When the voice inside your head is wrong

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My own voice echoed as the list rolled. 

Remember when you…….

and then you had the nerve to say……..

I bet she thinks………..

and you seem like………

why did you say that………

you should have ………..

you shouldn’t have…..

yep, you’re doing it wrong.

I made a bold statement, said that God thinks you’re some of his best work.  Said that he cares about every detail of your day and speaks to you all the time if you’ll listen, if you’ll look.

I went on with my week and forgot to remember……

That when I make progress in any area of my life; when I live, on purpose, out of the bold yet vulnerable places in my soul, there’s a shady voice always waiting, hellbent on the back-door destruction of my heart.  I mistake it for my own voice if I’m not careful and I bet you do to.

My soft spots always include relationships, people, all kinds of them.  They hurt me young and left me early and I still hold onto the belief that I can be a good enough friend to avoid conflict altogether. Conversations incessantly loop and the voice insufferably auto-corrects with one rotten subtitle:  you did it wrong.

Maybe it’s different for you.  Maybe  you feel the flash of shame when you think about your marriage or your parenting, or maybe it’s a full-blown lightening show.  A burst of insecurity about your education lights up a rod of  dying dreams, blazing a grand finale of deep disappointments from high school to the present.

It makes you feel like you’re in trouble, like when you were a kid and your mama used your full name.

It steps on the softened place that connects to your heart, yanking you backward into a muddy pit of degradation while angry accusations blare from the perimeter.

It triggers a flash that burns hot in the notch behind your ears shooting into your spine, dropping into your stomach or filling up your eyes as the disappointment, failure, or shame physically becomes part of you.

The voice I heard sounded like my own and it took me a while to remember that it’s not.  It’s a lying voice of opposition, not authorship and it contradicts, admonishes.  The one goal of this voice is to drown out the voice that’s Truthful.

You have to remember to close your ears to the lies that want to wreck your soul and begin to speak (out loud)  the truth that’s been whispered into your soul. Truth about who you were created to be.

It begins with a whisper of thanks for Hope and ends with the decision to choose the Voice that speaks life.  In the middle of the night it’s hard for me to remember, but I’ve learned the difference and it’s a game changer.

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What you really need to know about the darkness and God

Monday, I showed up here with some of the darker colors of my heart, not at all how I intended to move back into this space.   As I sit at my desk this morning, I see the sun is trying hard to make a name for itself through all the gray and in that same way, I want to share from the brighter hopeful places inside of me.  Because, it occurs to me that I know that they’re always there, shining between the cloud cover, but maybe you don’t.  

So today, some brighter colors of hope, because I could always use a reminder and I’m thinking maybe you could too.  

darkness and light

What I really want you to know is this….

God thinks you are some of his best work. 

He knows that life has been brutal for you and sometimes you feel like pellets of sharp  driveway gravel  are being aimed at your heart at random intervals.

He can’t wait for the chance to show you how he really feels about you, but he’s waiting for you to give him the teeniest, tiniest chance.

When your mom’s sick and you’re sitting in the hospital until 5 am because the overworked nursing staff might forget her pain meds, he knows that your back is screaming for just 15 minutes in your own bed and your due at work in 3 hrs.

That feeling in the pit of your stomach when someone is tormenting your child, when they’ve picked and pulled and tugged and sneered for so long that your first-born, been-a-gentleman-since-he-was-4-weeks, is ready to thrown-down?  That feeling?  He wants you to know he gets that one, it’s familiar and he’s ready to send in the cavalry if you’ll ask him.

But did you know that God’s a gentleman too?  That  he’s waiting for you to invite him into  your hard places?

People get all choked up over the free will part of insert-your-chosen-religious-term here.  But it’s really not that complicated.

Do you want to feel and experience God who cares about every bit of your daily life? Or do you not?

I’ve got to be honest here, because I can’t imagine anyone answering no to that question.

Part of the human experience is handling life ourselves, but who doesn’t want help if we’re really honest?

It’s the asking though, we really don’t like to ask and so we struggle on, alone.  When all we really need to say is me! me! me!, I need help, I do, because that’s  all it takes to have an all access pass to some of the coolest things you’ll ever experience and it’s not a religious freak show, I promise.

I know, I know, we all know people but forget them for a minute.

Sometimes you see the same people at dinner around 11 pm at IHOP that you see 14 hours later at lunch time at Panera.  You don’t really know why you saw them, but when you’ve included the possibility that there is a God who cares about everything in life, you know that  there’s some reason you saw that woman with the fabulous haircut and her sweet little boy that’s so pretty you call him a girl.  You feel bad and hope you didn’t insult her, but you’re glad you said something because you don’t believe in coincidence.  You know there was a reason and it’s ok if you don’t ever know what it was.

Sometimes, you don’t like the soup that you order at lunch and when the manager takes your tray and finds out I wasn’t your favorite, he asks you what your favorite is and brings it back in a to-go bag.  When he does, you know that the soup is a little shout-out from God.  You just know because you talk to him, sometimes out loud if your kids aren’t around.  You embarrass them enough, you know.

Those details are just slivers of nothingness in comparison to the ways that you’d see him every day if you’d get a little risky and ask him to show up, be a part of your life.

Really, it doesn’t have to be a whole life decision to ask him to show up just a little.  But when he shows up, you just might want to see him more. Because when you see him, and you know it’s him? It’s like crack.  Completely addicting.

