lessons

You’re F**kin’ Perfect To Me

Claire had a word for me earlier this week. A profound word that I received from her while I was at work. A word that drove me to my knees, figuratively cuz, you know, at work. But there in my cubicle I fought the need to cry until the desert within my soul was saturated with tears of release and longing. To rage at the sky at the hurts I have buried deep within my soul, at the things that have been said over me and done to me and agreed to by me that have done nothing but tear away at my sense of self. This word has ripped me apart inside and when the pieces are put back together I know I will never be the same.

[Y]ou are a talented, intelligent, beautiful, capable woman. You are gifted. The Lord has deposited His image in you. It’s a unique image. No one else on the planet, past, present, or future has this particular image. Your expression of this image is your own, and He is excited to continue revealing it to you and others day by day. You, therefore, have no need to compare yourself to others.
Comparisons are pointless. It’s like hummingbird comparing itself to an orchid. The hummingbird is iridescent and beautiful. One must look hard to see it. It is made with purpose. Everything about the hummingbird allows it to do exactly what it was purposed to do. The orchid, on the other hand, lives in rainforests. It’s not even a bird! Like the hummingbird, it’s a rare beauty, but it’s wildly different. The two cannot be compared. How are they alike? They are alike in that they are  magnificent. They are wonderfully made. They cause one to stop and stare.
When hummingbirds are in action, pollinating flowers, sipping nectar, people gather because the hummingbird in action is a wonder. When the orchid is at rest it seems to just be a collection of leaves. Nothing special. But when it blooms, it stuns. Each variety of orchid is different. In fact, one can’t even compare orchid blooms to each other because they are so different and beautiful.
To compare a moth orchid to a Lady Slipper seems almost like a crime. It denigrates their beauty. Each one is incomparably lovely.
For you to compare yourself to another person decreases your worth. It insults God. He thought you up before the foundations of the world were set in place. Everything about you; your laugh, your eyes, your spirit, your hair, even the way you walk. The name given you. The way you drink your tea. Your creativity. Your longings and secret desires….your desire for more. It’s all known by Him and to compare yourself others, to agree with anyone else, natural or supernatural, that you, as you are, in the eyes of God are somehow lesser or less beautiful or too much or not enough in comparison to someone else is wrong.
Come into agreement with who God says you are. On the day He thought you up, He declared to the Heavens–“I  made her. And she is. ‘She is fearfully and wonderfully made.” Agree with that. If you ever get confused go back to that. If you ever lose your way go back to that.
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am good.”
“I am as magnificent as a hummingbird and lovely as an orchid.”
“Incomparably beautiful. There is no one like me.”

This was the first part of the word. It went on from there to show me generational sin and agreements in my family line. In my own life. God used Claire to show me how God sees me and to let me know that in some of the deepest and darkest moments in my life God didn’t abandon me. Which I have always known on an intellectual level but truly believed? No. You see, there’s always been this voice in my head telling me I’m not worthy. I’m not worth God’s love. I’m never going to really be His daughter because I’m broken beyond repair. How could a good and perfect God love someone like me.

That voice sounds an awful lot like my grandmother. But it’s not her. Sure, she spoke words over me that were curses rather than blessings. And the spirit of victimization, the spirit of poverty, a spirit of jealousy started to become empowered in my life. It hurts to type this. I am looking back over events in my life, at social ostracization, at always being on the outside even within my own family and I see a girl who had no idea what was at work in her life. And I see a broken view of God. He wasn’t big enough or didn’t care enough to stop these things. He didn’t stop my grandmother from speaking curses over me time and time again. He didn’t stop the mean girls from making sure my life was a social hell. He didn’t stop the sexual abuse or my own choices that occurred after.

I’ve been harboring anger at God. As for how I feel about myself, I’ve been seeing myself as too much and not enough. Always reaching but never deserving.

