From the Basement

August 2, 2010

Don’t Give It Away: Notes from My Younger Self

Today, I was digging for books in the closet under the stairs, looking for books from a favorite series I’ve been re-reading, but I found a few other things, instead: books on writing, books on business, my long-lost Scrabble dictionary,The Sacred Romance, An Unfinished Marriage – all these books I remember from pre-college days but had long since lost and forgotten about.

There was one particular book I pulled from the pile: Don’t Give It Away! by Iyanla Vanzart, a workbook on self-awareness and self-affirmations for young women. Can I just say that I love my mom for giving me that kind of book as a teenage girl?  I learned to write through my emotions at an early age, and I was bad at keeping a consistent journal, so books like this one are precious to me – glimpses into the psyche of my earlier self.

True to form, my mom wrote notes to me throughout the book, many that were centered on Jesus, as Vanzart’s books – while spiritual – draw from a variety of faiths. Mom was wonderful, writing things like: Be patient and fearless. Let Jesus be the center of your joy! You are an original, unique creation. You are overflowing with linguistic intelligence – use it for good! Don’t worry over someone else’s opinion of you! Ask yourself, ‘Am I pleasing God?’ If the answer is yes, then let God take care of the rest. The answers to all of your questions can be found in God’s Word. Bury His Word in your heart!

My mom had a mom who did not encourage her, so she was always sure to affirm and encourage her daughters; she poured out her love into us and told us about the ever-flowing, gracious love of our Creator.

I wanted to share some notes I found in the book, notes from my earlier self and notes I wrote down today. Something I love about myself is how I date things; I’ve been like that since I was a kid. I like to go back and see what I’m thinking. The first notes in this book were between 1999-2001 (mom gave it to me on my first day of middle school).

And then, there are notes from 2004, when I was at the Crazy Church (I don’t think I’ve written about the Crazy Church, but I will at some point). Even if there weren’t dates, I would know it was that time – the language (the emphasis on being “sold out”), the belief that God would do what He wanted with me regardless of the desires He put on my heart, the overpowering guilt – these feelings are both tacit and stated in my comments. Now, being God centered is, of course, not a bad thing! But everything was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus – there was no enjoyment of the gifts He has given, and no faith that He would work in ways I enjoyed (He doesn’t always, of course, but feeling sure that He never will is not healthy). There are two extremes: being so about Jesus that you totally ignore the world and the gifts that are here and, alternately, being so consumed with the world and the gifts that we forget the Giver.  I’ve definitely been on both sides of that coin.

So, sharing a few notable items that stuck out. The first one caught my eye because I was talking about striving. At age 13 or 14. And thinking it was good. Oh goodness.

Prompt: The most perfect thing about me is…

2001, age 14: that I strive in my spiritual life. I nurture my talents. Note: this is when I still thought striving was a virtue. I say that because I’ve only recently realized that it isn’t.

2004, age 17 (at the Crazy Church): I am not perfect. I’m a work in progress, needing continual rebuilding. I can’t get through a day without God catching me at least 50 times. Note: that is so true! But I can feel the self-recrimination in my younger self’s voice (in this comment and others), and I know what happens to her the next year: total spiritual breakdown, total darkness. I feel her feelings of not being enough, of being constantly told she’s a sinner without being reminded that God’s grace extends beyond initial salvation! I feel her lack of mercy. Oh, I have such compassion for her!

2010, age 22, almost 23 (because I couldn’t resist making more notes): That I am a daughter of the King. He loves me perfectly, exquisitely! His promises are always true and His mercies are new every morning. When all is stripped away, there I am, in the middle of the road, walking hand in hand with the One who put the stars in the sky.

Another prompt demonstrates how changeable and glorious the young, imaginative mind is – I was always coming up with crazy new careers to pursue. What careers did you want to pursue when you were younger, and what did they say about your desires?

Prompt: I dream that one day I will…

6th grade: Save a premature baby. I will write a bestseller. I will score the winning basket!

7th grade: I will be a market-researching executive. I’ll write a bestseller. I’ll make varsity volleyball. I’ll get a full ride scholarship to UM. I’ll grow in Christ. I’ll own my own business.

8th grade: I’ll be a lawyer/writer. I’ll go to Duke and Harvard Law.

10th grade: Writer, business – but whatever God puts in front of me. (There’s that doubt that God would give me what I wanted… so pervasive in the 2004 comments; it wasn’t there earlier.) U of Chicago. Wheaton. U of Iowa. (I went to a private, secular liberal arts college, LOL!)

