Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Genie, You're Free

"Genie, you're free."

Out of all the things that were posted last night and today, in regard to the death of Robin Williams, that is the quote that brought me to tears. I'm not sure why on the surface of it. It's from a movie. Spoken by a fictional character. And the line refers to the fact that the genie is now free of his lamp. Poignant? Yes. It made me cry when I saw the movie years ago and it made me cry again last night. But for two very different reasons...

April Fiet made this comment yesterday on twitter, "I was 17 when the darkness closed in. I cried for the light to return. I wasn't sad. I was trapped." 

Do you know how it feels to have the darkness close in? Kind of like slowly passing out. The darkness starts at the periphery, at the edge, and takes your sight from you. It slips up from behind and beside you slowly taking you under. And you are powerless to stop it. Those last three words though are the ones that hit me in the gut, effectively knocking all the air right out of me. "I was trapped." Because yes, that's exactly what depression feels like. You feel like you are in a cage you can't escape. Icy hands around your throat. Around your heart. Squeezing all your joy, all your faith, all your life cruelly out of you.

These next three paragraphs come from Living at the Edge, where I spoke a little about my battle with depression...

Why has the church so sanitized Christianity that we can't be real with each other? That we can't be honest when asked how we are. It seems the church has become so afraid of tainting their witness (ugh) or more accurately their reputation, that we can't and won't tell the truth. We're afraid to be judged and found unacceptable. The church is afraid of our brokenness. Jesus has been made into a sad caricature of who He really is. Our pie in the sky savior who makes everything perfect and all people happy and problem free. Or the uncaring King of the hill who expects perfection and bullies us until we fall in line, defeated and broken. Smiles plastered on our faces as we sink deeper into the darkness.

Those of us battling depression, addiction, anger, bitterness, or insert your poison of choice, have no place in the church. We are the marginalized. We find ourselves living on the fringes. Outcasts hoping for Grace to find its way to us. We've been forced to find community outside the traditional walls of the church. Where we're not afraid to say the hard things because we know we will be accepted. Where we know we will be loved. Where we know we will be cared for. Where we know we can speak our truth.

Life sucks right now. I'm living at the edge of depression. I want, no, I need that drink, that line, that pill. I'm pissed off. I'm drowning in this sea of bitterness. I want to feel the release as the blade makes it's mark. I want to lose myself so I don't have to feel anything. Yet, I long to be known. I long to be seen. I long to be validated.

There's no amount of prayer or confession of sin that will make that right. That's where the church and Christians in general get this all wrong. When you say I haven't prayed enough or searched deep and long enough for that unconfessed sin, you throw gasoline on the fire smoldering just under my skin. You feed the voices that tell me I have no worth. The voices that tell me I am not loved. The voices that tell me God has no use for me. The voices that tell me the world would be better off without me.

You tell me I'm selfish but that couldn't be further from the truth. I wear this mask of happiness to spare those around me the despair that I am feeling.

You tell me I have a choice. There are times my choice includes the urge to drive my car off the bridge spanning the Tennessee River. And if I make that choice, I will go to hell. But when I feel that way, that hell seems an easier choice than the hell on earth I am living.

You tell me to cast my cares on the Lord. That I must not have enough faith.

You tell me my depression is from the devil. That I need to rebuke the oppression or possession of the demons.

You tell me to pray for healing. When healing doesn't happen I wonder why God won't help me. Why he has abandoned me. Why my prayers fall on deaf ears.

You question my salvation.

You judge me when I need compassion and understanding. When I need help. Not theology.

You judge me...

When all of our hope has slipped through our fingers, when we have nothing else to hold on to, all we want is to be free. Because the end of hope really is where hell begins. And none of us want to live a life in hell. We need you to accept that life is not black and white. That there are no simple answers. That we can't pray this away. We need you to understand that until you walk a mile in our shoes, you really have no idea what you are talking about.

We need you to walk alongside us, to love us without judgment. To walk with us for help. We need to know that we are not alone...