God spoke to Claire and she imparted to me that God was with me through it all – the good and the bad. And God has never seen me as lacking. He was with me and He knew He would heal me. God is outside of time. Heal me then, heal me now, does it matter? There is healing. God is there, holding my head through the darkest memories and like a good parent, He is telling me that it will be okay. Telling me He knows it hurts, and hurts horribly to the point where I don’t know if I can stand through the pain. But He will heal these hurts and tend to my wounds. And He wants to do that now.

God also knows that like Thomas I have doubts. Prove it to me, Papa. Prove to me that you were there and that you have always planned to heal these wounds. Prove to me that you can. Prove to me that you loved me when I see myself at my worst. Prove to me that nothing I have done to dare Heaven has diminished your love for me. Prove it, Papa.

Since God knows this part of me, He had Claire tell me that it was okay to ask the hard questions and go into those dark and devastating memories and look. He will be there. He has always been there. Even when I raged at Him for not loving me enough, for playing favorites, for letting dreams fall to dust. For not saving me from myself. God basically dared me to bring Him any bad memory and He will show me where He was and what He was doing. He will show me His goodness.

Funny how well God knows us. Had He not dared me, I wouldn’t be writing this post. Had He not said, “bring it” I would have taken this word and I would have tucked it away. But I wouldn’t have done anything with it. I wouldn’t be sitting here telling God to show me exactly where His goodness was when in sixth grade all it took was one sick day for the head mean girl to turn my best friend of a year against me. When upon my return to class she was mocking me during lessons and ridiculing me at lunch. Where was HIs goodness when that same mean girl made it her mission to turn every new student our age against me to ensure that I was always on the outside and alone? Where was His goodness when I was abuse by babysitters, by a family member? Where was His goodness when my grandmother told me time and time again that I would never be enough. When she would destroy my mother in my presence and then turn to me, daring me to cross her, flaying me verbally when I did.

And God wouldn’t be patiently showing me exactly that. Or He would be, but I wouldn’t be listening. I would have my eyes closed and my fingers in my ears chanting, “la la la, I can’t hear you” like a stubborn strong-willed child.

I certainly wouldn’t be listening to Pink’s single F**kin’ Perfect over and over again, the words a love song to the child I remember and the adult I am becoming because seriously, I think God wrote part of that for me.

You’re so mean, when you talk
about yourself. You were wrong…
Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever  ever feel
Like you’re less than, less than f**kin’ perfect
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever ever feel
Like you’re nothing, you’re f**kin’ perfect to me

There’s more to be done. More conversations to be had between God and I. There are old  agreements to abolish. There is bondage to work through. Legal rights to revoke. Exchanges to be made. And healing to be had.

This is an opportunity. An open door. And I have a choice to be made. Will I hesitate to walk through that door and enter into the work of healing and divine acceleration of growth that God has placed in my life? Or will I exchange poverty thinking, fear and judgement for compassion and knowing, really knowing my God-given worth and step through that door?

We all have these moments in our lives, moments of great opportunity that may seem like they carry great cost. And evangelical teachings tell us that the cost is to be weighed and never taken lightly. However, I am reminded that God gives us all we need in order to pay the cost, which in essence means we don’t really pay anything. God does. Why do we fear then? Why do we resist? Because we believe the lies and look at what we have and decide it’s comfortable enough here, where we are. And we miss out on so much.

I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I want to see myself as God sees me. I don’t want to be angry anymore or tired of fighting or lonely in a crowd of people. I want something more. Don’t you?

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You Speak of Signs and Wonders

A few weeks ago, my friend MJ and I went to a conference where the focus was on living the upgraded life in Christ. We went full of anticipation that the Holy Spirit would move over the course of the conference. The speaker was a teacher we both respect and this conference was an extension of one we attended the year prior. God moved in amazing ways, with great acceleration in growth and understanding for myself, and in new provision and favor for MJ. Over the last year God has been more present than ever in my life – or more accurately, I have been more present for God. I would have gotten to this place eventually, and perhaps with lessons that didn’t cut as quick and deep as the ones I’ve experienced in this past year. But isn’t it amazing to see how God redeems time and accelerates the learning?

