Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lip Balm?

It seems that I have made the transition from being "Pastor's Wife Barbie" to being a "Chatty-Cathy Doll". You know how it is - we go through those giant pendulum swings as we're working things out in our lives. I know there will be a middle ground one of these days.

We've been facing a tremendous amount of discouragement lately and it's been coming at us from many directions. I think that last Thurs. night was one of of our darkest. You know it's bad when not just one, but both of us, are discouraged at the same time. Yeah, not so good. We must have spent at least an hour last night praying: yelling at God; pleading with God; asking Him WHY?! and WHAT?! and WHO?! and most of all, HELP!?! HELP!! NO, REALLY, HELP!?! On that note, we went to bed.

At 7:30 AM, the phone rang and there was John B. - the head of the church-planting organization that we are under - speaking word after word of encouragement. Let me tell you, we were so parched that it felt like someone giving us water after we'd been dumped in the in the desert - much unlike Chevy Chase's character in The Three Amigos who only offered, "Lip balm?"

I feel like a cat in a bag these days, panic-stricken, pawing around in there trying to find the way out. When I was a kid, my sister and I slept downstairs on the hide-a-way bed, in our sleeping bags, due to the high wasp population upstairs in our rooms. We had these army surplus sleeping bags that were practically airtight. One night we were goofing around and I hid in the bottom of my bag and the opening of the bag somehow got folded underneath me. At first I just sort of felt my way around to get out but when I couldn't find the opening I began to panic. My super military quality sleeping bag did not have one of those little air holes in the bottom by the zipper - it zipped all the way to the end. And it was getting hot in there. It was stiflingly hot and I was freaking out. I was old enough to have some notions as to suffocation and death so I started yelling for help.

"Get me out of here! I can't get out! I'm stuck in here! Somebody please! I'm gonna suffocate to death! HELP!!!!" Finally one of my parents came and untangled the sleeping bag so that I could get out. My sister must have slept through it all or was too little to know how to help.

The remembrance of the sleeping bag distress came to me the other day because it parallels my life. In the past year and a half I've been realizing that I'm stuck in the bag and can't find my own way out. As I've reevaluated my priorities lately it's become apparent that I've run out of my own resources to excel within the various roles of my life. All of those roles, not just one or two of them. I can't magically make myself communicate better or resolve conflict more effectively; or parent with grace and humor that I do not possess. I need help finding my way out of the bag. Most of us come to these places in our lives sooner or later and it's very humbling. I happen to be a person who is very motivated to change, grow, and deal with things even though I also happen to be a person who struggles against high levels of negativity and perfectionism.

I can't run out on my family as much as I want to some days because I feel like a failure. I am not a failure but I get sucked into believing that when I have mere moments of failure. (Who knew?! I'm not perfect?!?) I am reminded that idols come in many forms and that many of us have some ugly gargoyles named "Feelings" that sit enshrined in special alcoves; we scrape and bow to them all throughout the day and we lend them the power to control our minds and actions, and we give them permission to set the mood in our very environments. Are we gonna do anything about it? If we need help will we ask for help? Will we admit that these are gods that we have brought into power - not someone else's gods?

For me, I have to seek the help I need so that I am equipped to make the changes that I need to make. In that I also have to differentiate between who is offering lip balm and who is offering water - on so many levels. It was not likely that I would die of suffocation in my sleeping bag and it's not likely now that I won't find my way out of whatever this is with some help - if I am willing to receive it, that is.

Next time, the latest on where Jesus and I are in all of this.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Here's to Handel - and My Life Coach

So, I spoke with my personal Life Coach and she told me to quit being a martyr and to quit being involved in children's ministry. (Strains of the Hallelujah Chorus are playing in background) I picture Jeremy Piven (the actor) characteristically holding his head in his hands, looking up at John Cusack and shouting, "Man, you're like my oracle and s---!" (From the movie Serendipity) This is what this friend is to me, an oracle. We are that for each other - we are both oracles. My other "processing" friend is a healer. I'm into those old world terms lately.

