The Lizzie Manifesto

Pandora is filling my borrowed room with lovely sounds akin to Pachelbel’s Canon, and I am restarting my blog with hope that it will continue even when the feelings aren’t there. Because writing is one of the things that, in the past, has helped me recover who I am, and I have confidence that it can do it again.

embraced by words
by Robbert van der Steeg, from flickr’s creative commons.

My church began its annual missions focus this week, with a sermon on the Great Commission from a woman only two years older than me. I walked in numb and flat, as I have for a while now, but I left with a few flickers of inspiration that stayed with me into my car and into the quiet. Not to knock on my neighbor’s door or deliver hope to strangers, as you might expect, but to knock on the doors of my own heart and find out what’s inside … to deliver hope to my own cracked and broken pieces.

I want to listen to myself and accept the reality of where I’m at right now. This roller coaster is nothing to feel afraid of, ashamed of, or less-than because of. It’s here, and I’m on it, and it’s okay. Normal, even. I will settle in and appreciate this view and that exhilaration, and when my stomach drops and the g-forces throw my tears back at me and I can barely see through the squinting, it won’t be a nasty surprise but an accepted — if not welcome — part of the ride. We’re all on different roller coasters at different times, and even the most extreme and, conversely, the most slow-moving ones don’t last forever. This too shall pass, but in the meantime …

… Who am I? What makes me come alive? What do I need?

I asked myself these and other questions from the wicker chair in the sweltering shade, while the dogs looked on.

This is what I want:

  • A safe community that brings life
  • Energy and motivation to write, explore, breathe, and enjoy the simple things of life
  • To find purpose, passion, hope, and truth and carry them with me in my being and doing
  • A strong foundation spiritually, emotionally, relationally
  • New opportunities and experiences for the stretching, invigorating, experimenting, and the living of life to the fullest
  • To truly see the people and the world in which I live — to laugh and cry and feel and taste — rather than going through the motions
  • To always be honest and true to myself
  • To find life and refreshment in discipline
  • To be good, but not safe
  • To have the courage to move when the place I’m in no longer brings life, but also to recognize that my cocktail of purpose, passion, hope, and truth can be found anywhere.
  • To love well
  • To value quality over quantity
  • To press on with or without the feelings
  • To be released from feeling like I have to be there for everyone all the time
  • To be okay with journey and process without outcome or destination
  • To have a heart and mind always open to learning

Looking between the lines in “Noah”

Russell Crowe as Noah
Russell Crowe as Noah (from ew.com)

As I read reviews and then sat in the dark cinema, I was open. I was reaching, as with feelers, into the waters of Noah, open to receiving what was good and thought provoking about the movie. And I didn’t come away empty-handed.

But then I read the lambasting words, and the movie called blasphemous and compared to excrement, and I tucked my feelers under my body, afraid what they would think of me for daring to see anything good in the adaptation.

But I did. I also saw things that unsettled and troubled me. I’m not entirely sure how to make sense of it all, but I’ll try.

First, I don’t think the filmmakers were intentionally trying to mock Christians or distort the biblical account as much as possible. My take is that this was a serious attempt to examine the story of Noah and the Flood in a new way while challenging expectations, looking at human nature, looking between the lines, looking at philosophical questions the story evokes.

Second, there are many things we don’t know about the story of Noah. Here are some of them: how devoted Noah’s family members were to God and what kind of people they were; if any of them (Noah included) ever doubted or struggled or didn’t understand; exactly how God communicated with Noah, both at the beginning when he told Noah what to do, and throughout the journey of building the ark and escaping the Flood; what the antediluvian world was like; what Noah’s interactions with the corrupt world were, especially as he began his ark-building endeavor; and let’s not forget the mystery of the Nephilim. Granted, I’m not a theologian, but none of these things seem cut-and-dried to me.

The biblical account is essentially this: God told Noah what to do in a way that was clear and intelligible to him, and he did it. And not just instructions about the dimensions of the ark and how many pairs of animals to bring aboard, but also which humans to bring on board, and the fact that He was establishing a covenant with Noah.

