making God too small

These Foolish Games Are Tearing Me Apart

Hearing my parents’ ringtone two days after I had just spoken with them was jarring. We speak once a week and email or text other important – and unimportant – news as we feel led. Additional calls during the week signal BAD NEWS. Family members dying, in the hospital, losing jobs, getting divorced. Crises.

This was the sense of panic I felt as I answered this unexpected call. It was a crisis and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

My grandmother Zelda is in the hospital. She has COPD due to years of heavy smoking and late last week her health care worker found her struggling to breathe. The episode was so intense that an ambulance was called and my grandmother was rushed to the hospital. Tests were run, as the staff at hospitals love to run tests, and it turns out my grandmother has a couple of life threatening issues beyond the COPD.

Apparently Zelda has cancer that started in her colon and is now in her lungs. She also has an extremely large aortic aneurysm located in her abdomen. Doctors are concerned. A vascular surgeon is being consulted regarding the aneurysm. Zelda would not be able to withstand treatment for the cancer so that will not be tested or treated. For now.

I feel as though I should be sad. My grandmother is basically dying. I’m not sad. When I first heard the news my first thought was one of immense relief. Behind it came shame. How could a granddaughter feel relief that her grandmother is dying? Joining shame for a little shindig was anger. When it comes to my grandmother, there’s always a little anger swimming around within my psyche. Why? To explain you need to know that Zelda has an axis-II personality disorder: borderline personality disorder, or BPD. Like many people with BPD, she can be manipulative and she is not a safe person.

For years she has pulled out the Queen/Witch persona and reigned hellfire down on people in her path. She emotionally, verbally, and quite likely physically abused my mother and my two aunts for years. Zelda’s favorite form of abuse is to withhold her favor from one or two of her daughters while singling out the other daughter as the “Favored One”. Her favor is never without strings. You must kowtow, placate, do anything to please her or she will yank her favor out from under you so quickly you won’t see the floor rising up to hit you on the ass.

While I have no doubt this is a frightening time for my grandmother, I can see her using this as a final opportunity to force her children to care for her while she criticizes, manipulates, and spews toxicity upon them. She will want them to suffer as much as she suffers. She will blame her discomfort on them.

I’m not saying this to be mean or to malign my grandmother. She is God’s child. She is also mentally ill and that illness has been untreated all her life. I struggle as I write this. How vulnerable can I be here in this space where I chronicle my journey? What does it help to talk about a woman who has BPD and is so very mean within her mental illness? What point is there to sharing about her repeated abuse of her daughters, her grandchildren? Why write about a woman to whom I haven’t spoken in years?

In some ways, Zelda holds keys to my identity and some of the spiritual issues I have been dealing with as of late. I have very real and twisty feelings toward my grandmother and layers of things to forgive. I have guilt that is displaced and needs to be shed. I have anger, pity, compassion, and shame all having a party within me.

Despite or because of her mental illness, Zelda is a very angry, very bitter woman. When she is not locked up in her apartment avoiding the world, she reigns supreme and demands…everything. Grown men have walked in fear of triggering one of her cold rages. Lesser mortals shrivel and die a bit inside when faced with her displeasure.

And as I write this, flipping through my mental picture album for those few and far between good memories of time with her, I realize that I am also angry and if left unchecked I could become very bitter. There is legitimate anger within me, but very little mercy. At least not toward her. Not toward the woman who spoke curses over me when I was a very young child. Not toward the woman who emotionally eviscerated my mother in front of me every chance she got. Not the woman who, at my high school graduation, told me a looked like a tarted up slut. Who seemed to find pleasure in criticizing a person for dreaming or reaching for something more.

As I type, that anger starts to seethe. And that scares me. Is this the legacy Zelda is leaving me? Anger and bitterness and judgement? Is this who I want to be?

I think there’s a place for anger when there is injustice. I think that mercy must also exist alongside anger. And that anger, it can’t be where a person stops. There will be justice, but that’s in God’s hands. And what does justice look like? Is it suffering due to illness? No, what Zelda is experiencing are the natural consequences of her choices and of a fallen world. That’s not justice. Sure, I could call it that and feel self-righteous that she’s finally getting what’s coming to her. That doesn’t make me any better than she is. It makes me smug and arrogant and hard-hearted.

Maybe justice would be Zelda understanding she can make different choices. Maybe it’s contrition. Maybe justice is her three daughters undergoing therapy to undo the years of abuse and manipulation so they can lead stronger, healthier lives. Maybe it’s coming to Papa and falling into His arms, a broken woman in need of healing. Maybe mercy and justice aren’t too far apart.

