Category: writing

double-edged

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photo by Jennifer Upton

Yesterday.

I have no words for the hole I got sucked into. There were some hard truths I needed to face with my therapist. Things that had been warping my view of the world. And as I began to verbalize them, I felt a release. I tipped my hat, acknowledging them for the lies they were. And as we wrapped up my counselor looked at me and asked how do you feel? Are you OK leaving that here?

Yeah, it’s great. I mean, I know they’re lies so it’s fine.

But later in the day I pulled out my kindle and read. Voraciously. I paused to play Harry Potter with Matthew when he asked me too. He and I have bonded over this video game and while I hated to poke my head out from the hole I also didn’t want to disappoint him. And video games can be just as mind-numbing as books, turns out. And after that I ran to my room as fast as I could to hide under the metaphorical blankets and continued to read. I read all night, long after Doug orchestrated supper and put the kids to bed. Then he came to bed and I said I would be right there…and at 3am I finished the book and knew I needed to stop. I tossed and turned, characters running through my head…and Doug’s words from earlier that night.

I’m sorry I accused you of not doing anything today. For all I know counseling was really hard and you just couldn’t do anything after that.

And then it clicked. He saw me even when I couldn’t see myself. Because my love for books is a two-edged sword. It brings me life and I enjoy it. But it also becomes a coping mechanism, a way to escape from the real world around me when I don’t like what I see in the mirror. I read without regard to time or priorities, lost in fantasy where there are easy conclusions (sometimes) and where I can feel things that aren’t real. Where I get swept away in a torrent but am safe, enshrouded in blankets. And it’s a wrestling of sorts. Because reading is restful and restorative. But it can also numb me out to the world around me–to my family, my kids, and my friends.

I hate that most of the things I love need to be practiced with balance and moderation. If it’s good, why can’t it just be all good? Why do I take the good and suck the marrow out of it until it becomes an obsession, a habit…abuse? So many good things and I’m not to be trusted with them.

Shame crawls along my skin threatening to sink me, for caving once again to the desires of my flesh. And again I face the temptation to check out. To just let go and float under in the void. Why does shame taunt me so restlessly? Why can’t I escape? Why can’t I grow wings and experience freedom? Today I feel weighted down and abandoned to the system. Today, the shackles have won.

Or have they? Because I’m writing these words. The hard ones. Facing the truth head on. Yes, yesterday I succumbed to darkness. But today, through gentle words from friends, I am seeing echelons of truth across the canvas–pushing through the gray muddle. And in a vulnerable, humble place, I wait. Taking one breath one step to claim the freedom. Still feeling the stings of wrists and ankles rubbed raw from binding chains, but I know they yield to the light. So I reach for and grasp it, clinging to the bit of truth that I know–I am loved and beloved.

(re)learning: love

photo by Jennifer Upton
photo by Jennifer Upton

I think I love Jesus more than the Christians do. I let her words wash over me, listening as she shares her story. I mean, they’re awful. And she tells me about her sister–a Christian–who said hateful, horrible things to her daughter about her recent weight gain. She told me her sister judges and condemns those not like her. These are the kinds of stories over the last few years that have made me hesitant to claim the name Christian. I am one. But I feel more comfortable traveling in the darkness–not making waves. I might say I am a follower of Christ. But usually I just avoid any reference to my faith.

Because I understand her. I understand her disdain and her upset-ness with this sect that isolates and judges. Because I am upset with us too.

But it was not meant to be this way. When we were first given the name Christians, we were known for how we loved the fringes. We took in the ones rejected by society. We were known for our inclusivity. For caring for those who were not ours. Those who were orphaned, widowed, abandoned, abused, and called names. We loved the unlovely because we knew we were unlovely, too. How far we have fallen from our inheritance.

I read this in The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton yesterday, “I’m a good Christian woman, Reverend, I’m in church every Sunday, I do my bit for the fete and the Easter fund-rasier, but I just can’t [adopt my orphaned niece].” It’s a fictional story–but I winced as I read these words because I think this an accurate portrayal of what “Christian” means to many people today. We pay our dues, distance ourselves from the big bad sins (which we define) and then sit in our “holier than thou” seats and condemn this complex, beautiful/ugly world. But there’s so much more than that.

And I am so thankful for the many who are portraying such a different view of Christians. I am slowly becoming braver about identifying with them. The few are making me proud and standing in contrast to the many. There is hope and light.

So I want to share with you the Jesus I know.

The Jesus I know loved first. After God created the world and all it contains, he made man in his image. He wanted us. But in our creature-ness we thought we knew better than the Creator–we refused him. Like a child running through a busy intersection without a care in the world, God watched us fulfill our own destruction. He wept over it. He knew we desired to know first so he let us reach for and grasp that knowledge. BUT because he loves us, he intervened across time and space. First, he showed us how much we needed him. In the Old Testament he walks us through how clean, holy and pure he is. How separate and entirely other he is from us. He shows us our complete lack of making ourselves, now stained, clean again. Our human-ness separates us from him and we can’t overcome that.

