When “Doing” And “Being” Converge

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For one of the sessions, I got to speak in the main worship center of Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church.

In my relationship with God, my heart’s default position is to be a “do-er” for Him. Historically, I prefer task to love. Which, of course, is completely unsatisfactory to Him and destructive to me. Which, of course, is why much of my adult spiritual life has been about unwinding this soul-killing, task-oriented twisted-ness of mine. Which, of course, is why, His calling on my life is to learn to do the long, hard, painful and at times crushingly lonely work of learning to become a better and more complete “be-er” in Him. Which, of course, both breaks and re-makes my heart, all at the same time.

Recently, I was invited to speak at Confluence – the fall conference for the Georgia Baptist Campus Ministries. (If you go to the website, under Conference Details, you can see my photo and bio:)  It actually was quite a convergence of meaningful events for me…the chance to share with hundreds of university students some of what God has been teaching me along the way, an opportunity to reconnect with special friends who do student ministry across the state, and a time for me to be reminded of something of who I am and who God has made me to be. Because there have been moments in this last season of life, as God has been sowing the deep “being” lessons in my heart, when I’ve pretty much lost sight of how I might ever “do” for Him again. deanna teaching

Humorously enough, the topic I was asked to speak to was A Heart For Christ: longing to know Him more. The very same thing God has been talking with me about for the last season of life. And further adding to the chuckles, the only concrete instruction from the conference organizers about what to address was, “We don’t want to add to the students’ to-do lists, by piling on suggestions of disciplines for them to do.” Hmmm. They wanted me to speak on the dynamic of “being” with God, not just “doing” for Him. The very thing I’ve exhausted so much time and energy on gaining for myself. Confluence, indeed.

I am including a link to the talk, for those who might want to hear how it went.

A Heart For Christ – longing to know Him more, Deanna Davis, 9.26.15.

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Same Spot…Different Day

It was one of those moments when, the only appropriate response was for my heart to squeak out an exhausted, “Really God? Really?”
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Context…

I am prone to bursts and gusts of despair and darkness. They blow up, sometimes unexpectedly, and sometimes very expectedly, with a ferocity that at times is crippling. Fortunately, with years of experience, with wise counsel, with some gentle and profound healing in the areas of my heart that generate the pain… for the most part… I am learning how to ride out the storms. I know they won’t last (even if they feel like they will never end), and I am often able to realize that there is an alternate perspective on my situation… that if I can just hang on for a while…I will eventually find the safe harbor of clarity. I am able to speak to my heart with words like, “This will pass. It isn’t the end of the world. There is hope. There is much to be grateful for in the middle of it all. Darkness precedes dawn. Jesus can be trusted with this.” I can usually find a storm cellar to climb in, just as the dust kicks up, the atmospheric pressure drops dramatically, and the funnel cloud appears on the horizon.

And…

Sometimes my life’s experience hasn’t felt like a day-long ferocious blizzard, but more like a prolonged winter that goes on and on. We’ve all experienced seasons of life that, if they were a color, would fall into the muted, bland shades of gray and brown and weak yellow…those seasons when stuff just happens…and keeps happening. And just when you think you will get a moment to catch your breath…along comes another punch to the gut. The result is that some days (some weeks, some months), it can be a titanic struggle to get my body and heart to muster enough energy and momentum, to engage, to initiate, to smile, to care. Of course, I am describing depression. In the past few years, I’ve wrestled with both emotional/spiritual weather systems – seasons of depression, sprinkled in with bursts of despair, for variety.

Into all of this…

I was walking in Chattanooga recently, and enjoying a beautiful evening. I was praying, being present to my heart, eating some amazing ice cream, and resting in the quiet and joy of exploring a fantastic city, all of which I love to do. It was golden and I was happy. And then, out of nowhere, on a relatively smooth section of pavement, I stepped into the one dip, and twisted my ankle. One moment, I was enjoying a needed respite from my turmoil, and the next, I was on the ground, one knee bleeding, the other ankle swelling like a grapefruit, far from home, wondering what in the world had just happened.

