Vulnerability, The Painful Catalyst for Healing

There are plenty of masks you can wear to hide. If you wear them long enough you will forget how to take them off. In fact they will feel so fused to your identity it becomes painful to peel them back and allow someone to see the real you.

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Masks take different forms for different women. Some wear the mask of Perfection, always polished and smooth. Some wear the mask of Achievement, ever climbing from one rung to the next up the ladder. For others the mask is Humor or Hostility or Entertainer or Flirt. The nuances and variations are endless and one woman may wear several. After all, it takes a lot of coverage to hide deep wounds and fears. They have a tendency to seep out unless tucked away carefully under layers of protection.

In the past month, I have conversed with so many women who are hurting and struggling but simply  cannot bear to pry the mask back to let anyone see the places they are ashamed of, the broken fragile pieces of their lives. And so they sit with smiles hiding loneliness and laughter masking tears. If I thought ripping the mask off myself would free them of it, I might be tempted to try, but the truth is a mask is simply a choice to guard yourself from others knowing the real you. There is no way for anyone to make another drop their defenses. It began long ago in a garden with some fig leaves, and has been going on ever since.

As I was ending a recent conversation with a young woman who was feeling very alone and ashamed, I reminded her the only way she would begin to heal was to be honest and stop avoiding her feelings. To allow me to ask her questions and to really answer them. “It’s hard,” she replied with tears she kept from spilling out by sheer will.

“It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick.” said our Lord in the gospel of Matthew. He didn’t mean that any of us were healthy to begin with. Rather that only when we will acknowledge our sickness, and go ask for help- expose what is going on inside us- then we can find the healing we so desperately need.

Do you know that Jesus understands this tendency to try to hide also, to avoid being vulnerable and exposed? In His great love for us, He was willing to become completely known by people who would reject, abuse, abandon and eventually murder Him- all to make us secure. He became weak so we could become strong. He was exposed so we could be covered. This is the gospel- God in His love, coming down to trade places with us. This is very good news, because only when we know that God sees us fully and loves us completely can we find the strength to begin to open our hearts to others. They may not perfectly love the real you, but God does.

Do you know the safest people to take your mask off with? The ones who have already taken theirs off too. Look for people who are vulnerable and open about sin, feelings, past experiences and weakness. The ones who have already journeyed ahead through vulnerability  into healing are the most equipped to gently sit with you as you begin the sentence, “I think I need some help…..”

 

Psalm 38- Haters Gonna’ Hate, or Why I’m Trusting in God’s Goodness #shereadstruth

Psalm 38- Haters Gonna' Hate, or Why I'm Trusting in God's Goodness #shereadstruth

When I read David’s cry to God in Psalm 38, I am struck by this: David sees his mess brought about from his own sin without any rose colored glasses.

“My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness….”
“I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult in my heart…”

Not exactly the language I use when describing my sin. I say things like, it’s something I’m working on. It’s an area of struggle. David lays out the truth. His sin is breaking him and he longs for God to be merciful and bring restoration. Without that brutal honesty, my repentance becomes a technical step, not a heart-felt response of surrender.

Yet David also feels the hurt from people around him who are gloating or uncomfortable with him in his mess. Friends are pulling away. Enemies are gleefully plotting how this will bring his destruction. The truth is only God loves us in our messiest places in the way that can bring true healing. My sin effects others. Sometimes when I’m honest about it, people will feel ashamed or think I’m being a little “over spiritual” or simply not know how to respond. Other times, people around me may be glad to see me fall. Enjoy feeling a little bigger at my expense. They are not my problem or my solution to healing though, so I can respond like David saying,

“But for you, O Lord, do I wait. It is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.”

We absolutely need community. God is clear about this. But not for forgiveness. Not for restoration from sin. Only God can offer these, and offer he does! Through Christ, there is abundant mercy. While I may feel crushed, Christ was actually crushed for me. While I may hurt over people’s response to my sin, Christ was plotted against, abandoned and betrayed- for me. In my place. And in knowing that grace, I can rejoice even in repentance, that I am never alone and never rejected by Him.