This seems clear-cut and straightforward with little room for ambiguity, but is there anything clear-cut and straightforward about a Flood in a rainless world; about a God who embodies both mercy and justice, love and wrath, beginnings and endings, death and life; about humanity being preserved inside a 350-cubit-long box made of gopher wood while death writhes in the waters outside? I remember all the things we don’t know about the story of Noah, and I realize that there may have been more going on between the lines – even if only at the heart and head level – than we know.

(If you haven’t seen the movie yet, be warned that the next few paragraphs contain spoilers.)

In the movie, God’s instructions to Noah are a part of that ambiguity, especially as relates to the future of the human race. At first, Noah is planning on finding wives for his two unmarried sons, but then he sees the wickedness of the world in all its perversity, and becomes convinced that humanity has corrupted itself beyond repair, has lost its chance. God’s justice, he believes, requires that the human race end with his family. But then Shem’s previously barren wife gets pregnant on the ark, and we’re plunged into an Abraham-and-Isaac scenario with a Noah willing to kill his own grandchild if it (or they, as it turns out) is a girl.

As I was watching this, I thought, The only way to redeem this is to make it clear that Noah had misunderstood God’s will and was taking matters into his own hands in the wrong way.

In a way, this did happen, but not as clearly as I would’ve liked.

I have no problems with Noah being a flawed human being. He was a sinner like the rest of us, despite being “blameless in his generation.” In the movie, we saw a man who obeyed God and walked differently from the rest of the world … and yet a man who saw a world that was broken and evil and corrupt, and struggled with that tension.

Here is what I keep coming back to: I think the movie portrayed some of the emotions and struggles that Noah and his family could have been dealing with, even if they didn’t manifest themselves in the same ways they did in the movie. What must it have been like to be the only ones following God in a corrupt world? What was it like to face the unknown and the prospect of every other human drowning while they would float atop the waters and survive? The Bible doesn’t probe their hearts and minds, but Noah opens that door, and is it far-fetched to look into the facts of the Flood and wonder if there was any fear, or doubt, or a struggling with the tension between God’s mercy and God’s justice, or even wondering deep down if they deserved to be spared?

Yes, there were things I would’ve changed about the movie. I would’ve made it clearer that Methuselah’s special abilities were from God. I would’ve sketched out the Nephilim differently. And I especially would’ve drawn out more of God’s mercy and love than we saw portrayed. That is what troubled me the most: knowing that this interpretation of God could leave some people thinking of Him as impersonal and unloving. And yet, wrath and justice are a part of God’s character, and especially need to be examined in a story about the Flood.

But despite all this, Noah helps us explore and ask questions and wrestle with a familiar story in a new way. Even though this movie was made by a non-Christian taking creative liberties, I believe that God can use it. He can illuminate our minds and hearts to see what was good and draw it out. He can redeem the ambiguities and interpretations that went too far. And He can resolve those tensions and bring us back to Himself.

Here’s to Being

Here I am, again.

I’m moving gingerly back into this space, unsure of what I’m able to commit to, of what is life-giving, of what tomorrow will feel like.

But here I lie, in the dark of my sister’s dorm room while she sleeps, with peace and a full heart, and an ash cross on my forehead that I haven’t gotten a proper look at yet.

It is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and I have come a long way since the darkness of the new year. January was a bleak month for me and others I know. I looked toward February and saw it glowing with hope and promise. And that’s what I found there. I had a weekend of feeling close to God for the first time in a long time, and another weekend of connecting with girls half my age and revisiting my camp baggage and realizing so much about who I am as a person, a youth leader, a counselor.

And yet, I’m still amazed at how easy it was to bend back to how things were before. To bend back to autopilot and doing and hard edges and stagnation.

Maybe I will be bending a different way by this time next month.

I have never observed Lent before, but this year I signed up for an online course that’s focus is on being and resting. After being wrung dry, after depression, in the midst of doubt and sameness, this is what I needed.

I read the introductory posts from the other few dozen women taking part in the course, and I wrote out my story in unabashed wordiness. Then came the peace and the full heart. And the desire to keep writing.