And because he loves us, he doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t just teach us about our condition–he acts to change it. To change us into something other. One of my favorite verses in Scripture is when Paul teaches about how God did not expect us to grasp him so he came to us in our form. He wrapped himself in flesh, he touched us with his hands. He spoke, taught, ate, drank and loved us in very tangible ways. He broke bread with us in our fallen state and called us lovely. And then he made us lovely. He took upon himself our uncleanness, our human-ness, our sin. And he did what we couldn’t–he died without blemish but carried the full wrath of God so that we could be set free from our bodies of sin and death.

And then he left the grave, unlocking death so that it lost its power over us. He gave us the promise that if we cling to him, if we call on his name, then we, too, will live with him. He will abide in us and we will abide in him. He will be our comforter, counselor and friend. He will make the old things new. The wrong things right. Starting now.

I don’t believe people go to hell because of their sexual orientation (or whatever the hot topic sin issue of the day is) because all over Scripture there are a million things that Paul, the Old Testament prophets, James, and Peter all say separate us from God–insurmountable obstacles. And the only one who can change us from flesh and blood creatures is the Creator and Savior of the world when he gives us new hearts, when we believe that he can and will do that.

We stand on a precipice. We get to make a choice. And that choice affects our lives as we walk from here to eternity. We can choose to respond to unfamiliarity and the unknown with love. Or we can respond with hate.

This is what I believe. I believe that I struggle with drunkenness. I really like drinking alcohol. Especially in social settings. I get really stressed when I’m around a lot of people. I over think and over analyze and get really nervous. I don’t know how to just be me. So I like drinking a little too much, getting a good buzz going, so that my inhibitions are lowered. It’s easy not to conform when you have “liquid courage” (such an accurate description). But Scripture speaks against drunkenness of any kind. It’s usually listed alongside sexual promiscuity and other things NOT to do, under any circumstances.

So there’s conviction here–not to lose self-control.  I believe Jesus is teaching me in these moments to be brave without aid. To work through my insecurities instead of just bypassing them. So there’s repentance and a (re)learning how to be me. But I don’t think or believe that my drunkenness means that I am kicked out of the kingdom of God. He is so good and kind that as we walk this journey together he is teaching me to find comfort in him, to find strength in him, and how to live outside of the cage that I have spent years hiding in. He is gently growing me up into the new identity he claimed for me. He is making me new. And I believe this process is true for anyone who loves God and is seeking him. Jesus says that all who seek him will find him. And I believe he picks each one of us up where we’re at and moves us gently closer and closer to himself–until we become a unique image-bearer of his love. This, friends, is a life-long process and looks different for each of us.

I think when we’re open to questions and willing to ponder and wrestle through the “what ifs” with others, amazing things can happen. I think we start to see a really diverse kingdom–a table set like the one where Jesus sat when he walked the earth. And the awesome thing? Because he’s living in us, he’s kind of still here, walking the earth. He’s breaking bread with people through us. He’s touching people through us–we get to declare the unlovely things lovely because he does.

Yes, we were called to “make disciples” but we were taught to do it by invitation and love, with compassion and empathy, with hearts and hands that go to the dark scary places and are willing to walk the path others have walked, meeting them where they are right now. Because that is what Jesus did for us. And I’m so sorry some of the people I associate with have done such a pathetic job of showing this world first and foremost how people–you–were created FOR loving.

For Lent I felt an invitation. An invitation to set aside alcohol for a season to press into Jesus a little deeper. To ask questions about my relationship with alcohol. Not to turn from one pendulum swing to the other, but to explore a little deeper Jesus’s heart for me. Because he’s already unlocked the door–I have been set free. I can press into him for that release and courage. And I want to step towards him. I can respond to this invitation to walk out of the cage–because of his great love for me. And I can be brave because of who he is and what he already did.

in which I consider…

photo from http://postgradproblems.com/27-things-that-will-happen-when-you-move-to-austin/
photo from http://postgradproblems.com/27-things-that-will-happen-when-you-move-to-austin/

Last week my friend shared this article on Facebook. Something in it resonated with her because this is an area where she and her husband have struggled to believe in their God-given freedom. It blew up on her feed. Some were horrified that Beyonce and Jay Z could even brush elbows with Scripture and shamed the rest of us into silence. They refused to even consider the argument.

I know people who love Jesus. And they love Beyonce. People confined them to boxes their whole lives, shamed them for their bodies and told them they were evil because they were born with a vagina. I have one friend in particular who is on the Beyonce train. Through her she is getting in touch with her femininity, her power and her voice. I’m not on the Beyonce train. But I am on the platform because I see the freedom in my friend’s eyes and I love that she is becoming reacquainted with the woman in all her authority, that God created her to be.

