Already Home

A few days ago I received a well-meaning message from an old friend, claiming they had a missive from god: Come Home. After some time in reflection, this was my response.

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Hey There,

I’ve spent the last couple of days contemplating how to respond. I don’t think you are a weirdo, I don’t think this message is bizarre. This is precisely the kind of thing I used to think or do, with regret now. It is, however, not something I would have expected from you. So I find myself feeling a deep sense of hurt and disappointment.

To be quite honest I am more Home than I have ever been. There is nothing that would entice me to return to a “father” who is alternately as penal and neglectful as he is attentive and loving. My “family” is no longer hyper critical, judgmental or emotionally manipulative in the name of god. I have found a home in people who love me for who I am right now without attempting to impose their moral code onto my life. And I am more free, more happy, more at peace than I ever was inside of Christianity; something you would have discovered for yourself had you taken the time to catch up and engage with me BEFORE delivering your arbitrary judgment. (I know it was not intended as a judgment but you cannot deny it is implicit in the message.)

I know you have the best intentions in reaching out and it is nice to know you thought of me. But I am afraid your words did not have the intended effect of enticement back to Christianity. In fact they had the opposite effect of further pain inflicted in the name of your so-called-god. And because I no longer believe in god, I’m left with the disappointment of holding you responsible for your actions. I can’t just blame “him” or hope you misheard.

I would love to continue this dialogue, to make you dinner and talk on it. I know you have good intentions and it’s your heart to love people. I’d like to try to explain why this feels less than loving.

Hope y’all are well. Stay safe out there.

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I come from a charismatic evangelical background where “words” of this nature were commonplace. I was known to give them as often as I received them. Some of those occurrences appeared to have eerie timing that fit my circumstances exactly when I felt I needed my certainty reinforced. Some of them are even documented in the archives of this blog. You may ask how I reconcile those seemingly “supernatural” experiences now?

For a while I didn’t know how to fit old stories into my current beliefs. I didn’t know how to make sense of “words of knowledge” or “prophecies” or the like. But, as is the case with so many things, the passage of time brings clarity. I now recognize the sensations of “discernment” as truly hyper-toned perception, awareness and intuition. The ability to “discern” things about people around me has actually played a large role in making me a great massage therapist. I’m repurposing those human skills of intuition that were once used to make moral judgments, channeling them now with empathy for the benefit of my friends, clients and perhaps most importantly, myself. The super-spirituality that once gave me traction in religious circles turned out to be a skill set I’m grateful for now that I can pair it with self-awareness and critical thinking. As it turns out I can trust in myself and lean on my own understanding. I was doing it all along!

Naturally this changes how I receive so-called “prophetic words,” post-Christianity. I see them for what they are: emotional manipulation on an expert level. The empath in me recognizes that manipulation is not the intent, but that does not negate that it is often the result, and the results are what matter. In the case of the message from my old friend I recognize the disappointment ontheir part that I have left the faith and the earnest hope that I will return to their interpretation of the truth. I sense their sadness over the “state of my soul.” But I no longer feel responsible to mitigate those negative emotions for them. I am sad that implied expectations will necessarily change the way we relate to one another going forward. My boundaries do not permit these type of interactions to persist.

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So, for anyone else who may be considering sending that “word” my way, I hope it’s clear you’d be better off keeping your thoughts and prayers to yourself. If the display of my life now grieves you too deeply, allow me to invite you to unfollow or unfriend me on social media. I promise I won’t even notice.

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A Manifesto from Myself

I wrote this letter to myself a year ago. I’d completely forgotten it in an old mostly used up spiral notebook that still has notes in it from high school. I came across it a few days ago and it left me breathless and bolstered. If you need a little bolstering, this is for you, too. 

Oh, Hey Love.

A year from now you won’t recognize yourself. This year will be one of wild unencumberment. You are going to let go of so many things you never knew you didn’t need. You will learn how to stop praying and worry will disappear from your life. You will learn that you don’t need many material things to be happy. You just need people where mutual love is deep. You will let go of the god you have always known and dive into the deep unknown. You will learn how to stop treading water, float, and trust whatever current is carrying you. Because that which is beautiful is often trustworthy.