"I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone, it's not.
The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone."
Robin Williams

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

You Are Not Alone

I sit here at midnight contemplating where I've come from in the past year and how I have arrived at this point tonight. Rewriting a post from last December. Because someone needs to know they are not alone. That someone else understands where they are and what they are feeling.

Maybe that person is you...

There have been moments filled not with joy and hope, but with hurt and despair. Those not filled with peace and love, but with bitterness and loneliness. I know for some of you, that's where you find yourselves as you read this. You are simply going through the motions because that's what friends and family expect. You don't want, nor do you have the energy to let anyone know just how empty you feel. And that's okay. It's okay to feel all the things. It's okay to simply lean into the moment.

I want to let you in on a little secret. The pressure is off. I know exactly how you feel...

I know what it's like to be mistreated by the church. Stripped of a position simply for being a woman. To be lied to by the very ministers you worked so closely with and who you trusted.

I know the heartbreak of never seeing the faces of children that were long waited for. Never counting tiny fingers and toes. Never taking in the scent of my newborn's breath on my cheek.

I know what it's like to be made to feel less than because I've had to rely on government assistance in order to put food on our table.

I know what it's like to get an early morning phone call from a hospital chaplain, "your son is here, he's been in an accident." And then to spend the rest of the day with emergency room physicians as they talk about chest tubes and open heart surgery.

I know what it's like to be paralyzed by fear awaiting MRI results and subsequently, pathology reports for my daughter.

I know what it's like to be afraid and confused because I've screwed up and hurt people I've cared about. Left standing alone and hopeless in the shattered pieces of what God intended.

I know what it's like to live with fractured relationships. Knowing that distance is the best option but longing for restoration.

I know the devastation of betrayal. When the person you trusted with your heart, the one you vowed to love before God, has chosen someone else. When the feel of someone else's skin under their fingertips is what they long for.

I also know that there is always hope...

When we feel abandoned and forsaken. Hopeless and alone. When we are drowning in the ocean of tears we have cried and the hurt threatens to swallow us up. When we feel like we just can't take another breath...God with us.

And that hope came in our weakness to experience everything as we would. To know what it's like to be cold and hungry. To be hurt and disappointed. To be lonely. To weep over loss. To ultimately be betrayed.

Hope came. Immanuel, God with us. God with you. Sitting with you in the middle of whatever mess you find yourself in. He knows. He's there to wrap you in arms that are bigger than everything else happening at this particular place and time in your life.

You are not alone. 

He is Grace for every moment. 

I am with you always...
Matthew 28:20

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

We all know the story that goes with that phrase. We know about the evil queen and the mirror. Her obsession with it. Her compulsion to be the fairest of them all. Until one day, it wasn't true any longer. Someone younger and fairer had come along.

Don't we all have one of those mirrors? The one that we go to for affirmation. For confirmation that we do indeed still have it all. Until one day, we don't any more.

And don't we all have that inner evil bitch queen? The one that tells us our looks and the things seen on the surface are where our worth lies. The one we believe over and over again, especially the older we become.

When I look in that mirror these are the things I typically see...

...old hair (as one sweet 5 yr. old once said). Hair that some days I wish I could afford to color and keep colored. Because I'm tired of being mistaken for my daughter's grandmother.

...eyes that are surrounded by wrinkles. A face lined where it shouldn't be and I wonder, when did all this happen?

...those extra few pounds that are determined to stick with me because I love chips and queso. And pasta. And bread. And exercise? Not so much!

...a body that frankly has seen better days. Gravity, while it keeps me tethered to this earth, is not my friend. Not now! Not ever!

I see someone who is 52 years old. Someone who doesn't seem to have a place, or a voice, in this blogging world. A world dominated by those who are younger. And smarter. And more clever. And more talented. Those who always have something relevant to say and the ability to say it so well. I see unfulfilled dreams. I see failure. I see regret.

I see my time quickly running out...

So some days I think, why bother?

