The Joy and Unique Torture of Family

My cousin Tasha was recently in town. She’s a wonderful young woman with an amazing sense of humor and a strong spine. It’s been interesting to have her around and to get to know her as an adult. Of all the cousins on this side of the family, I am the oldest and almost 14 years her senior. Tasha and her family live in the land of my grandparents and during my time of family vacations my cousin and I had little in common. When she was about ten I stopped making my annual pilgrimages to visit and missed out on seeing her grow up. Since marrying, I have only seen her a handful of times. I’m very thankful she loves to travel and has been curious about the part of the world I call home.

During our visit we have discussed many things: our undying love of Dr. Who (David Tennet is the best Doctor ever!); all things Firefly/Serenity (who doesn’t love Mal?), young adult books; the fantasy genre; good food; family. We have many things in common, including a love of the written word, a geeky appreciation for sci fi and fantasy, and a desire to write stories. But we diverge as well. I have a master’s degree in psychology, own a home, and am married. She is single, is motivated to self-educate herself, and rents. I have a relationship with God. She’s not sure God exists, though she does believe in past lives and the power of the universe.

I don’t judge this. She is on her journey and I am on mine. And some day, when she has questions about what it means to have a relationship with God I will be there to hear her out and ask her questions and share with her my experience. Until then, I am going to live my faith, not speak it.

There are some good reasons why she isn’t so sure of this thing called faith. Remember that my grandmother is a borderline personality and has the potential to turn into the wicked witch of the west? We share this grandmother and it turns out that Tasha’s older sister, Lola, may also be a borderline personality. The markers are there. Lola has a history of threatening suicide when she perceives someone is about to leave her. She has a history of risk taking behavior – addiction, running away from home, indiscriminate sex. There are the mood swings, including horrible rages and potential violence and an inability to regulate her impulses. She fears being alone and has never really been alone. I’ve not seen a lot of this behavior, but as a small child I do remember her being a black hole of neediness.

It is possible that Lola is a borderline. Lola has a husband who is starting to appear afraid of her and a child who is somewhat isolated from the world. Tasha has never had a strong relationship with Lola and for some very good reasons is resentful and angry with her. Lola has made life very difficult for everyone in her little world. When you live in a world that is so broken due to someone with undiagnosed mental illness, or with a chronic health condition, or who is just plain mean and abusive, what are you supposed to think? That a loving God sanctioned this? That a God who wants to have a personal relationship with us, to show us favor and grace and delight could create a world so completely broken?

I don’t know what spiritual teaching there was in Tasha’s home. I don’t know what she learned at church or youth group, but if it was anywhere near close to what I was taught, I can see why Tasha isn’t so sure about God. Spirituality, sure. But God? No, she’s disillusioned by the picture of God religion has painted and this God is distant and mean. Or at the very least disinterested. There is no way Tasha can have a relationship with that. Nor would she want to. I don’t want to. That picture of God is wrong. And it drives so many people who God wants to reconcile to Him. It gets in the way of the real message of peace and hope and healing.

I can’t answer for Tasha the question of why. Why is Lola the way she is? Why Tasha’s life is colored by the very fact that she grew up as Lola’s younger sister. Why any of the things that have happened in Tasha’s young life have happened. I can’t answer the why to my own experiences. But I do know this: Tasha is an amazing young woman who God loves very dearly. And who I love as well. I’m glad God gave me an opening to be a part of her life again. Perhaps as I live out a differently kind of faith Tasha can come to see a different picture of God. And God can give meaning to the things that have happened in Tasha’s life so she can move forward without the baggage of her past weighing her down.

One of the gifts of being a seer is that God shares with us His love for others. As we were saying good-bye to Tasha at the airport, God showed me a picture of Tasha standing on a sunlit courtyard dancing, the smile that was always on her face brighter and wider than I have ever seen it. There was such joy as she was spinning about, her face lifted toward the sun. She was dancing for herself, for her Father. She was free of the pain from her childhood. She was bold and brash and oh so lovely. That’s my cousin. This is what I pray for her so she might know her true identity. So she might be free.