After college: write a novel, marry the BF, adopt kids, learn to rest! 🙂

Some things are so striking in their consistency across the years: a seeming inability to believe in good things, the prayer for wisdom, frustration with my baby sister, the song “Hold Me Now” by Jennifer Knapp, issues with control and striving.

Can I share a few funnies? I laugh when I read things my younger self wrote, but she is so right!

“When I look at me, I see a young woman with drive, ambition, and gorgeous lips! I love me! I am totally awesome – a rockin’ gurl who is 14 and one day!” (Yes, girl is spelled that way and it is underlined.)

“The best thing I can do for myself is eat healthily, read the Bible, and pray – and pamper myself!” (this was pre-Crazy Church, when I wouldn’t have written “pamper myself”)

My 13 or 14-year-old self, in response to The thing that really confuses me is: “Love! Everyone says it’s wonderful and horrible. I have no clue.” Amen, sister.

And last but not least… after one of the notes I wrote today, I added a P.S. for my older self:

I hope you are writing. I hope you are finding peace and joy in Him who loves you as no one else will ever love you. I hope you are resting in His arms.

Advertisements

July 19, 2010

On Writing, Job Hunting, & Sun Tzu

You know you’re your mother’s daughter when you sit down in the Borders Cafe with The Art of War for Writers and are joined by your mother, who is reading The Art of War for Managers. Here’s to mother/daughter bonding with Sun Tzu.

Due to a lack of funds, I didn’t purchase the book, but one message (which I’d heard before) bears repeating — write hard, write fast. Tie that with Anne Lamott’s Shitty First Draft philosophy, and you’ve got a recipe for a first draft. Or rather, you have no excuses to not write a first draft.

So — having had my ass kicked by Sun Tzu’s modern devotees, I made a goal for myself: 15000 more words by Saturday. That comes out to 2500 a day, for those who do daily word counts. That’ll put me ca. 35000 words by the weekend, which is almost halfway through an 80000 word novel.

You’d think I would have been on fire today. But no.

Today is a wonderful example of how far I will go to avoid writing when I’ve tried to set goals. I spent way too many hours job hunting. Productive! may be what you’re thinking, but trust me, it’s more like, looking at every possible company (FBI, CIA, NSA, you know, the usual) and getting more and more depressed at the lack of jobs I’m qualified for.

I did find a few to apply to, however, and I even drafted one cover letter (not for a government agency).

This always happens. Whenever I set goals for my writing, my productivity in other areas kicks into steroid-like overdrive. Which is good for those areas. Just not for my word count.

So now that I’ve got that 6-hour job hunt out of my system (and two beers in me, let’s be honest), I’ll start writing.

I think.

15000 words aren’t gonna write themselves.

P.S. Whenever the words aren’t coming, the boyfriend suggests the Jack Bauer method of torture – you know the one about how when Jack Bauer lost his keys, he tortured himself until they gave up the location? Ah, never mind.

April 30, 2010

Freedom & Family

It is the greatest longing of my heart to walk every day fully in the loving freedom that Christ so generously gives. Freedom to love, freedom to write, freedom to express, freedom to move, freedom to live without condemnation. For there is no condemnation for those who walk in Christ Jesus – who the son sets free is free indeed! His love and mercy covers all of our sin; he offers us the chance to come cleanly before God.

It’s such an awesome gift. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it, but I’m grateful for it. The struggle – mine, at least – is living it out day by day.

There are a lot of things in this world that can cramp the freedom that Jesus gives. Fear, anger, loneliness, bitterness, mistrust, anxiety, and a variety of other sins can leave us feeling less than free – we walk in the shadow of sin rather than the shadow of His wing. And that is no place for anyone to walk. But sometimes, those shadows feel so powerful.

I think one of the most difficult shadows we can live under is that of our family, be it our family history, our past mistakes, our family members’ past mistakes, or just difficulties in general. Heck, it could even be under the pressure of having to live up to your family! And for every Cleaver family, I bet you that any one of us can point to dozens and dozens of “broken homes” and, of course, the people who come from them.

Quick aside: I’ve never much liked the term “broken homes.” First off, it sounds like it can’t be fixed. And I don’t like that. Love covers a multitude of sins, and our faith guarantees us a redeeming love, a redeeming power – the love that can cast out bitterness and brokenness, love that can heal. So I don’t much care for the term “broken home.” Also, there’s the simple fact that it puts homes in a binary opposition: they’re either broken or whole, and it seems to be a naive assumption that there’s such thing as a totally-broken or totally-whole home. As an old pastor of mine once said, “Everybody’s walking on broken floors.” Everybody – even the Cleavers – has some issue they have dealt with or are dealing with that has affected their family. So no, I don’t much care for the word “broken” in this application, but seeing as it’s so prevalent in our culture, you all get what I mean when I say it.

