Relationships:  The good, bad, and messy

Relationships: The good, bad, and messy

Even in the best families, navigating relationships during the holidays can be difficult.   Coordinating a gathering with a bunch of individuals on different legs of the journey (hopefully) toward wholeness and healing is quite complicated.  The actual gathering of said individuals is often even more complicated. I know that many of my friends come out of the Holiday season cradling their heads in their hands and stumbling desperately into their therapists offices, ready to unload all of the “yuck” that accumulated over the course of a week and a half.

Let me not discount the extremely healthy families or communities that have delightful, loving, Christ-centered Christmas celebrations.  Together, you taste heaven in your fellowship with one another, clinging to each moment as a precious gift.  I pray that we can all learn to grow in our walks with God and in our relationships with one another to a place where we find true shalom in our fellowship and in the process of doing life together. The family that I have had the privilege of marrying into is much closer to this ideal than I ever thought possible.

On the flip side, let me assure those of you who have “broken up” with extremely dysfunctional families, that I love and support you.  I am one of you.  Sometimes, God calls us to step out of toxic systems so that He can heal us and protect us and our loved ones from abuse and misuse. We are not called to “grin and bear” abuse, manipulation, narcissism, and emotional bondage.

In the mean time, many of us are growing into the character of Christ through imperfect relationships, albeit slowly and with many bumps and bruises.

When conflict arises (and I assume it surfaces in almost every family), we learn a great deal about others, ourselves, and the nature of our relationships.  Mostly,  over the past month,  I have discovered that I have a great deal of room for growth.  I have learned that I want to look more like Jesus, and that I have a long way to go.

If we have the privilege of being in relationship and doing life with others, we also have to responsibility of walking through crises in their lives.  Let me assure you:  People are not on their best behavior when they are in crisis.  When we are in distress, we tend to act more selfish, irresponsible, and are not quite as outright love-able as we might normally appear.  When we are on the outside, observing someone in distress, we might see them as selfish, ugly, rude, and not nearly as lovely as we once thought them to be. We might, in spite of the mess, find ourselves called to walk with our loved ones through distress and pain.

This calling to love those in distress requires that we shift our perspective and see them through the eyes of Christ.  You know that call to love others?  And you might remember that chapter about love in first Corinthians?  Love never gives up, love cares more for others than self…love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,”  doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sin of others, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, The Message).   That passage might become your mantra.  I recommend writing it on your arm.

The funny thing about facing someone who is in distress and appears difficult to love is that I discover that I am also very difficult to love at times.  My heightened awareness of my own arrogance and selfishness humbles me to my knees.  My desperation for the attitude of Christ shows me how much growth needs to continue in my life.   When we face a situation with disgust and an attitude of “righteous indignation,” we become prime targets for the enemy, and we easily fall into spirits of haughtiness, self-righteousness, and bitterness.  A few times over the Christmas season,  I looked into my reflection in the mirror to see the ugliest face of them all.

This mess called life can become the process of iron sharpening iron if we allow friction to shape us into the character of Christ.  For a long time,  I believed that when relationships got rocky, it was best to head for the hills, to count your losses, and to duck your head and bail.  I’m seeing, however, that it is very difficult to grow when you continue to dodge actual growth opportunities (aka, relationship issues).  We can be mirrors for one another.  We can be authentic, and we can struggle.  We can confront when we see unhealthy patterns, and we can persevere when those we love are being difficult to love. We can remember that we are all difficult to love at times.   We can be profoundly disappointed in one another without slamming the door in each other’s face.   We can weep and pray for one another without condemning one another.  We can love and challenge each other toward growth and holiness without “throwing the first stone.”

My goal in 2018 is to allow the Spirit of God to indwell me more deeply, making my heart ripe for growth. Galatians 5:22-23 reminds me that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control (ASV). As I navigate messy relationships and loving through brokenness, these manifestations of the Spirit become by plumb line.   If we write (or tattoo) the love chapter on our right arm, maybe we should inscribe the fruit of the Spirit on our left.