And while sitting on my backside, experiencing the rush of sudden bodily pain, my heart uttered the words, “Really God? Really? With all I’ve been through, You couldn’t smooth my paths and protect my ankles from turning for one night?” Without going into the details, I spent the rest of my evening…trying to figure out where in the world I was in my relationship with Him.

The next day, I got up early to take another walk. Because I wanted to see a sunrise, because I wanted to exercise before sitting in class all day, because my time in Chattanooga was limited and I wanted to make the most of it, because walking is good for a swollen ankle, and because God and I had some unfinished business between us. I am a kinesthetic pray-er – He and I often talk while I’m moving.  So I went for a walk. Again.

And, without thinking too much about it, I inadvertently ended up in the exact same spot where, the night before, I had been hurt. This time however, the Chattanooga track club was there, handing out water.IMG_5612

One day, this place caused me pain. Twelve hours later, it was where I received a cup of cool water.

Same spot, different day.

It was a powerful picture for me of some of the ways that God works in my life:

…He takes the same things that hurt me, and eventually uses them to bless me, teaching me to not fear the dips, but to learn to reframe and eventually welcome them.

…Sometimes pain stops me in my tracks because I need stopping in my tracks…because it starts different and more meaningful conversations with God than I would often choose on my own… because He wants me to pay attention to Him or my heart in a way I can’t when I’m busy with my own agenda…because what He wants to give me is infinitely more valuable than what He takes away from me while I hurt.

…There are times when God mercifully repeats experiences for me. The first time, things may not go so well. Something gets squeezed out from the inside of me that I need to see, or need to own. But the second or third time… there can be a different outcome. I learn or grow or change. By repeating an experience, He allows me to see the progress I’ve made. It allows me to see more of Him, parts of Him that may be hidden the first time around, but revealed with repeated laps around the same places. And it blesses me with what we call in the counseling world “an emotionally corrective experience”. The first night, my pain revealed something of my go-to impressions of God. I experienced God as One who callously hurts me. The next morning, I saw and experienced Him as One who lovingly provides for me. The second experience was a healing one, correcting a bit of something that was broken deep inside of me, that was actually causing me much more soul-level pain than a sprained ankle.

…And when I keep showing up for our walks, even when I’m limping…when I keep engaging, even when everything in me wants to isolate and quit, He accepts my walk with Him as an offering. He takes it and does something with it. Something for my good. Something that I would have missed out on had I slept in, or decided that my ankle was too swollen to walk on. The conversations with Him about how He uses the “same spot, different day” dynamic to bless me continues to be a powerful shaping dynamic in my relationship with Him.

 

 

“I Want My Heart Back.”

I was watching an episode of Chuck of all things, when my insides spoke up and broke my heart.

If you haven’t seen Chuck, I refer you to Netflix. It is a sweet and funny tv show from a few years back that, even with a silly plot, has these great characters you grow to love. The heart of the show is, Chuck Bartowski, who is an adorable chuckfinale_350120127155713underachiever, underemployed at the Buy More, a Best Buy rip-off. Part of a bigger story than he knows (aren’t we all, really), Chuck ends up with a spy supercomputer in his head. (Stay with me here.) He ends up with the very skilled and amazingly talented CIA agent Sarah Walker as his handler.  And together they grow. Sarah is incredibly driven, successful in her field and practically invincible. But, because of a broken past, she has chosen to shut her heart down. She is cold, calculated and unable to truly connect with those around her. Chuck on the other hand, while a slacker and goofy, knows how to love and how to be loved. He has friends and family that he is deeply attached to, and a real life – beyond just a mission. As time goes on, Sarah realizes that being connected with those you love is worth the risk, and she opens herself and her heart up to love. Over the course of their story, Chuck wins her to his way of doing life. She does not win him over to hers.  It is a great love story – a broken heart meeting a healthy heart… and the contact leads to healing. 

This is how all healing takes place by the way.  (Minus the spy supercomputer, in most cases.)

I don’t even remember the scene I was watching, but as this theme was playing out in front of me, I heard from deep inside me, a voice cry out “I want my heart back!”

And it was my voice.

