4.27.2017

A Permission Slip to Deconstruct

Truth ought to come with this disclaimer:

"This will not fit right at first. You may find your reality shifting, and all you trusted slipping through your fingers. That is okay. Just press onward and rest in the uncertainty."

I'm writing this because no one gave me that disclaimer. I'm writing this for the people who have started asking big questions or who are seeing things they didn't used to, who are finding they aren't who they used to be and think they might just be going crazy.

You are on the right path.

It takes courage to explore beyond what you have always known, and becoming aware of how immense suffering is, how blind we are, how ineffable God is - it can all be overwhelming.

Disorienting.

You may feel like you've come untethered, and that those you used to feel close to are unable to relate with you now.

This is not the end, my friend.

And that may sound like a warning, but it is truly meant as a comfort. This is how and where it all starts. But it means letting go of attachments that you once held dear. It means holding your hands open so that the Spirit can fill them with new treasure. It means taking new shape so you can venture where you never could have gone before.

One of the greatest disservices my Christian upbringing did for me was to tell me that my spiritual development was linear and could be categorized, quantified, with a finite goal that could be summed up as "Going to church, reading the Bible, and sharing my faith."

But I've discovered that is not the case. These are only parts of the journey, not the destination. The destination is the arms of my Savior in a dance of sweet surrender and intimacy, and there is great mystery in the whole process that can't be measured. When I stopped having words in my prayers and started having heart conversations that transcended sentences, it was frightening because it hadn't been explained to me as part of the relationship.

But it is.

It goes beyond the structure and out into the mystical. That area is indescribable and confusing, so it often gets skipped over.

To many thirsty souls' detriment.

If you're finding yourself adrift in a space of deconstruction, know that God is in that. It is written into your adventure; it's not separate from it. This is a place where you wait and receive, where you let your soul sigh or sing, putting pause to all striving. Just rest in it, and find safe people who will listen with you and not judge you in your development.

I've spoken of the science behind a butterfly's metamorphosis before, but I need to share it again in this context.

The caterpillar doesn't go into the chrysalis to get wings taped on. It becomes goo, completely dismantled and melted so that it is unrecognizable. But only then can it become a new creature with new abilities and a new destination. It has no desire for caterpillar things, and it cannot return to them anyway. That may be a scary thought, but the goo time is a great place to let go of comfort zones. The butterfly has other responsibilities it must attend to - that it wants to attend to.

My gooey friends and butterflies in process, you are on your way. It doesn't look like it, but change is occurring. And when you arrive in truth, you will likely find that the old life no longer fits. But you'll be more you than ever before, the you that you were created to be.

Maybe I should add that to the disclaimer.

4.19.2017

The In-Between

We are currently church orphans. I guess that term is preferable to church shoppers, and it feels more emotionally appropriate because we left our church after discovering it was moving in a different direction from us. To be blunt, it felt like it had already left us, and we had just received the news.

This post isn't about our former church. We love our family there and the work they are doing in the name of our Savior in the city and world.

We just feel saddened.

Correction: Bob feels frustrated. I feel saddened. Deeply so. So I guess my deep sadness averaged with his frustration equals general sadness. Or irritability. I don't know. We're just grieving, okay?

When people ask if our choice to leave was a private matter, the honest answer is that it was not so much personal as it was based on personal convictions. And we recognize not everyone shares these personal convictions.

It's never easy to leave a church, and it's especially hard when there isn't a plan b. We weren't like those serial daters who identify their next prospect before they write the Dear John letter. So it would have been much easier to stay and see if things changed, making it clear we did not agree and giving disclaimers when we invited friends to church. After all, that was how we had been doing it before we learned the info that caused us to reconsider our attendance. However, our loving Daddy has our family in a path and community where that wasn't an option, given what we had learned. We knew that we were called to leave and trust that the next home would be waiting for us.

While I contemplated our current circumstance of living in-between, I began to see how our family may no longer fit in to many churches we once did. In the past, speaking from the pulpit about issues like LGBTQ rights, racism, and gender equality were a nice-to-have, but did not define where we would be planting our tushes each Sunday morning. Now, though, we are hungry for spaces that are intentional in diversity, that practice radical grace and inclusion and provide opportunities for all people.

A friend who had gone through a similar maturation in his faith once shared a faith development model with me. He pointed out that, as a person grows beyond conventional faith constructs, it can look to others like "backsliding" because it goes outside of established structures. He himself had been rebuked for his spiritual development, and he ended up leaving his faith community to find one that allowed him to keep growing.