So here I am, again.

In which I tell you about my depression

Here I am in the darkness, and I can’t muster the strength to wave.

Of course, that’s not really true. If it really were coal black inside me at this very moment, I wouldn’t be able to type these words, never mind lift my hand in some half-hearted greeting.

But it comes, this darkness, and I am afraid of my feelings.

So very thin, so very fragile, is the distance between “okay” and “broken.”

In college, “depression” flitted at the edges of my mind and in my Internet searches, but I rejected the notion. It was something else. It was insecurity, it was stress, it was my spiritual state.

This time, there is no doubt, no explaining away, no alternate narratives.

It came without warning as I sat at the table with my lasagna and the people I had been so excited to see again. It came, and excitement left me and I couldn’t follow the conversations around me and they were a million miles away and I shut down and curled inward and wanted to cry. Later, I did cry.

It came gradually as I walked hand-in-hand on dark, wet nights and wrote pages and pages in my journal while everyone slept. It came, and so did fear. All my certainty left me and I thought of things being shaken and falling away, and soon even that clarity was gone too.

It came like a brick, like an anvil, like a dementor, as we got in the car and prepared for a long drive on that rainy night. That terrible rainy night.

There were respites between the storms, and even a day or two when I felt like my old self again. But it never truly went away, and eventually my body began to wear down too.

I’m home again, and it looks different here. Duller edges, familiar motions, the quiet breaking and forgetting and existing.

I want healing, and I’ve been pursuing it a little. But mostly I’m still holding back, clinging to my defense-mechanism isolation, becoming almost a mechanism myself.

I know healing is so much more than those little white pills they gave me. That word, healing, seems so gentle and soothing and right, but when you stop the sideways glances and look it straight in the eyes, you realize how hard and messy and uncomfortable it will be.

Here I am in the darkness, and I want out, but I don’t know and I’m afraid.

Life on autopilot: it’s time for a change

Wednesday was one of those days where I felt everything, and I’m so grateful.

I sat in my swivel chair, shut tight in the little studio while instrumental Christmas carols filled the room and the waveforms rose and fell right along with them. In between pushing record and stop and occasionally adjusting the volume, I was reading Liz Curtis Higgs’ book The Women of Christmas.

Somehow, we received quite a few copies of that book here at the station, and so one day a couple weeks ago, I found that shiny red hardback in my box. A new resource! I thought, admiring the Christmassy cover.

There are many Advent resources, I’ve found.

Perfect for this girl who’s bringing Advent to the late-night hours of a small Christian radio station.

So there I was, reading The Women of Christmas while the music played, and I felt it, all of it.

The Christmas story was alive in my heart, and I wasn’t reading it just so I could pull out a few quotes for my radio show.

The night before, I had been reading another book, and I was having trouble getting into it. At the back of my mind were thoughts like maybe I can pull something out of this for my blog and how can I use this in my writing/teaching/speaking?

This is why I’m not a fan of writing book reviews. The knowledge that the book review is waiting for me just past the last page, and demanding a solid analysis and arguments, distracts me from being able to fully enjoy, immerse, be. That tendency to turn everything into a performance is already there; why exacerbate it?

So there I was, reading this book, Grace for the Good Girl, and I finally gave myself grace. I finally let go and let myself read without the pressure of having to remember everything or be able to regurgitate it later. It was wonderful.

My days of being are few and far between.

I’m too much about lists and tasks and getting five things done at once. And usually, those five things can all be done with the help of a mouse and a keyboard. I’m convinced that all of this, all the lists and the task orientation and the spending all my free time in front of the computer, dulls my mind and heart.

And honestly, I’m already tempted to believe my life right now is dull.

I am 25 years old, and I live at home with my parents, and even though I have a job and a blog and a group of youth group kids I love, my life is safe, easy and predictable.

And what do I do? I dull it still further.

I want my life to count, even now in the in-between and the over-familiar.

I’m on autopilot right now, and autopilot is easy. But autopilot steals my humanity, one hour at a time. It steals my ability to feel and think deeply, to empathize, to truly live life.