It can be a powerful moment, when your insides tell you something is broken, without you even asking. (I actually think this happens much more often than we realize – we just have to be paying attention.)

It has been one of those seasons of life…experienced by us all…when what was color has turned gray.  When the joy that normally bubbles up goes flat. When external circumstances conspire to divert valuable attention and energy away from the care of my internal condition. When busyness takes the place of being known by others. And it seems like I either consciously or unconsciously decided that thinking about how I feel is easier than actually feeling how I feel.   I’ve spent years living from a head that was trying desperately to control and minimize my heart. This is why watching Sarah Walker stumble through an emotional learning curve moved me so. It is so familiar.

One of the great problems with this life strategy, which is very common by the way, is that when you attempt to shove bad emotion in the closet, all the good ones go with it too.  We may be aiming for “no pain”, but what we get along with that is “no love”. The cost to maintain such an arrangement is much more than most of us are willing to pay.

There’s a reason why Solomon teaches us in Pr. 4:23,  “… to guard {our} heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Because, when we lose our heart…we lose pretty much everything else along with it. 

We all do it you know…return to what is familiar in the midst of stress and pain.  Some people indulge their anger. Others medicate in whatever way makes them feel better. Some hide and withdraw. Some compensate with achievement. When he got overwhelmed, Peter returned to fishing. I tend to watch a little too much tv…and this time, both God and my heart came looking for me.

The question open to us all then is…how do we find our way back? To joy. To the whole-heartedness Jesus intends for those who love and follow Him? 

When we take our turn on the very human part of the journey that leads through darkness…

When we fall away from what we love…

When we end up on a road we didn’t intend to take…

When powerful emotions like fear and anger and sadness and disappointment stand so front and center in our lives that we will do anything to get them to sit down…

When we lose touch with that part of us on the inside that breathes life and gives color and taste and vitality and passion to our daily existence…

How do we find the way back?  The way back is the same for us all…we get our broken heart next to a healthy one…

We get ourselves next to Jesus and those who love Him.

And then we let the contact lead to healing.

Ps. 34:18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

(Below is a little clip from Chuck that pretty much sums it all up.)

Making Things Round

I was leading a women’s retreat in Germany this past weekend.  It was a wonderful time to say a joyful “hello” to beloved friends whom I had to say a tearful”goodbye” to years ago.  And during this time, I learned a beautiful German phrase and concept that has deeply blessed me.  About halfway through, I asked a friend how she felt it was going, and she answered, “It isn’t round yet.”  What she meant was, the circle wasn’t closed. The start was good, and she could see the intended trajectory.  But the story of open circleour time together, of the material we were talking about, of what it might mean to her personally, was still open and not quite finished.  It needed some closure to be able to hold it properly.

As I walk with Jesus through the life He has planned for me, I’m learning that He isn’t nearly as uncomfortable with un-roundness as I am. In fact, the discomfort of unfinished things seems to be a primary shaping tool He uses to lovingly heal and grow His children.

Of course, sometimes prayers get answered in the way we want. Lives move forward. Decisions get made and get made well.  People grow and transition to whatever is next.  Progress can be seen.  Joy in the past, in the now and in the potential future is experienced.  Things become round all the time, and will become ultimately so upon His return…all this is cause for great celebration.

But then…there are the dreams that are birthed with the best of intentions, and then get shattered just within grasp.  Disappointment with God’s plans, unanswered questions, the unknown ‘why’ behind a painful ‘what’.  Loss.  Grief.  Shame.  Seasons of life, difficult relationships, wounded people…sometimes they can be like rocks in the middle of a river…instead of moving downstream with the rest of us, life just flows on around them. They are awkwardly stuck in an unfinished place for all to see…and people pass on by, wondering why they can’t move on like everyone else. At least that is how some un-roundness in my life has felt to me.

