Thursday, October 21, 2010

Deepest Heart

Just what is so wrong with living the quiet life full of simple blessings that God has called me to? That He has placed inside my heart with such a burning passion that I cannot ignore it? That steadies my spirit and rejuvenates my soul with each breathless moment? What is so terrible about being every bit the woman God has put in me to be?

It is the life I think we all wish we could find for ourselves. But if the answer is so simple as it is obvious, then why am I having so much trouble just letting this be?

There’s a lot at stake; I suppose there always is. It is tough to imagine that God could take a girl like me and turn her into the one that lives in my heart in His presence these days. In so many ways, I want to be her. You know, I watch my friends in their daily lives and follow their status messages on Facebook and I get a little jealous (and often more than a little jealous) at the simple little things. These simple things are not foreign in my own life – I love these brisk autumn days, sitting down and listening to the leaves rustle, watching the colors change, warming up with a mug of apple cider. Still, I always stop myself short of fully embracing them.

I’m coming to realize that there’s still a lot I am trying to prove. To myself. For so long, I wondered what kind of girl it was who could know the world as I have known it, and God has answered many of those questions. But His greatest answer, and the one He most wants to sink into my heart, is the one I am having the most trouble embracing. It requires a lot and would bring so much to bear upon my strengthening, but still vulnerable heart. And the truth that God wants me to hear is this: it is not that I am not that girl; it is that I NEVER WAS.

That’s a pretty big distinction. When you live your life as though you could have been her, you can handle your past in certain ways that leave you in this perpetual cycle – it is the cycle I am now in. Where you desperately want to not be that, but you know it lies somewhere within the depths of your being to be everything the world always thought she was. To be the liar, the manipulator, the little piece of trash, less than human, unloved. To be the victim. To be the abused, the abandoned, the rejected, the confused, the hurt, the pained, the vulnerable. The past makes more sense when this is the case, when you can see these traits in yourself to some extent and continue to shoulder some of the blame for every time your life has fallen short of Barbie dolls and birthday parties. You can then spend the rest of your days minding your words, desperate to prove that though you may be that, you are also more than that. You want to show that you have another side to yourself, that somewhere and somehow, you can be an asset to this world and play a role in something. In anything. You want to force your way into things, to blaze a trail and create a place where you are adding something. And you want to follow your heart and hope and pray that it leads you to something more, to something that uses this bright side of your personality, this open side of your heart to experience the world and yes, enjoy the simple things. But not too much because it doesn’t seem real, you don’t seem worthy, or it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that can last. Or worse, you start to understand (as I am now coming to see) that the way you enjoy the simple things, the way that you follow your heart and open yourself up to the wholeness of the woman God has put inside of you, NEGATES your last hope that you could have been that girl that deserved to be that girl because that still offers at least a little explanation of how things got to be this way.

The good things have been invading my life lately. In abundance. They are those warm apple cider moments (which include, thankfully, delicious warm cider) that send those tingling sensations through my body. From the inside out. They are new relationships forming, old ones being restored. They are moments of peace and freedom, where the worries of so long fade away and even cease to exist. They are the times my faith is strong and my confidence assured and my heart steady. They are the moments where I realize I am in God and He is in me and there is this beautiful, whole woman inside me bursting to get out. A woman that He is calling to so many things, to so much good work and grace and mercy in this world. And in her own life. A woman He is calling to answer the questions of my own heart and to be His redemption here. It would not be a stretch at all to say that I wake up every day feeling purposed, beloved, beautiful, and oh so blessed.

Then I always go and do something stupid to ruin it all. More and more, I have noticed that I am always willing to step in at the last moment to ensure that I fail, to guarantee that a great moment becomes a good moment or a mediocre moment. That I am always just short of that last little bit of freedom He is calling me to.

That I am always one tiny bit away from letting go.

The truth is that I could very easily, today, at this moment, be wholly the woman God is calling me to be. I could be that woman that is in my heart. I could be the fullness of God’s glory revealed in this life. That very idea makes my whole body shake. No, seriously – I am trembling even as I write this. But I understand what else this demands of me, and that is a heavy prospect.

It will require grief. Because to embrace all that God has for me, I have to first realize and then live knowing (confidently, honestly knowing) that I never was that girl. That some things cannot be explained and shouldn’t try to be. That I don’t have all the answers and that, in fact, there will never be any answers for this. I have to understand that there’s a chance, knowing how God has created me, that this weight of grief over the unexplained (and perhaps unexplainable) may never go away, that embracing freedom and accepting God’s call in my life may only deepen the pain that has taken me on such an incredible journey, but at times a miserable, degrading one. If not for that journey, I would not know God; but if not for God, I would never understand the journey.

