Not An Orphan

Finally sharing one of my new hammered dulcimer songs. I am still learning as I’ve only been playing since November but it’s super fun! Kind of crazy to play piano at the same time but I am getting the hang of it slowly.

I have written this song, Not An Orphan, over and over but I think I finally like it.

Lyrics:

When you found me there I was left for dead

Alone and abandoned
But you cried out to me live
You bent down and you gave to me a promise, a destiny
Can you say it again? Can you say it..

Tell it to my soul and I’ll tell it to the world
I’m not an orphan any more
I’m not an orphan any more

I was numb to anything that looked like love
But would end in pain
‘Til your love changed everything
And now I’m coming to believe
That you are mine and you’ll always be
Can you say it again? Can you say it…

Believe it oh my soul
You are not alone- you were never alone

 

The You In Beautiful

Note: Hello friends! Those of you who know me from The Sexy Celibate blog will see a lot of changes here, especially the name. I have realized the last few months that singleness is not on my radar quite as much as it used to be, and I have kind of exhausted that topic. I still want to be a voice for single people, and I will still have posts about my process with this, but I wanted to change the identity of my blog so that I wouldn’t be pigeon holed into that topic. I also want to reach people who are outside of the single circle. 

I decided on the name Resilient for my blog because it encompasses a lot of what I want my life to be about: living a good life despite it looking different than I had envisioned and embracing the healing God has given me in my spirit and my mind.

I thought I would start out the new name with an excerpt of my new book on self compassion. The working title of the book is The You in Beautiful: A Journey Towards Self Compassion and Reflection.

I hope you like it! Thanks for being so faithful even through a long period of silence from me.

On with the post!

“You have suffered enough

And warred with yourself

It’s time that you won.”

From the song Falling Slowly by Glen Hansord and Markéta Irglová

If someone were to stick an antenna to my head to create a radio station, that would be a bad idea.

Because it is a big box of weird in there.

Right now, the show would sound like this…

“Okay, Kate. Put some words on the page. It’s time. Book time. Words. Upwords. Isn’t that a game? Don’t get distracted…I think I like club soda.

Club soda, grapefruit. Grapefruit, bananas, big monkey. Big monkey wearing socks.  Thirteen socks in the laundry today. Only eight were matching. Where did all those socks go? Perhaps this is proof of a spirit realm? Sox, baseball games, baseball games with Dad…

Kate, earth to Kate! Time to write….

Nanu Nanu.”

This radio station is quite disorganized. While most stations have a policy of putting commercials on only during the breaks, mine interjects jingles, often from my childhood, right in the middle of the talk show.

You have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup. . .You should put an alarm in your iPhone so you don’t forget. The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup. . .”

There are several voices that sound off in that small but important piece of real estate called my mind. There is a lot of drama, a smattering of ego, and glimpses of beautiful in that place. But one thing is certain.

It is not often peaceful there.

It’s the kind of neighborhood that you would never want to walk through in the dark. There is too much hostility there to be safe. Pieces of myself are often battling other pieces of myself. In fact, most of my selves have quite dysfunctional relationships with each other. Some part of me is frequently bullying another part of me about my choices or my failed relationships or my thighs. Always the thighs.

With all the drama, it feels more like a telenovella than a place that I would like to sit and have a cup of tea.

More often than not, the good hearted, worn out creature that I inhabit puts her hands up in the air and takes the mistreatment.

Recently, though, something happened that made me realize that my role as a helpless bystander needed to change. It was time for an intervention.

The turning point came when I went on a solitude retreat in the mountains of Julian near San Diego. I was reading the book Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning and came to this paragraph

That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ, all these are undoubtably great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ.

But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself- that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindnessthat I myself am the enemy that must be loved– what then?” 

My soul rattled inside of me. I breathed in and out slowly for a few moments, and then I began to cry. I asked God to cradle me, and I hugged my arms to myself. I sat in that position weeping for a good twenty minutes. 

I was the beggar in need of my own alms, the enemy that I needed to learn to love.

I realized in that moment that I have had a profound sense of self doubt from the time that I was young. An uncertainty that I am really worthy of love. When I began questioning my value at that young age, these voices started to develop- the bully,  the orphan, the perfectionist- and they often rivaled the compassionate friend in me.

I have almost always seen the good in people. I have spent a large portion of my life writing songs and books and teaching seminars about how valuable people are. I have volunteered for years with homeless people and at risk youth, always with the message that they are beautiful no matter what the world tells them.

What I realized that day, surrounded by the mountains, my arms wrapped around my knees, is that the only person in my life that I don’t always see as valuable or beautiful, the only person that I am often unkind to

is me.

Later that day, I came across a verse that I had read dozens of times before. But this time, through the eyes of self compassion, I read it differently.

“One of them, an expert in the Law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40, NIV.)

That’s when I saw it: Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, not more than yourself.

I was stunned. With this new way of looking at the verse, I realized I was not obeying this command the way I thought I was. 

I had two thirds of the command down. I had followed Jesus’ teaching to love God with all my heart. My love for God was my lifeline. I had worshipped and churched and listened and prayed and memorized and hiked and retreated and loved.

I had also followed Jesus’ command to love my neighbor. Loving my friends and family and people in need had been one of the core values of my life. I had volunteered and forgiven and cooked and and taught and served and charitied and sang and written and given and given and given.

But what kind of history did I have with loving myself? That list was very different. I had screen timed and regretted and worried and overeaten and undereaten and ran ragged and looked on as unattractive and unworthy. These actions did not indicate love. They indicated an attempt to anesthetize a deep seated sense of shame.

Perhaps I inwardly believed this was how it was supposed to be. In my twisted way, I thought that’s what it meant to be humble.