My experience with life in Europe has been an un-round thing for me for a while now.  Coming to grips with the reality that we will not be able to return in the near future, watching that dream die and seeing that God’s plans for us are different than we thought…I’ve been wrestling with the almost universal mid-life experience of realizing that important external elements of my life are not what I would choose for myself.  At the same time, I’ve been attempting to walk in the very individual experience of realizing that the most important, internal elements of my life are very much within my control. My character.  My responses. My spiritual orientation – towards Him or away from Him. In the face of disappointment, will I become better or bitter? Will I create with what I’m given, or consume?  Will I take responsibility for my own personal/heart growth, and choose a life that is spiritually and emotionally healthy for myself and others…or will I choose to continue the destructive patterns and life strategies that have hurt me and those I love for so long?

Even when we think we don’t have choice, we always have choice.

These are some of the tensions that have been stretching me for a few years now: opening my hands and letting go of good things, so that Jesus can fill them with better things.   Learning how painful a chisel must be to marble, yet what a joy the resulting beauty must be. Embracing the truth that pain can be a fertilizer that grows the most beautiful things in my heart.

When we are stretched…we never go back to our original size.  And now, after walking through a prolonged season of stretching that has lasted years… my trip back to Germany, where so much of my stretching began, has allowed me to see that I am bigger.  My heart is bigger. The Jesus I know is bigger. How He works in my life is bigger. God has allowed me to come full circle, and I am grateful for the relief and release that comes from the closure of it.

At the end of our weekend retreat, my friend let me know that the themes of our weekend did eventually become round.  (As a Bible teacher, that was so great to hear!)  What a gift to me to realize that I did too.

 

Embracing The Bright Sadness (Jesus pt. 98)

“Our mature years are characterized by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness…” Richard Rohr.

It is an interesting tension that older followers of Jesus are asked to hold. In one hand there should be hope and joy. It is the positive sunny perspective on life that gets us out of bed in the morning, looking forward to tomorrow.  It reflects our trust in and belief that Jesus is indeed more powerful

Clouds and sun, all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

Clouds and sun at the same time… all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

than this world and that He is indeed making all things new, restoring, rebuilding and blessing. Our tomorrows can be better than our todays – this is part of the birthright of children of the King, of those who have been saved and now have the Savior living inside of them. Our faith should allow us to smile.

Yet,  in the other hand we hold a sadness and a darkness that comes with living in a broken world where sin has had its way. It means we don’t pretend all is ok. Because, sometimes, things most definitely are not all ok. This awakening to the presence of pain can be a weight that at times threatens to topple us over in its direction.  As we age, most of us bump into a most sobering, and at times, depressing reality – that this life can really, really hurt. That sometimes things don’t always work out well or even good. Sometimes evil wins and we lose. Sometimes we can’t stop the suffering, especially of those we love. Sometimes life descends into a nosedive of despair that can be difficult to pull out of without medication, unhealthy coping mechanisms of some kind, or a very, very deep and complicated work of the heart and faith. (Phil. 2:2) And not everyone has the time, inclination or stomach for the heart work or faith that surviving such a nosedive into pain requires.

People who have walked with Jesus for a while are able to embrace both sides of this. Joy, while at the same time, sad. Light and dark co-existing side by side in our hearts. Grabbing hold of the two truths at the same time, “It will all be ok. It won’t all be ok.”  As Richard Rohr puts it, “…a kind of bright sadness…”. I suspect you’ve met people like this. They have a weight to them. A gravity. An internal spaciousness about them that allows them to hold two such full and complex experiences at the same time, negating neither, and embracing both. A bright sadness. St John of the Cross, author of the term, “dark night of the soul”,  called this mystery a “luminous darkness”.

And because of the internal and theological stretching required to hold all this, these people are able to hold more of Jesus in the created space.

As a younger believer, I never would have guessed this. Maturity in Christ means being familiar with sadness. Sadness is not a bad friend to have either. It can open doors – to heart things, to spiritual truth, to intimacy with Jesus, to great depth and wisdom. It can be a companion who knows things and shares them with us.

