The Inner Voice of Who Knows What

the pilgrimage: Henri Nouwen and my own topsy-turvy little heart

break forth.

what makes you

good?

what proves you

worthy?

(of whatever it is you’d like to be worthy of)

 

goodness and worth,

the intangible desirables

of every life looking for… who knows what… 

unreachable

from within you and me and all of us

 

goodness and worth

come blaring, flashing, streaming

as blinding rays

into your cracked, crusty, imperfect exterior

into crevices dug by hurt and fear

into the deepest ravines of brokenness in your soul

 

and up comes the sun, 

goodness and worth peeking out

from the cracks

and look!

then your light will break forth like the dawn.

Synthesizing/Sermonizing

Hello again. I’ve missed you. It’s been a long while.
Henri and I parted ways, after I thanked him for speaking life into me when I needed it desperately.

“Bye Henri! You’ve done great, I’m fixed!”
“Ohhhhh really, Jessica? Doubtful, my friend.”
“Okay fine. You win again, Henri.”

Below is a piece I wrote for Mennonite Community Church on April 29 – the church that has become my home over the last couple  years. It was an experimental joy to be able to share my ever-ongoing  journey with this community.

Peace.

——————

Good morning! I’d like to share a bit more of myself with you today.

In 2004, as a sophomore at Hoover High School, I was the girl with paper clips in her ears. I was the girl who wore a flowy bohemian quilt-looking skirt over my jeans, topped with a graphic tee shirt from the boys’ section in Target. I was the girl who preached recycling and Bob Dylan and obscure quotes from Internet cartoons, and all sorts of things that I thought would make me interesting. Needless to say, I was not very “cool” at Hoover High School.

But – I was distinct. People knew me. I was recognized and marked by being something ‘other than’ the rest of what I saw as the status quo.

I had learned to thrive on being distinct. I had found life in feeling like there was something different residing in me, making manifest my uniqueness. My identity was rooted in what made me set apart. For 16-year-old Jessica, the strategy worked just fine, and life was good. But for 23-year-old Jessica, things started to fall apart.

By this time I had ditched the eccentric wardrobe for the most part, but somewhere along the line – between the milestone of college graduation, the pain of new and old and failed relationships, learning encounters with the inner-city of Fresno, unrealistic expectations of my own grandeur and perfection, all topped off with a mighty desire to people-please…  I came to realize that my identity is fragile.

Identities started to shift with the seasons, and it was no longer easy to know myself based on what I did or who people told me I was – daughter, sister, girlfriend, student, youth pastor, musician, cyclist, leader in whatever context people had told me I was a leader – the ground seemed shakier than usual. That uniqueness residing in me got lost in the fog of figuring out who I really am, and that distinction inside me was somewhere hiding in a shadowy corner. I started to grow up, and found more questions than answers.

(From what I hear, these “post-college, pre-the rest of your life” years are usually this way. But oh my gosh, it’s still rough!) For the first time, I found myself having to ask the question – what really IS my identity? what really IS inside me? Outside all the expectations and assumptions, beyond all the affirmations and encouragements, deeper than the flattering persona I’ve worked long and hard to present to the world… What really lives in me? When what makes me distinct on the outside is not a permanent identity, how do I know who I am?

At a very dark time, in the middle of a bleak road where either end seemed reachable, a very friendly Dutch priest showed up – named Henri Nouwen. Henri spoke words that pierced my vulnerable heart – in spots that were already sore and/or scarred – and started to slowly heal me. I spent a few months with his book The Inner Voice of Love, reflecting on his own raw journey from depression into wholeness, with all the muck and grime along the way that I saw mirrored in my own story. Muck and grime and isolation and loneliness and sin that I thought had the potential to keep me away from God’s goodness for a long time to come…

Henri says this in his book: “You continue struggling to see your own truth. When people who know your heart well and love you dearly say that you are a child of God, that God has entered deeply into your being, and that you are offering much of God to others, you hear these statements as pep talks. You don’t believe these people are really seeing what they are saying.” Exactly, Henri. Exactly how I feel.