And yet, right here in the Golden Rule, Jesus asked me to love myself. Just as much as I loved my neighbor. My habit of not loving myself was actually going against what God had commanded me to do.

In pondering this, I realized the brilliance of Jesus’ words. There is a triangulating relationship between God and neighbor and self. The more I love God, the more I learn to love my neighbor and myself. The more I love myself, the more I learn to love my neighbor and my God.

It is a sacred balancing act.

It seems that it’s really difficult to have compassion and connection with others and God when we’re not even kind to ourselves.

I realized that the way to solve this problem was not to hate the parts of myself that were being hateful. That would just spur on the vicious cycle. Instead I needed to give myself the gift that I would want to give to a good friend. . .

The gift of listening close.

I need to ask better questions and to search out the better answers that are already in me. I need to become a compassionate observer of the voices inside. To understand where they came from and how to bring them the love they so desperately need.  And to ask them, please, to make peace with each other so that I no longer have to carry this war inside of me.

It’s time to put the sticks down.

It’s time to rewrite the story line.

It’s time to offer myself the alms of my own kindness.

It’s time to make this neighborhood safe again.

Let’s find our way home together.

Rewriting Our Shame Narrative

Adam and EveRecently, my community was eating a meal together and sharing the best and worst parts of our week. We got to Naomi, the thoughtful and wise seven year old that I live with.

She said “This week, I had a performance in front of the entire school and I had an accident right on the stage.” We all took a breath, feeling sad that our dear little friend had to go through that.

But then she finished her sentence with: “And I knew that God was with me.”

It seems that, miraculously, she wasn’t telling us the worst part of her week, but the best part.

My housemate pressed her, “how did you know he was there, Naomi?” Naomi replied “I could feel him on the stage with me. It was like he was right there next to me.” Her eyes were steady. There was absolute certainty in her voice.

It was obvious that she was not disturbed by what happened. Her faith had turned what should have been a moment of humiliation into a moment of communion with God. 

Naomi’s shame narrative was replaced by a storyline of total acceptance. Her resilience has made me wonder if the narrative that I live my life into is based more on consistent shame or on relentless love.

Brene Brown, an expert in this area, defines shame as the deeply painful belief that we are not worthy of love or belonging because of our flaws. Shame is rooted not just in our behaviors, but in the very core of who we are. While guilt says “I did something bad,” shame says “I am something bad.” Guilt says “I made a mistake,” while shame says “I am a mistake.”

The belief that no one would love me if they really knew my deepest self is one of the most prevalent ugly beliefs in my life.  Whether it be my weight or my failed relationships or leaders rejecting or me or the “best friend” syndrome that seems to happen with most men I am interested in, I wonder if I am truly worthy of love.

I am not alone in this predicament. Shame seems to be part of the human condition, going all the way back to Adam and Eve.

Etymologists have linked the modern English word shame with the indo-germanic root kam/kem meaning to cover. The idea of hiding and covering ourselves because we don’t deserve love is one of the central themes in this, the most ancient of narratives.

You know the story: Adam and Eve eat from the tree of Good and Evil after God ask them not to. 

After this, Adam and Eve don’t want God to see them. They cover themselves because they think  they no longer deserve to be seen. The fact that they are now naked is mentioned five times in only a few hundred words. It is a central theme.

Before the sin, they feel no insecurity at all. Afterwards, all they can think of is that the way they were originally made (their nakedness) is somehow shameful. They begin a storyline that says that something is intrinsically wrong with them.

Instead of reacting to the situation by admitting “I did something wrong,” they cover  their nakedness, the very essence of their being, saying “I am something wrong.”

It would be appropriate for Adam and Eve to respond in guilt, saying “I made a mistake, will you forgive me?” Instead, they take it a step further by responding in shame, proclaiming  “I am a mistake. I am not worthy of love or belonging. I can never be close to God again” which leads to the inevitable familiar lie that says, “from now on, I will be an orphan. I am alone.”

Like Adam and Eve, we start out with a clean slate, firm in our identity. But for many of us, messages start to come forth that tell us that we are not loved for the essence of who we are. The message is I have to do something in order to get love rather than I am someone who deserves to be loved.

Sometimes, religion can confuse us with many paradoxical messages. You are a sinner vs. you are a new creation. You are not worthy to tie the straps of his sandals vs. you are so valuable that Jesus paid his life for you.

Sometimes, I tend  to hold on to the everything in me is bad theology more than the one that says I am beautiful in God’s eyes. Even when I do believe God sees me beautiful and that he makes me worthy of love, I have a hard time translating that the way that the people in my life see me, the way that I see myself, the storyline that I write.

I want to rewrite the narrative of my identity, changing it from I am a sinner who is occasionally a child of God to I am a child of God who occasionally sins. 

After hearing Naomi’s story, I wondered if I could learn from the wisdom of this child. Could I face my own audience of shame, the mocking voice that tells me that I am not worthy to receive love?

In my most vulnerable moment, the moment of total exposure, can I stand on the stage hand in hand with God, unscathed by the scoffing because God’s voice is so much bigger…the voice that says there is nothing you can do to make me love you any more, and there is nothing you can do to make me love you any less? 

Can I believe that I am beautiful and worthy of love because he gave everything to make me beautiful and worthy of love? Perhaps this is the new storyline I need to rebuild the landscape of my interior landscape with. 

Now I turn the question to you: Have you struggled with believing your are intrinsically valuable? What are some of the messages that made you believe this? Has religion made this better or worse for you? Has your friendship with God changed anything?

The Soul Feels Its Worth

It’s Christmas. I can tell because I have remnants of White Elephant parties piling up on my dresser: dollar store candles and signed pictures of Screech from Saved By The Bell. Someone got a live lobster at one party, but I was not so lucky.

