Sunday, September 22, 2013

twinkle lights

Years ago we put up some twinkle lights on our deck.  During the day it looked pretty redneck, trailer park ghetto.  But at night, you couldn't see all those crazy wires sagging and flapping in the wind.  You just saw the little lights replacing the washed out stars.  I could sit out there for hours on a summer night with some tea and a notebook.

Brene Brown speaks of cultivating vulnerability like stringing together a strand of twinkle lights, tiny shimmering lights of courage, compassion, and connection that shine in the darkness of our struggles.  But one of the ways we fail to develop healthy vulnerability is through over-sharing.  She uses the metaphor of the floodlight, which leaves the recipient of your sharing confused and blinded, and they have no choice but to turn away and disengage.  It isn't so much the audience that measures over-sharing, a speaker or blogger for example can share with people they've never met.  Rather it's the nature of the content and the needs of the sharer that determine whether something is over-sharing or not.

When I read this, I suddenly felt relieved.  Sometimes I simply cannot blog, and until I read this I had no words to understand why I couldn't just push through the fog and figure out which end is up.  Sharing something you haven't processed isn't healthy, and recently I've found new freedom in taking the space to process things.  big things.

And it takes a lot of time.  Sometimes it feels like I'm chewing spiritual cud or working on some kind of spiritual hairball.  The process isn't beautiful or pretty, and most of the time, I have no idea what is going to come from it.  I mean, after all that squawking, a chicken is going to lay an egg.  But what the heck am I going to get for all this awkwardness?

I didn't hear a word of the sermon in church this morning.  I suspect it was good, but I'm not really sure.    I did read Ecclesiastes 3:11, though, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."  My mind wandered through Hebrews 11, the book Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (that I still haven't finished reading), back through an Indigo Girls song, and another recent sermon I listened to online.  Hence not having time to actually pay attention.  Somewhere along the way I realized that I was grieving the loss of mystery in my life.

After Emmett died living in mystery was an every day reality.  Lately, though, the lie of certainty has been creeping stealthily back into my life.  I read somewhere that certainty, not unbelief, is the opposite of faith.  So in many ways, living without mystery is living without faith.  Without faith, sharing anything is like shining a floodlight of awkward neediness to any random passer-by.

But it's the impenetrable darkness of mystery that provides the perfect canvas for those twinkle lights of faith and vulnerability.  Without mystery sharing is all awkwardness of exposed wires and dirty bulbs.  Shining a little light on the infinite landscape of darkness formed by my inability to comprehend anything about God's fulness, though, there - there- is something worth sharing.  I suppose my craving for mystery is why I've laid aside the Letters of John Newton recently and picked up the poetry of Edwin Muir.  It's why I've taken my crazy, beautiful, fragile favorite teacup into my sterile, cold lab at school.  It's why I've blocked out so many sermons trying to explain God and prayed through the Psalms.

It's why I burst into tears tonight at the recollection Romans 8:1, "For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  Because there should be condemnation for a sinner such as me, and yet there isn't.  That truth is a beautiful twinkle light that I can only see when I embrace the mystery of this sinful, awful world coexisting with a beautiful, loving God.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


This is one of those blog posts I have to force myself to write in the interest of full disclosure.  I'd rather be hiding under the covers of my bed.  Or maybe hiding in another state.  Or on the beach.  Yep.  I think that one wins.  But instead Emmett's voice drags me out from under the covers.  I hate it that he can keep me honest even when he's dead.

I love my job, and I'm getting pretty darn good at it, but teaching leaves me with a pretty serious vulnerability hangover.  every. day.  "Vulnerability hangover" is a term coined by Brene Brown (no surprise there) for the feeling after you've just shared something deeply meaningful.  That feeling that you've just vomited out your soul and need to mop it up quickly before anyone sees.  But to teach well is to do that every day.  Hence the vulnerability hangover.  every. day.  I'm not sure what the term is for too many consecutive vulnerability hangovers, but I think I hit that wall a few days ago.

The problem with a vulnerability hangover is that it makes the shame gremlins (another great term from Brene) louder.  You know all those crazy voices in your head that drag up every awful thought about your sin and inadequacy?  Imagine them shouting at your with megaphones right in your ears.  That's been my battle for the last few weeks.  Times a million bazillion, as Quinn would say.  Brene's suggested cure?  1 - recognizing shame (check).  2 - reality-check the message (check).  3 - Reach out (crap). 4 - speak the shame (no thank you).  Seriously, couldn't she come up with something easier than that?  Like, a pill or something?

The transition back to school is always difficult, which surprises me because I love the routine, the work, and the people.  But I think this year I'm finally figuring out that the feeling of wanting to throw up that arrives about two weeks before school starts is the secret anticipation of these shame gremlins.  Because there is nothing I can do to make them go away.  Even when they're quiet, I can feel them out there waiting for just the right moment to latch on like a rabid dog and tear me to shreds.  The irony is that my instinctive response to those shame gremlins is to disengage, which is the very opposite of what the research says I need to do.  I hate research.  Actually, I don't.  I love it, but only when it proves me right.  That's why I teach physics.  

So I almost didn't go to church this morning.  Heck, I almost didn't get out of bed this morning.  Because I'm just so hung over from the vulnerability, and the one person to whom I could easily reach out and speak the shame with complete trust is dead.  And well that just really sucks.  

I've been reading Joshua 24 and digging into some material for a women's retreat I'm developing with a friend.  And then I read it again.  and again.  and maybe some more.  I don't think I'm done yet.  Here's the short version:
Joshua: God did these awesome things, now serve him with all your heart.
Israelites: Yeah, sure will serve the Lord.
Joshua: No you won't. And God will bring disaster on you if you forsake him.
Israelites: Yes we will.  No really.
Joshua: Well, then you are witnesses against yourself.
Israelites: okay. (seriously? did they really just agree to that? I'd be slinking out the back door about this time)
Joshua: (vs 24) "throw away the foreign Gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel."
Israelites: (vs 25) "We will serve the Lord our God and obey him."
Is it just me or did the Israelites totally miss something in what Joshua just said.  He says yield our heart and they say sure we'll obey him.  But those seem like two entirely different things in my book.  I even checked a bunch of translations, and they all come across with the same contrast.

I'm not entirely certain, but it seems to me that it is one thing to do what God says and an entirely different matter to yield your heart to the Lord.  I can do what God says while hiding all my crazy, but I can't yield without letting it all out.  Yet that phrase keeps coming back to me.  Yielding.  Right now it feels a lot like throwing myself off the crazy cliff with a pair of homemade wings glued together with wax.  And that sun is awfully close.

But that's what the spirit keeps whispering to me.  Yield.  No promises that I'll get less crazy, that things will get easier, or that I'll even manage to get out of bed tomorrow.  Just shut up, press into the shame, and yield.

In case you're wondering, that's not the answer I wanted.