September 11, 2013

Anyone who knows me knows the center of my earthly joy is found in the 6 little people for whom I get to be Aunt Cheryl. They’re all extraordinary in their own way. The oldest, Grace, is smart, imaginative, and a natural born leader. When she’s interested in something it consumes her. For the past few years that interest has been dragons. She reads about them, has stuffed dragon toys she names and assigns personalities, and it’s her favorite subject to discuss. At length. So you can imagine my surprise when she announced to her mom that when she enters middle school she will stop liking them so much. Her reason? She wants to “be more normal.” When I heard this my heart broke for her. It happens to all of us, and it’s starting for her. I see the world chipping away at who she is – reshaping her with peer pressure, criticism and expectations until she is a polished, porcelain doll on display. I promptly took her on a date and told her she is extraordinary exactly as she is. Please don’t be anything other than who you are, Bean. 

As we get older the expectations and wounds of this world batter us into a new form. So we develop defense mechanisms to protect ourselves. We want to belong and we want to be honored, so we do whatever the environment demands of us. We run after money, beauty, and status. Or we ascribe to a counter culture and reject these things to win favor with others who reject them. And little by little we are re-molded, not by the loving Hands of a Refiner, but by a world rejoicing in forgeries. I believe this is one reason Jesus told us to be like little children. Children are still in their true form – their undefended, messy, selfish, imaginative, whimsical true form. They laugh and cry without any thought to appropriate social behavior. The hearts of children are simple. Please love me. Please keep me safe. Please let me have fun

This doesn’t change as we get older. We just use more complicated words spoken through filters that remove any authentic sense of the desperation we feel. We “process” through forgiveness. We measure our responses to minimize self-exposure.  Little children don’t hold grudges, or toss and turn over finances, or see the color of skin, or waste their days drudging through life. These are all behaviors we learn as we lose sight of being beloved Children of Father. A child who is sure of her Father’s love and delight for her is free to run and play and cry and sleep well. She forgives quickly and laughs fully. Her head is full of daydreams, not to-do lists. As she becomes more secure in the Father’s love, the chains of the world’s expectations begin to fall away. When a heart deeply understands its place in the Father, it can maintain it’s whimsy even in a cubicle 40 hours a week. True Sonship is in the spirit, not the circumstances

But how do we live as Children of Father as adults who can’t blow off work or bills or committee meetings? How do we live with childlike hearts when we are no longer oblivious to the arrows being hurled at us? How do we stay connected to the true self He made us to be and truly experience Him as Father?  

Maybe the key to understanding and living in the fullness of my identity as a Daughter is to live as He designed me instead of the identity I take on as the world (and let’s be honest, the church) demands more of me? Maybe it means coming to Him as I am, before I’ve sanitized my words to fit into a “spiritual” framework. Maybe it means bringing Him the same things over and over again – The things I talk about. At length. 

For the sake of transparency I’ve not figured out how to live here. This is something I understand in my head but not my heart. I still struggle with feeling His delight over me, and as a result, I live as an orphan. Maybe that’s because He’s not delighted in me when I’m not really being ME. Maybe He finds it difficult to be close to someone who insists on coming to Him with masks on.

At the end of the day, Father wants me as I truly am, without pretense and polish. He’s not interested in interacting with a counterfeit me. And the real me can be untrusting, prideful, angry and obstinate. And He prefers this to any false piety I could feign. With all of my selfishness and demands and daydreams, He wants me to bound up to Him, just as I am, dragons and all.  


Truth in a Church Lobby

September 1, 2013

Sitting on my porch, still blurry eyed from sleep, I took in a long, slow, deep breath and inhaled the aroma of rain, honeysuckle, and brewing coffee. As my breath left my lungs I felt my spirit exhale. I smiled. My Lover brings me perfumes. He lavishes these small gifts on me like the cadenced flow of a river washing away yesterday’s tears. His mercies are new every morning.