Wednesday was one of those days where I felt everything — the Liz Curtis Higgs book, the words and Scriptures and thoughts I spoke into the microphone — was fully present, and felt like a person, not a robot.

This brings me to today, and this weekend.

I’ll be spending a good part of this weekend in a car, and after two and a half hours of sitting in the dark thinking, I already feel emotionally and spiritually rejuvenated. This is going to be a healing weekend, I can tell.

It’s too soon to decide which attitudes and activities need to be replaced in the long-term, but I think it’s time to take a break from this blog. I was already going to take two weeks off for Christmas, since I’ll be on vacation in England, but I think it would be healthy for me to start my blog vacation early.

Blogging has become more about lists and tasks and social networking, more about trying to turn barely processed thoughts into polished writing, more about analyzing my life while I’m living it than it is about the sheer joy of writing. I need time to think and pray and be. I need time to rediscover my love of writing, and to decide what role blogging should play in it right now. Does the activity need to change, or just the attitude, or both? I don’t know, but I need to turn off the autopilot to find out.

Thank you to all of you who have supported me in this journey. I hope that this time off is the start of something new.

To Dream Deeply

possibility
photo by mollybob on flickr’s creative commons

A new idea comes to me, a big idea to change everything, a wild idea to throw off the old certainties. “Wrap your mind around this,” it whispers.

And so I do.

My mind snaps to attention with new heart energy, and I’m making this work. Connections fuse and I’m mapping my potential new course. I’m thinking through all the details and logistics and dismantling all the practical problems. I am alive in this, dreaming and drinking in the planning.

I don’t ask these questions, at least not right away: Is this the right thing? Am I ready for this? Is the timing right? Is this you, Lord?

The problem is, by the time I finally get around to asking those questions, I’ve already half-decided to say yes because everything seems so easy and solvable in my mind. How easily I forget that those obstacles aren’t the only ones. If I start to convince myself that the only challenges are logistical ones, I ignore spiritual and emotional realities.

And those spiritual and emotional questions take time. They require stillness. The answers aren’t so easy.

My possibility is beautiful and exciting, but also expensive and fragile and not guaranteed to last or even work.

I don’t want to rip into it like it’s a toy in cheap paper. I don’t want to assume that, because I’ve thought of it and it excites me, it’s made for me and nothing will go wrong and there are no cracks in it or me.

I want to ponder and treasure, to take this possibility in my hands with care and really see it in all of its complexity.

Is it for me? Is it for now? Is it worth the cost?

Dreaming isn’t bad. Getting excited about a possibility isn’t bad. But when it’s a big, potentially life-changing possibility, I don’t want to dream lightly. I want to dream deeply.

Story as it’s meant to be

old cinema

Last night, I went to the cinema with my dad and sister to see the 50th-anniversary episode of the British television show Doctor Who.

I’d only seen about a dozen episodes in total, and was going mostly for my sister, who wore her Doctor Who T-shirt and carried her sonic screwdriver and cheered at all the right times.

Even as the homages and references and plot points jumped over my head and skated every which way around me, I couldn’t help but feel the momentousness of it all.

We all have stories and characters we love. We move in close to them, pressing in as we would around a fire, hands and faces turned toward the warmth.

Yes, we can get lost in stories and escape in make-believe and find our hands and faces charred in the end.

Story can go wrong, and we can argue endlessly about whether it’s the story’s fault or your fault.

But then, then there are the times when story goes right, when story is as it’s meant to be.

Story as it’s meant to be draws us into its world … and then back out into our own worlds. In some little way or some big way or some unknown way, it connects us with what it means to be human.

We like these stories and characters because somehow, we can connect with them. He said something funny, and I laughed. That look in her eyes almost made me cry too. That story crushed me or resonated with me or reminded me of something important.

But then scripts and performances, editors and formulas, platforms and special effects, audiences and critics, it’s-not-like-the-book and it’s-barely-based-on-a-true-story, politics and hidden agendas … how easy it is to lose the magic of story.

But it’s still there, if we will only be open to it.

