Thoughts: Becoming Myself, chapter 9

Chapter 9 of Becoming Myself, “Beauty Forged in Suffering,” is so full of good stuff, that I found myself underlining and underlining.

And do I know something about beauty forged in suffering. Behold, my little sister. This is sacred ground to me, and I’m sure I won’t get through this post without sobbing.

My sister was one of those fiery, go-get-em kids who wanted the corporate job and six kids. Full of attitude, bullheaded, nothing would stand in her way once she’d made up her mind (we at least have that in common). The goal of corporate stardom dwindled as she matured, but the desire for an army of kids remained. Once she married, she was impatient to have them. As soon as her husband was in accord, she went after it. And something went wrong. The bleeding wouldn’t stop. My little sister just had  miscarriage. What? No! This didn’t happen to women in our family. We are a huge family. We are always surrounded by tons of healthy babies. What is this?

sad girlI made the stupid statement or believed foolishly (I hope I didn’t say it aloud) that the worst was behind her. For a while this seemed true. She soon gave birth to a healthy, gorgeous baby boy. Then came another miscarriage. Then–six years ago in October–came Baby Vaune. I remember when my sister was picking out girl names for this baby. She wanted a name with dignity, a name that would “grow up with her.” To settle on a name, she had to be able to envision a woman in a suit introducing herself with that name. So “Vaune” it was.

Vaune was born the day before Halloween; she was going to be “our little black cat.” We were astonished to hear that she weighed only a little over 5 pounds. Whoa, what? We finally get to have a small baby? Other women have small babies; women in our family have babies between 7 and 10 pounds. We were astonished at first, but not yet alarmed. Then the doctor came in and told us that all was not well, and Vaune needed to be flown to a bigger hospital for tests.

I cannot describe the physical pain that descended throughout my body. I had never felt that kind of pain before. I can only imagine what my sister felt, still in her bed robe and hooked up to monitors, or our mother who was sitting beside me and could not protect her own baby from this. I’m not sure how Mom and I ended up in that room alone; all I know is that as soon as we were alone, she grabbed me and started praying. “God, we trust you. We don’t know what this is, but we trust you.”

A few days later, we learned that Vaune had Edward’s Syndrome or Trisomy 18. We did our research and discovered that, unlike Downs’ Sydrome, Edward’s is 100% fatal by the age of 2 and that 1 in 3000 miscarriages is caused by this particular syndrome. We started counting the days. Mercifully, my sister was allowed to bring Vaune home and bring in hospice care. She and her husband and our mother learned how the feeding tube worked, along with the other monitors needed to keep tabs on what was happening inside Vaune’s little body. I tell you, I held that baby every chance I got. I held her so I could see her face and talk to her because I knew our time was short, and I wanted to memorize her sweet little face.

I won’t go into the details, but Jesus came for Vaune on December 7th.

I remember being afraid that this would make my sister a hard, unhappy, bitter person, who resented God and became untouchable to her husband and her family. The opposite is what happened. Through that process of pain and healing and surrendering to the care and sovereignty of God, my sister became the most beautiful person I have the privilege of knowing. I sit back and watch her, in her service to others, with her kids, in her relationship with her husband, in her trust in her God, and I am in awe. This is my little sister(?!), and she is stunning. Yes, she still can be bullheaded, and still has that fiery temperament that has earned us the nickname “the dragon sisters,” but her loss instilled in her a sense of right priorities and unshakable faith.

yellow-angelDid God cause Vaune to have Trisomy 18? I doubt it. But God used that time of unimaginable pain to create something exquisite inside my sister, to strengthen our faith, and in my case, for sure, to prove that I had it at all. I learned that during life’s worst moments, I do know where to turn, I won’t resort to blind anger, we won’t fall apart. And I can tell you that during those few weeks while Vaune was with us, I have never felt more strongly the presence of God. The peace that surrounded us was so palpable I could almost reach out and grab a fistful of it.

I can look back on that time and know absolutely that God is with us, that he does care about the intimate details of our lives – and if we let him, he can take that horrible, undesirable situation and with those hands that flung out the stars, forge something stronger and lovelier inside us than we ever expected.