I can tell because I begrudgingly have the Christmas Pandora station playing in my kitchen, the singers crooning in all of their insincere glory.  (Gloria Estefan, do you really want to see Christmas Through My Eyes? Mariah Carey, is it true that all you want for Christmas is me? Paraphrasing Love Actually: it may be crap music but it’s solid gold crap!)

I can tell because my heart, oh my poor heart is in the weird paradoxical state it is always in this time of year. One moment feeling so incredibly loved, the next feeling so incredibly lonely. One moment feeling  so grateful for my life, the next feeling like I am done with the storyline I’m living and that I want a new one. As soon as possible.

Christmas is the great reminder that my life is not like the nebulous phantom family life that is out there floating in the universe that all of us are supposed to compare our own families with. For some odd reason, we feel this pressure to weigh our our own situations to see if they live up to some magical standard that perhaps no family actually has.

Inevitably though, every year, I have something that shakes me out of my me coma long enough to remember the incredible, mind blowing mystery that we are celebrating.

This year, that something was this footage of the Andromeda galaxy. (Stick with it until the end if possible so you can picture the scale I’m talking about.)

What we just saw is one tiny speck of one galaxy. Scientists believe that there are around one hundred billion galaxies. To help you understand that number, if God were to give you one galaxy every second, it would take around 3,200 years for him to give you all the galaxies of the universe.

Mind officially blown.

Mind blown

What is even crazier is that the God who not only lives in the cosmos but CREATED them, the God that can’t be contained by eternity, that very God came down and became a tiny baby.

So we can hold him close to our heart.

Can you imagine how confined, uncomfortable, helpless, that might have felt? But he did it. He did it because he wants to be close to us.

He did it because when it is Christmas day and I begin to cry because my life is not what I expected or hoped it would be, he is right there holding me. He gave everything to be close to me like that. He truly is Emmanuel, the God that is with us. Even in our darkest moments.

That picture of the God who made those stars being held in the arms of human beings is truly the greatest mystery fathomable, the deepest and most profound story ever told.

As the Christmas song “O Holy Night” says he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.

When I remember this mystery, this sacrifice, no matter what my circumstances look like, my soul feel its worth.

What do you love about Christmas? What do you hate about it? What mysteries blow your mind during this season?

PS to all my Sexy Celibate readers: it has been a long time since I have put up a post . It’s not because I’ve been lazy, though! I am writing a new book on self compassion and bringing God’s  healing to the different “voices” inside of you like the orphan, the bully, and the performer. My mind has been on other things besides singleness (thankfully) and that’s why I have haven’t posted. But I’m sure you all would like to hear about other things…I will try to get some tidbits from my new book on here soon. And if any other singleness ideas come up I will get right on it! Thanks for sticking with me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living a Labyrinth Life in a Ladder World

labyrinth1

My former pastor Brad Riley (who started the fantastic organization iempathize which fights to eradicate child exploitation) has a tattoo of a labyrinth on his forearm. With this information alone you can discern that

1) I am the kind of person who is ok with having a pastor with tattoos and

2) There are a lot of people wearing skinny jeans at my church.

Brad’s tattoo is based on a real labyrinth in the basement of our church. During one service, we all went downstairs and walked the labyrinth together silently as an act of worship.

The labyrinth looked a lot like a life sized maze painted on the floor with one difference: there were no dead ends. All labyrinths have one path to the middle, and one path out. 

We walked this together as a community and it was fascinating. Sometimes I thought that I was almost to the heart of the labyrinth, only to find myself at the outer edge again within a few more strides. Even though some people entered sooner than others, we were all walking a similar journey, and it would be very hard for an onlooker to to know who was “in the lead.”

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I have thought a lot about this experience because I would love to live a “labyrinth life.” A life in which I recognize that everyone around me is on the same level as me, on a similar journey. A place in which I may be led by people that are more experienced than me, but they still see me as an equal and a comrade. A place in which I validate my life journey just as much as my neighbors, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, the world we live in is a world of ladders. Clunky, falling over ladders, with people scrambling to get to the top, stepping on each other in our constant movement up or down.

Humans by their very nature rank things.

-We rank people by gender, race, wealth, or intelligence.

-We rank people by seeing who is appointed “above us”, which often isolates on both sides. I have heard that head pastors are often lonely because they don’t have anyone to talk to about their own problems.

-We rank our own worth compared to others saying “She’s so much prettier than I am” or “he’s a better athlete than I am.”

We rank each other’s happiness. We look at smiling Facebook pictures and think  “I wish I had their life.”

-We rank when we look for a partner, discerning sometimes within a few minutes whether that person is on about the same level as us in their attractiveness, job status, religion, level of education, likability, and confidence level.

-We even rank our grieving processes, saying things like “Why is she so sad about that? What I am going through is much more difficult.” (This is a topic I will explore further  in future posts.)

Rene Girard, the anthropological philosopher, has a theory about humans and their ladder like ways. He coined the term mimetic desire. The basic theory is that there is a triangulating rather than a direct relationship that humans have with most things in the world.  We rarely ever directly want anything…we want something because someone else has it.

According to this theory, our motivation often stems from an inward desire to be like someone else or to compete with someone else. Comparison is almost always a factor. We see this pattern even in the first years of life when a child wants the toy of another child vehemently more than any other in a room full of toys.

An adult example of mimetic desire is the aforementioned trend of skinny jeans. When people started wearing them years ago, I thought they looked silly. “Those may be all right for slim people, but they look awkward on any other figure.”

Within a few months I found myself in a trendy dressing room, squeezing my curvy frame into said skinny jeans. I distinctly remembered thinking “I’m too old for this crap.”

And yet, I have worn them ever since. Any hint flare in my jeans makes me feel like I am in the wrong decade.

In fact, I will probably be wearing skinny jeans until I see the upcoming “Yuccies” (who evidently are replacing the dying out class of hipsters) convince me that I should pin roll my non skinny jeans like I did in middle school.