We all have moments wrapped in beauty, in the doing and in the thinking and in the living. And we all have moments wrapped in pain.

I drove home with my dad from that Doctor Who special without saying much of anything. Mumford & Sons filled the car and all outside was dark and same. And I was thinking of how characters and stories mean so much to every one of us, and art was alive inside me, and I felt so very full.

Moments like that, where the music and the mind come together to make something rich, even if it stays inside and unspoken, remind me of the other stories on screens and in books. Those started inside someone too, and now here they are.

Story connects us with what it means to be human. It happens when my unspoken meets your spoken, and I am changed.     

(photo credit)

Do what I write, not what I do

The wind is blowing in great gusts, and all the wood above me creaks, and the screen door slams shut and open and then shut again.

I’ve been thinking about what I should write today, what is crawling through me, back and forth from head to heart, what is ready to come forth.

And I keep thinking of the last blog I wrote, the one about making lists and finding meaning in living the well-ordered life and how that doesn’t bring life.

I have a confession to make: When I wrote that blog, I knew, deep down, that I wasn’t going to take my own advice. “It’s time to change the way I view lists,” I wrote. “It’s time to breathe and give myself grace.”

This is what I should do, I thought as I typed.

But it’s so much easier to write than to do.

The truth is, it takes more than inspiring words to dislodge me from this comfortable, sticky hole of mine. You can throw the words “change,” “breathe,” and “grace” at me, or I can throw them at myself, but that’s just the beginning. It takes strategy, resolve, prayer, accountability.

First, though, you have to want to get out.

And I’m not sure I want it enough.

I like the way I stay in touch with people. I like the way I have the ability to see what needs to happen in planning an event or project, and then to make it happen. I like the many blogs I read. I like my clean surfaces and neat, hierarchical folder structures.

Those are all good things.

But I can’t deny they consume me, robotize me, deaden me.

How can I hold on to the good and expunge the bad?

I don’t know how to change.

I can see myself setting the lists and the task obsessions aside for days, weeks, or even months. I can see myself breathing in the cold English air and letting it go and loving every unplanned moment.

But I’m afraid I will always come back to them, always revert to this and other default settings because they are familiar and comfortable.

Then I remember another time, a worse time. A time when I would look at my life and the way I was living it and see nothing I liked.

I didn’t know how to change then either, and like now I was afraid it would never happen.

But I did change. Years and years of stagnation and slipping deeper, and then, for the first time, I knew I was holding change in my hands and I stared and wondered, breathless, if it would last.

I finally got used to it, and I don’t think of it nearly as often as I did then, but it’s lasted.

I remember how change came even from that darkness, and how I’m in a lighter place now. If change could happen then, it can happen now.

It’s so much easier to write than to do, but writing is a step.

When Lists are the Enemy

pile of post-it notesRight now, my eyes are fixed on December 18th — the day I fly to England for my first Christmas away from home. I’m counting down the days, I’m making lists, I’m living the anticipation.

And then I remember what happened the last time I made a list before going on a big trip.

It’s what happens every time: I want to tie up every conceivable loose end before I leave so that I can be fully present while I’m there. It starts out simple enough with items like “do laundry,“ “respond to letters and emails,” and “make an iTunes playlist.” And then, then it turns obsessive-compulsive:

  • Skype with these people
  • Post those pictures on Facebook
  • Read these six books
  • Organize all those files

And on and on and on.

Many of the items on the list aren’t things that need to be done before I leave (not even close), and in fact they keep me from being fully present before leaving. Last time I made one of those lists, I was so focused on getting everything done that I wasn’t even excited until I was on my way to the airport.

So why do I keep making these lists?

Perfectionism.

This is it, I think, this is my chance to get all those things done that I have been putting off for so long.

Perfectionism meets procrastination.

Is this what perfection looks like? When I’ve Skyped with all of my long-distance friends, and there are no emails in my inbox, no books on my nightstand, nothing left to post, organize, or arrange?

Sometimes I think so, as I lean back and admire all my well-ordered surroundings. It is clean, it is finished, and I am complete. The days of mania and obsession seem worth it.