Favorite Quotes

“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33

“Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange is happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

“Christianity is not a promise to enjoy a life without pain…. It is a promise that pain, sorrow, sin—ours and others’—will not swallow us, destroy us, define us, or have the final word.”

(Becoming Myself, 146)

“The very first thing painful trials try to do is separate us from God. But being separated from God is the worst thing that can happen, much worse than the most excruciating of trials.”

(Becoming Myself, 147)

“God created a world where the choices of angels and human beings matter. We are not puppets on a string. When someone sins, it is not God causing them to sin. That sexual abuse was not arranged by God; he did not cause your brother to be raped any more than he caused those terrorists to bomb the train station.

It is crucial for us to be careful with our interpretation of events. We must ask God’s help in making sense of it all. But for heaven’s sake, don’t blame the sin of the world on God. …

Your interpretation of events will shape everything that follows. It will shape your emotions, your perspective, and your decisions. What if you are wrong?”

(Becoming Myself, 148)

“… though God doesn’t cause all the trials in our lives, he does use them. He does work all things for our good. (Romans 8:28) He will use pain to expose our false beliefs about our hearts and about his heart … to reveal our brokenness so that God can heal it. …

There is more going on here than meets the eye. There is a battle raging over the human heart. Will we love God and choose to trust the goodness of his heart in the face of the immense brokenness of the world? Will we stand in our belief that God is worthy of our worship in the face of immense brokenness…?”

(Becoming Myself, 150)

“How do you find peace in the midst of difficult, painful circumstances? … [Jesus is] right where you are, right smack dab in the middle of your life.”

(Becoming Myself, 151)

This last quote brings to mind something Staci mentioned a couple chapters ago in which she described the circumstances of Jeremiah’s  tortured life and rescue.  She quotes a promise God made, saying, “They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you.” (Jer. 1:19)

“But,” Stasi writes, “Jeremiah was attacked by his own brothers, beaten and put into the stocks, imprisoned by the king, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern, and opposed by a false prophet.

“Ummmm. When did God rescue him exactly? After he was beaten. After he was imprisoned. After he was threatened.”

(Becoming Myself, 116)

And lastly, back to Chapter 9:

“We need to be honest about what we have done with our suffering. What have we allowed it to do to our hearts? Have we become more fearful? Controlling? Has resentment toward God or others entered in? … bring that to Jesus, for this is cancer of the soul, and it ravages what God means to make lovely.”

(Becoming Myself, 154)

For Jesus came to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners … to comfort all who mourn … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Have I let him do this for me? Have you?

When_My_Sadness_Born_by_j3ff3rson-800

“When My Sadness Born” by j3ff3rson, 2009

 

Thoughts: Becoming Myself, chapter 8

“The Company of Women.” The chapter title itself provides a challenge for me.

Ironically, it was while I was reading this chapter that a friend texted me and invited me to lunch. Not my husband and me, not a group of friends and me, just me. Cheryl doesn’t know this, but that was the very first time I have “done lunch” with a person, one on one, who is not family. I was able to bounce some internal struggles off her, and she provided much needed encouragement.

I had to shake my head in wonderment at the timing. God was speaking, and I replied, “Thank you for what you’ve done.”

As I mentioned in a previous “Thoughts” post , making friends and holding onto them has been difficult for me, because in my earliest years “friends” were temporary. They were the kids I could get along with easiest in class for the couple of years that we lived in that particular town. But it wasn’t worth the effort—and the pain—to really open my heart and care about someone.

This carried over into my adulthood. Case in point, even though I had just graduated college, I had only a sister and two cousins for bridesmaids at my wedding. Family sticks. “Friends” don’t. In four years at the same college, I made not one single friend. During the first seven or eight years of our marriage, my husband befriended a couple of co-workers who he hung out with. They brought their wives around, and then they got divorced, proving that “friends” are one of those temporary things one endures, like head colds.

women talking

When we started going to LifeChurch, I had no idea the blessings God was waiting to pour over us. We decided we would get the most out of the experience if we joined a small group. I was so skeptical, so hesitant. “They’ll be shallow,” I said. “They’ll be straight and boring and shallow, and all we’ll talk about is petty junk.” Wow, was I wrong. They were weird! They were quirky! They let all their issues hang out in the most honest ways, and during only our second meeting, I was confessing the darkness in my soul. There was something so genuine and loving about this group of people that we felt invited to be real, knowing we would find acceptance anyway. I say “we” because I wasn’t the only one. Others drifted into the group later, and I watched the same closed-off self-protection mode dissipate. Bonds grew. Activities outside our small group were held so we could get together and share life.