“As for you O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me.” -Psalm 39:11

Coffee Shop Fights on a Tuesday Morning, and Other Reasons We need Peacemakers

imageYou just never know what might happen in your local coffee shop at 8:45am on a Tuesday morning. I was mid-meeting, mid-sentence when a young but very professionally dressed man suddenly and aggressively shoved a bigger man backward while loudly stating “I will not take name calling from you!” The entire coffee shop, all 15 or so of us went silent, looking but trying not to stare at the unfolding scene. Total tension. Was the shoved man going to lose it and erupt into a full on brawl? And you know in those moments, everyone is thinking, “Should I intervene? Should I say something?” but you never know what will help or escalate the situation, so we all sat for about 5 uncomfortable seconds in silence.

tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

And then entered a man. With a joke to lighten the situation (Hey, hey- we’re not still in college guys) and a caution (You need to go on and calm down) as he physically stood in between the two men, arms outstretched, pushing the distance wider between them. The man who stepped in was smaller framed than both the other two angry fellows. I think he would have been in trouble if the situation didn’t diffuse because there was no way he could have physically held them back. But his presence and willingness to step in the middle, risking harm to himself potentially, worked. The men parted ways and we all looked around at each other with raised eyebrows and made little jokes, but went back to our morning. Crisis averted.

This world is a broken, fragmented place. People are on edge. Lives are messy and when those messes intersect, anger often erupts. Miscommunications and hurt feelings and sin and hard times come in between us and we can’t always see straight with each other. My guess is those two men are friends. Or at the very least, did not wake up that morning thinking they would recreate the showdown at the OK Corral in the morning coffee shop. But somebody spoke an offensive word. And somebody lost their cool. And they both could have possibly ended up in a hospital or jail, or banned forever from their favorite coffee shop- if not for the Peacemaker.

Here is what struck me so profoundly about that peacemaker this morning- it was an incredibly active and risky role he embraced to bring peace to that moment. At the least, they could have ignored his efforts or mocked him for them. They could have become angry with him. Or the situation could have escalated putting him in physical harm. I have no idea why he intervened really, but here’s my guess- he was trying to keep harm from occurring to those men and the rest of the folks in the shop. On some level, without knowing this man at all, I think he must have had a noble motive because it required a sacrifice and selfishness does not usually lead to sacrifice.

You cannot aim to be an agent of peace in this world, without getting involved in uncomfortable moments and without risk to yourself. I know we don’t usually have at stake a punch being thrown at us, but there are plenty of other types of risk. Reputation, image, discomfort and others’ anger are not commodities we like to rock the boat on. But, oh does the world need peacemakers! In families, we need someone willing to call for a conversation where there has been silence for too long. In our workplaces, we need people willing to stop participating in bashing each other, and instead build bridges.

Which is what Jesus did for us. We were at war with ourselves and our creator. We had turned to momentary pleasure and it turned on us. We needed someone to bridge that great divide we had created with our sin. But it took more than loving words or kind thoughts. Jesus came into our uncomfortable situation, put himself in harm’s way and took all the consequences, so we could be at peace with God. He was the bridge. As my pastor says, He did not come to show us the way, but to be the way. And so, we who claim to follow Him as Savior, we who have known that great peace when fear and shame are killed and hope rises within- we are called to be like Him. In the world, in our churches and in our homes.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” Matthew 5:9

I’ve Found My Trump Card, and I’m Not Afraid To Use It

Every day there are a million choices. Options for how to spend my time and energy abound. Sometimes just sitting down to fill in my weekly planner becomes a calculated decision, because I know I’ll be giving up an hour or so in the process. (Which feels crazy even as I type it, but three kids, a husband, a full time job, a busy church community and keeping my hair colored….. Well, it’s time consuming)  And this is the stuff all women face- what matters today the most? How should I spend these hours and what tasks/people/errands/activities warrant priority?

