stories of shame: a 10-part series

stories of shame blog button (1)

There is something about a story that draws us in – that engages us in a way that no other genre can. The power of a story hit me anew as we were driving back from South Carolina last Friday. It was getting late; it was rainy; and halfway into the 7-hour drive, I was already done. Then I started listening to a story (Serial Season 1 by This American Life), and I’m telling you, my driving experience transformed from monotonous to engaging. I found myself almost regretting the moment when we pulled into the driveway because it meant that I had to press pause on the story.

Isn’t that the power of a good story told well? More than mere entertainment or an academic lecture, it engages both our hearts and our minds.

I want to be a better storyteller. I want to tell the truth of who I am with all my heart (a paraphrase of Brené Brown/Glennon Melton Doyle). And especially to lead the conversation around shame that I hope to begin with my book’s launch next monthUnashamed: Healing our Brokenness and Finding Freedom From Shame.

I want to connect my story – and thereby your story – with The Story. The Story that makes ultimate sense of all of our stories, and which is the birthplace of each of our stories. The Story = humanity’s beginning, God’s eternity, Jesus’ salvation, + resurrection hope.

Don’t miss this series – subscribe now to my blog so that you’ll catch every part, delivered into your inbox [see sidebar where you can enter your email address].

And go ahead and pre-order my book if you want to hear more. I’d be so honored for you to join this journey with me!

Without further ado – part 1:

I remember life before shame. Neighborhood bike rides through streets as idyllic as their names – Sweetwater Court, Sugar Creek Road, Sun Meadow Road, Berrywood Court. Building forts in our wooded backyard with very little parental supervision because, well, it was safe, and we knew all of our neighbors. Family vacations with my two younger brothers. The rare joy of snow days as the main break from the normal, happy routine of church-school-home, repeat. Getting dressed in whatever I felt like. Being sad when I outgrew my favorite red sweater with panda bears on it. The worst “trauma” being a broken arm (or two) and a skinned knee.

Life felt secure, and so did I. Life wasn’t perfect, of course, and I fought a lot with my younger brothers – as well as trying to pin some of my misdeeds on them (which worked often, according to their accounts of growing up). But overall I felt very little shame in childhood.

shame part 1

Until, well, it began creeping up. The embarrassment of “liking” a boy who “liked” me back, and the complication of wanting him to know but not wanting to talk to him or even sit next to him in chapel. The sting of being rejected by said boy when a new girl moved to town. Getting really big plastic pink frames in fourth grade, and somehow connecting this fact to the boy’s rejection and the growing self-consciousness I felt. I dreaded having any attention brought to me, and I was terrified of any sort of public presentation in class. I began to wonder if my friends were true friends, or if I had any friends at all, after being socially rejected by most if not all of the girls in my eighth grade class.

I didn’t call it shame back then, and until a few years ago, I wouldn’t have labeled any of this growing self-consciousness, doubt, and fear of rejection as “shame.” Come along with me as I’ve learned how to better make sense of some painful aspects of my story, and how I’ve become free as well.

A few questions for you:

-Do you remember life before shame? What was it like?

-When did shame begin to enter your picture and how did it first show up?

 

the glittering mess of Advent

Every December, it surprises me. Meaning, the juxtaposition of “the most wonderful time of the year” with the reality of how far I am from being able to fully embrace the joy proclaimed to me in every Christmas song and story and glittering decoration. I know I’m not alone in this. For I  hear your stories – maybe not yours specifically, but in sitting with multiple stories of suffering and disappointment and hope deferred throughout almost a decade of counseling and a few decades more of friendship and family relationships, I have a fairly good sense of the ways life breaks us.

And for some reason, I find myself each Advent/Christmas season battling to find the hope that surrounds me like no other time of year. I struggle because at the deepest part of who I am, I know that Jesus’ coming as a baby changed everything for the better (while I also see so much that doesn’t fit with a redeemed world). I find deep comfort that his incarnation – God with us – was a literal game-changer for the human race. That Jesus was “born to set Thy people free/from our sins and fears release us/let us find our rest in Thee.” That I am to “fall on [my] knees/O hear, the angels voices/O night divine/O night when Christ was born.” And I crumble inside with the best of you at the emotion of it all – of God being made like us, like a tiny baby, utterly vulnerable to the ones he created.

But then I begin to get angry and sad. For if Jesus was born to set His people free, why on earth are we so chained up to others’ expectations and our own inward voices of shame? And why do we Christians hurt  each other in the church when we are all simply trying to love one another the best we know how? Why do “Christian” politicians infuriate the culture-at-large with offers to pray in the wake of tragedy and apparently no (or minimal) actions behind these prayers?  Why do news headlines daily proclaim a new form of terror?

And to bring it home and make it more personal: why do I have friends still struggling with infertility?

Friends grieving parents taken too soon?

Friends who have suffered unspeakable tragedies of abuse when they were children who could not protect themselves?

Why are friends stuck in marriages that feel lifeless? (Or why are there friends who are newly divorced despite months/years of trying to reconcile?)