One of these couples moved away. I tried, in my time-honored way, to let them go, let the relationship end. But they refused to let this happen, and I’m so glad they were persistent. “Distance” doesn’t necessarily translate to “over.”

But the blessings don’t stop there. In addition to the small group, we started volunteering to serve at our church campus by making coffee, counting offerings, and typing up prayer cards on Sundays. Three years later, I looked around and said, “Whoa! I have friends! Lots of them. How did this happen?” We serve with the same bunch of women (and a few men) every weekend. We started sharing life and prayer needs, and before I knew it I came to love these women. They are so sweet in their uniqueness, their brokenness, their faith, their growth. And I’m speechlessly grateful that they actually like me. Me? Quirky, introvertive, awkward me? But that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s their quirkiness that make them special to me in return.

Sorta proves that God loves quirky people. And a lot of quirky people in the same room loving each other? It’s a riot, let me tell you, and God is right in the middle of it, adoring us and the friendship we are willing to risk sharing.

Favorite Quotes

“Women are awesome. Yet sometimes getting near them is like approaching a cactus, hugging a porcupine, or taming a skunk. …

“A true friend loves you when you are being kind and when you are PMS-ing all over the place. They may not love what you are doing, or the dragon you are manifesting, but they love you. …

“A friend sees who you are meant to be and beckons you to rise to the higher version of yourself.”

(Becoming Myself, 125)

“[Jesus] is the source of our true identity. He is the one we must look to first to fill us with truth, acceptance, and love. Then we can bring our hearts … to our friends without demanding that they fill us. We can offer ourselves, open to receive good gifts from them but vigilant to stay close to our God and screening every experience, every word, through him. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you. ”

(Becoming Myself, 127)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

Thoughts: Becoming Myself, Chapter 6

treasure box

“A Treasure Chest” by LifeIsPixels, 2012

“From Accepting to Embracing” has been the hardest chapter for me so far. The most challenging, I should say. Because it encourages me to dream. Immediately I withdraw, shake my head, flee the building. Dreaming is too risky. There’s too much disappointment involved. Loss, heartache, pain, self-blame, accusations of failure. Like so many other people, I’ve stuff my beautiful box of dreams deep down inside. It’s okay to peek on occasion, then quickly stuff it away again. Gazing at the contents too long is dangerous. Because it shows me (or appears to be showing me) how far along I expected I’d be by now. Compare that with the reality, and things look a little bleak and very discouraging.

When I become frustrated with how my writing is going, my husband will often say something that doesn’t exactly help. “Well, at least you’re getting to write.” It’s only been in the last week that I’ve been able to articulate why this statement is like tearing a band-aid off an amputation. In order to articulate this pain, I had to remember why I chose to write in the first place. My motive had become lost in the act of actually pressing on word after word, day after day. The end goal, surprise, surprise, goes beyond having a book or ten published. I don’t shoot for the stars or anything, sheesh.

Now, to discuss this causes me to approach a precipice of panic, because the box is hanging wide open. My lifelong dream was not to write. Gasp! It wasn’t. That came later. It was to travel. My childhood vision of my adult myself was of me making a living so that I could travel the world. I loved National Geographic magazine, not for the articles, but for the visions of faraway places and people living in mysterious and wonderful ways. When I was little, I thought this dream was a simple one, attainable, black and white. I get cash, I buy a ticket, I travel to this place, then a while later, to that place.

In my complete ignorance, I chose writing to pay my way. Yeah, I know, you other writers out there are probably laughing. And you’re right. Most writers can barely pay bills by selling stories, much less afford the luxury of travel. Did I know this when I was sixteen? Pft.

