Friday, March 16, 2018

Snapshot #4- At The Well

When I got really sick a month ago, I decided to say yes to whatever would lead to my healing. One of those yeses was talking to Andy's counselor.

After we got married, our situation got really confusing. Things came out that Andy and I could never have expected. People responded in ways that were dumbfounding. It was a great big mess. Andy and I tried to find some professional help to work things out. We offered that help, but it was shot down.

So we took a step back and life moved on. We worked and loved on students and played soccer and made friends. We studied and led at BSF. We joined our church. We had highs. We had lows.

Then, Story was born. And we tried again to make things real. To make things better. But it was hard. Some of Andy's old wounds were making it even harder for him. Andy isn't like me. He doesn't talk about his hurts until they are threadbare. He's more likely to pack them into a small, tight space and pour some Bourbon on top.

I love Andy. He is one of my safest people. He holds all of my crazy so gently and rightly in his giant, soft heart. He is endlessly patient and encouraging. The very least that I could do for someone who takes care of me like that was point him to someone qualified to help debride the wounds. So I said, I don't care what it costs, I want you to get the help you need. That's exactly what he did. He got several months of sound, Biblical counsel from a trusted Christian therapist. That help transformed the way that Andy thinks and communicates. His voice got louder (a good thing!) and mine got softer (a very good thing!). We learned to listen and speak and wait. It was really beautiful. I went to therapy once with Andy, just to be "in" on some of the things that he was learning there, to be a part of the story, but those months were mostly his journey. I was cheering him on from the sidelines and reaping the benefits of his healing.

After Grey was born, we tried again. Because mercy compels us, and justice drives us. Because Jesus is a Lover, a Forgiver, a Healer. But it went worse than ever. And the stress made me sick. So, I knew it was my turn to get the help. One of the things that I was instructed to do by our counselor was to research some behaviors that he has witnessed in this situation over the course of time. Even with all of my over-thinking, I had never researched the pathology behind some of the things I've experienced. So I've made a study of what he told me to look into over the past couple of weeks. It's been an eye-opening and, at times, frightening and discouraging experience.

In John, I'm still at the well with Jesus and the Samaritan woman. This has been a fitting place as I've looked into these patterns of behavior. The more I've learned, the more I've come to understand about what we've been through these past years. The shoe fits. But it's a shoe nobody wants to have to put on. Looking into this situation has been a lot like looking into a deep well. I don't even know exactly what's down there. Trauma. Abuse. Behavior patterns to shroud shame. Manifestations of those behaviors that abide by no rules, heed no boundaries, that cause harm to my beloved... and to me. It's subtle. But it's real. It's what I've seen. It's what others, more qualified than I, see. The well is deep.

The Samaritan woman tells Jesus that Jacob's well is deep, and He doesn't even have anything to draw with. Jesus' response brings her from that tactile reality to a spiritual one. Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. 

As I've studied this week, I learned about some of my own unhealthy behavior. I discovered that, though I have learned how to set boundaries externally- I am uncomfortable with that. No, we cannot make it to that event. Please don't use that word again. Please don't send me those kinds of emails. We are not okay in our relationship- please take responsibility for your part so that we can be okay- on the inside, I have almost none. I might be able to say these things to other people. But, once said, I am filled with doubt. I worry about the boundary that I tried to set, especially when people get mad at me for setting them or just pretend like I didn't say anything at all. Then, I try ceaselessly to "fix" these problems in my mind. It never works. This is the well that I keep trying to drink from. It makes me thirstier and thirstier every time.

Jesus says to the Samaritan woman- Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. I am at the well with Jesus. The well is deep, much deeper and darker than I could have imagined. But Jesus is here. Jesus is calling.

Jesus has taught me two things here at the well. First, that I must stop drinking here. I must understand that the well really is too deep for me. These waters have done enough damage to my heart and soul. It's time to trust Him, take his hand, and walk away. Second, that it is not too deep for Him. He has gone into greater depths. Because of His great love, He goes deeper still.

Jesus, precious, beautiful, powerful Jesus- go. Go into that well. Heal and purify those waters. 