We Can Work It Out

I am a recovering performance-aholic. Having grown up in the Evangelical church, raised in a work obsessed North America, and having done a stint in a religious focused college, it’s not surprising that performance became the foundation of my spiritual journey. In recent years I’ve come to discover that God doesn’t care about our performance. God loves us on our good days and God loves us just the same on our bad days. God doesn’t change. His love for us is just as potent, just as full and real today as it was  yesterday and as it will be ten years from now. His love is not based on what we do or even how we do it. It’s based on our position in Christ. This is a heady concept to grasp.

While I am sure I heard snippets about this concept through out my 40+ years, it didn’t start to really sink in until my first Graham Cooke conference in 2011. Graham was speaking on favor, a topic I’m still unpacking, and the Holy Spirit took the opportunity to niggle my mind and spirit and start to whisper truth to me. I wonder why he didn’t just hit me over the head with the truth, it would have taken less time. I’m a slow learner. I wish I could say I took what the Holy Spirit was showing me and ran with it. Alas, I did not. Claire can attest to this. I’m sure I drove her crazy at times with my bull-headed and stubborn clinging to performance based christianity. I’m blessed with a patient friend and mentor.

The shift from performance to position happened gradually. I started to hear sermons at church and performance based language started to stand out to me. I started to become uncomfortable with the “make hay while the sun shines” and “be strong and do the work” messages I was hearing from church, from a money management class we were teaching, and from my husband. On of the strongest voices of the performance message is indeed my man. It’s how he was raised. It’s embedded in his work ethic and his spiritual world view. He would say it’s who he is, but I’ve come to learn that’s a lie.

Performance is all about working to be worthy of favor. It’s about proving I am worthy of God’s love, of blessing, of heaven. And it’s a heavy millstone around the necks of christians everywhere because it’s a lie. We can’t work our way into heaven. We can’t please our heavenly Father enough that He will overlook our sinful nature and grant us salvation. We can’t buy our way into forgiveness. We can’t continue to nail ourselves to the cross because, you know what? Jesus already did that.

It’s okay to work hard. I’m not trying to knock a strong work ethic. But we need to remember the Mary to our Martha. There is work to do, and God does want us to live out the life He has put before us. Part of that is being. Abiding. Relationship. Mary showed us about relationship. And this, my friends, is where God wants to bring us. Into relationship with him. Performance based faith tells us to do. God wants us to be with Him.

God wants to have a relationship with us. How…different. I’ve been thinking about relationships a lot lately. One of the most precious relationships I have is strained. It’s broken in ways I don’t know how to fix. This brokenness is illuminating to me just how much God wants to be for me. He wants to expand within me and fill the hurting places in my life. He wants to comfort me, rejoice with me. He wants to be my hiding place. He wants to fill me with passion and give me impossible dreams that He will fulfill. He wants me to live my life in outrageous joy. And He will do whatever it takes to get me there. He’s tenacious. He loves me. Me. With all my warts and faults. Why? Because He doesn’t see me the way I see me. He sees his perfect creation, covered in Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary. He sees me through the eyes of Heaven.

I can’t get all of that from working harder. The working out of my salvation, it’s not going to speed up if I do more. My faith, it’s not going to grow larger if I lead more people to Christ, join more committees at church, attend or lead more Bible studies or memorize more scripture. My life isn’t going to right itself if I do more at home or at work. God’s love and delight in me isn’t based on outcomes.

I have wondered why more people don’t seek out an actual relationship with God. And then I recall the God of my childhood and the performance based christianity I lived under for years. Why would anyone want a relationship with a God who is fickle and will only deign to love us if we sacrifice ourselves over and over again on the altar of works?  But, if we know God would love us no matter what we did or who we believed ourselves to be, wouldn’t we want to get to know Him? A God who delights in us and sees us who He has declared us to be in Heaven, that’s a God I want to spend time with.

I am still recovering from my performance based upbringing. And I’m praying the Holy Spirit reaches out to my husband and shows him just how much God delights in him.  He’s burning out from performance expectations – internal and external. And I’m praying to learn to abide. It’s a dangerous prayer, but one I must pray. If I am actually going live the prophetic, I must learn to abide in relationship with God. Everything with God is relational, and that includes the prophetic. Without relationship, without compassion, all I am is a chaotic noise that is adding to the problem, not the solution. Besides, isn’t a deep and abiding relationship with the God of the universe is a beautiful thing?