Here’s something else. I gave up having children in order to achieve this goal. Writing in quiet, traveling during the school year, didn’t jive with the conventional life with kids. So here I am, almost 37 (dear God, keep away the panic) with neither a traditionally published novel nor travel nor children. What was the sacrifice for? Doubt floods in. Terror quickly follows. I chose a path. But that path, it seems, ends in a stone wall. Stuff it away, hit the keyboard again, don’t expect much. Then I can’t be disappointed.

So Chapter 6 leaves me with more questions than answers.

Unsettling Quotes

“God dreams big. And he invites us to dream big with him. God has planted dreams and desires in each one of our hearts, and they are unique to us. Opening up our spirits, our minds, our hearts, our imaginations to what we would really like—to even the possibility of wanting—allows the Holy Spirit to awaken parts of ourselves that are in such a deep sleep no dreams are happening.

When we dream with God, we don’t want to run to thinking, How can I make this happen? Dreaming with God isn’t about how. It’s about what.”

(Becoming Myself, p. 100)

To which I asked, “And the point of this dreaming is…?”

On the very next page, Stasi goes on to say,

“The point … is to allow God to access the places in our hearts where dreams and desires are planted. God speaks to us there. About himself. About ourselves.” (p. 101)

girl dreaming To which I asked, “But why?” I’m a “why” person. I ask ‘why’ as often as a toddler. If “why” isn’t answered, the concept has no meaning for me and does not reach the heart of the issue. Why should I dream if it only causes regret and pain? Is it not better to suck it up as a loss and move on? My life hasn’t turned out as I worked my tail off for it to be. Period. There is no going back. What good does it do to hold on to the same ol’ dream?

“Awakening and owning the dreams that God has placed in our hearts isn’t about getting stuff or attaining something. It’s about embracing who we are and who he has created us to be.” (p. 102)

Okaaay? And that is …? Someone who dreams of world travel but gets to sit at home? What is the point of that?

“There is a reason you have the desires you do. … Let God use your dreams to guide you into the fuller expression of your unfolding glorious self!” (p. 103)

Aaaaaargh! What is this even saying? I know what I want it to mean, but that leads me down the dangerous slope that I’ve utterly failed, that I chose the wrong life. This chapter is supposed to be comforting, encouraging women to be butterflies emerging from cocoons. But this is my pressure point, okay? So how is this implication not supposed to scare the crap out of me?

“By dreaming and writing them down, we aren’t demanding they come true. We are just owning the reality that they are a part of us. And since they are a part of us, we embrace them.” (p. 103)

… So Icheerfully wave as world travel passes me by. Yeah, no, this isn’t very comforting either. I embrace my dreams all right, and since I centered my entire life around this particular dream, the not-attaining it is kind of a problem. All I have is the brittle comfort that I’m still young. It could still happen, but don’t look at the vision in full color, just glance at it on occasion, from the corner of my eye. Otherwise, hope creeps in, and all those negative clichés about spinning wheels in a muddy rut and bashing against that stone wall.

Just get back to the keyboard. Head down, press on. My life is great. I am blessed beyond deserving. Really! I know this. But in this most vital area of my blessed life, I’m aiming at a target and haven’t hit the mark yet. One of my biggest fears is that I’ve been aiming at the wrong target all along.

Thoughts: Becoming Myself, Chapter 5

four queensI’m a week behind. So I’ll be brief, to catch up. In Chapter 5, “Our Mothers, Ourselves, part 2,” Stasi continues to explore the wounds dealt to us in our past and how we might find release and healing from them. As I stated in the post on part 1 of this topic, I choose to keep these families matters between God, my mom, and myself, so I’ll skip to …

Favorite Quotes

 “… what we receive from our mothers is similar to being dealt a hand of cards. What we received is formative and foundational, but this “hand” is not our destiny. If you didn’t get dealt a great hand, or your cards are torn and bloody, folded or lousy or even missing, this is where the healing presence of Jesus Christ can come in and wash your cards clean. He gives you the cards he intended for you to have. He restores. … We bring him the hand we were dealt and ask for his healing. … He wants to heal us! … He has the power to bless who we are and who we are becoming.

