Wednesday, February 10, 2021

nothing has changed, but everything looks different

Four years ago today, I snapped this picture of one small, red suitcase and captioned it, “One tiny suitcase is all you need when you’re packing for one. I had forgotten what that’s like!” 

I was leaving my 1 year old and my preschooler to go to Houston for two nights. It was the first time I had gone on a trip alone in years. I was headed to a conference called LIT led by Beth Moore, one of my sheroes of the faith, for young women who had a call to speak, write, or teach. I had no idea whether I was called to do any of those things but I was certain that I was supposed to be there.


At the time, I was slowly coming out of the haze of my second round of postpartum depression and anxiety. I had recently weaned my one year old, and between taking care of her and my firstborn in the midst of my own mental health issues, I was very much living in survival mode but with hope that the fog was beginning to lift. Perhaps we would sleep again. Just maybe, I’d have a few more moments to myself each day, though my toddler’s routine nap refusals suggested otherwise. I had lost my Self again in the wake of giving birth and caring for a newborn, and I was anxiously awaiting her return. I missed her.


Shortly before the conference, I had been introduced to the Enneagram and was deeply distressed to find myself portrayed so clearly in the description of type 6—the anxiety-ridden worst-case-scenario planner. I knew it was me but did not understand how God could possibly have made me to be defined by anxiety. And yet, this seemed to be the 6’s defining characteristic. 


The day of the conference was overwhelming. God’s presence was undeniable, though it was all still such a mystery. Like Mary, I “pondered these things in my heart,” knowing I had had a significant, life-changing encounter with the Holy but unsure of what had happened and what it meant. I prayed that the day would be a turning point in my life, and that is the best term to describe it. Everything has been divided into “Before” and “After” God spoke to me at LIT. It was a commissioning for a calling I did not understand.


While I was there, Christine Caine told all of us that God wanted to ask us, “What can I do for YOU?” That God would ask this surprised and overwhelmed me. In light of everything I had been learning through the Enneagram and the words and verses I had sensed God speaking to me, I asked for lasting peace and deliverance from anxiety. I experienced a peace and quiet, contented sense of well-being in the immediate aftermath of that weekend and was hopeful that it would last forever. 


It did not. 


In the four years since that time, I have wrestled with whole new levels of anxiety, culminating in a summer of panic attacks in 2018 that were unlike anything I had ever experienced. When I asked God to take them away, the answer I heard was that God would rescue me in those moments, again and again, until I began to expect rescue each time. The intimacy of experiencing God as my habitual Rescuer still brings me to tears.


I am not still free from anxiety in the way I had hoped I would be. I still have anxiety disorder, and I’ve learned to ride out the waves of panic attacks. The over-arching theme of what God has revealed to me—the most important thing about me that is different now—is that in the midst of my mental health struggles and the shame that sometimes attends them, I have a place of belovedness to return home to. I sometimes need the reminder, but I am absolutely, completely convinced of my unconditional belovedness, regardless of the state of my mental health. While I still have general anxiety, I now have the deep-down peace of knowing that I am loved, every moment, regardless of anything I do or don’t do. It is the simplest message—“Jesus loves me. This I know”—but the most transformative. In God’s great mercy, the knowledge of God’s love that I’ve carried in my head has trickled down into my body, my heart, into the deepest nooks and crannies of my spirit. I struggle, but my worthiness is no longer at stake. I have peace in knowing myself as God’s beloved, and this gives me the courage to follow Jesus to the uncomfortable places He leads me.


I wanted God to make me consistently at ease and unbothered, but an unbothered person feels no compulsion to join in God’s work of restoration in a broken world. If I were numb to the pain around me, I would lose the Enneagram 6’s gift of being Awake. We are the guardians of the Enneagram—we spot potential trouble and prepare accordingly in order to protect the ones we love. We keep watch through the night to the sounds of the steady, sleeping breaths of others who have different gifts (thank goodness).


God is opening my eyes to the suffering of my most marginalized siblings and allows me to feel pain, lament, and repentance. The Lord knew that I didn’t need to be numb to all that is wrong in the world. I thought of Jacob's wrestling with God and the way God changed his name, and I imagined that God had changed my name--my very identity--to "Peace." 