My grandmother is dying and I still don’t completely know how I feel. I do know this – it’s more than time to stop living under Zelda’s legacy and instead live the life God wants so dearly for me to live.

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Genie in a Bottle

Earlier this week I posted a very personal word from God. Someone asked me why I would put anything so personal out into the world for all to see. The answer is simple. Everyone needs to know that regardless of what any of us has done or not done; regardless of whether we are living in relationship with God or not, we are divinely and uniquely made and we are all incredibly beloved by God. While there are personal layers and meanings specific to me in that word, the essence is for everyone. God. Loves. Us.

I have spent most of my life longing for and running from God’s love. Sometimes at the same time. If you had asked me about this at any point in time, I wouldn’t have seen my actions for what they were. I would have told you how I felt my relationship with God was based on how well I thought I was performing at the time. Or how steeped in religiosity I was. Or how beaten down and alone I felt. My response would have been based on emotion or performance, not on relationship at all.

As a young child, Jesus was my imaginary friend. We spoke all the time and often it was just Jesus and me because there was no one else.

In my teens there were times I treated God like a genie and times I treated Him like a welcomed confidante. All those hours spent in my room with the door closed were spent trying to figure out the hormonal angst that had become my life, however much of the relationship was one way. I was spilling my guts to God, but I wasn’t actively listening to Him.

In college I ran. I mean I really fled from God. Which is a little ironic as I was attending a faith-based college at the time. It was during this time that all my issues seemed to coalesce and I was confused enough to fall into pitfall after pitfall. There was a point in time when I felt like nothing was going right and God was allowing disaster to befall me in Job-like proportions. If God was going to punish me, I was going to walk away from God. At the very least, I was going to keep Him at arm’s length.

I look back now and I can hear the Holy Spirit snicker, “Yeah, good luck with that.” There’s no escaping God. Elijah learned that as he tried to hide from God after having battled the priests of Baal. Just thinking that there is a way to hide from God is a human attempt to make Him smaller than He really is. We are very accomplished at making God small.

And that’s what I have done most of my life. I have stuffed God in a box and put the box on a shelf and told Him to stay there until I decide I need Him. Then He’s allowed to step out in all His glory and set my world to rights.

This faulty thinking reminds me of Disney’s animated movie adaptation of Aladdin. When Aladdin was trying to wrap his head around just who and what the genie was, the genie explained that he was a being of phenomenal cosmic power trapped in an ity bity living space.

 

The genie was an enslaved magical being and not God, but I think this is often how we see our Heavenly Father. He’s majestic and mighty and the creator of our very universe, yet we treat him like His hands are tied. Just like Aladdin’s genie’s hands were tied.

If we view God as being too small or as less than all-powerful, can we really believe that God has this amazing and unfettered love for us? Can we trust that when God looks at us through the filter of Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross, He sees us as redeemed? Can we even begin to grasp what it means to be a much-loved child of God, let alone the ridiculously cherished bride of Christ?

It doesn’t take a gifting in the prophetic to see where this path leads. It leads to rules and religion and believing those insidious little lies about the nature of God that ties our own hands behind our backs and makes us less effective in the Kingdom than we could be. By making God smaller, we are diminishing ourselves, our ministries, our relationships, our experiences. God is bigger and yes, He can do great things despite our lack of belief or understanding. He can choose to give us amazing experiences and put incredible people in our path. At the end of the day, it’s our own values and belief systems that diminish what God wants to provide for us.

I’m learning this quickly. As God was giving me that incredible word, He also saw fit to shed light on some areas of my life where there is bondage and on the forces that have been working in opposition to God for years.

This is what I find truly amazing. God knows what He wants in my life. He has always known. He knew that for me to reach this next phase in growth that I would need support, that I would need desire, and that I would need to hear just how He sees me over and over and over again before the walls of steel and stone I erected around my heart could start to crack beneath the weight of His truth. Timing, it seems, is everything. I may have been offered similar windows of opportunity in the past, but for one reason or another I didn’t see them for what they were. I didn’t recognize them as gifts of great love.

This time is different. That box I stuffed God into, it’s starting to disintegrate. No more am I treating my Almighty father as a genie in a lamp or just a sounding board. This time I have a trusted friend and mentor in Claire. This time something has shifted enough in my belief system that I desire this growth and no longer want to walk this half-life I have been living. I want to take this time to break those bonds and to start to experience God’s goodness in all it’s fullness.