Willingly walking through the doors of sadness holds the potential to lead us to the doors of joy we are looking for, are wired for. But it is not a happy clappy, Hallmark card blurb, easy Sunday School kind of joy. Instead, it leads to the deeper kind that gets us out of bed in the morning when just that takes all we’ve got… knowing that even in the midst of pain, it is still worth it all. The kind of joy that says to despair, “I’m not afraid of you because you have something to teach me about Jesus, about truth, about me…and I’m willing to sit with you, walk with you for a while, in order to learn your precious secrets.” (Eccl. 7:4) Walking through deep sadness leads to the kind of joy that doesn’t blot out darkness, but overcomes it. A greater joy. The joy Jesus promises us.

The path to joy may meander first on the path of sadness. Sometimes for a long time. Being able to hold joy most fully requires that we first learn to hold sadness. And this is a most stretching thing to do. Which is why it is almost always older people who are able do it. It takes a long time and a lot of life to learn to do it properly.

Over the years, I’ve found that Jesus loves the simplicity of a child’s faith, the primary colors, the basic foundational vocabulary, the straight lines, the innocent faith and reckless trust. And I’ve also found that Jesus loves the deep and multilayered complexity of an adult’s faith that involves a lot of blurred edges, uncomfortable uncertainty, endless shades of gray and more questions than answers.

Jesus invites us to know Him from both places if we want.

But we have to be willing to go there with Him. The journey isn’t a short or easy one.

Jn. 17:13 …but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Phil. 2:12…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

Phil 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Eccl. 7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Not Tying It Up With A Bow (Heart Stuff pt. 12)

Jer. 20:9 But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like afire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

I am a communicator and I have a story that I want to tell, that I am compelled to share. Some days, like Jeremiah, I feel it will burst out of me if I don’t speak it out loud (or write it down) and know someone heard it. Valued it. I have to know that the things God has placed in my life have a purpose and are being redeemed for something greater.

Yet, sometimes it is difficult for me to communicate. Because I know in my heart what it is I am trying to say. And I think I know how I want it to come out. Really well. Really polished. Using all the right words, telling the story in the right order. Shading my meanings, illustrating my points, painting the meaning of it all into the lives of those who are listening – so that they get it. So that someone gets me. And if I’m honest, I also want it to make me look like a good communicator in the process. Sigh.

What I’m finding is in that moment, when I come to the parts of my story where things radically change, where events converge, where the narrative takes on a cohesive form and things begin to make sense, where the climax is imminent and I can’t wait to connect with another person from my very heart…sometimes words fail. The gap between what I want to say and how it comes out seems huge! And I am heartbroken. 

A friend reminded me of a great truth recently. We were talking about this very problem of communicating big truths from my heart to another’s and she basically said, “Deanna, you don’t have to tie it all up with a bow.” I’m still reeling from the power of this sentence.

Oh, I should give some thought to how I want to express myself. Good communicators meticulously think through how their message will be received and how to make that reception as easy and clear as possible.  But sometimes, such clinical precision takes away from the raw emotion of one heart opening up to another. Sometimes it is ok for my story to be messy. For me to sound inarticulate, because what I’m trying to say is so big, so meaningful, that sometimes it stretches just a bit beyond my words – and all I’m left with is a, “You know what I mean?” And I can only hope they do.

Part of the compulsion for perfection comes from the fear of that moment when I pour my deepest emotions out, hoping they know what I mean, and I see in their eyes they don’t. Or, they do get what I am trying to say, but they reject it.  And by extension, reject me. Here is the communicator’s dilemma – to share and risk misunderstanding, to risk rejection. Or not to share at all and risk blowing up. Sigh.

What I’m learning is that the art of communication is sometimes as messy as the acquisition of things valuable enough to talk about. (FYI – for you teachers out there, that is a very important concept.)

And that is ok. One of the major things communication is about is connection. About the relationship that undergirds the conversation. It is about one heart reaching out to another, to be heard, to be accepted, to be loved. And the stuff of relationship, of connection is really rather messy.

While I am in no way endorsing sloppy communication (and written communication often falls into a different category) what I am saying is it is ok to share your story without it being perfect. Sometimes the presentation isn’t nearly as important as the content or the connection trying to be made.

And I’m left wondering what might happen if in some of our closest relationships, we dropped the need to tie things up with a bow, to wrap the story up with exact words and just concentrated on the content and relational glue that holds it all together?