Let’s flash back, a couple thousand years before Henri, to our scripture today – 1 John 3:16-24. John has much to say about love. He calls his readers, addressing them as little children, to “love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” John calls love is a tangible characteristic of the body of believers, and defines love by Jesus’ act of redemption and sacrifice.  The active form of loving one another is what John identifies as God’s commandment, coupled with faith in the name of Jesus. Love is key for John, but another word may also catch our attention. From verse 24, “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.” So it seems like we ought to pay attention to this act of abiding…

This Greek word “meno” appears 20 times in John’s epistles, as well as about one hundred other references throughout the New Testament. Our passage today sees God’s love ‘abiding’ in humans, obedient humans ‘abiding’ in God, and God – not just God’s love, but God’s self – ‘abiding’ in these people. The verb “meno” is also translated to describe something that remains, that continues to be present, that is held, that is kept, or that endures. Whatever abides is stable and solid, and continues to stay its ground. Throughout his letter, John makes note of many other elements that are “in” the Christians to whom he writes – truth, the word of God, commandments, anointing,  God’s seed, and God’s love perfected. John presents God’s love as perfected both IN his readers and AMONG his readers. (The Anabaptists here, or perhaps one of my housemates, might remind us that God’s love is always better in community.)

So, all these elements swirling inside John’s audience are already present – he does not call them to invite and coax God’s love inside, or challenge us as readers to grab hold of God and force God inside, but these manifestations of God’s presence are already existing inside. They are already abiding, dwelling inside  – they have already entered “deeply into our being,” as Henri puts it.

There is something powerful, something of God, something very distinct – right now, present and swirling around inside you and me. And how quickly we forget that.

I’d like to suggest that, unfortunately, sometimes our Anabaptist heritage makes it more difficult for us to recognize this distinctive identity inside us, especially my generation of Mennonite folks… Growing up in an Anabaptist home, I lived in this tradition of peace and justice and came to know a spirituality that was infused with the values of reconciliation, restoration, redemption, and all those other great R words. I saw a mainstream Christian evangelical subculture around me that looked unfamiliar and looked less compelling than my Anabaptist subculture – and so I rejected it outright. I maintained this identity of “Christian on the outskirts,” proudly Anabaptist but hardly ever proudly connected to the rest of Christ’s body.

For years, I forgot that that the distinctive presence of God abides inside me, because to admit that felt… perhaps boastful, perhaps selfish, perhaps just too associated with evangelicalism to go down that path. My simple but genuine prayer at seven years old was this: “Jesus, please ask God to come into my heart.” And in favor of more complicated prayers, I just dropped that notion that God had really come into my heart.

But what a disservice to our creator! And what a lie that it would be even remotely possible to ignore this distinction inside us – that God has moved into the neighborhood, and chooses to make a home inside each of our very imperfect selves.

Henri Nouwen calls this the good news of the Incarnation: “The Word becomes flesh, and thus a new place is made where all of you and all of God can dwell.”

A thought occurred to me while I was reading Henri Nouwen , struggling through my darkness, and searching desperately for something distinct about me to cling to – what if I let go of the persistent desire to create and re-create and define and re-define my identity? What if instead I let that distinction inside me become my core identity? What if I surrendered to the simplicity and humility of saying, God abides in me. The end.

God abides in me, and what makes me distinct is that the ruler of the universe has made a home inside me, and that is enough to identify me. God abides in you, in us, and what makes us distinct is that the ruler of the universe has made a home inside you and you and you – and that is enough to identify all of us.

For me, that changes everything. This is not an identity that will only swirl around inside our bellies and make us feel happy, an identity kept secret and protected without ever seeing the light of day. No, this is an identity that drives forward the rest of who we are – as a community of faith, and as these imperfect individual vessels who have learned to own the most beautiful thing inside them.