Building a Mystery

I’ve started several posts over the last few weeks and have posted nothing. *sigh* I’ve entered into a period of growth and the growing pains have been…interesting. Do I share them? Do I enter into full vulnerability here where anyone can see? What is the point of blogging if I’m not willing to share my process?

So here I am with a deep breath, my heart beating rapidly in my chest and my palms sweaty as I toss all the posts I’ve started to write away and get down to brass tacks. This blog is about my journey, after all. All the bright and shiny moments along with the all the muck and mire and, well, shit.

God has been asking me to fast for some time. I’ve been blissfully avoiding his prodding until last month when I couldn’t really ignore it anymore. My life was stale and my spiritual journey felt none existent. I was sleepwalking, no longer fully participating in my life. So I prepared for a month-long modified Daniel fast. I wanted to hear the Holy Spirit. I wanted something big and spectacular to be revealed. Mostly, I wanted to move forward and I finally realized that I was getting in my way.

So I fasted. I didn’t have huge epiphanies, didn’t see visions from Heaven. I didn’t hear God’s voice in clear and certain ways. When I started I wanted this to be a time of deep revelation. I wanted to come out the other side different. Changed. Enlightened. I think God laughed at me because my motivation starting out was so very wrong. What I learned instead was to rest. I learned to pray simple prayers. I was given a picture of generational bondage in my family line, though I was not delivered of that bondage during my fast.

God wasn’t going to deliver and change me in one go. I see that now. This fast was a way of clearing the deck of the noise buzzing around in my mind and paving the way for this next leg of our journey together. It wasn’t a way to bypass all the work ahead of me. More a way to accelerate the growth process. Was I disappointed I wasn’t magically changed? Sure, if there is away out of doing the hard work and get the same end result, who wouldn’t choose that? Come on, you know you want to raise your hand along with me.

So no drastic change. In fact, very little work within me through the first three weeks of my fast. I didn’t sense any change, really, until the last week of my fast when I spent time at a conference where Graham Cooke conference. His words are so full, his message so pregnant with revelation and meaning, I left each session feeling like my mind had been through a blender. But something in me shifted. Something Claire and I had been discussing. A cloud I was living under called Acedia.

I’ve been praying for clarity for a couple of years now, but something always seemed to fog my mind. Acedia is a sneaky bitch, whispering little things in one’s ear, zapping energy and focus, eating away at motivation. Lulling a person into complacency. We are not dangerous warriors when we are complacent, when we are suffering deep ennui. This is not a mental disorder such as depression. It is not melancholy. It’s subtle and insidious and breaking away from acedia is very difficult. Especially if you don’t know the ennui and complacency in your life is the result of being preyed upon and agreeing with this lying spirit.

During the conference I prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill me so there would be no room for Acedia. So I would hear only his voice. I prayed I would see the agreements I had made so I could renounce them. I was done. I was tired of never gaining traction. Never moving forward.

My prayers were answered in a subtle but meaningful way. Wouldn’t it have been cool if the light of heaven had shone down around me in that moment? Or the Holy Spirit filled me so completely I collapsed on the floor? Hmm, in retrospect, no, that would not have been a good thing. I would have been mortified! God knows this and in His kind and knowing way he gave me something else. Instead of something dramatic occurring, I heard the ocean. I love the ocean. I am not a complete person if I am not able to be around large bodies of water. The ocean soothes me, the lapping and crashing of waves renews me.

And that night I heard the ocean. And I knew that God had agreed with my prayer. That life will never be the same.

I still have acedia clinging to me like a petulant child, and sometimes I listen to the whispers and I want to agree with them. I’m so tired, too tired to clean the kitchen. I’m too sore to get start my day so it’s best to stay in bed and sleep. My job doesn’t hold meaning. But I don’t. God is with me. God has given me so much, a kitchen I can use to cook healthy and tasty food. A home. A family. Friends. A way to earn money and expand my skill set. Thanksgiving is the enemy of acedia. Rejoicing is the foundation of life in Christ. So I’m learning to rejoice, to look at my life and circumstance with thanksgiving. I’m learning to be the woman God created me to be.