As soon as I finished that last sentence, I of course checked twitter. You know, because I am writing! And one of the first things I see is an answer to the very question I just asked. Because God is sneaky like that.

"You are not a mistake. You are never too old. And it's never too late." POTSC

But how in the world do you embrace that? Believe that? Live in that moment every day? It's difficult for me. I'm sure it is for most of us. We have this inner voice, our inner bitch queen, that continually tells us what we see in the mirror is all there is. All that's important.

This has been my struggle with my OneWord for this year. Believing and accepting the fact that I am Beloved. I'm learning that I can't find it in people. We are fickle that way aren't we? I certainly can't find it in that damned mirror. You just can't get a complete picture with it. We are more than the sum of our surface. And that bitch queen? She lies. All. The. Time.

I'm finding that I have to make a choice every day not to give in to those lies. To make a conscious effort to say to myself that I am beloved. In order to silence my inner critic I need to change my inner dialogue. I need to see that reflection through the eyes of the One who says I am beloved. I need to also look past that reflection to see that I am more than what is on the surface.

When I look in that mirror these are the things I will see...

...silver hair. Hair that people tell me all the time they wish they had. Because it's beautiful. And I know that when I finally do become a grandmother, I will be a damn good one. Not simply because the color of my hair says I'm one.

...brown eyes flecked with gold. Eyes that have seen a lifetime of sorrow and happiness. Eyes that are looking forward to what's ahead. And those lines? They are the map to that life. Showing that I have lived well and laughed much.

...those extra pounds and not let them bother me quite so much. I'm going to start walking again. I'm going to enjoy spending time with family and friends over good food. Because there's love and laughter at the table. Communion at the table.

...the body that gravity has a fierce hold on and embrace it. Because I still have curves that I will celebrate. Because it's still beautiful and desirable to my husband. Because I'm not ashamed of it any longer.

I see someone who is 52 years old. Someone who has a place, however small it may be. Someone who does indeed have a voice because my story is uniquely mine to tell. And I know it is relatable. Someone who is wise. Because some things you have to live to understand. I see dreams waiting to be fulfilled. Failure that I can learn from. Regret that spurs me to make different and better choices.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall who's the fairest of them all?

You are, my beloved, you are.

Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him,
for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves
rests between his shoulders.
Deuteronomy 33:12

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hope - An Advent Repost

Because sometimes we need a reminder that there is Hope. A reminder of where our Hope lies. A reminder that even though things are difficult there is still Hope. A reminder that especially when we feel hopeless, Hope is there for us.

He came as the least of these to give us hope that the Father can indeed use the least of us. No matter where or what we come from. No matter how small our beginnings. We can be assured he will fulfill is purposes in us in spite of, and often, because of, our imperfections.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Your Grace Finds Me

Wandering in the wilderness can be lonely at times. The wilderness can be dark and terrifying and at other times it is eerily quiet. Even the melody of your soul seems non-existent. You know it's there but you just can't quite find the right notes. You begin to sing and somehow you're singing in a different key. The wrong key.

You wonder why it seems like everything is falling apart when you've been searching for the right thing. You wonder where God is when He's the one you've been searching for. You wonder why it feels like you've been left on your own. Left with no answers. Left with no direction. Left with no connection of any kind.

All you have is the cup of regret that no one wants to share with you. A cup filled with bitter tears.

Trying to navigate my way through the wilderness with regret and bitterness as my companions has proven to be difficult. When I feel like I get some kind of handle on Grace, some glimpse of Hope, bitterness rears it's ugly head. Reminding me of the ways I've been wronged and how I'm entitled to be vindicated.

And I have believed those lies.

Those lies that come from the deepest places of hurt. Those deep, dark places that I haven't let anyone see. No one, especially not God. Those places that I haven't wanted to even admit exist. Because how can anyone still love me if I let them see the parts of me that I won't acknowledge?

And that's the lie that has kept me in this darkness. Broken and bleeding. The broken pieces of me like glass embedded at the top of the wall around my heart. Sure that they will keep me safe. Keep me from being hurt. But those shards have cut those who are closest to me the most. Fear and pride keeping me from seeing the affect I was having on those around me.

