Whatever is true: I am Loved.

When we lived in Galveston there was a long hot season when it felt like the light on my insides had gone out. The sun shown hotter than hell in Texas but internally I felt like my heart had grown a thorn bush around it. Getting to it was incredibly painful.

A friend and I met for coffee and she told me about a novel she had read. In it, a man is tormented by the darkness of the world. So much so that he walked perpetually bent over with sharp talons lodged deep into his shoulders. “The love of Jesus,” she told me, “slowly removes those talons, one by one.”

While out for a jog a few weeks later I kept thinking about that image and felt within me a boldness to ask for a replacement one. “God,” I said, with certainty. “I feel those talons in my shoulders too. And if you wouldn’t mind I kindly ask you to…kick the ever loving shit out of them. None of this one at a time business! And,” I continued confidently. “Please let me know when you’re done.” I left it at that, possessing this all too rare confidence that He would answer in a way that I would understand.

Months later, I had a dream that I was in Ocean City where my family vacations most years. A devious man with bad intentions took my four year old hand, full of innocence, and walked me down the boardwalk and off to an isolated place where no one could see us. Just as he prepared to take advantage of me, an unsuspecting child, Andy and my Dad slammed open the back door of the building we were behind with a force that surprised us both. The two of them pummeled the dark man to death with fists and elbows and body slams for what seemed like hours. They were still going at it when I opened my eyes.

Sometimes I fail to grasp the love that I’m told God has for me. I’ve spent a long time thinking that God expects a perfection from me that I can’t begin to deliver. But Andy? My Dad? These two imperfect men have given me their lives, and I know it down to the bottom of me. One when I was very small. And one when he said “I do. Come what may.”

And so, in His own way, God let me know that from the moment I was very small until this present moment that I stand in that He has been kicking down doors and beating up devils to get to me. I still often feel like I have talons lodged into my shoulders. This is probably because I am a lot like the man in the novel – I look out into the world and see suffering and wonder about the love of God in the midst of such misery in the world. Yet I’m finding that God is faithful to answer in any number of ways when I’m responsive to the nudge within that says to stop looking at the pain and to look up and out to the One who can take me to the other side of them. Little by little I come back to the place where I started from as a small child. I remember that I am loved.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you…”

Isaiah 43: 1-4

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Whatever is True: We are Broken.

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A few years ago while we lived in Texas a man showed up to our church and announced that he was starting a recovery ministry. A successful businessman, he admitted to our community that he had a history of hard drug and alcohol abuse and after years of letting it lead his life he decided to quit for good. He was successful with the help of Celebrate Recovery (CR), a Christ based 12 step program that brings people together to admit their issues and help each other stay on track.

I had heard about this movement in various circles and was immediately excited to tell everybody I knew to sign up and get moving towards healing. After all, I knew that if Jesus was about anything he was about the healing and restoration of broken people. I also knew that CR was established for anyone with a “hurt, habit or hang up” of any kind and therefore anyone could attend. For whatever reason though I couldn’t see that I was likely the primary person in my midst who needed healing.

The first cohort of people went through their steps and I heard great things about its kick off year. I also started to realize that I was more of a mess than I gave myself credit for. I had read all the books and sought counsel from any number of wise folk and still felt like I was locked in my own personal mental prison. My schedule opened up right about the time that a second group got started in the program and I decided to join them.

I could write several articles on what I learned at CR. I think the most critical thing I gleaned was several months into the program when we had all but finished reviewing and applying each of the recovery steps to our own lives through weekly workbook activities. On this particular Wednesday we got together and before meeting in our smaller work groups we recited each of the 12 steps out loud together as one large group in the same way we did every week. The room was filled with addicts of all kinds: perfectionists, substance abusers, alcoholics, anxious folk, depressed folk, attractive people, not so attractive people, doctors, scientists, the unemployed and the almost if not already homeless. Together we recited the twelve steps out loud as we did every night along with an accompanying bible verse starting with the first:

“Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

‘For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18’ “

This is the very first step that is ever addressed at a Celebrate Recovery program. For whatever reason the depth of my internal brokenness had never truly sunk in until many months after I had first heard it. Yet when I finally truly understood it on this particular night I all but laughed out loud. Its was almost as though I understood the true depths of the gospel for the very first time.

Not long after that night I had a dream that I’ll not soon forget. In the dream I was friends with a character from Gray’s Anatomy (Thank you, Netflix). She was in one of the early seasons. To be honest, I can’t remember her name but I do recall that in the show, she was supposed to be the best heart surgeon in her field. She was never without the right answer or the right diagnosis that would save a patient’s life right before the episode was over.

In my dream, she was my friend and I kept trying to invite her to live at my house. I knew something about her that she refused to acknowledge publicly…every night, after work, she would leave the hospital after her shift was over and spend the night attempting to sleep in an old, rusted out car. Here she was, this world renowned surgeon who one would assume could afford to live where ever she wanted. Yet she chose each night to sleep in a beat up vehicle with no windows. I remember she smelled terrible and needed a shower and a warm meal but she kept putting me off. She would only spend time with me for a little while until heading out into a driving rain for some fitful sleep on the street.

I knew when I woke up that God was trying to tell me something…He was kindly suggesting that I was the surgeon. I’d been keeping up appearances and for all intents and purposes I continued to excel on the outside both at work and at home. Inside though, my soul was fitfully attempting to sleep on the street in a beat up old car instead of taking His offer to come inside to a warm bed and a hot meal with a truly compassionate friend.