We got to the conference and something seemed off. There was this spirit of religion that appeared to be filtering the words of the speaker, the worship, the words of prophecy. It was a struggle to stay engaged and volunteers seemed tired, working out of their spirit and not the Holy Spirit. We left the first session for lunch somewhat perplexed. What was going on? And was this going to be the tone for the entire conference?

Fellowship ensued, as it does whenever we are together. We discussed the words that were prophesied for us. We discussed our perceptions and experience thus far. Then we moved into more light-hearted topics. Fellowship is important on this journey. We cannot survive on an island for too long, without human contact. We cannot thrive without laughter and joy. MJ and I are very good at filling the time with both. So we entered the evening session with that joy.

Something had shifted. Instead of fighting to focus on what God intended us to hear, there was peace. The speaker’s message flowed with great compassion and amazing gentleness from that point forward. And we left the weekend blessed. I can only pray the speaker was blessed as well.

A couple of times through the conference, the speaker invited us to stand and enter into a greater sense of divine acceleration in spiritual growth and relationship with God. The past year, it was the start of something holy. This next year would see even more growth. At the first invitation I stood. I opened my hands to received and I heard water. A bubbling brook. I thrive near water. If I could live near the ocean, I would. I live near water and often spend time just meditating and praying by a creek not too far from home. The bubbling brook? I took it as a sign. God was pleased. God was going to move things in my life, as a river moves objects from one place to another. God was going to renew and refresh.  The second time we were invited to stand and receive, I felt my hands grow hot, burning, and I swear I felt a hand cover my own.

I have prayed for signs, mostly to conquer my own issues with faith and belief. Like Gideon, I have placed my fleece on the ground and stating that if the fleece is covered in dew but the ground around it is dry then I will know God is speaking. Interestingly enough, God has often told me after I have given him an “if this, then that” task, He has told me that I am limiting not only the depth of what He wished to do for me, but my own journey. Still, He has  honored my request. God is good that way.

I have not felt the Holy Spirit move in what I would term dramatic ways. I have not received visions while fully awake or heard the audible voice of God. And I have felt that I have been lacking. That perhaps God is speaking but I am too blind to see or hear.

So to feel God’s presence in such demonstrative ways was…a balm. He is speaking to me. I am listening. It may not be in the grand gestures in my secret heart of hearts I long for, but He is there, touching me in real ways every day.

I think I get so caught up in looking for the grand gesture that I forgot to open myself up to the every day.  To the little kisses from God in the form of a gentle breeze, an unexpected call from a friend when I needed it most, the joy in seeing a bird of prey in unexpected places, or the raucous laughter of song birds outside my window. I long for signs and wonders and have felt like I’m subsisting off crumbs from the table of God. How wrong I have been. God is not stingy with His revelation. Not all signs are giant explosions of fireworks or deep tremblings of the earth.

God gave me a bubbling brook and a clasp of the hand at the conference. He invited me to join with Him as an active participant in my spiritual growth. I have this feeling that if I am willing to fully enter in, this year will see some of the growth I have only imagined in my life. God has some amazing things He wants for me. My role is to enter in to the process and the relationship. To abide.

I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down

I was anticipating an opportunity to practice love with boundaries this week with a visit from my MIL. We knew she was planning on coming to town over her spring break (she teaches at a community college down South). We had discussed whether to invite her to stay with us or not, and to make a long story short, because my husband does love his mom and want to spend time with her, and because he feels a strong sense of family obligation, he wanted to extend the invitation. I was less excited about this proposition but after prayer, felt the Holy Spirit tell me to say yes. That in order for the family to truly understand her mental illness and how it impacts their lives, they need to see her. Truly see her.

