spirituality

The Vampire Finch is Landing

This is the code name I’ve given my mother-in-law. Vampire finches are a subspecies of ground finches that live in the Galapagos Islands and are known for poking holes in other birds and drinking blood from the wounds. They do eat other things, but these innocuous looking birds will actually draw blood in order to ingest it. This feels like my mother-in-law. She doesn’t appear to be unstable or cruel or mentally ill. She’s this older woman who has a great laugh and who looks delicate, almost frail. Tired. She has a sense of humor that starts funny but turns biting and if you’re not looking, you don’t see her slip into a waif-like persona that draws people in to her world like flies to honey.

I’m not trying to demonize her because I have a poor relationship with her. She is a borderline personality and if you’ve ever lived with a borderline, you know they can suck the life right out of you if you let them. There is a borderline fantasy of complete and utter attachment, of two people merging to become one entity. I have seen this in action with her children. And I have seen my husband subconsciously fight this merger. His independence actually works to his advantage.

My mother-in-law does not like me. Some of this stems back to a huge disagreement we had years ago that I have since confessed and sought forgiveness for. Some of this is because I see through her and have seen the truth of the spiritual miasma that is part of the borderline. There is something else with her all the time, and I pray for it to be leashed and muzzled and like Gandolf, I draw a line in the sand that this spiritual ooze will not cross. I will not have my privacy disregarded any more. My space, time, and belongings will not be used without my permission. And I will fight for my husband so he can be brought out from under the yoke of being the son of a borderline mother who is not under the care of a mental health professional and who appears to want nothing more than to keep him her little boy at her beck and call.

She called this morning and is on her way to our city. She has other family in this city – another son, some step children. She has friends here. But…she calls my husband first. Some might think this is a compliment. It’s not. It’s difficult to explain, but trust me, it’s not. This is an out of the blue request. She was going to be in town next week and she had made plans to stay with someone else while she was here. However, this morning she called while she was on the road. Driving from half a continent away to here. Asking to stay overnight with us. Complaining of an ailment. Coming from somewhere that is not her home and coming ahead of schedule. Way ahead of schedule. No other explanation given except she wants to go to Urgent Care when she gets here.

I have a bad feeling about this. Not that she will be in our home. The Holy Spirit resides in my home and my home, the people in it, they will be safe from harm. I have a bad feeling because my mother-in-law has made a male friend over the internet and I think she was visiting him and something went very wrong. I have a bad feeling because what went wrong may be twisted in the mire of her expectations and the truth may be difficult to tease out. I have a bad feeling because even should this be an awful crisis, she carries around with her generational sin and curses and these are nasty and made stronger through her pain. I have a bad feeling because in crisis, she has this way of sucking the life out of everyone who attempts to help her. It’s her nature. Much like the vampire finch. It’s not an evil bird, it’s simply evolved to nip at other birds and drink blood from the ensuing wounds. My mother-in-law isn’t evil. She has an untreated mental illness and is bound up in generational sin and spiritual oppression.

So, I pray. I ask God for wisdom. For the truth to be revealed. I pray for compassion and for boundaries. I pray for protection – mine, my husbands, my mother-in-law. I pray for that which is oppressing her to be muzzled and leashed while in my home. And I pray for healing. I pray for an absence of fear.

As I have been praying, one of my inheritance words has been rolling around in my brain so I claim this promise as well. For my mother-in-law, for my husband, for myself.

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

~ Isaiah 41:10

 

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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.

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?