Friday, October 23, 2009

Life in Paradox (Part 3)

God: "Just be yourself and don't worry about it."
Me: "What? What did you say?"
God: "Just be yourself and don't worry about it."
Me: "That is not helpful."


I'm a curious sort of person. By that, I mean I can get inquisitive. When I am on a roll, I ask questions and ponder and dig and ask more questions and do more pondering and then, well, dig some more.

Several years ago, I asked God how He sees me. He showed me a white bulldog puppy, adorned with a very big pink bow, whose attention was focused on a chew toy. That puppy was tenacious about the chew toy. She would gnaw on it then lay down for a nap, keeping one paw on the chew toy while she napped. Then she would get up and pace circles around the chew toy, paw it for a bit then gnaw some more, then she would lie still for a while and stare at the chew toy. Over and over again.

After objecting to the great pinkness of the bow, I had to laugh because that is an accurate portrait of how I get when I'm into something. Bulldoggedly tenacious. Until I get bored, that is. When I get bored with something then time's up. I lose all interest.

I'm that way with the online world. I find a website and look around to see what I can see. I click on available links to see where they lead. One never knows what will be discovered by following links. That's how I found my online tribe.

I'd discovered a networking site affiliated with Ransomed Heart Ministries and made some connections there. While doing that, I found a link on someone's page and followed it. That led me to an online group of people, a tribe.

The tribe's description was enough to make me stand up on the inside and shout, "YES!!" I had been looking for a group of people like this for years.

Here's the tribe's description:

* You are desperately & authentically in love with Jesus.
* You have gone "all in" with God--fully surrendered, fully engaged.
* You will not let him go. Period.
* You know Grace.
* You have experienced supernatural transformation.
* You have transcended all the petty and ridiculous lines of division in the Church.
* You hate religion--more specifically, the religious spirit.
* You befriend--and do life with--non Christ Followers.
* You know God has called you into a Larger Story, a bigger and much scarier life, and you have said yes.
* You will do anything he asks of you.
* You are committed to the dual ambition of ever-deepening intimacy with God and to the bold expansion of his Kingdom in the world.
* You know that this is war.
* You ache with the beauty & wonder & majesty of life...and see the glory & splendor God has woven into every human soul.
* You want to join with others who have crossed the line from "safe" Christianity into the realm of the Dangerous, Radical Free.

After much internal debate, I decided to join the Dangerous Radical Free tribe.

It has been a gift to me. Connections made on the DRF site led to Facebook connections and Twitter connections. Online relationships have translated into real-world relationships. I've enjoyed wonderful phone conversations and have met tribe members face-to-face.

None of it has been easy.

It's a lot easier to show up as myself in the online world. I don't see the widened eyes and flared nostrils of someone whose toes I might have accidentally stepped on. I don't see the glazed look of incomprehension that shows up when I say something that makes complete sense to me but which nobody else gets. I don't see the offended glare of someone whose nose gets out of joint when I leapfrog over their thinking process to reach a conclusion about something. There's a kind of anonymity that comes with online connections, so I feel safer being authentic there.

I have trust and rejection issues. Sizeable ones. Stepping out and connecting with people, showing up as my real self, taking online connections offline...all of it is pretty scary to me.

Still, God told me at the beginning of the year to be myself and not worry about it. I'm doing okay with the being myself part. Not great, but okay.

I'm not doing so well with the "don't worry about it" part. I do worry about it. I worry that I'll do something or say something incredibly stupid. Or maybe I'll cross the line with someone and not realize it until it's too late. Or I could hurt someone's feelings. Or I could...

There are lots of things I could do wrong if I show up as myself. But I've been doing it anyway, even though I constantly second-guess.

Part of "doing it anyway" is showing up at a home church that meets in Austin every other week. Some of the group's members are also members of the DRF tribe. That's how I got involved with them in the first place. DRF to Facebook to the offline world.

It costs me to meet with this group of people. It's a three hour trip from here to there. But it has been worth it.

This group of people has made me feel welcomed and wanted. I don't often feel welcomed and wanted, so it's a big deal to me. They really seem to care about what's going on in my inner world, even when I don't want to share. They're willing to press past my defenses to get to the real me. I'm learning to feel safe in this group. I'm learning that it really is okay to just be myself.

In a previous post I mentioned how God loves me too much to leave me alone, trapped in a life of isolation and darkness. I can see His fingerprints on the connections I've made with this group of people who have welcomed me into their homes and lives.

I also mentioned how Satan has a plan for my life, a plan to keep me trapped in a life of isolation and darkness.

I didn't recognize it until recently but every time I'm about to make the trip to Austin all of the insecurities I battle rise to the surface. All of my fears and rejection issues come alive, screaming at me to stay hidden. Then, once I've gotten home from a trip, it all comes back again. Fear rises up, shouting at me that I'm crazy for doing this, announcing that the people with whom I just spent considerable time are going to reject me because rejection is inevitable. Everything I did or said that could be taken in a negative light traipses across my inner screen, taunting me.

It's a freaking war zone.

Today I spoke with someone who asked me why I still struggle with the "don't worry about it" part of God's instructions. That "why" question hadn't even entered my mind until she asked. I was too busy focusing on the "just be yourself" part.