Naturally, in my flesh, I lash out, I assume the worst about others, I become defensive,  and I value my sense of self above every one else.  I want to be the smartest and the most talented.  I want to be right, and I want to rub it in when I am right.  This is what I see when I look into the mirror of relationship conflict, and to put it mildly, I cringe in disgust.  Iron sharpening iron, right?

My prayer for this year is that I face the good and the bad of relationships with courage, humility, and the love of Jesus, never considering myself superior to others, and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit as I conform into the image of Christ.  We were made by a relational Trinitarian God for relationships, and we are called to grow in relationship.  I am thankful for the sometimes painful reminders of the importance of relationship friction on this sanctification journey.

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Becoming a Master of Disguise

Becoming a Master of Disguise

Lately,  I have been working on developing my make-up skills.  I am learning the secrets of bronzer, lip color, and the art of eye make-up.  I think that this is because I have been desperately trying harder and harder to not appear as sick as I feel. I know people who feel frustrated when they hear “But you don’t look sick.”  When I hear people say this statement to me, I think to myself smugly, “Good,  I’ve been working hard to achieve this goal. I better not look sick.”

I have been putting entirely too much effort into disguising my illness.  In fact, the irony of it all is that I have been pouring almost all of my sorely limited energy into disguising my illness.  I work so diligently on hair, fashion, and make-up that I end up collapsing in bed because I used up all of my POTSie, Masty, and Zebra spoons for the entire day in the 30 minutes that it took me to get ready.  Pointless, right?

Here’s the other kicker–I get so wrapped up in trying to convince people that I am able to be well and self-sufficient that I end up sicker, and I actually have the nerve to get mad at people for believing me.

 

I actually get mad at people for believing me! That’s crazy, right?  I want to look normal, be treated normally, and fit in with the general population, but I also expect people to read my mind when I feel like I’m dying.  I’m learning something revolutionary: People don’t read minds.  Well, generally they don’t.  There are those empaths that are so intuitive that they can see past my BS in a nano-second.  I have about three of them in my life, and thank the Lord, my husband is one of them.  Other than the psychic-seeming empaths, however, 98 percent of the population do not read minds.

I see two reasons for my dysfunctional behavior of covering up my pain:

The first reason for my need to pretend is that I feel the need to prove myself, perform, and not inconvenience anyone.  I have an ingrained sense of responsibility to protect people from my “needy” self, so I desperately try to convince everyone that they don’t need to be concerned about me.  This is probably because I have never felt worthy of nurture or care, and nurture and care make me squirm like a worm-digging, mud-pie building kid forced to don a stiff, unyielding fancy suit at a formal wedding.  Receiving care just doesn’t feel right nor does it feel natural.

My second reason that I can see is that we live in a culture of rugged individualism and fierce independence.  Western society struggles to see the need for interdependence, believing that the stronger we are individually, the more we are able to stand on our own two feet without any support from others.  This is one of the reasons why we as a society are so sick.  We have grown to isolate ourselves more and more, creating a bunch of little one-person-islands trying to pretend that we are content to “go it on our own” yet secretly hoping that someone will see our pain.  I have trended toward giving in to the pervasive message that our society is sending out:  Be strong; do it yourself.  This is not the truth of being created in the image of God.  We were created for relationship, to do life together, to be interdependent, and to grow and learn in community.

What I have attempted to do in creating this facade of independence is insanity.  Here’s the truth:  I am sick, and I need care.  I do not feel well, ever.  I actually feel like I have been hit by a truck, and then again by a city bus, and once again by a freight train.  Ninety-five percent of the time,  I have a fever.  If I stand up for more than two minutes, my brain stops working, my legs give out, and I will fall.  On a good day, I get hives when I am exposed to any kind of fragrance, chemical, or food.  On a bad day,  I will have difficulty breathing and will experience anaphylaxis.  I am on hard-core pain killers to manage the pain caused by my constantly over-extending and dislocating joints, and I frequently have breakthrough pain.  Every task, including walking ten steps down the hall, requires the energy that I used to expend on a 10 to 20 mile run.  I give myself pep-talks to brush my teeth or help my children brush their teeth.  I am better physically if I am lying in bed all day, but I am better emotionally if I am able to be out and engage in the world.  There is no cure for my illnesses, and despite what I try to to communicate,  I am not feeling any better this Holiday season than I was last year.