This is a classic case of Girard’s theory. 

The next step of the theory states that in order for similar people groups to escape their competition towards one another, they will find a “scapegoat” outside of their group to dehumanize and retaliate against in order to bond with each other.

First they wanted the same object, now they want to fight against the same enemy. You can see this in things as innocent as a football game and as tragic as a genocide.

We have seen this phenomenon of scapegoating explode in the modern digital age, where social media has become a mutual agreement/ scapegoating machine.

This system of competition, rivalry, and classification inevitably puts us on ladders, where we rank everything from our gender to our attractiveness to our shoe choice.

How do we escape these ladders encircling us telling us that we are not good enough, that we are better than, that we are deserve more, that we deserve less, that we are all very separated and very alone?

To bring this into my personal life, the most difficult church experiences I’ve ever had have been when hierarchal leadership has been in place, in which it was obvious that I was not as important as other people in my community and my leaders had more say over my decisions than I did.

No leaders at all can result in spiritual anarchy, which is not healthy. But power hungry leaders can quickly lead to spiritual slavery. The trick is to find a balance between the two and to look for servant leaders, to be servant leaders. 

After many years in that dance, I now look for situations where my leaders lead me, but they also see me as walking on the same level that they are, where we can learn from each other. 

Galatians 3:28 says “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Do you realize what a potent statement this was, especially in a time where religious, economic, and gender rankings were even more stark and volatile towards each other than they are now? Much of Paul’s writing is based on his revelation that the message of Jesus was a message for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.

If we were to live by this verse and truly see the people in our lives as one, it would empower us to bring value and validity both to our neighbors, no matter how different they looked than us, and even contribute to our own self worth.

Here are some questions I have for you:

How has ranking been detrimental to your own self worth?

Are there people that you have scapegoated or you have seen other people scapegoat?

Have you ever been in ladder leadership situations that were harmful to your well being?

How has Christ’s love taught you to love people beyond their gender, ethnicity, lack of Tom’s shoes, etc?

I’m My Own Siamese Twin

Twins

You may see the title to this post and think “hmmmm…..what’s this? Strangely fascinating realityTV show?”

No. It’s an odd but potentially helpful analogy.

Just roll with it, people.

To help you understand the metaphor let’s look at the most famous conjoined twins: Chang and Eng Bunker, from Siam (modern Thailand). They were born in the 1800’s. The term Siamese twins came from these two. They were joined at the sternum. In modern times it would be easy for them to be surgically separated, but at the time there were no such medical advances. The King of Siam ordered to have the twins killed, but their mother refused.

When one twin would eat something sour, the other would taste it. When one was tickled, the other would feel it.

They were in a traveling circus for a season, but then moved to the U.S. and  developed their own entertainment enterprise. They married sisters, and between the two couples, they had 21 children. (Let’s not ponder too long about this…)The wives each had a home and the twins would spend half weeks in each.

Chang had a anger problem while Eng stayed relatively happy and healthy. Chang was an alcoholic but Eng was a teetotaler. This was a sad set of circumstances, because they shared the same liver. When Chang had a stroke on the right side of his body, Eng nursed him back to relative health. Chang finally developed Bronchitis. Eng was healthy up the day of Chang’s death. A doctor tried to separate the two before Eng died, but it sadly was too late. Chang had brought him down.

The reason I have been thinking about conjoined twins the last few days is that I went on a solitude retreat this week. Every book I chose to read, every bible verse, every assignment from my spiritual director for inner healing, all challenged me to overcome my nasty seasonal habit of being mean to myself. I had not planned for this theme to be so woven through the week, it just happened.

Apparently, God wants to teach me the art of being kind to myself.

As I was reading Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning, I came across this paragraph:

“That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ, all these are undoubtably great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ.

But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself- that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness- that I myself am the enemy that must be loved- what then?”

This resonated deep within me. I am a kind person. Leaders have specifically told me that kindness and encouragement are two of my greatest gifts. I truly see the best in people.

I have given a lot of my life to help people see their giftedness, their beauty, their worth. It is a central theme in my volunteer work with youth and homeless, my music, my writing, and at the retreats and YWAM bases I have taught at.

What I realized this week is that the only person in my life that I don’t consistently see as valuable or beautiful, the only person that I am often unkind to

is me.

Whether it be my physical appearance or wrong decisions or romantic slights from men, I turn to being unkind to myself like an addiction at times.

I distinctly remember one of my best friends saying after a breakup in which I vocalized my lack of self worth “Kate, stop being so mean to my friend! If a guy in your life was treating you the same way you are treating yourself right now, I would want to punch him in the face.”

Wow. Point taken.

It seems that I have two sides to myself, my own Siamese twins that live inside of me. I have Chang, the one who lives in my psyche, who is unhealthy and sometimes mean and often feeds addictions. Then I have Eng, who lives in my soul, who is beautiful and confident and sees herself as valuable.

Chang is often so unkind to Eng that my soul starts to lose it’s radiance.

The truth is, if I were another person and I met Kate, I would like her. She would be one of my closest friends. I would think she was pretty and fun and creative. But something about being inside of my own body, being privy to my thoughts, something about that leads me to look at myself differently than I look at anyone else.

As I wrestled with these thoughts this week, I realized that shame is the root of this kind of thinking.

As Brene Brown says, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

There is something in human nature that says “I am not worthy of love, and here is why…”

If I don’t do the hard work of loving myself as much as I love other people, Chang is going to take Eng down, just like Chang took his twin brother to his death bed with him.

How can we escape this downward spiral of self deprecation?

