On Dreams and Effed Up Theology

For the past four months, I’ve begged God for a dreamless sleep.

Sometimes, I crawl between the chocolate sheets, and sleep crashes into me. Darkness, rest, morning. But some nights, sleep isn’t so kind. Perhaps, it was the Valentine’s Day energy still buzzing from dinner and wine and an the horrific assault of too many perfumes and colognes all in one place. Or too much television, electric stories blinking on and off the screen, my mind worn down to its barest, rawest place. Sleep should have been easy–slip off into that good night. Morning and dog walks and routine. It wasn’t.

Dreams have a way of fettering out all the mess locked away during conscious moments.

Maybe, it’s just mine. But between night and morning, I remember standing on my front porch. Thankfully, fully clothed. Sitting next to me, my Ginger dog, the first birthday present my husband ever gave me, lay on her giant green dog bed, tail wagging and alive. And then, she bolts. Head bounding, legs springing like Tigger, but she runs farther and farther away. For moment, she turns her head back toward me, still standing on the porch calling for her, and  she disappears into the blackberry thicket and pine trees. Gone. IMG_0396

In my dream, she’s alive and vibrant. In the waking world, she’s been dead for four months. The day before my 31st birthday to be exact.

I wake up sobbing into my pillow, a guilt ridden mess. I can hear my other two dogs squirming in their crate ready to go outside, but I’m not ready to face the empty space where Ginger should be. But isn’t. Through the curtains, sunlight streams down on the kitchen floor, and the skies cold and clear blue. But I see only darkness, everything tightly closed up. I feel the bitter hand of self-abuse grasp my heart, and I allow it to whisper guilty lies–“if you hadn’t been selfish, Ginger would still be here.” Or another variation, “if you were normal and asked for stuff, Ginger would still be here.” The guilt and self-shaming kept telling me, “your fault, your fault, your fault” like drums banging out Taps.

Even now, I can’t write about Ginger without sobbing and feeling the searing hot guilt all over.

Days like these that I drop f-bombs into my prayers and desperately whisper apologies because my version of God looks more like a vindictive chain smoking whore than loving being. Growing up, God  took things away from us if we loved something besides Him. And I don’t want him to take away my other two dogs because for a long time I felt certain that he stole Ginger from me like a pissed off toddler who can’t play with his favorite toy.

I lived with this view of God for most of my life, and it plunges me back into the black hole of shame and guilt. There is no lightness or love  or kindness in this vindictive deity. Just shame and fear and despair. I imagine I hear God saying, “well, it’s your fault, bitch, deal with it.”

That’s some fucked up theology to live with everyday.

But then I pray for a miracle, and it snows in the South after sunny and 60’s. Maybe, you think I’m crazy for seeing a few pure white snowflakes and miraculous, but they were. Slowly, the light is coming back, and God doesn’t look so angry or bitter or vengeful. I can sort through all the self-imposed shame and be free. Truly free.

There is No Peace

If peace were a place, it would be near the ocean. 

Ocean waves roll in, tides change. I sit  under navy umbrella, toes buried deep in the sand. Another wave creeps closer to my beach chair, my half-read book, my utopian afternoon. The constant breeze, the lull of soft water, the giggles of children splashing in the surf. The smells of salt and coconut oil and water intoxicate us. We who line the shore like a bright rainbow share this long spit of sand, and together we drink in the moment. Breathe in another memory, peaceful and unbroken.

But peace doesn’t live everywhere.

Thousands of miles away, Syria punctuates its people’s life with bodies filling long trenches, babes crying out for dead mothers, daughters with missing fathers, sons burying younger siblings baptized in tears and blood.  Bags and blankets cover those once living, breathing in life. Now, they lie down in death’s violent peaceful slumber. Arabic words fly untranslated by international reporters. There’s no need. Sorrow transcends our cacophony of words. I watch the small television screen as buildings crumble from another blast like some spoiled child kicking over another’s sand castle.

Screams and sirens blare as if they want to grab the attention of the world. To jerk our head over to see beyond diplomatic rhetoric hurled from all sides, to see the man and girl laid upon the UN truck begging the world’s eyes to open. There amid the wreck, sorrow still speaks in her universal tongue. Look here, see us. The hurting, the helpless, the lonely, the scared.

Again, the earth jerks and rumbles and creeks swallowing up villages whole. The eerie sounds of  Italian ambulances careen past cameras and more reporters hoping that the mangled roadways will still hold while the earth trembles beneath. Searching for life  and counting the dead,holding out hope for the missing. Voices silenced too soon. Another tremor, another building falls, another scream, another panic attack.

