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.

Friday, October 23, 2020

the body you have

As I approach middle age, I am just as susceptible to insecurity as the next woman, but I have decided that I don’t want to spend my whole life feeling dissatisfied with my body.

When my 9 year old shares her insecurities about her appearance, I only know two things: I know how just how she feels—her vulnerability is such a gift!—and from somewhere deep within me, I know to tell her that her body will always be changing. We aren’t aiming for a static, fixed point of beauty, but instead, we are continually getting to know our bodies as they transform over time. I’ve watched in wonder as my body transformed during and then after adolescence, pregnancy, surgeries, mental health issues, and a pandemic. I watch as my body changes with age, and I’m trying to notice with curiosity and appreciation rather than judging and longing. 

I don’t want my daughters to see me complain about, hide, or disparage my body. I don’t want to normalize obsession and dissatisfaction with my appearance. 

•I want them to learn that their bodies are created by God, just like everyone else’s. 

•I want them to give thanks for the miracle of all the things our bodies do and for the lessons we learn from our limitations. 

•I want them to actively notice and reject the barrage of messages we receive each day that tell us we should look a certain way in order to be liked, accepted, loved, beautiful, worthy, and successful.

•I want them to recognize that we are all harmed by these messages, no matter where we fall on the very limited continuum of the cultural idea of beauty. 

•I want them to learn to care for their bodies in ways that make them feel whole and authentic. 

•I want them to spend a lifetime learning to love the bodies they have instead of wishing to have bodies they could love. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

4 AM panic prayer


I woke up at 3:15 this morning in a panic. A nagging pain in my side, coupled with some other minor health issues over the past couple days, triggered anxiety-inducing memories of some medical emergencies I’ve had over the last few years. I tried my go-to coping strategies but was struggling with an inconvenient middle-of-the-night panic attack. 

I’ve noticed that the one thing that always makes a panic attack worse is the prospect of someone finding out about it in the moment. I can talk about it all day long after the fact, but anxiety produces in me a need to shrink and hide away until it passes. In the moment, I feel mortified at the thought of someone else discovering that I’m having a panic attack. I didn’t want to wake up my husband.

I prayed and prayed those child-like prayers that are familiar to desperate people: “Helphelphelphelp, please help, helphelphelp, where are You?” It’s so hard to find God in the haze of anxiety. 

Finally in frustration and desperation, I prayed, “I can’t get to You, so I need You to come to me.” I thought of God incarnate, descending from heaven to come to us in the form of Jesus, inhabiting a human body, the Creator condescending to become the created. I was comforted when I thought, from a place deep in my spirit, “That is what God does.” 

I felt my spirit settle and was able to sense God speaking to me simply and soothingly, as a mother talks to her distressed child. Then, peace.

Pain, and suffering of all kinds, is so isolating. When we are hurting and alone, dipping down into a place where no one else can go with us, we find Emmanuel. In this place, we begin to understand the miracle and absolute necessity of God with us. When we are spiraling into pain, despair, anxiety, anger, or grief, and we can’t get to God, God comes to us. The few times in the Bible when God is in a hurry are when God is coming quickly to be with God’s beloved. 

If you are hurting and feel like you can’t get to God from the depths of your pain, may God come swiftly and bring you peace.