Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Smiling in the Mirror

Steve and I have this wonderful early morning breakfast routine. We wake up smiling. I know—cheesy. I can hear our pastor and my daughters right now, but it is true. We fix our yogurt and oatmeal concoctions and then sit in our room and read something together while we eat. Right now we are half-way through Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

I am amazed.

I am amazed because I didn’t always wake up smiling and didn’t eat breakfast. I read, but most of the time it was for escape certainly not for transformation. For years I often woke in dread, in apathy or in resentment. I knew I was going to have to face another day by putting on another mask. I didn’t want to look in the mirror and face who I was, who I had been, and who I was becoming. I didn’t like her.

As Donald Miller says, I was living a bad story.

God knew I was living a bad story. I certainly wasn’t living the story he had written for me. Somewhere along the way I decided I would be the novelist of my own life. Needless to say, the story I wrote would never be considered for a Pulitzer or a Newbury—more than likely I would have found my story bound in a cheap trade paperback on the red dot clearance table at Barnes & Noble.

In the fall of 2005 I had a wake-up call. I was on a trip to The Cove with one of the dearest women in my life. She had booked our trip eighteen months in advance—a year and a half of waiting and planning and anticipating. It was well worth the effort, but not in the ways I most expected.

God had placed mirrors everywhere. Every corner I turned and every hallway I ducked into there were reflecting glasses. I took a long, long look in the mirror that weekend. I faced myself. I actually made eye contact. To say I was startled would be an understatement.

That weekend God told me he wanted the pen to my story back. He held out his great merciful hand and waited patiently while I sat there fiddling with it…doodling, scribbling, erasing. Reluctantly, I finally passed it to him—keeping a grip even while I tried to place it in his fingers. Giving the pen to him meant giving him back the artistic license in my life (his in the first place). This meant giving him back the control of my story. I was living such a bad story I am not sure why I was so reluctant. Now, I understand it was because it was a story I was familiar with.

I was miserably comfortable.

Sadly, I hit the snooze button several times after that wake-up call. Groggy, disoriented and anxious, I kept thinking my life would get better. Surely if I tried really hard the miserable feelings would slowly dissipate. They did not. Actually they got worse.

I didn’t know how to wake up. I didn’t know how to move my lethargic mental, emotional and spiritual muscles to action.

Later, I would read William Young’s The Shack and he would call this The Great Sadness. Immediately I knew what Young was describing.

Then an event happened that caused the miserable comfortableness to explode. It was an expected and yet an unexpected event. I certainly wasn’t comfortable anymore, but I wasn’t miserable either. What a paradox.

Pain woke me. The struggle pierced the lethargy. My life began to tingle like your leg after you have sat in one position far too long. I had been asleep and circulation was returning to pinched limbs. This sensation can be annoying and even painful. You shake, rub and massage your limb hoping to increase the blood circulation.

Feeling somewhat like Rip Van Winkle, I realized I had missed so much of life while I was asleep.

I was awake.

God had punctured my Great Sadness.

The stagnation of my storyline was interrupted.

I understood I needed to move.

I began to walk. Three miles a day five and six times a week. I walked hard. Pushing myself. Commanding one foot in front of another.

Slowly the pain turned to a dull ache. Manageable. No longer incapacitating. Strangely I began to understand I could deal with real, direct pain easier than with miserable comfortableness.

There would be other major events.

My walking was interrupted by two fluke accidents which resulted in three broken bones.

I took inventory of my emotional health. I was anemic and malnourished.

More than once I questioned and reevaluated my faith. I sifted and sorted through the frailties and contradictions (and there were many) of the most essential part of who I am.

Reluctantly I tried to look at the relationships in my life. Many were good, strong and solid, but some were truly unhealthy: smothering, neglectful, apathetic.

My 42nd birthday was a turning point in my story. Almost two years since the wake-up call at The Cove—when I couldn’t even look in the mirror.

I have written about this in earlier entries of my blog…my daughters created a very special birthday for me that year. They were all involved in the planning, and my second daughter carried out the plans. At the end of that day I gazed in the mirror and looked the woman I saw directly in the eye. I said something to her.

“I like you. I am being challenged by the direction you are taking. I am enjoying what you are doing. I am interested in who you are. You still have work to do. You have rough edges and gravelly inner terrain, but you are making progress.”

What a strange thing to talk to myself. I carried on a conversation with a woman named Tamera. I was attempting to encourage her as if she were someone else. I was seeing myself from the outside.

I was reading the text of my own story and was intrigued.

Since that day I haven’t had to do much writing.

I gave my pen back to the Author and Finisher of my faith.

He writes a better story.

I know I am in the middle of the rising action. Lately, I have seen so much of the greater story unfold. I have been able to see transitions and connections. Sometimes the enormity and intricacy of his plot is overwhelming. In a beautiful, powerful way I am beginning to understand my story is only a brief paragraph in the greater story. I have no idea where this story is going, but He has promised me he will complete the good work He started.

He began a good story in me.

Now, because I am assured of this truth—

I wake smiling and can look in the mirror.

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