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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ripening and Fermenting

I sit at the kitchen window and stare outside at the visible square of yard and watch the rain fall. It is slanted, pushing toward the east. I can’t hear it—though I did this morning. In the early hours of darkness I heard it beating on our roof and it lulled me into sleeping too long. I know the rain is permeating the ground—saturating it. Chill and cold have arrived and with it scents have sharpened and the air has tightened.

I just moved from the kitchen to my room. The rain is still dancing on the roof, the air is chilled (only in relevancy—the temperature would be too warm for summer), and my dogs are all piled around my feet. Their snuffling, shifting, and snoring do not annoy me, but comforts me instead.

There’s a muted hammering in my breast today. I woke with urgency, a welling-up of phrases and snippets of language—of unfettered prayers beating their subtle rhythm in my spirit.

I hear Him whispering—faint and muted—like listening to the leaves fall. You expect to hear the sound as they collide with the grass and the earth, but our hearing is not quite refined enough to detect it.

I know he is speaking to me. Beckoning me closer and nearer and deeper. He isn’t playing games. He isn’t whispering so I might miss something. If he shouted his voice would just become a part of the noise in my life.

He has laid his hand on me.

I breathe deeply, trying to fill my lungs to the very bottom. I hope this physical action will open me—increase my spiritual lung capacity. I encountered the spiritual concept of ripening in a book I am reading.

Most likely I wouldn’t have considered this word or process, but we grew tomatoes this summer. Four varieties at the end of our front porch. One vine grew to be ten feet tall. I was delighted because I could pick the tomatoes straight from the vine and eat them like apples. I had a favorite—this variety looked like a mutant with bubbles and bulges. And when they grew too large their skins would split and the red flesh would be exposed. They tasted like summer.

My spirit has been ripening all through this summer season. My thin red skin is stretching and I am about to burst—and my red flesh will be revealed.

I am an old wineskin.

My God has new wine for me.

He will cause me to be a new wineskin. Soft and supple. Elasticity will provide a give in the seams.

I am fermenting.

Ripening.

Being aged.

The urgency I woke with this morning is the swelling and frothing of this new wine stretching my seams.

Come quickly, oh my God!
Come and make me new so that not one drop of wine will be spilled and wasted.
Come quickly.
Come and hold me so that when my skin splits not one seed will be lost.


He has laid his hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, to lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139:5b-6

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Better Story

I was talking with my oldest daughter recently, she recommended Donald Miller’s new book: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I put my name on the list at the local library and waited.

We met her at a coffee shop one day last week and she pulled the book out of her over-sized bag and began to read out loud. I love to hear her read. She has beautiful inflection and lovely nuances in her voice—she is interpreting as she reads. Her face is animated and alive. I would have been interested simply because of her reading.

She flipped through the chapters and found snippets and one-liners with very little pause or rest—saying nothing besides Miller’s words from the page. And she would wait until we had soaked the words into our skin.

She talked about how the author wanted to live a better story, and how in turn that made her want to live a better story (you can read hers at www.ancientstillness.blogspot.com).

To live a better story--this line caught my attention.

I want to live a better story.

I got the book and my husband and I decided to read it out loud together. This morning we read the second chapter and laughed so hard we almost spewed our breakfast drinks through our nostrils (I know—graphic, but you have to understand how incredibly funny Miller is.)

As we were reading I remembered the first day my daughter talked to me about this book. She talked about living a better story. We were on the phone and I scrambled to write the phrase down on the first piece of paper that was handy.

It became a prayer.

A one sentence prayer that I have been praying ever since.

My sweet God is answering my prayers.

Yesterday, we got to be a part of the greater story—the big story. For a brief moment we got to witness how our stories wove and interwove with others and created a whole. The entire morning was in slow time. Lines in our worship seemed to be punctuated by the myriad of voices and highlighted on the screens in case we had missed them.

Lord, I want to love you from the inside out…consume me from the inside out….

Dave taught the word with a rawness and an urgency that was tangible. I was caught in the story of Gideon.

Notice that?

Caught in the story.

It is the stories that grab us. The stories hold us. The stories teach us. Jesus knew this and so he told the story of the woman with the lost coin, the prodigal son, the workers in the vineyard, and the rich man and Lazarus.

He told stories because they snag us even when we don’t want them to.

Stories linger. Stories stir.

Dave told the story of Gideon. The story is rife with this man’s excuses for not being the right man for God’s job. It is the story of his fleeces to test the calling of God. And so we were caught in the story.

I want to live a better story.

When the service was over there were some decisions to be made concerning the vision and future of the Body of Christ at our church. For a few minutes that small store-front sanctuary was filled with a tension. Not a negative one. But one that is like the underside of a sewing machine stitch. At times and in certain situations you need tension to hold things together.

Again, it was as if we were in slow time. Not slow motion, but slow time. Words were highlighted. Emotions were bared. Vision was illuminated.

I was a part of a better story. Part of something bigger and greater than myself.

Then we gathered as a body to pray for a young man who will be going into the military service in a couple of weeks.