So what changes?
With God abiding in us, there is no longer a need to find identity in all the external qualifiers. Whether I am a student or a girlfriend or a leader or something else fabulous, beneath it all I am always a child of God. And that is enough.

With God abiding in us, community can flourish. You do not have to rely on your own imperfection to create healthy relationships, because God stands at the ready with strength and grace and forgiveness. And God stands inside each of you as neighbors.

With God abiding in us, justice has a chance to become reality. We can pursue peace and justice all we want, but without the Spirit to sustain and give direction and mobilize… All our work towards justice just falls short. The fullness of God’s shalom, the richness of kingdom justice, happens when it is the distinctiveness of God inside each of us driving us forward. Without that, we are just clamoring at an uttainable vision of utopia… it will surely disintegrate once again, if God is not there to catch it when it falls.

Dorothy Day says it well: “One reason I feel sure of the rightness of the path we are traveling in our work is that we did not pick it ourselves.” She’s right – God was passionate for justice long before we ever were.

I have, over the years, still held onto one of my favorite cultural distinctives –which are tattoos. My tattoos remind me of my convictions, ground me in my faith, keep me rooted in the theology I have committed to for the long haul, and mark me. As part of my intentional community experience with my household and other friends, several of us have decided to get tattooed with something distinct. “Imago dei” – Latin for image of God – tattooed on our bodies reminds us that God’s presence inside us is not to be easily forgotten. It changes everything, the way we value our selves and our neighbors and our strangers and even our enemies.

“All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.”

That distinct presence of God swirling around inside you and me is beautiful. And it is worth embracing, worth claiming as what makes us who we really are.

————————

PS – the tattoo looks great.  : )

Day 30: Boy crazy.

Henri, Let Deep Speak to Deep:

When you “love” someone or “miss” someone, you experience an inner pain. Bit by bit you have to discover the nature of this pain. When your deepest self is connected with the deepest self of another, that person’s absence may be painful, but it will lead you to a profound communion with the person, because loving each other is loving in God. When the place where God dwells in you in intimately connected with the place where God dwells in the other, the absence of the other person is not destructive. On the contrary, it will challenge you to enter more deeply into communion with God, the source of all unity and communion among people.

It is also possible on the other hand that the pain of absence will show you that you are out of touch with your own deeper self. You need the other to experience inner wholeness, to have a sense of well-being. You have become emotionally dependent on the other and sink into depression because of his or her absence. It feels as if the other has taken away a part of you that you cannot live without. Then the pain of absence reveals a certain lack of trust in God’s love. But God is enough for you.

True love between two human beings puts you more in touch with your deepest self. It is a love in God. The pain you experience from the death or absence of the person you love, then, always calls you to a deeper knowledge of God’s love. God’s love is all the love you need, and it reveals to you the love of God in the other. So the God in you can speak to the God in the other. This is deep speaking to deep, a mutuality in the heart of God, who embraces both of you.

Death or absence does not end or even diminish the love of God that brought you to the other person. It calls you to take a new step into the mystery of God’s inexhaustible love. This process is painful, very painful, because the other person has become a true revelation of God’s love for you. But the more you are stripped of the God-given support of people, the more you are called to love God for God’s sake. This is an awesome and even dreadful love, but it is the love that offers eternal life.

me:

Here’s the deal, Henri. I love you. But why the hell (excuse me) did you wait until 2012 to teach me these words I read today?

The words here remind me of the vast array of warm-colored greeting cards reserved for Valentine’s Day, or for that special someone. The someone who makes you complete, or who gives your life meaning, or who you cannot live without. As tempting as luxurious romance is, Henri suggests that when it overtakes you – when the need for the other can ruin your own self – something is off.

I have spent years and years and years as the independent, don’t-need-no-man, immune to lovesickness girl, full of self-love, who would never go boy crazy.