In order to receive the healing that God has for us regarding our mother wounds, we need to know what we need healing from and for. Specifically. We need to remember what happened in the story of our lives and invite the healing presence of Jesus there. For healing to come, we actually have to go back and remember and even access the emotion of the wound.

… he restores us to the truth of who we are and the reality of the life we are living and meant to live. … We are loved, wanted, seen, delighted in, provided for, cherished, chosen, known, and planned on. We are set apart, invited, valued, of immeasurable worth, and blessed.”

(Becoming Myself, p. 85-86)

Is this just a pep talk? How valuable am I, really? Through a poet, God tells me.

“all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”

Psalm 139:16

God was looking forward to the moment when I would exist, and he cares about every detail of my life:

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.

Psalm 139:1-5

Of course a God like this would want us to be healed from those things that hurt us. And as far as mothers go, I was dealt an extraordinary hand. I’m pretty confident I can sweep the pot.

Thoughts: Becoming Myself, Chapter 4

Mothers. The hand that rocks the cradle moves the world.

In Chapter 4 of Becoming Myself, “Our Mothers, Ourselves: part 1,” Stasi discusses the Father Wound and Mother Wound, focusing mostly on the latter. I know my mother reads this blog, so I need to let her know that I have identified and dealt with my Mother Wound. Years ago, actually, so exploring this chapter has been a good reminder of healthy progress, more than a painful journey of discovery. I won’t go into detail because, I feel, this issue lies between my mom and me.

Part of the healing came when I resolved to stand up for myself. Part of it came from going on an extended trip with my mother to Europe. If you need resolution on some things, take a month-long trip through a country where the only person who speaks your language is your mother, and see if things don’t change a bit.

In 2009, while we were in Paris, about Week 2 of what really was a stressful trip, I finally had an emotional breakdown. I got stuck in the subway station, in Paris’s version of a turn-style; the party I was with chose to walk from our hotel to the touristy areas instead of take the very competent and very available buses; with all the glorious food Paris offers, all I had to eat that day was a hotdog on a dry baguette; and that night, when I was exhausted, hungry, sweaty, sooty, and footsore, I got locked out of my hotel room. I lost it. My mother caught the full brunt of my rage. She saw me at my worst. She spoke to me in my language, words I had never heard her use, which aren’t clean enough to quote here, but it was like a slap to the face. In the middle of my sobbing, I started laughing. I sobbed a bit more, took a shower, and apologized. She apologized. It was stiff and awkward for both of us. For the rest of that evening, things remained tense between she and I, between the rest of our party. It was just not a happy situation.

snapshot, Mom and Me, Notre DameWe got a good night’s sleep and rose early the next morning to resume our touristy activities. I insisted we take the bus. Oh, yes, the buses in Paris are worth every euro. Mom and I still hadn’t really looked at each other after our tiff. Then when we were standing in front of Notre Dame’s iconic façade,  a member of our party asked for my mom and I to stand together for a picture. I remember smiling at her, risking, hoping. And thank God, she smiled back. A tentative smile at first, then genuine. It was like forgiveness. It was like her saying, “I still love you—with all the stuff I don’t understand about you.” In the picture our arms are wrapped around each other, and we actually mean it.

We came away from that month-long trip with a new sense of camaraderie. The kind that doesn’t have to be spoken. Our relationship just seemed … easier … after that. We had endured each other, we had connected, and gained what I hope is deeper understanding.

FAVORITE QUOTE

“Mothers bestow self-worth, and they have the ability to withhold it. Intentionally, but more often unintentionally. A mother cannot pass on what she does not possess…. Mothers have the ability to withhold acceptance, value, love. Our mothers failed us when, without meaning to, they passed on to us low self-esteem. Or based our self-worth on anything other than the fact that we exist.

God does not do that.

Our worth is not based on what we do, which life path we choose, or what we believe. Our worth is inherent in the fact that we are image bearers of the living God. Our worth is based on the fact that we are alive. We are human beings. Our worth is immeasurable. …

We are all hostages of such value that it took the blood of God himself to pay our price. You have worth beyond counting.”