The enemy whispering all the while that I was entitled. Entitled to hold on to those hurts. Entitled to my bitterness. Entitled to my darkness. Entitled to wear my brokenness like a badge of honor.

And there in the darkest night of the soul...His grace found me.

And it wasn't at all where you would think it would be. It wasn't in church. It wasn't during prayer or quiet time. It wasn't in a bible study or small group meeting. It happened on a Sunday afternoon at Olive Garden. There were three of us. My oldest and dearest friend from high school and a new friend I had only met the previous Friday. It was there at a table covered in dirty dishes that Grace found me. As I sat with tears streaming down my face, these friends spoke truth into my life. Not the easy, yes you were right it's everyone else's fault, kind of truth. It was the hard truth. The truth we so often run from because that kind of truth shows us things about ourselves we don't want to see. The kind of truth that reaches the deepest, darkest places. The kind of truth that exposes the hidden things we haven't been willing or able to let go of.

In the days since, many tears have been shed. Tears for my hurts. Tears for the hurts I have caused. Tears for things that should have been. And tears for things that might not ever be. Tears that filled those deep, dark places. Tears that have softened the hard edges of hurt and regret.

That's the beauty of Grace. Grace manages to find us in the most unexpected places. Grace always meets us exactly where we need it the most. And even when we have to face the hard things, Grace is always gentle. Grace is always about love. Grace is always about change. It's Grace that makes our brokenness beautiful. It's Grace that puts us back together slowly, carefully, piece by small piece. Thankfully, Grace never leaves us as it finds us.

"I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things.
Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace's arrival. 
But no, it's clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark."

Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith
Anne Lamott

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Losing My Religion

If you are familiar at all with Twitter, you know they have a space for a bio on your home screen. In a 140 characters or less, you are supposed to write something compelling about who you are and/or what you stand for. Make yourself interesting to potential followers. Until recently, mine read as follows:

Stone thrower. Undeservedly standing in the grace of the one who is Grace, 
as He sings love songs over me.

In the last few months, I have felt that sentiment radically shifting. Oh, I'm still a stone thrower. I'm not sure that will ever change! And yes, I am definitely still undeserving. I am still standing in grace; for no other reason than it is a gift freely given to me. It's the love songs I feel are missing. Well, missing may not really be accurate. It's more like I just don't hear them anymore. They've become lost in the noise of this world...

Lost in the noise of religion.

In my last post, Longing for Grace, I wrote about not being in church on Easter Sunday. About some of the things I had experienced in church and at the hands of church leadership that brought me to that place. Where God was painted as harsh and judgmental. My salvation was based on the things I did or didn't do. I had to behave a certain way, say the right things. I couldn't let my behavior reflect badly on the church. I had to be for the church and everything they stood for. I was being molded by legalism to fit into a neat little gospel box of conformity. I either had to live by the law or die by it. I was slowly dying and becoming more lost by the moment...

Lost in the noise of religion.

At any given time these days, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are a hotbed of negativity. I encounter it on a daily basis. Christians posting on social media, espousing all the things that they are against. That we as Christians are required to take a stand against. All the things that don't fit into our neat little gospel box of conformity. And when we don't agree we are judged as having compromised the gospel of Christ. So those of us who won't take a stand on the side of the law are found wanting and hang in the balance between heaven and hell. Whatever thread we are holding onto ready to snap; sending us plummeting into the depths. Quite obviously having lost our way...

Lost in the noise of religion.

And I'm weary. Weary of the infighting. Weary of reducing people to labels because we don't agree with their choices. Weary of seeing those same people hurt because they don't fit our idea of Christianity. Weary that we make anyone who doesn't fit into our boxes less than. Less than worthy of the love and grace that we so readily say we stand behind. Weary of being told I need to put aside my hurts; die to my pain and suffering in order for God to use me to reach the unchurched.