And Jesus, steadfast, faithful Jesus- stay. Stay with me here. Walk by my side as I turn away from this well. Give me the living water that will sustain me for the rest of my journey. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Snapshot #3: I am Not "The Other"

The kids and I usually stay for dinner at my mom's on Monday nights while Andy goes to Bible study in Raleigh. Monday before last was an especially fun evening because my brother was there. We love when "Uncle" is in town. Story loves it because (even though he says he has a lot of work to do), he will always play with her a little while. And I love it  because, if his mood is even half-way decent, he will usually have some interesting things to say. My brother is a passionate and intelligent guy, and I love to hear him talk about things he cares deeply about. Usually that is politics. I don't always agree with what he says, but I learn new things when I listen to his perspective. Sometimes my brother will say something profound, and it will start to change the way that I see things. And last Monday, he said something that has stirred up new life in me as I've continued to study my identity in Christ.

We were talking about some hot-button issue right now- I think it was gun control. But the conversation grew larger than that issue and we began to talk about the way that people identify themselves as a part of one group or another. My brother said that what happens to people as they self-identify with one position, group or cause, is that they begin to see the opposing side as "the other." It doesn't matter what "the other" is, or if the person is actually ever even truly threatened by "the other." When fueled by arrogance, fear of the "other" can begin to grow into injustice, which births hatred, which fosters violence.

I cannot dispute how true this is. I see it everywhere. "The other" can be any group or position that is not my group or position. Democrat vs. Republican. Pro-life vs. Pro-choice. Gay rights vs. family values. Social justice vs. entitlement. Dark skin vs. light skin. Black lives vs. police lives. Public vs. private. My culture vs. your culture. Evangelical vs. traditional. Protestant vs. Catholic. Gun rights vs. gun control. Duke vs. Carolina.

People have different views, different backgrounds, different values- that's what makes humanity interesting, challenging- beautiful. But our fears and insecurities and desire for a steadfast identity (the very struggle that is challenging me to write these blogs!) can drive us toward this "other" mindset. At first, it feels comforting to identify "the other." Feels good to blame them for what is wrong- whether that's in the world or our country or our family. Because if it's caused by "the other", then it's not caused by me. "The other" strokes my ego, makes me look and feel good.

Yesterday morning, I wanted to have some quiet time to continue to read in John. I got seven verses into John 4, and then Grey was up and Chuy was up and the day was rocking and rolling. In the afternoon, things settled back down, and I sat still for a while, and it was then that I realized that only getting through seven verses wasn't a loss. There was something in the seven verses that I needed to hear Him say before I move on.

John 4: 1-7 is where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. And it's here, at Jacob's well, that I see a hot and tired and incredibly beautiful Jesus. About noon, a woman arrives at the well to get some water. She's alone, and Jesus asks her for a drink of water.

It's a pretty simple interaction, but the meaning is anything but simple. What Jesus is doing here is shattering "the other." First, this was a woman. In Jewish culture, women are significantly "other" from men. Second, she was a Samaritan, and the text even says, "Jews did not associate with Samaritans."And third, she was a social pariah. She was alone at this well at noon, and I've been taught that women would likely have gone to the well together in the mornings and evenings. Most likely, she was alone because her background as an adulterous woman made her the object of judgment and ridicule.

When people build up an "other" mindset, we might start from a decent enough place. We value "X" and they value "Y." We have good reasons for "X" being valuable to us. That, in itself, isn't so bad. But what inevitably happens is that "X" becomes better than "Y" and the people who value "Y" become less valuable to us. Therefore, I (and those like me) am better and more valuable than you (and those like you). Sometimes we start out by pitying "the other," which doesn't sound so bad, but pity is fed by pride, not love. We shake our heads and pray for "the other" and hope that God fixes them into something we can approve of as soon as He possibly can get around to it. But, often, pity grows into disdain, resentment, even hatred. Our pity prayers get drowned out by statements like, "I cannot stand those people." We unfriend everyone who values "Y" from our Facebook or we troll the internet and write nasty comments we'd probably never speak out loud and face to face. But "the other" gets bigger and nastier than even that. "The other" can become so oppressive that we begin to cause one another emotional and physical harm. Wars are started over "the other." Families fall apart because of "the other." People kill one another or themselves because of "the other."