At 23, after a college degree and the start of a career path, I finally realize the truth. I totally am boy crazy. (Welp, who knew.)

I totally am boy crazy in the sense that as much as I do not want to believe these silly V-Day catchphrases and trite romantic comedy endings… deep down, they have ensnared me. They have taken root in the deepest places of vulnerability and insecurity and loneliness in my heart, and have told me that in order to be enough (good enough, beautiful enough, intelligent enough, enjoyable enough, and especially lovable enough)… there must be a man to prove it.

My hand must be warm from being held to be actually, genuinely lovable enough.
When my hand is cold, when the one who loved me is absent… there lacks the proof of my worth.
(Wow. It is an exhausting way to live. And I am tired of it.)

Lord, have mercy on me – and free me from the need to prove my worth through the presence of another flawed and imperfect human being, even if he is very very handsome. With maybe a nice smile, and strong arms, and a sharp wit, and some good facial hair, and who will want to take me on picnics and bike rides and flash that smile…

Oops. Lord, have mercy. ;)

Day 29: Stand up.

Henri, Stand Erect in Your Sorrow:

The question is “Can you stand erect in your pain, your loneliness, your fears, and your experience of being rejected?” The danger is that you will be swept off your feet by these feelings. They will be here for a long time, and they will go on tempting you to be drowned in them. But you are called to acknowledge them and feel them while remaining on your feet.

Remember, Mary stood under the cross. She suffered her sorrow standing. Remember, Jesus spoke about the cosmic disasters and the glorious appearance of the Son of Man and said to his disciples, “When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand” (Luke 2:28). Remember, Peter and John cured the crippled man who was begging at the temple entrance. Peter said to him, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!” (Acts 3:6). Then he took him by the right hand and helped him to stand up.

You have to dare to stand erect in your struggles. The temptation is to complain, to beg, to be overwhelmed and find your satisfaction in the pity you evoke. But you know already that this is not gaining for you what your heart most desires. As long as you remain standing, you can speak freely to others, reach out to them, and receive from them. Thus you speak and act from your center and invite others to speak and act from theirs. In this way, real friendships are possible and real community can be formed. God gives you the strength to stand in your struggles and to respond to them standing.

me:

When I think of standing, I think of not hiding. Not hiding imperfections, or poor choices, or past hurts, or current hurts, or the chaos inside that sometimes goes unseen.
Not hiding the good that I have to offer, or  the joy I have to bring to a community, or the gifts and assets and growing wisdom I possess.

Standing is invitational, inviting others into knowing me.
Sitting down and hunched over, I can keep myself to myself – with a throne chair enfolding me into its arms, long and full hair hiding my eyes from the outside, a thick scarf waterfalling from neck to lap to shield my torso from any new acquaintance, crossed legs and crossed arms and a cross look when the desire is isolation.

Standing says, here I am. I place myself in front of you, to invite you to know me. I do this because I believe we will find something good in knowing one another. We can speak about my sorrow and your sorrow, we can speak about my joy and your joy. I can let you know the insides of me and trust that you will treat them kindly.

Standing means being bold with all of who I am.

Day 28: Let me let you in.

Henri, Love Deeply:

Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause. When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love ever more fruitful. It is like a plow that breaks to ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a strong plant. Every time you experience the pain of rejection, absence, or death, you are faced with a choice. You can become bitter and decide not to love again, or you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds.

The more you have loved and have allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not leave your heart even when they depart from you. They will become part of your self and thus gradually build a community within you.