The camera pans out away from the faces to empty streets. Centuries of church building laid waste in a moment. Bare bones of worship stand like lonely cloisters amidst the wreckage. Blue tents lined up, little shelter to the toppling granite, edifices meant to last forever. Now gone. There amid the wreck, sorrow still speaks in her universal tongue. Look here, see us. The hurting, the helpless, the lonely, the scared.

It seems like another world so far from my beach and waves and peace, but it is there. Ugly and tragic as the ocean is beautiful.

But I sit in my beach chair unaffected by tragedies beyond the Atlantic. My worst fears are jelly fish and rip currents, not bombs or quakes or angry militias. I don’t know how to piece together what I feel or what to say or how to fit all of this violence under the auspices of a loving God. A God of Peace when there is no peace. Not yet. Words jumble together and sound trite and so Western compared to those slinging the dead into mass graves, those searching for the dead amidst earthquake rubble. But I pray for peace, for comfort, for those of us with Western eyes to see.

Today, I’m linking up Joy in this Journey and Life Unmasked. Come join us in writing naked.

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Unicorns, Rainbows, and Zombie Jesus

Crisp evening air, the Buick whirred down the four lane road headed toward town. A girl’s night out with Grandma, Ashley, and me. Sitting in the backseat, Ashley chats about her Barbie dolls, her unicorn storybook, the Disney Princesses–all sweet, innocent girly things. Her very essence wrapped up in one long car ride, and I’m thankful for a moment to listen, to hear her non-stop banter about her favorite things. Until she asks:

“Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Cause I just don’t get it.” 

Photography by Mark Askins

A pause, silence chokes out everything else. I fumble for a reassuring “yes, He did.” Perhaps, the easy answer will end her questions for now, but it never does.

“But wouldn’t that make Jesus a Zombie?” she asks unabashedly. “If He dug out of His grave, then He’d be a zombie. But all the pictures in Sunday School show Him next to a big rock.”

She waits quietly for answer, any answer more than my emphatic “yes, He did.” But I say nothing. Not for lack of “right” answers, my Christian college education gave me all of those with the bonus of Bible verses supporting all of those answers, but I’m not sure exactly how to explain something that I don’t firmly grasp either.These moments, I wished I could simply believe all of those easy faith answers. I wish I didn’t need to question everything that I have been taught about God and Jesus and the church. But I do. I need a safe place to ask, but sadly, I haven’t found it yet.

And it scares me to think that my daughter, with all of her questions, won’t have a safe place either. Already, she’s asking hard questions. Questions, theologians still debate and wrestle with, not to mention so many of us in the church. I’m thrilled that she didn’t accept a clichéd response and kept asking, but I worry too. Right now, she’s a child, and it’s okay for children ask if Jesus is a Zombie because he came out of his grave, but what will happen when she is older. When asking such questions will cause the church to shun her, reject her curiosity, and perhaps, force her to leave.

Will the church still be as unwelcoming to we doubters, we askers of questions? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But what gives me hope is that she won’t be alone. There will be other Christ followers asking hard questions. Others chronicle their journeys through the labyrinth of faith. For now, she talk about unicorns and rainbows, but I’m sure I haven’t heard the last of Zombie Jesus.

This post is part of Life:Unmasked from Joy in this Journey. Click here to read other contributions.

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Searching the Fringes

Today, winter unleashed her full rage.

Picture courtesy of Mark Askins

Bitter cold winds gnaw at the threads of my purple down coat. I stuff my hands in my pockets because I left my gloves inside. Frosty pale clouds hide the moon, and the flood lights shine out over my sloping yard. Tethered to my right hand, Ginger tugs at her leash bouncing in circles, trying her best to dart farther than the six feet allowed. I really don’t enjoy our night time walks because they scare me just a little.

I would rather stay close to the light, the safe zone, the place of certainty.

Close to the house, the light floods the porch and twenty feet into my yard. Living in the middle of no where, I imagine all sorts of things lurking in the shadows. Snakes, raccoons, coyotes, rabid dogs–anything could jump out, attack me from the imposing woods. I tug gently on Ginger’s leash all the while knowing she will drag me closer to the fringes, closer to my uncomfortableness. But my Ginger doesn’t like to stay in those well-lit twenty feet. She wants to search the fringes. The place where the light meets the scraggly tree specters, the place where I can’t see my next step, the place where darkness overpowers light. The fringes.

But I don’t want to go near the fringes.