But, what I am seeing in John 4, is that Jesus has no "other." He is a ridiculously non-judgmental man who extends an offer of life to anyone. Literally- anyone.  

As a Christian, I believe that God has the authority to judge. One Day, He will judge. The Bible is clear about that. But, the crazy thing is- that Day is not today. And it wasn't that Day at Jacob's well. For the Samaritan woman, and for me, it is the Day of Grace. A humble, yet perfect man looked at a woman with a need and asked her for something. But, in doing so, He was actually offering something to her. He was offering her living water. He was offering her acceptance, life, love, a way out of the pain from her past. He chose to extend love to her, to extend Himself to her, instead of pitying her, ignoring her or making sure she (and everyone else, for that matter) knew how wrong she was.

In my journey, I have been made to feel like "the other." I wasn't the same. I thought differently, voted differently, was from a different place. I valued Y when everyone wanted me to value X. It feels bad when you are"the other."

What I'm learning is that Jesus is not going to look at me and see "the other." That, for Him, there really are only two kinds of people - those who believe and call on His name, and those who don't. Sometimes we create"the other" with stuff we invent just to make us feel superior to one another- things that have no value to God. And the things that are real, that God really does care about and wants us to care about too, are only going to reflect His image and accomplish His will if we drop the judgment and the arrogance and the hatred and pick up the cup of living water and start to drink deeply from it.

I'm sorry for the ways that I have treated people like "the other." I need help. I think the cup of living water is the cure for my own insecurities and fears. Jesus's offer to the Samaritan woman gives me hope. I don't have to see myself as "the other" anymore because Jesus doesn't see me that way. I don't have to hate myself or regret that I wasn't somebody else. I know this- that woman at the well probably felt a deep ache, a chronic sadness, because she was "the other" in so many ways. But her encounter with Jesus changed her life. She exchanged her old feelings for new joy, and she became bold and told everyone about Jesus.  Her choice to believe that she had value to Jesus made it possible for others to believe. Let it be the same for me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Snapshot #2- I am Known

As John 1 continues, Jesus starts to gather some disciples. I like the part about Jesus calling Nathanael. Jesus called Philip, and then Philip told Nathanael that he had found the Promised One, but...that the Promised One just happened to be from Nazareth.

Nathanael's response is so utterly human- "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there!?"

Philip says, "Come and see." So when Nathanael does come and see Jesus, Jesus looks at him and says, "Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit."

Nathanael replies, "How do you know me?" And Jesus says, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree when Philip called you."

I like how, in this dialogue, Jesus lets Nathanael know that He knows him in two ways- his circumstances in his life (sitting under the fig tree) and who he is on the inside (in whom there is no deceit).

As a person who craves understanding, I find deep comfort in the truth that Jesus knows my circumstances. When we brush up against one another in life, I think we place expectations on one another without full understanding of what's really going on. There's usually back story that explains, to some degree, why we do what we do. Sometimes our execution on some matter is disappointing to ourselves or others. But sometimes we don't have the freedom to share the context with one another. We withhold for various reasons, some of them necessary. But with Jesus, He already knows. I can tell him about my circumstances if I need to. He will listen. But He already fully understands exactly what I am going through.

I find even deeper comfort that Jesus knows who I am on the inside. It's nice that Jesus is able to say to Nathanael that there's no deceit in him. What a compliment. I know that there was a time in my life when Jesus would not have been able to say that statement to me. But, because He knows me, and He loves me, and He is for my good, we did something about that. I know there are other places in Scripture where Jesus calls people out for their thoughts. That seems pretty intimidating. But, for where I'm at right now, that's actually something I crave too. I want to know if there is wickedness in me. I want to know if I'm wrong, or just being crazy. If Jesus knows about something, and I don't, I want Him to show me. I want us to fix it.