First of all, it is so important to realize that God never called us to hate or even dislike ourselves, despite what some of our theology has suggested over the centuries. I’ve seen a bumper sticker that says:

Jesus first

Others second

Yourself last

I’m sorry to break it to you, Corporate Christian entities that be, but that bumper sticker is not necessarily biblical. Jesus says very explicitly to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength, “and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31.) Not more than yourself. As yourself. It is a balancing act.

The more you learn to love your neighbor, the more you will learn to love yourself. Conversely, the more you accept yourself, even in your weakness, the less judgemental you will be towards others.

Does this mean that we go out drinking and sleep around and buy stuff off of the home shopping network because we love ourself? No. That is not love. That is trying to anesthetize the pain that comes from not being loved, either by ourselves or by other people.

We can’t control if other people love us, but we can control how kind we are to ourselves. We can control how we bring healing to those unloved places.

I had a friend who wrote down all of the commandments that Jesus ever said. The command that he said the most is very surprising. Can you guess what it is?

“Be healed” which can be also be translated as “Be made whole.”

The concordance defines whole as without deviation, someone who is sound in body and mind. The dictionary defines it as an an unbroken or undamaged state.

Becoming unbroken and undamaged takes the hard work of repairing. It takes time. To love yourself, you need to work with God to be made whole.

Lastly, you need to try not to hate even the broken side of yourself while you are healing. Chang probably came into being to try to protect you, even in your childhood. You need to bring that part of your soul to Jesus. Let him tell you that you are beautiful and valuable, even in your weakest parts.

I am tired of this duality living in me. I want to love being alone because I like my own company. I want to truly see myself as God sees me and as my friends see me. A beautiful, loving, creative person who is a joy to be with. I want to be made whole.

So next time you see a torn look on my face, putting a finger in the air and saying “Chang, it’s time to meet your Maker!!” You will know that I’m not crazy. Instead, you will know that I am trying to transform from my inner Siamese twin into a whole person.

Better to Receive

San Diego, Calif. Family members reunite through bars and mesh of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friendship Park on November 17, 2013 in San Diego, Calif. The U.S. Border Patrol allows people on the American side to visit with friends and family through the fence on weekends, although under supervision from Border Patrol agents. Access to the fence from the Tijuana, Mexico side is 24/7. Deportation and the separation of families is a major theme in the immigration reform debate.

I was sitting on a raggedy picnic table looking up at the fence between Mexico and California. Towards the top of the fence, there was a painting of a man holding a balloon with one hand, holding his wife’s hand with the other, and the children floating behind them. That image was copied over and over as far as I could see. It captured what many people at this fence must feel. The desire to fly.

Because the sky doesn’t have any borders.

We were in Friendship Park in Tijuana, a place where there is a fence instead of a wall so that people on both sides of the border can come to see each other.

Patches of the one you love through tiny holes is better than nothing, I guess.

I was on the Mexican side. Just a few stamps and a look at my pale complexion got me here. Just a few stamps would get me back over.

I watched the woman in front of me talking to her husband through the fence. Separated because of deportation, perhaps. She stuck her pinky in through the hole to touch her beloved’s skin.

So close, but so far away.

In that moment I wished that I could give this woman my passport, my easy access into a place that was locked to her. That she could go to her husband and hold him close to her heart instead of trying to reach for him through her tiny wishing squares.

During dinner the night before, I sat across the table from a man who had been deported hours earlier. He had lived in Arizona since 1991. The life he knew for 24 years including his wife, children, and grandchildren, became a distant memory in a matter of hours. There was little hope for him to reunite with them. The four story holding center we were staying in was filled with men with similar stories.

We had also met Oscar, an unsung hero who has picked up thousands of unaccompanied minors from the border and in Tijuana. He feeds them, clothes them, and tries everything he can to reunite them with their families. Many of these young ones would find themselves on the streets or sold into the sex trade if Oscar was not giving his life to help them.

All of this weighed heavy on my heart as I sat gazing at that painting of a family floating away to a better place.

I had faced some of my own small tragedies that week: I found out one of my best friends has cancer. Another dear friend’s father had a stroke. And a third friend lost her adult son in a diving accident.

Throughout the week, our group had talked about the beauty of lamenting. Of sitting with someone in their pain and mourning with them, not attempting to fix anything. Just saying “I see your pain, and I weep with you.”

So I let myself cry for a while. For me. For my friends. For these beautiful people. For a world that waits in ancient yearning for light to come.

An older Mexican lady wearing a dirty yellow dress came over to me. Her calloused hands reached for a bag of pork rinds that she was trying to sell, but she paused when she saw that I was crying. Compassion shined from her.

She set her basket down, put her hands on my shoulders, and said “Christo, te ama. Christo te ama.”

Christ loves you.

She continued to pray in Spanish, words I didn’t understand.

I realized in that moment that in my ten or so times coming to Mexico, I never came receiving. I came to give.

Throughout high school I came to put on Vacation Bible Schools, which are some of the best memories of my life. In college and after college I came to do more evangelistic trips, and also taught and played several times for different events.

I always came singing, preaching, giving. And there was nothing wrong with that. There was a place for that.

But this trip was different. I came with my community through The Global Immersion  Project, an organization that has little agenda other than to seek to understand complex issues from different angles. This trip was helping us learn how to become everyday peacemakers, which looks a lot like listening hard to someone’s story, and in response contending with them, (tending to the issue with them), and working with each other and with God to see restoration come. 

I realized on this trip that the narrative of immigration had been tightly woven into Mexican culture, but  I knew almost nothing about it. I was acting like one of those friends that takes you to coffee and talks so much that you never get a word in edgewise. I finally stopped long enough to hear the people I have loved for so long tell their story.

It only took me two decades to realize that it was their turn to talk.

I listened. The story was tragic and beautiful. Like listening to a story often does, it changed my life.