In the light, I am certain of everything. But life can’t be lived well if we don’t venture beyond what we know is safe.  Too often, I refuse to leave my illusion of safety, to risk being away from the light, to search the fringes. Most of my life, I shied away from those risky fringes. When I chose to major in English, I knew I would teach rather than write. Why? It was safe. The fringes of risk beckoned, but I didn’t move toward them. My feet firmly planted in the bright, blinding light because I believed God only gave us safe, antiseptic choices. His will intertwined with maintaining our comfort, with working in rational ways.

Sometimes, we must search the fringes.

I wish in all of my church going days that someone would have motioned me toward the fringes. But it pushed me towards the sensible things–marriage, family, domestic endeavors. All wonderful things, but far away from those dark fringes where faith and grace await. The places where it is risky, the place where God wants us to go, the place where faith overpowers our delusions of safety. The fringes give God a place to show us who He is, to illuminate His Will. But first, we must get out of the light, the safe zone. I admit that I don’t really know how to leave my safe zone. I never have. When I read about the glorious risks others attempt, I feel that tug towards the fringe, towards the uncertain.

This year, I resolve to search the fringes.

To understand God, beyond my safety zone. I want to explore those wild, dark and risky places where Grace awaits. I need to learn how to escape this prison of safety.

Question: How do you search the fringes?


 

 

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Celebrating a Non-Perfect Christmas

Some days are heart heavy, laden with overwhelming stress. Others, sneak up softly from behind and embrace us with a warm hug, a bit of grace in the calendar of hard times. During this holiday season, the days of subtle grace feel fewer and more spread out. Expectations never quite satisfied leaves with us a salty after taste usually from our tears. We can’t do it all. But we won’t admit it. We allow the mistress of perfectionism to whip us into submission, and she is a bitch of an overload. Yet, we listen to her commands, obey, and loathe ourselves for our failures.

We believe the lie of perfect.

Maybe, it’s just me, but this year, I’m not really into the whole Christmas spirit. I tried. Our Christmas tree, real and smelling of the deep mountain woods, decorated with Hallmark ornaments looked beautiful. Until the its lopsided weight cause it to tumbled down several times. Ornaments broken and another tarnish on a potentially perfect Christmas. Stocking hung by the fireplace, and Christmas lists filled out and delivered to Santa and Grandma and aunts and uncles. Slowly, they complain that the gifts desires cost too much, and Christmas gifts become a competition for children’s affection, the favorite present, the best gift. Another blotch on a perfect Christmas.

But the first Christmas wasn’t perfect either.

But we place such a great weight upon ourselves for a perfect Christmas–perfect tree, perfect Christmas presents, perfect cookies. We choke on our perfect while Christ offers us a respite from our striving. Why do we believe ours should be perfect? Jesus born in a stable, hunted by Herod, and spending his early years in a foreign land. The first Christmas didn’t need to be picture perfect postcard of holiday cheer. It simply needed to take place. And we simply need to remember and celebrate.

On Being Left Out

Life: Unmasked

Some days, we all are left out.

Someone forgets to invite us. Another friend stops calling. The hurt doesn’t just evaporate once the tears dry, nor does it pack it bags and head west. It stays. We stuff deep down and move on to the next event, the next friend, only for the cycle to repeat. In grade school, we cried to our parents or our other friends to comfort us. A glass of milk or an arm around our shoulders fixed all hurt feelings. Too often, our parents told us our being left out wasn’t intentional. Maybe, they were right, but often it was a ploy to stop the tears.

High school, we gossiped about the other person. Pigeon-holed into groups of friends, we stuck together because everyone else was foreign. But adulthood, we can’t simply yell and cry to be included. We simmer our hurt feelings until they bubble over on the nearest person–a spouse, a friend.

Some days, we are left out.

I’ve been there. The quiet, introvert listens, but I’m forgotten in the landscape of extroverts. Yes, it hurts. Perhaps, this is how social media damages friendships. We can now see what we missed–the parties, the frantic tweets about emails when our inbox collects spam. Again, I have read the blog posts about not being jealous on being left out, but they don’t ring true when I stand on the outskirts.

Being left out doesn’t simply extend to our human relationships. Sometimes, I think God leave me out too. Unemployment, heart ache built up imprinted on a heart who still questions God’s love. The pain can be unbearable. Cliched Christian answers build walls against others and suffocate myself.

Some days, we are left with grace.

Grace looks like emails and phone calls. Grace looks like blog comments and encouraging tweets. But grace also looks like the forgiveness we grant ourselves when we are hurt and hurtful. It lays down a soothing balm for us to practice grace towards others. And in our daily grace, what if we included others? Those souls who don’t always get our undivided attention.

