Tuesday, 18 June 2013

On Community and Why I Love Story

I haven't written here for a while. It isn't for lack of wanting to, but sometimes there are more intense seasons we walk through in life that require rest and recuperation after we experience them. As much as I hate to admit it, I have limitations and seasons of rest are just as important as seasons of productivity. I've intentionally paused from writing here for a couple of weeks.

I have been writing outside of this space, though, and I've been so honoured at the response I have received from those who have read either my stories or the stories that others have graciously allowed me to tell. It is a blessing to me. The reason I love to write other people's stories is because sometimes we can't see the meaning or depth of our stories, especially the painful ones, until someone else tells it for us. I love to be able to give that gift through my words.

The following is an excerpt from a longer essay I wrote recently about learning and how it extends far beyond the classroom. Community and story is what is really teaching us, however subtly, and prodding us toward a deeper understanding of ourselves, our lives, our world. Story teaches us something about being human. When someone is brave enough to be transparent, the impact an be huge. Story moves us.

Community can be an amazing place to learn and grow together but it can also teach us hard lessons in very painful ways.

". . . The truth is that there can be deep hurt within a community and some people draw back from this. I've been this person; the one with the broken trust and guarded soul, wary of groups and people because I've watched good churches split and good friends become cold. I've had the privilege of being wrapped in a wild, gracious, loving community with friends like brothers and sisters to me and I've had to say good-bye to them and break away. I've watched beloved family members die slowly. Through all of these experiences my heart closed a little bit more.

In Writer's Craft class this year my teacher handed me a specific quote after reading a short story I had written and it screamed at me like a siren.

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries. . . .  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."
-C.S Lewis (The Four Loves)

I know I've missed out on rich relationships because I've kept people at arm's length. I can list names of the people who have reached out to me, yet I turned a cold shoulder because I couldn't take the risk. I was wrestling with this issue when I was given this quote and it loosened the noose around my heart a little. It put a crack in the walls I hide behind . . ..

We start each Writer's Craft class with prayer and the moments that we share prayer requests together have become a kind of holy space. Here, we share the burdens we carry or the burdens we see others carry. We spread the load a little between us all and it forms a connection, a shared bond. We sit in a circle and as the burdens and joys are spoken, I always see them falling in the middle and resting on the web of laughter and tears that runs between us and pulls us closer. We learn from the raw experience of others . . .."

I've been learning to be transparent with my own story because so many people have been willing to share pieces of their own honest stories with me. These people have been brave enough to show me the more hidden, broken parts of who they are. This is rich to me and I've learned so much from their truthfulness. I have to be fair and allow you to see what I've learned from my own messy, beautiful story. We weren't made to walk through life alone, but so many people live in isolated pain, breaking from the inside out; it is healing to share the fractured pieces of our narratives as well as the good parts. Sharing our stories is healthy and needed. It strengthens our bond, builds community, and it might even allow us to see a new dimension of purpose to our lives. That is the power of story.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

On Vulnerability and Surrendering the Hard Things

Sometimes I walk wide circles around writing here because it forces me to be vulnerable. I view writing as an art form and I think that as an artist creates, they pour something of themselves into their work. Each piece of art is a tiny slice of the soul that has been scraped back and offered to allow others to engage in something deeper. I have scraps of half-finished thoughts scrawled all over the place, sandwiched in my school notes or on scraps of paper in my Bible, that have never been developed because they pull me open too far and it is my natural human instinct to avoid that place at all costs.

I'll share something with you now, though, because I think it is important. This past month has been an endurance test for me. It has been a rich time of growth and learning and deepening many valuable relationships in my life, but it has also been weighted by heavy questions, inner wrestling and many sharp disappointments. This is one of the "scraps" I wrote when I was in the centre of it all. The rug of certainty had been pulled out from under me multiple times and I was re-evaluating my future plans for writing, school, and where I thought God wanted me to be. I wrote this in the middle of it all in an attempt to ground myself and find the thread of truth running through all of my chaos:

Some of my dreams have been shaken up, splayed, and washed out lately. Intensity has rolled over me heavily in the past few weeks, extracting everything strong within me and replacing it with a humbled sense of what now? I'm starting to realize again, in very real ways, that nothing is certain except God. My sense of control is being wrenched from my tightly closed fists along with my dreams and I'm at the point of full surrender.

I'm wondering if I've been trying to package God into my goals; looking ahead with starry ambition and good intentions and trying to fit God in, justifying it all because it seems so good. I built my dreams with God alongside, but now they are breaking apart and God is rebuilding it all. I think He's reclaiming His rightful position in my life. He isn't only at the centre of my dreams but within, permeating, encompassing them entirely. I am reduced, yet elevated, to a vessel for His use. He has a larger vision for me than I have for myself.

Sometimes I have to die to my dreams before they can be realized. I must pray the prayer of relinquishment and sincerely surrender my own wishes in order to keep God and His plan as my focus. As much as I want my own dreams to be realized, I want to live for God above all else because I know that He is good, and His plans for me are better than anything I could come up with.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

*Side note: This doesn't happen in every situation of surrender, but almost all of my dreams and goals that were obscured or taken away from me for a short time were given back shortly after I released my control of them to God. In my situation, this has been a continuing pattern of God showing his power to me through seemingly impossible situations and leading me to a deeper trust in Him through a long process of healing. Sometimes what you surrender will be given back to you when the time is right, but some dreams will not be returned. When this happens, it is so important to be praying, listening, and paying attention to God and where He may be directing you. Keep an open mind and heart to the vision God has for you. He is good.