There are so many tears that need to be shed, but they get caught somewhere between my heart and my throat. I don’t know if I am strong enough for this place God is calling me, and yet…I want to be. And I probably am. Because the woman of God that lives in me, His beautiful creation in this less-than-perfect temple is strong. She is strong beyond my wildest imagination. She is beautiful and gifted and humble and quiet. She is stilled and merciful, gracious and grateful. She is blessed and oh so…so…strong. She is ready for this, to let those final strings break and to be free. To live not trapped behind the walls of coping mechanisms and what-ifs and the only manageable answers to life’s questions but to live in the fullness of God’s presence and be everything He has called her to.

My heart is going to break. It is going to shatter, combust. This has been building for several weeks as these revelations have grown deeper into my heart, and it scares the Hell out of me. (Shouldn’t it be a good thing when ANYTHING scares the Hell OUT of us?) I don’t know if I’m strong enough. I really don’t.

But I know that He is. And so is she. And she is I, the woman sipping the warm apple cider and watching the leaves change colors in the season, knowing she is beloved, blessed, purposed, and beautiful.

Pray for me in this journey. Pray for the courage and the strength to embrace God’s freedom, His mercy, His call, and this beautiful simple life and to live worthy of His presence.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Freed to Be

It is very obvious at this point that if I’d just get out of my way, I could be the woman God’s created in me. It’s that first part that’s the sticking point.

With this realization, I’ve realized something else: I have always been in my way. Sure, I have pushed it off on some very fantastic excuses, but the truth is that by letting these things control me, I was setting up my own roadblocks. Over the past several years, as God has done His healing work in me, He has torn down (with my permission and labor, since He and I decided to work in tandem) every obstacle I have ever put in my path.

My heart is free, and the vast expanse before me with its clean air and open spaces and quiet whisper confirm that every day. I can’t tell you what it’s like to hold no bitterness or anger in my heart. Maybe I can; it is passing the ten-year anniversary of the death of a man who inflicted so much pain and for the first time, realizing that I can love him anyway and that I’m no longer condemning him to burn in Hell. I can’t tell you what it’s like to not be tempted to run away from the heaviness of a heart that is raw for God, that feels everything. Maybe I can; it is the wisdom to embrace all of the brokenheartedness and the burden knowing full well that every deep sigh, every tear reveals more of God that just puts me in further awe of Him. I can’t tell you what it’s like to stop hearing the lies that defined you for decades. Maybe I can; it is looking in the mirror and losing your breath to the beauty reflected in you, putting your hands to something new or challenging and smiling at the outcome, looking someone in the eye when you speak with them because you just don’t feel like the scum of the earth any more. I can’t tell you what it’s like to develop trust in your body. Maybe I can; it is honoring yourself through proper care, and it is living a life that doesn’t exist between doses of medication or admissions to the hospital. I can’t tell you what it’s like to not be exhausted. Maybe I can; it is sleeping soundly through the night and waking up rested and refreshed.

As much as God has taken away the things that held me back, the voices in my head and in the world that had permeated my heart and controlled my existence. As much as He has freed me from all of the things I have too long struggled with – unworthiness, shame, fear, anger, resentment, brokenness, ugliness, doubt, and did I mention unworthiness? – He has done so much greater things in replacing those with the things of Him. Truly, this is redemption. Truly, He has set me free.

Then why am I still standing here with my feet stuck in the mud? Why do I refuse to take a bold step forward into the fullness of that freedom, which I have been blessed to taste in its fullness a few bites at a time?

It is overwhelming.

It is not that I think I don’t deserve the good things of God; that misconception has long passed me, as He set me free from that as well. It is not that I think I am getting what I’m owed, that someone or something owes me for the places I’ve been; that implies a lot of things about the universe that I’m not willing to accept. It is not that I think God is playing a game with me, that this is all a pipe dream or a mirage that will fade as soon as I try to draw near; this is tangible, and that, I know for certain. It is not that I feel inadequate or lost, like I wouldn’t know how to live in that place if you paid me to.

It’s really that I’m kind of afraid I could.

There’s a stark contrast here, a bold line between what I have always thought I’ve known and what I absolutely know for sure now. It calls me to a higher standard, a better way of living that requires more of me than I have ever had to give. It is easy to take the low road, to get mired and stuck and do the things that take the least effort. It is more difficult, and more unnerving, to expect and even demand your whole self to be in everything. That requires a commitment and a lot of energy that says, “I don’t give up. I don’t give in. I don’t quit.” It says, “This is what God has created in me, and I am going to live the wholeness of that every day, even when it is hard.”

And what an incredible responsibility. This has changed my prayers dramatically, from “Lord, please help me through another day” to “God, make me worthy of the call You have placed in my life.”

Make me worthy of feeling beautiful every moment of every day.

Make me worthy of staying content to be quiet.

