Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Good in Goodbye

I’ve never really been good at goodbyes . . . I find myself feeling quite choked by them – the impending moment when one must leave behind a moment or a string of moments that have altered your existence in some way . . . Perhaps it is the physical act of turning away that gags the heart.

 The word bye didn’t used to be as paralyzing as it is now – until a fated cold, winter night in January, I hadn’t realized just how suffocating having to literally say goodbye for good was. But, as life often does, it handed a blow that I was not prepared for, that I was not emotionally equipped for – and it resulted in a goodbye that would forever alter the tilt of my universe.

 So, no, goodbyes have never been great – they have been hard and full of emotion and excruciating . . . I can recall instances during my childhood in which my mom would tell me that things would grow easier the older I got and if I’m being honest, not much has really gotten easier with age that once proved difficult and painful in my adolescence. Girls still bite with words that are cloaked in venom, boys still use and love with a promise that is only fleeting and momentary in its beauty, and, even as I notice fine lines around my eyes and pluck a gray hair, or two, from the crown of my head, I realize I have many more trials to overcome before I can believably say I’m a gift to my reflection – I still have many a lesson to learn, period, before I sprout into the woman that I know is bunkered down beneath my rib cage.

 Along with promises of things getting easier with age and time, I was also promised that I would come to realize the difference between a decision being a good idea and a decision being a necessity. There is truth in that; I am lying in the midst of the bearing of that truth.

 On a clear, humid night, I was lying in the bed of a truck discussing a future that was never going to be brought to fruition and you were feeding me lines about a future that I almost started to believe in – but this is not reality and I am no longer the type of girl that is willing to give up valuables, like what my heart truly needs and wants, in order to claim you as a husband. 

 You throw promises at me, lob “well maybe when’s” my way, and then you kiss me feather-light and wrap muscles around me and I wonder just when they became muscles – just when, exactly, did you turn into a man with sinewy muscles in his arms? Because that’s what you are now – not the boy who let me run and jump into his arms in front of a red, worn, truck. You are a man – with a namesake and enough money to purchase a home and you are filled with words veiled as promises, but they begin to carry less and less weight and I’ve finally lifted off the blinders. . . I recognize your verbage for just what it is.

You’re a man now – not the boy I fell in love with and laid down for. You’re a man now – and I’m no longer a little girl – because kisses don’t wake long haired beauties from a 100 years’ sleep and the tooth fairy doesn’t carry around crisp, fresh, green-faced bills and you’re not going to make me a princess just through your eloquently pronounced love.

I’m no longer a little girl and you’re a man now and isn’t it time we both start acting that way – instead of meeting late at night, in secret, like we’re hiding from someone – because we aren’t, right? Or maybe we are – maybe we’re hiding from that young girl filled with the hope of what desire would bring and from that young boy who thought he could make all the promises she wanted to hear, and keep them, too.

Maybe we’re hiding from the innocence that we didn’t maintain for long, when we were together, and maybe we’re trying to hide from them, from those bright eyes and whispered I love you’s, because we don’t want them to find out that promises don’t always remain kept, that a dark room and shallow breathing don’t mean you’re grown, that a heart can change, that a tangled moment can be sweeter as a memory, that, more often than not, a first love is not synonymous with a final love.

Maybe we’re hiding because we don’t want that blue eyed boy and that green eyed girl to realize that goodbye just might be inevitable.

We don’t want them to realize, more importantly, that there just might be good in saying goodbye.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Uncrippling a Spirit in a Crippled World

"Then the Lord answered him, 'You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" -Luke 13:15-16

We live and love and breathe in a world filled with labels. Skinny, fat, married, single, rich, poor, believer, non-believer - and that is just the start. These labels are used so often, assigned so flippantly, that they often end up leading our hearts, our minds, our entire selves to the ultimate labels: worthy, unworthy.

It is likely that the labels we use to identify ourselves, the labels we succumb ourselves to, are not a direct assignment from our own giving. It is not as if we wake each morning, stand before the mirror and choose to allow this burden of labeling to sit upon and inside our hearts; it is not as if we desire such labeling to be at the very core of our self-talk.