In the journey that has taken me to this place of sitting, reflecting, and listening to my Father, one of my deepest needs is to be known. Feeling unknown is excruciatingly painful. I confess that sometimes I feel like God must be more interested in bigger things and more important people than He is in knowing me. But this interaction with Nathanael, and the knowledge that God is love give me hope. As I approach Jesus, broken-hearted and weary, my hope is that I am known by Him, and that, in knowing me, He is demonstrating His love for me. Love seeks to know.

As I struggle to put together the puzzle pieces of my life, I take comfort in knowing that God already knows the big picture- past, present and future. When a new vision of what my life really looks like or who I really am takes me by surprise, I can take comfort because Jesus has already seen it. When someone mistreats me, whether it is overt or subtle, He knows. When I struggle to respond and feel at a loss for what to do next, He knows. When evil seems overwhelming and sadness fills my heart, He knows. When I am just a person, faltering, unholy, imperfect and messy, He knows. And when I reflect His glory through kindness, gentleness and patience, He knows.

Will His knowledge be enough for me?

Lord, Jesus, I pray that it will. Let your knowledge of who I am  supersede my desire to be known by anybody else. Let me rest deeply in the truth that I am known by You. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Snapshot #1: I am the Daughter of a King

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[As I start to write about my identity in Christ, my plan is to listen to God as I read the book of John. In John, Jesus makes seven "I am" statements. It's my belief that my life is hidden in Christ. When Jesus says, "I am," He's not only giving me insight into Himself, He's telling me who I am too. Rather than jump straight to the "I am" statements, though, I'm beginning in chapter 1. I don't have any plans for how much time this will take or how long it will get. I'll write until it's time to stop, until the message is finished, or God moves me on to something new. ]

Grey woke up a little while ago. He's currently sitting in his swing smiling at me and making noises, swiping at his toys or drooling. My boy's company is welcome.

Grey is my child. From the moment he was conceived, he was a part of my family and nothing he does or does not do will ever change that. He is my child. He is welcome. He is mine.

In John 1:3-4, God says that through the Word (Jesus), all things were made... in him was life.
God continues to make life. I think God rejoices in every life He makes. When I think about the feeling I had when I held Story or Grey for the first time- the weight of their little bodies, their sounds and movements. I could see, for the first time, they were their own little people, separate but dependent. It was joy.

God feels that way about me. The moment I was born, He gazed upon upon my smallness and knew that He had made someone separate but dependent. My life brought Him joy.

I am not just a created thing. I have always been created by God, I have always been loved by Him. But I did not always recognize Him or receive Him. But after His grace took me into one of the darkest corners of my life, my eyes opened and I could see. Since then, I have been a child by faith. And to those children, John 1: 12 says, have been given rights.

I have the rights of a child of the Creator of the Universe. I'll have to explore more about those rights in another post. But for now, I know this. I am God's child. Child of creation. Child of grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

And like Grey, I am welcome. Not only welcome, I am expected. When Grey woke up hungry, it wasn't a surprise. I expected him. I knew he would need me. Nothing feels more natural than bringing him to myself.

I am the daughter of a King. And nothing feels more natural to that King than bringing me to Himself. I am welcome. I am expected. Because I am His.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Snapshots of Who I Am

The rainy day I spent at the lakeside coffee shop in Austin was one of my calmer days of reflection on what I was going through. Not every day was spent in quiet reflection. Oh, I was reflecting everyday, that's for sure, but I wasn't always quiet about it.

My mind was in turmoil most of the time. And my words and behavior (especially towards Andy) followed the tide of my emotions. It was almost unbearable.

I was confused. I was confused about what was going on, why people weren't responding to me the way that I expected they would or thought that they should. I was confused about what I should or should not be doing.

I was scared. I was far away from everything that had once comforted me. I left my job and my home and my family and friends to follow Andy to Texas. The work that I did and the people that I loved who made me feel valued and secure were very far away. And my situation felt weird. I was in completely unknown territory. But what was far more frightening was that I was looking for Jesus to show up in the situation I was in. I was a believer. The people I was in conflict with were believers. But I couldn't see Jesus. And nothing is more frightening than not being able to find Him.