You will let go of your dreams for marriage and family and learn things about your own sexuality that make your whole life make sense. Don’t fight it. You know how fluid these dreams can be. Even if they leave, they may one day come back to you reimagined in beauty that takes your breath away.

You will watch your plans vanish and it will be the most freeing feeling. For the first time in your life you believe that you can go anywhere and do anything. You are surrounded by people who believe in you. They will make you know that you are worthy. Their love will give you wings to pursue your wildest dreams.

You will lose your hair. Not from stress this time. By choice, taken into your own hands and removed bit by bit. It will be a slow letting go of who you used to be and the dreams you used to have. Others will help you celebrate this transformation. In the absence of your lifelong security blanket you will grow secure in the fact that you are loved for who you are, not for any outward feature.

You will let go of your home, of the city you once called your own. You will know that the place that sheltered you for a time has edged you out of the nest. It will never feel the same again and you wouldn’t want it to. You’ve outgrown Baton Rouge, and it’s okay.

You will learn how to stand on your own but also how to reach out for help when you need it. You will need help. It’s okay. Reach your hand forward. But also reach it back and to either side for those friends who will need your support as much as you need theirs.

This year will be one of as many heartaches as triumphs, often precipitated by the same events. Lean in. Find the joy. Because it’s there. In abundant measures that will propel you forward.

You will become so much more yourself. And baby, you will shine.

GradSmile

The day that I graduated from Massage Therapy school

Lines in the Sand

I drew a line in the sand today — with God.

In my Christian experience I have wrestled with the concepts of grace, love and forgiveness. I have found it difficult to consistently forgive myself and those who have wronged me with any sense of permanence. I have been consoled with the notion that I am imperfect until final redemption and that God is giving me time to “learn to forgive,” even while failure to forgive on my part would supposedly render me unforgiven.

I have spent years striving to fully obtain the grace of God, being careful to eliminate all “roots of bitterness” and any hunger for revenge. However, by following popular Christian teaching all I have really managed to do is defer the bitterness and desire for revenge with the reasoning that God will grant me justice after death. I have imagined redemption in the form of my adversaries getting what is coming to them (assuming they remain evil and unrepentant until the point of death). This so-called redemptive reservation has been used to motivate forgiveness to those who find it difficult.

Of course the command to love ones enemies is also a “motivator” toward forgiveness. But I have been unable to escape how that love feels false, if not impossible in these circumstances. How can I love someone while simultaneously anticipating retribution in the form of their demise? If the justice of God comes primarily in the future sense as many pastors scholars and laymen indicate then this is my only choice. I must live in the tension of already loving and forgiving my enemies and not-yet witnessing the judgment to come to evil in the world.

This is where I draw the line. I cannot serve a god who demands that I love and forgive my enemies while, by the very nature of his so-called sovereignty, he is not held to the same standard. Am I supposed to somehow surpass his goodness and god-ness by loving those who wound me while he reserves judgment and punishment for those who do not repent and confess him? If I am to forgive for my own good, at the least to make myself forgivable, how is it he reserves forgiveness until confession and repentance take place? Is this just a divine privilege we don’t have access to? Is this reservation somehow part of the mystery of his love? I do not understand any longer how this portrayal of God’s heart holds any positive appeal.

However… if God’s heart is truly portrayed from the cross in the suffering, choking words, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”… if His heart is portrayed in a man pleading forgiveness for those who are unrepentant, actively mocking and gambling for his garments… if this is the example we are meant to follow, extending forgiveness even before the sacrifice has been made… then my objections are silenced. In this portrayal of God’s heart there is a radical redefinition of justice, one that exposes evil and violence by the absorption of it, rather than eventual retaliation in apocalyptic fashion.

This portrait of gods heart of forgiveness is an embodiment of love that evaporates my bitterness and inexplicably compels me to drop the weapons of self-protection I have been clinging to. When beholding love like this I am inspired to free myself of every hope for revenge. I want to follow Jesus into death, extending love and forgiveness to those who least deserve it and have not even asked for it – because he first showed me how.