It’s not a pretty picture.  My illness, like my trauma, does not make people feel good.  That’s why I try not to let it show.  I want to make people feel good.  But here’s the deal:  In trying to make others “feel good”,  I am preventing myself from being known, making myself even sicker, and staving off actual relationships.  And then everyone feels even worse.

There is beauty in our messy, broken lives.  There is no real beauty in a facade.  Our false selves are hollow and ultimately push others away.  Our false independence creates in us attitudes of either arrogance or self-hate.  Our rugged individualism creates walls that end up being prisons.

So here I am, make-up-free, flat on my back, declaring that I am not okay.  I need people, and I need nurture, and sometimes I need people to sit with me in my suffering.  Within my Spirit, a voice whispers that we were all created for this kind of fellowship.

This blog post in obviously only a first step in my “coming out” process.  I stand in this liminal space, here in the blogosphere, declaring my need for interdependence, vulnerability, and truth, and I will carry it into the real world.  I will reach out to one person, and then another, and then another.

It might require baby steps.  I don’t plan on stopping the application of make-up, but I do plan on re-prioritizing.  Looking like I am well does not need to be my first priority.  Being daily transformed to the character of Christ, being authentic, loving my children, just connecting with others moment-by-moment, and taking care of myself spiritually, physically, and emotionally: These need to be my priorities.  If I am living into these priorities, then I am moving in the right direction.

We are not doing anyone anyone any favors by pretending that we are “okay” when we truly are not okay.  We are not protecting others, we are not protecting ourselves, and we are not protecting God.  We are stunting our growth and killing our relationships.  So, friends, as we step into reality and truth, let’s start trusting one another a little bit more, let’s lay down our self-sufficient pride enough to risk “looking sick” and making ourselves and others a little bit uncomfortable.

I am learning that I am falsely assuming that others want to hear that I am well when I am not.  I am learning that more often than not in my relationships, people ask because they care.  I am learning that as a body of Christ, we meet each other’s compassion with truth, not false images of wellness.  Our healing comes in our vulnerability, and our deceptions worsen our sicknesses. An old AA adage goes as follows:  “You are only as sick as your secrets.”  What if we lived in the open?  What if we laid down the masks? What if we met compassion with honesty and actually lived in community?  I know that my own life would look radically different, and I know that my load would feel undoubtably lighter.   We cannot bear one another’s burdens if we are not willing to disclose to others our own burdens.

Love has two sides:  Grace and truth.  Let’s meet others with both compassion and honesty as we live authentic, vulnerable, facade-free lives.

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When we keep postponing the inevitable

When we keep postponing the inevitable


Knitting has become a constant in my life over the past year.  I made Lily a blanket earlier in 2017, and now I am working on one for Elijah.  I am doing a color-block pattern with a seersucker stitch.  It is a bit more complicated and involved than I had planned, but it is coming out quite beautifully, albeit imperfectly (but hey, life lessons, right?).

I am not one to prepare my yarn.   Before they even start knitting, some people roll their yarn in tight little balls and then put it in a yarn holder.  When they do this, they will never have to deal with knots or tangles.  This is so incredibly smart.  Planning ahead pays.

I struggle with patience.  It takes quite a bit of time and energy to roll yarn into balls before the project has even started.  I typically impatiently want to dive right into my project, without any further adieu or delay. I don’t want to spend time preparing my yarn because I don’t see any immediate reward for my effort.  I like to see the fruit of my labor immediately.

