Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Flight of a Girl-Child

Pain.  It seems like it’s on the menu a lot these days.  It’s what’s for dinner.  And breakfast.  And afternoon snacks.  You know the kind of pain that kind of just sits like a ten ton brick in your chest...and steals your appetite for joy and fellowship?  Yeah, I’ve been swallowing a crazy amount of that kind of pain lately...and quite frankly; it’s giving me a case of chronic indigestion.  I just want to shove my plate away and politely excuse myself from the table.  

In other words, when the pain comes...I can feel myself going numb.  My inner voice starts saying things like “what’s the point?” and “I did it your way, God...and it’s not working.”  Or my personal favorite, “You deserve this entire bag of chocolate.”  These are horrifying thoughts...that cause sirens and flashing red lights to explode in my brain.  Because almost every stupid decision I’ve made in life has been a result of avoiding pain. 

Yes, I know what it’s like to live apart from Abba’s feast.  Despite claiming Christ as my Lord, I denied myself a seat at His table for years...because I believed the cost was too great.  He asked for transparency...and intimacy.  And I was terrified of both.  So, for years...I simply survived on spiritual crumbs.  Until one week in 2008, when a group of complete strangers boldly scaled the walls of my heart and laid claim to my dignity.  I can honestly say that was my first introduction to intense emotional pain...but, then again, it was also the first time I felt truly alive.     
Ezekiel 11:19 says “...I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” 
As I feel the numbness seeping into my heart, I hear a voice deep inside me...quietly asking me to fight back.  So, I’m going to do what the Spirit has asked me to do...I’m going to shove my pain into the open wide space of the internet...and let a bunch of strangers look at it. 

Today I’m going to tell you story.  A story of a heart...and its journey from stone to flesh.   

Her name was Lissy.  She was joyful, fearless, and blissfully unaware of life’s unrelenting brokenness.  And although the years of adulthood have slowly eroded my memory of her...when the pain comes, I can still hear this blonde-headed girl-child whisper through the cracks of my defenses. 

Her first encounter with terror was at a petting zoo...with vicious, man-eating billy goats (ok, not really...but in the mind of a 3-year-old, they were huge, scary monsters).  She boldly held out her hand to one of the beasts...inching ever-so-slowly toward her doom. All of the sudden, one of them responded to her offer of friendship and dared to take one little step forward.  Moved by child-like terror, her response was instantaneous...arms flew up in the universal "Pick me up!!!" gesture.  And as soon as the cry left her mouth, she was scooped up into the strong arms of safety. I remember that part, specifically...because her terror evaporated immediately.  Lissy had a Daddy, you see, and he was bigger and stronger than even the most ferocious goat.
When I consider her childlike trust in her Daddy...I get a little vaclempt.  She had a ruthless, uninhibited love of life...completely void of distrust, cynicism, or control. Her faith was beautiful in its purity. She wasn't self-consumed with her physical imperfections. She didn't try to self-medicate with worldly distractions and addictions. She wasn't glib, jaded, or cynical. She wasn't burdened with the stress and horror of disease.  She didn’t know what betrayal felt like...much less how to spell it.  She didn't try to reason with God. She didn't try to solve her own, the little girl-child named Lissy was confident that her Daddy would rescue her every...single...time.

I still remember the day she met a a 5-day club.  July 2, 1982. Every day after the lesson, the teacher would ask all the kids to close their eyes and bow their heads...and every day, she would peak around to see if her playmates were raising their hands. On the last day, driven by the child-like panic of being "left out"...Lissy quietly raised her hand. The teacher took her to the front porch and talked to her about Jesus and how He wanted to live in her heart. Well, that sounded like a fine idea to a five year old little girl-child. That way, when her real Daddy wasn't there...she would have a Jesus to protect her and love her. It was that simple.
But as the years passed, Lissy began to learn about struggle.  She became an awkward tomboy with broken glasses, ratty hair, and perpetually grass-stained clothing.   She grew a foot taller than all of her classmates.  She began to crave attention.  She discovered that humor was a great weapon.  And most of all...she learned that there were some things that her real Daddy just couldn’t fix. 

Over twenty years later, Alissa found herself sitting in a circle of strangers at a weeklong retreat called The Journey.  She’s signed up to go because she thought she could help other people find freedom by telling their stories.  Funny that...because, as it turns out, these 6 women wanted to know her story.  What?  She didn’t have a story.  She was raised by Christian parents in a godly home.  Yeah...nothing to tell there, ladies. 
Then why are you afraid of intimacy?  Why do you have to control everything and everyone around you?  Why are you sooooo angry all the time?  Why do you feel like performance is the only way to win approval?  Why do you so rarely cry?  Why don’t you feel any passion?  Essentially, these women were asking...where’s Lissy?  What have you done with her?  Question after question...brick by brick...uncovering the lost little girl-child buried under years of numbness.

But as these women looked into her childhood...Alissa finally began to feel the pain she had so cleverly avoided for so many years.  And when it came in huge, unstoppable waves.  
Which, looking back, was Abba’s mercy...because if Alissa could have stopped it...she would have. 

As the layers of stone were peeled away...and a heart of flesh began to appear, Alissa remembered a day that her little girl-child was silenced by a beloved teacher who crushed her spirit...with the very best of intentions. 

