What if you had no narrative?

“Whenever we re-tell—or simply remember—significant stories from our past, we reinforce and recreate a selective impression of “I am”. What if it were possible to purge oneself of all those old stories, and live unbound by those well-worn narratives? But if I had no stories to tell, what would I be? Would I still exist?” –JT Bullitt

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(Archival ink on paper, 18″x16″, inked area approx. 12″ diameter)

What if you had no narrative?

What do you need to do, and what do you need to let God do?

This afternoon a handful of friends and I gathered together at a local church as we do each Sunday afternoon. Who shows up varies week to week, yet the place always feels like home and the group feels like family. Sometimes I don’t want to go, but once I get there, I’m always glad.

Today we discussed those people and issues in our lives that are beyond our control…that threaten to overwhelm us…that we just can’t handle on our own power. We meditated on the simple phrase “I can’t, God can, I think I’ll let him,” exploring what personal issues are currently bringing us to our knees. And then we considered our individual problem areas where we are resistant to take positive action, contemplating the question, “What can I be doing that I should not expect God to do for me?”

imagesAs I thought on that last question, I was tempted to rattle off all the steps I think I “should” be taking, all the tools I’ve been taught over the years that I “should” be using, and all the spiritual principles I “should” be applying to my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In this faulty, self-defeating mindset, I can come up with an endless agenda of how to be better—better at loving, praying, serving, including, helping, praising, hugging, encouraging, supporting, giving, volunteering, ad infinitum. Whenever this perspective pops up, it tempts me into perfectionism, striving to be the very best me in such a way that I become rigid and exhausted. No need for God’s help. I’m fully capable and I’ve got this whole “self-improvement” project under tight control…

An entirely different way to approach the same question is to focus on surrender as the true solution. “What can I be doing that I should not expect God to do for me?” I, and only I, can pause to lay down my small self-made plans and my compulsive worker-bee drive. Only I can wake up each morning and ask God what he has for me to do for Him that day. Only I can let go of my self-centered will and yield to his Spirit. Only I can admit my weaknesses and rely on His strength. He doesn’t force me to surrender—only I can seek to sacrifice self that I may live in God’s freeing flow and the sunlight of the Spirit.

HeavyLoad1While a part of me wants to do everything I can do to stay steady on God’s path, I sense that today I need to shift my focus to the two short words “let Him.” Though it may be difficult to let someone else lead me, only I can stop trying to pave my own path, drop the burden, ask for help, and follow God’s trustworthy way. Only I can listen to His voice and let Him guide me where He wills. Only I can make the choice to surrender.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

What do you need to do, and what do you need to let God do?

Are you embracing all of your ages?

“When we are like little children, with the openness the child has up until the age for school, then we retain our ability to be creators, our willingness to be open, to believe.

I need not belabor the point that to retain our childlike openness does not mean to be childish. Only the most mature of us are able to be childlike. And to be able to be childlike involves memory; we must never forget any part of ourselves. As of this writing I am sixty-one years old in chronology. But I am not an isolated, chronological numerical statistic. I am sixty-one, and I am also four, and twelve, and fifteen, and twenty-three, and thirty-one, and forty-five, and…and…and…

If we lose any part of ourselves, we are thereby diminished. If I cannot be thirteen and sixty-one simultaneously, part of me has been taken away.” —Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

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At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 18: 1-3

Are you embracing all of your ages?

Are you having contrasting emotions in the midst of a change?

An available week in my July schedule afforded me the opportunity to travel up to Maine, a most special spot for my family that holds countless memories from our annual summer trips. Year after year, we’d count down the days until our always-too-short coastal vacation that consisted of TV-free days crammed with crab hunting, blueberry picking, fort building, dock jumping, motor boating, lobster roll feasting, island exploring, star gazing, and the like. The hidden gem we visited, a tiny fishing village of no more than 300 local Mainers, was both a haven of flora and fauna and a glorious escape from the blazing temperatures back home in Texas.

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My visit this year, however, has been a bit different. As our family has continued to welcome more babies into our clan, my parents decided to buy another piece of property so we could all enjoy the Maine magic together. For the first time I am not nestled away in the creaky old cottage that I know so intimately, but am instead staying in my folks’ currently under construction house, located about a 5-minute drive away. The addition is undoubtedly an incredible gift. It is also a big change.

For years Maine to me has meant “roughing it”—”enduring” some relatively minor inconveniences like living on the whims of a septic tank and shivering through chilly nights with no heater. In the new house, these former issues just won’t be an issue. On one hand, we’re lucky—who can complain about reliable toilets!? On the other, we’re letting go of some serious charm and cherished experiences. Nothing quite compares to the midnight thrills of bats flying circles around a barely lit bedroom ceiling.

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But isn’t that life as we humans know it: continually letting go of the old to make room for the new, and perhaps learning to embrace this “flow” more and more with each passing opportunity? I find it strange that at times, even when a change is a fabulous, undeserved “upgrade,” the shift can still feel somewhat uncomfortable. I suppose it’s because change inevitably involves loss—sometimes minor, sometimes major—and in this situation I feel it. I have deep gratitude that my family now has extra square footage for us to enjoy together. And, I also have sadness that my image of Maine will never be as rustic as it once was.