The Creator had the wisdom to know that I was created as I was meant to be. I didn't need a new identity, but a better understanding of the one I had had all along. I prayed for peace that would be based on a lack of anxiety, and in answer, God called me “Beloved” based on my unshakeable identity. The waves of worry and panic wax and wan, but God’s Love for me is a steady beacon of hope each time we lock eyes while the storm rages around me. My journey, like every hero's journey, took me to new places in order that I might return home to myself. Nothing has changed, but everything looks different. I prayed to embody peace, as I understood it, and instead, God called me Loved, just as I am.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Healed People Heal People

 

I poured my heart and soul into this post I wrote about healing for our church’s blog over at Arapaho United Methodist Church. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the way God has met me in my pain and shame and am passionate about normalizing this conversation!

Healed People Heal People

BY LINDSAY O’CONNOR

Father Richard Rohr says that great love and great suffering are avenues for transformation. Nowhere in my life have the two been more entwined than in motherhood. They arrived on my doorstep like a whirlwind pulling me in and catching me up in a disorienting swirl of joy and pain. I came to the end of myself as I faced how little control I had over my body, my feelings, my mental health, my schedule, and the tiny lives that began (and one that ended) within my very own body. The chaotic, messy, holy intersection of shame and motherhood is where God met me. 

...continue reading at Arapaho UMC

Friday, January 22, 2021

Being good vs. being loved


I recently got out all of my old journals, the first of which began when I was barely old enough to form letters. As I read this cross-section of different stages of my life, I was struck by what now seems like unnecessary angst and striving to be good. My prayers were so earnest, and I was so anxious to do what was right. I didn’t realize that God was holding me in love the whole time, regardless of my behavior and performance. I worked so hard, hustling for worthiness (as Brené Brown says), hyper-aware of my perceived flaws, trying to be “good.” I thought that to notice a flaw meant I was immediately responsible to change that thing about myself. The striving creates anxiety, and the failure to achieve enough leads to depression.


I felt a maternal instinct toward my younger self, wishing I could wrap her in an accepting embrace and convince her of how loved she is, just as she is.


The most important thing I have discovered these last few years is that all the time I was trying so hard to be good, I forgot something much more important—I was and am loved beyond measure, just as I am. This is perhaps the least complicated but most difficult truth I know. In the moments when we can accept the abundant love that is ever-available to us from a good, good God, we are transformed, and transformed people transform the world.


May you find moments to rest in your belovedness today, no matter what you’ve done or not done. You are so loved.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A Year in Books: 2020


Time for my favorite post of the year—2020 in books! This includes a couple short devotionals and a few middle grade books I read with my 9 year old. I began the year with a sense that I needed to read about joy and humor (The Book of Joy and always, David Sedaris), which was pretty spot-on for this year. 

I had the honor of helping 5 different authors launch their books this year (what a year to launch a book!) and also enjoyed several book clubs. Thank you to all of the authors who have shared their work with the world, and a special congratulations to those who released a book during this difficult year!🎉 

Grateful to the bibliophiles in my life who never run out of excellent recommendations and inspire me to read more! 

The complete list:

Plan B by Anne Lamott


Chasing Vines by Beth Moore


What is the Bible? By Rob Bell


Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry


Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans


Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman


Maid by Stephanie Land


The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Deskond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams 


Calypso by David Sedaris 


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah


The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho


Native by Kaitlin Curtice


The Other Three Sixteens by Malinda Fugate


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman


The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis


Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid


Beyond Colorblind by Sarah Shin


The Myth of the American Dream by D. L. Mayfield


The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson


The Whole Brain Child by Tina Payne Bryson and Daniel J Siegel


The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd


Untamed by Glennon Doyle 


The Enneagram for Spiritual Formation by AJ Sherrill


The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich


The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory


Unsettling Truths by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah


The War of Art by Steven Pressfield


You Are Enough by Jonathan Puddle


Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 


The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin 


Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah


The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor


Dear Sister by Megan Wooding


How to Fight Racism by Jemar Tisby


The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli 


Callings by Gregg Levoy


All Creation Waits by Gayle Boss


The Way Up is Down by Marlena Graves


Preparing for Christmas by Richard Rohr


Friday, December 18, 2020

Breaking pedestals

We can’t have authentic relationships with others until they fall off the pedestals we constructed and are allowed to be human. Enneagram 6s tend to look for external authorities to follow or rebel against because we don’t trust ourselves. The natural consequence is that we sometimes need more from others than what they can or should give us. It often ends in deep disappointment when we discover that they aren’t the idealized authority we had hoped they would be. When they fall off the pedestal and we discover their flaws in the harsh light of reality, we may feel betrayed or disoriented. 

