November 30, 2009
Words are a cloudy image of what we have seen and understood--or misunderstood; they are inherently poverty-stricken. Deep calls out to deep, but words often get in the way, cheapen the mystical, confuse the pristine clarity the soul understands even when the mind does not. Despite that, words can be rich too, in more ways than the words themselves can take credit for.
I like words. I wish I had a better way with them. Recently, however, the impossible happened. I was struck speechless. It was so unusual, I've been pondering it ever since. Where there are no words, a deeper truth than can be spoken by us at that time must exist, although that could also be said when we try to fill voids with words.
The inciting incident to my muteness occurred when my neighbor, without authorization, instructed her tree men to trim MY tree. My exact response was: "There are no words...." I think this anomaly must have caused a cosmic shift! And I am left to wonder what deep well has been troubled by the mutilation of my tree?
If I can't discuss the tree, leave it to me to discuss WHY I can't discuss the tree! I only know God is worming his way through the insides of me these days, begging me (not unlike my husband!) to stop my incessant internal dialogue, my addiction to talking, my certainty that words are necessary for communication, and even my love of deep thinking. Just be for a little while, I think He is telling me. Every time I do, my mind is suddenly filled with new images, better words, more creativity. Concerns slough off like ice from a car in winter, warming up as it speeds down the highway. I think I am a snake about to shed a skin that enclosed me in a paradigm it is now time to abandon on the warm rocks.
I am coming to the conclusion that words, for me, are the substance I abuse in order to keep from feeling. Every blog I write could be evidence of me falling off the wagon! You could be a part of my Gabbers Anonymous group: My name is Gina and I am a talk-a-holic/blog-a-holic. Your job would be to ask Why are you talking, Gina?
Excuse me now while I go and be present at my tree's amputated wound and see if I can feel what I am trying not to feel.
November 28, 2009
For over a year, I have been prayerfully waiting for direction regarding my book and ministry, which was born out of my heart to help women (and men) heal spiritually and emotionally from the difficulties of life. While waiting, I completed a study guide and devoted my time to learning about marketing and other business-related aspects of being a writer.
In typical God-fashion, he opened the floodgates all at once, giving me both a new story to write (the incredible true story of Janice Ingram, a woman whom I've been watching God heal from a devastation I cannot imagine), which will begin on December 8, and a wider venue for my heart's desire to help women heal.
It began with a friendship with Pam Cope, the founder of Touch A Life Kids, an organization that rescues children sold into slavery on Lake Volta in Ghana (another incredible, true story of healing). Touch A Life partners with another organization called Freedom Stones that empowers women in Thailand, Cambodia and, starting in February, Ghana, by teaching them to make beads and jewelry, run a business, learn about Christ, and be empowered to support their children, thus saving themselves from the sex-trade and their children from human trafficking.
What's That Got to Do with Me?
Freedom Stones has captured the attention of the international Diamond Empowerment Fund ("helping Africans save Africa"), which has ordered 10,000 pieces of jewelry from Ghana. As the project as not been launched in Ghana yet, Leah Cypert Knippel, the founder of Freedom Stones, turned to women at our church for volunteer assistance in making 100 pieces of jewelry for a marketing opportunity that would help launch the Ghana Project. Quite a few of our women and teens turned out to help.
As I was listening to the video presentation about the company, during which Leah mentioned that their project will include a Bible study, I felt that familiar stirring that tells me I'm supposed to be connected somehow to this organization. The very name of the organization, along with Leah's heart for empowering and healing women oppressed by poverty into sex- and slave-trafficking, struck a chord with my ministry (Stone's Throw Ministry...based on the idea that God is not far off from any of us...just a stone's throw away) and the theme of my book, From Gravel to Glory (we are temples of God that are being systematically deconstructed, stone by stone, to build us into a temple made of Jesus. Each stone that is replaced represents a new area of healing and freedom).
A half hour later, another friend arrived. She came over to me and whispered, "On the way over here, I had this thought pop into my head: "Freedom, Stones...Gina's book. I think you're supposed to be connected." Remembering my year-long prayer and empowered by Melissa's confirmation of my own thought, I told Leah about my book and my heart for women. She immediately latched onto the idea of my being connected in some way. She purchased a book and we set up a time after Thanksgiving to get together and discuss my involvement. At the second gathering of the women (known in Ghana as "Under the Mango Tree"), she invited 10 women to accompany her to Ghana in February to help launch the Ghana Project. Normally the cost for such an endeavor immediately derails me, but I just knew I was supposed to go!
When I told my family about the "plan," my beautiful, generous daughter seeded my $4000 fundraising effort with $1000!!! The trip is planned for February 2010--a mere 8 weeks away! There is a lot to do before then. If it is on Leah's heart to have me write the Bible study Freedom Stones will use (as it is on mine), I will have to put together a preliminary study, but I want to get to know the hearts and needs of the Ghanian women before I complete it. On this trip, I hope to connect with the women's spiritual needs, as well as help train them in making jewelry.
What's That Got to Do With You?