Those you have deeply loved become part of you. The longer you live, there will always be more people to be loved by you and to become part of your inner community. The wider your inner community becomes, the more easily you will recognize your own brothers and sisters in the strangers around you. Those who are alive within you will recognize those who are alive around you. The wider the community of your heart, the wider the community around you. Thus the pain of rejection, absence, and death can become fruitful. Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.

me:

become a part of me
let me
let you in
my heart is roomy enough for you
(and you and you and you)

and she’s learning how not to collapse
if you choose to leave
this great meeting-tent
gathering place to eat and sing and laugh and be
together

become a part of me
let me
let you sink in
my heart is soft enough for you
(to leave your fingerprints for a while)

and she loves loud and long and strong
and calls after you when you leave
sometimes too loud and long and strong

but please, sink in
they told me to guard her
(guard your heart, little girl
so hurt will not happen, tears will not drench you, pain will not press in
so deep)

they told me to guard her
but it never works
you always sneak in, don’t you…
giggling, uninvited guest
(but not unwanted)
and i am so glad you came, you little sneak
my heart could never keep you out in the cold

so glad you came
that even hurt and tears and pain
are good – because
they tell me she is still beating
loud and long and strong

she remembers you, your scent on her
she holds your ghost close and keeps you within

and though broken from your absence
the beat loud and long and strong
is mending the torn seams
little by little

the beat is rhythm
with an invitation to improvise
the beat is loving deeply
with a beckoning to love and love again

becoming whole, mending
little by little
to invite more of yous in
(and you and you and you)

let me
let you in

Day 27: Dusty.

Henri, Stay United with the Larger Body:

Your own growth cannot take place without growth in others. You are part of a body. When you change, the whole body changes. It is very important for you to remain deeply connected with the larger community to which you belong.

It is also important that those who belong to the body of which you are part keep faith in your journey. You still have a way to go, and there will be times when your friends are puzzled or even disillusioned by what is happening to you. At certain moments things may seem more difficult for you than before; they may look worse than when you began. You still have to make the great passage, and that might not happen without a lot of new distress and fear. Through all of this, it is important for you to stay united with the larger body and know that your journey is made not just for yourself but for all who belong to the body.

Think about Jesus. He made his journey and asked his disciples to follow him even where they would rather not go. The journey you are choosing is Jesus’ journey, and whether or not you are fully aware of it, you are also asking your brothers and sisters to follow you.  Somewhere you already know that what you are living now will not leave the other members of the community untouched. Your choices also call your friends to make new choices.

me:

I feel sometimes, at least lately, that I am like Pigpen – that adorable dusty little Peanuts guy who must be the most romanticized version of poor hygiene I’ve ever seen. I imagine sometimes that I enter a room with this dust cloud surrounding me for all to see. This little flurry of “issues” orbits around me, the dust of my insecurities and confusions rising up from the floor to become my myriad little satellites. They swirl around me and follow their master, to make it known to the world that not all is well, all is perfect with Jessica Mast.

I feel sometimes that those who love me, those who are close to me, are quietly and kindly suppressing their need to cough, wave away my mess, swat away my flies, take a leaf-blower to me to get rid of the obvious, dusty intrusion.

Here’s the problem, though – seems like the more I talk with folks, the more I find that not all is perfect with any human person with a heart and a body and a brain. So, seems like not all is perfect with anybody.

Then why doesn’t everybody have this little dust cloud accompanying them?
What makes my dirt special?
Why do I feel mine is so pronounced?
Is it?

Or is the beauty that I am starting to recognize this dirt flurry I’ve ignored for so long?… is the beauty that every person in this world has their own flurry, but we choose to love one another despite it?… is the beauty that I find myself in a community that loves me fiercely and appreciates me, dust and all?… is the beauty that my journey has led me to a place of embracing these dirty satellites – instead of striving to hide them, pretend they don’t exist, and leave myself no need for grace?

This dust stirred up around me is simply human existence.
The journey I am choosing means I get the opportunity to face the dust, breathe it in deeply, choke and cough a bit, but know that it is part of me. I am choosing a journey that lets me name the dust particles, identify the mess, recognize the imperfections in myself and just let them be.

My Pigpen cloud is not a burden to my community.
The journey to start naming the Pigpen cloud is an enrichment to my community.
They have told me time and time again that this is so, but I am starting to believe it.

