Friday, January 28, 2011

Battle Pong

In the wee hours of this morning, I was awake and thinking about ping pong.

Oh, it didn't have to be ping pong. It could have been foosball, air hockey, Mario Kart. Any man vs. man battle would do, but for it me - it was ping pong.

It is one of those games that's hard to walk away from. You play, and you're getting into it. You exchange a few light-hearted jabs with your opponent and at times, take the whole thing with a deathly seriousness that would seem silly if you could see clearly through your own sweat. You even laugh at the fact that you're sweating during ping pong.

You stay at the table for hours, knowing full well the circumstances. You haven't eaten. You have other things to do. You are tired. You are thirsty. And despite your thirst, you have to pee. But something keeps you there, anyway. Something keeps you playing.

What is it that keeps us from walking away? Oh, we try sometimes but the sound of our opponent bouncing that ball behind us, ready to serve another point, sends us diving back toward the table only hoping to grab out paddle in time (or as has been more common, me deciding to be done and hearing one of my brothers rev the engines on Mario Kart and hoping I can grab the controller quickly enough to beat the countdown clock). It doesn't matter that the score is decidedly in our favor, that it is a million to four. When that point is served, something sends us running back to answer.

What keeps us from walking away? What if we just...left? Turned our backs and walked out.

Our opponent would taunt us, his voice getting louder and louder. What's the matter? he'd ask. Did I wear you out? Are you afraid of losing? You think you're too GOOD for this? And the answer to all of those is that nothing's the matter, we are not worn out, we do not fear losing, and yes, we ARE too good to continue playing a game where the score is already settled. For many of us, the taunts are enough. He convinces us we still have something to prove, so we go diving back forsaking all else to keep proving ourselves, to keep racking up points.

Useless, meaningless points that even our opponent isn't paying attention to. Only we keep counting; only we think they mean something.

For those of us who finally know and refuse to go back, his taunts grow louder and demand an answer. With a simple turn, perhaps, we tell him it's over. We have won, and we have better things to do. Where are we going? he asks. Anywhere but here.

Anywhere but here.

Then, when we turn again and continue walking away, we should expect his voice to carry and we should brace ourselves for at least one or two ping pong balls square to the back of the head. Anything he can do to bring us back there, wasting our time fighting a battle we have already won. Anything he can do to keep us there, locked in with him, still within sight and furiously busy answering his serve. Racking up points, but still trapped because we won't walk away. That's his end game.

Draw your battle lines. THIS is where his power ends. THIS is where the darkness breaks. End his game.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Am Not

I am not. That much, for sure, I know.

It is the truth that wraps my heart every day, knowing that I am not. But I cannot say what I am not any longer because it seems so foolish that I ever was. Still, I know it is no longer my truth because I hear the old words roll off my tongue, and they are mindless jabber. They are not rooted in truth or in anything real; they are simply habit, the force of what I’ve known desperately stabbing to replace the emptiness that has replaced it.

Emptiness is a difficult master, even more difficult than mindless busyness or the stirring of boredom. Emptiness takes discipline, and it takes space. It takes boldness in the willingness to let it be without frantically trying to fill it with something, anything, to make it not emptiness any more. Yet I know that it is emptiness because the things that used to fill that space are gone, so far removed from recognition in my heart that I can’t believe I wasted so much time with them. I simply…do not know what has replaced what used to be; perhaps so far, it is nothing.

Nothing. Nothing except…that I am not. Even that thought, though, is enough to bring praise to my heart. I lie in bed at night, trying to figure out what is there, what is in me, but I fall so far short of words. I can only lie there and laugh, thanking God that I am not.

It is tempting to say how tough this is, how it is eating at me (and it is) and how much I am not enjoying this. But the truth is, I AM kind of enjoying it. Not because it is substantive…or maybe it is and I have not grasped that yet. But because this nothingness is more authentic than everything else ever has been. This nothingness, it is truth. It is now. It is me; and I am not.

What I am, and this is something in and of itself, is exhausted. That much, I also know. The past few weeks have been no less than rough. I wake up in the mornings ready to burst into tears for reasons I had not been able to put my finger on. Frustration, maybe, at the continued job search and coming so close yet falling short. Weariness of living in constant anticipation, knowing that what God has for me is right around the corner and thirsting after it. Physical fatigue from fighting to breathe. But it was gnawing on me that this…this was something more. This exhaustion transcends all that, and answering any of those questions would not bring me rest.