Would you join me in praying for Touch A Life, Freedom Stones and God's intention for my involvement in Ghana? My husband Steve has worked extensively in the neighboring country of Togo, my oldest daughter Katrina is planning to go to Ghana in August to help build a new house for Touch A Life kids being rescued, and the school my younger daughter Danica attends has partnered with Touch A Life; she is involved in encouraging the rescued children and helping to raise money and awareness for Touch A Life's mission. It seems our family's attention is being directed to this region.
Secondly, if you feel lead to do so, would you be willing to donate toward my trip in February? I am including a PayPal donation button at the bottom of this post, or you may send your offering to me at 400 Cooper Lane - Coppell, TX 75019. Your encouragement and support mean more to me than you can imagine! Should I fail to raise enough to go on the trip, I would like to donate your offering to the organization's start up expenses in Ghana (unless you would like a refund. If you do, please make a note of that to me). Although it feels very insignificant, I would like to thank anyone who donates $150 or more by sending you a free copy of my book or study guide, but any amount--$5, $10, $20--will help and be greatly appreciated.
I know that the Christmas season is a crazy time to be asking for donations. I would like to share with you that the Jews who were rescued from annihilation in the book of Esther responded with a celebration that continues to this day: Purim. Purim was celebrated by feasting, giving gifts to one another and to the poor. It is appropriate that a celebration of Christ's birth, which ultimately served to free, heal and rescue US, would include such gifts. As you consider your charitable donations at this time, please consider Freedom Stones! I thank you in advance!
November 11, 2009
living with people feels like
being trapped in a closet
woolen sleeves wrapping around my head
zippers biting me with their cold metal teeth
hangers attacking, then retreating
shoeboxes pelting me from the shelf above
it was no secret wardrobe panel but my own front door
that opened out that day into the calico quilt
of a moment called autumn afternoon
this private Narnia pressed my lungs
to exhale the stale confines of the closet
and drink in a robin's-egg-blue sky
the buzzing hive of bees in my head poured out
to join the ticker tape parade of red and gold confetti
falling like soft rain upon my head
hope flung out before me
in the form of a suddenly-free gizmo
leaving his liquid mark on all vertical surfaces
as if to say: mine, mine, mine...and that one too
leaves crunched underfoot
softening (or was it echoing?)
the sound of me being broken
space for my spirit to unfold and ascend
eased the painful death and let me
witness the last, failing resuscitation efforts
of willingly sacrificed pieces
occurring on the ground below
the earth was my altar
the colors of fall: the flame that engulfed me
the breath of heaven cooled my searing soul
the rising incense of my gift drew my eyes upward
into the bottomless blue--
--framed with its beautiful evidence
of impending death
--held up by columns that, with every season,
teach us to surrender
i gave Him the upper hands
and knew that when i slipped back in through the wardrobe door,
the closet would once again be a family
that just needed a little rearranging
P.S. If you have not heard Nichole Nordemann's song Every Season, you MUST!
November 9, 2009
I was okay with that. Except that, after weighing his arguments, I don't think I'm wrong. Still, I'm staying open to his idea. The effort to do so lead me to thinking about the phenomenon of certainty.
My spiritual journey really began to take off twenty years ago when I stumbled across the Eastern concept of "I don't know." Before that, I was pretty certain--happily, smugly, obliviously certain--of everything I claimed to be certain about. I could admit there were areas I didn't know, like neuroscience and auto mechanics, but if I had opinions on child-rearing, marriage, psychology, faith, etc. (and I did), my opinions translated to certainty. Any areas about which I felt I should be certain, but in which I had doubt, made me very anxious. I saw a little quote about a tea cup that is full not being able to hold anything else, so I began to embrace "I don't know-ism." That's when I started to really learn.
Wikipedia says: "Certainty can be defined as either (a) perfect knowledge that has total security from error, or (b) the mental state of being without doubt... It is widely held that certainty is a failed historical enterprise." (That last sentence amuses me!)
In his blog, Frontal Cortex, author Jonah Lehrer ("How We Decide") wrote an online article entitled Risk, Fear, Certainty. He said, "I think the financial crisis has helped expose a powerful bias in human decision-making, which is our abhorrence of uncertainty. We hate not knowing, and this often leads us to neglect relevant information that might undermine the certainty of our conclusions. I think some of the most compelling research on this topic has been done by Colin Camerer, who has played a simple game called the Ellsberg paradox with subjects in an fMRI machine. To make a long story short, Camerer showed that players in the uncertainty condition - they were given less information about the premise of the game - exhibited increased activity in the amygdala, a center of fear, anxiety and other aversive emotions. In other words, we filled in the gaps of our knowledge with fright. This leads us to find ways to minimize our uncertainty - we can't stand such negative emotions - and so we start cherry-picking facts and forgetting to question our assumptions.
Lehrer uses the stock market fiasco to explain a fundamental habit we have in all areas of life: we develop certainty in a model or idea and then, to suppress the brain's fear center and feel good about it, we have to prove it right, and that requires that we ignore flaws in the theory or system. He says that this can cause us to eventually take massive risks that we don't see as risky.
(Doubt: A sad, scary tale of the risk of certainty.)