There is no need to hide the dust anymore… but celebrate the fact that we are loved, and love one another, right along with it.

 

 

 

Day 26: Better yet?

Henri, Receive All the Love that Comes to You:

While you may feel physically and mentally strong, you still experience a forceful undercurrent of anguish. You sleep well, you work well, but there are few waking moments when you do not feel that throbbing pain in your heart that makes everything seem up in the air. You know that you are progressing, but you can’t understand why this anguish keeps pervading everything you think, say, or do. There is still a deep, unresolved pain, but you cannot take it away yourself. It exists far deeper than you can reach.

Be patient and trust. You have to move gradually deeper into your heart. There is a place far down that is like a turbulent river, and that place frightens you. But do not fear. One day it will be quiet and peaceful.

You have to keep moving, as you are doing. Live a faithful, disciplined life, a life that gives you a sense of inner strength, a life in which you can receive more and more of the love that comes to you. Wherever there is real love for you, take it and be strengthened by it. As your body, heart, and mind come to know that you are loved, your weakest part will feel attracted to that love. What has remained separated and unreachable will let itself be drawn into the love you have been able to receive. One day you will discover that your anguish is gone. It will leave you because your weakest self let itself be embraced by your love.

You are not yet there, but you are moving fast. There will be a bit more pain and struggle. You have to dare to live through it. Keep walking straight. Acknowledge your anguish, but do not let it pull you out of yourself. Hold on to your chosen direction, your discipline, your prayer, your work, your guides, and trust that one day love will have conquered enough of you that even the most fearful part will allow love to cast out all fear.

me:

Things are changing. The anguish does not have the same hold on me that it did two months ago; the once-paralyzing fear of unlove has dissipated; the brutality with which I treated my heart has softened; the pain of a chaotic and shame-filled inner life has become the embrace of a ‘normal’ and simply human imperfection.

I feel better. I am more healthy. I am loving more, being loved more. I have cast away the practices and choices that were holding me hostage.

The chapter today sounds just like my November, the anguish that characterized my fall.
But this is my January, a whole new season – post-rejection of those who once loved me, post-chaos of a hidden relationship, post-doubt of my integrity and true self, post-release of what once held me, post-Christmas trip that reminded me of my identity, post-Dream Camp where we celebrated deliverance and healing, post-embrace of freedom, post-resurrection.

But…
Henri reminds me I’m not there yet. Henri, in his irritating wisdom and long-suffering, reminds me that this is why I chose to read him in the first place – to not let myself cut the healing short, when I felt maybe I had reached its end. Oh geez Henri, that really is annoying. Just when I felt like things had taken a turn for the better, you remind me I am only halfway through your little book.

Thanks, Henri, for keeping me moving. : )

 

Day 25: Imago dei.

Henri, See Yourself Truthfully:

You continue struggling to see your own truth. When people who know your heart well and love you dearly say that you are a child of God, that God has entered deeply into your being, and that you are offering much of God to others, you hear these statements as pep talks. You don’t believe that these people are really seeing what they are saying.

You have to start seeing yourself as your truthful friends see you. As long as you remain blind to your own truth, you keep putting yourself down and referring to everyone else as better, holier, and more loved than you are. You look up to everyone in whom you see goodness, beauty, and love because you do not see any of these qualities in yourself. As a result, you begin leaning on others without realizing that you everything you need to stand on your own feet.

You cannot force things, however. You cannot make yourself see what others see. You cannot fully claim yourself when parts of you are still wayward. You have to acknowledge where you are and affirm that place. You have to be willing to live your loneliness, your incompleteness, your lack of total incarnation fearlessly, and trust that God will give you the people to keep showing you the truth of who you are.

 

You have to be willing to live your loneliness, your incompleteness, your lack of total incarnation fearlessly, and trust that God will give you the people to keep showing you the truth of who you are.

I am finally learning this.