I prayed and asked God to show me where I had no words, what was going on that I was missing that was sapping my energy away from me. For the better part of three weeks, He had no answer except “exhaustion.” Pure exhaustion. That made sense, but I knew not why. Then, He showed me.

He showed me fallen, collapsed on the ground. I felt the dirt on my face and the sweat dripping down. I looked and saw my cut and bruised and broken body, and then I saw why. He showed me stumbling, falling out of the fight of my life. Darkness. Barbs. Threats. This was the obstacle course through which I had come, and in comparison to the clearing where my tired body now lay, it is easy to see how exhaustion set in. I wouldn’t have the strength to get up right now if I tried.

Yet He has given me enough to raise my head and utter words of praise, of worship. This, where the dust and the dirt and the blood and the beating meets the openness of the clearing and the promise of the future – this is holy. This is sacred. It is also…emptiness.

Emptiness because as I realize, the things that made so much sense in the jungle are useless in the clearing. And the clearing makes you realize how senseless perhaps they always were. For now, though, I don’t know what is different or what to do or what to say. I am content to be quiet and to accept His invitation for rest. As I see myself lying here, concerned not with where I’ve come from nor in what mess I now lay, I am content. To take a deep breath. To rest. To let His strength be enough. Knowing that for now, I cannot rise. Still here…is beautiful. All of it. It is the product of being me in the process of being His. That is awesome.

Content to be quiet. Content to be still. Perhaps these are my new natural, my new norm. They certainly feel more natural than anything I have ever been. My friends and constant companions as of late – confident assurance, unshakable faith, peace, stillness, softness, gentleness – these were His gifts to me on that final push, that last stretch to freedom. Because He knew I would stumble around. He knew I would need them. But I know they are His gifts to me even now and will be again for the future, though I sense they will take something different in them. Something that will be so perfect that I struggle now to envision it, though my heart knows their truth.

Then, in the midst of it all, the thoughts dancing in my head. What will it be like when I rise and leave this place? What will it be like living in the clearing instead of blazing through the darkness? Visions of doing just that flipped through my head, and I was discouraged. Disappointed. The darkness never left; it seemed to follow me wherever I went. No matter how many steps I took into the clearing, the darkness followed one step behind. That was the trick of discouragement. Until I realized, rather quickly for how these things usually come to me…

…it was only because I was bringing it along. Dragging it with me for whatever reason. For what reason? It has been all I have known.

I have known how to fight. I have known how to take it. I have known how to find the strength to keep standing. Perhaps that is it; perhaps in this exhaustion, I am afraid of my weakness, my vulnerability. What if I could never stand again? Perhaps the darkness is my comfort, my fall back into knowing that to face it, I would stand. I don’t take anything lying down.

But now I do. Now, I take His blessing lying down. I take His rest and His good work in me. Knowing it was I who kept myself tied to the past, I shake my foot loose of the vine. I commit to God that no matter the challenge, I will not bring darkness with me. It will only hold me back. It will keep me from stepping any more into His freedom and His will than I already am, and I will never know what He has for me.

Oh, how I long to know what He has for me! How I long to see His work completed in me! In the end, I don’t think I want anything different from God than His other children and many of my friends are seeking – to know and to be known and to be. To have the greatest and the most perfect gifts He has given. That is it, and that is on my wall to remind me. Living a life worthy. Being fully that.

Fully that, which is not.

My striving ceases; I surrender it into His hands. There’s nothing here to fight about, nothing to fight against. That is good because I have no fight left in me. I am in the throes of exhaustion, fighting every moment to stay out of bed and to do something besides cry. But these are tears of praise and redemption, tears of release. Oddly, the tears of emptiness. Which are not bad tears to cry, not at all. I am quiet, and that is fine. Please do not worry that I am quiet now; that may be my new natural. It may have been my old natural had I not had to be in such a loud and violent fight. This quiet, it suits me. This stillness, it suits me. This exhaustion…ok, that wears on me. It is weird to say, especially for someone who can figure things out, but I don’t know for sure how to do this. I don’t know how to be…not. I don’t know how to be whatever replaces…is. Or was. Or whatever you’d want to call it.