I have been working on a project for the past year, interviewing people who have left their faith communities and listening to their stories. My friend is not alone in saying he feels closer to God than ever before but distant from the concept of church. This is where I feel like our human attempts can get in the way of divine relationship. We create rules and standards and practices to maintain order, but they can start to cloud out the Reason for gathering in the first place.

And so we have an endless flow of congregants moving from one church to the next in search of authentic community and potential for healing and/or growth.
And so we have house churches that defy the format which many are no longer responding to, welcoming the spiritually hungry with the hospitality of the home.
And so we have church orphans who are wondering if they even fit in anywhere.

As for my family, we have peace in the mourning. We have turned this into an adventure for the kiddos and are praying that we can create safe spaces for others who feel abandoned by human structures. Our prayer is that they - like we - never feel abandoned by the One who designed the Church, regardless of its flaws from mortals' interpretations.

I spent some time yesterday in nature feeling all the feels and being honest about where I am. I wrote about how I'm used to going through phases of doubt and trial, but then I know the reward that awaits me.  This one, though, is particularly puzzling. Part of that is because I recently came out of a year-long Dark Night of the Soul, which I am still piecing together...or deconstructing...or whatever it is you do with such a mind- and heart-altering season. The point is that I don't know what is waiting for me. I feel like I'm in a free-fall, and I know God is going to catch me - that isn't a question - but I have no idea where or how. Will it be underwater? Will it be on a spaceship? Seriously, that is how disoriented I am by all this.

Driving home from my respite, I tried to use voice command on my iPhone to pull up an encouraging song I'd recently heard. I tried multiple requests, but it kept pulling up some subpar instrumental rendition. I finally tried it one last time, using the name of the group. Instead of what I was requesting - "Through It All/It Is Well" - I heard the following song. I hope it will bless you, stun you, or reduce you to grateful tears as it did me.


3.05.2017

Thick Skin and the Girl Who Doesn't Have It



“I’m not political,” I said.
“Must be nice,” she replied.

Know what’s weird about this conversation? I don’t remember with whom I was speaking. It has transcended an actual setting and characters. All I recall is that I was in a majority class - white, Christian, straight, able-bodied, whatever - and my friend was not.

This simple dialogue has taken place in various ways on more than one occasion, boring itself deeper and deeper into my psyche, each time convicting me that I enjoy privilege I have not earned.

These conversation partners would prefer to have the luxury to say, “Need I speak up on this issue? Nah, I’m good.” They do not eagerly await the opportunity to be the person who has to take a stand, to advocate on their and/or their loved ones’ behalf on controversial issues. But they do it because that is how they have earned rights - or reclaimed them, in some cases. That is how they bring attention to their plight, because a lot of the rest of us don’t get it.

I haven’t gotten it in the past, and I’d bet a fair amount of these friends would say I still don’t. But I’m learning that I don’t get it, which I’d like to think would evoke a small nod from Socrates.

These friends have absurdly thick skins from having to be the designated killjoy, saying, “This isn’t okay,” when we in the majority assume it is. So when I started watching them experience fear from different actions taking place in our country, I knew it was a big deal. I felt sad because I loved them, and, I admit, I was anxious for them, too. I kept reminding myself about the guidance in Philippians 4:6 to “be anxious for nothing,” instead taking care of such predicaments with prayer and thanksgiving; nevertheless, the stress over their struggles was pervasive.

Then a weird thing happened to me: I went into a depression. As the news piled on, each item affecting a specific person for whom I cared deeply, the rending of my heart worsened. I assumed it was a grief reaction, which it was. But that wasn’t the whole story.

I was pouring out my sorrow to one of my marginalized friends named Shai, expecting empathy from her and a brainstorming session on how to Galatians 6:2 the current immeasurable burden I believed she was facing. Instead, she shrugged. “Yeah, it’s just Tuesday for us.”*

That said it all.

I was doubled-over from a teaspoon of the reality she drinks throughout every day. 

My pale skin was too thin to handle what hers had endured during our equal lengths of stay on this planet. We had similar backstories of a difficult home life and bad relationships, but she had experience from a societal component that I could not comprehend, which thus allowed her to walk through bizarre and intense situations without crumbling.

Yes, she felt fear, but it was no greater than that which she had learned to cope with at school, in the workplace, even riding public transportation.

This feelization that I was receiving a compressed file of some of those sensations - a kind of cultural sensitivity intensive training - helped me to sit with my depression instead of fight it. In that space, I had to confess with no small amount of shame that there had been many times I had practiced a compassion borne of intellect, not heart. 

Though both are forms of compassion and share a goal of honoring another’s suffering, intellectual compassion maintains a distance. It’s like the city-dweller who visits her uncle’s farm with genuine offers to help, as long as it doesn’t mean getting dirt under her fingernails. It isn’t that she’s trying to be condescending; she just doesn’t know what farming is all about.

