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.

July 10, 2010

Acts 17 & Women

I’ve been traveling lately, hence the lack of consistency in posting. I’m currently hunkered down in the backyard of my boyfriend’s parents; I’m visiting them and am enjoying a cup of coffee and some quiet reading time on this most beautiful morning.

I was reading Acts 17 today, and the main thing that struck me was the mention of women. The chapter isn’t long – 34 verses – but there are three separate mentions of women, all within the context of coming to believe in Christ.

verse 4: “And some of them were persuaded, and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.”

verse 12: “Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.”

verse 34: “However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”

In the first two instances, it is emphasized that these are prominent women among the Greeks. The third instance is particularly interesting to me – this is after Paul preaches to the philosophers of the Areopagus. It says some men joined, but it lists Damaris among the men, even though she’s marked as a woman. She is included – overall – in the group of men.

I haven’t done an in-depth study on this chapter, but I’ve been searching online and have yet to find an article or commentary that deals comprehensively with these three references. The book of Acts on the whole makes frequent mention of women, but three mentions of prominent, in one instance probably educated, women coming to Christ – wow. This is huge.

I’ve been searching for commentaries on this chapter, but have yet to find one that explicitly discusses the references to women. I did, however, find one website detailing the notes of John Wesley, an 18th-century theologian, and his comments were too priceless not to share. Of verse 4, he says:

Of the principal women, not a few — … In the case of true religion, which always implies taking up the cross, especially in time of persecution, women lie naturally under a great disadvantage, as having less courage than men. So that their embracing the Gospel was a stronger evidence of the power of him whose strength is perfected in weakness, as a stronger assistance of the Holy Spirit was needful for them to overcome their natural fearfulness.

Well then.

I don’t want to get off on too much of a tangent, but Wesley’s comments – however antiquated – are reminiscent of a practice I’ve been thinking more and more about: that is, allowing our understanding of culture to infiltrate our spiritual understanding of gender. Arguments about the “cultural lens” or an innate “bias” don’t hold up here, because to follow Christ is to alter our entire worldview. Wealth is one of the best examples I can think of – scripture runs contrary to the wisdom of the world. We think very little of hearing that message on Sunday morning, yet we are content to let our understandings of gender fly under the radar as non-essential, secondary issues. And what damage this has done. I’ve been in too many churches that longed for the good old days (my words there), where “men were men and women were women.” Think 1950s Cleaver family.

When it comes to gender roles, I think the church is far too reliant on cultural tradition. And then it’s surprised when women rise up against that tradition, not recognizing its complicity in cultivating that discontent.

But that’s another post.

In the meantime, I am thankful that scripture documents the conversion of faithful women and men, exhorting us in our faith even today.

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