Once we go through this disillusionment process, we may project our disappointment with our own wrong judgment onto the other person. If we can learn to let go of the bitterness and resentment that sometimes follow and take ownership of our part in creating this dynamic, then we can begin to have mutually fulfilling, authentic relationships. As we learn to trust ourselves, we can allow others the space to be themselves instead of some idealized version. 

Sometimes we have given other people unwarranted authority over us when they never asked for or wanted to fill that role. Other times, we may have unintentionally allowed people to exploit and manipulate our insecurity. Either way, learning to trust ourselves (and practicing self-compassion when we realize that we haven’t) will improve our relationships and lead to healthier boundaries. 


Please note that this is not true for all numbers! Some numbers need to check their excessive confidence or self-reliance by listening or reaching out to others more. This is one of many examples of why good advice for growth for one person does not mean it’s good advice for all people. Knowing ourselves better through Enneagram work can help us discern which pieces of advice will be fruitful for us and which will lead us deeper into personality.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

judgment vs. compassion



Judgement shuts down vulnerability, but compassion paves the way for connection, which is the antidote to shame.

Years ago, I was part of a small group where we were encouraged to share our struggles so we could support and pray for one another. I don’t remember the specific thing I shared (probably my struggle with anxiety or something similar), but I talked about how I was having a hard time letting go of a behavior that I knew was not good for me. Someone in the group responded by expounding upon the reasons why I should stop engaging in that behavior. 

I felt judged, angry, and ashamed, but mostly, shut down. I had summoned up the courage to be vulnerable, but it was received with judgment instead of compassion. There was no healing in this encounter. 

Judgment is a conversation stopper or perhaps an invitation to unproductive arguing. Compassion invites people to pull up a chair and tell their story while clothed in the dignity deserved by all of God’s image bearers. One of the very best discoveries of my life has been that every time I come to God with vulnerability about my struggles, I am met with compassion that leads to healing. I had no concept for the depths of God’s compassion until I began to experience it myself and God began to free me from shame. We can extend compassion to ourselves and others, just as God does for us. 

We build shame resilience through honest conversations with people who will connect empathetically, and no one is better suited to do that than Jesus, the compassionate High Priest who sympathizes with our weakness. We can love others with the love of Christ by extending compassion to those who bear the heavy burden of shame. 

I am learning that we can even extend this healing compassion to ourselves! In Enneagram language, this looks like nonjudgmental self-observation. We can’t change what we can’t see, and we can’t see it if we are full of self-condemnation. No matter what you do or don’t do, you are a beloved child of God.


“He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

‭2 Cor. 1:4

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Jesus wept. We can, too.

We don’t have to buy into the cultural lie that sadness, anger, and grief are unholy indicators of a lack of faith. In fact, I would argue that a faith that hasn’t wrestled with doubt and grief is in danger of becoming, or has become, atrophied. In scripture, we see a Jesus who wept, got angry about hardened hearts, and was distressed to the point of sweat that fell like drops of blood.

Women are socialized in culture — and particularly in the US American church — to avoid anger. Too often, if we express feelings, we are dismissed as being irrational in a society that worships logical over emotions. Sometimes anger is an appropriate response that can move us into appropriate action. Certainly sadness is an appropriate response to situations that call for lament. Our wealthy society supports doing anything we can to avoid and numb pain, but pain can be transformative. 

Our country is culturally very much like an  Enneagram 3 , with heavy emphasis on success, image, and efficiency, as well as the undervaluing of emotions. If we want to engage with God, others, and ourselves authentically, we must allow and acknowledge emotions—ours and others’. Even those of us who aren’t Enneagram 3s are still absorbing these values from the dominant culture. 

As I have practiced being honest with myself and with God about my feelings—even and especially the ones I’m ashamed of—I have experienced a deeper intimacy with the God who never fails to meet me with compassion and tenderness. God is not uncomfortable with our feelings.

Jesus wept for the loss of His friend, though He must have known that Lazarus would be resurrected. His grief was not an indicator of a lack of faith or hope. It was honesty about His feelings in the present moment. Jesus participated in communal grief when He wept for Jerusalem.

