Our church is awesome. Full of amazing people and a desire for authenticity and being real and growing together. Every Sunday when we go, I'm wrapped up in God's presence and immerse myself in it to steel myself against the coming week. I've walked so much healing in that church. I've been walking with God for a good many years and growing and learning, but I feel like I'm at a new chapter somehow, right now, this minute, this fall. We've been going to this church since Riley was 18 months old and I've been able to move from living in crisis and hunkering down spiritually, to rebuilding the foundation of who I am.
I have been able to forgive myself for my total failures with Matthew. Whenever I admit that to myself (meaning to feel relief wash over me), immediately I want to grab it back. I've been whipping myself with it for so long that it feels like a familiar habit and I'm a bit lost without it. And also, what is my identity if it is not Failed Parent? But mostly, I feel like Matthew deserves to have me continue to feel deeply guilty with a raw, open wound, forever.
One day last winter, my pastor (my church is pentecostal, remember) said, "I have a word." He actually says this fairly often, not every week or every service, but often enough that we all know what he means. He means God is giving him a message, specific to someone in the congregation that day, at that time, in that service. A small bit of love. Sometimes challenging, sometimes not. This day, I knew it was for me the instant he said "I have a word." (Like God, busy with global warming and leprosy has time to speak to someone else for me, but He does)
"The word is forgiveness. Someone here needs to forgive, to step out in forgiveness and into God's peace, love, and truth. Forgive whoever it is you need to forgive, and move forward."
I needed to forgive myself. And I finally did.
Anne Lamott says, "forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past," and she's right. I wish I could have done it differently, but it is done and cannot be undone, no matter how hard I will it. For some reason, we walked the journey we did, and now it is finished. Carrying around my guilt serves no one. It only brings the past, with all its raging horror, into the present.
Forgiveness comes in stages and I've been forgiving myself on deeper and deeper levels for years but I think I can finally feel it is finished at a foundational level. And it has felt finished ever since that Sunday last winter when my pastor spoke about forgiveness. (Relief washes over me).
I'm not a fair weather friend with God. You know, the Christian who loves and is faithful when their life is good.
I'm also not a crisis shelterer with God. You know, the Christian who dashes back to shelter in God's love when life is in crisis.
I'm a Christian when life is good, and when it is bad. I draw on God continually in all the seasons of my life. But I have felt like I was just 'getting by' spiritually for a long span of years, for legitimate reasons having to do with busyness of life and difficulty finding my spiritual groove and a desire for basic survival. It is difficult with little ones underfoot all the time to carve out emotional, mental, or temporal space for a prayer more complicated than "HELP ME" or "THANK YOU" (which prayers Anne Lamott says ALL our prayers to God really boil down to). But I want more than just scraping by spiritually. God is a big part of my life story and my history, and I want to go deeper and learn more and have a deeper, fuller spiritual life like I have had in the past. I've felt that way for awhile now and I felt some sort of spiritual foreshadowing of something to come all summer. I didn't know what it would be or how I would get there, but I felt something brewing. Then one Sunday early in September, a woman stood up to speak about a new women's group she was starting and how she felt like it was a leap of faith for her to start it, but she felt it was necessary. She wanted to start a group where the women could really be authentic with each other and discover what their identity in Christ is and what our callings are, and how to make that a reality. She said she was nervous because so far her life group had one person in it, besides herself. And I wanted to go more than anything I've wanted in a very long time. I grabbed her arm and introduced myself after church and told her I HAD to come to her group. I just had to. She of course laughed kind of nervously because I can come on a bit strong and it was awkward, but she took my email and the first group was that Tuesday. (There were eight of us).
The theme for September and October in our church has been the book of Haggai, and it has blown my mind upside down and out the back of my head. Haggai describes how the Israelites had been conquered and taken away as slaves for an entire generation, but had returned, scattered, beaten down, and impoverished, to Jerusalem. The temple was in ruins, and so was the city. The people began to rebuild the city, bit by bit, making shelters for themselves and reconnecting with family members and repairing infrastructure. Sixteen years after their return, God sent the prophet Haggai to admonish the people to rebuild the temple.
Sixteen years after their return, they had rebuilt their homes to the point of being able to put finishing touches on them, but they had not yet turned to the scattered remains of the temple itself, and Haggai's prophecy was to refocus their eyes on God. Rebuild the temple, restore its former glory, move past your grief. You have solved your basic needs of shelter and survival, now it is time to rebuild God's dwelling place.
The job seemed so daunting that it disheartened the Israelites when they turned to the job of rebuilding the temple. They were enthusiastic, but overwhelmed. Haggai returned with a second prophecy of encouragement and a reminder of God's central place in their community.
I kept hearing this story of the prophet Haggai (and I'm sure I butchered it, my apologies to Theologians), and thinking it resonated with my life. Seven years ago my life was blown apart by a force bigger than myself or my family, I no longer recongized myself, I felt abducted by a foreign invader, and the family I loved and worked so hard to build was decimated.
I came back. I got diagnosed. I got treated. I walked the path of forgiveness and joy and gave birth again and fell in love with my brown boy and wrestled anxiety stronger than a windstorm and gave birth yet again with so much peace, I rebuilt my home to a caring one, kind and noisy and fun and filled again with healthy, whole people. And love. You know? I rebuilt my home. And God was helping me every step of the way but now He's saying, go deeper. Rebuild the temple. Dig in, I have more for you.
This life group I found, with the women who want authenticity and to go deeper? It blew my mind from the very first meeting. We didn't ease in. We exploded. Every week someone shares their story, we respond a bit, share prayer requests, and pray for each other. But I mean, shit goes down. People share things they've never spoken out loud, there's naked souls everywhere, we pray over infertility, suicidal friends, dead babies, deep pain, and great joy. It scares me how the air seems to spark with electricity in the room where we meet. I've never been this wide open and immersed in God's presence in a life group before. I've felt this way when I was dancing, back in University, sometimes. Where you feel like the only thing that matters is God and you're so deep you don't care who is watching, or why.
People say things to each other and it feels like God is speaking. Over and over. There is unabashed crying. There is total acceptance. There is abundant love. I've only known these women eight weeks! How did this happen? Well, I guess it was time to rebuild for more women than just me. It's church, in the truest meaning of the word. And I'm diving right in with four hundred feet, into the deep end, I don't care what I risk or what I lose in the process, I'm just so glad to feel alive.
I've been petrified for my turn to share my story. It's a long one. It's got mental illness and brokenness and mistakes and good intentions all over the place, and every time I thought of sharing my story with these women I felt nauseous and like I got punched in the gut. Next week is my turn, and I started to cry tonight when it was time for prayer because I'm so afraid of being judged by these women, but I think I realized as they prayed for me that that nausea and gut fear I feel is from the same place that destroyed my mind and hurt my family seven years ago. Fear can kiss my ass. It has no place in my life anymore and although as an anxoid it will always be a part of my journey, it will not rule me again, and I WILL share my story and I WILL be okay. I can even do it with joy, because God has carried me SO FAR in this short life. SO DAMN FAR.
You know what God promises? To never leave me or forsake me. He hasn't.