A Bit of Vulnerability – Pt. III

Click here to read Part I.

Click here to read Part II.

In Part I of this series of posts, I listed three things that God needed to demolish and properly rebuild in me:

1) My Superhero Complex (my ability to work hard, do things well, and usually succeed)

2) My “Understanding” of Myself (“I’ve been through counseling, I’ve totally got a grip on this!”)

3) My Solitude Complex (I’ll ask my friends, they’ll know what to do…)

So, let’s have a quick review before moving on to the third area of demolishment.  The Lord has broken me into this powerless, inept, non-superhero who has no grasp of an understanding of herself. That sounds like a great person to spend time with. What else could there possibly be to break…

A Bit of Vulnerability… Part III

I get by with a little help from my friends…

I’m a very indecisive person. The answers to the questions – What do you want to do? What do you want to eat? Where do you want to start? How do you feel about that? Would you like fries with that? – all begin with “Umm… I don’t know,” then transition into whichever version of “What do you think?” applies to the situation. Except for the fries. The answer to that is always “yes.” I’m not a communist.

Now, as I have become a more adultier adult, and dealt with my codependent brain (see Part II), being decisive has become less of an issue as I realize I, in fact, do have opinions, and people will, in fact, respect them, whether they agree or disagree with my opinion about whether we should get fries or not. I digress…

One area in my life where indecision and defaulting to others opinions has plagued me most has been – you guessed it – in my understanding of God. Let’s begin with one of my favorite things: an analogy wrapped in a story…

As a kid, I grew up looking through my dad’s old Encyclopedia Britannica set. The copyright was 1957. I learned very accurate, very out-of-date facts. Then I got the Encyclopedia Britannica ’96 CD-ROM for our computer. I think it came with the AOL start-up disc. Any who, I had a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips. I could read and read and read about whatever I wanted and learn the randomest of facts to my heart’s content. But do you know what’s better than reading about things? Experiencing them second-hand from someone who has actually BEEN TO or DONE the thing you’re reading about! My fifth grade teacher lived in Alaska as a kid. One day, she was telling us about Alaska (it fit in with our history unit. She was not one to dilly-dally with stories from her childhood unless they applied to our education), and she said,

“It was so cold, that, during the summer, when sun was out and the temperature got up to zero degrees Fahrenheit, we would put on shorts and run to play outside.”

MIND. BLOWN. I was ten years old and had just learned that the most intriguing facts did not come from the 1957 Encyclopedia, but, in fact, from experience. An encyclopedia would never tell you about putting on shorts when the temperature got up to zero! Only a person who lived in the wonderful, exotic, expanse of Alaska would know such a thing! I would probably never go to Alaska and get to experience things like that for myself, but I knew someone who had. I could learn everything from them!

And that has been my approach to God. I can read, study, and glean knowledge about Him. But I don’t have any experience. I can’t trust myself to hear Him correctly. There’s no way I could ever confidently say the magic phrase, “The Lord told me…” No way. How could I presume to know what God is saying? So, since I can’t, I’ll talk to people I trust who have experienced Him. They can tell me what God is saying. I’ll experience Him second-hand through their relationship with Him. It’s a win-win scenario. I don’t have to worry that I’ll misinterpret Him, but I can still hear and be a part of what He’s saying and doing…

And here’s the thing. God met me in that. He has spoken to me through other people many times. This isn’t a bad thing. We were meant for relationship. We were meant to sharpen one another, to come together as His people and talk about our relationships with Him, what He’s taught us, how He has moved in our lives…

But it cannot be primary. It misplaces your relationship with God into the hands of others. It becomes reliant upon what God is speaking into their lives, and, while it may be helpful, it is not complete. Our stories are not the same. The places God must refine in each of us are not the same, nor will those places be refined at the same time in our lives.

(Side bar: This realization has been years in the making and years in the healing. He has, throughout my life, brought this area to my attention and made some corrections to it. However, it’s only been very recently that the depth of the effects have surfaced and now those are being able to be corrected.)

So, through various circumstances (we lead very transient lifestyles, we missionaries), God stripped me of some of the close friends I was crutching to hard upon. I was now a powerless, inept, non-superhero with no understanding of herself and no one to ask how I should fix it. And with that, the last stone in my wall fell to the ground with a heart-wrenching thud…

Click here for Part IV…

A Moment for Music…

Through this past month, God has brought comfort, spoken truth, and shown joy to me through music. Through songs my friends and I have written. Through leading worship at church. Through songs purchased on iTunes. Through various genres (not just “Christian” or “praise and worship”). He has placed a deep love for music into my soul and He has met me here. I’d like to share one of these songs with you…

John Mark McMillan – Guns/Napoleon

Lyrics:

You’re sinking all my ships
You’re climbing all my fences
The storm upon my gate
The breach in my defenses

Like the sun against the morning
You set your face against the doors in
All the houses where I run
And I’m laying down my guns

