Thursday, April 23, 2015

i'm no good at this


I was spending some time talking with God last night, trying to make a decision. Not really an earth shattering one, but it kind of was. Because I knew that no matter what choice I made, it meant something was coming to an end.

I’ve never been very good at saying goodbye. The first time I realized just how bad I was at it was when I was graduating from college and my friend Ryan came over to my dorm room the night before graduation. He handed me a small gift, wrapped in newspaper. It was a book of devotionals from the Psalms, and he’d written this on this inside cover,

Stephanie,
Ahh, how short these four years have been, and how close we have become. My heart is sad, and I have realized how selfish it is to grieve and pity the hours I spent doing other things rather than getting to know more about you. Shall we ever learn? Perhaps for a few minutes.

Thank you so much, Steph, for laughing with me, and thanks for your silence when I was crying. God has given you the gift of compassion and I pray that you will always wear it proudly upon your sleeve.

May your memory be strong and healthy and always remember to crawl under a barbwire fence.  So let your belly get dirty, for God made the mud and when it oozes between your toes you have been promised to be cleaned some other time. Bless you.

With His love and mine,
Ryan-Jacob Wilson

So you can understand that I cried, right? I read that inscription, filled with inside jokes and sweet words from a man who had become such a dear friend and I bawled like a baby. Ryan was a friend who made me laugh like no other.. . A man I could be myself with, because he was himself with me. We went on a beautiful journey together in college and our friendship was one of my sweetest memories of being there.

But I had no words of eloquence for Ryan that night. He and I were in the back room of my dorm suite. A bunch of friends and my two roommates were in the front room, laughing and enjoying their last night on campus. And I just cried with Ryan. He held me and I cried and cried. Because I had to leave. But I didn’t want to.


When I drove away from the seminary five years ago with a car full of my stuff and my belly full of coffee and a crepe from the City Creperie, I thought about my last conversation with my mentor just one hour earlier and how that brought up so many of the same emotions. I just didn’t feel done with St. Louis yet. I wasn’t ready for ministry… I wasn’t ready to leave the people who’d helped heal me and get me to the next stage of my life.  I had to go. But I didn’t want to.

The decision I had to make last night was a sign that things are coming to an end here. I don’t know exactly when and what will happen next, but I know I don’t feel ready.  (Sensing a pattern here?) It feels different this time, of course, because there isn’t fear attached to my uncertainty this time. My uncertainty now is simply based in wanting to have the closure I need to move on.

But I am bad at saying goodbye. I am not good at being done. I think this is because my mind and my heart are consistently living in the “what if?” place of my imagination, seeing into both the past and the future, wondering about all the possibilities if I stayed a little bit longer.

I will flounder and blunder my way through saying goodbye. Crying most of the time. Not saying what I want to say. Probably forgetting to say goodbye to someone, and then hurting their feelings. And probably saying the wrong things when people say goodbye to me, because I’m…  just bad at this. And the last thing I want to do is not leave well. Not leave feeling some closure. 

There has been a lot of beauty in this journey, and the last several months have felt more like a mess. I guess I just want to remember the beauty.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

blogging thru Scary Close - chapters 12 and 13



Vulnerability and openness act as the soil that fosters security. (pg. 157)

In chapter 12, Don writes about a friend who cheated on his wife when their children were very young.  He chose to tell them what he did, once they grew old enough to understand. He believed openness and honesty would bring intimacy, and that secrets wouldn’t. He gave his children the power to reject him, not forgive him. “There are no shadows in our family,“ his friend says. “We don’t hide anything. But that’s a tough place to get to. It takes work and it’s painful.” (pg. 160)

I’ve seen firsthand what secrets can do to people. To friends. To family. It fosters gossip and rumors. Mistrust. Misunderstanding. And just so many hurt feelings. Because the truth comes out eventually. It may not be the full version of truth, if we insist on continuing to hide. But some or all measure of the truth comes out whether we want it to or not. This kind of half-truth secrecy is a major barrier to intimacy. Secrets create walls. Failure to communicate fosters separation.