What is the outcome of my haste? You guessed it!! I am half-way through this blanket for Elijah, and I am stuck.  I have been pushing back my tangled gray yarn for about a week. If you are familiar with knitting or crochet and are impatient like I am, you might understand this concept.  You can postpone total re-rolling of your yarn just by making a few alterations and shoving the tangled mess back just enough to finish the next row.  I would knit the 160 stitches of one row until the string was taut against the inevitable tangled disaster.  At the end of each row of stitches, I would face a decision:  Would I really hunker down and commit to untangling the rest of the yarn, or would I shove the tangled jungle of grey yarn back just far enough for me to tackle the next 160 stitches?  Would I do the dirty work of getting to the root of the problem, or would I do just enough to get by, delaying the inevitable?  You see,  I knew that at one point or another I would have to do the hard work, but I was willing to kick that proverbial can down the road just a little bit farther.

My tangled mess was not going away.  I would have to face it.

So on Wednesday, this week, after about a week of shoving the tangled yarn farther and farther away from my project, I decided that the looming inevitability of disaster was too overwhelming.  I would face it head-on, stop my knitting, and really get to the root of my yarn problem.  Untangling that mess took hours.  I mean, I spent an entire day untangling yarn and not knitting.  But it had to be done if I ever wanted to actually finish my project.

Sometimes analogies slap us in the face.  This analogy was so obvious that I could not deal with my knitting without thinking about my life.  How many issues in my life do I shove aside, just trying to get through the next day?   How many unresolved relationships, loose ends, and places of brokenness do I stretch just a little bit further down the tight thread of my anxious life knowing that one day sooner or later I will have to face the music of my hurt and chaos?

Procrastination: How much healing in my life am I avoiding, thinking that I have more important issues at hand?

This week I am too busy to allow God to heal me from my bitterness from the wound that keeps oozing.  I’m just going to keep putting more bandages on it so I don’t have to think about the infection.  Tylenol works to control the pain, so I can keep going like this for a bit longer. 

I have too many projects going on right now to really deal with the hurts that keep popping up.  They happened 25 years ago.  I’ve made it this far without really hashing it out; why drudge them up now?  I will keep playing wack-a-mole. 

I am too busy with all of these ministry ventures to dig into my woundedness from that arrow.  Even though it hit my heart, and I feel the pangs of it’s aftermath every day, I can’t commit time at this point to allow God to break into that particular wound.  It would be way too inconvenient. 

These postponements work for a while.  They have worked in my life.  There are issues that are safe to deal with, and then there are wounds that are too risky to open up.  In the short-term, healing would take more time and energy than I am willing or feel able to invest. It seems practical and even wise to just push the tangled mess back far enough to get through the next row of stitches.

But, really, are these delays helping or hurting? Are they stunting our growth and binding us, paralyzing us in our process of maturity and sanctification in Christ?  Are they sending us around the same mountain over and over again, as we never really move forward?  We hold in one hand this life that keeps advancing and growing, and we hold in the other a tangled disaster of bitterness and brokenness in which we are unwilling to really let God do His deep healing work.

I’m there, or else I wouldn’t have had the looming sense that my tangled mess of yarn isn’t really just about a tangled mess of yarn.  I wouldn’t have looked at the postponement of the inevitable in my knitting project and seen the tangible reminder of a more pervasive pattern in my life.

I fall into the mentality of the “tyranny of the urgent.”  With little kids, a growing congregation, and a gnarly chronic illness, I fall prey to this mentality.  I put out the most pressing fires.  I fight the battles that throw themselves at you each day, and I don’t have the bandwidth to go digging for the deeper battles that are waging under the surface.  I live on the defense, boxing gloves hovering around my face, trying desperately to block the constant barrage of blows.  And as I do this,  I hear whispers that the more pressing matters are the ones that I am avoiding.  As I block the blows of the surface, I miss the deeper wounds of the heart.