We'll simply call him Christian.

Green. Intelligent. Guarded.

Searching.

Afraid.

The series of events that led Christian to this particular body is amazing and crazy. His story was/is so intertwined with ours.

He sat on a stool at the front. The first circle to gather around him was full of pillars--men past their primes. Yet there was was so much strength and power in that circle. Their gnarled and veined hands cupped the young man’s shoulders.

The second circle consisted of others who had invested in Christian's life. People who had prayed for him before. Those arms reached through the first circle and put their hands on him too.

We prayed.

And we became a part of the bigger story. Not just Christian's story or our story, but THE STORY.

And like Gideon and Jacob we built an altar so this young man would remember. Every prayer spoken, uttered, or breathed placed a stone in its construction.

This will be a place he can return to and remember.

This is the place Christian can go back to in his mind when life around him is frightening and lonely, and he will remember that God will never leave him or forsake him. This altar, built with weeping and soul cries, will remind him that he is loved. It will remind him that he is a part of a bigger story.

I want to live a better story.

I want my life to be filled with making altars so others can be reminded of the overwhelming, deep, powerful, gripping love of God!

Peter talked about it. He said we were living stones.

I want to live a better story.

Don’t you?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

No Longer Rejected

John 4:4-42

I am not sure how I got to the place I was. Do you know what I mean? One day you just wake up and suddenly start asking questions. Why am I here?

One morning I woke up and looked over at the man beside me…and five other faces emerged from his. How did I get to be a woman with five husbands in her history, and what in the world made me wake up beside this one that wasn’t even a husband?

Some of the reasons I can point to and say this is why. I can connect the dots and make the connections—direct cause and effect. Others I have to follow a meandering trail and still can’t quite understand.

I made some poor choices. I don’t blame others for them. They are mine—my burdens. Some things, however, were decided for me.

I am a woman; I had very few options. Very few. Women are not the most valuable commodity where I am from. Ha, it would seem that we rank just a little above the properties or the livestock a man owns. There are times I think the men would rather have the deed or the bull. How often I have been ignored by a husband in public—more than ignored—not even seen.

I wish I could tell you about my life in a manner that would make sense—or at least in a way that would help you not to scorn me, not to whisper about me while you are standing a few feet away. People didn’t know the whole truth, and because they didn’t know all the details they began to fill in their own. Rumors and conjecture and fabrications were mixed with what little they did know.

Honestly, I started questioning what was the truth was and what was a lie.

You hear something so much you start to believe it.

I am not sure I can untangle all the webs.

I do know I felt like a worn out garment with holes that could no longer be mended. Rips and tears that couldn’t be stitched back together to create some kind of whole. And I was worn out from trying. Weary from the attempt to make things right. I think that is why I woke up next to a man who wasn’t my husband. I have had five—and not one of them lasted.

Not one.

I have been rejected—often tossed aside like a water jar with too big or too many cracks to be useful anymore.

I worshipped God, but so often I felt like I was worshipping someone I did not know. Women had to remain standing far back—barred from participating fully in the worship of God. And even more so for a woman of ill-repute. I wasn’t quite sure if it was my reputation that barred me or if God was pushing me aside.

But there was some part of my heart that just wouldn’t let go. I had heard since I was a little girl that God would send the Messiah, the anointed one, a prophet greater than Moses. I had dreams of this Messiah—perhaps they were just the flighty dreams of a silly, romantic girl. I just knew the Messiah would come and explain everything to us.

He would explain the ways of God and why the Jews despised us. I just knew the Messiah would come and tell us everything. And even as I grew to be a woman, deep in my heart I held tightly to this hope. At times it was very dim. We were a despised race, considered unclean—perhaps because the color of our skin was a shade or hue different from our neighbors, the Jews. Perhaps it was because of our worship site on Mount Gerazim. I am not sure…I just know that the tensions were so great between us that the Jews considered us pagan and wouldn’t even share a cup or water skin with us. They avoided our region as if we were quarantined for leprosy.

I had heard talk that the Jews expected the Messiah too. At least we had that in common. We both wanted a savior to come and save us from the tyranny of our enemies.

So, I kept that hope tucked away like a chrysalis in my heart. Held it close and every once in a while I would look toward Mount Gerazim and whisper a prayer to God to please send the Messiah. I am not sure what this meant for me personally—there was just something inside that made me know that if the Messiah came life would be different.

There was also a deep fear in me. What if we Samaritans were wrong? What if we had been worshipping amiss? What if the temple in Jerusalem was the true place of worship? What if our arrogance and sin had caused us to miss this great salvation? The thought that plagued me even more was what if the reality of my life caused me to be shunned by the Messiah. How in the world could he look at a woman like me and welcome her or even use her in his kingdom?

So, I whispered my prayers—half in hope that they would be heard and answered and half in hope that they would not. I am just not sure I could have dealt with another rejection.

You know about that day. You have heard the talk. You have read the story.

I want you to know I went to the well that day a broken woman, but I left whole.