He knows you, how he made you.  With fear that leaks out of your eyes at night and a heart that pours and gives and squeezes out every last drop of hope right out there in the fresh clear air.  He knows that you deeply want for someone to swallow down that hope with you, to hold it inside and sit in the sacredness of that shared moment.  And he see’s when they spit it right back at you, without acknowledging your offering.

Did you know that the sadness and the loneliness, he feels that for you, with you? He sees all those things about you and he wants you to know that he feels so much sorrow when he sees the places in your heart that are breaking.

He’s as proud as he can be when you make choices that are good and positive for your life, things that open your heart to seeing more of what he’s really all about, but you should know that when you don’t get it right……..

When you lay out your kid because they ate all the snacks and they’re hungry and it’s 10 pm and you’ve been up since 6:15 and the list never ends and they.always.need.more……

When you choose to destroy yourself by doing that thing that you do because you just can’t feel this much pain for one more minute and need some relief….

When  you catch yourself thinking that you don’t even know if you believe in a god of anything in the first place and then tun around and lay your own self out because what kind of person would you be if you didn’t……

When you make choices that stink because you’re lazy or you’re scared or you just don’t want to be alone, but you know better and so how could you possibly ask God to come be a part of that hot mess.

He wants you to know that he doesn’t love you not one bit less when you makes those crummy choices.  In fact, maybe he loves you more.  Because he knows about the shame you’re pouring on top of your own self behind the smile, the silence, the sincerity or the sneer.

He doesn’t care what a big huge mess your life is or how shiny you think it is for that matter.   He just wants to be there to share it with you.

He understands how he made your fragile heart to work and he’s waiting for you to ask him to help you to understand yourself.  He is I promise.

I want this to become a place where we can declare what’s real in life.    A place to shout proudly all that is good, share freely all that is hard and learn to see him in the middle of it.

A place to whisper the darkness of fear while believing that momentary glimpses of light, momentary glimpses of God, make the darkness bearable.

Protecting a soul

camo maybe

There is a deep sadness that begs to be ignored in a way that’s consuming.

It’s the kind that by the time you recognize it, you’ve already sunken so deep you have to look up. It’s tucked in so snug, there’s not room for much else.

It’s still, this sadness, like those fresh moments when it’s so dark the only sound are the crickets and that circular black ringing.

It’s the time when even the birds know to be still.

The time you should be drinking restoration but all you can do is sip as you rest your eyes.  When what you really want to do is rest your heart, just for a little while.

Demanding to be heard though it struggles to speak, it’s the kind that’s not going away.

It hides dreams and muffles hope as it buries feet in duties de jour.

It wonders of waste and struggles to salvage a life well-worn.

As who she is, rises to the surface, making room for who she is becoming.

 It’s balance that she can’t find.

There’s a poet resting just on the underside of this semi-suburban sinking life.  She’s so deep inside herself right now, she can barely hear the fingers tapping but knows that tap they must or she won’t find her way out.

Just hours ago, she wrote true words, yellow and pink compared to the black and blue that surface now.

Where is the balance.

Maybe that’s the price of the battle.  She’ll willingly pay it.  She just never expected the lightening would pierce the rainbow.

When she’s up at 3 a.m. these are muffled screams looking for the rungs that lead to Up.  She can’t see and all she hears are crickets, and ringing, and humming air circles and then a teenager, maybe a factory worker.  Someone passing in the darkness heading home from somewhere because the road that runs west, only leads home.

She feels splintered and even more so as she writes third person, because she is splintered.  There are a handful that want know and the rest choose what they see.

If community heals the broken places, why must new places break in order for the old to heal?

She’s not an actress, she’s honest about how she feels, sees, hears, but even still, when the faces choose what they see, it doesn’t matter whether she’s acting.  She still plays a part.

She’s supposed to go there this morning again.  That place that’s rubbing off her edges, and teaching her humility, compassion, purpose, community, it’s that love-lesson.  Must all love hurt so much?

They say there’s a love…she doesn’t feel it.

It’s now as she soaks her feet in the cold coals that they start to sear.  The vacuum might just drown her.  She’ll have to smile, unless she stays in bed.  She’ll feel hollow as she bridges words over depths they won’t understand.

Maybe the charade protects her from falling so deep inside herself she’d not find her way out.  She has to find a way to balance the deep dark with the shaded smile.

Or maybe she doesn’t.

Maybe today, she’ll wear something to simply protect her soul from the shimmer.

Maybe the camo.

What are you searching for?

The search for true and honest is on.

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I’m listening for the ping of the truth detector and more often than not, it’s silent.

When I hear it, just for a moment, there’s sweet relief.

Connection, a sigh, and calm silences my hot soul.

A phone call, the question ragged and needy.  An exchange,  the smallest notch in the belt of relationship.

Trolling in my own head, the ache of need and desire to be known follows hard, stalking my sleep, steering my thoughts, leading me away from the healing.

Who do you think you are? 

Look at the mess!

Just what do you have to say.

Bawdy accusation, a silent squeeze, and the fist of fear chokes out my words.   I walk numb through the day and I numb through the night because the honesty is just out of my reach.

There are moments and glimpses of genuine. They fade so quickly I wonder if they’re figments and I question my ability to know honesty when I see it.

Where are the truth-seekers and will I ever be whole enough to travel with them?

Would I fill my heart with the happy of clinking glasses if I found them?

Would I be satisfied with the bread of laughter and call off the search?

Not-enoughs travel from my hair to my hips, from paint to parties and I’m always looking over my shoulder wondering what comes next.