While I think there are several answers to the "why" question, there is one answer that stands out the most.

It IS a war zone. Satan still has a plan for my life and will work to fulfill it, just like God is working to fulfill HIS plan for my life. Looking at it from that perspective, I can see that all of the doubts and fears and wounds I have are targeted by the enemy of my soul. He punches them, hard, trying to undermine what God is doing in my life. He throws thoughts at me, hoping I'll believe them and take them as my own. He stirs the pot, working on my emotions, trying to cause me to crater into despair.

I've cratered before. It wasn't pretty. I'm still cleaning up the mess that was made when that happened.

Satan knows this. So does God. So do I.

So, what is the best thing I can do with all of the above?

I can just be myself and NOT WORRY ABOUT IT! I can accept the love and community that is offered by this wonderful group of people with whom I've connected. I can recognize that this life is a war zone and everyone is broken. I can celebrate the fact that, in the midst of all the fear and torment and heartache and crap, God's love is real and true and bigger than anything else.

So, maybe I do feel feelings of darkness. Maybe I get scared, really scared, every time I am going to let down my boundaries and show up as myself. Maybe I am scared that I'll get hurt, or feel rejected, or embarrass myself.

All of those feelings are real. But they are not necessarily true.

The truth is this: I can step out in all of my broken, messy, quirky, weird, obnoxious splendor and there are those who will genuinely embrace me. The broken, messy, quirky, weird, obnoxious stuff doesn't make me less acceptable. It makes me human. There's beauty in the mess.

That's why I can, in spite of what feelings show up, just be myself and not worry about it. I may not do it well, but that's not really the point. The point is that I'll do it.

That's the paradox - beauty in the mess.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Life in Paradox (Part 2)

Shadow: A definite area of shade cast upon a surface by a body intercepting the light rays; the dark image made by such a body

Mission: A sending out or being sent out with authority to perform a special duty

Shadow Mission: Satan's plan for a person's life

I've previously blogged about The Destiny Project's impact on my life. It has been a huge catalyst for me and 2009 has been a key year. But I don't believe I've discussed my shadow mission, which I identified as part of my journey through The Destiny Project. I call it "my" shadow mission because it is the enemy's plan for my life and, well, I owned it.

I'm making some basic assumptions here about you, my readers. I assume that you choose to believe in God. That you choose to believe He loves you. That you recognize that we have an enemy older than time, Satan, whose great delight is in destroying everything God created, especially humankind. That you choose to believe that Jesus went to the Cross, died and was resurrected, thereby taking care of the world's sin problem for us. We can hang onto our sin problem and try to deal with it ourselves, try to be righteous on our own by doing good things and trying to be good people, or we can let Him clothe us with His righteousness. Basic Christian gospel stuff.

By the way, Jesus doesn't leave us any middle ground here. He's either exactly who He says He is - Emmanuel, God Almighty with us, LORD and Savior - or He's nucking futs. If He's nucking futs then nothing He says has any worth. If He's exactly who He says He is then, well, what He says about us and life and the world is absolutely true whether we believe it or not. He leaves it to us to decide whether we believe Him or not.

I became a Christian in July of 1988, though at the time I had no idea what it meant. It's probably just as well that I was clueless because, had I known all the heartache and anguish I'd walk through ahead of time, I might have said "No, thank you. I've suffered plenty already so I'm not about to set myself up like that by deliberately choosing the path of thorns. There's nothing you can say to me that will convince me it's worth it."

See, I wasn't raised to believe that God is a Person. I was introduced to the idea when I was in college. Only after praying the prayer and saying "yes" to Jesus did I discover such concepts as sin and redemption. Even then, I had a hard time understanding God's love. I still do. I still don't get it. Not really.

I mean, c'mon...why would I? Love, to me, has been distant and chilly and painful and a tool for manipulation. "I love you," have been nice words with little staying power. While there might be some nice emotion attached, they don't deeply impact my life or help me much. When I have loved, I've reaped more heartache than anything else so why would I want to go there? Why would I think it's worth it? Why would I think it's reciprocal, when it feels like my love is very rarely returned? What good does love do? People say, "I love you," then walk away and I'm left to deal with stuff on my own. If I need help, I have to beg for it. Unless, of course, I'm seeing a counselor or someone like that and they claim affection for me. But then, I'm paying them. They get money in exchange for dealing with me and my crap. That knowledge always leaves a little doubt about the genuineness of their affection. It feels like having a Rent-A-Friend.

That's a pathetic paradigm but it's been mine for a long time.

It makes a certain amount of sense that God would be proprietary about us, humankind. It's an ownership thing. He made us therefore nobody else gets to decide what happens in our lives, nobody else has the right to make those decisions or mess with us. He's the Potter and we're the clay. Who are we to think we can protest what He decides? Right? He made us and He owns us, even if we don't like it. What we like is irrelevant. What we think is irrelevant. What we feel is irrelevant. He's God and we're not. Love doesn't really enter into it much. At least, that's the thinking here. But it's subconscious thinking. It's an undercurrent that impacts conscious thinking in a decidedly negative way.