I do a lot of apologizing these days. I’m okay with that. That’s where I’m trying to develop my thick skin: Recognizing and owning up to how many times I’ve gotten it wrong in the past. Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity to reflect on our mistakes, take responsibility for them, and promise we’ll make even more in the future. Or maybe it’s just an indication my friends should sign a disclaimer when they agree to join my life.

Either way, to my friends who are not of my demographic, I’m sorry for the times when you’ve needed heartfelt compassion and all I had to offer you was the intellectual kind. Please forgive me for thinking I could opt out on things that directly affected you. I’m trying to put my love into action so I can be the type of good neighbor Jesus talked about in the story He told in Luke 10:25-37 - you know, the one where the hero was from a different religion and culture than His own.

To that last point, my friend Sebastien, one of my favorite humanists, asked me recently if Christianity shaped my belief in social justice. I answered with honesty: Not entirely. Because Christianity, like any belief system, has human flaws and limitations. What has most shaped my belief in social justice is Jesus. When I spend time reading about His life - words, actions, attitudes, scripture He quoted, friends He chose - I can’t help but want to live mine in a way that brings out the best in others. (Then I pray He’ll fill in the gaps when I don’t.)

So, to all of you, thank you for loving me despite my biases and shortsightedness. If it means anything, I’m depressed because I care so freakin’ much about you. When I get a thicker skin to go with my tenderized heart, let's get down to business, okay?

Freely you have received; freely give.


Matthew 10:8 (NIV)





* - Shai asked me to clarify that she can't take credit for her pithy remark, but was actually quoting Samuel L. Jackson.

2.05.2017

Why my kids may have a lot of hospital visits OR The undervalued gift of doubt



I gripped her hand in mine, adrenaline surging, eyes unblinking, reluctant to look at the bloody mess that likely lay within.

“Never!” I exclaimed with more force than I expected. The fear was shoving words out. “Never grab at the food Mama is slicing!”

Yanking my hand open, my pupils fixated on her thumb. I scanned it for flaps of flesh. Nothing. Masking my relief, I looked up at her eyes that were as wide as mine.

“You could have gotten a big ouchie! We could be on the way to the hospital right now!”

At this point, my young daughter was shutting down - she had heard enough and was starting to deflect the attention. I wrapped her in my arms and told her that I loved her and was looking out for her safety. After we thanked God for protecting her, I sent her off to play so I could decompress.

“Be in the world, but not of the world.” The old churchianity phrase floated through my mind. An imperfect summary of Romans 12:2, it was supposed to be shorthand for living God’s way even as we’re immersed in humanity. Today, though, I saw it from the vantage point of a mom and it blew some doors off my mind barn. If that's a thing. Because I'm saying it is.

Okay, so we as parents are given the responsibility to raise kids into adults. This means teaching them decision-making, responsibility, love, manners, and other traits that will do them well in both relationships and society.

But how often have we lost track of this goal and instead tried to keep those in our care away from lessons? Instead of allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions, we prevent them from making the decisions in the first place. By doing so, we deprive them of a chance to mature in their problem-solving; we teach them to rely on us, to simply follow directives, so that their confidence in their internal compass diminishes or completely deteriorates.

Funny enough, this is all in the name of keeping them safe and happy, and we pat ourselves on the backs for being good parents. Granted, in some cases we should. Giving a child the opportunity to play in the street so he learns what it feels like to be hit by a truck is sheer idiocy.

But there are so many other developmentally appropriate ways they can experience consequences that shape their ability to choose for themselves, such as telling them they can't have the car because they didn't bring it home on time last night or letting them bonk themselves on the head with a TV remote when they reach up to a tabletop they can’t see. (Probably not in that order, because that would indicate a problematic developmental arc.)

As they begin to grasp and appreciate cause and effect, they can start to make better choices and maybe trust us when we tell them something isn’t good for them.

And that is what God did for us.

He didn’t keep us out of the world so that we could be protected from it, but rather put us in the world so we could have on-the-job training on how to make good decisions, as well as learn over time that He has our best in mind.

Here's where I'm about to get controversial: I want my kids to doubt. I want them to ask questions and explore outside their homegrown beliefs. I want them to compare and test and do all that stuff that helps them either see that it's for them or that they can't agree with it. Because if I'm going to believe in something and endorse it, I need to have faith that it can stand up to testing. Blocking those opportunities for challenge will only indicate that I don't think it can endure them.