Why does cancer still strike in the most unexpected of ways and times to friends in the prime of their life/ministry?

And if I dare to be courageously honest, I have a few questions of my own. Like how did I get to be so battle-weary and exhausted when I thought I was fighting for the gospel of justice, truth, beauty, and light in the name of Jesus, in the strength of his grace, and for the sake of his glory?

Why does every recent December feel depressing, as a time when I am more likely to feel the weight of the world’s sorrows instead of the hope of the Savior’s joy?

Why does Christmas seem to come up short from how I remember it as a child?

I am beginning to realize anew that the only answer to these weighty, angst-filled questions is in trying to hold in my feeble hands the glittering mess of Advent.

It’s not unlike the abundant blue glitter that one of my 5-year-old daughters sprinkled with abandon around her room earlier this week. There was literally a path of blue sparkle that looked like a rug placed on our white (!) carpet. A glittering path that led to their mini-Christmas tree. As I vacuumed it up, I surprised myself by beginning to laugh instead of growing more angry and frustrated. I laughed because it was beautiful. Any of you who have ever had the *privilege* of vacuuming up large quantities of glitter know exactly what I’m talking about. It glitters and sparkles and changes in the light, and as I vacuumed clean white paths through the blue, the vacuum cleaner began to sparkle, too. (Because it has a see-through compartment.)

And that’s when it came to me.

This is a metaphor for Advent’s tension between the beauty that will be (which began to break through in the incarnational mystery of Jesus) and the mess that we continue to make with this beauty.

These broken places of grief, betrayal, loss, and deferred hope – they are real and they are tragic in an exponentially greater way than a 5-year-old glitter tantrum (oh – did I leave that part out? The reason that she created such a display was out of anger that she was in time out – it was a mess intended to annoy me.).

But this I cling to – in hope against hope – that the mess twinkles, sparkles, glitters in the light of the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree that became our salvation as it became a cross. This tragedy of the tiny babe grown up and offered up willingly as the most tragic of sacrifices for the most unworthy of offenders. You and me.

Ann Voskamp says it well in her Advent devotional:

The Cross stands as the epitome of evil. And God takes the greatest evil ever known to humanity and turns it into the greatest Gift you have ever known. … If God can transfigure the greatest evil into the greatest Gift, then He intends to turn whatever you’re experiencing now into a gift. You cannot be undone. Somewhere, Advent can storm and howl. And the world robed for Christmas can spin on. You, there on the edge, whispering it, defiant through the torn places: “All is grace.”

 

 

Five Minute Friday: “ready”

What a perfect word for this week of readying ourselves as we sink into the September schedule. Three days a week preschool; grandparents newly moved from New Jersey; fall church schedule starting up. Are we ready? Definitely not … but a good refuge is “Five Minute Friday” this week.

*****

photo credit: photographsbypeter.com

photo credit: photographsbypeter.com

“Ready or not, here I come!” Her call echoes through the halls of our home as she eagerly goes in search of her sister (who is likely hiding somewhere fairly obvious). Is she ready to be found? Always. Is her sister ready to seek? Definitely. In this brief interchange, there is a metaphor for relationship with the Divine. With our Creator. I think of the first “hide-and-seek” that happened in an idyllic garden. Perfectly perfect except for the sin that had just clothed Adam and Eve in shame. This time when God comes seeking them for their afternoon walk n’ talk, they hide. They do not run out to meet him, eagerly embracing the God who delights in them as his own image-bearers.

And ever since then, we too have been hiding. Hiding because we never feel ready. I was not ready to leave home for college in the Midwest; I certainly was not ready to be married or to parent twins or for my first counseling client. I am not ready for God to find me as I am. I need to clean up this corner; hide and straighten things out a bit. Smooth over the angry wrinkle in my heart; ameliorate the impatience; cleanse out those dirty stains.

God comes though, and he calls out gently, lovingly, “Ready or not, here I come!” For I cannot clean myself up without him. He knows and sees already the shame I want to hide. He pierces it through with his presence, exposing and healing and restoring in one fell swoop. In a great divine reversal, he makes me ready as I cry out that I am not.

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embracing imperfection (July edition): living between “not quite enough” and “a little too much”

I’ve felt my inadequacy this month, which I’ll label under the category of “not quite enough.” Today all it took was hearing about a higher-than-expected car repair bill, which sent my heart sinking. Any cushion – any savings goals? They seem to have fled out the window as that bill fluttered into my text messages. A feeling of being defeated. And it’s not just that. It connects with a larger picture of feeling not quite enough as I seek to parent my “spirited” three-year-old twin daughters. I gave up on bedtime last night. I was doing all of *those things* you’re not supposed to do: empty threats, adult-like reprimands that devolved into harsh commands barked from downstairs – “JUST.GET.BACK.INTO.BED!” I felt as if I didn’t have the energy to get up from my comfy chair and interesting TV show (Parenthood in case you were curious) to do more than that. And you know what? Eventually, they went to sleep and settled down. So did I. But this morning roared to a start just minutes after I had settled into the quiet of my journal, and it felt like “you’re not quite enough” was the banner floating over my head as a mom yet again. 