Recently a dear, irreplaceable friend of mine was listening quite attentively to me, in the most basic of terms, tear myself down for the things I don't have, for not being labeled the things the world has taught me I must be labeled with, in order to be a fuller, more complete version of myself; in the middle of the verbal destruction I have mastered quite eloquently, she looked me square in the eye and said, "When are you going to stop leading with the things you aren't as your identifiers and start leading with the things you are?"

Because, you see, I'm never Steph Duff -  writer, lover of children and the melodious sound of their giggles, loyal friend, loud laugher, voracious reader and journal-er, and caffeine enthusiast, I am always Steph Duff - single, poor, fat, broken, weak, and full of inadequacies.

Her question stopped me cold - because, really, when was I going to stop doing that? When was I going to realize that a ring on my finger, a new last name, and a high paying job was never going to make me the most of who I was made to be? When was I going to realize that, perhaps, I just may be the most effective version of myself right now - poor and single and messy?

I think about the Woman with the Disabling Spirit in Luke 13; in a recent article for SheLoves Magazine, Jonathon Martin writes in his piece "Daughter of Abraham" of this very woman :  Her infirmity defined her to the world around her and to herself. She is the bent woman, the crippled lady. As a woman whose line of sight is always aimed toward the ground beneath her, she is not the sort of woman who would have had the confidence to call out to Jesus.
After reading this article, which you should check out here, I started to consider this woman, "A daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years . . ." whose eyes could only fall on the ground, whose body could never fully stand tall to greet people with a smile and I realized that, in the midst of always listening to the lies of this world, to the labels Satan has lobbed my way, I was spiritually just like this bent over woman. I am able to stand tall, yet I look away from others' eyes, I avoid mirrors as much as possible, I live with a spirit that has her eyes to the ground.

We live in a world filled with labels, in a world that is in a constant state of motion to inform of us of just what we must purchase to fulfill a, b, and c. We live in a world that is perpetually informing us of what we are lacking and what we must do in order to fulfill that lacking - only to let us down. We live in a world that we were not made for, therefore, our fulfillments are never going to run over, we are never going to acquire just everything we need.

In the moments after that conversation, after reading this particular article, it occurred to me that I very well may change my last name and wear a shiny bauble on my left finger; I may have all the money I could hope for and more and I just may find myself in a smaller jean size one day - but I will still yearn for more, I will still be chasing after another label, I will still be coming up short, feeling inadequate, and identifying myself by what I'm lacking instead of what I'm bringing.

Because I am not a daughter to this world, to our culture, or to every mean comment or look I've ever received. I am not a daughter to my weight, my paycheck, or the ex-boyfriends that have moved on and married. I am not a daughter to the enemy, to the lies of him and this world, or to the lies I feed myself.
I am the daughter of the King, to Abraham, to only the truth and identity that Christ gives me.

Martin says it better than I ever could: Weakness does not define you. Labels that have been assigned by others do not define you. You are daughters of Abraham, heirs of the covenant. You are part of God’s cosmic plan through which He will restore the creation—one of the ones through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed.
What Jesus says is the only thing about you that is true and the only thing that matters. Don’t let anyone else assign an identity, except Jesus. You are a daughter of Abraham–not invisible–and God wants to show you off to the world.

You are a daughter of Abraham - not invisible - and God wants to show you off to the world. (Emphasis mine)

It's time I stop counting the days until I turn the age that I must be married by, it's time I stop comparing my body to every other woman's around me, it's time I just STOP leading with what I'm not. And it's time I START leading with what I am. And Whose I am.

There can be nothing but promise in that.

It's time to loosen these bonds and to dance in this freedom.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Right Here, Right Now

So in a moment of uncommon bravery I submitted some pieces to an online Christian magazine that I am absolutely crazy about; I encourage you to check it out because it's what's up. Unfortunately none of my submissions were chosen, but I would still like to share them with you all. Here is one . . . I hope it lifts some hearts today.