I've known a lot of people whose parents kept them from firsthand learning experiences in the name of "protecting their family". For whatever reason - often out of good intentions or their own history of bad decisions - these parents did everything they could to curb the resources available, the friends their kids hung out with, the worldview to which they were exposed.

It may have seemed wise at the time, but, anecdotally, few of those offspring have gone on to truly own their faith. Most, it seems, rejected it outright, while others remained steadfast in those original convictions. Regarding the latter, they may adhere to their family traditions, the culture and flavor of the belief system, but they don't seem to dance with the abandon and sit in the mystery as do those who have taken time to investigate and question and know it intimately. Many bristle at confrontation and fear the prospect of doubt, which can, ironically, bring a new level of love when embraced.

Having recently watched the documentary series on A&E, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, I think all us viewers can agree on the damage that limited and slanted information can do to a religion's adherents. Plus, it almost guarantees some kind of unspooling when the protected person becomes aware that an entirely different world exists out there. If nothing else, that show made me think, "I want my kids to know why people agree and disagree with our faith."

Do not misunderstand me: Critical thinking is crucial. We must teach how to evaluate, not just how to confront. And we can't simply send our kids out tabula rasa, without any template from which to make their comparisons. The truth is, though, we literally cannot, because we have helped them form a template, consciously or not, and they're going to make the comparisons. What we need to do is help them understand how we were intentional in arriving at the decisions and values we claim, why we believe what we believe, the difference it makes in our lives and the world, and what the endgame is. And then we need to release them, always maintaining a loving and open relationship with them regardless of where they end up in their personal theology. Who knows? They may one day help to shape ours.

If you've read enough Bible or sat in a church pew for a while, you've probably stumbled upon a reliable parenting favorite, Proverbs 22:6 (NASB): Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. I used to question this verse, because I saw so few kids following it as it's laid out. But in the context of what I'm describing, it begins to make sense.
  • If you train a kid to obey blindly, they will do so, and it may not be you whom they're obeying.
     
  • If you train a kid to make careful and informed decisions, they will do so, and they may not be the conclusions you came to.
     
  • If you train a kid to love, to care for others and show respect to all people, they will listen and learn and be really terrific friends with whom you can converse, regardless of your differences.
When I began to dismantle my family culture's narrative, I saw that there were views that appeared incomplete. I needed to understand why certain topics were highlighted over others, why we listened to some people and not others, why some issues were omitted entirely. This led me to explore the Bible, the news, other religions, other viewpoints. This isn't watering down faith, my friends - it's taking responsibility for it.

For me, I went on my faith journey and came to a fuller love of Jesus. I didn't come back to faith; I came to a new one. Others departed entirely, some are in transit, and some never left the station. My goal is to launch my kids, as well as anyone I mentor, disciple, or lead in any way, so they can adventure with a solid mind and humble heart, and then dance with their answer, whatever it is. And I never want to fear that journey, so please hold me to this prayer when my babies hit their teens.

I’m not saying I should have let Moxie get her finger sliced; I’m saying I intend to continue letting her in the kitchen - with some extra monitoring, of course. It may be hard, but it’s a lot better option than tossing her into the world at age 18 only knowing how to meekly follow rules. I want her to have the experience of being in this world - the kitchen, the living room, the restroom with all its toothpaste-paint potential - and choosing for herself while I can still shape some of the consequences and outcomes, while answering her questions and helping her to learn how to ask them.

My loving Daddy does it for me, and I’ll do it for her.

11.11.2016

Church, Please!


Dear Bride of Christ,

I love you with a relentless passion that I can't abandon no matter how ugly or derisive you become. You are the creation and beloved of my Beloved, and so I am inseparably part of you. So, since I can't leave (which is what I'm best trained in doing), I need to have a literal "Come to Jesus" chat with you.

You - we - have forgotten our First Love. This week's fallout hasn't just been about the election and two incredibly flawed candidates and grotesquely mutated systems. Yes, that is what evoked the vitriol - one side crying out, "You don't care about the unborn!" and the other retaliating with, "You don't care about the marginalized!" - but the division and contempt has long been there.

Thankfully, we serve a God who doesn't accept Band-Aid and make-nice solutions; sadly, our simmering turned to boiling with these catalysts and led us to a civil war for all the world to see.

So we are sitting in the aftermath, our fractures exposed and on display. And we have a choice: Will we continue on gloating without taking the time to understand, and condemning without taking the time to weigh our words for the Spirit's grace-filled wisdom?

Because that hasn't worked thus far. And that isn't our Savior's agenda. Our Savior came to unify through His transformational love diverse and disparate groups so He  can use us all to restore His creation, not to come up with the best comment zinger on a blog we disagree with. In fact, He probably would not spend much time at all reading blogs (including this one).

