{reflecting on the past year and turning 46}

I have come far. I have run hard. I feel strong.

I am proud of my learning to harness perseverance and need. Twenty seven pounds ago, I hated myself and today I feel lithe and strong.  All this, accomplished with an iron will, though a little obsessively neurotic at times.  I know, I am strong. And this is good, this self-love, for one who loathed herself for most of her life.

But I know there is more — to know, to learn, more to my life.  I am always pressing life for more and this dissatisfaction, while frustrating at times,  is  also who I am.  I accept it.  

I have been running, strong.  But perhaps away from or around, not through Jesus and the community of believers I am a part of these days. Even as I join — leaning into community, giving myself away, so that I see pieces and part of me all over the place.  In words and images, in relationships — all good things, still I have held something important back.

“I am not in love with the church” she said. And as I read this offering, words from a deeply thoughtful writer whom I read trembling with her conviction, every time.  Her words, like good writers do, carve into my heart.  I was undone by them, slayed.  Broken by her words, I had to acknowledge its truth.

In me.

For I have tried so hard to love, prayed for it even.  Known how right it is to love the bride of Christ, the church.

But I avoid her, even as I am the butt of pastors jokes about introverts on a Sunday morning. Oh how I hate the “greet perfect strangers” time of the church week.  Yes, I resent it, but really deep down this isn’t about being shy.  I don’t love the Bride of Christ.

I look down, avoid eye contact, trying not to see her.

I am shaken by my stone cold heart.

He said, love others as you love yourself. And these words fell on a heart that was running, afraid to love.

I’ve come far, run hard and strong toward God– I love Him and He fills me.  He gathers up all my fear, the anxious heart that grips me strong, that is not allowing change to come into me.

I am strong but I am weak.  He longs for me to step closer, sit longer, open up, be.  Allow the eucharist to transform me in the quiet of space that I

don’t fill, don’t control, where I don’t speak.

Let God transform.

“You’re running on your own strength,”  the Holy One whispered to me, over and over this week.  And I know that I am.  Admitting it is a small, sweet release of pressure that has built up as I got strong.  I was even frightened by my strength.

“Lay down ego and pride and the feelings of being not good enough.

Lay down your mind that swirls, a windstorm of thoughts that never stop, making you feel slightly crazy all the time. 

Lay down the hopes, the dreams, the plans.

Lay down control, learn from me. 

Lay down desire for powerful influence.

Lay down comparison that kills joy and everything good, that makes your mouth taste bitter.

Lay down fear that frequently cripples.

Lay down the need to be seen as smart.

Lay down,

kneel

acknowledge the ugliness inside you.”

Hear me: YOU ARE PERFECT.

Stop

running on your own strength.  

Let me be your refuge and strength.

Surrender to the Cross

ever and always being in a state of

becoming.”

And so, I am learning this.  I’ll admit the thought of letting go frightens me but I long to truly love God, myself and my neighbor, as we’re commanded, so much so that this becomes a sweet surrender.

And it is to be daily.

When It Hurts to be called out by God’s Spirit

This now has a part two.  It is found here.

I’ve been uneasy and perturbed.  I am a Slow Learner.  I know that an edgy, even grumpy unsettled spirit inside me usually means that there’s business to attend to and something to be learned.  I am  drawn down into a Place of Reckoning.  I am learning in the place of Love where God begins to change and shape me into Someone Other Than Me.

It usually requires time. And when finally my ego shrinks down to a normal size, I am ready to start.  This time I shakily verbalized it to Tom.

Bless him, my Tom has my rhythms down.  He knows when I need an ear, when I want (need or don’t need) advice, and the instances that I must simply talk (out loud.)  Introverts will know what I mean.  We introverts talk all the time, right?  It is just in our heads, which is sometimes unproductive, unhelpful or unclear.

Gideon was the most unlikely of people to lead the people of Israel and perhaps ironically, his name means “Destroyer,” “Mighty warrior,” or “Feller (of trees).”  His story read in chapters 6 to 8 of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible was not one of a giant faith, in my opinion. Really his faith was immature; he was often testing and always questioning God’s power, before he would act.  He had a “do this for me and I will do x for you” attitude.

That’s me.  I suppose what most convicted me by thinking about Gideon’s story is the obvious ways that I’ve flailed about, unsure and doubting myself every step of the way over the last few years. I have made some messes and done some stupid shit.  Recently (the last two years especially) I’ve been angry and unsatisfied, especially wanting “clarity about my career.”  I have asked for it, even demanding it. [As if God cares, really what I do.  Okay, he cares some but ultimately, this is only measured against who I am and how I treat others. How do I love?  Do I serve the needs of those who are powerless among us? ]

How very ungrateful I have been.

My heart lurches.  I know ingratitude when it sneers at me.

Fact is the Strong Independent Me believes deeply that women should have a job. (Everyone should have a “job” men and women, young people, old people …  I fundamentally believe in the idea that everyone should contribute to the community, everyone is obligated to this.)

It is especially important to me that women have careers and “represent.”   Do you know what I mean?  I live with a lot of guilt, even shame that I don’t have a career right now. Or even simply a job.  Just a job. Any job.

And this is how it goes in my head. Beyond the value to the community, a job earns “Respect.”  Respect would make me feel validated and valuable and valued.  A job where I go to a different place (than my home) and do “things.”  If I am most honest, things that will build me up and help others recognize my value.  Then bring home a paycheck for all the same reasons.

I’m a writer.

I know with certainty that I would write even if I never got paid or published because I have been a writer for as long as I can remember and it is who I am. The same goes for my photography — I live and breathe the pulse of life through a lens.  I put word by word, ideas together as an offering.

But as I toil in relative obscurity, Ego Me leaps out saying that this won’t do.  Who cares if you are an essayist or poet, who cares if you are writing here on this blog if no one knows and applauds? Bingo! That’s the crux.  Validate me world!  Say what you think of me please.

A friend got mad at something I said.  Mad because I said that art is useless.  I know that is not true.  And I don’t even believe it, but the voices in my head tell me otherwise.

That’s crazy, and besides, in God’s framing of things it shouldn’t matter.  I have to know my value is legit no matter what I do. 

And I have (to learn) to believe that creating art is not useless.

And so for now at least, I will write.

And what I felt most convicted about from the sermon this week was my infantile attitude and my lack of gratitude for this life that I have.  Shame on me.   My anxiety comes out of this place.  My fear comes directly from that spigot, gushing, flowing, spilling all over me in ugly incomprehensible ways.

Gideon tested God on more than one occasion.  He never complained, but he didn’t believe.

Do you flail about in an infantile way demanding that God meet all your needs as if you deserve to be happy, fulfilled and useful? 

Have you learned the slow path to contentment and spiritual maturity that involves a way of relaxing into Him, both by trusting and by stepping out into an unknown future looming ahead?

May it be so.

P.S.  As I mentioned, this has a part two.  It is found here.