prayer

Of Tea and Solitude

I’m sitting on a deck overlooking a lake while I sip my tea (chocolate purerh, if you were curious). The wind is light and it tickles the leaves in the trees above my head and carries with its puffs and gusts bird song and the lap of the waves as the hit the dock below. The sun is bright and the sky is a brilliant blue shot with streamers of light grey and white clouds. My faithful dog is running around, looking for a chipmunk or bird to chase. He has no care other than to follow the scent in the grass that beckons him.

There is no one else out just yet. The family is still eating breakfast inside the cabin. The neighbors either aren’t up at the lake this weekend or are also enjoying a leisurely morning inside. Right now, I feel as though it is just me and God enjoying a morning moment together. I pray in worship and gratitude for the weather, the sunshine, the quiet. For the funny yellow birds that flit in and out of the young pine trees. For the robin who fiercely guards her nest filled with eggs. For the whisper of the wind and the lap of the waves.

It is so easy to worship God in moments like this. And so easy to forget that these moments are gifts. I’ve been coming with my family to this cabin on the lake for eighteen years and many times I have been caught up in the frenzy of activity or the politics of extended family dynamics to see the gifts God has so openly and freely offered us here. I have let life get in the way of God.

My husband saw me out on the deck, sipping my tea and smiling. He asked me what put that look of complete contentment on my face. I think he hoped it was a carry over from the look of contentment he put on my face last night. I told him I was thinking about God and thanking Him for all the gifts He has given us in this moment. I started to list them off and my husband waved his hand in surrender. To him, worship is working. Sure, we can worship while we work, with our bodies and our labor. We can thank God with gratitude that we can provide for our families or use our bodies in ways that are pleasing to Him. Still, there’s something about stilling ourselves in a moment, for a moment, and breathing in our surroundings and meeting God there.

Why do we shut ourselves off from the favor of God? Why do we not bask in the glow of His delight in us? What is it that causes us to think of these moments as frivolous whimsy instead of a necessary part of relationship?

My husband is gone now, to sit down with his brother and make a list of things to be done today, both chores and fun things the nephews will enjoy like the energetic boys on the cusp of adolescence they are. I remain on the deck, sipping my tea and delighting in the moment. God will enter into relationship with my husband in His own way, in a way that will touch my husband’s heart. I pray for that day of revelation. For my husband’s heart to be made ready. For the Holy Spirit to move in whatever way my husband needs from Him. I see in my husband immense goodness and talent. He has stores of creativity ready to burst forth from him. He has deep wells of love God is just waiting to tap into. First, God and my husband need to have a discussion on identity, on forgiveness, on who God sees my husband to be, and on who God wants to be for him. I know because God has to have similar discussions with me.

Well, my tea cup is empty so I guess it’s time to partner with my husband and his brother on some of the things on that list for the day. I enter into this time with joy and peace in my heart. All because of a moment when I sat on a deck overlooking a lake while I sipped my tea.

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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.

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.

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.

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?