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 Need a Lover Who Won’t Drive Me Crazy

Marriage has gotten me thinking about many things. My own marriage, while on the whole wonderful, has these little landmines that are sensitive to pressure and once triggered must be handled with the utmost delicacy. Sometimes you know what will set them off. Sometimes you don’t. Diffusing the landmines must be handled with care. And compassion. Especially if you are the one who laid the mine for the other to trip. My husband and I are very different people. I love to create and to live in the moment. I’m cerebral and I want to understand people. I’m relational and find connecting with people to be a significant accomplishment.  My husband is a doer. He’s task oriented and looks at his day through the filter of what needs to be done. He values productivity and visible outcomes. In these differences alone we have landmines.

My husband and I stepped on each others landmines last night. I was hurt, as usual. He got angry and sulked. As usual. This is the pattern in our relationship, a pattern I’m attempting to change. I didn’t rush up to him and apologize for my “attitude” and I didn’t engage in his sulk. Instead, I offered him dinner, gave him a kiss on the cheek and told him it was quite alright if he wanted to stay home instead of joining my cousin and a friend for an evening of cultural enrichment and conversation. See, part of the reason he had his landmine set and ready for me to step on it was because he was feeling pressured to do something he didn’t want to do. He’s not a cultural arts guy. He’s an introvert and with a house guest, even one as kind and thoughtful as my cousin, it’s difficult to feel at home in his own house.

I gave him an out. And I opted to go with kindness instead of lashing out with the frustration of my day. That frustration had nothing to do with him. He just happened to step on a mine and arm a potential explosion. I had the ability to diffusing my own mine, so I did. I left him to the physical task of removing a tree stump from the yard and we girls drove away to have an evening of art appreciation and relational connection.

It was while we were admiring a wonderful bronze statue that something clicked in my head. I’ve been learning for the last couple of years about the relational aspect of God. How God wants to be in relationship with us. A kind and nurturing relationship filled with conversation, give and take and compassion. He delights in who we are and wants us to see ourselves as He sees us. And He wants us to share that same relational spirit with the people in our lives.

Too many people I know are all about the doing. Work harder. Make hay while the sun shines. Do, do, do and delay any sense of fun and gratification until later. Because, you know, work is its own reward. This focus on doing can drive a person crazy. Where does the doing end? When do you know you’ve done enough to be worthy of that gratification? Of peace and blessing and well-being? And when do you carve out time to be with someone? To nurture or be nurtured? To really get to know someone? You don’t. And because you are putting off the fun stuff because the doing is never-ending, you risk becoming cynical and disillusioned and disconnected.

Staring at that lovely bronze statue, thinking about the labor that went into casting the bronze, into sculpting every sinew and muscle, every detail, well it made me a little tired and quite a bit awed. It took work. It took time and dedication. It also took a vision and a passion. There was passion in the art we saw last night. A spark of being that was revealed in the doing.

Life isn’t either or. It’s not just doing and working or being and relating. We have obligations, jobs, tasks that must be done in order to have a life we can live well. But there’s a way to combine the doing and the being. It was there, staring at me in the face of a bronze gladiator and in the brush strokes of a long dead Japanese artist.

There is room in my husband’s world to learn to be, just as there is room in my world to value the process, or the work. But it is the relational that will bring healing to the weary soul and the relational that will help engage another in growth and passion.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Mt 22:36-40)

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.

For What It’s Worth

If performance is not the marker of God’s love for us, what is? How do I know God loves me? How do I know I please Him?

I struggle with this. Intellectually, I know God loves me and is pleased with me because of who He has declared me to be in Heaven and because of the defining work of Jesus on the cross. I know He delights in me.  In my head, I know this. It’s my spirit that has a difficult time believing.

I think it’s because God’s love is so very counter to how our worth is measured in our day-to-day lives. At work, I am given assignments, promotions and merit increases based on how well I do my job. My great smile and winning personality might count for a very small portion of my worth to my company, but the bottom line is this: no matter how well I am liked for who I am, if I do not perform at or above the company’s expectations, I will be out of a job. In the professional arena, my worth equals my performance. I’m not saying this is wrong. The workplace isn’t often about relationship, it’s about outcomes. My integrity and personality, my strengths play into the measure of my worth but at the end of the day, it’s about outcomes.

In my relationships with family, I like to believe my worth is based on unconditional love and acceptance. Parents tell their children they will love them no matter what. Siblings may fight bitterly one moment and then embrace each other in spirited camaraderie the next. On the surface this can feel like worth is about who I am within my family, but when I dig deeper there are inconsistencies. I do something wrong, and someone may threaten to box up all their toys and take their relationship away. Or there’s the family member who will withhold any type of love or affection UNLESS I performed in a manner pleasing to them.

Then there is the spousal relationship. We vowed to love each other for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.  And we do. I love my husband and he loves me. We don’t always like each other. When I reflect on my marriage, I see two people who keep score. Who like to be right. Who, when thwarted, instead of finding that middle ground of compromise, can pull the rug out from under relationship and lord it over the other person. Oh, how I wish I could say this behavior is the domain of my other half. Sadly, I have been found guilty of this very same behavior.

In all these relationships there are moments where worth seems to be based on performance. On how well we measure up against another’s wants, desires or expectations. We get this mixed message about what it is that makes us worthy.  People, in my experience, tend to be fickle. God is not. He’s consistently and fully in love with us. With me. And my worth is not something I have to earn. Or validate. Or prove. Not to God. He doesn’t react out of anxiety or fear. He doesn’t keep score. He doesn’t take past hurts or slights and hold them against me. His love is consistent. Constant. His relationship with me is always secure. 

Intellectually, I know this. And I feel funny asking Him to show me, to write it so deeply upon my DNA that the experience of this knowledge becomes as common as breathing. I want to experience God’s love and delight so deeply, I can’t help but see others in the same way. I don’t want to confuse my worth with performance ever again. And I don’t want my love for others to be based on performance. I want to love my husband the way God loves him. I want to delight in my siblings and my parents. I want to see my friends with great compassion. I want to look at strangers with kindness.

I can’t earn love. I can’t perform my way to Heaven. But I can be with God. And I can sit at His feet and commune with Him. I can abide with God. I can enter relationship with him. I can stand between the Father and the Son and bask in their love for me while the Holy Spirit gently holds my shoulders and helps me to stay. With God, at the end of the day it’s about relationship, which is always, always secure. Always true. Always full of love and delight.

So, feeling funny or not, I ask God to show me His great love in ways that are so clear, so fantastic I can’t help but see it for what it is. And to remind me there is not need for shame or timidity or fear. Tonight I pray for signs of God’s love. For reminders of His delight for me. I pray this for you, too. We can’t reframe how we see ourselves and have that truly stick without God.