. I want to give bountiful and generous gifts. Am I supposed to give abundant gifts anyway, and have the faith that I can even though it doesn’t look like I can?

I’m very grateful for His provision, but I’m so frustrated I can’t make any sense out of it, or out of Him. I’m frustrated when I can’t have the faith I want to have. I’m frustrated that I hesitate over everything, and don’t live the carefree life I think I’m supposed to be. I’m mad I can’t buy ridiculous gifts just because I want to, because they’re too expensive.

I’m disappointed in myself for not having the courage to talk to people about this. I wanted to have the faith to be confident in the face of overwhelming doubt, to stand firm even while people hurled questions and mocking at me. Instead, I found that I had barely enough faith to stand on myself, and resolved to keep it a secret how close to disaster I was coming, until He’d already shown up. Even now, I don’t have the guts to say God is good. I feel like I can’t tell people how beautiful it that He is opening doors without the questions of why the heck didn’t you apply for aid sooner, or the accusations of how convenient of you to change your mind now when you have the greatest need.

I know in my heart I did not conveniently change my mind. I know it. I wrestled and wrestled and fought with that, refusing to go around applying for help out of fear, even when everything looked like a complete train wreck. The applying I’m doing now is out of the certainty that this is how God has chosen to provide for me now, and what He now wants me to do. But how can it look like anything but convenient morals? And how can people understand the depths of “God is faithful” when I never allowed them to see the depths of my struggle and fear?

I never really told people flat out the full cold truth. The truth that there would not be enough money for it all, and I knew it when I quit work. The truth that I would only be able to pay for half of my tuition, tops, for this coming semester and that would be with utterly draining every single cent from my bank accounts. That I was desperate not to borrow money, and equally—or more so—desperate to not offend conscience, to not do something I had no faith behind.

I want to be in control, and I cannot be in control. I want to have all the answers, and I cannot have all the answers. I want to be able to explain myself, and I cannot explain myself. I want to be bold and fearless, and I can’t do that, either. I want to be carefree and serene, and I’m not. I feel like I don’t have any right to be anything but, yet I cannot stop the wells of panic inside of me, even while telling myself they’re not justified. They aren’t—and they’re there anyway.

The truth is, God is good. And this is His party, and I am just along for the ride. But there are days when those words don’t mean anything to me, and there are days when those words are so inexplicably true and certain to me that I have no interest in discussing it because it just is.

It seems so shallow and petty and untrusting. The sun comes up every day and just is; we don’t get into any silly discussions about if it’s really there. And then the sun goes down and we still assert confidently that the sun continues to exist, even though we have nothing to prove that to us at the moment. With nearly the same regularity (thankfully, it is not normally ever 24 hours for me), God can seem so certain and real, and then so abstract and distant. Yet despite the regular return to shockingly real, as soon as He seems to dip beyond the horizon, I seem to instantly find every reason and occasion for doubt and fear. He comes back—He always does—but in between is this horrible mess of wanting to believe what I have seen and heard and felt and known, and doubting it all anyway it whirlwinds of anxiety and fear and just being scared that everything I thought I had heard was just my imagination and wants, even while knowing that it was not.

A person should not be able to hold so many contradictions. I refuse it. And embody it. And cannot reconcile it.

If I could, I would like to be better at telling the truth. All of it. The fear and the doubt and the worry. The confidence of provision in the midst of it all. The joy of seeing Him come, at long last (and why is it always long last?). The truth that God is bigger than I can understand, and that although I try to follow where He leads, I cannot give anyone an answer for why I do what I do—other than, He leads, and I follow. I know that one, but I need help saying it out loud, and knowing it to be true when the shadows get longer and longer and absorb everything around them.

I’m so relieved and upset all at the same time.  God will not meet me on my terms. But He will meet me.

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