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.

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