But it only lasts a day, if I’m lucky. The emails continue to fly at me relentlessly, and there are more books to read, and after a while it’s time to Skype again.

This isn’t how I want to find meaning — not in the weeks before the big trips, and not in the rest of life either. After all, how can I savor a conversation or a good book if I’m in a rush to get to the next conversation and the next book so I can reach an elusive “done!”?

I’ve already made my list, and I don’t leave for another month.

I don’t think doing away with lists is the answer. I’m a list girl. I enjoy lists and find them immensely helpful.

But it is time to change the way I view lists. They are “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules,” as the pirates would say.

It’s time to breathe and give myself grace.

Goodness knows there are enough chores and tasks out there without my turning my hobbies and friendships into chores and tasks as well.

Here is what I am reminding myself of today: My worth is not based on the state of my desk, Desktop, or Skype history. It is not based on how many books I read or don’t read, or whether I do this or that.

I am complete right now.

(photo credit)

Admitting my weaknesses and uncertainties

standing alone“I have a lot of doubts about … everything,” I said hesitantly over Skype.

“Like what?” she asked.

“God, the inerrancy of the Bible…” Gender roles. The charismatic movement. If I’ve ever really seen God do anything…

I was waiting for widened eyes and “Oh Liz” and serious and concern and promises to pray for me.

But it didn’t happen. Something else happened.

She understood. She could relate.

The same thing happened when I wrote my last blog about how “I might be a feminist.” The way people understood, the way people could relate to my journey surprised me.

I saw people come alongside me, people willing to share their journeys and how they too had wrestled or were wrestling with this issue. Some of whom I never would have guessed were in this with me.

“There is more power in sharing our weaknesses than our strengths,” wrote Brennan Manning in Reflections for Ragamuffins. He was right.

And I’m finally taking those nervous steps to share my weaknesses, my struggles, my uncertainties.

It started on my YWAM Discipleship Training School. I started actually talking with other people about my struggles, and none of them fainted in shock or distanced themselves from me. But then again, that was YWAM, where we were all a family “in this thing together.”

But out in the real world?

I’ve always known that I’m weak, but I always assumed other people were more confident, certain, and put-together than they probably were. I would hear a lively, opinionated debate between friends who seemed so sure of themselves, and I wouldn’t dare interject my opinion — partly because I didn’t know what my opinion was, and partly because I was afraid of what people would think of me if I disagreed with them — especially if I disagreed without the confidence and certainty that they seemed to have.

A few years ago, I never would’ve admitted such struggles as I’m now admitting in this public forum. I never would’ve said anything controversial unless it was about the TV show Lost, and even then my thin, sensitive skin might’ve bruised a bit if someone had challenged my point.

So there they are, my weaknesses (some of them, at least). I doubt. I’m all over the place. I often don’t know what I believe on issues of secondary and primary importance. I hardly ever read my Bible. My prayer life isn’t as robust as it was last year.

I wish these things weren’t true of me, but at the same time it does no good to hide them from all the eyes.

After I shared some of my struggles in the above-mentioned Skype conversation, I felt such a massive shift like you wouldn’t believe.

She had been speaking with such certainty and confidence, and talking about God and her convictions, and as I nodded along I just felt worse and worse. I knew I was being disingenuous. I was also feeling bad about myself for not having that same strength.

And then I took that tiny step and spoke words I was afraid to speak, and everything changed. I was honest, and she was honest, and suddenly that picture in my mind, of me as the weak one and her as the strong one, disappeared.

I understand now why we’re afraid to admit our weaknesses. We’re afraid what we’ve always feared will now be proven true: that we’re the only ones who struggle like this.

The thing is, though, even if you don’t struggle with the same things I struggle with, you still struggle with something, and there are times when that something seems big and crushing and isolating to you.

But it doesn’t have to isolate you.

I need you, and you need me. Let’s stop pretending we’re perfect and that we have everything figured out. Instead, let’s move toward greater intimacy, even when it’s scary. Freedom is there.

(photo credit)