Are you having contrasting emotions in the midst of a change?

Have you heard someone share about the steps?

The Twelve Steps are a clear-cut pathway to shed destructive patterns and open up the hearts of blocked, trapped, hurting people to encounter the love of God. Not to intellectually comprehend God’s existence, but to truly experience divine love more and more and more. If you have a desire to hear more about the steps—whether you’re a struggling addict, a recovering addict, a friend or family member of an addict, or merely curious—I encourage you to listen to Buck M., a long-time member of Al-Anon who tells his story and outlines his practice of each step with beautiful humility. He describes how following this way of life has mysteriously led to his personal transformation: “I’m not what I ought to be, I’m not what I want to be, I’m not what I’m going to be. But I’m the best Buck M. I’ve ever had.”

I listened to Buck’s recording on a recent road trip and as he wrapped up his testimony, I found tears softly running down my face. His words brought my mind back to the not-too-distant days when I used to listen to online 12-step speaker tapes as I sat isolated and uncontrollably bingeing on food. I couldn’t stop stuffing my stomach to the point of misery, but even while doing so, deep down I knew it was actually a spiritual hunger that was rumbling within my soul. I sensed that my God was guiding me to join a 12-step program, but I was highly resistant, sure that pursuing that path was basically doom. Listening to speakers was the only action I was willing take at the time, and though I knew that both my body and spirit were withering, it still took quite a while until I desperately decided to ask for and actually accept help from other recovering addicts. That was by far the best decision I’ve made yet.

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I’ve heard it said that the alcoholic’s excessive drinking is a displaced thirst for God and that when alchies start drinking from the truly satisfying Source, the spiritual results are powerful. I believe that. Buck’s story is evidence.

Today I’m rarely tempted by life-destroying substances—a priceless gift from above—but the underlying Al-Anon issues of codependency, self-doubt, people pleasing, approval seeking…those still give me much trouble. As I heard Buck share, I could feel my heart longing for the deep peace his calming voice carries. His God has led him faithfully through the great pain that accompanies alcoholism, and due to his continuous involvement with the 12-step fellowship, he’s also had the privilege to witness incredible miracles. I want what Buck has. Perhaps my heart is nudging me to seek some more teachers and ask for some more help.

“AA and Al-Anon and Alateen is the bread of life for the alcoholic and his family…So big is the human being’s soul that only God can fill it…Love is the one thing that God reserved to conquer every man…love is the one thing against which the hardest heart will eventually melt. And this is not theory; I’m sharing my experience with you.” (22:20)

Have you heard someone share about the steps?

Who in your life has angel eyes?

I recently had to say a pretty painful goodbye. After counseling a little seven-year-old fellow (let’s call him Carl) for about two months and just beginning to build a solid therapy bond, I had to look into his pair of precious eyes and tell him I was moving towns. I imagine that Carl’s resilient young soul bounced back from the news and our subsequent separation without much trouble, but it sure hurt my heart. Goodbyes are hard.

It didn’t help that this particular kiddo is a half-white/half-black absolute cutie with that smooth honey-colored skin, a superb head of bouncy curls, and huge hazel eyes that can manipulate like nobody’s business. His humor is priceless and while some sessions included tears, a good dose of laughter was always a guarantee. And how closely I related to his dear emotional sensitivity, which is a delicate gift that he is now beginning to learn to handle with care. Needless to say, when Carl showed up on my caseload, I received an unexpected blessing.

Saying goodbye was especially difficult for me to do because Carl’s current family is flat-out chaos. Stability is something he craves, and I couldn’t stand the idea of being a person who stepped into his world, shared a short stint of love, and then stepped back out. Much of my heart wanted to stay, to walk with him, to try my best to be present and supportive and dependable. But life was leading me a different direction—to another location a couple hours away—and thus our farewell was fated.

So I sought help from a supervisor: What do I say to a child who clearly needs consistency as I prepare to walk out of the door and never see him again? How do I communicate that trusting other people is possible when I’ve asked for his trust and am now turning my back? How do I let go when I’m secretly wanting to embrace this sweet little guy and help him feel at least somewhat secure?

My supervisor passed along a few wise words that I received gratefully not only for my client, but for myself as well. Basically, he advised me to close with a discussion about the simple idea that God sends us safe people—angels, if you will—who come into our lives at just the right time. Sometimes these people stay a long while, perhaps accompanying us along our entire life journey. At other times they enter for just a bit, and so our “hi’s” and “bye’s” have to happen fairly quickly. Though it’s never easy to part ways with these special people, we can always trust that when one leaves, God will bring another. I told Carl that we always need to be on the lookout, as if we’re on a treasure hunt, because God never leaves us alone. If our eyes are open, we’ll be able to see angels all around.

Reflecting on how closely my supervisor’s perspective applied to my personal experiences, I offered Carl comfort by assuring him that though I was having to step back, another “safe person” was sure to step right in. We then launched into a conversation about how to identify these so-called safe people and Carl softly spoke, “you can see it in their eyes.” I fully agree.

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Who in your life has angel eyes?