I have had two trees in my yard die. They had dead branches for a while, and then the whole tree gave up the ghost. That is too vivid a truth for me to ignore. A little bit of disease or neglect must never be avoided or hidden.

Galatians 5:7-10 tells us what happens to those who get in the way of the Gospel message of freedom and love through Christ alone. If we're part of the division, we won't be spared the penalty. 

So let's take a radical step to save our tree with its dying branches. Instead of debating the theology of what I'm saying here or calling out other siblings by the Savior in an unloving, uncompassionate way that is not at all our Redeemer's style, let's all commit to pray for those with whom we disagree before we say anything. Then reach out to those we may not understand and ask gracious questions if we must converse. Nonetheless, let's always focus on God's love, with learning and unity as the outcome - and that doesn't mean making them learn our side and be united to it.

Bride, we have a black eye we gave ourselves. So let's put healing back as a priority so we can resume the work of the One who called us, who has been waiting for us to return to His open arms - together. He has a lot of other stuff for us to do, and I promise it involves very little blog commenting.

By His grace & in His time,
--j

P.S. Please listen to this song. We need to sing it together every day.




11.06.2016

Excavating Accidentally Buried Talents

"All meat, no parsley."
I've never been labeled a carnivore, but I love that phrase. It describes my thinking, and why I don't like reading most blogs - or writing them very often.

The metaphor was uttered at Prism :: Gifts, an event I attended yesterday for women wanting to discover their spiritual gifts and how to use them. It was glorious in the way spending a day with open-hearted sisters who want to be real and effective is glorious. There were tears and dancing and cake pops, and writing this now makes it sound like a bizarro lovefest adorned with pink flowers. But being in it - participating in the prayers that spoke life and redirected lives, listening to women share how having their voices silenced has caused them now to speak truth all the louder - was no ladies' tea party.

I have long been an advocate for knowing and applying one's gifts, and my dad taught courses in it when he was a pastor. The problem is that not everyone has caught the vision cast by God via Paul in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. A lot of churches I've been in seem to have viewed spiritual gifts as an afterthought, a luxury to dabble in once all the volunteer spots are filled with whomever is available regardless of their holy wiring.

And that is likely why I fell into doing all kinds of ministries for which I was not suited. I wanted to obey the instructions in the Bible to serve, so I volunteered wherever I was able. It was good to give, yes, but what I didn't realize is that I was called to serve using the gifts He had given me. Plus, I had gotten pretty good at thinking I could do anything if I needed to (we codependents are adorably delusional like that), so I wasn't even sure what my gifts were.

I often tell people, "Don't serve where you aren't gifted. You're taking up the space where the person who has that gift should be, and you'll burn yourself out." But what if you think you are in your gifting? What if you don't realize what it's like to be squarely alive in your unique passion?

The direct answers to those questions for me have been:
1. Take a solid spiritual gifts assessment like this one,
2. Read about your results,
3. Talk to people who know about spiritual gifts for further clarification and equipping, and
4. Get involved in serving with your gift(s).

Which brings me to now. The past few years have involved me confronting the uncomfortable reality that I am a leader. I've used a lot of other gifts to get around it - I'm really good at administration, teaching, and encouraging - but I love to lead when God opens that door. My life resume is replete in every single area with examples of me taking the reigns or emerging from a crowd or going my own direction. Okay, usually just that last one. But then I would turn around and see that people had followed me.

Being a leader is not a popular gift, especially for women, and I was content to simply lead small and avoid the responsibility of more consequential matters.

But "content" is kinda like a swear word to the Spirit - at least, in this context. And my own spirit was growing restless with this arrangement. Those two sentences are probably more related than the period between them would lead you to believe.

What was left for me to do? I owned it. I owned that my Creator designed me to be a leader, to cast visions and unite people. I owned that the other gifts have influenced the type of leader I am, but that I need to step out from behind their protection and allow myself to be unpopular, criticized, and unable to meet the crazy expectations assigned to me. This is how I serve, and by enduring these things I get to be me, energized in my perfect fit. I get to act out Ephesians 2:10: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We closed the event with the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. During the reading, I realized I hadn't intentionally buried my talent; I had simply concealed the controversial parts of it and packaged the rest with other talents to make it more palatable. In doing so, though, I hadn't invested it as well as I could have.

I doubt I'm the only one. In fact, I know I'm not the only one. For starters, the Founder of Prism Women, Renee Ronika, is unapologetically open about her struggle to accept her gift as a prophet. Other women who attended previous events and were present as leaders at this one shared similar stories of discovering and claiming their gifts. The good news: Owning your spiritual gift will cause your life to make more sense. It may not get easier, but knowing this Spirit-infused part of you will provide a sort of bigger-picture mission statement that gives confidence and purpose to each step.

