Help me to Be

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”   ― Walt Whitman

Today I slipped into the imponderable place. I am disappointed with myself that this is happening, which only makes it more resistant to my human efforts to change.

What happened? I have some slight success and the furies inside challenge. Their presence in my psyche is a relentless stream, even as I pretend otherwise.

I fear the furies and yet by doing so, I give them sway.

This is new, naming the furies, which have been with me all my life. They are a melancholy; the chaotic anxious thoughts, the doubt and self-recrimination, the clamoring perfectionism and uncertainty and let’s call it what it is, the monster itself – fear. There is also the need for validation and the craving for significance. It is ugly, mortifying, and difficult to decipher. I could add to this list all day long I think.

It’s fitting that I have read for two weeks on Humility in my Prayer Book.  In it I read this:

Teach me, O Lord, thy holy way,
And give me an obedient mind,
That in thy service I may find
My soul’s delight from day to day.

Help me, O Savior, here to trace
The sacred footsteps though hast trod;
And, meekly walking with my God,
To grow in goodness, truth and grace.

– A hymn by William Matson

For many years my faith languished and deteriorated – I could not “see” God, feel him nor know his love. I did not believe. And as I stumbled, broken by depression and then addiction, I was chastened. Every pretense I might have conjured up was stripped from me.

“The Lord is near the broken-hearted; he is the Saviour of those whose spirits are crushed down.” Psalm 34:18

I then I understood Grace.

And from that time I have wanted nothing but this Savior, what he wants. That is not to say that I do not struggle as he challenged me to give things up – there were, are, many idols in my heart. I quit smoking because I heard God say I want you to want me, need me, more than you need Nicotine. And I wanted to want him that much too. Smoking became a metaphor for the sacrifice of praise that he sometimes asks for. He asked of me. I still stumble.  I lean into him.

And yet when the furies swirl, I fear I have become disconnected from the Holy Spirit, allowing a deterioration of intimacy with Jesus.   Sometimes the furies create such chaos, like tiny tornadoes of anxiety. I want to cut myself open and imagine them flying crazily away from me!  Then I can be free, rid of the things that weigh heavily and make me unwise and thoughtless, quick to think or say things that don’t show God’s love.  I want to lean into the Holy Spirit and allow the fresh winds of his spirit to fill me.

I want a deep, deep faith.

One that isn’t hasty or trite. No snatches of scripture, I want to be wading deeply into chapters and books. I want my spiritual roots to go deep into the ground, so that when challenges come I don’t stagger or fall as I have in the past.

Helmut Thielicke said “To work without praying and without listening means only to grow and spread oneself upward, without striking roots and without an equivalent in the earth.”
I want to penetrate life deeply.

These are the things I have been pondering today.  I’ll leave you with one of my favorite writers, Christian or otherwise, Evelyn Underhill, from The Spiritual Life.

“Any spiritual view which focuses attention on ourselves, and puts the human creature with its small ideas and adventures in the centre foreground, is dangerous till we recognize its absurdity …  We mostly spend those lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, to Do. Craving, clutching, and fussing, on the material, political, social, emotional, intellectual—even on the religious—plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be: and that Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of a spiritual life.”

Humility and penetrating life deeply.  That is definitely not craving, clutching and needing the attention for myself.

Lord, help me to Be.

Just Make the Salsa: Living without Fear

A response to a Blackhawk’s Sermon.  A part of my Be Real Series.

April, 2007Do one thing every day that scares you!  — Eleanor Roosevelt

f.e.a.r.

The strangest things scare me. I was not afraid to become a mother. But almost every day I am afraid of being a mother who messes up her kids beyond repair.  I am not afraid of travelling the world and yet I am afraid to talk to my Indian neighbor and invite her for tea.  I am afraid to learn Russian or to play the piano again, but I do not fear writing this blog (mostly).  I know that I take beautiful unique photographs, but I am afraid of people paying me for my images.  Every shoot I do, I wrestle with the little demon on my shoulder that says that I should turn them down.  I have allowed my fear to make me stop taking pictures.

I allow my fear keep me from lovin’ on other people, many times, because I need others’ validation to tell me I’m okay. Oh how I hate it!  That is why it hit me so profoundly recently that I was squandering my skills as a photographer mainly because I was afraid. My struggle with low self-esteem and too easily needing the word of validation from others keeps me from living my life.  What is this about?