But I cannot serve a god who demands that I love and forgive my enemies while he punishes his eternally. I am finding glimpses of hope that I don’t have to.

As I have encountered various portrayals of god put forth in the current theodicy of consensus, I find myself drawing more lines. I cannot serve a god who will go to any length of coercion and manipulation in order to elicit some form of love from his creation. I cannot serve a god who will then challenge or test that love through the sanctioning of evil and suffering inflicted on those he intends to win. I cannot serve a god who uses my life as a means to fill heavenly trophy cases in his triumph over evil.

Drawing lines in the sand feels like a scary thing to do, but I can’t seem to stop myself from doing it. I fear that I will be accused of attempting to put god in a different box. Or perhaps I would be called arrogant for insisting that there must be more to him than we see. More than what we have been conditioned to see.

Then again I wonder if I am not the first to draw lines in the sand. The religious leaders of Jesus time dangled a broken woman in front of him, daring him to contradict their so-called god of justice. But instead of following the neatly boxed rules of the god they thought they understood, he challenged them to absorb the violence they were ready to inflict, thereby encountering the true heart of God in revolutionary justice. Jesus bent down and drew lines in the sand. Through these actions he broke out of the box they had constructed for him, for God. Is it possible that the lines he drew confronted their arrogance in assuming they knew how God would act? Is it possible that the lines I am drawing do the same for me?

Perhaps these lines point to the heart of a god who refuses to engage according to the rules of evil any longer. A god who came in flesh to show us how to overcome evil and sin in ways that centuries of prophetic voices could not. Perhaps the heart of God is portrayed in one who has the authority to judge but chooses instead to love and forgive, saying, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

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Mississippi River Lines in the Sand (photo taken by me in 2012)

This is a God I can serve. This is a God I can follow. Nothing he asked me to do, he has not already done. I don’t have to spend my life waiting for the other shoe of retribution to drop, hoping it doesn’t crush me on the way down. The lines in the sand have fallen for me in pleasant places.

Finding my Hinds Feet – a Dare and a Prayer

I was surprised that the door to L’Abri opened so easily. Cautiously, I started to line things up. I carefully calculated my finances and was surprised to find I could make it work. I bought a plane ticket. I gave nearly a months notice at work. I applied for a passport renewal. I gave notice to vacate on my little studio apartment. Everything that I needed clicked into place with relative ease, providing further confirmation that this is the direction I am meant to go.

But it was still stressful. Because I won’t be returning to Louisiana to live after Switzerland, my preparations have more finality. I’ve been grieving the loss of a way of life that has become familiar and comfortable. The good things to come certainly outweigh the little hardships, but that grief is part of the process and I made up my mind to allow myself to feel it.

I had one particularly hard day at work where it felt like everything was going wrong. I lost count of the number of times I cried. I reapplied my makeup at least twice. And by 3:00 I was done. I’d had enough of the anxiety and the stress and I wanted the day to be over already. So I prayed, halfheartedly, if you could call it that. It was more of a foolish dare than a prayer. I told the Lord, “The only thing that could redeem this day would be going home to find my passport in the mail. Jesus, if you love me, my passport will be waiting for me when I get home.” There was nothing theologically sound about that statement. Deep down, I knew that His love for me could not be measured in mail. I have to think He laughs at us sometimes with good nature.

My passport came that day. A whole week earlier than I was expected to receive it. I breathed a little easier with one more thing checked off my list, and I cried, again. Happy tears this time. I couldn’t help being in awe of the love of God. He didn’t have to answer that prayer. But He did. In that moment, His love was nothing short of extravagant. It may seem a small or coincidental thing to some, but that little booklet in the mail was evidence to me that I am seen, cared for, and reassured. God doesn’t owe us that. He doesn’t owe us anything, yet He showers us with His goodness anyway.

evidence of love

evidence of love

This is only one of the ways I have felt His confirmation. In the last several years I have learned to be so independent and self-reliant. I’m not accustomed to swimming out into unknown waters, relying on faith. While I am learning to swim He has given me these little things to keep me afloat. I need not toil and strain. He is a good Father.