It's also a way of thinking that plays nicely into my shadow mission.

Three things come out of The Destiny Project - an identity statement (who I am in the world), a mission statement (what I'm all about in the world) and a shadow mission (Satan's plan for my life).

My mission statement is fairly succinct. "To warm others and create a safe space where they are free to be who they were born to be." Nice, huh?

My identity statement is verbose, as far as identity statements go. At least, that's what I've heard. "I am Arwen, daughter of the Lord, full of grace and splendor; I am Galadriel, who sees what was, what is and what may be, who will not leave those who are weak without defense; I am Boudicca, who goes to war for her people, fiercely battling and taking no prisoners; I am the radiant, illuminating fire that enflames and enlivens to freedom."

My shadow mission is longer than either my mission statement or my identity statement. "To survive by being coldly detached, strong and unbendable, filled with self-loathing, seeing all the desires to relate and connect and be warm and loving and enthusiastic as weaknesses to be utterly eliminated. To be solitary, seeking power because love is a lie. To operate solely out of a calculating and cunning intellect, with no heart. To be a machine, manipulating others to do my will. To be in utter and absolute control of myself, completely obliterating any vulnerability. To kill any desire to be loved, because the desire to be loved is my enemy just as the desire to love is my enemy. To be god in my own life, so that I am my everything, I am all that matters, because there is nobody else to whom I will matter, ever. To believe, with everything in me, that I am and always will be on my own, and to build my life based on that completely, eternally unalterable reality."

The thing about my shadow mission is that it was far more than just an annoying shadow that bothered me like so much background noise. My shadow mission had been both my identity statement and my mission statement. I'd pursued being that person. I'd embraced it. It's who I thought I was supposed to be. It's who I wanted to be. That girl wouldn't get hurt. She wouldn't get played. She wasn't a doormat and she wasn't a victim. She wouldn't let anyone get close enough for her to get molested, or emotionally raped.

So what if she was lonely? So what if she was starved for affection and genuine human warmth? It was better than the alternative.

I believed all of the above even after saying "yes" to Jesus. I just didn't know it. Not really. I might have had a passing thought about it, but it wasn't something I'd truly recognized for what it is - a trap and a lie from hell.

Here's the clincher - God loves me too much to leave me there. Jesus simply won't leave me alone, even though the idea of loving and being loved scares me no end. I had said "yes" to Him, and that's something He takes very, very seriously.

To be continued...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Life in Paradox (Part 1)

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way..." (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

Sometimes, it really feels this way. Sometimes, it feels as though life is made of polar opposites vying to occupy the same place in space and time.

Earlier this year, I thought I had discovered my tribe. My peeps. A group to which I could genuinely belong and not fear what would happen if I showed up as myself.

I have good reason to fear showing up as myself. I've done it before and lived to regret it. I'm sure I'm not alone in having had this kind of experience. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I started at a very young age.


Here's some backstory...

A gregarious, curious, talkative little girl of about five years old who hears consistent variations of "Go away, you bother me," from the key people in her life is going to start believing that who she is is unwelcome.

At age six, most nights she lies in bed crying herself to sleep and wondering if anyone would even notice if she died. How would her mom and dad react to her lifeless body? Would they just shrug it off? Would they be relieved that they don't have to deal with her any more? After all, the message they have spoken into her life is one that says, "Go away."

Her parents divorce when she was 11-years old. Her dad, who hadn't wanted anything to do with her beyond a very short span of time when she was 3-years old, now says "I love you," and tries to woo her to his side as he wages war against his former wife. The girl is smart, and knows how to take advantage of that. She doesn't believe any words of affection that come from her father, but she'll let him take her to get her ears pierced since that's what she wants and her mother is adamantly against it.

Her mother, who had so frequently been detached and focused elsewhere, now turns to her for emotional support, saying, "I have nobody else to lean on." At least, now, her mom sees her and needs her. It's better than hearing, "Go away," even though she's still just a child.

Jump forward into the junior high and high school years and this little girl has grown into a chameleon. She knows how to interact with all of the cliques but she doesn't belong. She goes home from school and it feels like running into invisible walls. All the pain from early childhood has turned to anger. She acts out, pushing and pushing, just to get some sort of honest reaction. Her mother looks at her, coldly saying "Well, if you can't positive attention you'll take negative attention."

Almost anything is better than being invisible. Almost...

When she is older, she'll find herself in the role of the mediator between her parents, and between her brothers and her parents. She does it because she can, because someone has to and because she's learned how to look at things from others' perspectives. What she thinks, feels and believes is irrelevant. She knows this. She's known this for a very long time. She's learned to live inside her own head and how to hide her true self; not completely but more than enough to survive.

Factor in the sexual molestation she experienced at the hands of an older child when she was about 6 or 7-years old, and then the fondling by the family dentist when she was 9-years old.

Tell me, would such a child, have any real understanding of what belonging, being welcomed and loved in this world is like? Why on earth would she want to show up as herself in her own life and in her interactions with others?

Yeah, I'm that child. I'm that girl.

I am going somewhere with this, so please be patient.

To be continued...