            I compare myself to others a lot. If I’m being honest with myself I would have to say that it started long before acceptance letters from universities and job related insurance benefits were a priority. If I had to guess I would say that many of you compare yourselves to others a lot; I could probably even take a guess at where it all began, too – middle school. Ah, yes, the wonderful years of middle school when puberty kicks in, body parts start growing, and the boys start noticing. That’s where my relative experience with comparisons began, anyway. I was never thin enough, or tall enough, or fast enough, or tan enough, and I can assure you my hair never looked as good as everyone else’s did. It started out as a small issue that grew into an animalistic hunger – how could I tear myself down a notch in comparison to these other girls? And looking back, what made it all so much worse is that these other girls? They were my friends – I loved them, they loved me, but I was perpetually sizing myself up against them and completely disregarding the principles of genealogy and the simple fact that we are all supposed to be different.

            I wish I could say that those days are gone; I wish I could say that I got right with myself and accepted my body, my hair, and all its formidable parts just as they are. But I would be lying. It just so happens that, as we grow and mature and change, so do our comparison tactics; at least mine did, anyway. While I can’t say I long ago left behind the daunting task of comparing and contrasting my body with others, I can, and will say, that my body fell down a couple notches on the totem pole of my shortcomings.

In college it was my major; my major was much too liberal in comparison with more realistic majors around me. So often, when asked what I was studying at university, I would answer quite ecstatically with, “Creative Writing!” only to be met swiftly with a look of confusion and the ever-condescending question of, “Oh, and what will you do with that?” Many a night I would come home and cry, questioning whether I made the right choice by sticking with the pursuit of a degree that fed my heart more than it might feed my literal hunger. I compared myself to every Engineering, Education, and nursing major I came into contact with – and I assure you there was no shortage of them at Wright State University.

            After college it was a rainfall of comparisons – I was single and everyone around me was flashing big, diamond rings my way and having babies with quick precision. I was in three weddings in less than two years and I never had a date to one of them. I found myself looking at each of my married friends thinking, what am I doing wrong? Where am I not going in order to meet the right man?

Due to my liberal arts degree I was not quick to be hired post-graduation and once I did find a job, albeit completely challenging and fulfilling, my paychecks left, and still leave, a bit to be desired. So there I was – cashing my meager paychecks in the throes of single-dom and with a degree I wasn’t entirely using.

Shortly after accepting the job that I am still currently working at, I was invited to join a small faith community. To say this changed my life would be the greatest understatement I could ever utter in my quite verbal, over-articulated life. I was welcomed with open arms, my strength in the Lord grew by marginal leaps, and I was making friendships that I didn’t realize I was missing. But, through the joy of being surrounded by a community that was pushing me to be a better version of myself, I had lingering whispers in my heart and in my head – you aren’t as strong as these other women, you aren’t decent enough for these men, your love for Jesus is miniscule in relation to this family. I was stuck in a tidal wave of telling myself to plant roots with this community and telling myself to flee in the opposite direction from them; what could I possibly offer to this group of believers, to any non-believers that needed to hear the good news, when I was such a blatant mess?

So very much, I heard whispered in my ear gently.

Here’s the thing – in the midst of always trying to measure myself against everyone around me, God was already working in my life and on my heart. He had helped me to forge friendships with women who were living their lives as true, dedicated daughters of the King, He was giving me the opportunity to be a soft landing for students who are struggling with life altering circumstances, He was feeding me good news each morning in His word so that I could step up and be a leader for my parents and my brother. He was showing me love, showering me with grace, and sashaying me into a community of believers that would love on me when I needed it the most.

            In their book, Experiencing God, Henry and Richard Blackaby and Claude King verbalized these sentiments much more eloquently that I could ever hope to:

            Could God work in extraordinary ways through your life to accomplish significant things for His kingdom? . . . God wants you to be the person He created you to be and to let
 Him do through you whatever He chooses. When you believe that nothing consequential

 can happen through you, you have said more about your belief in God than you have

indicated about yourself. . . . God can do anything He pleases through an ordinary

 person who is fully dedicated to Him (47).

God can use me – right here, right now. And He is. He is using this broken, weak, poor, single, and defiant child of His in any way that He can to grow His Kingdom. He can use you, too – exactly as you are, in the spot you’re frozen to now. We need not compare ourselves, friends, to one another because Christ doesn’t want a gathering of clones – He desires a kaleidoscope of breathtaking differences.