Help, My Identity is Shrinking!

In my last post I disclosed the issue I have with seeing God as he really is and seeing my authentic self. In my years coaching, teaching and counseling I have come to realize this is a state of being for many people. Many people have a blind spot when it comes to seeing themselves. Our narrative is riddled with old scripts and pictures that don’t fit us anymore. Or we are haunted by the words and actions of others and are stuck believing lies about ourselves.

I grew up in a blue collar family. My dad was a mechanic and my mom stayed home to raise us kids until we reached junior high, at which time she found a permanent part-time position as a secretary. My parents love learning but neither has education beyond high school. In fact, my dad earned his GED when I was young. We lived in a white collar neighborhood, one my parents could afford because dad applied sweat equity to the house to keep costs down and we moved in before all our white class neighbors.

I have never been ashamed of my roots. My family is smart, dedicated and loyal. I am honored to be a part of this family. Not everyone shared my value system and early on in elementary school it became clear that I was the odd girl out. I was introverted. I wasn’t athletically coordinated. I read at a much higher level than everyone else in my class. And I dressed “poor”. I also had a hard time remembering things like play dates and birthdays. I continue to have this difficulty but thanks to advancements in technology, I have a smart phone with a calendar that will remind me as long as I program dates in.

I’m also very opinionated and, well, like to be right. If I knew the answer, I would raise my hand. I found pride in being able to excel academically and to grasp concepts quickly. I also had an almost eidetic memory. If I read it, I remembered it. Especially if I heard and read it. Ah, I miss those days. In other words, I was a brainy, nerdy, bookish kid who loved learning. I was a teacher’s dream.

Due to all these things, and likely some other things I was blind to (social cues were a bit beyond me at times), I found myself alone on the playground at recess, the last one to be picked in gym class and excluded from social activities. Usually I didn’t mind. I had all those books to keep me company.

It really stung, though, when any friendships I attempted to make with children my own age were thwarted by the “in crowd”. I would extend the branch of friendship to new kids, especially to those who were shy and bookish like myself. My new friend and I would enjoy a few blissful days or weeks together and then, the whammy. I would show up to school, often after a day of being ill or volunteering in the school library for lunch and recess, and my new friend would avoid me. And the popular girls would taunt me with notes or snide remarks telling me they rescued my friend from me by telling my friend all about me. Never did they tell me what it was they told my friend. Sometimes my lost friends would make their way back to me for a time, but they would never tell me what it was that swayed them over to the other side.

I outgrew my social awkwardness and I learned to voice my opinions in more subtle ways, or to keep quiet and let others talk and share instead. My training in psychology has really helped me to develop good listening skills and to share empathy instead of a quick answer. I’ve grown as a person. We all do. We are not who we were in elementary school, high school, college. We aren’t who we were five years ago – or we shouldn’t be. We are constantly growing and changing and becoming.

Even though I am no longer that girl, I feel like her all the time. I feel like if I do something wrong or make a misstep I will lose the few amazing friendships I have. I feel like I’m on the outside looking in on the popular kids and because of that, I’m slow to participate. I wait for someone to slide a snide look my way to tell me they have told the world about who I really am; someone who is not worthy of the time or effort to be called friend. I live in fear of rejection.

This last weekend Claire and I spent the weekend together at a conference and as we spent time digesting and discussing the content, it came out that I was a lonely child who had issues with mean girls. What I didn’t tell Claire was that I sometimes have this visceral fear that I will lose her friendship, something that means so much to me. And due to this fear I hide my insecurities so I don’t come off as too needy. Honestly, I don’t want to be that person. I was a needy kid. Or maybe it’s more honest to say I was a lonely kid. And that loneliness tags along with me to this day.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.

                      ~2 Corinthians 5:17

The Holy Spirit reminded me on the drive home from Claire’s house that as far back as I can remember I was never alone. That even now I am never alone. He reminded me that Claire is a smart cookie and amazing intuitive and knows me, has seen the depths of me and loves me. The same way my husband loves me. I’m not a powerless child anymore. I am the beloved of God, his child. The child, not of a king but The King. And as his child, I have more gifts,  resources and fellowship at my disposal than I realize. That he is opening up to me new levels of relationship, of authenticity then I ever imagined I could or would ever experience.