This was one of my greatest spiritual struggles during my freshman year of college. I was away from my family for the first time, away from the pain and the fights and the grievances. Basically, I felt a lot of guilt: guilt and pain at being separated from my then-15-year-old sister, who was still in the middle of everything; guilt for not being able to be there for my mom, as I had been for so many years; and guilt for feeling, above all, a sense of relief and freedom, that I was finally out from under my parents’ roof.

But I continued to carry my family’s burdens with me. I’d been carrying them for so long that it was normal. I had lengthy conversations with my mom, listening to her, and there was one particularly vitriolic argument I had with my dad on the phone. My sister started to say things like, “You don’t understand. You don’t live here anymore.” And all the while, I was trying to form a new life with new habits, better habits, cleaner habits. But I was still parked firmly under my family’s shadow. Even away from them, I did not feel free. I was relieved, yes, but not free.

During second semester, God started to pull out all the stops. There were these tiny study booths at the end of the hall (we called ’em phone booths since people only used them to talk on the phone). One night, I was in a phone booth with my friend Laura, a source of great spiritual strength and comfort, and I was bawling my eyes out about my family, railing on about abuse and addiction and awful marriages and all those things I was sure I was never going to get away from. I can’t remember our whole conversation, but I do remember that at one point, she looked me square in the eye and said, “God is bigger than family history.”

It felt like a slap in the face, but that was one of the first moments where I remember being forced to reckon with the fact that God is bigger, and that if I wasn’t letting him in, that meant that I didn’t think he was who he said he was. It meant I was proud. It meant I was refusing healing from Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals. … Ouch.

Soon after, I was talking with a senior, Jessika, who really mentored me that year. She gave me a copy of Do You Think I’m Beautiful? by Angela Thomas. I’ve mentioned the book in this blog before, and I even think I mentioned the thing that most spoke to me. Her discussion of our sacks of ashes – how we carry those sacks around for so long, bent over so far, not knowing what way is up, just knowing that we’re very, very comfortable carrying it around. I realized the extent to which I’d been carrying my family’s ashes around and that – wow – I didn’t have to. Those burdens can be laid at Christ’s feet, a fact I knew but hadn’t grasped.

And then the women’s bible study went to the Women of Faith conference, and that year’s theme was Amazing Freedom. go figure. So yes – God did wonders in my life that semester. Wonders that started me on the path to freedom.

Four years later, I have been freed in so many ways, but, living at home, I find myself in a different struggle. It’s the struggle of having had everything change – your perspective as well as the family itself (divorce) – and yet still being surrounded by… is the ghosts of yesteryear too Dickensian? Without going into too much detail, it’s become a struggle for me to try and love on my family and remain free from taking on the burdens. Whenever I do, fights happen. And there have been fights this month, with my parents and my sister. I’m trying to figure out how to live with them, love them, and move forward without falling into those old traps, those old places where I’d pick up a sack of mom’s and a sack of dad’s and start walking with it.

I wrote recently on the struggle to be honest in my writing – how to cull details and themes from my childhood and adolescence without causing pain to my family. A part of me is very afraid of hurting them, upsetting them.

But I can’t go back under that shadow. I love my family, but I love my Creator more. And He loves my family so much! I’m learning how to honor and respect my parents (perhaps for the first time, honestly) and how to love my sister while remaining free – free from what they think of me, free from their opinion, free even from their own personal struggles. I cannot take on their pain. I can only deal with mine, and the best way to do that is to lay it all before the throne of Jesus and say “Here! Take it! I don’t want it!”

And then he takes it, and he gives beauty for ashes. How cool is that? How blessed we are to have such a loving, loving God!

It seems that the sources of struggle in our lives can evolve in their nature just as we mature and evolve in our faith. The good news is that Jesus is right there with us – and who the Son sets free is free indeed. Freedom, beauty, joy, contentment, peace … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

April 15, 2010

How To Love My Mom 101

Most people say that their relationships with their parents improve once they become adults. I’m willing to bet that many of those folks have not lived with their parents for a long duration of time since they first moved out of the house.

Living as an adult with your parent for the first time has a whole new set of challenges, especially when you don’t know how long the arrangement is going to last (a.k.a. not a “home during summer” sort of thing). You have to learn how to communicate again – how to break down old patterns and reconstruct new ones. At least, that’s what my mom and I are currently working on.