This is about not getting my identity from Christ.

So for me a sermon on the idol of image — this was profound.  I want other people to validate me and not just that, but the people who I decide are important.

When you continuously seek this validation from others you can never stop.  It is never enough.  I believe that was one of the things my father was plagued by and perhaps what fueled his anger — the constant need to do more because he wasn’t good enough. Thankfully the “do more” piece has been worked out of my life through my depression experience when I quit work to be at-home, but the “I’m Not Okay” hole is huge and intense.  And kind of embarrassing to admit.

Of all the crazy, mixed up ideas!  If I actually found my full identity in Jesus there would be nothing to prove!

That would be a life without f.e.a.r.

I have a friend that makes amazing salsa with fresh ingredients chopped just right, in a way that people love.  And they buy jars and jars of her salsa.  So she keeps making it.  I don’t think she would say she’s an entrepreneur.  She’s a very humble person.  She just saw an opportunity in front of her and went for it.  She didn’t have fear holding her back.  I would have had a thousand “what ifs” keeping me from doing it.  I know, because I’ve had a similar idea to sell Mel’s Soups and Pies out of my home kitchen, but I am too afraid of failing.

Just Make the Salsa!

I want to be willing to just “make the salsa!”  Life doesn’t have to be a place where we fear failure all the time, where we worry about what others will think of our actions, where we are constantly protecting the “image” of what others perceive of us.

This fractured, broken life is not the way that God intended it be.  If I can learn to be a reflection of Jesus in my life, then I can lose my f.e.a.r.

Oh God, please help me to receive my validation from you.  Help me to know that your approval is all I really need.  I am your child.  I am loved dearly — beloved.  The rest of it, success or affirmation of others, acclamation is just extra. Help me to rest in you, the source of everything I am, or ever will be.

9 t Do not lie to one another, seeing that u you have put off vthe old self 4 with its practices 10 and w have put on x the new self, y which is being renewed in knowledge z after the image of a its creator. 11 b Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, 5 free; but Christ is c all, and in all.

12 d Put on then, as f compassionate hearts, g kindness, h humility, meekness, and patience, 13 h bearing with one another and, i if one has a complaint against another, g forgiving each other; g as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on j love, which k binds everything together in l perfect harmony. 15 And let m the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called n in one body. And o be thankful. 16 Let p the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, q singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, r with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And s whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, t giving thanks to God the Father through him. —  Colossians 3:9-14

Imagine living without f.e.a.r.


gratitude

Though I haven’t read her book One Thousand Gifts, I do read Ann Voskamp’s blog.   She so poignantly questions our incapacity to be amazed and grateful.

“Why do I spend so much time struggling to see it?  Do I need to see the world, visit the exquisite, before I face eternity? Or isn’t it here? Can’t I find it here? Isn’t it here? The wonder? Why do I spend so much of my living hours struggling to see it?”


I so relate to that sentiment.  For me it is a struggle to be positive and grateful; to see the wonder in my life here and now.  And so much that I have is wondrous!

Last week in a group we attend we were asked to express some things that we are grateful for and I was absolutely mute.

I felt so ashamed of myself, but I just couldn’t come up with anything.  I was stuck in a limbo.   I have many blessings and things to feel thankful for but

I
just
sat there.

I was

unable (or unwilling) to express them.  Unwilling to open my mouth.  It all seemed too risky somehow.

I felt a fragile sense that if I opened up my mouth I have no idea what might happen.  What if it wasn’t words of gratitude that came out?

I don’t know about you but sometimes I am just stuck in my head — too heart and head heavy
to let go and allow myself the space —

to b r e a t h e.  Deeply.  (Do it right now.  In and out.  It feels incredible.)

Why is it so difficult to allow my pulse to slow down and feel

(even just a little)

grateful.

“God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches you by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly – not one.”  — Rumi

Don’t you think that is true?  From hatred to love.  From dissatisfaction to peace.  From fear or anxiety to hope and trust.

I want to fly!   Some days, I do.

b r e a t h e.  Deeply.  (Do it right now.  In and out.  It feels incredible.)

On Complaining & Criticizing

[respect]

“Complaining is epidemic in our world”

Yep, that is pretty much the way to communicate these days. Some call it critique (I have) but it is pretty much bad news.  And a bad example.   And it’s gotten so out of hand with one of my kids that I just snapped recently.  “Not another word!” I found myself screaming.  I totally understand the old adage which I heard from my father “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!”  And when he was mad, just “Shut up” in Tibetan so no one else would know what he was saying.