This old image of a lonely, brainy, bookish girl who has no friends and lives in a constant vigilance against rejection, it’s just that. Old. Faded. It doesn’t fit anymore. Like the ratty old security blanket my cousin’s teenage daughter carries around with her, it’s no longer necessary. And it has no place in my current identity.

It’s not easy to shed the remnants of my old identity. So what do I do? I wake up in the morning and thank God for his promise and provision. I take time through the day to voice my gratitude for thing both small and large. I pray for God to continue to reveal to me who I am in Heaven so I might live in that identity while on earth. I have some doubt, some unbelief within me so I pray for God to show me how he sees me in dramatic or memorable ways.

I’m not who I used to be. I’m becoming. And as one who has been reconciled to Christ through the work of the cross, I am becoming more like Christ every day. I just have to open my eyes and see.

Through A Glass Darkly

I have an image problem. I have a faulty image of myself. And a faulty image of God.

As I stated earlier, the God of my formative years was a harsh task master. He had exacting standards that no one except Jesus could ever meet. The message that was repeated over and over again was that we would never measure up. We are sinners. Defective. God pitied us.

How can a child even see a clear vision of God when all she is taught is that she is not good enough? That she must work harder to be deserving of her salvation? This message was repeated not just by well meaning teachers and leaders in my church, but by family as well. Most notably, my grandmother. The other borderline in my life.

Her message to me was harsh and unforgiving. I was, and continue to be a disappointment.  Not worthy of her love or favor therefore I will  never receive it. Oh, she encouraged me to try and try again, slapping me down with every attempt I made to be the person she said she wanted me to be. I didn’t know there would never be any pleasing her. I saw my mother bow to the same pressure. Watched her sense of self erode every time we were around my grandmother. And somehow as a young child I equated my grandmother’s treatment of her family as how God must treat us. We could try, but we would never, ever please Him.

Many people have warped images of God due father issues. The emotional triggers we have about our earthly fathers are transferred onto our Heavenly Father. I’ll admit I have father issues, but nothing like my grandmother issues. Then there’s my paternal grandfather. We’ll save him for another day. I transferred my view of my grandmother onto God. This image I carried around of Him was a combination of faulty, works based Christianity and my borderline grandmother. This god was manipulative. Removed. Wanted everything from me, sucking me dry like an incubus. He didn’t care if I was hurting, lonely, used, abused, happy, sad. He didn’t really care about me. Any of us. Relationship? With God? Not going to happen.

Jesus, he was personal, but even with Jesus I had this picture of an impotent but compassionate older brother. He cared but wasn’t really able to do anything to ease my suffering. He was the source of my salvation. He had died, after all, for the sin of the world. But I still had to atone for my sin. It was all so very abstract and convoluted. As I write this I wonder why I even remained a Christian. There is no hope in the picture I carried. I lived a life that was driven by fear, hard work and a lack of hope. How dismal. How…sad.

I survived adolescence and went off to college. Where I learned more about how theologians viewed God. But I also learned that the god of my childhood was not really God. Through therapy and some spirit deep crying out I started to replace this faulty view of God with something more true. More real. The Holy Spirit started to woo me in ways I couldn’t see then but can see clearly now. This kept me from walking away from a faith bruised and battered by life. It gave me something to cling to when I married and moved over 2000 miles from everything and everyone I ever knew.

I still have an image problem. I have learned in the last two years more about who God is, who the Trinity is and who God wants to be for me. I still cling to some of my religious misconceptions like a child clings to a security blanket she no longer needs and is no longer useful. It’s familiar. To let go means to let go of the false sense of security it brings. But I am learning to let go.

Right now I am fasting and seeking God’s face. He’s slow to speak, or else I’m slow to listen. I am relearning about gratitude and thanksgiving. Two critical elements in the Christian life and the life of the prophet. I am learning what it is to be myself. Who I really am in Heaven so I can live the life God has been wanting for me all along.

It’s not easy, letting go of resentments, fear, false pictures of a false god. But if I’m going to move forward I must.  I need this if I’m going to live in peace and joy and with compassion.  I want to know God, truly know him. I can’t do that with my past hanging like a milestone about my neck. Can you?