I was angry. Early on in my marriage, anger was both my weapon and my defense. If it comes down to fight, flight or freeze, I'm totally a fight kind of a girl. When all of this started happening, I couldn't separate the fear from the anger. I didn't know that it was fear that was causing a lot of my anger. I'll write more about this later.

And I was exhausted. Sin is exhausting. And that's what I was in. I was in a cauldron of sin. And I was worn out from it.

Andy and I went to church one Sunday morning and the pastor preached a message about finding comfort and security in God, no matter your circumstances. He used an illustration that resonated with me. He had a little girl- I think she was about three years old at the time- and he and his wife were expecting their second child. But they were noticing a pattern that their little girl would start "acting out" when they got caught up in preparations for the new baby. Sensing what was going on, the pastor took his little girl in his lap and got out her baby book. Together, they went through the pictures one by one. "This is you when you were inside of mommy's belly." "This is you when we brought you home for the first time." A father, reassuring his daughter, that, even though things are changing, and will change further still, she is known, she is loved, she is secure.

That's what I wanted. What I still want. I want my Father to sit me down and show me, "This is who you are. And no matter what, no matter who you meet or how they treat you, no matter what you do or do not do, no matter how much you sin, how big you fail or how much you disappoint others, you are known, you are loved, you are secure."

So that's what I'm going to write. I'm going to write my identity in Christ. I'm going to listen to His words and ask for His help to believe the snapshots of who I am.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

There is no shame in asking

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I'm learning to be less ashamed of my questions.

Will you love me? Will you value me? Will you listen to me? Will you believe me? Will you try to understand?

There are a couple of reasons why I felt shame for asking these questions in the first place. For one, when you ask these questions of people who are either unable or unwilling to affirmatively answer- they have a tendency to make you feel like you're crazy for asking. You're too sensitive, too unforgiving, too needy. You just need to learn to accept things the way they are.

Another reason can come from within. Asking these questions of other people seems "less spiritual" than asking them of God alone. Aren't truly faithful followers supposed to be looking for all of our answers to come from a still, small voice or pages with the words of Christ printed in red ink? So we can shame ourselves into thinking that we should glide through life without ever looking to other humans for answers. But the problem with that is it keeps us from experiencing God's love through human relationships (something that Jesus was really into) It might save us some of the deep disappointment we feel when relationships with people fail, but it also doesn't afford us the opportunity to become more deeply humble through our vulnerability.

God is showing me that it's okay to be real. He, nor anyone else, is impressed by my "super religious" thoughts or talk. He knows when I really desire Him and when I'm just blowing smoke in my own mind or in other people's faces. It is okay to desire Him and healthy, fulfilling relationships with other people.

But what He is also showing me is that humans are finite. And that I absolutely will come to places where my questions, though not shameful, will need to be redirected.

I am blessed because I am surrounded by people- my husband, my family, my friends- who answer these questions affirmatively, in word and deed, every single day. You'd think that would always be enough. But I am a bottomless pit, guzzling love down and thirsty for more each day.

There's only One who can accommodate a thirst like that. In Isaiah 55: 1, He says, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters." So that's what I'm here to do. I'm here to drink down the yes that I am so thirsty for- the understanding, the love, the value that I crave.

There is no shame in asking for other people to love and understand you. But, even the best of people- the safe ones- even their love cannot completely satisfy. Verse 3 goes on to say, "Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live."

Tune my ear, Oh Lord. I'm listening. I want to live. And I am thirsty.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Questions

I sat at a lakeside coffee shop in Austin one morning eight years ago. It was the spring that it never stopped raining- a Texas El Nino spring. Every day was grey and wet. Those types of days were not what I expected when I envisioned my new life in Texas- I thought it would be all sun and cactuses and wide open skies. But that's not what it turned out to be that first spring. It was fitting, the way that weather descended upon on the quirky little city. It suited the mood of my life- unexpectedly dark.

From my table, I watched raindrops hit the lake, each one creating a tiny crater in the water that then expanded into a perfect circle- like the blip on a radar screen. Before the water could recover, could recalibrate to a glossy, smooth surface, another raindrop would hit and the whole thing would start over again. Each drop, damaging the stillness of the water, a pulse of disturbance.