(Becoming Myself, 76)

Bible X

Over the past couple of years, our study group has read some amazing, challenging material, from Steven Furtick’s Sun Stand Still and Dr. Craig’s On Guard to John Eldredge’s Beautiful Outlaw. While these were all wonderful and eye-opening, there is simply no replacing the fulfillment that comes from reading the Word of God. The soul craves it, gets thirsty for it.

And so, our study group has decided to dive back into the Bible itself with a beta study. Bible X is to meant to help its students understand their faith more fully by piecing together our story from Genesis to Revelation. It’s a big commitment that will take our group about a year to complete. If we can minimize the digressing. 😀

Session 1 of Module 1 begins this week, and we go all the way back to Creation. After all, God so loved his creation that he gave …

When we have finished this study, I hope we’ll be able to tell the world, “We believe this, and this is why we believe it.” And then if it becomes necessary, we can always pull out On Guard and argue it logically. 😉

Point is, I am so excited to dive into the Word this week. Yes, much of the material will be familiar, but God is amazing in how he can reveal new truths and forgotten wonder in the same ol’ material. Spirit-breathed. Taking in the breath of God. Hmm, isn’t that how God woke Adam from the dust?

Wake us, Lord!

Holy, Holy, Holy

I was driving around town on some errands the other day, which to me is the best time for worship. It’s just him and me and great music. Besides, singing Jesus songs keeps my mouth in check when I want to berate, ahem, certain drivers who aren’t driving very wisely. But that’s a tangent.  So there I was driving and singing, and yet another song comes over the airwaves about Jesus’s holiness. I remembered a passage from Beautiful Outlaw some chapters back in which John Eldredge explores Jesus’s cunning. How Jesus knew what to say and do to win hearts, win change in people’s lives, and avoid capture before the right time came. But like so much else about Jesus’s faceted personality,  “cunning” is overlooked.

A passage reads:

…do we love Jesus for his cunning? I don’t recall a worship song with the word cunning in it. “Thou Art Cunning,” or “Cunning, Cunning, Cunning.” Do we interpret his actions in our lives as perhaps part of some cunning plan? That delayed answer to prayer–is there something brilliant  about the timing? Would it help us rest if we thought so? When he answers our prayers with “No,” do we see him sparing us some unseen danger? And when it comes to our own “imitation of Christ,” do we approach our days wondering, How would Jesus have me be snakelike today?

p. 104

Now, the point of quoting this thought-provoking passage is my meditation on our worship of him. The list of songs goes on and on: “He is Holy” by David Crowder or “You Are Holy” by Hillsong, etc, etc, etc. I had to laugh, plugging in “cunning” and “playful” and “generous” and “scandalous” where the songwriter wrote “holy.” And it got me to wondering “Why do we focus on Christ’s holiness to the point that the rest of who he is, the rest of his personality, is whitewashed and forgotten?”

tiggerThe thought stayed with me till I was out of the chaos of mid-day traffic and safely back home, and the answer was so obvious that I felt rather silly. The answer came out of a Tigger song: “Because he’s the only one.” There are plenty of human beings who are cunning, in both good and bad ways. There are plenty of playful people and generous people and scandalous people. But there are no other holy people. Not truly “holy” in the terms of “never having sinned, not once, ever, so that God the Father deemed you worthy of saving all the rest of us kind of holy.” So I  guess it’s no surprise that it is this quality that we have clung to above all the rest.

While it makes Jesus more approachable to realize that he is, in fact, playful and generous and had suffered the same weariness after a long journey, the same grief when family members die, and had to learn to tie his sandals and shape wood with splintered hands, it is this singular holiness that makes him worthy of our regard at all. Otherwise, what would set him apart from the rest of us? He had a mission, he used his cunning to get it done, but it was the holiness, the sinlessness, that made the end result possible.

What if … what if, after forty days of eating nothing, he had given in to that extreme and very human hunger and heeded Satan’s suggestion: Turn these stones to bread. Just a little thing. Who will know?

I don’t like to contemplate where we would all be then. So next time I drive around town on my errands, I will happily praise Jesus’s holiness with the rest.