Today, I bring you another installment of Conversations with Ourselves, a series of posts in which every Thursday the author addresses the Past Self through the Present or vice versa (or sometimes totally not this, but something equally cool) concerning matters of Faith, specifically.
I have been honoured by the outstanding cast of writers this series has hosted. It has been a humbling experience to see the names of those I value most digitally inked into this, my own space. But to have Micha Boyett around is a true honour in its own category: I've had the joy of meeting Micha a few times now and what strikes me each time is the earnestness with which she hopes and trusts. The words she gifts you, places in your hand and whispers, "Take this, this is for your journey," are given with complete sincerity and freedom. She struggles open and honest, but she loves humbly and vulnerably.
It’s her twenty-first birthday. She wakes at 5:30 that August morning because she needs to leave her apartment by six. She’s one of ten seniors running New Student Orientation.
Of course she is. She has spent college running everything.
This will be the longest day of the week. She’ll get home around one am. She’s in charge of the big campus-wide party tonight. A few bands will be playing outside in different spots around her Southern Baptist university. Ice cream and pizza will be out in full force. She’s been organizing all of it.
As she stares in the mirror at 5:45 am, carefully blinking on her mascara, pressing her finger on puffy eyes. She’s thinking is about the boy she loves, how she’ll spend the entire day with him. She longs for him to remember her today, to speak to her the way he used to, to smile at her from across the room.
They’ve been off and on too many times. They broke up last April and at some point in July kissed, only for him to regret it. Only for her to cry over that kiss the rest of the summer: her wadded up body on the bathroom floor, sobbing.
It’s a busy day and her friends, if they remember, say Happy Birthday in passing. What did she expect? A surprise party? Maybe at least a couple of balloons. Her friend Lex remembers. He gives her a card with a monkey on the cover. It says, scribbled in his handwriting: “I only want to see you laughing in the purple rain.” She laughs hysterically. It’s the only time she laughs all day.
The rest of the day is full of responsibilities. She checks off her task list, orbits the boy and his quiet coldness. She’s sure he thinks he’s “protecting her heart” by ignoring her birthday. She imagines him begging her aside into some corner of the student building, pulling her against him, touching her face with his fingers, asking her to give him another chance.
The melancholy she carries isn’t new but she hates it. She has worked for the past eight years cultivating her godly woman persona. She is outgoing, kind, busy leading bible studies, being “called to ministry.” She tried to major in Missions but found herself in the English Department anyway. She’s been reading Jane Kenyon this month, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and writing poems that speak nothing but earthy emotion. She’s afraid she thinks too much. Her mind snarls questions about God’s goodness. She wonders if this faith is real at all, and if it is, if God could love her.
In October her classmates will name her Homecoming Queen because she’s talented at being nice. She’s gifted at being an impressive Christian.
Tonight, as the bands play and incoming freshmen walk across campus, ice cream in their hands, she paces the dark sidewalk alone, wearing her red pants (the ones she picked out especially for this day). She stares into the courtyard where her friends and the boy are gathered. A band is playing. She walks past them in the shadows, lonely and heavy limbed. Her tears come hot.
I know where she stops to sit on the grass by the pond. I know because I’ve sat there so many times. I know the grief of striving, of begging God to undo the broken doubt in me.
I find a place beside her.
“We’ve sat by this pond so often, haven’t we? I miss it,” I say and smile. She can glimpse my face in the dark. She knows who I am. She doesn’t have words yet.
“Micha,” I say, “The melancholy isn’t your enemy. It’s the part of you that’s brave.”
She looks at me anxious, says, “I wanted to write beautiful worship songs. But nothing that comes out is holy. I can’t write about God, only myself.” She’s plucking spikes of grass from the ground as she talks. “I didn’t know there was so much anger in me.”
“Maybe you needed to know that,” I say. “Maybe you needed to be honest so you can learn to worship.”
She stares into the water. “Sometimes I’m so scared I’ve opened something that can’t be shut. Pandora’s box, you know?”
“Yes,” I say. “I know exactly.”
“I chose to let myself go there, into the dark place,” she says. “And no matter how hard I try, I can’t undo it. What if I stop believing in God? What if I lose everything?”
“Or, what if you walk through the questions and come out whole? What if you didn’t choose the go into the dark place?” I say. “What if it was always waiting for you, these words, this doubt?”
She laughs as if I’m crazy.
I keep going: “What if God is in the darkness too? What if He’s not angry with you? What if your mind and these questions…what if they are actually His gift to you?”
She lifts her right hand to her face, pulls her hair behind her ear. “It’s my birthday!” she laughs. “I’m grown. I’m going to graduate. I’m supposed to be in love by now. I’m supposed to have a plan. I supposed to be used by God. I’m screwing it all up.”
Oh, I remember thinking there was a moment when people got it together, when God finally made their lives count. I touch her arm. What I want is to zap all this compassion I’ve stored up straight into her insides. What I want is to whisper all those hard-earned truths, the ones that only could have come in the dark days, the wisdom that always arrives slow and painful.
I quote Isaiah 45, how God goes before us and levels the mountains, leads us into the secret places where the riches are stored. I tell her there is hope in mystery.
We sit quiet awhile. “You know,” I say, “You are not one or the other. You are not either the Minister or the Poet. You’re not either the Doubter or the Believer. God has made—is making you—both.”
Does she believe me? How can she? Twenty-one. So young. I love her and I miss her: her newness and brightness, the ways she loves so recklessly. I don’t want the world to make her hard. What else is there to say to myself? I stand up.
I walk a couple of steps, turn back to face her. “Hey, Micha,” I say, “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks,” she says, smiles.
“You’ll kiss that boy again, you know,” I say. “But one day you’ll be bold enough to let him go, demand everything you really long for. You’ll be brave enough to pack a U-Haul and drive alone through cornfields, all the way to the life you’re too afraid to even ask God to give you. He’ll offer it anyway.”
I walk back to her, lift my hand to that girl’s chin and raise her face to the night. “Count the stars,” I say.
“So shall your inheritance be.”
Micha Boyett lives in Austin, Texas with one preschooler, one toddler, and one very tall Philadelphian. She is a youth minister-turned stay at home mom who is still trying to figure out vocation and season and calling. She blogs at Patheos about motherhood, monasticism and the sacred in the everyday.