Yes, dark and disturbed. Those words fit. But I didn't want them to. I was a newlywed in my late twenties. I expected that season to be light, filled with joy- I had wanted to be married so badly. I knew (in my head) that trouble comes in all seasons- single, married, kids, no kids- trouble comes. But, for what had seemed like a long time, my trouble had been loneliness. And that trouble had departed the day I met Andy. But troubles are a part of the human condition, something we are guaranteed to encounter. And when one trouble departs, it isn't long before another one takes its place. The trouble that was settling into my life on that rainy spring morning was unexpected, unwelcome and unsettling.

I want to be loved. I want to be valued. I want to be listened to and believed. I want to be understood.
I didn't know it at the time because it was all too fresh and confusing, but when I sat at that coffee shop that day, those desires were pulsating in my flesh and soul and mind, spreading out and touching every facet of who I am. In and of itself it wasn't a new sensation. I've always felt these desires. But, when I was younger, before I obeyed Jesus, I tried to get those desires met in my own way. Then, when I was a sophomore in college, God chased me down, and I gave my life to Him. After that, I started gradually trusting and obeying. Those wants were still there, but I was now looking to God and other Christians to meet them.

You'd think that would be safe, but it isn't. And that's what was fresh on that El Nino morning. Christians are not always safe.

I had gone to a group of Christians with something that was bewildering and burdening to me. Something that was troubling me so much that I was sinning in my anger. I knew that my flesh was weak, I didn't want to continue to fester, so I spoke up. My words, at times, are too much, too strong. God has (and still is) editing my mind and my mouth. I don't know what my words were exactly, but I know my heart was- I want to be loved. I want to be valued. I want to be listened to, believed and understood. But I wasn't. What I spoke up about opened a Pandora's box I could never have imagined.

So those desires became questions deep within me, burrowing into the very fibers of my being, pulsing, expanding, disturbing- like those rain drops on one of the first days of this life season. Will you love me? Will you value me? Will you listen to me? Will you believe me? Will you try to understand? In my deepest parts, I have been asking those questions of these Christians for a very long time. I've asked as I've walked along the Seine in Paris, when I've wandered Las Ramblas in Barcelona, when I've sipped coffee and watched the sunrise in the Dominican Republic, when I've sat in traffic in Austin, when I've gazed at the stars in the Rockies, when I've smelled the wet earth of Appalachia. They've pulsed all the more deeply when I've looked into my children's blue eyes. And when I look at the mirror and see that a woman of 35 has replaced the girl who started all this asking, it hasn't made me stop. It isn't something you grow out of, not in that sense anyway.

So, why am I writing this? Because, from that first time I spoke out (really, most likely, it was before then), I've been getting the same answer but not receiving it. I've been pushing back, hoping, praying, trying, striving, thinking, writing, doing, not doing, going a little bit crazy over it, but now finally... finally...finally...accepting. The answer is no.  

That's hard. No is really, really hard. Christians don't like that answer. We don't like no. We are yes people, and for good reason. There's much to explore here. But for now, I'll end with this.

I'm beginning to feel less and less ashamed of my questions. I'll write a lot more about that later. There is no shame in desiring to be loved and listened to, valued and understood. It is kind and Christ-like to treat one another with empathy and understanding. When I haven't received those things, I have been absolutely wrecked. Learning to survive that deficit and continue in hope and belief is the theme of this story. But let me tell you, briefly, how Jesus, in this present moment, is transforming my mind.

I am not the only one asking these questions.

It's the middle of the night as I write this, and a little while ago, I let my dog outside. I looked up at a particularly bright star. It was pulsing. Radiating. And it made me think of the Bright Morning Star- my Savior, Jesus Christ. The Hero of this story. The God-Man, who has been asking me ALL THIS TIME- Will you love me? Will you value me? Will you listen to me? Will you believe me? Will you try to understand?  Oh, Jesus. Yes. Let my answer be yes. Because, as I am learning, real love is demonstrated when we listen, value, believe and try to understand. So, Lord, let me listen to You. Let me value You. Let me believe You. Help me understand You.

Come with me. I'll tell you what I hear.