Make me worthy of embracing all of my story, which is only more beautiful every moment you transform and redeem it. Oddly, I have noticed this has deepened my past and humbled my present. It’s awesome.

Make me worthy. And make me bold. Bold to step forward and not fall back. Bold to not be overwhelmed (I am SO overwhelmed by this penetrating transformation; it is the overwhelmed that makes me turn and run just when the freedom grasps my heart). Bold to be everything You have created me to be, to go where You call me to go, to live as You call me to live.

I am overwhelmed by the newness, by the contrast between the life of entrapment and being in my own way and the blessed existence that freedom (true freedom) in God offers. It bothers me when I get so overwhelmed that I turn back, and this is nowhere more evident than in relationships. I’m in a small group through my church, which meets at a family’s house that is not mine. When I get there, I realize what it is to me and to this woman of God in me to be invited into someone else’s home…and not be afraid. And not feel awkward. To share a story or join in a conversation and not feel like I’m the one out of place, like these people just include me to be including me (though that thought still takes hold in the darkness of night if I let it). To not leave after visiting with someone and Monday-morning quarterback it to figure out every small little thing I might have done or said wrong. To not wonder if I’m good enough. To not wonder if they are talking about me behind their backs. To not wonder if I’m weird (we all KNOW I am weird).

Every thought, every pain, every sickness, every ungodly thing that has ever ruled my life or my thoughts or kept my brain running in circles…is just gone. When I realize that, I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed to the point of tears as the beauty of a life in God pierces my heart. Overwhelmed to the point that I run away.

Why am I running from goodness? I just don’t know. I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong – I am a trained long-distance runner; I have spent my life running. But I don’t want to run any more, and I pray that God will settle that spirit in me. Still, it’s weird because I am so VERY aware that I’m not running out of fear any more. I’m not running out of shame or unworthiness. I’m not running out of awkwardness or discomfort. I’m not running because I think I’ll ruin something if I stick around. I’m not running because I am afraid the bubble will burst.

I am only running because I’m deathly afraid that this could be real. That God could really be doing this in me. That I could be this transformed, this redeemed. This overwhelms me to tears, repeatedly. Just about every day these days.

What does that require of me, knowing how real, how permanent, how tangible, and how awesomely incredible this is?

I have to forgive myself. Forgive myself for not being this before, for holding back my life and holding on to too much. Forgive myself for rejecting this goodness, His goodness, before now. Forgive myself for ignoring His presence or turning my back. Forgive myself for having to forgive myself.

I want to be the kind of woman who steps into that and not away from it, who embraces the fullness of God’s presence and brings honor to His call. I want to be the kind of woman who doesn’t need to run from the good things in life because it is entirely ok to be beautiful, to be calm and quiet, to be content and assured and confident, to be His beloved, and to be blessed. I want to be the kind of woman who isn’t afraid to be everything God has created in her.

Lord, free me to be that woman in all her richness, knowing full well the contrast and the overwhelming and the energy that it entails. Lead me into the richness of Your mercy and guide me through. Do not let me stand in my own way any longer, but let me step boldly into everything You are calling me to. Let me be fully the woman You have created in me and to be neither afraid nor boastful about that. Free me to be.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

One Unheard Message

It is the vibration so penetrating that we have trained ourselves to hear its buzz. It sends shockwaves through our body and chills up our spine as we realize that someone, somewhere wants to talk with us. It is our cell phone, and it is ringing.

It is tough to let any call go to voicemail. Today’s world of fingertip technology has trained us to always be ready, to always be available in case that life-changing moment or that split-second emergency or that chance to intervene is just on the other side of the ‘answer’ button. If we put it off to voicemail, maybe we miss our moment, our invitation, or our last chance.

But sometimes, as we all know, it is not possible to take the call. Maybe we are in mixed company where such an
interruption would be rude. Perhaps we are at the movie theater, completely engrossed in the fantasy playing out before us. Maybe we have our hands full with the dishes, the groceries, the kids, or the housework. Maybe, as often happens at least to me, this call caught us with our pants down (no explanation needed). Or maybe we just screen our calls, looking at the caller ID to see if whoever is on the other end is worth interrupting our lives for at that particular moment.

If they are not, we ignore the call or send it straight to voicemail, waiting to listen to their message at a later time. A more opportune time, in our own opinion.

One missed call.

What if that call was the important one? What if that was our moment, our invitation, our last chance? What if the Caller had something life-changing to speak to us in that moment, and even though we could have guessed He really needed us, we sent the call to voicemail anyway because we could not be bothered with His interruptions?

Later, we tell ourselves. Not now.

And later, we press that speed dial button on our phone – 1. One leads us to our message. One takes us to the call we missed. One registers, connecting us to our voicemail box where we hear the words that can only haunt us:

“You have one unheard message. First unheard message….”

Silence. Leaving us to wonder what He wanted when He called.