Anyway, she walked me through a very logical process to find out who I really am and what I'm really called to. It boiled down to this: I am a Christ-follower, a wife, a mother, a homemaker, and when needed, a friend/relative. That's it. I am not called to anything else; I have no other openings at the current time, including children's ministry. (Again with the Hallelujah Chorus...) These are the specific things that I am called to at present. She asked me why I was trying to add more responsibilities beyond the ones God has already called me to. She told me that the things God has called me to are the same things forming the lens that I need to filter life's other stuff through: "If I add X,Y,Z is it going to make me a better wife, mother or homemaker? Will it fit anywhere into the existing picture without causing harm in those areas?"

It's amazing how a paradigm shift can create some breathing room. She may not realize it but I feel like she rolled a giant oxygen tank up into my space and now I am getting my color back. It makes me cry just thinking about it. She said a bunch of other stuff about boundaries and not being a whiner, and to you-know-where with the whole "pastor's wife" crap, as only a friend who really loves you can say.

Later that night I read some powerful words that a wise man said to his son, Ralph Moody, nearly a hundred years ago:

"You know, a man's life is a lot like a boat. If he keeps his sail set right it doesn't make too much difference which way the wind blows or which way the current flows. If he knows where he wants to go and keeps his sail trimmed carefully he'll come into the right port. But if he forgets to watch his sail till the current catches him broadside he's pretty apt to smash up on the rocks."

All I know is that I had a mouthful of gritty sand and that I was a long way off the course. Once I got my little boat off the rocks and back on course it was very apparent to me just how far off the course I had been. My boat must have been careening willy-nilly all over the lake, crashing into other water craft, dragging bottom across rocks and who knows what else.

As I focused my myopic eyes looking through my newfound lens I was disheartened to see the level of neglect in my "wifering", mothering and "householdering". Good thing I am married to a strong and independent individual with a sense of humor because he seems the most intact of the three.

As for the children, where is Nanny McPhee when you need her? It's like the children who live in our home have either lost their hearing a.k.a. Helen Keller's difficult early years; or they no longer speak English - seriously, "Do you not understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?!?" as Chris Rock hollered at Jackie Chan. It is also possible that they have become characters from the book "Lord of the Flies". Because of my sailboat detours, this week at our house has been Baby Boot Camp only I don't get to cuss anyone out or call them derogatory names to make them feel like certain kinds of ants. There is no barking, "Drop down and give me 50!!" You know, that would be waay easier than trying to discipline in love - hopefully including patience - along with the giving of encouraging words while trying to keep the lectures and yelling to a minimum (that's where the duct tape across my mouth comes in). The poor little tykes have needed a lot more direction than I had been giving them and it's been a long week for all of us. Those drill sergeants don't even know the meaning of boot camp. I now understand the words, "This hurts me more than it hurts you."

As for the home, it looks like a bunch of hogs live here - not that it's a new look or anything - but now I feel like I have permission to focus on some care and keeping of it instead of the bunch of frenetic add-on activities that I usually succumb to.

And last but not least, the following of Jesus. Well, we're working things out. I felt emboldened enough to asked Him the same question his cousin, John the Baptist, once asked of Him, and you'd think John would know his own cousin better than this, "Are you the Christ or should we look for another?"
True to form Jesus reminded me of His miraculous signs from then and now and asked,
"Who do you say that I am?"
So that's where He and I are at but that's a post for another late night.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Twist of Lemon with That?

I wish I could say that I am the quintessential pastor's wife who is full of wisdom and grace and able to singlehandedly create - and lead - amazing ministries out of the miry clay. The truth lately is that I spend more time in the miry clay than I do outside of it.

I'm not gonna lie to you, my faith is on the rocks. Too bad "faith on the rocks" does not contain alcohol because at least that would numb my senses. It's not because of the miscarriage - I actually felt this way before that happened, although experiencing that loss did not help. Depression, compounded by grief, compounded by the relentless pressures of the church plant, compounded by emotional unhealth: in case you were wanting the recipe for the drink. If you mix it correctly it should come out in a perfect Barbie doll pink.