So the parsley is getting tossed, and my plate is now home to a giant rib-eye. Or a pile of lobster tales, which is infinitely more appetizing to me. I don't even know if a giant rib-eye is a thing.

But the parsley is definitely gone.

10.17.2016

My Ambivalent Fallout with a Bush: A Story of Unexpected Restoration

Last December, we had our front and back yards turned into desert landscaping. They went from being full of dirt, weeds, a big mulberry tree that pigeons pooped from, and a thorny bougainvillea, to being full of rocks, desert plants, a smaller tree that pigeons disdain, and a wispy bush with orange flowers.

We were enamored.

And then the weeds started. They got out of control. We tried to fight them, but we had to have professionals come in.

We were disappointed.

The weeds grew, and our citrus tree in back died.

We were dismayed.

The weeds grew, our citrus tree in back died, and the plants in front began to die.

We were disgruntled.

And then the beautiful soft bush that had replaced our sinister bougainvillea started to wilt.


I was disheartened.

Attempts to reach the landscaper who planted the bush yielded little result, and our gentle green plant with the orange flowers succumbed to little black dots we learned were called aphids - or the more visceral term "plant lice".


Every day, I could barely stand to look outside at the yellowed, broken carcass. I felt sickened by the sight of it. Since I wasn't comfortable with this sensation, I repackaged it into feeling livid. I felt abandoned, and that bush was evidence of it.

It's embarrassing how long it took me to realize what I was projecting onto that bush. Yes, I was angry that I could not get help for our yard and for this lovely creation that had saved my children from pricked fingers while framing our house perfectly. But it was more than that. While this disintegration of our outside yard was occurring, my reality was being inverted inside our home.

I felt neglected by my own Creator.

But I knew I couldn't let that be the end of the story. He wired me to be too stubborn to let something called plant lice win this battle.

So I declared life over our little dead bush. In doing so, I prayed that my Creator would again turn His face toward me. I reached out to an advisor who assisted me in taking bold and measured steps to get the attention of the landscaper. It worked: he immediately got to work on attending to the neglect. Today, our bush showed these signs of life:


If you look closely, you can see bright green sprouting out of the brown and yellow. It's a true visual of this song.

It's also a reflection of how I'm feeling: I have my Creator's attention, and He is bringing new life out of my former self. At last He heard; at last He delivered me.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor [wo]man cried, and the Lord heard [her] and saved [her] out of all [her] troubles.
Psalm 34:4-6 

In all this, I felt inexplicably compelled to read about how caterpillars become butterflies. We all know they crawl into a cocoon, hang out for a bit, then emerge in flight, right? I even shared one of my favorite quotes about this in a previous post.

Only it isn't true. Well, not for butterflies. For moths and other insects, yes.

But butterfly caterpillars actually harden their bodies into a chrysalis, and then their insides turn into goo. Goo! Here's where it gets even crazier: They have these things in that goo called imaginal discs that use the protein around them to grow into new shapes - legs, antennae, wings. In other words, they were carrying the precursors for their butterfly selves (Version 2.0, you could say) all along. Now that their old selves have been completely destroyed, their new selves can take shape into what they were meant to be all along!

Our Creator doesn't just have one set of 2D blueprints. His blueprints have many layers, and many dimensions. But His vision for us can only be realized when we go through those times of being dismantled, being broken, feeling neglected, crying out to Him. Every restoration story must have a before and a point of change so the after means anything.

I guess this might even require a new term. Because often the type of restoration He has in mind isn't the kind the bush experienced - returning to its previous state of flourishing - but instead into a new form like the caterpillar into the butterfly. So I'm going with a hybrid of restoration and transformation: Restormation.

Restormation is what my friend Rachel in grade school experienced when she lost her straight hair to a disease, and it grew back full and curly.

Restormation is what my friend Aubrey went through when her baby Shalom stopped growing inside her, leading Aubrey to write openly about grief and pregnancy loss to encourage other women broken by this taboo tragedy.

Restormation is what my friend Tammy proclaims as she shares her story of spiritual abuse and gender discrimination, which has strengthened her to be a strong leader and a powerful yet humble advocate for women in ministry.

Restormation is what my friends Renee and Tina and Kit and Brittney and so many many many others live every single day as they declare, "I am a new creation!" and love with the compassion of women who have accepted the reality of their childhood trauma and allowed the Healer to breathe life into the carcass of what was, encouraging countless lives and their own children in the possiblity of what can be.