There are moments I know I don’t want truth.  It’s simply too much to handle.  But authentic is like crack for a cracked soul and once you’ve touched it, or rather, it touches you, there is no way to unsee, to unfeel, to unknow.

I put the skin of words on these silent, raw foundations in my soul.  The click of the keys mocks the art that I’m certain I was born to create and I pound on, one ping closer.

 

Amber Haines started a powerful conversation this week over at The Run A Muck. I’ve been writing lately in fits and snippets and haven’t been making enough sense to post here, but her thoughts fueled my words today.  You’ve been warned, once you read her words, you can’t unknow.

I’m linking to her most recent post here. You’ll find links on that page to the first two posts in her series. Start at the beginning and dare to let her words hook the honesty in your own soul.  

Come back here and let me know what you think?

The reason I’m living with this ugly blue rectangle

Lately, I’m doing a lot of writing from our bedroom.  We’re getting used to a new schedule and while I’m beyond thankful that there’s a routine, I’m still looking for my groove in the middle of the change.

blue stripe

I’ve found myself closing my eyes when I write because if  I keep them open, they stick like glue to the law-enforcement blue strip above the dresser. The previous owner was a police officer and I suppose the color was curiously soothing to him, but I’ve never owned, purchased, or even been gifted anything in this lawful color and I hate it.

Writing is the place I find balance between the substance of who I want to be and the sparsity of who I really am.  I’ve started closing my eyes because of the noise of what I see, the illustrations of my soul reflected on the walls of my home, the canvases of my relationships that distract me from the purposeful woman I’m determined to become.

As my mind is filled with lists of to-do and to-call, to-finish and to-get,  I can’t think for all of the tos screaming loudly, me, me, me, pick me!

When we moved into this house,  there was a hinged TV tray attached to the wall. We tossed the tube right up there and found that if we carefully extended it with just the right angle, we could see it from the shower.  Exactly one time,  I angled it just right so I wouldn’t miss a minute of Law and Order.  I’m slightly embarrassed by this admission, so please remember that it was before DVR.

Apart from the strangely sexy Jack McCoy or perhaps the riveting footage of O.J. in the White Bronco though, there is absolutely no reason to justify watching TV from the shower and I believe that positively no one should have an extra arm reaching into their bedroom, so last year I asked my husband to take it down.  It’s been begging for fresh paint ever since.  Everyday I look at that lawful blue and am reminded of one more thing I haven’t accomplished.

After 43 years of living, 20 years of marriage, and 14 years of parenting, so much of life seems to be like that.  Wherever my eyes land, I see worn out items in need of replacement, projects that have stolen days and sometimes weeks from my family, toxic relationships that I’ve invested in deeply, and more to be fixed than ever before.  I’m searching for the scenes that look pretty or finished, something I can frame, hang up, and be proud of and I’m not finding many.  In fact, the more I see the less progress I seem to make.

The house, relationships, even the paint on my walls looks so messy that closing my eyes is the only way I can think clearly, the only way I can see what really matters for all the landscaping, painting, and purging that beg to be finished  in my home and heart.

As it gets closer to July, I’m thinking often about the trip that my son and I took to Ukraine last year.  The water there smells stale and sulfuric with hints of liquid human waste and was one of the most unpleasant parts of the trip. I’m also spending a lot of time a different ballparks and because park bathrooms aren’t known for their water purification systems, I’ve been surprised to be often pleasantly reminded of our journey.

Ukraine was a two-week exercise in closing my eyes and apart from our crazy adventure in getting there, some the most peaceful days I’ve experienced so far in my life.  With no cooking, cleaning, or volunteering, no ledger sheets from work, no tangible way for me to prove my existence apart from simply being with and loving people, I began to understand just how dependent I’ve been on my daily lists to infuse meaning into the deeper places of my soul that were meant for simply being.

The lists represent unspoken expectations that I have of myself, at times those expectations have been paralyzing. What I found while I was in Ukraine, was that apart from the lists, I still not only existed, but felt more alive.   It was Truth that I found there about who I am as a wife and mother, who I am as a friend, and who I am as a Christ-follower.

I discovered hidden motives in relationships.  The times that I’ve given in order to feel powerful and times that despite aggressively searching for honesty in all kinds of relationships, I was a huge liar, mentally constructing functional relationships out of mangled and sometimes irreparable friendships and associations.  I identified events that I’ve taken part in hoping to extricate an ounce of significance from the satisfaction of my work.  And most importantly, I learned Truth about the divine sanctions I expected from God as a result of my love for and service to him.

It’s now, almost a year later, that I’m starting to piece together larger, life-altering implications from Ukraine.  It seems that  the more I uncover truth about how I’ve avoided pain, the way I spend my time and resources to ensure that I’m as comfortable as possible, the more  I see that needs to be reconstructed.

As truth bridles performancism, my home and relationships look more tattered and worn-down than ever.

I’m faced with daily choices of choosing honesty over falsified self-worth and authentic relationships with depth and substance over distorted intimacies. This means that I don’t pick up the phone like I used to while my inverted sense of responsibility for relationships begins to straight out.

Some of my hardest work  is leaving my home in its glorified shabbiness as I choose to focus on the intangible and this means that my bedroom wall has a bright-blue, holey, rectangle as artwork and the patio is a wreck.

Searching for truth means sometimes embracing the fact that  life, relationships, and sometimes houses have to seem worse before they get better.  It’s hundreds of daily choices to  bypass a fast fix in favor of the long haul.