Lissy was in third grade and Mrs. Olson was her absolute favorite teacher.  She was a living, breathing angel...with long blonde hair, over-sized wool sweaters, and an easy smile.  She invited her students into daily adventures...making the simplest lessons into grand journeys of imagination.  One day, Mrs. Olson began to weave a story with lots of talking animals, plants, and objects. But, as was her habit, she wanted her class to all be part of this tale, so she began to assign them as characters...
“First we need someone to be the sun.  Bright...full of light...warm.  Who will be the sun?  Jennifer, will you be the sun? Next we need a shiny red car.  Fast.  Strong.  Colorful.  Who will be the car?  Matthew, will you be the car?”

Lissy sat in wonder as Mrs. Olson slowly breathed life into the story...she seemed to be carefully selecting each child for a role using the qualities she saw in them.  Lissy waited...and waited...with eager expectation...impatient to know what Mrs. Olson thought of her.
“Ok, now we need some flowers.  Pretty.  Smell yummy.  Delicate.  Who will be our flowers?”   

A flower.  Yes, that would be nice.  She wanted to be pretty.  Lissy held her breath...
“Samantha.  Jessica.  Will you be our flowers?  Hmmm.  Now we need a bird.  Petite. Beautiful. Happy.” 

Lissy knew this just had to be her character.  Mrs. Olson saw her!  “Who will be the bird?”  Oh please...oh please...oh please pick me, pick me!  “Elizabeth...will you be the bird?
A little heart crushed. 

“Now we need a locomotive.  Big and strong.  A Leader.  Fearless.  Who will be the locomotive?”  Oh please...oh please don’t let it be me...please don’t let it be me...”Lissy, will you be the locomotive?”
Big.  That’s how Mrs. Olson sees her?  Big? 

That moment sealed her fate on the playground and, in many ways, life.  For the rest of the year, Lissy endured relentless mocking as her classmates referred to her as Locomotive.  Some of the crueler boys even made “choo choo” sounds every time they saw her.  But even more crushing...was that her beloved Mrs. Olson couldn’t see the little girl who so desperately wanted to be a bird.  So, in an act of self-preservation and because she didn’t know what to do with the pain...Lissy made an oath on the playground that year.  She would NEVER let them see her cry.  She would fight louder and harder than even the meanest boy.  She would conquer whatever was in her path and she would do it with a misplaced sense of strength.  Screw those kids on the playground.  And screw Mrs. Olson.  If they saw her as “big”...then “big” she would become. 

This wasn't Lissy's first or last encounter with pain.  No, Mrs. Olson and the playground bullies don't get to take all the credit...or blame for her wounds.  But it was the first time she willingly and intentionally surrendered to the numbness.   
Years later, as Alissa retold this story to a group of women for the first time in her life...she wept uncontrollably.  She wept for the little golden-haired girl with a shy spirit whose little heart was broken by her childhood hero.  She wept for a precious, fragile heart that was buried beneath a mountain of lies.  And as she wept, one of the women asked in a quiet, gentle voice...

“Alissa, if you could be a bird...which bird would you be? 
Without if she waited her whole life for someone to ask...she said,  ”A Chickadee.  I would be a Chickadee.  They’re winter birds, like me...I was born in a blizzard you know.  They’re small.  But they’re survivors.  Did you know they wash themselves with snow?” 

“I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh”
Who knew such a simple question would change the course of my life?   The moment I named my bird...I felt my heart become flesh.   In fact, when I got home from the retreat one of my dear friends looked at me funny and said, “You look different?  Something’s look...softer?”   I knew then that Lissy was back...

I wish I could say that the journey back to my heart has been easy.  No, in fact, the opposite is true...I have lost many things in the process.  Important things.  And I have failed on epic levels.  Mrs. Olson wasn’t my first or only story of pain.  And there are still some left to be told.  No, I have learned that being numb is way, way easier.   But I’ve also learned through experience that if I point my feet down the narrow path...and cling to the Word with a death grip...walking through the pain is not only’s an act of obedience.  And I can only partake of the abundant feast, if I allow myself to actually feel pain. 
Bleck.  I hate even typing that...because my bag of chocolate sounds way, way more appetizing. 

But walking with my God has given me way, way more freedom.  I no longer fear the word, “Big.”   I no longer cringe when people call me a force of nature.  I see now that Abba created that to be my dignity.  I've learned that it's ok to be larger than long as I never aspire to be larger than God.

So, I cry way more often.  I delight in all things...bird.  I’m not afraid of boys anymore.  I found my passion.  But most of all...I delight in the little girl who still sings “Jesus Loves Me” in the shower.  Who still laughs too loud.  Teases her friends and family mercilessly.  Enjoys monkey noises and innapropriate jokes.  Dances silly jigs at work.  This little girl  is no longer blonde-headed, but she still loves stomping in puddles, watching Disney movies, and teaching her nieces and nephew how to annoy their parents.  Her heart is flesh.  She feels deeply. She is Lissy. She is a Chickadee. She 
It’s her voice that I hear calling me to fight the numbness.  And it’s through her eyes that I see the Kingdom of Heaven.   And when the pain comes, it’s through her simple faith that I raise my arms and say, “Daddy...up.” 

So, for those of you who are experiencing pain...(which is probably all of you), I pray that the God of the Universe will give you a heart of flesh...and that you will with find the courage to feel it...
I love you, friends...thank you for reading my story.  I like you.  High five.