“When you are with God, there is no darkness, no hiding, no pretending,” Paul said to Don, when telling him the story of their choice to tell their children what happened in their marriage.  And we must do our part to restore what has become broken in our relationships, he says.

We must do this even when it hurts, because all ourselves are out there, exposed to the light. Like when air hits a cut on our hand. It’s the only thing that can heal it, but man. Does it ever hurt.

"God is watching!” We’d hear the adults around us say when we were children. “So don’t screw up!” But instead, the truth should be that in God, there is no darkness, and you have the courage and freedom to be yourself. The light will heal the wound, not make it worse. Don‘s friend Paul understood this, and it’s why he chose to tell his children of the sin in his past. We will screw up. We are bad people. And yet we are offered forgiveness because our God loves us. He has set us free from the law of sin and death. This kind of forgiveness, this kind of openness, is scary.

I guess that’s why the book is called Scary Close.

“Honesty is the soil intimacy grows in.” (pg 168) and in this intimacy we are to be safe people for each other, offering the grace to screw up. And the love to push each other to be better. We are giving each other such power over our hearts when we allow this. Part of me is still struggling if this kind of openness hurts more or less than the hurt that accompanies a closed heart.

We can find an echo here in living inwardly or outwardly, which is ultimately where this statement:

“Grace over guilt”

takes us next.

“Grace over guilt.” These are the words from chapter 13 that stood out to me, the words of the gospel, the words Don has built his company on.

The words all the perfectionists of the world need to hear.

Grace over guilt.

Say them to yourselves over and over. Every day.

The premise chapter 13 seems to be that if we tend to live outwardly rather than inwardly, we will be more fulfilled. This is perfectly echoed in his company’s manifesto, where it’s stated that they believe in grace over guilt.

Guilt is inwardly focused. You make someone feel guilty because of how they've failed you. But if you offer them grace, it suddenly becomes about them and what they need and not you and what you want. The trick is getting them to accept and understand this outward focus, which is so counter-intuitive to our selfish and evil hearts.

God is dictating all of this for me right now, because every chapter I read is an eerie reflection of something I’m already in the process of learning, or is a forecast of what will likely happening in the next few weeks. I mean, did I not just post about navel-gazing and grace ?!?!


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

the beauty and the mess of grace

I’ve been thinking about this word a lot lately.

Do you remember that scene in Evan Almighty when Morgan Freeman is talking to Noah’s wife and he says to her, “If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous?”

Selah

Sometimes the law is too easy for me. Because instead of comparing myself to Jesus and seeing my inability to keep the law, I compare myself to others and think how better I am at keeping the law than they are.

There will always be a tension between justice and mercy. I side with justice most of the time, probably because I grew up with the law being preached to me and not grace. I want others to feel accountable for what they've done. I want every moment to be a teachable moment, rather than just being present and offering grace. Yes. This is my greatest vice, and such a sin.

I am a failure. So are you. But in Christ, our failure does not condemn us. (Romans 8:1) This is not a verse for when we are doing a great job. This is a verse that speaks gospel truth to us when we are failing - when we are at our worst and in need of some grace.

Selah

What does it look like when grace grips us?

I can tell you what it does to me. When it grips me, my heart stops. My posture changes. My eyes close. My head shakes back and forth. All in an acknowledgement that I just don’t deserve what’s been given to me.

The tears come and my heart breaks with repentance. I see how I’ve broken God’s heart, how I’ve hurt others and

 I
just
break.

Grace grips my heart and my mind and my soul. I’m overcome because I'm just such a mess.

 “The love of God freely given to us in Jesus alone carries the power to awaken a response of love in our hearts toward one another.” Tullian Tchividjian

Though it has not been easy, and my heart is broken from those who’ve hurt me, God is using this mess to show me the beauty of grace. He is giving me opportunities to show grace to others. Because the law can’t change them. It can show them what is wrong… but it cannot woo their hearts into a place of brokenness and repentance. This is not my job; only grace can do this.