I believe that our souls peak out through the windows of our eyes.  The view either promotes security as we find that our daily choices match up with our unspoken life-code or turbulence as we witness incongruities between what we thought would be and the reality of our daily choices.  Hope lies in the opportunities we have to change the view.

Do you have any messes in your life that you’re purposefully leaving undone?  Maybe they’re messes you’re just recognizing.  Could they be an opportunity for a different view, a new reality?

 

For when we glory in the cross and forget about the love

The celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is settling somewhere new in my heart this year.  I’ve always loved the tradition and liturgy surrounding the weeks before Easter.  It’s a holiday of water-colored hope painting broad strokes of redemption over thin lives.

Tate's cross

Spiritual battles seem to culminate during Holy Week as the antagonism of Satan mocks our walk through the Stations of the Cross.  This year has been no different as I’ve watched friends lose loved ones and dealt with my own challenges, puny in the light of death.

As social media penned words of faith, posted serene pictures of crosses at sunset and dared us all to pass on gruesome depictions of a bloodied Christ as a sign of true belief, I felt a depth of contempt that surprised me. I’ve quietly changed my profile picture in previous years and couldn’t account for the shift in my feelings.

I wondered if voicing my doubts had fueled the feelings and even considered briefly  that maybe I’d lost some faith.  Maybe daring to believe with eyes wide open made for new travelling companions, Thomas or even Judas.

There’s something about loud, accompanied poetry that releases the pressure from my obnoxious thoughts so I turned up the new album from Needtobreathe, Rivers in the Wasteland.  This CD captures the dim reality of life in a fractured world with driving melodies that wrap solaced hope around a soul.

The song Wasteland repeats the simple truth that if God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31) and as the song dug into my heart, the massive celebration of Easter was broken down into the most personal understanding that God is for me.

That small change in my focus opened up new thoughts.  Is it possible that our insistence of  walking the way of the cross, complete with reenactments starring a beaten Christ, exploit the anguish of the Father?

We focus on the physical pain of Jesus to the point that we forget the agony and despair that lies in the un-sensationalized, seldom referenced, simple broken heart of the Father who loved us.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ symbolize our faith, but in the beginning was the word and the word was God and in him was life and light and the light shone in the darkness (John 1) and the reason there was a light at all was because we were created for communion with God.

When we tell the story of Adam and Eve breaking that communion in the garden, we focus on their shame but what about the depth God’s loss? What about his broken heart way back in the beginning?

The sacrifice of the cross is shocking and absolutely is essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But  the sacrifice of the Father sometimes gets lost as we glory, to some extent, in the gore of the cross and the miracle of the resurrection; hoping to convert unbelievers with shock and awe.

I have friends who are grieving right now, it’s a sacred time in their lives that deserves respect.  I wonder if our Easter pageantry doesn’t  distract us from the fact that God also continues to grieve as we make choices that separate us from him.  As whole tribes of believers spit hatred at each other does he shake his head and mourn at our insistence of making our belief about us?

Really, if God’s heart broke so deeply because we were separated from him and if  he would allow it to be broken to a greater degree as he watched the physical anguish of his son, shouldn’t we love with that same depth of passion?

Does he watch the rhetoric of Good Friday and the fanfare of Easter Sunday and wish that we’d remember instead the very intimate gift of his broken heart?  Because that’s what  necessitated the crucifixion of Christ in the first place.

It seems to me if we did, that we might all look more like him. We might worship with more humility and love, with deeper abandon.

My heart has changed this year.  It’s smoother in a sandy sort of way.   It’s been broken wide open and spilled all out and as it heals, I’m hoping that it looks a little more like the Father’s as I learn to love to the degree I have been loved.

Maybe I’ll feel differently as Easter rolls around next year, more like embracing the sorrow of the first day and engaging in the celebration of the third, but this year is off beat and I’m going to honor that.

My faith isn’t lost.  I’m wondering if maybe I just  found it.

 

The sky is not falling: 3 healthy responses to a crisis

The week dawned dark and if I would have written then, I would have spoken of shadows.  The kind that are so wide you hardly notice them, outlined in the shape of a giant shoe that might be dangling from its own strings directly above you.  I shook off my apprehension determining to stay within the moderate beat of a rainy Monday. I will not go off tempo, I will not go off tempo, I will not go off tempo.   

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Emily P. Freeman talks about being content in our smallness and mostly the day was  small.  There were hugs for a friend who lost her sister last week and preschool drop off; some studio work and snacks for an army, or maybe just 3 starving post-spring breakers; another hug for a neighbor who lost her husband (also last week); dinner on the stove and then off to violin.

I can make a mountain out of the thirty-five flicks of dirt unionized on the kitchen floor so when I read the text,  I forced my heart back into rhythm. I will stay in this day, I will stay in the small, I will not make a mountain out of the Mole Motel. 

More information oozed in and confirmed that we absolutely were dealing with a mountain, possibly even a volcano.  Smaller than Everest, but much larger than the Moletel.

I’d like to say that I responded with dignity and composure in the manner of a 40 something woman who’s dealt with some difficult things in life and for the first 24 hours that would’ve been true.  But somewhere around hour 26, the day slowed and the exhaustion of pushing my fear below the surface caught up with me.  I’d diffused the issue the night before with words and prayers of belief and then tried to give it time to settle, but mostly I hoped it would be resolved within a day.  When it became clear there was no quick-fix on the horizon, I took aim and released  jagged stony words from my slingshot directly at the nearest target breaking my collected composure and anything else within earshot.