Whether it's restoration or restormation, we can trust life will come in some way when we seek the Creator and Redeemer. The green will reappear, the butterfly will take flight, the broken heart will feel in new ways. Some work will always be required, and it may even feel like death at times. But our Creator installed His own special kind of imaginal discs in us. Don't you want to see what yours might become?


10.07.2016

Cover Charge

I was never much of a clubber. In my late teens and early twenties, I liked going dancing with my friends on occasion, but my dancing was more entertaining than sexy so I didn't fit in at many venues. Plus, most of them were smoker friendly back then, and drinks cost a hefty fraction of my paycheck. (There weren't many people who wanted to buy a drink for the gal using coffee stirrers as glow sticks during the remix of Ben Folds Five's "Brick" - which, by the way, whose awful idea was that to create a club version of a tragic abortion song? )

Still,  heading out with a small group of friends to bust loose on the dance floor usually promised a good time. I lived an hour from Canada, which was a huge draw for teens because the drinking age in this exotic foreign land was 19, as opposed to the U.S.'s 21. I'll be honest: I never took advantage of that fact.

But I did take advantage of how many clubs existed within walking distance of one another in downtown Windsor. You could hop from one to another, only paying a loonie or a toonie to get inside each one, bop about for a bit, judge the gathering as "not my crowd", and move onto the next. I even found a place that played White Stripes, Led Zeppelin, and indie artists that no one reading this remembers like Tahiti 80, and who didn't care that my clubwear was a pair of jeans and a t-shirt that said, "I like math."

I digress. My point was that every place had some kind of entry fee. Maybe they would waive it for things like "ladies night" or "dress like the '70s night" or "bring a canned good for the food pantry night" (I truly hope that last one is a thing), but it still existed. In places like Windsor, where the clubs were competing with their next door neighbors, the fee was lower than the places I visited in downtown Detroit who knew their nearest competition was several blocks over, a walk that would require interacting with  fragrant steam emanating from manhole covers and sketchy dudes asking for money in one way or another.

The cover charge was a way to prove you wanted to be there. You were willing to part with some cash for the experience that awaited you within. I figured out fairly quickly  which clubs were worth the loonies, the toonies, or the $10. (No further comment on how those currencies compared, since at one point the Canadian dollar was stronger than the U.S. dollar, ruining a lot of our jokes. I've learned.)

This may seem like an odd link, but bear with me. I see this principle in my journey with Christ. Each time I get to another level, He asks if I'm willing to pay the cover charge. Early on, it was pretty cheap. And it was good. But it got progressively more costly. Whereas at first, I might just have to get up 5 minutes earlier so I could have time to pray in the morning, I came to a place where I was giving up life goals in faith He would enhance them - or sometimes change them entirely, which was not what I wanted at the time but totally something I wanted in retrospect. But I've already talked a lot about that, which will save me a tangent.

This got me thinking: Has there been a cover charge I wasn't willing to pay? Because I've seen some of my loved ones stand at the door of an opportunity, looking down at their hand deciding if they want to pay or go home. Or go to a cheaper place. And in this vision - it's a tad cheesy, I admit, but incredibly poignant for me at this point in my life - God is holding His hand out asking if they are willing to explore and surrender their unforgiveness toward their ex. And, like the rich young ruler in the Gospels, they walk away in sorrow because they aren't willing to part with that.

So, again, I ask myself, has there been a cover charge I wasn't willing to pay? And I realize the answer is that there have been, but my Savior's relentless love has always sought me out and drawn the price from a very willing me. There were friendships I didn't want to let go of, and I clung to them; but then they didn't fit into the life I found myself moving toward, and they fell away. There were attitudes of judgment in my marriage, bitterness in my family, and competition in my relationships, and I gathered them tightly to myself because they felt so good in their badness. And then His love. His love. His wild, persistent love and the adventure that awaited me within loosened my grip.

Unlike with so many of those dank, carcinogenic clubs of old, I've never regretted paying a fee.

Have you refused to pay cover at some point? Here's the great news: He's still waiting with open hand, and the adventure is still ready just. for. you. Trust me: The return far outweighs the investment. But you need to hand it over to see what's next.

8.20.2016

Where Are My Eagle Wings?

I'm working hard on CAST #2: Restoration, an event for women focusing on both brokenness & God's restorative vision for creation. My personal drama is this: I'm currently in a complicated relationship with restoration. 

As I've previously written, I recently went through a confusingly dry season of waiting & clinging.  It's been jet-black darkness at countless times, with equally innumerable false-starts of returning to daylight.