I was cleaning out part of my nasty refrigerator the other day using my 75% rule: if it looks at least 75% better than when I started, high five, move on. (This is a real thing. Not making it up for blog effect. It’s totally freeing to not have to do anything 100% perfectly.) As I was taking out sticky jelly jars and cleaning unidentifiable orange goo out of a tray in the door, I began to evaluate my life. Not the dramatic “what am I really doing with my life anyway” kind of evaluation, but rather the “how are things working lately and should we consider giving up jelly?” As I was considering the ways my time gets used, God and I were having a bit of a back and forth conversation in my head. (Or it could have been out loud. Scott recently told me he hears me talking out loud to myself. So there’s that.) At any rate, while asking God to show me if my time is being spent in a way that honors Him and reflects my life purposes, He brought to mind a verse that we talk about often in my church.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” 2 Cor. 4:16

It got me thinking. There are really just two categories: outward (breaking down) and inward (renewing). This is so simple, but the implications are deep. If every decision I make, from cleaning my fridge to preparing dinner for a sick friend to buying a car to going on vacation can be looked at through this lens, maybe it will help me not to lose heart by spending precious time and energy on things that are just “breaking down” anyway. Now don’t get me wrong, you still have to deal with outward things. Just because they are breaking down doesn’t mean we don’t do some maintenance. But, those things are not ever going to be perfected on this earth. My home will never be perfectly clean, appliances will be in some stage of needing repair, my van will always be ready for some new part, my body will continue to wrinkle and age. Things that are primarily outward will cause me to lose heart and be frustrated, insecure and cynical if I believe my job is to keep them renewed. However, the beautiful part of this scripture is the focus on our inner renewal. Things that are primarily inward, my relationship with Christ, my relationships with others, my heart and mind, my mission- these will bring me great joy as I watch my time spent on them yield fruitful results.

So, here’s how it’s playing out for me in decision making: I’m letting things that are primarily inward trump things that are primarily outward. No legalism or rigid rules, mind you. Just stepping back and asking of the two (or ten) options for this moment, which one leads to renewal? And when I spend time maintaining my home or my bank account or my physical body, I’m doing it with the understanding that it is not what put my hope in Or where I gain my security. That these are necessary parts of this broken world, but they will always be corrupted by the effects of sin. So my commitment to them is “I’ll deal with you as needed”, while my commitment to the inner things is “You trump everything else”.

The fear of being normal, and other obstacles to living an extraordinary life

I have teenagers so I am abundantly familiar with the constant posting to the various social media outlets. It’s fairly normal for a huge chunk of adults, me included, so this is no slam on the teens. I, personally, cannot stop myself from filtering every single photo through Instagram. Lately as we’re busy “posting” our lives I notice something we all seem to have in common: somehow everyone’s life is so unusual and glamorous and constantly hilarious. It’s like our lives are a series of SNL sketches mixed with poignant stories and inspirational “real” moments. All carefully scripted. All filtered beautifully. Cue the witty hashtag. The ever-present comparisons we make on a sometimes hourly basis, are skewing our realities. We, myself included, stand back and evaluate how impressive our thoughts, photos and anicdotes will seem. No one wants to be cliche, outdated or worst of all- regular.

What’s regular, you ask?

Here is my regular Tuesday: I got up on time and made breakfast for myself and kids and rushed everybody out the door with little to no humor, but we all got to our various places on time and I told everybody the same thing I tell them everyday- Have a good day- love you! – as they exited the car. And I drove to work and I prayed it would be a good day, and I did my job and the highlight of my day was somebody left some Christmas candy in the break room. And I came home to a messy kitchen and I made a pot of non-organic chili and we ate on chipped dishes and no one volunteered to clean the kitchen so I assigned it to one of the kids who griped all the way through doing it. My husband wandered off to watch football because his day was stressful and I really didn’t have anything helpful to say to encourage him, other than “love you” which he smiled about but still wandered off to veg out. And the kids went to bed and I started the laundry and then went to bed and I was thankful enough, but not particularly thrilled by any part of the past 18 hours.