If my passport in the mail were the last thing He did to affirm me, it would’ve been enough. But there are things He has set up and is doing for me that make my head spin. Stay tuned, the story isn’t over yet… 

Catch up on part 1 and part 2.. 

Finding My Hinds Feet – Desire Awakened

Once again, I am debuting my word for the year in September. Unsurprisingly, it plays a large role in this story. The Lord spoke the word “desire” over me in the first few days of the year. I knew the year of naked would be a tough one to follow. As much as I wrestled that word, would you believe me when I tell you that “desire” was more difficult to come to terms with? For as long as I can remember I have killed the hunger in my soul. Desire felt dangerous. It felt like breeding ground for disappointment or at the very least, discontentment.

heart hunger

heart hunger

My only intentions in regard to the word were to find out what the Lord desires for me and in me. I wanted to know His desire. But from the very beginning each time I asked Him what He desires for me He turned the question around on me, asking what I desired. Answering that was much more difficult than I anticipated. It wasn’t until sometime in March, after a frank conversation with some dear friends that I finally reconciled with the word, realizing that to deny my desires is to deny my humanity. When He redeems us, He redeems all of who we are, which includes our desires. There is nothing to fear in them.

The night that I emailed L’Abri I went before the Lord and just asked, “Is this something that you want me to do?” It was a loaded question. Going to L’Abri required that I quit my job, leave my apartment, give up my independence, temporarily lose touch with all that is familiar.  His reply was simple but immediate, “Is this something that you want to do?” Tears instantly filled my eyes; desire was awakened. I wasn’t aware how badly I wanted it until that moment. I felt His smile then. He is not a fortune teller and I didn’t need Him to be. I just needed Him to be Jesus.

I saw an image of what made Him smile. I was gently holding my desires in the open palm of my left hand. I was not clutching them tightly, choking the life out of them. I was not burying them or pretending they did not exist. For the first time I can remember my desires were allowed to be. And in my right hand was the hand of Jesus, strong and sure. I knew that no matter what happened to my desires, be they fulfilled or dashed, He would not let go of me. I rested in this knowledge.

The next morning I woke to an email from L’Abri. Not only did they have the reservation dates available, they reserved me a spot and told me that they would see me in September. After the toil and stress of the previous months I could hardly believe the door opened so easily. There was nothing left to do but walk through it.

To be continued…For a little more back story, read part 1

Finding my Hinds Feet – The Shore of Decision

I am sitting at a writing desk right now in a little closet office adjoining the guest room I am occupying for nearly two weeks. I’ve been here for three nights already and it’s only just starting to feel real. So I am here to tell the story of how I got here. Because our God is too faithful not to document His goodness.

Writing Nook

Just over six weeks ago I was riding down I-10 with my sister at midnight, listening to the latest album from Jonathan David and Melissa Helser. At the beginning of “Cageless Birds” Melissa recites a poem that grabbed my heart and would not let go.

Standing on the shore of decision

looking into the face of adventure

desire to abandon all I know

what pushes me is rooted somewhere between misunderstanding and knowing

knowing that what I want to understand is not within my reach

so I ponder my escape

not knowing what lies ahead

adventure in theory is full of excitement and bleeds with passion for life

but adventure in reality is full of breathless moments

silent nights, and wounds that leave scars of memory on a heart

can I go the distance?

can I give all my mind to get what the messenger is saying?

can I surrender my knowing?

will I survive the humility of ignorance to obtain a treasure that earthly gold cannot buy?

will I ask the question honestly

even if the answer convicts my soul and sends me to the land of repentance?