Basically my spiritual life isn't amazingly great and I don't want a bunch of moronic Christianese cliches as to how to "get back on track". I'm not off the track. I still think God is real but I am extremely frustrated with all of this crap and the feeling that I am missing something spiritually. The cliches only serve to infuriate me anyway. If there was a punching bag that spouted cliches I would have pulverized it by now.
(If I were really honest I would include all the expletives that are involved in the alternate conversation in my head.)

"God is in control" *POW*
"This is all part of God's perfect plan." *WHAMMO*
"Let go and let God." *BLAM-BLAM-BLAM"

Yeah, whatever. None of those things mean anything to me. All the rotten things that happen in this world aren't part of God's plan. Why the hell would God's perfect plan include murder, rape, mutilation, abuse, war, AIDS, starvation, disease, and all the other hard or heinous things in this world? It's just bad theology to suggest such a thing. GOD IS GOOD NOT EVIL. God doesn't inflict evil things upon us to "teach us a lesson" or "build our character" - if He did that He would be abusive, not loving. People make choices to participate in some of these heinous acts and God is not in control of that; He allows humans to choose whatever they will. God is sovereign but that is another matter.

So what is my problem? I'm tired. I want to go live in a cabin in the woods for a month where I can be still and know that God is God. I often hear of others who go on pilgrimages to Buddhist monasteries or Ashrams and this seems like a good idea to me. (I know that I said hiding out in a monastery is cowardly in a previous blog. I am not contradicting myself. I am suggesting the value of going there for restoration purposes rather than to hide from life's problems for an indefinite amount of time like Sister Maria tried in The Sound of Music.) The closest thing we have in Christendom is a Catholic monastery; however, I am not Catholic and some of our beliefs would differ. Many churches host so-called retreats; I have yet to find any rest or restoration on one of these seminar-filled, activity-packed venues. Going to a cabin in the woods sounds more realistic since there ain't much else to choose from. Many Christians don't seem to value mystery or mystics much; a jam-packed seminar will keep our little minds off the greater mysteries of our existence. However, these mysteries have become a deafening part of my existence and there is no drowning them out. As I say to my husband, "I'm not a typical pastor's wife - I am the kooky-mystic-writer person who doesn't fit the profile and doesn't do any of the expected pastor's wife things." (This may be why I feel like a crazy person. What's with those perfect go-getters?!)

Jesus specifically talks about doing the impossible with God's power. How does that work exactly? And if my faith is too small will God make it bigger? I really want to know the answer to this question and my heart hurts for the not knowing. What about seeing people healed? What about my own healing? I have so many questions for God and some of them need answers here on earth, not just in the hereafter. There have been human beings who knew God on a whole other plane than the one that I am currently on and I need to be where they were in their understanding of God and in their relationship with Him.
What I really long for is restoration. I long to have a clear picture of the health vs. the unhealth in my life so that I can make better decisions. I am weary of making bad decisions based on guilt or pride or just plain pigheadedness and then hating my life because of it. Right now I am helping co-lead children's ministry. For anyone who knows me well, you know that this is neither a gift nor a passion area for me. I have never dreamed of doing this. I have never wanted to do this. I have dreaded doing this. So, basically, I am an idiot right now that I am even doing this and then wailing, "But if I don't do it who will?!" Doesn't exactly sound like a decision made by a healthy person, right? Maybe what's on the rocks is all of this cliched, guilt-inducing, perfect-pastor's wife nonsense that is ruining my life, not my faith. I dunno. It's hard to differentiate.

When life hands you lemons...
slice them up and garnish your drink with them.
Instead of the little umbrellas, serve with a Barbie head on a swizzler stick.

Being Present

Sometimes I think we suffer too much alone during these things and it sure does help to have friends and people who offer encouragement and love and prayers and it really doesn't matter if you are hundreds or thousands of miles away because I still feel your support somehow. The older (and hopefully, wiser) I get the more I want to reach out and be present for other people and have them be present for me. Hopefully this is a safe place.