How can we show grace to those outside our sphere? Who could you email, tweet, or encourage today?

This was written for Life:Unmasked, a blog carnival at Joy in this Journey.

Remember

Today, I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo and Five Minute Fridays.

The Rules:

  • Write for 5 minutes…no more or less.
  • Don’t worry about editing…simply write.
Today’s theme: Remember
Start:
Wet ground and cool breezes greet me today. How appropriate that today I remember. Why? Today is my last day as a 20 something. Tomorrow, I shall cross that thin line into another decade. While some may joke about being 29 forever, I will be perfectly content to leave my 20’s in memories. Memories, I can pick and choose to relish. Memories, I can pick and choose to forget.
I remember my last decade as being driven by fear. Well, it’s more sinister sister–stability and her twin safety. I chose a Christian college, too fearful to attend a secular one(and not allowed). I would lose my faith.
I remember choosing to be a Christian school teacher, too fearful again to venture out beyond the Christian bubble. Foregoing grad school(only for three years, I did go), I thought I would be safer in a community of Christian teachers. I wasn’t. My faith ripped out at the seams, destroyed. I didn’t want to put it back together. For me, my 20’s were more about living in fear, masking this fear as God’s provision and wisdom.
I remember meeting my Redneck Romeo and called him boring for the majority of our first date. Why, yes, out loud. Yes, social skills were not my strong suit. But I overcame my fears and now I’m blessed. I remember meeting my stepchildren, and their overflowing talkativeness meant I simply had to listen. Another blessed remembrance.
I remember starting this blog as a last ditch effort to tether myself to a faith community. Slowly, I found kindred spirits who had been torn apart my the church, and they helped rebuild me(check my blog roll for these lovely ladies). We call ourselves #coffeeclub. I remember opening my heart to them and they opened their hearts to mine.
Stop.

Clean Jesus: A Repost

Fact: Jesus did not smell like Old Spice. Old Spice / 9photo © 2010 Taylor Burnes | more info (via: Wylio)

Myth: Jesus requires us to be cleaned up, prettied up, and perfect prior to coming to Him.

Problem: Would someone please explain this to the church?

Sunday mornings are the worst day of the week. Trying to find dress shoes, church clothes then forcing kids to change out of one outfit to another usually means I have cursed about a bazillion times before entering church. But as long as kids and adults smell clean, dressed in perfectly ironed(well, fresh from the dryer) clothes, we pass the church inspectors(my church doesn’t really have clothing inspectors, but some of the older ladies certainly feel like this is their ministry).

Hardly, the beginnings of a worshipful experience. Sunday School doesn’t soothe my soul or make up for my wretched start to this day of rest. I’m still upset and seething from two kids whining about breakfast and clothes which hinders me from paying attention to the lesson. A large swarthy hunter green choir robe and an alto who sings off key standing next to me certainly don’t help me feel any more worshipful. At this point, I have my painted on happy-to-be-in-church face displayed for all to see.

That’s when I am confronted with  Jesus.

Not the clean Jesus in white robes who I imagine smells of Old Spice and lilies of the valley, but the Jesus who allowed snotty nosed kids to climb in his lap. Dirty, loud filthy kids had priority over relatively, clean adults. I’m sure that even Jesus couldn’t escape all of the odors and oozing coming from those children. In fact, Jesus probably didn’t smell clean at all. He took on the smells and the dirt  of the children. Intermingling with those who didn’t clean up, pretty up, or dress up to see Him. When He could have just allowed the disciples to shoo the children away, Jesus allowed the children to come just as they were–filthy, loving, and open.

And I wonder if Jesus looks down at my overly clean hands, neat clothes, smelling like butterfly flowers, wondering when I’m going to start smelling more like Him. Mixing up my fresh clean unapproachable smell with the work of loving those who aren’t clean or fresh or easily lovable—learning to smell like Jesus. When am I going to stop handing out Old Spice and perfume to those who need to be loved just as they are?

 

Fact: Jesus did not smell like Old Spice.

 

 

 

Question: What does your Jesus smell like?

 

 

 

Invisible Scars

Harsh light

Shining down,

Piercing the inner corners

Of my brain.

Red vinyl seats

Leave marks

Upon my ass.

Visible imprints

Never quite show

The invisible scars.

Pulsing pain,

Desiring to hide

Under covers and sleep.

Each moment,

I sit longing

For escape.

Mornings,

Awake and begin

Again,

Anew.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning: great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV

 

Life: Unmasked

This post was written for the blog carnival: Life: Unmasked. Join with us and write a post, or share your life unmasked moment in the comments.