Frankly, this is not the church I want to share with anyone. If I didn't already have a relationship with Christ, however fragile I feel it is at this moment, I would run screaming from this church. This church of rules and regulations. This church that is strangling the very life out of me. This church that is losing me and many others every day. This church that is lost...

Lost in the noise of religion.

So, I am finding freedom in the wilderness. Freedom in wandering. Freedom in asking questions. Freedom in doubting. Freedom in the Jesus that wrote in the sand for the woman accused. Because I have been that woman. Facing those with the stones in their hands. Facing their judgment. Facing their contempt. Freedom in the Jesus that met the woman at the well. Because I have been the woman outcast. Shunned and rejected by others in the church. Dismissed as a lost cause. Valueless. Unworthy.

I'm finding freedom because the Jesus of the wilderness is finding me. Actively seeking for me. Accepting me regardless of the things I've done. Seeing my worth. Wanting to know me intimately, caring for me, even when I can't see any value in myself. Extending Grace so radical as to be considered scandalous. Even as I walk away from religion, this Grace stops me and wraps me in unfathomable Love. I'm learning that even though I wander, I am not lost.

My twitter bio now reads as follows...

Stone thrower. Wilderness dweller. Wanderer in search of Grace.

For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me.
So I died to the law--I stopped trying to meet all its requirements--
so that I might live for God.
Galatians 2:9 NLT

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Longing for Grace

It's early Easter morning. I won't be spending this Easter morning at church. Like many of you, I'll be spending this Easter at home. I just can't bring myself to face the demons that have caused me to leave...

I was saved one summer night, the year I turned 15. I attended a youth emphasis night featuring a concert with George King and the Fellowship. The only thing I really remember about that night is that they did "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas. Something about that song in that particular setting spoke to me. It was the first time since going to church that I was told that the Father loves me. It didn't matter that I had squandered all He had given me. He was waiting with open arms. Waiting to welcome me home.

After that night my eyes were opened. The God I met on Sunday mornings was not the same God I met that night. Sunday morning God was harsh and judgmental. Ready at a moments notice to punish me for my sin. I literally had the hell scared out of me every time the doors were opened. I found myself crying at the altar, begging forgiveness for all of the things I was doing wrong. I was going to hell. A hell full of fire and brimstone where I was destined to spend eternity.

Through the years I saw hurting people cast aside because they would tarnish the reputation of the church while other things were hushed up and covered up to protect family. The prodigal's Father was only a distant memory. I wasn't even sure He really existed.  

Fast forward 10 years. I'm a young mother with a 3 year old and a newborn. My life was crashing and burning all around me. Apparently, all those good things were not enough - were never enough. I had already walked away from church because I was weary of doing. I was told that this was the reason my life was falling apart. I was tired of the demands and tired of the works that were never enough anyway. I guess all those years I was told I was going to hell it was true, I just didn't realize it would be hell on earth. And I didn't give a damn any longer...

There have been many more things over the years that have contributed to the reasons I'm not in church this morning. The above was only the beginning. Where judgment and legalism took root in my soul and haunt me to this very day. The place where the trappings of religion wrapped themselves around my heart and have slowly been strangling the life right out of me.

And I know I'm not the only one. I see stories every day of those who have suffered abuse at the hands of the church. In the name of a denomination. In the name of reputation. In the name of legalism. In the name of judgment. In the name of religion. All under the guise of being in the name of Christ.

We are victims of the church. Victims who have fallen prey to the emptiness of religion. And sadly, there are too many of us to count.

And on this morning, more than any other, we find ourselves longing.

Longing for open arms. Longing for a safe place. Longing for community. Longing for peace. Longing for Love. Longing for Grace.

And Grace is waiting for us.

Grace that understands every fear and every anxiety. Grace that understands every hurt and every betrayal. Grace that sits with us exactly where we are. In the messy and the broken. Grace that waits with open arms and a love that's beyond anything we could comprehend.

The Lord's unfailing love and mercy still continue,
fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.
Lamentations 3:22-23