I thought of all of this as the woman stood there with her hands on my back. I felt a compulsion to take her hands and say “I’m a Christian too! Can I pray for you?”

Because that’s what Jesus did, right? He washed the disciples feet. He served. Shouldn’t I be the one praying?The one serving?

But maybe in this scenario, I was the disciple in need of my feet being washed. How presumptuous of me to always compare myself to Jesus to in that story. Maybe this beautiful woman was being Jesus to me.

Jesus said that it was better to give than to receive, and I believe that is true in many circumstances.

But in some cases, it is better to receive than to give.

It is better to receive when it gives someone dignity.

It is better to receive when that interchange reminds us that we don’t stand on a ladder, but an open field, our arms around each other.

It is better to receive  if receiving means that you are listening. Listening and loving look so much alike that you can barely tell them apart.

It is better to receive when it helps us remember that we are all in the same boat, traveling through the tumultuous waters of human experience, comforting each other as we sail towards a better place.

So I didn’t say anything to this woman, and I didn’t stop her from praying for me. I felt her warm hands on my back when I needed human touch the most. I felt her prayers course over me like rain on a scorching hot day. She washed my feet. She washed my feet and I thought…

It feels so good to receive.

Question Man

Question

“I was determined to sit in his presence until I had an answer. He said, ‘Stay my son until the questions don’t matter.'”   –John Redenbo

I have a friend who, like any good Christian boy raised in the 90’s, listened to Michael W. Smith, the most popular Christian artist of that time.One of Michael’s most famous songs said

Go West young man….go West go young man….go West young man….when the evil goes East.

This friend mis-heard those words to say

Question man, question man, question man….and then wondered “What does Jesus being a question man have to do with evil going East?” (which was a line I didn’t quite understand even with the normal words!)

I heard this story and laughed. It was almost as good as my mishearing “Won’t you take me to…Funkytown!” as “One jinx on Nixon….Funky town!”

I had forgotten the story for years but it came to mind the other day because of some of my current life journeys. Maybe the mishearing of that song was dead on, I  thought. Maybe Jesus was even more of a question man than he was an answer man.

So I decided to do some research. If you look purely at the numbers, Jesus was definitely a question man. According to Martin B Copenhaver,  in the New Testament Jesus asks 307 questions. He is asked 183 questions. He only answers three of those question with a direct answer.

Does Jesus’ lack of giving concrete answers mean that he doesn’t offer meaning and reason and hope? Of course not. It just means that he is not a God that I can put in a little box and make into my own image.

The vastness of his character and love and wisdom is so big that it enfolds eternity. No matter how much I think I know him, there is an element of unfathomable mystery. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to “figure him out” like an algebra equation.

Mystery has been a theme in my life lately. About a year ago, I went through a depression and the worse crisis of faith I have ever had. My dad had died, and I was struggling with some questions about what the afterlife is like. I had endured a string of rejections, such a strong pattern that made it made me wonder if someone was playing some kind of cosmic joke on me.

These circumstances threw me into a bout of sadness, but the sadness got infinitely worse when I started deeply doubting the goodness, even the existence of God.  Men rejecting me? It’s hard but I’ve made it through before.  A death? Also full of grief but with time it will get better.

But the thought that God I love, the one stable thing in my life, my reason, my everything….the thought that he is not good? That he might not even be there?

That was too much for me. That was earth shattering. That almost killed me.

Since I am human, I began to try to figure my suffering out. Here are some ways that I tried to put a label on my grief:

God is good, but there is sin in the world, so bad things happen. (Anger at other people ensues.)

God is good, Satan is bad. I must fight Satan! (Exhaustion ensues.)

God is good, but I have free will, so I can screw my life up. (Self hatred and fear ensue.)

My will and God’s will are constantly at odds. (Exhaustion and self hatred ensue.)

If I’m sad like this, I just need to praise God more! (Disappointment ensues.)

God is playing golf. (Anger at God ensues.)

God allows me to suffer so that I can learn. (Muffled, hidden anger at God ensues.)

God doesn’t exist. (Deep despair and meaninglessness ensues.)

Somewhere in the midst of this crisis, my view of God started changing. I wasn’t getting any more answers to why suffering happens. On the contrary I seemed to have less answers than when I started the asking.

But I began to shift my posture towards these questions. I started to try to sit quietly and reverently in the mystery of God. I slowly allowed myself to say these three magical words:

I. Don’t. Know.

I do not know why my suffering happens. I do not know why the world’s suffering happens. I probably will never know this side of heaven. Trying to get solid answers was becoming a control game.

It was time to let go. And letting go of the answers left me with two choices: giving up on God altogether or choosing to believe in his goodness even when I didn’t see empirically that it was real.

I decided that even if I didn’t understand him, I needed to choose to believe in him. Where else could I go but into his arms? A life without him would be no life at all.

I was tired of fighting Satan or myself or God or circumstances or the people that had hurt me. Battle language had been in my vocabulary for a long time and I was so tired.

It was time for me to let go, to rest in Jesus’ arms like a child. Trusting in his goodness, loving the sound of his heartbeat, cherishing the warmth of his arms around me. No more fighting. Just choosing to believe in the midst of the questions.

I am willing to embrace the mystery, if that means embracing him. I am ready to live at peace with the questions. I believe that is a mark that my faith is growing.

A quote by Donald Miller that has intrigued me lately is “I don’t know if there’s a healthier way for two people to stay in love than to stop using each other to resolve their unfulfilled longings and, instead, start holding each other closely as they experience them.”

In this season,  I have been able to turn this towards God, saying “I don’t know if there is a healthier way for me to not run away from this whole Christianity deal than to stop blaming God or Satan or myself for my suffering, but to let God hold me close while I experience it.”

