Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Adult in Me

A part of me reached adulthood today.  Well, in all honestly, it’s an added part of me, not something I was born with but something given to me.  The rest of me is 46…turning 47 in June.  But this small part just reached that magical age of 18.  When I was a teenager, 18 had such allure.  It was the age where I would get to do what I wanted with my life.  It was the age where my decisions were my own,. From the other side, as a parent, 18 is the magical age of responsibility—the ultimate goal that we raise our children toward—the ability to be self sufficient and self regulating.  The age where I don’t stop praying and guiding but where my control, my need to regulate, ends and theirs begins.  When my kids have reached that age I realized they will either do what they’re supposed to do...or they won’t.  It’s ultimately the time when I can trust that God, who was in the process from day one, will continue to be in their lives and continue to lead them. 

So going back to the adult in my chest.  18 years ago today doctors cut out my shredded aorta, and my damaged aortic valve, and replaced them with a Dacron graft and a mechanical valve.  (You can read part 1 and part 2 of that story by clicking those links) I woke up to learn that I had this new piece of equipment that I needed to watch out for.  I had to take anticoagulants and monitor my blood levels.  I had to go for regular follow up so that they could monitor the function.  I had to take prophylactic antibiotics whenever I had a procedure—even just having my teeth cleaned—so the valve wouldn’t get infected. I even had to make sure my address stayed current with a registry so that I could be notified if there was ever a problem with the valve.  (Yes, mechanical valves can malfunction and be recalled.) I listened to the loud click, click, click coming from my chest and was reminded that I had something foreign and new inside me and, while I was so thankful to be alive, my anxiety climbed because of the responsibility. I needed to monitor it, I needed to be on top of it and make sure it was doing exactly what it was supposed to do because my very life depended on it.  So I lived grateful but also tightly wound from the vigilance required.  My outward persona didn’t always show it, but the muscles in my shoulders and neck screamed out the secret that I was a bundle of stress and anxiety because I felt like it was my job to help God…and my valve…and my doctors…keep me alive. 

As my children have grown up, I’ve developed a peace about them and their futures that has allowed me to fully turn them over to God and trust that they are responsible people who can make their own decisions.  I also am at peace with the knowledge that I may not love or even agree with every choice they make.  Reflecting on my now adult valve the other day, I asked myself if I could embrace that same peace when it came to this piece of equipment.  Could I trust that this adult in my chest, who was created to do one thing, would do it?  Could I trust that the same God who guided the doctors and saved my life 18 years ago was only asking me to do my part and then trust him with all of the rest? It can be pretty easy to look at my story and feel like my vigilance and my intelligence and my perseverance are the reasons I’m still here.  But I can’t do that for long before I hear God’s voice from Job 38,

“Prepare yourself for the task at hand. I’ll be asking the questions, now— you will supply the answers. Where were you when I dug and laid the foundation of the earth? Explain it to me, if you are acquainted with understanding…In your short run of days, have you ever commanded the morning to begin or taught the sun to rise in its place? Under your watch has the early light ever taken hold of the earth by the edges and shaken the wicked loose?”

My response echoes Job’s,  “I know you can do everything, therefore I realize the truth.”  I don’t have to be constantly tense and anxious, waiting to catch the signs that my health is about to crash and burn.  Instead I can rest, the kind of rest where my breath comes in slow, deep rhythm and I feel my muscles loosen. It is in that rest that I know that whether things are crashing or not, I choose to trust that the same God who saved me—who gave wisdom to scientists who created my valve, who gave skill to doctors who performed my surgery—that he will be the one who is on constant alert so that I don’t have to be. 

I choose to embrace this second adulthood with freedom and peace.  Care to join me?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Naked and Unashamed

Shame. Let that word resonate in your head. Let it resonate in your heart. Shame like tar, dripping down over you. Irritating and abrasive, thick and suffocating. Shame wielded like a weapon, "Shame on you!" "You should be ashamed!" "Have you no shame?" Shame was never God's intent. Shame makes us feel something is wrong with us and causes us to hide. Shame isolates, showing us that we are alone...alone in our woundedness or alone in our sin, alone because of our own choices or because of the choices of someone else, we're still alone. In the first mention of shame in scripture (Genesis 3:7) it didn't come from God, it came from within. It caused them to pull away and hide from God, it caused them to cover up. It was the result of eyes being opened, it was the result of choices that weren't what God had wanted--but where shame made them feel like this was the end of the story, God had already shaped a way to begin again.  

I remember several years ago I was in a Bible study with several other women. One young woman was weeks away from her wedding. We were studying the book of Genesis and on that day as we went line by line through Genesis 2, sharing what had jumped out at us, she said "it's good to be naked." (see Genesis 2:25) This line popped into my head again the other day. Probably not in the way that you're thinking, though. I've been talking with God a lot about what it means to fully be the person he created me to be. And a big part of that is defining what it means to be naked, and what it means to feel no shame.  

One reason I get dressed each day is protection; protection from the weather, protection from scrapes, protection from contact I don't welcome. Another reason is to cover up. I'm covering up my flaws, my imperfections, and the parts of my body I don't want everyone to see. But my clothes dull my sensations, they cover the biggest sensory organs in my body--my skin. Holding hands with my husband while wearing gloves is never as satisfying as when our skin touches. And yet we cover up and get used to feeling less. 

I can be tempted to do more than put on literal clothes. Sometimes I want to cover myself in the same way emotionally. In the past I have put on one layer at a time and pretty soon I was covered with layers so thick that no one was getting through, not even God. I thought my layers helped me feel safe, protected and in control, but soon I was so used to the dulled sensitivity that I thought it was normal or even preferable.  

But God wants the naked me. He doesn't want me to hide when I hear him coming. He wants the real me, flaws and imperfections showing. He asks me to come to him even when I feel dirty and sticky and covered with tar-like shame. He calls and extends his hand. He promises that he will search me and know me, that he will show me the things I need to work on so that I'm the person he wants me to be. (Psalm 139:23-24) He promises in Psalm 51 to wash me so that I am whiter than snow. He reaches out and extends the way to begin again and he calls it grace.  Grace for the times that I didn't turn to him for help. Grace for the times that I let my shame suffocate his accurate assessment of what was wrong and what needed to be fixed. Grace for the times when I decided that my ways of dealing with my hurts didn't need his help. Grace for the times that I decided to just live my own way because I had hidden myself so well that I couldn't see or hear him anymore. He calls and hold out his arms, he reminds me that my friend's assessment is true. It's good to be a naked soul, without polish or pretense, in the presence of God.