To claim myself… To say this is who I am, who I am created to be, the part I am wired to play in the kingdom of God, the identity that is Jessica in the midst of this big world. The difficulty comes in really believing it, in feeling it, in dwelling in that knowledge. But I am learning.

I do know that I am created in the image of God. Imago dei means that in amongst the imperfection and messiness and silliness of who I am, there is stamped upon me the definite, permanent mark of our creator. While standing on our own feet sounds honorable and strong and American and pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps-y –   this is only possible through knowing and dwelling in the imago dei, that gives us something solid to dwell in.

I am home, once again, from Dream Camp 2012, a weekend of worship, prayer, and community with folks I am usually not too much in community with. My weekend was full of Fresno’s black Christian community, beautiful music that was full and loud and long, art through painting and dancing and waving flags, speaking in tongues, prayers of deliverance and healing, and experience altogether pretty unfamiliar. Rarely do I seek out to experience God in this way, very different from my heritage and faith expressions and internal wiring, but this weekend I sought a different face of God than I usually see.

This weekend was a little bit of God smashed up against God, as I intentionally brought this journey of contemplation, reflection, and the quiet Catholic inner voice of God’s love into conversation with the free-flowing, sometimes chaotic, loud and full voice of God’s presence at Dream Camp. (Thank goodness God is big enough to encompass these diverse worlds and more, or else this would all be very confusing. Ha!)

From Henri and from Dream Camp come the same reminder…
I am not in this alone.

I carry a presence, a spirit, a voice, an image with me that is not my own. When I claim myself, I am not claiming just a sum of all my parts – but this imago dei permeates all of me. There is a reason to believe my friends when they tell me that I am extraordinary, that who I am is amazing, that I have goodness and beauty and ‘much of God to offer others…

Because of the image with me, these words of my truthful friends become true.

Day 24: Home and free.

Henri, Keep Moving Toward Full Incarnation:

Do not discount what you have already accomplished. You have made important steps toward the freedom you are searching for. You have decided to dedicate yourself completely to God, to make Jesus the center of your life, and to be fashioned into an instrument of God’s grace. Yes, you still experience your inner dividedness, your need for approval and acclaim. But you see that you have made important choices that show where you want to go.

You can look at your life as a large cone that becomes narrower the deeper you go. There are many doors in that cone that give you chances to leave the journey. But you have been closing the doors one after the other, making yourself go deeper and deeper into your center. You know that Jesus is waiting for you at the end, just as you know that he is guiding you as you move in that direction. Every time you close another door – be it the door of immediate satisfaction, the door of distracting entertainment, the door of busyness, the door of guilt and worry, or the door of self-rejection – you commit yourself deeper into your heart and thus deeper into the heart of God.

This is a movement toward full incarnation. It leads you to become what you already are – a child of God; it lets you embody more and more the truth of your being; it makes you claim the God within you. You are tempted to think that you are a nobody in the spiritual life and that your friends are far beyond you on the journey. But this is a mistake.

You must trust the depth of God’s presence in you and live from there. This is the way to keep moving toward full incarnation.

me:

Geez. So many doors to close. But the sound of every creak or latch or slam is beautiful. These doors many find their way open once again as time goes on and the soul gets tired – but the initial choice to close them is powerful in itself.

This last week and a half was spent on four wheels roaming across half of the United States (and back), in grandparents’ homes in rural Oklahoma and suburban Kansas, and in various Motel 6 ‘double double’ rooms scattered across the expansive southwest.

I am home, for the first time in what feels like a long while. Between traveling, house-sitting, cat-sitting, and other-sittings going on I feel like I haven’t been really truly home for far too long.

It feels so good to be home this time – knowing that some of these most stubborn doors are closing. I’m not one who puts much stock in New Year’s Resolutions (partially because I keep making the same ones year after year), but I do relish new seasons. This feels to be a new season of goodness ahead.