All the while, I've been holding to the hope-inflating notion that when I reach daylight there will be a tangible sense of restoration. I'm not expecting much, just the emotional equivalent of a homecoming parade. And maybe some fireworks, the kind that create shimmering hearts inside of circles and change colors.

But now that I appear to be standing in the sunshine again - grief, health issues, sleep deprivation, and family concerns relatively resolved - I still feel residual numbness. And not that tingly-numbness that your foot does to say, "Okay, okay, I'm waking up!"

Just basic, anticlimactic numbness. 

My counseling background keeps tapping me on the shoulder with, "Well, you know, you've been through some trauma recently," and, "Hey, grief takes many forms." All that is true, and I have been giving myself heaping shovelfuls of grace daily.

But shouldn't there be some kind of surge of joy upon reentry into the land of the living? Couldn't there at least be a small float or one marching band?

I waited on the Lord, Isaiah, so where are the eagle wings and superhuman running capabilities you talked about in Chapter 40, verse 31?

Then again...could it be that I am mixing up restoration with resolution? Because, come to think of it, I know a lot of folks who have seen an end to the storms in their lives, but still no rainbow.

If that is the case, how do we summon the rainbow?

Until the answer comes, you can find me sitting in gratitude in this new sunlight. Because, irrespective of the numbness, I am deeply grateful to be out of that darkness. And so I will choose to praise even when I don't feel it.

("Joy" by Page CXVI)

6.26.2016

Uncle Mark's Troublesome Toy Car

For those of you who have set a boundary with a loved one and need a way to communicate about it to your young children, feel free to use the story below which I wrote for our little ones. Due to the tragic passing of my brother after his battle with addiction, we no longer need it; still, I want to share it with anyone who may.
 

Uncle Mark’s Troublesome Toy Car:
When a Loved One Is Absent Due to Addiction or Untreated Mental Illness
By Jessica S. Marquis

I have an uncle named Mark.
He has a toy car.

I don’t see Uncle Mark very often.
That’s because his toy car is troublesome.

Mommy says he got the car when he was younger.
It wasn’t so troublesome then.

He liked to play with the car,
But he always left it at home.

Uncle Mark started playing with the car more and more.
He spent lots of time with it.

He spent less and less time with people and things he cared about.

Now, he brings the car with him everywhere he goes.

Sometimes, the toy car causes Uncle Mark to make bad choices,
Like when it rolled into the street and he tried to chase it.

Other times, the toy car makes Uncle Mark loud and mad,
Like when it got stuck under the sofa and he couldn’t reach it.

And other times, the toy car makes Uncle Mark not show up for things,
Like when he was too busy playing with it, and he missed my talent show.

I am sad when Uncle Mark makes bad choices or doesn’t show up.
I get scared when Uncle Mark is loud and mad.

One day, Mommy told Uncle Mark he could not visit us anymore if he brought his car.
He was unhappy.

So was I.

So was Mommy.

She gave me hugs and told me Uncle Mark doesn’t want to be this way,
But he has chosen to keep playing with the toy car, which hurts himself and others.

Mommy wants me to be happy.
It is her job to keep loud and mad people away from me.

I miss Uncle Mark,
And I can still love him a lot…

…even though I don’t see him because of his troublesome toy car.



Parent discussion points:
·      Use this story to normalize your child’s experience of having an absent loved one due to poor choices or safety concerns. The toy car can be a direct metaphor for drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other addictions. It can also represent an untreated mental illness, where the individual is choosing not to engage in counseling, take medication, etc.
·      Discuss feelings like sadness and fear that can result from the individual’s choices. Did the child witness hurtful behavior? What was that like? If the child hasn’t met this person, be very simple in your explanation of your own feelings.
·      Emphasize at the end that is still possible to love the individual, even if you have had to set a boundary with that person. You can end the story by inviting the child to take an action with you, such as writing a letter that will not be sent to the individual, talking about nice memories and qualities of him/her, or praying for him/her.
·      Here is an example of a way to discuss this story: “Like Uncle Mark, your aunt has something that makes her act in a way that is not always nice. It is an illness, and she has decided not to take medicine that would make her feel better and be safe. When she isn’t feeling well, she says things that hurt people’s feelings, including mine. Because I love you, I want her to make better choices in order to be around you. I still love your aunt very much, and I hope she decides to take her medicine so we can spend time with her. Would you like to pray with me that she will?”

Jessica S. Marquis holds an MA in Counseling with a specialization in Couple and Family Studies from Oakland University. In addition to her professional experience, she has experienced the consequences of a loved one's addiction within her own family. She is the author of Raising Unicorns: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Starting and Running a Successful - and Magical! - Unicorn Farm (Adams Media).