Tend-and-befriender

It is odd to tell a story as if it was a thing that happened and it has an end and tra la la. This story is a chapter, it is a leaf only recently flipped over, and I am not sure which parts of its’ green vines to write, and which to leave for later.

Yet today, here, now, all I have is cute little me and my inhospitable life story and path. Here, friends, is a part.

August 2015 I am in a restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama with my best friend Emily. She is chewing red and yellow tortilla chips in the magical way only she can, and I gaze at the shiny bottles of alcohol propped on and around the bar caddy-corner to us.

“I’m just afraid that I will marry him and go to be with him and then hate it and not want to be there,” I say. Emily and I do not talk about everything but we talk about most things and all the deep things, yet somehow there is a unique heaviness to the fear I share in this moment. Emily nods like the sane, level-headed being she is, and validates my concern with restraint.

Sadly, utter heaviness was no stranger to my experience of life then, and still maintains a fairly reliable presence (always forward, always healing, always hopeful). At that point I was back from an emotionally stressful overseas trip, and had returned with a new tend-and-befriender. What is that, you ask? Using language from Teresa B. Pasquale’s book Sacred Wounds, tend-and-befriend is a defense mechanism used by someone in survival mode or trauma response. It is associated with the bonding hormone, oxytocin, that serves humans by helping us feel connected to others. It becomes nefarious, however, when a person is stuck in a trauma response and feels dependent emotionally on (often potentially hurtful) people or communities.

At the age of 21, I had spent the majority of my life (read: every second) moving from a stress response. The emotional and religious trauma of my developmental years left me stuck in frozen distress (things can get reeeeeally hairy there is distress-arctica, let me tell ya), and there I was, about two months after the difficult trip, feeling a deep obligation to return to be with someone in a foreign country who had helped me through a VERY rough 13 days. I felt that I owed him something, and that to return and live the life I assumed he wanted from or with me was the undeniable right thing to do.

I felt it not on a spiritual level, nor on a level of dutifulness, nor on an intellectual level. It was deeper than those parts of me, and now I know that when I feel that deep, guttural obligation it is coming from my very evolution. Those stress responses are a part of me because I am a part of an evolving body of humanity; sounds beautiful, sure, but in that moment, I was very stuck. Living in this kind of stress response is like trying to breath with air that is only 0.09% oxygen. It is having your insides in the fetal position when you need them to open and flourish and say things and be responsive to people. It is a jack-hammer in your mind that leaves you vulnerable to re-experiencing the abuse combined with a sense of badness that stings and prods like horse flies on the beach. It is no sleep and avoidance of every love-light ray that comes near your personal darkness.

The religious trauma compounded with this process has continually led me to my knees, trying to bargain with push-and-pull gods off in the cosmos who made me, so must want me, but also must not want me since here I am in this turmoil again.

Thankfully, the kind man who helped me when I was overseas, lived, yes, overseas. After 5+ months in contact with him, I suddenly cut all conversation–text, calls, video. He offered advice and was kind and looking back I think he must have sensed the turmoil I was in though he did not understand it either, and I said goodbye.

January 2016 I am at my part-time cleaning job the day after cutting off the relationship and the air is back to 20% oxygen. Sweet, sweet clear oxygen filling my shriveled lungs. I lift my Pledge-covered rag over my head and dance; I feel elated, happy, for the first time in months. I am happy because I see that I am mine. As the jack-hammer lifts off my mind, I am thinking over and over: this is my life. I clean this house. This is my heart. I feel these things. The fetus my insides had become is suddenly a seed of new life, rather than a posture of protection. I am mine again, independent, and my muchness is slipping back into the ghost of myself that has been living misguided and drained for the past months.

I still wonder if people without an over-active stress response system feel that elated all the time. I wonder how many times I will have to survive a response like that again until my Holy Trinity (body, mind, soul) can look a stressful situation in the face and know that I am enough, and that it is going to be okay and I am going to make it regardless of what goes down.

I never should have accessed this place of stress and trauma. I certainly never should have gotten stuck in it for so long. But this is my life. MY super unique and immense life, people. I am grateful that I get to live it, know it, figure it out. This life is path and path is where my insides and outsides come together and I experience joy and love and laughter. Here, on path, I take the hands of my loved-ones with my own, even when I feel that my hands are not worthy to be inside of someone else’s.

Last week someone I love very much was angry and I could see the anger that she was trying to protect me from as I stroked her black hair.

I could see. I have lived. It has hurt. I can see.

Live free, live inside of the Big Love.

Namaste, nomads.