Nobody wants to post that as a status or tweet about it- but it’s life. And we have come to fear it; that our normal, regular life is getting in the way of being extraordinary. That at the end of our days we will be thought of as a person who wasted their talent or never lived up to their potential, or had no cool factor at all.  But here’s the secret: being normal: being a steady worker, a faithful spouse, a mediocre cook or a nominally funny person has no power to keep you from living an extraordinary life. The extraordinary life comes from valuing the things God values and loving the way Christ loved. Often the regular things in our day are the very opportunities to live beyond regular. When I get up and wake my children and help them find socks and pack lunches and I extend kindness when I would rather be grumpy and mope into my morning coffee- that creates a culture in my family of sacrifice and kindness. Two things this world runs desperately short on. And when I do laundry and run the car pool and keep groceries in the fridge week after week, it creates a sense of security and faithfulness– two more missing elements in many people’s stories. And when I am respectful of people I don’t agree with, who are ignorant or annoying or socially awkward, and I ignore the discomfort I feel but focus on the dignity of the person- I am becoming more like Christ, “who being in very nature God- did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant.”

We all talk and even bemoan the fact that social media creates comparisons and pressure to “live up” but equally scary to me is the fear of just being a normal person. The whole point of our testimony about Christ is I am not all that amazing– in fact, I’m actually quite sinful and weak- but Christ….. He is strong and good and holy and righteous. And because He is and was all those things, he offers them to me. So I can quit trying to impress you. I can quit being afraid of being a nobody, because I’m already loved and accepted by the most important somebody who ever was. And then, when I know that, I can live in the extraordinary way He did- loving everyone, humbly serving, fighting for justice….. and unloading the dishwasher and returning a call and balancing my checkbook.

Helping the Wounded Start Over

So my big 40th Birthday Gift-Away is 2 months around the corner and I am in planning mode. I recently emailed the director of an amazing prison ministry in my town called Doors of Hope to see what items they could use for the people they minister to. I was prompted to email in response to a portion of the newsletter that was in my in box on Monday morning:

"I have a question for you to consider: How are you starting your day?

I started mine as usual at 5:00 a.m. with a great cup of (very)
strong coffee, mellowed out with just the right amount of peppermint
 creamer, in my favorite cup, from the comfort of my office at home.

 If you had slept with your children in a car last night, with all
 your belongings crowded in around you¦ If you had been awakened in
 a shelter with dozens of other desperate people¦Or, if you were
 awakened by a guard this morning, to be released onto the streets of
 this city with nowhere to go¦

How would you go about preparing for your day if it had started in
one of those ways? If there were no coffee brewing, no breakfast
food, no money to buy it, no clean clothes in the closet, no hot
shower, no job to rush off to¦no paycheck at the end of the week.

The truth is, this is the case for more people than we want to
 imagine. Approximately 20% of the women and men we teach in the work
center will be homeless upon release. Another 45%-55% will be
 released into an environment so desperately dysfunctional, most will
 relapse into old habits of alcohol abuse, drug addiction, or
 prostitution before the end of the week. In spite of their best
 intentions, many will fall back into the self-destructive lifestyle,
and it will only be a matter of time before they are re-arrested and
return to jail."

As I read the words my heart hurt for the men and women facing their morning so
very differently from how I face mine. We are all broken people who, at the end of the
day, need a fresh start. We all need to connect to hope. We all need tools to rebuild.

So, here are items I will be collecting for this ministry over the next 2 months:
day timer/calendar big enough to write on
wallet (new or gently used)
purse/shoulder bag (new or gently used)
umbrella
small denomination gift cards (Subway, Sonic etc) for a first meal after release

And here is the website for Doors of Hope if you'd like to check them out:
http://www.opendoorsofhope.org/