This is the single most difficult thing about being a Christ follower for me. Ignoring justice and giving grace because I have been given grace. This should be freeing. But instead I feel like a doormat and a sense of unfairness in a world that is all about being fair. But I am not called to live in the world’s economy. I am called to live in God’s.


God’s economy only has one currency: the grace of Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

blogging thru Scary Close [the risk of being careful - chapter 11]



I remember being part of a ministry in college where we were trained to be mediators for our fellow students. We had a wonderful pastor and counselor train us during a weekend retreat each year. Showing us how to listen, how to manage conflict, how to do the hard things of life with our fellow students. Every year he gave us a poem. I have a copy in one of my scrapbooks. It’s about risk.

I haven’t thought about it for a while, but I remember it having a profound effect on me, which is why I’ve kept it all these years. There is so much emotional risk in what we are doing in this life with each other. And because there is risk there is fear.

I spent a lot of time in my thesis exploring fear for the learner and how it creates obstacles to learning. And sometimes even greater obstacles occur in fear-based learning in how the learner uses what they’ve learned. There are many contributing factors for transformational learning to take into account as a teacher – and one of the biggest, in my opinion, was climate. If the tone of the room, the attitude of the professor, the mood of fellow students isn’t safe, fear becomes an obstacle.

When Don was in a weird place with his writing, taking longer and longer to finish each book, a friend told him he was being too careful with his writing. (pg. 142)

Careful.

I find myself repeating this word, letting it roll off my tongue slowly. Letting the sound of those two syllables make its way up to my ears and sink in. Deep.

I’m wondering about being careful.

Finding connection with another human is hard. That’s why we are so careful about it. We are careful who we invite in. This makes sense. Our hearts are precious commodities; they should be handled with care. This hard stuff goes beyond connection, though, and then makes its way to the most painful of all emotions for the perfectionist and overachiever: failure.

This fear… this disequilibrating fear that messes with our head and our heart and hands.

This fear that paralyzes us in the face of expectations and those we love.

This fear that stop us from trying.

This fear of failure makes us be careful.

And being careful hurts.

It might not seem like it as we do all our maneuvering, trying so hard to avoid and side-step the hard stuff that we just can’t deal with because we don’t want others to see our junk and we don’t want to fail others when they are so brave to show us theirs. Being this kind of careful hurts those who want you to stop avoiding and stop being careful and just want you...

to be there. [This is a weird kind of whisper, isn’t it?]

Everyone’s version of being there is different. I have one friend whose idea of being there for me means calling me every morning at 7:50 while I’m putting on my eye makeup and just checks in. (This might be a little much, but I love her for it.) Another friend’s version of being there is to send me stuff in a text that makes me laugh. Another's version of being there is sending me flowers. Another's is to take me to lunch or coffee. None of these are right and none of these are wrong. These are reflections of who they are and how they want to show me how much I mean to them. They are just being the friend they know how to be for someone who needs them.

There is fear that what you have to offer (your version of being there) and this is the fear that it just might not be enough.

The fear of being found lacking is profound. I think this is particularly true for men. The book, The Silence of Adam, has led me to this conclusion. A book that instead of depicting Eve as being deceived and then subsequently deceiving Adam, the book describes that Adam was there the whole time, yet said and did nothing. The author traces the problem with men to the silence with which Adam became complicit in the first fall from God's grace. Adam failed to trust in God's word and example, and modern men do the same when, instead of following God's example in dealing with uncertainties, they retreat into self-righteousness and toughness that mask anger and fear.

We fail each other. We’re human. We love, we hate. We get angry, we retreat.  We say things we regret, we do things we regret.

But if we become too careful about this, we risk something bigger than we can imagine.

[I] wonder if the time we spend trying to become somebody people will love isn't wasted because the most powerful, more attractive person we can be is who we already are, an ever-changing being that is becoming and will never arrive.” (pgs. 148-149)

We’re all still learning to love.