Life has a way of flushing out core beliefs.

As I willed myself to stay within the small of Monday morning, I was very much aware that conflict is my default mode. Sometimes I look for problems as a way to feel that I have some control.

Adrenaline mobilizes and frenzy creates an order to life that allows us to feel as if we’re managing our lives quite well.  As we check off our emergency responses to injury, job loss, death, even household repairs or birthdays, there’s a sense that we’ve brought order to chaos.  In the middle of that unspoken belief is the invisible banner declaring that we are our own god.  We made the appointment, we ordered the flowers, we found the perfect napkins, we solved the problem and all is right in the tiny little world that we created and control.

I believe though, that there’s a difference between managing comfort and order in our DIY dioramas and embracing smallness in the universe that God created.  The mountain that dropped into my world on Monday night was entirely out of my control.  I wasn’t able to scale and conquer it and in fact it turned into a volcano as the long term ramifications spewed out. The anger that poured out of me seemed a perfectly reasonable response until I reminded myself that no one died.

Understand that in proportion to the teeny tiny world where I’m in charge, these unique circumstances were a pretty big deal, but in the smallness in the world where I say I believe God is in control, they’re merely a flick of dirt.

It’s at this point of understanding that we’re able to choose.  We can  act as though we believe that God is in control and the director of this whole gig or continue acting as though we are in control,  pulling the strings to drop the perfect scenery behind our tiny little lives in an attempt to appear as if life is moving along just as we’ve planned.

Our to-do lists serve as scripts as we paint just the right back drop for our tiny scenes. But if we say we believe there is a God who controls all things, we have to do the hard work of believing through the moments of our lives that feel completely out of control.

This seems, at first like a passive response but it’s actually a very active way to walk through crisis or even deep disappointment. There are three things I do once I gather my contrary composure. I believe that these responses can actually ground our faith on a deeper level and allow us to more clearly see God not just after the crisis has passed, but while it’s in progress.

Step from  tiny places of pain into open spaces of small healing.  Today I would love to cozy up with my list of lament.  I would sub-list and detail how this current issue will affect our lives for months to come.  It would be valid and realistic, but  wrapping myself up with my woes would separate me  from the people that God has put in my life to make this mangled world a bit more tolerable.  By choosing to step out from the microscopic place of our own pain where we focus on ourselves and our lists, we deliberately embrace  our own smallness. Today, this looks like laying down my right to be angry and joining my family while I focus on the activities of the day.  I will make dinner while I choose to lay down resentment, snuggle my peeps before bed  while I resist recounting the what ifs, and for cryin out loud, I’ll stay off the phone.  (In which I discuss my obsession with phone a friend)

Choose to contain destructive thoughts.  Containing thoughts of defeat isn’t taking shelter in denial for days on end, but deciding how long we should hang out with them. We can  choose to repeat a playlist of how we could have avoided the issues and list in detail the measures we’ll take in the future.  In fact, we should, but for a limited amount of time.  I drive a six mile rectangle several times and then slam the door shut on  the funk.  You might go for a run or take a shower giving a definite beginning and ending point to your process time. By setting a time limit on our brooding with a specific activity, we’re admitting that there’s  not one thing we can do to fix the situation in the moment.  By choosing to shuffle destructive details through our minds, we choose  to mentally destroy the beauty of being wholeheartedly present as we chauffeur children, lunch with friends or focus on our work.

Rehearse what is true.  I believe on a very basic level that God is the author of my life.  While certainly I make choices every single minute that can change the path in front of me, inviting God to walk along beside me, allows him to  take both the triumph and tragedy that result from my  decisions and give them value if I choose to let him.   Honestly, I thought I’d finally moved on to a new plot and was welcoming the change of setting because the lines in this act are exhaustingly familiar.  I feel contempt for the process and could easily turn up the playlist of defeat.  By choosing to repeat out loud that God is the author and finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:2) and that all things work together because I invite him to walk with me (Romans 8:28), by reminding myself that most things look better given a little time and that a good night’s rest often makes life more bearable, I’m inviting my mind to get in agreement with what my heart knows is true.

The choice to stop rehearsing on my tiny stage and remove the thoughts that tie me to a single-minded view of the issue (gloom and doom of course) and replace them with what is true about the smallness of my life is actually an act of faith allowing God to continue to act as writer, director and producer of my life.

The events from earlier this week are far from resolved and it’s possible we’ll be dealing with the outcome for quite some time.  It’s been a rough few days of finding balance by rejecting my bent for imagining the worst case scenario while remaining engaged in the problem solving process, but I’ve given up one more teensy piece of contrived control and in the process, strengthened my faith.

I don’t believe that God ever expects us to get it.  I don’t think he’s irritated or disappointed when our first response to pain isn’t compliant resignation.  Conflicts, hassles and gut-wrenching pain are often the passageways where we can feel and see him the most, but only when we make the difficult choice to embrace the journey with all of the questions and uncomfortable feelings we experience.

What are your initial responses to conflict?  Do you have definitive processes that help you walk through it?

Sometimes answers come at 4 a.m.

Aside

I woke up to them.

Does everyone have words waiting by the side of the bed that follow them to the bathroom at four a.m.?  I can see them, like yellow fuzzy ducklings, waddle, quack, chirpchirpchirp, all in a row.

Pulling the fuzziest blanket under my chin, I jumped back in my warm bed and  tried to ignore them.

For real.

Spring break!

Four a.m.

Dark and cold.

My kids had already declared the week boring, but the morning felt like a gift and I just.wanted.to.stay.in.bed.