But this time, I am listening to His whisper in my heart. There’s nothing pressing me to figure it all out; I surrender my demand for answers. Anything I would push myself to find would be infinitely less, and I recognize and understand that. It is that that makes me praise in the emptiness. I will be what He strengthens me to be, and there is strength even in weakness. There is strength in rest. I will answer when called, and I will step boldly into the clearing when He strengthens me to rise.

In the peace of His presence, where His tender hand guides me in mercy and shields me in rest, I know but two things. First, that I am ok. I don’t always know what I am. I don’t always know what He is planning for tomorrow. I often am without words to say anything at all or even to define it for myself. But I know that I am ok, and that is enough.

And I know that I am not. And that, too, is enough.

(A song by Brandon Heath plays now in the background. “We don’t have to wait until the end of the night just to say that something’s wrong and maybe nobody’s right. We’re all victims in a battle that we never had to fight. Steady now, we’re in this thing together.”)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sons of God

Growing up in a house full of boys, I learned a thing or two about proving myself. The youngest of three; the only girl. There was a lot of proving ground for me because I could not play the game until I showed I was a competitor and a force to be reckoned with. I had to prove that I was a valuable asset, worth something to the endeavor at hand, before I would be dealt in, picked, or trusted to carry the ball. I had to show that even though I was different (a girl), I had a lot to offer and could keep up.

I could throw a fastball that would make your hand sting. I could shoot a gun and cast a rod. I outscored, outplayed, outran, and outperformed desperately trying to show that I could do it. I was worthy.

And there were still many times, with a terrible sting, that the answer remained the same: you simply can’t. Despite your strength, despite your energy, despite your contribution and your commitment and your persistent begging, you just can’t. You can’t…because these things, they are for the boys. We have something slightly different for you, slightly less.

That temptation to prove myself is instinct, I guess. I don’t know whether it’s just me, having grown up in testosterone land, but I suspect the same holds true for countless others. That instinct kicked in hard when I opened God’s book and saw those phrases that had the same sting of something lesser. They are littered throughout the text, and they come back to the same message: “They will be called sons of God.” Sons.

Some translators change these verses to “children” of God or “sons and daughters.” They understand that times were different when these words were written; women were submissive. Their role in society was different, and we’re more “progressive” now. But that doesn’t always take away the sting of reading those words. Sons of God.

That sting has driven me often to prove myself. That sting has echoed off the walls of my head that I must be something lesser because I could never be a son. Work hard, study hard, pray hard and perhaps He would make me an honorary son. Perhaps He would change the definition of son as the translators have and include all of His children. I don’t want to play in God’s lassie league. Put me in the big game; put me on the field with anyone, and I will measure up.
It is agonizing to yearn for the blessings that God says He bestows upon His sons, agonizing to long to be one of those fathers of the faith and strong examples that people tend to look to. When in agony, pursue.

Instinct led me to pursue God and find a way to be His son. Had I succeeded, and perhaps at some point I momentarily had, I would have been left with something lesser than I thought I wanted. Chasing what I thought best, desperately trying to prove my worth and show my asset and demonstrate that I could keep up and be a force to be reckoned with, He had something entirely different for me that I was liable to miss.

There’s a tenderness creeping up in me that I cannot ignore. It casts out that desire to prove myself. It throws aside the things I very well could be…that I was never called to be. Instead, I am replaced by a quiet spirit (and yeah, I am totally still trying to adjust to that), graciousness, tenderness, gentleness, peace, and an oddly unshakable faith that is characteristic of that softer side. It is a faith that does not use force to defend itself. It is a faith that is not loud, not always trying to prove. It is a faith that simply is. Because in full acknowledgement of my unworthiness, God has continued to say I am worth it. I am worthy.

It is a new standard, something that has required a tremendous sacrifice and personal shift for me. It is something that seems so backward from what I knew. I used to think it would be so much less, but it is indescribably more.

So a new word echoes through the depths of my heart, one that brings a simple satisfaction and a strong peace, one that means more to me than ever “son of God” could, no matter how hard I worked to get there or how much I struggled to prove myself.

It is a word that purely reflects what He has for me, what He has always had for me.

It is a word used only a handful of times throughout His word, but it is there.

That word is “daughter.”