Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Barrier of The Mind

I don’t know how to explain the feeling I get when I cross a finish line. In the moments before, I can see all of my training flashing before my eyes; remember each pain and sacrifice that went into that singular instant of victory. Foot strike after foot strike, eyes forward, motion forward. When it gets tough, I remind myself: “This is the only place you have to be right now. A runner is all you have to be right now.”

I find my rhythm; this soul deep heart beat between the road and my feet. We are all that exist as the world fades. Running is my favorite place to be; a simple, safe place.

No matter the distance, when the finish line is in sight, when the run ends, it always seems like it has come so quickly. There is excitement, and a little bit of mourning because on the other side, the race is complete. There is always another race, but they are never the same. Every race has its own set of obstacles and distractions to overcome, so each victory is, sweetly, different.

Today, I was given a gift: I got to watch the joy eek up the face of fellow runners as they raised their fists in triumph and, one foot after another, let their struggle and fears fall away. I didn't get to run, but I had so much fun cheering the runners on as they rounded the 12.5 mile mark. To see another overcome, to see a person do something they didn't believe they could do and to see sheer glee take over their face when they realize they have done it – it just might be the only thing in this world that’s better than crossing the finish line myself. How very cool that I got to be a part of that, a part of their race, today. My favorite moment was seeing my friend come speeding down the chute, with a big FAT grin of a face, and hearing her daughter, usually so shy, shouting out, “MOMMY!” and giving her momma a high-five. I am so very proud of her! 

So many things in this life will try and distract us from the finish line: Money, people, cancer, fire, anger, change, hate, rejection. The only way to stay focused, the only way to make it to the finish line, in a race or in life, is with each other. Some days you may be the one running, hitting your stride, and others you might be the voice shouting over the noise, “You’re almost there! Looking good! Finish strong!” The success of these runners, of my friend, was my success; their joy was mine, too.

I’ve never really known how to answer someone when they ask me why I run. It’s kind of a crazy thing to get into, admittedly, and no answer has ever felt complete enough to bother sharing. But, today helped me understand why a little better: Running breeds community.

Even though it’s considered an individual sport, it’s bigger than any one runner or any specific race. It’s a lifestyle, a culture, a belonging: We need each other to make it. The road to the finish is strewn with well wishers and encouragement if you’ll listen for them. Screaming and clapping and smiling for hours are the least we can do for our community, when it’s our turn. We are all runners in one sense or another and a runner is all you have to be to belong – it’s enough. We journey together, even if it appears separate. You may find this terribly idealistic, but I believe it to my core. Distance is an illusion; a barrier of the mind.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Epic Authenticity

I am not a girly girl. I never have been. I did try once, but poking yourself in the eye with one of those brush things with the black gunk on it even once was too much. It’s not that I don’t want to have long, luxurious hair, or perfectly lined lips, or a lovely, lithe body: It’s that I just don’t, and I never will. I am not those things and I don’t have those things. It used to be a really big deal to me that I wasn’t like the girly girls – the pretty ones, with “come-hither” stares that line magazines and sitcoms (mostly, I wanted to be like the ones in the sitcoms, but funnier). But I wised up. It took a very long season of extreme pain and futile efforts in just about every realm possible in life, but somewhere after all of the hospitals and scars and scales and toilets and MANY “dark nights of the soul” I began to see what my idea of “beauty” was; it was hideous. And it wasn’t mine.

We are exposed to over 2,000 ads DAILY, and the advertising industry makes a whopping 100 billion a year . The National Eating Disorders Association website states that in the United States alone, 30 million people (20 million women and 10 million men) struggle with some form of eating disorder, and we know there are MORE than those because many cases are not reported . In 2011, total sales in the beauty and personal care industry were roughly $426 BILLION . Are you starting to see the bigger system here? Who do you think is benefiting from you hating your body? NOT YOU.

Ladies and gents, if you’d never been visually beaten to death by the ideals of what a few “powerful” people believe to be beautiful, you’d never have thought that you weren’t. Your self hate pays for someone else’s life, while you, dejected, tired, and hungry bemoan your body at the water cooler with your friends at work, or as you shop for new clothes, on Facebook as you announce yet another diet beginning, or in front of your sweet daughter, who hears every word and reads every whim of body hate on your face as you poke and prod your body while you look on in the mirror.
I do not want to breed more shame, I do not want to condemn another soul – we are so good at doing that to ourselves- but I do want to call out to you because I am afraid. I am afraid of another generation of girls growing up like I did, with their childhoods stolen from them by toilet bowls and treadmills because no one told them the story isn’t true.
If you are anything like me, I “dieted” because I believed I had to, to be accepted; because no one wants to be disconnected. Yet, that’s what happens to those people perceived as ugly or fat, isn’t it? We ignore them, make fun of them, judge them. We don’t want to experience that (and this is another problem, that the same ideals that make us hate ourselves make us hate other people).