So, we extended and invitation when she requested to spend a portion of her stay with us. I was cleaning like a mad woman, knowing that while she is here, she wouldn’t say anything about my particular brand of housekeeping but she would judge it nonetheless in looks and sideways digs. Never in front of her son. Always in front of me, or directly to other people who she knows will repeat her words back to me.

How difficult it is to see someone like this through the eyes of love. Or to treat someone with compassion and gentleness when they treat you in the opposite spirit. As I cleaned, I started to feel dread bubble up within me. Scenarios based on past experiences played themselves over and over in my mind and I started to feel paralyzed. My eyes, they weren’t on Jesus. They weren’t on who I am in Christ. They were on the dread I felt every other time my MIL visited in the last twenty years. I forgot about the freedom I have in dwelling within Christ.

I cried out to God in that moment. I couldn’t live in a world of what if. I couldn’t walk on eggshells in my own house just because my borderline MIL was here. I couldn’t live through another visit where I felt like we were playing tug-of-war with my husband, his mother against me, may the best woman win. I couldn’t handle being reminded in direct and indirect ways that I was a disappointment of a daughter-in-law. And I couldn’t extend grace I didn’t feel. So I prayed. I asked God to stand before me. To protect me where my husband either could not or would not. To expand in me enough to fill the hurting, betrayed places and to start to heal them. To give me a vision of my MIL, something to help me see her not with my own judgement, but how He sees her. I asked that the words of judgement be left outside the door. Not just her words, but mine as well.

I don’t know how God is going to ultimately answer that prayer. You see, my MIL decided at the last minute she would stay down South for her spring break. The relief I feel is almost a living thing, beating strong and bright in my body. She’s not coming. I have a reprieve.

But the issues, they remain. Even if my MIL is out of sight, the issues she represents are not out of mind. Nor should they be. You see, while my MIL is a source of pain in my life, she is but a symptom. The real issue is within my marriage – which is another post or series of posts entirely.  It doesn’t take one gifted in the prophetic to see that when we don’t see an issue in our lives, over time God will use different messengers to illuminate the issue until we can’t ignore it anymore.

This isn’t God’s way of shaming us or being the cruel man up in the throne room of Heaven. God doesn’t shame. God doesn’t want us to live in situations that are hurting us, either. How He is going to resolve the situations and behaviors that are damaging to our growth and well-being, that will be unique for everyone. But I know in my heart of hearts, He doesn’t want me to live in fear and pain. He doesn’t want me to see myself as undervalued and less. He doesn’t want me to continue to live in the old nature, the nature that died on Calvary.

My MIL, she reminds me of who I was, and I forget

 “This is why we are not to be caught out dealing with the old nature. We are not pastoring someone who God has already deemed to be dead (Romans 6:11). That would be like babysitting a corpse! “If we have died with HIm we believe that we will live also with Him” (Romans 6:8). We are walking in newness of life learning to be alive only to God (Romans 6). We are therefore not declaring what we are not, but proclaiming who we are in Jesus. No one can be ordinary when they are in Jesus. It is not allowed. Heaven comes to us because of our placement in Jesus, not because of our performance as believers.” ~ Keys to Brilliant Focus, Graham Cooke

So, my MIL is not coming to visit but the issues her presence, or the threat promise of her presence, those remain. And I give them power because I declare who I am not, rather than who I am.

“Take a few moments to really imagine what it feels like to have Jesus reside in you. Ask for his perspective on that part of your life that needs an upgrade. Ask Him to show you what He is seeing and thinking about you in Him. Relax into a place of thanks and rejoice in His presence.”–Keys to Brilliant Focus, Graham Cooke

Jesus will answer my prayer, to expand within me, to stand for me. He’s reminded me that my MIL is not the enemy. He’s reminded me that my marriage is a three-way partnership and that if any part of this relationship is neglected for too long, the foundation will do more than crack. But He’s also reminded me that He holds great things for me, for my husband, and yes, for my MIL. To see that, I need to find that place of thanks and rejoicing. That upgrade. That future. No more focusing on what was. How simple. How difficult. How very much like God.