“Not quite enough” is a shame sentence. A statement connecting to that vague sense of inadequacy we all carry and experience, that lurks behind any attempt to do or to be something glorious. Like a writer. I’m wrestling with feeling “not quite enough” as I long to pursue my passion to write, but feel like I don’t have quite enough time and I’m not sure I have quite enough of an audience and a message and would anyone really publish what I wanted to write?

I’m not quite enough when it comes to being a strong wife for my husband as he endures the challenges of full-time ministry as a pastor.

I’m not quite enough of a good friend because so often I can feel swamped by an over-full schedule.

But then the tone can switch, too. And I feel “a little too much” when I look at the scale and see a number there that feels 10 pounds too high. I was talking to a childhood friend who’s also recently reached mid-30s and we were commiserating about how much more difficult it is at this age and after having babies to be in the shape to which we’d grown accustomed.

I felt “a little too much” when I showed up in my full ballet leotard and tights to the “Mommy and Me” class when all the other moms (except my friend and I) had on t-shirts and yoga pants. Oops. Felt a bit out of place that day!

I can be “a little too much” at a dinner party – too intense, too counselor-esque, too brooding, too withdrawn (all at the same time).

But you know what my real problem is? It’s that I have not embraced “not quite enough” and “a little too much” as part of what it means to be a human dependent on a strong God. A God in whom I am more than enough, not because of me but because of all He gives me and all that He is for me. A God who never views me as “a little too much” because He delights in me. Yet I kick against my human limitations while God continues to shower me with grace. A God who says gently in the stolen, quiet moments (few though they be) that how well today went does not equate to how much He loves me. (Thank you, Gloria Furman, in Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full for that thought!) A God who reminds me that who I am is not what my ever-wavering bank account shows or the scale reveals, but it is forever redeemed, forever loved, forever holy because of Jesus’ forever grace. 

beauty in darkness: what’s good about “Good Friday”

I had skimmed over the verse countless times in the 30+ years I’ve read and meditated and studied this familiar account. Good Friday is the time to read the crucifixion story. A story of horror turned beautiful. Yet if you’re like me, too often I jump to the “turned beautiful” part without staying with the horror of what Jesus endured. It’s uncomfortable to sit with the events that culminated in the most gruesome of deaths on a Roman cross. But this week – this Holy Week – asks us to do just that. To sit. To see. To hear. Because in the horror, we are saved. We are deserving of all that the King of Glory endured innocently. And we who bear his name are called to endure similar suffering for the sake of love. Love enters into the messy, the broken, even the so-gruesome-you-can’t-bear-to-hear-it and Love takes it. Love endures. It does not run away. It stays. It shows up.

What feels impossible for you to endure today (and yet you must because of Love)? How can Good Friday become truly “good” for you today? What brokenness do you run from in your own heart and in the lives of those around you?

In my calling as a counselor, I often sit with those who have endured stories of abuse that are too difficult to name. And to think that what I have a hard time hearing is what they lived through. Well, that causes you to pause. To pray. To beg for redemption, for healing, for a Justice to make it all right. 

On Good Friday, we are given just that. Not only in the cross, but in the events leading up to the cross. Here’s the verse that stopped me in my tracks this morning (from Matthew 27:27):

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.

Do you know how many soldiers are in a battalion? I didn’t either, so I checked the footnote and saw that a battalion is “a tenth of a Roman legion; usually about 600 men.” 600 men. Quite different than movies who portray this portion of the scene with a couple soldiers kicking Jesus around. That’s bad enough, but this has an arena quality to it. 600 soldiers. That’s a very full auditorium hall. And what did they gather to do? Well, read on:

And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Utterly shameful. Shameful if it’s an audience of one, but for these horrors to happen before an arena-size audience of 600? Shame magnified. Shame too great for words. Twice he was stripped of his clothes. In addition to the emotional abuse of this mockery, there was the physical abuse of being “crowned” with thorns and beat on the head with a reed. What is striking is Jesus’ response. Nothing. The one who was God incarnate – who could have called down fire from heaven to devour these fools – stayed still and endured. That is the miracle. The miracle that turns bad into good, abuse into redemption, mockery into honor.

Centuries before, a prophet called Isaiah wrote about this and puts words to the what and the why of all that Jesus endured on “Good” Friday:

Surely he has borne our grief
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed. …
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth …

Because Jesus did not open his mouth when enduring abuse, we can open our mouths and beg for healing and redemption. Healing from our own abuse and from the ways we have abused and oppressed others through our sin – through our brokenness seeking false healings.

In the place of your abuse, there is healing. Because he took the shame for you.

In the place of my sin, there is peace. Because he carried the guilt for me.

In the places where you and I have been silenced, our voice is restored. Because his was silenced this Good Friday.

So go. Walk as one who is healed, who is at peace, who can speak up and speak out and speak of darkness turned beautiful on this most good of Fridays.