Two half turns and three sighs later, the only choice was to follow them.

In the days of Ask Jeeves, I’d wake up to the words and flip into attack mode. Typing a phrase and hitting *enter* can bring thousands of sites to fingertips but can rarely search and bring solace to a soul. Thank goodness years have taught me that time is valuable.

authentic questioners

The whispers continued as I started the coffee. I knew the words were from a song and hated to admit that I couldn’t remember if it was actual scripture or not.  You’d think with all those sword drills, I could remember a thing like that, but when life gets messy and hearts twist inside out, the ink on the pages begins to run together for all the tears.  It’s taken me just about forever, I’m learning that  the day always answers the question, so I poured my coffee and grabbed my stack of books.

I’ve been keeping company with John in the weeks leading up to Easter and wasn’t surprised to find the answer to my question on the page where I’d left off. (and good grief, I just quoted it in a post)

  I give you a new commandment that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too should love one another.  By this shall all men know that  you are my disciples, if you love one another if you keep on showing love among yourselves.     John 13:34-35

There would have been a time when I found more delight in sharing with you why these words were important for me to read on this specific day than just being thankful that I’d found them. Phone calls would be made, coffee arranged as I attempted to share with you the soft wave of grace that was meant for me.

I would have told you in awkward detail of issues in my family, a car ride to Indy, a Spirit-filled service, the faces I saw that day and in doing so I would have explained away the wonder of God; like trying to capture the facets of a diamond with an erasable marker on a whiteboard.  I would have expected you to grasp the glory in the revelation that God meant for me.

Thank goodness I’m getting over myself and learning that God can teach you exactly what you need to know for the daily details of your life and the heart-gripping experiences that you’ve had.

I mean really, when God wakes you up consistently at four and five a.m. it’s not because he wants you to phone a friend.  When we’re honestly searching for answers in life and are willing to follow, we find an intimate God in infinite circumstances.

Authentic questioners cultivate the ability to hear God  in the most daily of  life.

As I’ve learned to give the questions to the God who wrote eternity on my heart, the answers show up in the faces of friends, on the drive to the post office, in conflicts with family, and on the very next page of the novel I’m reading.  They’re in the scripture that I read and the song on the radio playing at exactly the right moment.  If you dare to ask them and accept the double-dog dare to listen, I promise you’ll hear.

infinite god

Is there a specific question you’d dare to voice in the comments today?  I wouldn’t begin to reply with an answer, but I’d love to join you on the journey.

 

The day I turned in my answers for grace.

Answer People don’t like questions.

I should know, I’ve spent most of  my  life avoiding questions by keeping a cache of answers close at hand.  My senses were trained to hone in on doubters,  to stand back, take aim and fire hoping to annihilate inquiries with my arsenal of catechism.

Funny thing though, I’ve also avoided other Answer People because I knew their answers didn’t work for me.  It wasn’t until I became brave enough to ask God questions and then sit with uncomfortable new ideas that my head began to connect with my heart.

It’s easier to repeat scripture and christian tenants from rote memory  than to toss-up questions that at best have multiple answers and at worst have no answers.

Posting this today, will be an invitation for answers of all kinds and the crazy thing is, I welcome them, from folks who aren’t afraid of questions in the first place.

That’s why I love Jesus. That guy answered most questions with a question and he wasn’t afraid to shake things up, to require people to think.   But he also understood that all our thinking and questioning, all of the struggles that we would face in a flawed world would leave us exhausted and confused as we wrestle with profoundly difficult issues.

That’s why he says, come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

He never ever said, come to me once you’ve got the blanks filled in completely and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say get your systematic theology intact so your questions are answered, apply those particulars to the shadiest parts of your life and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say come to me after you’ve read the bible through in a year, filled the pew for 48 Sundays, wiped snotty noses in the nursery for the remaining four and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say come to me after you’ve been successful in crucifying your own flesh and giving selflessly to others until you’re utterly drained and then I’ll give you rest.

He said come to me now, when you’re exhausted from the ticker tape of turmoil that rolls through your head 24/7 because it’s only when you quiet your own thoughts, when you hand them to me with trust that I can handle them, that I can begin to give you rest.

The resurrection of Christ implies that something supernatural even magical happens at the cross. Answers about how our faith works and reasons that others should believe can sometimes diminish the beauty of what is offered there.  Don’t get me wrong and think for one little minute that we can do anything to impede the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of anyone, but I do believe that we can reduce our ability to see and experience the extravagant grace that’s offered to us every single day.

Come to me when your children are screwing up their lives and even though you feel like your heart might rip in two, I’ll give you rest.

Come to me when your parents are declining and there are tons of hard decisions to make,  because I can help you carry that,  I’ll give you rest.

Come to me when your House of Belief is so messed up you’re ready to don a mask and torch it at midnight for the chance to escape.  I know why I’ve led you there, I’ll hold your hand every Sunday, bring it to me and I’ll give you rest.

Come to me now, when your jacked up life and broken heart  feel so heavy that you’re pressed to your sheets, curtains drawn, eyes clenched against the pain and don’t be afraid of what I think of you because my intention wasn’t ever for you to measure up, can you hear me under there, because I’ll give you rest.  

Come to me, when the plates are all spinning as they should.  When your life looks so perfect it practically glimmers but you know one little mistake and this gig’s up.

Come to me while the ink from your questions is still wet and watch how I create art and beauty from the smudges because it’s in me that you have rest.