So I did the hard work with the yarn.  I spent the day unraveling the mess.  If only life were that simple.  One day of unraveling and digging out the knots, and you are set to knit on, unhindered for the rest of your life! But if I can take the time with my knitting, putting my project on hold to do some dirty work under the surface,  I can take some time out with my life, letting God do some deeper healing that I have been kicking down the road.

I hear a whisper in my soul saying that the hard work of true wound-healing will be worth it.  A deeper, richer, fuller life awaits on the other side.

Who is my Enemy?

Who is my Enemy?

Do you ever forget what battle you are fighting?  I think that I get so angry, so self-righteous, so indignant, so flame-throwing, nail-spitting mad, that I just close my eyes and throw fists every which way I can muster, hitting innocent victims, and only accomplishing more self-hatred.

Oh my,  I’m fighting hard.  I’m fighting the people I love the most.  I’m fighting those who are trying their hardest to help me.  I’m fighting against my own body.  I’m even fighting God who loves me more than I can ever imagine.  I’m blindly lashing out because I am spitting’ mad. 

And by golly, I sure feel like I have all the reasons in the world to be mad.  So in indignation,  I spit in the face of anyone who challenges me for lashing out.

But in my anger, I am having a free-for-all flow of aggression. I have no aim, no real enemy.  Thus, everyone who is actually for me becomes the enemy.  I become the enemy. God becomes the enemy.  But the real enemy remains totally unchallenged, and I imagine that he is doing a little victory dance as I blindly let my fists fly at my most cherished allies.

Why is it so easy to forget?

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [all the people who love you and care about you, your own body], but against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, additional comments my own). 

I gravitate toward the softer, sweeter ideas about God and the spiritual world.  I fail to consider the reality of evil, darkness, and dun-dun-dun….Satan.  No one wants to hear about that guy.  I certainly don’t.  Why don’t we?  It doesn’t feel good.  We can’t comprehend evil.  The nature of the unseen realm is that we….wait for it….can’t see it.  We can’t see it, and we can’t wrap our brains around it.   So it must not be there, right?

But wait….why does it feel like I am being hit from all sides?  Why does all of this fighting feel for naught?  Why does evidence show that prayer actually is effective, powerful, and meaningful?  And why in the world is the Bible (you know,  God’s own Spirit-breathed, life-giving word) so hyper-focused on these ideas of Spiritual battle?  Why do I feel like a warrior if I’m not actually created to fight a real, bonafide enemy?  (Hint:  I’m pretty sure my enemy is not other people, my own body, my family, or the medical world).

Maybe I’m the only one who has fallen for this sugar-coated, palatable, white-washed Christianity.  Maybe I’m the only one who has started cringing at any mention of “forces of evil,”  “weapons of the enemy,” and any scripture that refers to life as warfare.  So if I am writing only to myself, it is still worth it. I’ve got some major lessons to learn.  Everyone else can just read along and eves-drop on my internal conversation if you would like.  But based on some conversations that I have had,  I get the feeling that I’m not alone.

I need to start fighting the real enemy again, using the weapons that I have been gifted with from the Father of Lights, who gives wonderful gifts to His children.  He, who has filled us with perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), has called us to go forth into battle with our eyes wide open.  And the great thing is that we have a complete set of armor to wear into battle. (Ephesians 6: 14-17).  We are fully equipped, empowered by the Spirit of God, with the Son of God at the right hand of the father interceding for us.

But I’ve got to stop fighting the non-enemies.  As long as I am fighting aimlessly, I will always be defeated.  And as long as I forget who is my real enemy, I will keep fighting aimlessly.

So today, I draw the line in the sand (this may be like my 35th line in the sand–Good thing God is so patient and long-suffering):  I will put on the armor: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.  I will allow the Spirit of God to open my eyes, and I will fight the real enemy.

I don’t know what the outcome will be.   There’s no guarantee that it will result in physical healing, the absence of mental illness, complete resolution of trauma, or the absence of suffering in life.  It will result, however, in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  And honestly, I don’t think that I could ask for a better life than one filled with all of those gifts.

So watch out, Satan.  I’m no longer turning a blind eye.