Mother Teresa accepted money from drug lords to feed the hungry–figuring God could sort out the details. And I think that within this context, we can see gospel truth in pretty much anything. I believe that God created the heavens and earth and all it contains. And he created man in his image. That means that other people are walking around, carrying aspects of his character. Yes, the fall happened and we are broken and hurting and hurtful. But if we look closely and carefully, we see each individual carries some characteristic of God.

I think that what Beyonce and Jay Z can remind us is that we are allowed, especially within the context of our marriages, to experience passion with our spouse. It can look a lot of different ways, but I think this is an area that God allows us to fully engage and experience this kind of intimacy. In the evangelical culture I grew up in, sex was openly discussed when it was about pre-marital sex: STIs in all their glory, teen pregnancies, ineffective condoms and how abstinence is the only option if you love Jesus…Sex in marriage was alluded to as being holy and good and the way God chose. But it was never erotic, flirtatious, or passionate.

And so when I had sex before marriage (with my soon to be spouse) I carried this deep and heavy shame around with me for a long time. It cut into my marriage. And because of my incomplete education on what God says about sex, I felt the things I enjoyed and how my body responded were evil and dirty. And so sex became this very boring obligation. I didn’t experience orgasms very often, and when I did I was always confused and felt like I had done something dirty–and this is within marriage. Sexuality is confusing.

So in light of all this, I think what I want to communicate is that God uses fallen broken people to communicate his truths daily–hello? Have you met me? And we’re allowed to be both disturbed by Beyonce/Jay Z’s blatant performance and a little jealous and intrigued. I want my husband to look at me like that. I want to dance for him like that–granted within the context of our four walls with the door closed, locked and dead-bolted (four little people currently living under our roof). And Beyonce and Jay Z are just dancing how they want, wearing what they want because their standards are very different from “Christians.” You can choose not to watch them. But they don’t claim the same God that some of us do so we can’t expect them to act like we do–that’s behavior modification, not a real heart change based on an internal working of the gospel. But I think  we can allow ourselves to see some gospel truth here without the world imploding.

As believers, we need to change the way we talk about sex. Children are exposed to more than we ever were so we can’t be afraid to say the scary words, to tackle this world head on. We can’t put our hands over our ears and say, “la la la la la la la.” Knowledge is power and when we are better equipped we can much more wisely help our children overcome the obstacles they will face.

And we also need to have so much grace for those who struggle. Because I did. And I hid from it for so long and in some ways the “true love waits” program actually hindered me from finding God. I believed he only could and would ever see me as dirty and a disappointment. But the Jesus I know calls me so much more. And while I plan to teach my children about how I think God intends marriage and sex to be lived out, I also plan to be honest about my past. And I’m willing to buy them condemns because while their young minds are catching up to hormonal bodies I want to protect them. I know this will be shocking and offensive to some, but I don’t see it as giving them permission. I see it as trying to keep them as safe as I possibly can while they work out their own faith with fear and trembling. And some days they’ll rock it out. Other days, they may struggle with the flesh and lose. But I know my heart toward them won’t change and I know God’s heart for them won’t change.

 *I am not condoning the domestic violence in the lyrics, or the fact that Beyonce sang them with Jay Z. I don’t listen to Beyonce and if this is true, I am in no way impressed with this decision. That is not what this post is defending or addressing.

(un)caged

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Image courtesy of http://thegraphicsfairy.com/vintage-clip-art-victorian-bird-cage/

She’s fighting me,

bringing out her claws.

She doesn’t want to let go.

It’s been safe this way.

She’s survived for so long–relatively safe

hiding behind false humility and changeability.

Wearing stolen clothes,

playing the game,

staying masked.

Keeping everyone out

polite enough,

friendly enough,

nice enough–

so they don’t look too close.

Because all this is known, familiar, safe.

It’s not living.

But it’s enough–not too scary.

She doesn’t understand why I’m tearing down walls.

Why I am stealing and ripping and gnashing.

Why I am rebelling against the cage she locked me in.

She tries to placate me with platitudes we learned.

She tries making peace,

keeping everyone happy,

tries to overpower me.

But I am bigger now,

stronger,

braver.

She twists the key, nervously in her hands.

She led me here so long ago and I let her lock me up.

What changed?

Why do the bars feel so small now?

You are safe, protected.

No one can hurt you here.

You are hidden.

But it’s a lie.

The cuts and bruises still get through the bars.

I bleed alone.

No one sees

everyone is locked out.

But she can’t keep me here.

I stare at the gilded cage

afraid to stay inside

afraid to step out.

I hesitate on the threshold.

I pause for breath.

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