Three weeks ago, I came home from college, finished with class. I was exhausted but grateful that I had a safe place to rest. There are plenty of people who cannot “go home again”; they may be unwelcome or they may no longer have a home. I am blessed to have two parents, each in their own state, who assured me that I could come back for as long as I needed. I envisioned long, leisurely days job hunting but also reading, writing, catching up with friends…

…You could say that the honeymoon is over. I’ve been realizing that my mom and I had very, very different expectations of what my coming home looked like. There had been hints over these last few weeks, such as her frustration that I’d not yet unpacked my room. But this week, there were several bang-up, freak-out confrontations. This is not typical for us.

Mom and I sat down to have a calm conversation this evening to work things out and, curiously enough, our conversation centered on love languages and definitions of success. Love languages (so labeled by the author Gary Chapman) determine how we give and receive love. The five love languages are quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, and gifts. I knew that my mom’s main love language was physical touch (so I try to hug her as much as possible), but what I started to realize today was that she is also really big on acts of service. So when I don’t do the dishes, she feels disrespected. When I help her, she feels loved. After a stressful day at work, my mom wants to come home to a clean, peaceful house. When it’s messy, well… there’s a reason she occasionally puts her Wicked Witch of the West magnet on the fridge.

Today’s Realization #1: Doing the dishes is not about pleasing my mom. It’s about loving her.

I do not need to have a clean house in order to feel peaceful or loved. But I do need my mom to watch her words and to communicate love, acceptance, and a nonjudgmental attitude. One of my primary love languages is words of affirmation, which basically means that if someone says “We need to talk” or approaches me in a negative, critical way, I either:

a) go through the roof

or

b) completely check out.

PCP was made for people like me, people for whom, as Pastor Danny Silk says, “The tongue has the power of life and death; they experience words but they more importantly experience [words as] energy.” And lately, my mom’s pointed questions about job hunting, anger at graduate programs for not accepting me, and frustration over the messy house have been sending me through the roof. I need her to communicate something like this:

You are welcome in my house. I love you. Even though finances are difficult, I will work with you on this. I respect your need to seek work as you see fit. I will not ask you about the job hunt. I will not worry. I will trust you. I will trust God.

Today’s Realization #2: Words of affirmation is actually one of my love languages.

(I had not thought this before. Weird.)

Throughout the course of our conversation, we were able to affirm to the other that they were loved. We both had been feeling unloved. My lack of attention to the house and her critical questions about work had been rubbing the recipient entirely the wrong way. It’s like trying to brush a cat and go against the grain of the fur.

I was also able to establish with my mom what I perceive as a successful day. I perceived that she wanted me to be cleaning and job hunting, and that if I didn’t do those things, than I was a lazy bum. (She told me that no, she didn’t define those things as success for The Girl Downstairs.) I shared that my definition of personal success is: have I created something today? Am I spiritually full? Have I communicated with people?

We established that Mom would start making a list of things for me to do around the house. She would like it if I just noticed, but I told her that unless the counter is full of dishes, I’m pretty much fine. As anyone who has ever visited me knows, keeping a clean house (or dorm room) is not my strong suit. I am more than content to let the dishes and dirty clothes pile up for weeks. And then, one day, I will say “I’m going to clean,” and then I will go all out and do all the dishes and clean all the surfaces and vacuum the rug and pick up my dirty clothes and wouldn’t you know, it looks like Glinda the Good Witch has visited. (Glinda or Mr. Clean. It’s a toss up.)

Today’s Realization #3: More like a reminder… that my perceptions are not always right and that respectful communication is absolutely essential to successfully living with someone, no matter the nature of the relationship.

How often do we neglect to communicate love, joy, and peace to our family members? I tell my mom that I want to communicate with my friends daily, only to hear her respond that she feels pretty low on the totem poll. She doesn’t feel that I value communication with her. I tell her she’s a given, but –

Are we excused from demonstrating love to the people who are “givens”? Who love us when we are complete screw ups? Who went through ___ hours of labor to bring us into this world? Who (fill in the blank)?

No, we are not. I know that I take my family members for granted. Hugely for granted. I tell my friends I love them, I ask how they are, I inquire about ongoing issues, but my family? I’m inattentive in comparison. And that’s something that needs to change.

So this is me, recording that I want to change it. I want to show my mom I love her every day. Not because it’s the “Christian” thing to do or the “right” thing to do (even though it is).

Simply, because I love her.

Blog at WordPress.com.