Repost: Happy Wish We Were Mother’s Day

Image

Today I went to the gym (aka going on the elliptical and watching netflix on my phone for 45 minutes, then going in the hot tub and amazing massaging waterfalls and water slide for an hour and a half.)

The lady at the front desk said “are you a mother?” “No,” I said. “Why do you ask?” Mother’s get in free today! “Oh,” I said. I felt a pang of sadness.

She looked at me again. “Do you have pets?” I was didn’t understand why she was asking me this. “No.”

“Hmmm, ” she said. “Oh, wait a second!” I replied. ” I forgot that I live on a farm! I literally have hundreds of pets!” “Well, it looks like you’re a mother, then.” She stamped my hand and let me into the ghetto spa for free.

This little gesture meant a lot. Because in a small way she was honoring me on a day in which non-mothers do not often get honored.

First and foremost, every mother’s day, I try to not feel sorry for myself and remember my own mom. My amazing, kind, quirky mom.

Who used to feed us liver powder and v8 juice and yeast in kool aid when we were growing up because her love language is to keep us healthy.

Who has had 200 books from the library out at a time, for a six months at a time, until they made a rule up that you can’t do that, probably solely because of her.

Who looks 55 even though she is almost 70.

Who has worn spandex every day since 1982.(Because spandex are not a right. They are a privilege. My mother has had that privilege and has looked really good using it.)

That is my epic mother. And she more than deserves to be honored today. As does every mother in the world.

Every getting -three-hours-of-sleep-to-take-care-of-a newborn,changing-620 -diapers-per year, listening-to-a-million-questions, figure-out-three-freaking-meals-a-day-to-make, trying-not-to-yell-at-your-teenager, figuring-out-how-to-teach-a-human-soul-how-to-live-on-the-place-we-call-earth, incredible, selfless mother deserves to be honored today.

But once the honoring of my own mother and all the other beautiful mothers is over, my eyes inevitably look back on myself and I start getting sad.

I have always loved kids. I worked at day cares all through high school, college and after college. I work at an after school program now and live with 3 young children, all of whom I adore.

I worked at a camp for something like 5 summers, and have spoken at that camp for another 12 or so. At that camp they called me the legend. Because I was really, honestly, an awesome counselor. Every Friday we would have princess night where we would put on trash bags and talk in English accents during dinner, then we would let loose during dessert and give each other chocolate pudding facials followed by the best food fight ever. I would come up with really fun hands on devotions. I would spend one on one time with the girls, talking about their lives and praying with them. I would sing to them every night before they fell asleep. I had some of the girls for all five years, watching them grow up. We would write to each other all year, and I would sometimes visit them outside of camp.

I don’t know if I ever felt more in my element at any job. Ever. Not singing. Not writing. Not speaking. It felt like loving those campers was what I was made to do. Even now, I have dreams about camp on a regular basis. My counselor says it was because my psyche considers it home.

I would make a good mom. A really, really good mom.

But for some reason, motherhood has not been in the cards for me.

The older I get, the more I have to accept the fact that I might never become a mother. I might have to look for other ways to love children, like working with inner city kids or at an orphanage. That might be the path I have to take, one that I have seriously considered taking lately.

I have so much in my life. I have a wonderful career. I have good friends. I live with people that are very dear to me. I have lots of time to do things like get a $4.00 spa. If there were no such thing as a husband and children, I would probably be really content. But there are such things, and I have always wanted both of them. Not having them is perhaps the most difficult thing I have ever been through.

Sometimes I think about how much I would give to have someone call me “mom.” To call someone “my baby.” I would give up almost anything for this.

And so I grieve today, and maybe that is all right. Maybe it is not selfish. Maybe it is human. Maybe it is my right.

Years ago on mothers day at my church, a friend of mine stood up who has struggled with infertility her whole life. She said “mothers, you are amazing and wonderful and needed. Today, I want to honor you, but I also want to honor other women. I want to honor all the women that have had miscarriages. All the women who have been infertile. All the single women who haven’t even had a chance to get pregnant. All the women who have had stillborns.”

She had everyone in the room who fit that description stand up. I was amazed how many women stood up.

(She didn’t say this and I know this will be a controversial thing to say, but I want to include women who have had abortions. I am not saying what they did is right, by any means. But there are probably more women than you think there are in your circles and in your workplace and in your church who have had abortions and hide it because there is so much shame. They are possibly grieving today more than anyone else. We must remember them too.)

So all of you that fit into that category- this is what I say to you today. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are not forgotten. You may never bear children, but that doesn’t mean you are any less of a woman. And you are mothers in your own way-to the children in your life, to your friends, to the people you mentor.

I honor you. And so does God.

I’d love to hear from you….is mother’s day hard for you? Why are why not? What has infertility/ the death of a child/ unmarried with no children / abortion been like for you? How can the church love you better in this?

A Letter from Cinderella to Peter Pan

Cinderella

Letter From Cinderella to Peter Pan

Dear Peter,

We have now been on three dates. I loved our time flying to Never Never Land. (I especially liked it the second time, when Wendy didn’t tag along.) Flying with you was so romantic. My heart has been fluttery for days. I must admit that I got my hopes up.

I have given you all the right hints and flirty moves. But today when I texted you, it took you two hours to text me back!

So Peter, you need to get your act together. Either you want me or you don’t. I am beautiful and a great catch and UNDERNEATH IT ALL I AM A PRINCESS!!!

The bottom line, Peter, is that you need to GROW UP!

Sincerely,

Your Lady in Waiting

Cinderella

Letter From Peter Pan to Cinderella

Dear Cinderella,

Let me give a you a peek into my heart. In my world, people expect really intense commitment really fast. This scared me. So I habitually stayed in the “friend zone” with girls…spending lots of time with them and getting them to like me so I could feel good. I was afraid of getting out of the friend zone because according to my culture, that meant I should be ready to get married.