 

LN

 

 

 

 

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10 Lessons of Hope

I have accumulated some great nuggets of knowledge over the past year and I want to share them! Not because I know it all, or even half of it all, but because I know different things than you do, and sharing our lessons is a good way to practice loving each other and living wise.

Here we go…

  • Wherever you are, be there. Community is built by people who invest in the lives of those around them rather than spend time searching for the group to be in. I realized this last summer when I noticed that the “favorites” list on my phone was over a page long, and full of people I did not talk to on a weekly basis. I had accumulated a list of the people I thought I needed to be with, and that had only served to damage the community God had placed me in. I trimmed the list down to seven people: it is far more user-friendly now, and I do not so often feel stretched out and stressed by the demands myriads of friends used to place on me.

“There isn’t anything on earth like relationships to make you holy.” ~Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 146

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” ~Acts 9:11, ESV

  • Be refreshed by the things you like to do. If you tend to overwork yourself (like me), you may find no space in your life for activities you enjoy. Change that. You need to do frequent, inexpensive things that you find refreshing. God gives us these pleasures as blessings; they help us through the ache of everyday life. For me it is yoga, and writing in my journal. Other people go on walks, cook, or build bonfires outdoors. (**Beware of idolatry: don’t turn these blessings into curses by giving them the heart that only belongs to God.**)

“But a heart alive is a heart that is awake and curious and pressing in to more.” ~ Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 115

  • Be (extra) kind to minorities. Not because they are any more desperate or less important than the ethnic majority, but because, odds are, things in their family tree haven’t gone so smoothly. Why else would they be far from their biological roots? Just subtly offer to pay for dinner when you’re out with a friend who is a minority member, or get plugged in to a mentoring program for at-risk youth. America has a situation on her hands. What are you gonna do about it?

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 7:12, ESV

  • Own what you’re good at. I’ve wasted too many compliments, shrugging them away, saying, “Oh, it’s nothing, I’m not that good.” Take the compliment! Don’t be puffed up with unrighteous pride, but don’t apologize for being good at something either. I struggle with math and science but I’ve wowed some college instructors with essays and short stories. God has made me this way so I can serve HIS amazing purposes!

“God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.”  ~Ephesians 2:10, CEV

  • Learn to say “no” to demands people place on you. Practice it if you have to; I did. This is especially difficult and of key importance if you have an enabling personality. Ask God, not men, what he would have you do with your time.

“Made in the image of God, we were created to take responsibility for certain tasks. Part of taking responsibility, or ownership, is knowing what is our job and what isn’t. Workers who continually take on duties that aren’t theirs will eventually burn out.” ~Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, 27

  • Be OKAY with not knowing. No one knows it all. Don’t drive yourself mad searching for the answer to every question that flies through your head in a day. *You don’t have to win the arguments.* Doing research, learning, and seeking council is good, but no amount of historical data or advice or analysis can set your heart to rest. Only God offers real rest. Trust him as you spend a lifetime learning the truth.

God, show me the truth and show me the lies.

      “We are not uncertain about God, but uncertain of what He will do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.” ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 120

  • Beware of people who do know. Again, no one knows it all. The president, scientists, your parents, your mentors, your pastor, your therapist, they may have pieces of truth that cultivate discernment within you but they do not know it all. Our not-knowing is what makes us human, and spurs us forward to humble reliance on God. His ways are **not** our ways. Look out for people who have the answers to all your questions. Imagine a librarian who, when asked for books about World War II, starts reciting her personal knowledge of the war. You’d probably walk away slowly and Google it later. Surround yourself with people who don’t have all the answers, but are quick to point you in the right direction.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”~1 John 4:1, ESV

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” ~Hebrews 5:14, ESV

  • Grieve. It’s OKAY to cry when you leave a job you have only had for two years. It is OKAY to spend an entire afternoon writing down memories of a loved one who passed away. If you need to weep, weep. If you need to take time thinking and wading through your emotions, set aside that time. You can experience the pain now or let it snowball for the rest of your life. God wants to bring healing to the pain in your heart, it’s part of your restoration.

“There is hope for your future, declares the Lord.” ~Jeremiah 30:17, ESV

“Jesus wept.” ~John 11:35, ESV

“Smooth sailing does not make a good sailor.” ~Louis Zamperini, Devil at My Heels

((for more on grief check out Prayer as a Place, by Charles Bello))

  • Ask God what his special love language is for you. Heather Nelson (http://sunshinedreams2u.blogspot.com/) told me this at a retreat a few weeks ago, and little did I know, God would reveal our special language to me less than an hour later. I stood next to a window and the sun slowly peeked around a thick tree. The white rays pierced glass and kissed my forehead. Sunlight. Sunshine. That is one of the way God speaks to me, letting me know he is near. Today I basked in that same glow, feeling alive and rejuvenated by this tangible taste of everlasting love. Perhaps he speaks to you in dreams, or via shapes or sounds. Just ask!