So in our pursuit of acceptance, we label others as unacceptable. We chase diet after diet to avoid being unaccepted and potion after potion because we believe what these products and diets sell us. We can’t even see that they aren’t selling us the ideal body; they sell us a fairytale. They make us believe that if we can look a certain way, be beautiful /thin/buff enough, we can have a great life. We get so mesmerized by the possibility, by its simplicity, by the fact that its almost in our reach. What a great story teller this beauty industry is, huh? Liars.

You know what I want in life? Authenticity – in body, heart, and soul. Isn’t authenticity what we are all looking for, after all? Nobody wants knock-offs, right? So why are we chasing a knock off body? A fake story? I don't know about you, but I'd rather connect with an authentic person than one who is only physically beautiful. 

Can we, as a culture, please focus on authenticity? On accepting who we really are, who others really are? There is nothing wrong with who we really are. And if we focus on authenticity, we can give this world SO MUCH MORE than a pretty face or butt! I have my own butt. I don’t want yours.

What does it look like to authentically be you? Ask yourself: If the ads on TV, the magazine on your coffee table, the people on TV, if they weren’t what you accepted as your standard of beauty, would you see yourself as beautiful, as authentic? What can you do to reset your standards of beauty? What’s stopping you?

Let your story of becoming authentic touch the soul of another person who is killing themselves under all of the layers of untrue stories and self hate trying desperately to become that fake image. Get naked by telling them your story. All of it. Don’t hide the ugly parts (you may be the only person who actually thinks they are ugly). Let’s not starve ourselves and the next generation by proxy. Let’s not throw our money to the pigs so that the beauty industry can have a “beautiful” life.

Let’s tell a different story – a real life epic of a fake world turned authentic.


Monday, May 6, 2013

I'm Doing It (Learning to Live in Ordinary Courage)

Remember learning to drive? Who taught you? Did you go through a driver’s education course with a dozen other freedom-hopefuls? Or was it the torturous hours with mom or dad in your high school’s parking lot on Saturday mornings? I had a little of all of the above. It was comical to me how difficult and challenging it was to learn from one environment verses another. The teachers were all teaching the same exact content, but the surroundings were somehow different. Place, be it in my heart or physically, made the content and understanding of it far more accessible. Turns out, it’s a lot easier to learn how to drive without your mother nervously screaming to you about the pedestrian approaching from 100 yards away.

I am learning a whole lot in this new environment I’m in. The lessons aren’t necessarily different; in fact, I’m convinced the content is the same and that this education I’m earning would come after any demanding season of life, for any person open to true introspection.  For me, I’m just shy of forty days out of ministry and I’ve not had the privilege of someone showing me how to live in the aftermath, how to walk through the emotion, the turmoil, the simultaneous joy and disappointment. That’s been hard, and in the hope of not wasting the realism of being the first I’ve known to openly share the journey, I hope my words will help someone else, somewhere, somehow. I’m hoping that writing down my experiences will solidify these lessons for me, too.

What I’ve learned so far:

You'll want to say a lot of tactless, wounding, insensitive, and unkind things to those who have hurt you; but, if you hold your tongue long enough, you'll realize that only perpetuates the pain and shame cycle. You will find more merit in speaking of the good, and you’ll see the freedom in choosing to fight for forgiveness instead. You’ll recognize all of the humanity involved, including your own, and you’ll begin to see grace as the only repayment necessary.

Not everything you were told to believe to be true of yourself will turn out to be true.

This goes both ways, it turns out, to both positive and negative realities. In my elevated position as a person in ministry, I was told my Self was the enemy, the exact opposite of holy – no, the words were not that direct. Ministry breeds a culture of “reading between the lines” to decipher expectations. I may have read a demand for qualifiers that were not, in fact, there. Yet, how would I know? I was so fearful to lead anyone in the wrong direction, to tarnish my witness with someone, so neurotic about it that I questioned every thought, every desire, every word, and every motive. It was so exhausting. I lived in a constant state of defeat, in a condition which indicated I was not “free in Christ”. It is wearying, to pretend to be something we are not. I was convinced I was the black sheep, the “Extreme Make-Over” project that would one day be so great, if I’d only become enough of what I was told to be, but who was not yet, no matter how painful or shaming the “pruning” of my earthly gardeners had been. They meant it well, but, they needed pruned, too. The hardest part of it was that I wanted to be what others told me to be. I thought this intangible, untouchable “person” was the “real me”.  It was utterly devastating to fight to find her every day, and to come home empty handed, believing others had found their “freedom in Christ”.  I just kept wondering why my freedom was so hidden if God wanted me to have it.