When we dare to take our degenerate reasoning and combative interrogations with complete candor to the foot of the cross, something remarkable happens.  It’s the single place where a perfect God intersects with our broken, tweeked out hearts and begin to make utter beauty out of a piping hot mess.  It’s in the beauty of our shambles that he gives us rest.

If we come to him trying to interpret our own issues, we negate the beauty and the mystery of God.

 

answers

Rest is for those of us standing with our fists clenched at heaven and those clenching the pew  as we try to make one more right choice.

Rest is for those of us who can’t find a soft place to lay our aching heads and those  who stay so busy we’ve mistaken that throb for the cadence of life.

Rest is for those who’ve experienced loss so deep we feel  as though we might sink right in, be swallowed whole by the sorrow and those of us who marginalize that sorrow with breezy reference to Jesus’ words in John.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

(If you grew up in Sunday School, do you remember this song? God said it and I believe it and it’s good enough for me.  Well, just because God said it doesn’t mean that we should when our friends are struggling)

I remember the first time I heard the call to come now, while life was all still a big jumbled mess.

It was late and I’d already been to church that Saturday night.  I couldn’t tell you one thing about the service, only that I was coming undone on the inside.  Locked inside a habit that brought me relief from excruciating pain, I was beginning to come apart.  The model of my faith offered a plan and I decided to work it with intense resolve.  I’d call her on the way home and see if she could meet me. Thirty minutes from the church to the house, I’d leave my husband with our two small children drive another 30 to meet her halfway.

Usually the endless fields of corn are calming to me, but that night it was as if a thousand pins were pricking at the inside layers of my skin.  I was agitated as I played out the plan in my head.  I’d confess, she’d admonish, spotlight some scripture I’d suffer through and  we’d set up a system, checks and balances, accountability.    I’d never signed up for the accountability plan, because people and trust issues naturally, but I was such a miserable mess that I was willing to do about anything.  I had no idea that my paradigm of faith was about to get busted up.   

We sat at a booth against the wall under struggling florescent boxes,  I don’t know if it’s the protection of the wall or the padded seats, but booths offer a sense of security and I choose them over a table every time.  She leaned in and began with the three words I’d heard her speak a hundred times, what’s going on?

I blurted, bawled and blubbered all over her while the night crew slopped the floor and restocked  hydrogenated-trans-fat.  I braced myself for a barrage of reproof , and sat stunned as she did something that would change my life. The warmth of her hands covered mine and I saw it first in her eyes, they were gracious, gentle even.  

With complete tenderness, she said Honey, you could do that little thing for the rest of your life and it wouldn’t change how much God loves you, not one tiny bit.  Her words got stuck in translation and I tried to figure them out, they were nothing that I expected.  I’d just offered up myself for proper censure and she smiled, was she kidding me?    I was certain she didn’t understand.  

My indoctrination deciphered her response and I quickly remembered that she was from a different brand of belief. That explains it, she doesn’t know how this is supposed to go; I confess, she admonishes, I feel reprieved, she says she’ll pray and we leave with the expectation that I’ll try harder and she’ll call to check my progress.

I’d hoped to drive away with relief after my confession but was confounded instead by her compassion.  Her gracious words wandered through thick theology as I sped past green and yellow fields.  I can see now that I expected my humiliation and shame to produce forgiveness.  She hadn’t so much as said go and sin no more.  I began to realize that she had something that I didn’t, trust in the love of Christ.  

As I drove,  my long-held answers began to suffocate in a new atmosphere of faith.   She knew that the love and grace God offers is so powerful that it is the love alone that compels us to believe and change. Not confession, not atonement, not restitution, not even continual crucifixion of our own flesh, but the love and grace offered freely by Christ  for our pervasive sin that rests in the deepest darkest places in our souls, it’s the love that begins to breathe hope and infuse life  into our most desolate terrains.

 I’ve learned so much since that day, mostly about my extent of my inability to fully understand Jesus Christ. The answers I had up to that point required that I suffer for choices that I made despite the fact that I could systematically recite scripture to the contrary.

You might be surprised to find out that I didn’t leave there and drop my sinful habits.  There was no miraculous intervention that marked a specific moment I chose another path.  I began, instead, to embrace the understanding that God loved me no matter what.  I’d grown up with a theology of self-atonement woven so intricately into my soul  that it produced an if-then faith.

What she offered me that night was radical and even risky.  Trust God?  Give him the ugly?  Release my ideas of the holy hammer waiting to take me out? But I did, and I learned something new about answers and questions.

God is

God is big enough to hold  our hands when we think we have the answers and small enough to hold hearts when we find out we don’t.  And it’s the true understanding of the depth of his love and forgiveness that brings about authentic changes in our lives.

 

 

Do you remember a specific time that you began to have questions about your faith? Has anyone ever offered you a response to your actions that took you completely off guard?  Would you share a quick story by clicking on the  comment balloon at the top right of this post?

 

Why I have questions and when I got answers

There are some important things to note as I jump into this discussion.

    St. Patrick Catholic Church

St. Patrick Catholic Church

I live in the buckle of the bible belt in the middle of corn and the flattest land you’ll ever see.  There’s a church on every corner and generally one in the middle of the block as well.  In a city of 45,000 we have one church for every 208 people and that’s a little crazy if you ask me.

I never thought I’d end up in my hometown, but it just kind of happened.  I’ve spent a long time resenting it, feeling like I don’t fit anywhere and living for the day when we’d leave. Call me stubborn or stupid, but I just figured out we’re not going anywhere.  Imagine my disappointment after 20 years, and hear at the same time my sarcasm.