And you keep coming on
Like Napoleon
And I’ll lose my head and throne
In the bloody revolution

You fill the hollows of the halls
In the houses where I walk
You’re hanging pictures on the walls
In the houses where I haunt

You’re standing on my harbor
You’re landing on my shore
I’m handing down my armor
I’m landing on my sword

On the brink of kingdom come
And I’m standing in the flood
Of everything I ever was
And I’m laying down my guns

And you keep coming on
Like Napoleon
And I’ll lose my head and throne
In the bloody revolution

You fill the hollows of the halls
In the houses where I walk
You’re hanging pictures on the walls
In the houses where I haunt

[Love can break your bones
Broken bones can sing songs
So I’m laying down my guns
So I can sing along]

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A Bit of Vulnerability – Pt. II

Click here to read Part I.

In Part I of this series of posts, I listed three areas of my life God needed to reconstruct:

1) My Superhero Complex (my ability to work hard, do things well, and usually succeed)

2) My “Understanding” of Myself (“I’ve been through counseling, I’ve totally got a grip on this!”)

3) My Solitude Complex (I’ll ask my friends, they’ll know what to do…)

We covered “The Superhero Complex” and now, we’ll move on to number two, “My ‘Understanding’ of Myself.”

A Bit of Vulnerability… Pt. II

Your understanding of yourself, does not, in fact, begin with yourself…

I went through a few years of counseling in my early twenties. The fact that I can type “early twenties” like I’m a real adult or something, makes me feel very old. I digress.

I had an excellent counselor. He worked at my university, which offered free counseling for its students. Until they didn’t. So, we fast-forward a couple of years. I’m now a successful teacher with a full-time job. And I’m still just as screwed-up as I was in college. Once my screwed-upness reached a level I couldn’t cope with anymore, I did some digging and found out the counselor I had seen at my university now had a private practice. At an office building. Thirty seconds down the road from my house. Literally. I took that as a provision from the Lord, and made an appointment as soon as humanly possible.

While in counseling, a whole heap of things were brought to light about why I am the way I am and blah blah blah. I won’t bore you with the details. The main thing I came out of counseling with was a knowledge of my main weakness, how to recognize it, how to combat it, how it affects my relationship with others, and the Biblical principals that are in contrast to that weakness. Riveting, I know. And yes, don’t worry, I’m going to tell you what it is, chill out. The term psychologists use is “codependent.” All humans exhibit codependency to some small degree. Worried about what they think of your shoes or the way you raise your kids? Congrats, you just exhibited a bit of codependency. In my case, it was much, much, much more severe and debilitating to my everyday life. My actions, thoughts, and way of life completely revolved around pleasing one person and keeping them happy. Like a drug addict looking for their next fix, I was a people addict looking for my daily wave of validation. Were they happy? If yes, I won that day. If not, I’d better work twice as hard tomorrow to ensure their happiness, and by extension, my happiness, was achieved.

Talking about it now makes me sick. It was the unhealthiest I had ever been. It put the other person in a position they were not meant to fill. Blech. Not how God intended our relationships with one another to be.

So, I processed and worked my way through all of that mess, applied to become a missionary, and here I am now in Papua New Guinea. (For those of you wondering, yes. I got clearance from my counselor before I came here. #healthy)

Well, Leah, it sounds like you worked through your issues, so what did God need to break in you?

I’m glad you asked.

They say that when you enter the mission field, any issues you have will be amplified a hundred times. Or ten. I can’t remember the number they made up to get their point across. The point is, things you deal with in your home country are going to rear their ugly heads and grow into giants that will be much more difficult to deal with. You’re going to have to develop some new coping mechanisms and be ready to press into the Lord more than ever about these issues because they are going to mutate into something bigger.

So, I prepared.

I resolved that my life would NOT revolve around a particular person. That’s not why I was here. I’m here to teach. I’m here to minister to teens. And so I did. I threw myself into youth ministry and teaching. And it was awesome. My first two-year term in PNG was brilliant. I knew how to not be codependent!

But I had not yet learned what my salvation meant for my life now. I had no clue. I knew a behavior I shouldn’t exhibit… but I never sought the Lord about what to do instead. Or about how He filled that piece of me. Or about how even though I wasn’t “being codependent on anyone,” I still have what my friend and I have deemed, “codependent brain.” And this brain affects my view of the Lord, my relationships with my friends and family, the way I interact with co-workers, the way I interact with Papua New Guineans… I could go on and on and on. And He wanted in to correct these views. So, to get in, He first had to strip me of any confidence I had in my knowledge of myself so He could replace it with a confidence in HIS view of me and the way HE works THROUGH my codependent brain, rather than me fumbling around trying to work IN SPITE OF my codependent brain. This paragraph’s word count has a very high percentage of the word “brain” in it. My apologies.