I wrote those words. I posted them on Facebook and watched the masses express their appreciation. A click of a mouse and I’m affirmed. I’m Liked. And from the safety of a well crafted status update I hide the reality that I struggle to actually believe what I wrote. That’s the thing about Facebook, or Twitter or a church lobby. You can masterfully edit your life to draw attention only to the pithy moments of your day, the clever or deeply spiritual soundbites, all the while, carefully measuring what people see. Let’s be honest. We talk endlessly about vulnerability and transparency. We hold these virtues high, but we honor them more than we practice them. We toy with them. “Oh, things are a struggle but God is good. I’m learning,” we say. But do we ever unzip our skin and expose what’s really going on. We convince ourselves that strangers can’t carry the weight of the truth and the people close to us think they know it. And quite frankly, we shield our hearts to avoid the empty answers and cliches so quickly offered. But what if I dared to tell the truth. The unfiltered, unsanitized truth.

“Hi, welcome to Well Intended Church with Legitimately Caring People! How are you?” In a moment no longer than a blink I imagine what it would be like to answer truthfully.

“Hi! Well, Let’s see. I’m in YEAR SIX of wandering through what people call “a spiritual wilderness”. I don’t experience God’s presence. His voice is quiet. His affections disconnected. It’s confusing, and hurtful and lonely. At times, the loneliness is so thick if I give myself permission to feel it, it overwhelms me to the point of feeling suffocated, so I lose myself in TV or work or activities. But there are the moments it forces itself through the door and won’t let me forget it’s as close as my skin. I’m told He draws near to the broken hearted. I was discarded by someone I believed loved me. So I take these wounds to God, but I don’t feel His comfort, or protection or healing. I feel nothing. I hear nothing. And I cry out for mercy, but there is none.

And I wonder Did He abandon me? Am I expendable to Him, too?

If hope deferred makes the heart sick, by now my heart is terminal. I walk with God every day. I have my whole life. And I don’t experience the comfort and satisfaction everyone around me seems to swim in. It’s like God loves me, but just as a friend. He likes me enough. I’m sure He loves me. But not with the same delight and passion He has for the people who are more…well, I don’t know what they are. But apparently it’s something I’m not. How can I make myself lovely enough that He wants me, too? I don’t feel His love. What can I do to get His attention?

I don’t feel His presence. I know it’s there. I believe it. But it’s a conviction, something I experience intellectually. But what I know, the truth I desperately cling to, doesn’t fill my lungs when the hurt goes so deep it takes my breath away.

I’m ashamed for being crushed under the weight of so little. EVERYTHING IN MY LIFE IS FINE!! But on the inside I’m staggering, and nobody knows the difference. How can a person with so much feel so worthless, so overlooked by God? I want to be the woman who stands confidently in what she knows, despite how she feels. But right now, I’m not. There’s a chasm between what I know and what my pain tells me.

I know what you’re going to say. I’ve heard it all.

We don’t live by what we feel, but what we know to be True. Yes, thank you. I know all the answers. I can recite them to you if you’d like. And I’m pretty sure He’s never been all that impressed with my “right answers.” Besides, I need Him to care that my heart is broken and scared and barely hanging on. He doesn’t seem moved by that. Why doesn’t He care about my heart? Why do my groanings go unanswered? Why is He hiding from me?

Just hold on. Breakthrough is coming. It’s just around the corner. I’ve been around a lot of corners and I’m not seeing this breakthrough everyone talks about. Holding out hope that it’s coming is exhausting and more than discouraging when everyday is like the one before. When does my redemption come? When is my pain made beautiful?

Jesus is the only one for me. If there was nothing after this life, I would still choose Him now. So why is His affection elusive? Why don’t my groans move Him? I don’t know what else to surrender. He has it all. I can’t beg anymore. I can’t hope anymore. I can’t keep fighting but I can’t give up. And I’m so weary.

I blink slowly, retreating from my momentary daydream and offer a most convincing smile. “I’m well. How are you?”