I would much rather stay a boy than to face this much pressure. I was very stunted in my dating life. I wasn’t really growing up.

I finally decided that my rules were not working well for me, so I took a plunge into the dating pool. I have gone out on some dates to get to know people, and even to challenge myself to get out of the friend zone.

One lady had seven midgets living with her. I found that to be a little strange, so I decided to move on. Another one was sleeping the whole time. I could tell she wanted me to kiss her to wake her up, but I was not ready to kiss someone that I hadn’t talked to yet. Plus she was sleeping with her mouth open. Awkward.

You have been my favorite so far. You are beautiful and strong, you love animals, and you have a great singing voice. You’re a lot taller than me, but I can work with that.

Cinderella, here is the problem. I feel so much PRESSURE from you and all of these other girls. The I Kissed Dating Goodbye culture taught me that I should only date someone if I know I am going to marry them. This put enormous amounts of stress even on a first date. It has scared all of us men out of even wanting to date anyone at all.

When you say to me “either you want me or you don’t” that makes me feel backed against a wall. I DO like you, very much, but I need good time with you to really know whether we are a good match or not.

I am not into dating casually, but I am into dating slow. Can you see the difference?

Sincerely,

Peter

P.S. I think you left a shoe at my place.

Letter From the Fairy Godmother to Cinderella and Peter

Dear Cinderella and Peter,

Oh my sweet dear little naive funny human children,

Cinderella came to me in tears asking for advice, so I thought I would write to both of you. Navigating dating can be as difficult for humans as turning pumpkins into carriages.

Cinderella, you had no father figure growing up. (You also had an evil mother figure. Like almost every Disney character. But I digress…)

You have been in the ashes for so long, berated by people telling you you are not beautiful, until you told that to yourself. You have longed for someone to sweep you up out of those ashes and make you the princess you know that you are on the inside.

I can understand this, sweetie. You have had a hard life. In your fairy tale world, romantic love is the happy ending, the thing that rescues the girl. No wonder you want someone to love you.

But can you understand how unhealthy it is to believe you only have worth when a man tells you you are valuable?  It seems like you often date someone just to prove you are valuable, something you weren’t told enough as a little girl. You are using him if you do this.

You might want to go on a few less dating websites and few more counseling sessions. You need some healing.

Dan Allender says “Every woman will labor with loneliness; every man will struggle with futility. It is written into the plot of the earth.” I think this is true for both you and Peter. It will take a lot of work for you to overcome the lie that you alone (even with a husband,) and it will take a lot of work for Peter to know in his heart that his life is worth something.

Part of the curse in Genesis was that a woman would “long for” a man. I know in my younger days, I would long for romantic love with every sinew in my body. I thought it was the answer.

The truth is, you are already intrinsically valuable. No one can take that away from you, and no one can prove it to you. The more you know that now, the less you will demand men to show you your value, which will be especially life giving if you get married. It will put less pressure on your husband and allow a more healthy love to grow between you.

Peter, I can understand your points. The pressure from Cinderella is not helping anything, it is just scaring you. It is way too early in the relationship to put that kind of pressure on.

On the other hand you are not totally innocent. You have led Wendy and Tinker Bell on for years when you know you are not interested in either of them romantically, and I don’t want to see that happen with Cinderella.

Like you said, you need time to gather good information about Cinderella regarding whether or not you are a good match. The trick here is that after a good amount of time and lots of good information, if you do come to the conclusion that you are not a good match, you need to set her free. She deserves that. Even if it hurts her at first, it will be better in the long run. Don’t hold on to her because you are afraid of hurting her, and DON’T hold on to her just because it feels good to have someone like you. You are using her if you do this.

If you do realize that you would be great together and that you really can see a future with her, it’s time to take the next step and commit.

There are special fears that come up here because you also did not have a good father (or sometimes mother) figure. You have wanted to stay a boy because deep down you don’t really know if you have what it takes to be a man.

A lot of identity questions come up when there is a possibility for commitment. Am I good enough for her? Can I provide for her? Will I feel suffocated? Am I ready for children?  

Commitment and responsibility go hand in hand for you, which makes the thought of getting serious a little more scary for you than for Cinderella.

It will help you grow up if you believe in yourself more. The more you believe you have what it takes as a man to be responsible, the less scared you will be of commitment.  Ask God to show you how proud he is of you and how he sees you as a man, things you might not have heard from your father.

My advice for you? Talk to Cinderella about these fears as they come up. Allow these conversations to help you navigate whether you are a good match or not.

Cinderella, same advice. When you have that insatiable need to be loved come up, talk to him about what you are going through rather then pushing him against a wall. Don’t command him to fill that desire to be loved in you, but converse with him about your struggles in this area.

To both of you, don’t feel like you have to hold in your feelings forever, making it nebulous and scary. If you are attracted and wanting to learn more but scared of going too fast, just say that. It is much better than staying silent. Set a precedent from the beginning of your friendship to be open with each other. Whether you end up together or not, good communication will be invaluable.

Cinderella, commit to praying for Peter’s insecurity when it comes to his identity, and Peter, pray that Cinderella will know she is beautiful intrinsically.

Both of you, remember who you are by looking in the face of your True Papa and letting him tell you every day.

As Donald Miller says in his book Scary Close (my second favorite of his next to Bibbity Bobbity Boo for Beginners)

“I don’t know if there’s a healthier way for two people to stay in love than to stop using each other to resolve their unfulfilled longings and, instead, start holding each other closely as they experience them.”

Sincerely,

Your Fairy Godmother

P.S. This letter went so well that I am thinking about quitting this Fairy Godmother stuff, which doesn’t pay well, and becoming a Life Coach. You might have a fee next time. Just a heads up.

***This post was inspired by a teaching of Dr. John Coe