Michael Crichton said, "I am certain there is too much certainty in the world." I have found that learning to be okay with questions, doubts and the possibility of being wrong reduces stress in my interactions with other people and my general sense of anxiety. Don't get me wrong: I love learning, and a puzzle or nagging doubt will often send me to my computer, Bible or knees for answers, but when I recognize the:
1) fear-driven, security-seeking nature of our brains
2) nature of spiritual warfare
3) the speck that I am, in the grand scheme of both the physical and the spiritual realms
4) the smallness of my personal experience compared to all the experiences that are possible
AND, most importantly,
5) the grace that allows me to make mistakes ("There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" - Romans 12:1)...
...then I find that my teacup can hold more. I am expanded. I can be wrong, if I am. I can let you be wrong, if you are, but not in a prideful way. If either of us ever learns differently, we can slip easily into that new knowledge without the abrasive need to admit we were wrong every time we learn something new. (I think this is called growth.)
This is not to say that we cannot know things or that we shouldn't try to teach others. We just have to remember that the knowledge we have fits within a larger sphere of knowledge, which might prove our knowledge to be, at the very least, incomplete, or, eventually.....wrong.
What we know for sure should be the strength of our existence, not a club to wield against anyone. (I believe this is called humility. Lord, please give me some!)
November 8, 2009
Normally I see the house. Or I see the tree. But today I saw them together from halfway down the street. Do you see what I saw, and what took my breath away?
It was one of those moments where a routine focus or a perspective is suddenly enlarged. My heart caught in my throat to see not just a little house and a big tree, but a guardian of my soul who is protecting my little life. I thought of all the times I've felt worried or alone under that Tree, oblivious to what DIDN'T befall me because He was there. I felt safe and grateful.
Henri Nouwen dares us to "choose to claim [such moments] as God's way of tapping us on our shoulders and showing us the deeper truth of our existence."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge may have believed that "friendship is a sheltering tree," but in my tree, I saw God: "For YOU have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy." (Psalm 61:3)
November 2, 2009
As usual, the schooling occurred through the painfully humiliating realization that even I, the "brilliant" author of the From Gravel to Glory Process of Deconstruction Theory" cannot escape the way deconstruction and crucifixion FEEL. I don't just get these beautifully coherent epiphanies while I sit at my computer, sipping coffee. I feel the anxiety, the drought, the earthquakes where I live. I have the negative, hopeless thoughts, the cranky "I'm sick of everybody" attitudes, too. I don't tolerate pain well, though, so fairly quickly I will have the thought: "Oh, this is that thing I wrote about."
In my book I wrote, "I have noticed that when God selects a wounded stone for excavation, He orchestrates occasions for me to trip right and left over blatant reminders of my past pain, chipping away at my avoidance mechanisms, such as the one I use when I am nauseated. I lay statue-still and pretend not to notice that something is trying to surface....I'm convinced that when the door to our tear-soaked grief chamber opens to allow a new loss in, old losses become attached to the new one by a thread as fine as silk but as strong as a steel cable...my new and old sorrows intertwine...."
I was referring to the way griefs are connected...new ones seem to resurrect old ones, and we are given the opportunity to experience a little more healing on the old ones by tending to the new ones in a slightly more grown-up-in-Christ way.
What I learned this weekend is that this process can get very specific. You see, God is stretching my boundaries and horizons and it is activating some old fears and insecurities. I felt I might be getting a vision of something Steve and I were to do together, but he poured cold water on the idea (as far as he was concerned), introducing new fears I didn't have (such as the fear of inadequate credentialing). The financial catastrophe we endured last year has been a low-humming undercurrent for 18 months. We have waited and prayed and waited some more for direction, answers, rescue. I got so excited about this vision, because I saw it as the way God intended to accomplish something amazing through and in my marriage AND provide a revenue stream. When it wasn't received with equal enthusiasm, all my suppressed fear (not that much, really) about our non-existent retirement showed up.
The problem was, like an obnoxious party-crasher, it brought its friends and relatives:
1. The fear of never having the truly in-sync marriage God planned for us
2. The fear of having to be taken care of financially by my kids in my senior years
3. The fear of my children getting caught up in destructive behaviors
4. The fear of my children not following the Lord
5. The fear of having misread God's direction for me
6. The fear of not selling my book
7. The fear of not fitting in
8. The fear of not succeeding
9. The fear of succeeding
10. The fear of fear
What's up with this? Is there some kind of fear-factory down in there, cranking out new ones to replace the ones I've conquered, and sending the ones I haven't to make room on the storehouse shelves for the new ones? And why are they all attacking me at once? I asked myself these questions as I curled up in my room feeling ugly, petty and hateful.
I'll tell you why. That conversation with my husband, where I tried to get him to validate the Lord's possible vision for me, was an angel in disguise, a Fear MRI - bringing it all up at once so I can see just how riddled with it I still am. Not for shame purposes, but so I can remember the perfect Love of my Lord that casts out fear. So I can stop walking around spraying the negative consequences of fear all over my family. So I can see where I'm going and not step on Satan's landmines (which are notoriously hidden by fear).
This morning I'm a little fear-less, hoping to be a big fear-less shortly.