So, in addition to stripping me of my self-proclaimed super hero status, He broke me of my grip on myself, by showing me I had no grip at all. He showed me that for every piece of me I have an understanding of, there were a hundred other pieces under the surface I have no clue about. Or even knew existed. It’s like memorizing a map. You can list every street name, intersection, and landmark. You put the page away, someone asks you for directions and you can tell them exactly where to go. Then another person approaches you and asks for directions to a place you’ve never heard of before. You confidently say the place doesn’t exist. At their insistence, you get out the page and condescendingly hand it to them. Then, to your utter horror, they begin unfolding the map. There’s more than one page. You’ve only memorized five blocks of a one hundred block city.

I may have understood an important piece of myself, but I did not understand every aspect, because I did not understand my relationship to my creator, because I do not understand my creator. My understanding of myself does not begin with myself. It begins with understanding Him and who He created us to be. This wall of mine was crumbling to the ground…

Click here for Part III…

A Bit of Vulnerability – Pt. I

Hey, everyone. These next set of posts are going to be very different from what I usually bring to the table. I began writing yesterday night and I kept going, and going, and going… until three hours later I finally reached a stopping point. The half-way point. But fret not, I am breaking up the stream of consciousness ramblings into bite size pieces, that will, hopefully, speak to you on some level. If not… at least it’s out of my head now. So, without further ado, I bring to the table…

A Bit of Vulnerability… Pt. I

The Lord has decided it’s time to wreck my view of Him. He is correcting lies I have believed about Him so He can get into the depths of my soul, a place I have knowingly and unknowingly denied Him access since I became a Christian at age thirteen.

First, He broke me. He put me in the position where He, and only He, could comfort and bring light into the dark places of my life. Second, He revealed the ‘why’ behind my ACCESS DENIED feelings toward Him. Third, the now, He is lovingly correcting me. Many times, God has ‘slapped me across the face.’ It’s a brief WAKE-UP moment, a jolt to the system.

This is not one of those times.

This is the careful molding of a potter. The steady hand of an artist applying intricate detail to their creation. This is the second half of a process He began in me long ago. The first half was to strengthen me. To get me ready to receive this correction, now, without completely breaking down. Let me explain…

I was the kid who would cry if my parents looked at me with disappointment or anger. When I was six, I told a lie to my mom. After a couple of hours, the guilt was CRUSHING me, so I went to her room and confessed, a puddle of tears. My mom comforted me, told me she loved me, and calmed me down. Then, she grounded me. Twice. Once, for what I originally did and, twice, for lying about it. In order to receive my punishment (to be corrected) and for it to have the desired effect that parents want it to have, I first had to be comforted, calmed, and assured (strengthened) that my mom loved me and that she was glad I came to her and confessed. If she had merely grounded me and sent me away, it would have crushed the core of me. I wouldn’t have learned to own up to my mistakes. I would have learned “don’t get caught, ‘cause getting caught is painful.”

So, for the past few years, I have been in the “strengthening” stage. He has been affirming the gifts He has given me, bringing to light new strengths, and growing my confidence in Him. He has brought me out of “the crush zone.” And now, it’s time to enter into the Refiner’s fire…

First, He broke me…

These past three months – October to December 2015 – to use an un-kosher missionary term, SUCKED. I would love to describe that word with other, stronger, language, but for the sake of the readership, I will refrain.

It was bad.

And not just in one area of my life or in one certain situation. It permeated my entire identity and world. While teaching in the states, I went through some rough times, but it never impacted my teaching. I never took my anger out on my kids. I never slacked off to the detriment of my classes. Now, five years later, this was not the case. If any students in my 8th Grade English class are reading this, I apologize. Y’all were the last class of the day and y’all got the worst of me.

So at this point, you’re probably asking, “What the heck happened?” And the answer is this:

God stripped bare the three areas of my life that were standing in the way of my relationship with Him:

1) My Superhero Complex (my ability to work hard, do things well, and usually succeed)

2) My “Understanding” of Myself (“I’ve been through counseling, I’ve totally got a grip on this!”)

3) My Solitude Complex (I’ll ask my friends, they’ll know what to do…)

 

You are not a superhero, nor were you created to be…

The beginning of the school term started with a meeting between the vice-principal, my department head, and myself. At the end of the meeting, they had removed one of the five classes I was teaching and I agreed to NOT coach a girl’s basketball team.

I walked to my friend’s house and cried.

I’m supposed to be able to do everything. I’m supposed to be serving in every capacity I can. I’m here to serve the Lord, right? I have these capabilities. I should be doing any and everything in my repertoire to serve this community. Right? Because if I do enough, I can pay God back. I can make it worth His while to have saved me…

The truth is, they were right. I was going to crash and burn if I continued with the workload I had, to the point where I may not have been able to return to PNG after my next scheduled furlough. And I hated that they could see that. I hated that no matter how hard I tried, I was incapable of doing it all. I hated my inability, my ineptitude. God had begun felling my wall of grandeur…

 

Click here for Part II…