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” ~Ephesians 2:17&18, ESV, emphasis mine

  • If you are not a slave to God, you are a slave to death. In a way, slavery is our only option. But the slavery of God leads to fruit, to life! With God as our master, we find true freedom and the ability to rest in his grace and do good things. The other option is default mode: remaining in bondage to our own fickle, wounded hearts. None of our decisions are for good when we live by the flesh, but though the war rages on when we live by the Spirit, we are able to surrender to God’s excellent plan for the redemption of our souls and this planet.

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” ~Romans 6:16-18, NIV

“Give your life away in exchange for many lives, give away your blessings to multiply blessings, give away so that many might increase, and do it all for the love of God.” ~AnnVoskamp, One Thousand Gifts, page 197 (http://www.aholyexperience.com/)

Have a new year filled with hope, friends. Happy 2015!

DecaGratitude

There are days when I just need a minute to breathe. These are usually the days when a list of thanks is in order. Emotional fatigue is a sure sign of discontentment. It is too much for one girl to desire what the world says she should have AND the Lord’s will for her days. I am that girl and I cannot do it. I either have to stop and re calibrate, or I will wander exhausted for weeks, months, years.

My history instructor firmly declared last January that human beings are good at 2 things: complaining, and reproducing. Now I can’t say much about the latter, but as for the former, I am human through and through. This is me offering an Ann-Voskamp answer to my own trouble.

1) Nutella covered fingers, dancing to worship music alone in my room with You.

2) Legs that kick strong through water, bubbles that come up from my nose.

3) Hair that does somersaults on blustery days.

4) Neon Steeple Radio (Spotify), words that remind me of the only One who is promised to be present at my dying breath.

5) Scripture: I am hungry, thirsty, deranged in pursuit of Truth. I want to gobble it, consuming even the long organized lists of Leviticus and Numbers. Thank you Jesus for this flawless piece of yourself.

6) Laughs shared with co-workers, hymns to sing when medicine will not let me rest.

7) White tangerine flesh cracking as I bite from pit.

8) Parents bent over to create fronds like shields, halting fiery darts hurled my way.

9) Tears locked behind my eyes, denying death her bounty.

10) Friends who text to tell me I am loved, turning grief tears into sunshine drops.

My Jesus has won.(( Shout it! ))The battle against my other list (the one not worth sharing: it contains the things I cannot do, the gifts I do not have) is already finished. Why should I carry the burdens of warfare already fought for me?

Rejoice; He came back alive!

I am terrified to receive the blessings my God has for me. After the manner of a solemn Muslim addressing Allah, I pray eyes wide, palms open. I flutter like a dry fall leaf.

When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me.~Psalm 138:3

I go to soak in His Word for though I cannot always see His footprints or hear His voice,

I will always remain in His love.

Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.~Psalm 77:19

The Peace

Peter & Jenny Boling, vocational God-followers.

Peter & Jenny Boling, vocational God-followers.

What was the best part of your trip to Mexico? They say.
Oh, dear, I say.

Was it the all-night New Years Eve fiesta with confetti and balloons and dancing?
Was it standing on a dirt roof looking out over Cabo San Lucas as fireworks went off to illuminate a new year?
Perhaps it was napping lightly in the bright yellow sun on New Years Day.
There was also whale watching from the beach of the Pacific, sprawled on a blanket, the aftertaste of sweet white wine on my tongue. A new friend welcomed me by caressing my face and declaring severe jealousy for my eye color and skin tone.
Flying through the air and splashing hard into blue, chilly water, watching the fish flee: that may have been it.
There is, however, no blessing as real as sitting quietly before the Lord, praying, reading, and listening without the interruption of responsibilities.
The greatest blessing of the trip, truly, was being with people who are on the same road as I, only 30 years farther down it. Hanging our legs off the back of a truck, parked to overlook the city of La Paz (The Peace), they prayed and I received gifts beyond value. I was warmed by prayers for my renewal, my growth, and my future relationships. People who care on a deep level, for the yearnings and groanings of my spirit, are people whose feet I love to sit at and learn.

Coming home
With a banished ego, (oh that it were deflated for good!)
With a greater love for my city,
With a corrected understanding of God’s grace,
With a deeper desire to know, rely on, and follow God,
Was the biggest blessing.
God uproots my heart time and again, for the sake of replanting it more deeply in Him.

For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.~Micah 4:5