Today, I am grieving personal losses with my family as well as the many losses due to injustice in our country. 2020 has been so heavy. God doesn’t need me to perk up out of a false sense of duty.

All of life is living, dying, and rising. We can grieve the dying even as we look forward to resurrection. Grief and faith are not mutually exclusive. Jesus wept. We can, too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Enneagram 6s and Advent


I didn’t grow up in a tradition that talked much about Advent or Lent or the Liturgical Calendar in general, but I keep finding myself gravitating to these rhythms that connect me with God as well as other people of faith all over the globe. This year, for the first time, we have Advent candles in our home and are enjoying beautiful nature readings from Gayle Boss’ All Creation Waits.

I love the way these practices invite us into mystery, wonder, and quiet reflection. I come to this place not even really sure what I’m asking for or expecting to find, but trying to keep my heart, mind, and hands open to the work of the Holy in this cool, dark, dormant season. Who knows what mysterious things are being knit together in the hidden places, preparing to emerge in the spring? 

As much as I tend to take things in through my head, I’m learning to let my body take the lead, at least occasionally. I don’t know much about these mysteries; just enough to be assured that I don’t need to understand or search for what is happening in the dark, quiet places. I only need to allow and to follow my body’s instinct to tune in with nature— slow down, rest more, and wait to see what will be born. The preparation happens naturally, quietly, and in surrender, as opposed to my usual attempts to take the reigns and anticipate what might happen. 

A refrain rolls over and over in my mind from a Sondre Lerche song featured in the movie Dan in Real Life: “Prepare to be surprised.” I suppose this is another way of saying that the ultimate way to prepare is to let go of the need for preparation. What if instead of preparing for the worst, we prepared to be surprised? Just a small shift can reorient us to hope instead of faithlessness.

Friday, December 4, 2020

who were you before you learned to protect yourself?


Enneagram wisdom teaches that our personalities developed early on in our lives as a way for us to cope with hard things. No matter how ideal childhood may have been, we all enter a messy, imperfect world where we hurt and are hurt by others. Our personalities were good and helpful gifts that helped us protect ourselves.

As we mature, we begin to find that some aspects of our personalities are no longer serving us well. We can have gratitude for how personality helped us in the past while recognizing the benefit of allowing parts of it to fall away. 

Spiritual practices that increase our awareness of the presence of God (“infusing the secular with the sacred,” as Reverend Joseph Stabile says) teach us the art of surrender. We begin to allow the work of the Holy to pull away the layers of false self so that more of our true self can be revealed.

Our work is to surrender. The rest is up to our Creator. 

Who would you be now if you could allow these coping skills to fall away? Think back to times of innocence in early childhood. 

Who were you before you learned to protect yourself by:

Enneagram 1s - avoiding mistakes

Enneagram 2s - avoiding your own needs/neediness

Enneagram 3s - avoiding failure 

Enneagram 4s - avoiding the ordinary 

Enneagram 5s - avoiding dependence on others

Enneagram 6s - avoiding uncertainty 

Enneagram 7s - avoiding limitations/commitments 

Enneagram 8s - avoiding vulnerability 

Enneagram 9s - avoiding conflict 

Try practicing in the context of safe relationships and see what—or whom—you discover, hiding beneath the layers of personality that were developed to keep you safe but may no longer be serving you.



Sunday, November 8, 2020

communal grief & communal joy

 **Please note: This IS a political post, because politics affect people. This post is for my friends in the margins and the privileged folks who are standing with them. To anyone else, I’m open to civil discussions offline.**

When I began listening to people in the margins, one of the most important refrains I heard and then began to feel deep in my spirit was the call to personal and communal lament. My therapist helped me learn to grieve personally, but my friends in the margins have been teaching me how to grieve corporately. 

As I’ve been learning this spiritual practice, I did not realize that communal lament also allows for a deep communal joy that only comes after lament. 

Yesterday I heard Aaron Edwards talk about his work in the recovery community and say, “We have seen that healing from our wounds is actually more beautiful than never having had wounds, and resurrection is even better than life without death.” 

We must grieve the dying before we can fully celebrate the rising in a deep and meaningful way. Fullness of grief paves the way for fullness of joy, and no joy is fuller and more complete than communal joy that follows communal grief. 

We have much work to do, but for now, I am thinking of so many who are pausing to take a breath after four long years of, “I can’t breathe." I see you, I stand with you, and I remain committed to working alongside you for justice for all.