All of these thoughts flood my mind…

as I stand on the shore of choosing

in the distance of my wondering I see with clear eyes a flock of wild, beautiful birds

swooping in my direction

as if they see me and are coming for me

how strange it is that their eyes are full of clarity…

Song birds wake up

you’re not in your cage anymore

bound by your shame anymore

the walls that held you in prison

the gate is flung wide open

start singing, start singing, start singing, start singing

cageless birds

I’ve felt for several months like I am in a state of transition, but I wasn’t sure of the exact direction I was to go. All the doors I pushed on seemed firmly shut. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but the restlessness in me was relentless. That night on I-10 a moment of clarity came swiftly. I decided to try to apply for the Helser’s 18 Inch Journey program even though they’d stopped accepting applications months before. My age will disqualify me to apply next year and I at least had to ask if there was any shadow of possibility that would allow me to attend.

Unfortunately, the answer was no, the 18 Inch Journey was not accepting applications. But that moment of clarity was not fruitless. Asking the question was a proving ground, a test to determine if I would seriously consider leaving behind my comfortable life for a period of time before stepping into the next stage of my life, site unseen. There were other options.

I’d read about L’Abri several years ago from a blogger who attended. Studying theology in the shadow of the Swiss Alps seemed too far fetched a dream for anyone without a trust fund. But I visited the site again and after a few quick calculations realized that spending a couple of months there wasn’t as far out of my reach as I assumed. It was comparable to what I was prepared to spend with the 18 Inch Journey. So, after just a week of thinking about it and talking it out with my sister, I sent off an inquiry to L’Abri, just to see if they had a spot available for the dates I was considering. I didn’t want to dream or plan any further until I knew if it was possible. I didn’t want to want it too much.

And this is where the story gets more interesting. To be continued

Reflections of a Strong-Willed Child

A writer friend of mine shared an article about strong-willed children last night. I was scrolling my newsfeed during an intense episode of Scandal, using my “viewers discretion” as I’d been advised. I’m not even a mama, but the headline and the image of a cross-armed little girl made me pause. Before I even clicked the link, I stopped the show and reached for my journal because the Holy Spirit is no respecter of Netflix binges. And He had something to say.

The words “strong-willed child” might as well have been profane slurs to me as a little girl. It was a self-deprecating family joke that I never found very funny. People would compliment my Momma on her daughters, and she would laugh then tell them about her “strong-willed child” that mirrored all of her worst traits. Other parents would smile knowingly, and they’d talk Dobson-sanctioned parenting strategies, while I prayed the floor, or at least my mothers skirt, would open up and swallow me.

miss stubborn

The words stung because I couldn’t deny they were true. It wasn’t that I refused to obey, it was just that I always had a question or an opinion about everything. The word “no” left my mouth before I could bring my hand up to stop it. In the role of “big sister” I owned those 18 months of seniority like they’d given me a throne to dictate from. I recognized these things in myself but no matter how hard I tried to stop, I kept getting into trouble. Everything pointed to one character flaw: my strong will.

I hated my strong will. Despised it. I wanted to kill it more than anything in the world. My will became the enemy of God’s will, and I didn’t understand why it just.wouldn’t.die. The “old man” was supposed to pass away, all things were supposed to be new, weren’t they? Where was my “new man”? “Strong-willed” morphed into “rebellious” as a teenager no matter how desperately I prayed to be rid of the thorn in my flesh. This “quirk” of my personality became my besetting sin and the source of unending shame.

Until last night. Before I could even get pen to paper Jesus was reframing “the strong-willed child” in me. The same stubborn streak that did battle with my Momma for all those years has sustained me through some dark days. It supplied me the fortitude I needed to survive family dysfunction, sexual abuse, 10 years in a cult, and seasons of severe depression. But more than any of that, my strong will has been the greatest evidence of grace by driving me to cling to Jesus. What I saw as a fatal flaw He has used to keep my heart tethered to Himself, even when the circumstances dictated that I walk away. I didn’t break.

By the grace of God and with His help, I’ve drawn on that strength to fight the lie that I would always disappoint through undisciplined actions. I grew up. And I’m using the stubbornness I despised for 25 years to my advantage as I continue to seek healing. I can re-write my story and choose to leave a different legacy.

I used to think that being strong-willed doomed me to grow up a mean, bossy, control freak. I have my moments, just like any of us. But they no longer define me. I was a strong-willed child. Now I’m just strong.