Just The Way You Are

Sometimes God talks to me through my radio. I know that sounds strange and may have you running for the hills, wondering if I’m unbalanced or mentally ill. I get it. I know how that statement sounds. God, speaking through the radio? Seriously? Does he, like, take over the airwaves and speak to you? What happens if you change the station? Honestly, do other people hear him when he “talks” through the radio?

I see how this can look like I’m living under a grand delusion. Let me reassure you, it’s not like a voice starts to talk to me over the airwaves. It’s more that God knows a message I need to hear and He shares that message through a particular song that is playing on the radio at a particular time. This has happened to me on several occasions that when I start the car and turn on the radio, the same song will be playing. Or I’ll be driving along feeling really crappy about myself or my circumstances and I turn the station from talk radio to music and a random but totally appropriate song is there, revealing to me something about God’s character or about how God sees me.

Along with my identity issues, I have an image problem. I look at myself and I don’t see a beautiful woman. I often see someone who is overweight, plain and unremarkable. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way about myself. Many people, especially women, have body image issues. It’s epidemic and it’s so very sad. This is not how God sees us. He doesn’t create unremarkable. He doesn’t care what the current fashion is or how the world sees us. He looks at me and He sees a woman who is beautiful, who is talented, who has a great laugh, gorgeous eyes. He sees Himself in me, and God loves Himself completely. He can’t love me any less. He can’t see me as anything less.

I was feeling rather down about myself, feeling ugly inside and out, so much so that as I was driving to work I was crying. I forget the reasons why, I only remember swiping tears from my cheeks as I drove toward work, wondering if I had anything in my handbag that would allow me to mask the redness that would surely be in my eyes. There was a stupid commercial on the talk radio station I usually listen to during my commute, so I changed the station rather than endure the commercial break. Then God’s message to me poured out of the radio through the unlikely voice of Bruno Mars.

Her eyes, her eyes, they make the stars look like they’re not shining…

I remember I continued crying, so hard in fact I had to take an exit ramp and pull off the highway to a parking lot while the song continued to play. God was telling me that He loves me. He was telling me how He saw me. He was reminding me that I am amazing. Loved. Beloved. I felt touched in a way I hadn’t before. I felt humbled, and I also felt cherished. I hadn’t felt cherished in a long, long time.

I know, I know, when I compliment her she won’t believe me
And it’s so, it’s so sad to think that she don’t see what I see
But every time she asks me, “Do I look okay?” I say…

For a month, this song would be playing every time I turned on the radio. Every. Single. Time. I could be at home, in the car, or at work, and there it would be. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Sure, it was a popular song and received more than it’s share of airtime, but really, what are the odds that song would play every time I turned on the radio? No matter what time of day or day of the week? God was making sure I understood how He feels about me.

When I see your face, there’s not a thing that I would change, because you’re amazing just  the way you are. When you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while, cuz girl you’re amazing just the way you are

~from “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars

Does this mean there aren’t things about my character that need to grow and develop? Or that God won’t touch parts of my life and tell me, “Now, let’s look at this, shall we? Is this in line with your identity?” No, He will still do those things. He sees me as I am in heaven and He’s working with me to become that person in the here and now. But I needed to know and believe that God loves me with great abandon and that I am beautiful. Loved. Beloved. Cherished.

God was using popular music to help change the narrative in my head. I can’t help but smile now when I hear that song and know God is so happy with me. I don’t see myself as beautiful all the time. I’m still learning about my true identity and I’m still becoming who I am in heaven. Now, through that song, I have another piece of the picture of my present future self, a piece I didn’t have before.

Isn’t it amazing the lengths God will go through to show us who we are to Him? Nothing is beyond His reach. Nothing.

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.