I told you yesterday that my people are Answer People and let me say today that I love my Answer People.  Deeply.  Have you ever experienced a love that you absolutely cannot explain?  One that makes you go back over and over even after your heart has spilled out every last tear-tinged drip of blood?  That’s how I feel about  Answer People.

They loved me and hurt me. There was a big, ugly tribunal-type implosion in my faith community at a pivotal time in my teens that left me feeling like Katniss Everdeen.  You may think I’m being dramatic, but these were the only people I knew as a child.  I wasn’t in gymnastics, didn’t go to public school and soccer hadn’t been introduced here at that time.

 My people disappeared over night and honestly, I’ve felt like I’ve been running from the Capitol ever since.   After a long period of time, I began rubbing shoulders again with some of these same people.  Slowly, they began to tolerate me and slowly I realized that I was still part of the tribe.   I’m fortunate to count many as good friends today.  

It’s a good feeling, because I’ll say it a hundred times over, they are my people.  I know that what I feel in my heart has been put there by God, because there’s just no other explanation for it after the pain I experienced.  

There’s a big world out there beyond my hometown and it doesn’t seem at this point that I’m going out there.  Less than a handful of people really know how I feel about life and faith and that’s ok, because despite our loneliness as a whole, we’re really not meant to know that many folks up close and personal.  I really thought I’d be going to the Big City someday though, and I’ve been saving my thoughts and feelings, reserving the places in my heart for thought provoking relationships until that day.

Life rarely goes as we think however, and Someday is Today.   I won’t live in the place of my birth, not for one more minute without expressing who I am.  Authenticity compels me to this discussion and I’m guessing it could be drawing you as well.

Life’s been hard lately.  Cancer and car accidents have ravaged local families this year and folks are reeling from the rate of the loss we’re experiencing.  I’ve got my own pile of personal struggles and very deep disappointments.  I’ve walked roads of heartbreak in the last year that I never expected to walk and in spite of all the questions that have bubbled up to the top this year, I’ll tell you right now, I believe that Jesus Is the Answer.

You may be so sure of Jesus that you can’t fathom having Questions about him or you may not even believe he really existed, never mind that he really was the son of God.  I don’t know your faith experiences or your struggles, but I want you to know I’ve been through some hard things and I don’t believe anymore because of  childhood indoctrination.

In fact,  I believe that I have faith in spite of my upbringing and I often wonder if it would have been easier to come to an understanding of an authentic faith as an adult with no knowledge of God whatsoever.

I don’t believe because I finally found a church here after 20 years.

I don’t believe  because of bible stories or small groups.

I don’t believe  because I clap my hands at a Jesus Pep Session.

I don’t believe because of theology.

I don’t believe because I’m surrounded by others who believe.

I don’t believe because I’m afraid of hell.

I don’t even believe because it makes sense, because it doesn’t.

I believe because when I was alone, night after night, sobbing for hours after my first miscarriage, He was there.

I believe because when I couldn’t get pregnant and was disappointed month after month after month, He was there.

I believe because when I finally delivered our first-born and didn’t take to mothering like I expected, He sent new friends to walk me through, and He was there.

I believe because during years of extreme lonliness, isolation and loss and He was there.

I believe  because during years of nightmares in which people were trying to murder me, He was there.

I believe because when my marriage has been difficult, unbearable even, He was there.

I  believe because when I had no idea how to run a household he pointed me to that crazy Flylady and He was there.

I believe because when we lived below the poverty level six years ago we still paid the mortgage and He was there.

I’ve had dozens of  in-real-life experiences and if we had a couple of hours and at least two pots of coffee, I think you’d agree they’re modernly miraculous.

You may have guessed by now that I Believe, but there are still  doubts and questions that have infiltrated and continue to cause me to question every level of that belief. I think God is completely cool with that (Philippians 2:12), but I’d be  lying right now if I told you that I think all of my friends will agree.

I’ve grappled with  faith for years with two women who love me as much when I cuss a blue-streak as when I quote scripture.  I’ve been known to do this simultaneously because I think God can handle it.  Also, in the last two years, I’ve been asking God to help me ask better questions.

I was going to talk about Answer People today, but what I want you to understand first is that I have been and often still am an Answer Person.  The Answers in my head are woven so intricately into my thinking that I’m constantly looking for the sources of my thoughts.  Some Answers are from God of course, and some Answers are from satan, but I think there’s another source of Answers worth noting.  They’re from Because-I’ve-Always and they’re insidious because we don’t often recognize those thoughts.  Because-I’ve-Always wraps itself around our view of life, love and God and becomes a filter that we don’t even know to question.

Think about your thoughts for a minute would you?  If you dare, toss up a prayer (preferably out loud, a whisper will do) and ask God to help you see where your thoughts originate.

If you’re a Question Person, can I tell you how excited I am that you’re here?    And if you’re an Answer Person, holla!

I’m going to do my best not to make any more announcements about what I might discuss next, because inevitably, I’ll change my mind. I have dozens of journals full of my thoughts,  questions and rants and may randomly pull them out and share some things, but I’d also love to hear what you’d like to talk about.  Feel free to jot some things down in the comments.  

This is somewhat of a new direction for my blog, so we’ll see how it goes.  On the right of my primitive little site you can sign-up to have these posts delivered directly to your inbox, it’s the blogger version of a thumbs up and you can un-subscribe at anytime so would you consider joining my email crew?