If I’m honest, I think I still spend most days attempting to keep up appearances. As with any addiction or ingrained habit, its rare to go from sleeping on the streets to well adjusted and at home in your own skin overnight. Oftentimes it still feels too vulnerable to admit that I’m really most like a surgeon who sleeps in her car at night when no one else is looking. But I would venture to suggest that my best moments in the past couple of years have been when I honestly admitted that I’ve been searching the streets for days on end, looking for cover from the wind and the rain. At some point, utterly exhausted from fear that my heart will never find shelter I’ll usually have a moment of clarity and I’ll look up from the ground. At that moment…its rarely failed…the wind and the rain slow down and I notice right in front of me a house on the block where I’m standing with its lights still on. I walk up the steps and turn the knob and find a clean towel and a fresh bar of soap for my tired aching muscles. I clean myself up and put on a robe and sit down to a meal that was prepared just for me.

In this moment, just after thinking I was lost for good, its suddenly so clear that what happens next doesn’t really matter much anymore.

I’m home.

 

 

Whatever is True…

So, as a way of getting to know each other, might I share that on a Myers Briggs Personality Test I test as an ISTJ. If you’re looking for order and the comfort and bliss of the systematic, I’m your girl. If you want excitement and novelty and newness, well, that’s not really my strength. Extroversion and the world of emotions feel a bit like writing with my left hand. For me, its awkward and shaky and doesn’t flow as smoothly as my introverted, thinker side (much to my frustration at times!).

I’m feeling a bit like a duck out of water these past couple months as I realize that most of my life for the past year and a half  has been novel and new. We’re in a new city, making new friends. I’m a new mom with a new daughter, new routines and just recently, a new job and a new church. If I’m honest, I’m getting a little tired of all the change. Yet with an ever changing child on my hands, it appears I’m in for lots of change in the coming years. So I want to write a couple of posts that will be grounding in the coming days and months. I want to remember the things I can fall back on when everything feels up in the air.

Someone once told me that Paul is at his pastoral best in his letter to the Philippians when says the following:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true,whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think on these things. Whatever you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, put these things into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8

I appreciate this verse because it invites and challenges the thinkers, feelers, introverts and extroverts in all of us into a life of consideration and practice that’s full of integrity.  If you’re going to think…and you will…think honorably, purely, admirably. Consider the things that are lovely. And then don’t stop there. Put those noble, beautiful thoughts into practice.

I can get stuck in my own head. If I’m not intentional, I can get caught up in a merry-go-round of thoughts. Recently I’m realizing that the only thing I’m putting into practice are hours of considerations of my own considerations! If that’s not the definition of an incredibly unhelpful merry-go-round, I don’t know what is. Paul’s reminding me to get back to basics. I  want to remember what is true and put it into practice. This won’t always feel easy or natural but then again I only need to do it one moment at a time. Looking forward to getting these thoughts out there in the coming days.

What, on this day, is true for you? How is this truth honorable, right, pure, lovely or admirable? I would love to learn from you!

 

Welcome to My Blog!

In the winter of 2004 during my Junior year of college, I let an eager 22 year old young man convince me that I should let him take me out on date. When I suggested we could get a drink and he instantly made dinner reservations I should have considered the fact that my more hesitant self clearly needed to be swept off her feet. Thirteen years later we have arrived in Atlanta, Georgia by way of Baltimore, Maryland with a 6 year pit stop in Galveston, Texas to get a doctorate (his, not mine, but I dare say I EARNED MY DOCTORATE THERE TOO).

We have a one year old daughter named Ellie and an 8 year old dog named Nellie (Yes. This is ridiculous. It’s a whole thing. I will explain later) and are wrapping ourselves up in a marriage, family and community and finding that it mostly fits if we can get over ourselves long enough.

I’m starting this blog with two primary questions in mind:

  • What does a life of freedom actually look like? In some ways I connect this concept to my generations incessant “can you have it all” question…Is having it all possible? Do we even want it all? Well, if you ask me I’m learning that I just want the freedom to decide for myself. Yet this freedom business is tricky. It can be as simple as laying something down or as confusing as starting from scratch.How do we know if we’re making the right decisions? I’m excited to see what comes of asking these question and letting them sit before us. The path could lead to something really lovely, don’t you think? I look forward to dialoguing about it in this space.
  • What do I really want? This question is related to the first but it goes one step further. Society would have us stake our identities on extremes. You’re either a 70 mile per hour career woman or a stay at home mom with an iron in her hand but God forbid we have our hands in and out of both pots at various seasons and find those seasons actually satisfying. In the gospels, before Jesus healed a person, He very often asked the person “What is it that you want?” If he is divine (and I believe that he is) then surely he didn’t need to know the answer. And yet Jesus is the compassionate healer who won’t stand for healing the physical malady without also bringing the spiritual and emotional wounds along for the ride. I want to talk about what this journey looks like in my life and others and see where it takes us.

Life can be really messy. As I write this it’s the week of Easter and I’m sitting in Atlanta recovering from the plague (ok a virus, but as I eat saltines and consider if broth will stay down the hatch, we might as well call it the plague) when I was supposed to be visiting some beloved family members and celebrating an important event in their lives. These things happen sometimes but it’s certainly not what I would have said that I wanted. There are so many things in this life and this world that take turns we don’t expect: for the good and for the bad. I’m wondering what God is inviting us all into? What are the parts we’re supposed to play? How do we live this well?

Doing it together is a great place start. Thanks for joining me.

-Courtney

PS. if you like what you’re reading please consider subscribing on the right side of this post. I promise I will only post when I have something pressing to share. ‘Aint nobody got time for jibber jabber…Am I right?