So I’m trying to lead by example and not complain about anything or criticize anyone, or gossip, for 21 days, which is how long it takes to form a habit apparently.

They offer purple bracelets (you can get free on their website) but I have stuck with a rubber band.  Wear it on a wrist and switch it to the other wrist when you catch yourself expressing a complaint, gossiping or criticizing.  And begin again.  I started on Sunday and I haven’t made it through a day, yet.  But I am über conscious of my thoughts and have struggled to not express a lot of complaints, criticism or gossip.  The idea is by changing your words you change your thoughts — a constant striving to reformat your mental hard drive.  By doing that you change your heart and your life.

And I think Jesus would agree.  He talks a lot about kindness, speaking kindly to one another, not slandering one another, not calling names.  In Matt 5.22:

Whoever says to his brother raca will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says “you fool” will be liable to fiery Gehenna. NIV

But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,* you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult*[Greek say Raca to an obscure term of abuse] a brother or sister,* you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell* of fire. NRSV

Whoah!  Bottom line beyond our words:  “Be kind.”  Watch our tongues, stop putting others down, or gossiping.  Perhaps I’m just on about this because I have two middle-schoolers and they are often catty and snarky and I find myself also guilty.  It’s such a common part of our culture that we don’t even realize it, often.

So, build into your life a practice of treating others with respect, giving people the benefit of the doubt, stopping your tongue, and be kind!

This could easily become a fix-it gimmick, but if you look at this in spiritual terms I believe it could change you forever.  Irrevocably.

Speaking positively about others is a simple thing, but it is so hard to do.  Trust me, I shout out loud at the “idiots” on the road. I talk about people who I don’t understand (e.g. gossip).  I called the Governor of Wisconsin a bad name yesterday.  When you have kids all of a sudden you have a mirror in front of you or in the case of yelling obscenities at the dog-sh*t on the floor, you have a tape recorder in the memory of your children.  Yikes!

Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms:   Shut Your Mouth!   Don’t be a fool.   Be kind.

Listen to him and I believe it will change you.

—————————————————–

[“Ephphatha” Be opened] First in a series on responding to Jesus’ words

A Complaint Free World: How to Stop complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted by Will Bowen.

On Facebook.

Anticipation … is Making Me Wait.

“Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises … Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.” — Frederick Buechner

It’s the new year.  Which means nothing really except a calendar roll over.  It provides an opportunity to reconsider our focus and intentions.  The children continue with their job of school.  Husband continues with work and musical passions.  He started a shoe-gaze type rock band in 2010 and that will continue to be his focus outside of work.  We each continue with the opportunities before us.  At church we are taught to love where we live; that’s my challenge in 2011, as I seek clarity about …well,  me.

What I’m Learning.

I’ve thought hard over the past few years and realized that I am stuck in a way.  As God has done this incredible work in my heart, mind and soul and then put me back together into the person of his making, rather than being confident in the transformation, I have grown afraid.  Fearing the hell of depression returning I’ve grown cautious and careful, reluctant to take risks of any kind or to believe in the possibilities of my future.  I have forgotten how to believe that I have a future and a hope.  Sounds strange and odd to me as I write it down but as I sat at coffee this week with a new friend, we talked about our areas of brokenness and healing.  I expressed my worry that my “mess” is impacting my children in negative ways.  I was expressing the worry I have over my complicity.

I realized in a flash of insight that I have carried an awful load on my back.  A load of fear.  And in many ways of doubt and lack of faith!  Doubt that God has plans to use me … any more.  Doubt that I have something unique to give … to the global plan of God or even local Madison.  Doubt — nagging at my soul, tearing at my heart, filling my mind, even consuming my hope.

If I could sum up what I feel God has led me to and through in the last few years, it is found in the lyrics of the song Holiness by Sonicflood.

Holiness, holiness is what I long for, Holiness is what I need. Holiness, holiness is what You want from me.

So, take my heart and form it. Take my mind and transform it. Take my will and conform it. To Yours, to Yours, oh, Lord.

Faithfulness, faithfulness is what I long for. Faithfulness is what I need. Faithfulness, faithfulness is what You want from me.

Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for. Brokenness is what I need. Brokenness, brokenness is what You want from me.

© 1999 Gotee Records; HOLINESS LYRICS – SONICFLOOD

What I Know.

This path and my story over the last few years has been about the metamorphosis of my person.  A reshaping.  A tempering.  An internal spiritual revolution if you can forgive the dramatic way of expressing it.  But it has been nothing less!  Healing implies God is finished, which is untrue.  But He allowed me to fall apart and he put me back together again.  And I learned a few things from those years of pain.

… I know God has given me the spiritual gift of Mercy. I have never been more sure of anything.  Painfully sure, to a point that I question  His care because it hurts so.  But I am learning what to do with that.  There is so much more I need to know about this and what to do with it.

… I know God has given me a Voice through writing and my photography — a way of speaking that people listen to.  A way of telling the truth.  I am learning to hone it.  And learning to listen to Him.  I seek more quiet spaces in order to listen well.  I find the noise of life to be debilitating and soul sucking!  My ability to listen to God and to listen to my heart, mind and soul and believe in my ideas is also progressing.

… I know God has put in me a thirst, a hunger, a hollowed-out cavern of unsatisfied need for the WORD of God which I cannot live without satisfying.   I want to know what to do with it?  And so I wait.

... I know that God has given me “eyes and ears” for the Ancient Tears of Women through out the history of the Church and perhaps this is a part of the heart of mercy.  I do not know why, but I do hear them crying.  And I know something must be done, said, understood, written so that future women & girls do not have that same spiritual pain.  I live in it, breath it in and out.  Their tears and cries echo in my soul becoming my tear, my cry for justice, mercy and hope for women in the Church.  As I said, I don’t know why.  I don’t know what I am to do with it yet.  And so I wait.

… I am impatient to see and understand why I have these gifts and why I hear these voices with an equal measure of apprehension and anticipation.

… I confess that I have not trusted God or believed that I have a good future ahead of me.  In my years of being broken down, losing e v e r y t h i n g that I knew to be true and solid,  God has taken the shards of what I once was, swept them up and formed me into something else — someone other than who I once was.  I just haven’t believed that this someone could be useful to God.

You see in those years, I was driven.  And insecure.  Hungry for authority and power, for significance.  Passionate,zealous and perfectionistic.  Continuously pushing myself.  Never satisfied with my work.  Rarely satisfied with others and overly judgmental, critical and irritated.  I became lonely, sad, and most importantly spiritually lacking a true faith.  I was bereft and lost as up until a few years ago I did not comprehend that Jesus died for me — yes, if I were the only one here on earth Jesus would have given his life for me — my life, my sin.  Me.  I could not accept that.  I didn’t not understand G R A C E.

And then God began to work.  And though painful it is beautiful.

But I still don’t want to live a small life.

“I live a small life. Well, valuable but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it or because I haven’t been brave?Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail.

I fear insignificance and I fear my need for the opposite.  The search for significance has run deep in me.  As long as I can remember I believed that God had “saved” my life for a reason.  As a toddler I choked on a peanut and through a series of dangerous events came close to a predicted death (This was in Papua New Guinea and Australia in 1968) but God intervened; At least that is what I have always believed — that He saved me for a reason and I have been searching for that reason my entire life.

I have been Searching.

Do you believe this? I think I do.

“When God created humankind in the divine image, the highest expression of that image is the power to be a decision maker. In this sense, one is never complete, but is always being formed by the decisions we make. If this be true, God casts the responsibility on us to choose that which is best for us. These choices come inevitably from the judgments we make about what reflects our highest selves.  Each one of us is a unique person, with gifts, abilities and desires that give us the opportunities for creativity. To discover who we are and what those deep desires of our hearts mean gives us the clue to making decisions about what we do with our lives. If we choose wisely, we will experience the joy of growing a self and offering it as a source of strength to others. This does not mean that God is not with us in the critical moments of decision-making. Through prayer and meditation, we have access into the divine Presence that provides guidance and inspiration. God is never so pleased as when we stand up and make a moral decision that reflects our desire to live at the highest and most useful level attainable.”  —The Rev. Dr. Brooks Ramsey

To end where I began, with Beuchner, I am reminded that “faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises…. Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.”

Yes, I am waiting with a lump in my throat. I’ve learned some things.  I anticipate the new year with hope and joy.

Yes, anticipation.