I have a new vantage point now, though, as all of us find in seasons of change. And while I can see I do have much to offer, and though I feel more freedom this side of ministry than I ever did inside of it, I realize I’m not as marginalized as I viewed myself to be. Much of it was self-imposed. I was so busy comparing myself to others that I could not appreciate who I was. How is it so easy for us to look at our peers and see them as gifted, to respect what they bring to the table, and to just as quickly dismiss ourselves?

You'll begin to separate people's expectations of you from the reality of who you are and to joyfully accept your limitations.  

Self-pillaging began to bottom out for me, recently. I shared perhaps the most unacceptable thing about myself with a friend, something that completely defies the expectations of others, and though there was some degree of a shame hang-over in the days and weeks that followed, I found, mostly, a nimble lightness in my heart. These little buoyancies, I’ve noticed, pop up each time I recognize myself trying to meet an expectation of another, and then, politely, declining the invitation to play. This is the freedom I’ve been scavenging for, I think.

Not all who profess to be friends, are, and that’s okay.

It is a very busy world out there, and between the pressures on all to be a little bit of everything to everyone, sometimes things like friendships get the left overs, if that. Many times, our friendships are birthed far more from convenience than from common ground. Suffice it to say, once you remove that convenience some friendships build upon, they cease to exist.

That made me angry for a while, well, still does, a little. However, I’m choosing to believe that each friendship served a purpose in its own right, and there is only one way to redeem them: To appreciate them for what they were. I’ve begun a mental list of what each person taught me, and when I feel resentment rising, I recall their list, embrace what was, and release my expectations.

Traditional Saturdays are life-giving.

Ministry often requires odd working days and hours. For well over three years, I did not experience a true “Saturday”. It’s now my favorite day of the week! I have really enjoyed the chance for a slow, late start, for a day to watch movies and do laundry and catch up with friends on a mountain hike, or to play with my niece and spend time with my family. It is a great benefit in this new season.

You'll only remember the good looking back.  

The first few weeks post ministry have been a roller coaster. The most challenging part of it has been those moments when, in retrospect, I can only recall the beauty of my season in ministry. It reminds me of a eulogy, when loved ones speak of someone who has passed away. No one talks about what a cranky, bitter person they were, or how much they smoked, or how they never, ever, not even once paid their rent on time. We remember only what was beautiful about them, their kindnesses or quirks, what we loved about them. This is challenging because it leaves us room to second guess ourselves: Was this the right choice? Have I messed up? Were they really all that bad?

While I do have to remind myself that my decision was both well thought out and well motivated, I am glad my focus is on the positive. It was one of the greatest times and privileges of my life, and I could not be who I am, nor be prepared for this day without that wonderful set of experiences.  However, it serves us all well to make a choice, whatever that is, and to wrap both arms around it, consequences and all. No choice can be made half-heartedly in hopes of living wholly.

Reclaiming faith as faith and not a job requirement will become all consuming.

And it has. I find myself in some sort of mental gymnastics related to my faith, if it can be called that anymore, on a daily basis. It’s an excruciating journey, but one I could not take in the midst of a life in ministry, and yet one that is entirely necessary.  I have the time and space in this new environment to open myself up to the lessons and questions of my heart and of God. There are a lot of days I just want to find the off switch and power down this mad house (those are usually the days with a lot of wine & cheese in them) but overall, I am deeply grateful for the space, the questions, and, gracefully slow, the revelations of truth.

Life will feel normal and strange all at the same time.

And, perhaps, this is the win: That each day requires a motion in uncertainty, an element of trust and risk, willingness to miss-step and laugh at oneself…courage.

In her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Brene Brown says it this way: “Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor-the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” She later refers to this as “ordinary courage”.

I’m living a life of ordinary courage now. I’m telling my WHOLE story, devoid of shame or restraints, and I needed a new environment to learn how to do this. I’m still learning how to do this. But you know what?

I’m doing it.