My wonderful roommate Brittany offered me a new challenge today over dinner – freedom from people. Closing the doors of expectation, assumptions, guilt and shame, fears of rejection, or the desperate desire for acceptance. Closing the doors to my imperfect interpretations of those around me. Closing the doors to ways of being that keep me from what is truly me.

Free from people – to be Jessica.
That is what lies at the end of the cone, where intimacy with Jesus means offering all the authenticity of who I am. That is what this new season holds, this new way of being home.

Day 23: Normal again.

Henri, Live Patiently with the “Not Yet”:

A part of you was left behind very early in your life; the part that never felt completely received. It is full of fears. Meanwhile, you grew up with many survival skills. But you want your self to be one. So you have to bring home the part of you that was left behind. That is not easy, because you have become quite a formidable person, and your fearful part does not know if it can safely dwell with you. Your grown-up self has to become very childlike – hospitable, gentle, and caring – so your anxious self can return and feel safe.

You complain that it is hard for you to pray, to experience the love of Jesus. But Jesus dwells in your fearful, never fully received self. When you befriend your true self and discover that it is good and beautiful, you will see Jesus there. Where you are most human, most yourself, weakest, there Jesus lives. Bringing your fearful self home is bringing Jesus home.

As long as your vulnerable self does not feel welcomed by you, it keeps so distant that it cannot show you its true beauty and wisdom. Thus, you survive without really living.

Try to keep your small, fearful self close to you. This is going to be a struggle, because you have to live for a while with the “not yet.” Your deepest, truest self is not yet home. It quickly gets scared. Since your intimate self does not feel safe with you, it continues to look for others, especially those who offer it some real, though temporary, consolation. But when you become more childlike, it will no longer feel the need to dwell elsewhere. It will begin to look to you as home.

Be patient. When you feel lonely, stay with your loneliness. Avoid the temptation to let your fearful self run off. Let it teach you its wisdom; let it tell you that you can live instead of just surviving. Gradually you will become one, and you will find that Jesus is living in your heart and offering you all you need.

me:

… you have become quite a formidable person…

Why thanks, Henri. In fact, I’ve spent the better portion of my life striving to be somebody who is essentially ‘more than’ – more than just a normal girl. Above average, not common, unique, extraordinary, something special about her – more than the average bear.

I’ll keep this post short, and say briefly that it is exhausting to be this ‘more than’ all the time.
I love that I am driven to pursue life at not just its basic life, not content with the average and mediocre, but at some point the chase gets so tiring.

As I write, I am sitting in a bed I’ve slept in for over a decade, when I come to visit MamaJo’s house in Derby, Kansas. This bed has known me since I was that fearful, vulnerable child. And it loved me just fine then. This Christmas break we spent time looking through tons of old family photos – some of my favorite with me and my mulleted-mustached-beanpole young Dad in the early 90s. And I realize he loved me just fine as this little girl who wanted to sit and be read to, no outstanding achievements or significant contributions to society to be acclaimed for.

Just normal.

Hallelujah as well, that I got to spend time with my best friend of many years in Oklahoma City, who reminded me that it is just fine to be normal. Not all of who I am is normal all the time, but I am allowed to be normal.

For so long I’ve fought against it, wanting to be more and do more and be known for more than just normalcy. For so long I’ve pushed myself to not just be me.

Where you are most human, most yourself, weakest, there Jesus lives. Bringing your fearful self home is bringing Jesus home.

The most human.
Humans make mistakes, usually imperfect, sometimes unhealthy, often irritating, mostly good. But I guess I am one after all. Guess that’s me.

The way I treated that wonderful young man from Day 22 tells me I am waaaaaaaaay more human than I thought I was.
And after the guilt of that mistreatment – after the honesty and letting it be part of my story – it’s time to move on. It’s time to learn who I am as a normal human being. Not perfect.

Cheers to a journey of learning to embrace the humanity, the normalcy.

Really, I don’t put too much stock in New Year’s Resolutions – but on this December 31st, things are looking up. Things are moving forward in a good way.

Cheers.

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