Monday, September 9, 2013

Room to grow

Not a doorbell but a soft tap, tap, tap. It interrupts. Not now. I don’t want to be disturbed. I cinch up my robe over my flannel pjs behind the locked door. Tap, tap, tap. Never had I imagined that my word for the year, Pursue, would show up here unsettling jammie-time in my armchair. My heartbeats bounce off interior walls like an erratic ping-pong ball. I dodge and duck the noise. But Pursue stands at the door and knocks. Go away; just leave me be.

More tap, tap, tapping at the door. Pursue persists…like big brothers pinning me to the ground with spidery fingers in my face taunting, “You gotta do dishes.” Like my dad insisting his school-aged children keep watch and report on my mom’s movements should she try to run away again. Like my mom blaming dad for all the disappointments in her life, “Don’t mention your father’s name to me ever again. You don’t know all the bad things that went on.” Yet mom will often reference the hardships she endured in life with my dad, her first marriage of three, ending more than 40 years ago.

Triggered memories from the past amplify tapping into pounding that bullies. I wonder, too, if my mother hears the hurt pounding hundreds of miles away in her own isolated space far from her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.

When ordeals frightened me long ago, I closed doors and withdrew…unnoticed and without emotion. “I will never be vulnerable again to those who want to use, abandon or devalue me,” a privately terrified twelve-year-old girl declared.

Years piled upon fears while insulating myself from the hurts. From inside my walls, everything outside had become “risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure”…the perfect storm of vulnerability, according to Dr. Brené Brown, social science researcher and author.

Fear gone amuck had seeped in through the cracks and sealed them up from within creating cognitive darkness. “Fear,” explains Parker Palmer, author and educator, “paralyzes cognition.” Trapped inside—condemning voices, bullying voices, dismissing voices—all false voices mingled with my own. They intimidate and obscure, binding mind and movement forward. Though I imagined armchair freedom from the pursuit of bullies, I was neither fearless nor free in my confined space. It was no surprise then that the fictional cowardly lion and I would commiserate together.

I remember words—no motivation, no desire, no insight—escaping my soul only a few years ago in the company of other wounded women. Fueled by fears, we were hell-bent on defending our separate vows against vulnerability. While we were protecting ourselves, we had assumed responsibility for enabling others. While we were judging ourselves, we had criticized others. While we were blaming others, we had justified our resentments. While we were begrudging others, we had shielded our own shame. Defending against vulnerability costs.

Like the careful taps wielded by an archaeological excavator, Pursue chips away at sealed cracks, fortified walls, and closed doors. Dust particles floated across pinhole piercings of new light into my room while tapping excavated more. I catch glimpses of old clutter and how much I have been avoiding. The scene overwhelms me. I do what is most comforting and nestle into the fake fur of cowardly lion.

The tapping softens. Bullies quiet their advance. My guard relaxes. New voices drift in with light slivers. Book open, hot cuppa within reach, voice of words from Dr. Brené Brown gently captivate, “If courage is a value we hold, then vulnerability is the only way in and through.” The cowardly lion pretends a growl.

“Most of us are brave and afraid in the exact same moment all day long,” her voice acknowledges and emboldens me. “We are all on that trajectory of vulnerability whether we want to or not…we have a choice.” You mean vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. Brown declares its strength, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” Lion and I grumble a low roar in unison; I make believe it is audible.

Not-giving-up-on-me taps again at the door surfacing ancient God words: “Perfect love drives out all fear.” God, who loves faithfully and unconditionally, remains outside the door awaiting access in. Love taps into the rhythm of my faint heart. John the apostle adds, “If anyone hears and opens the door, I [the Messenger of Perfect Love] will come in to him and eat with him and he with Me.” Are you sure you have the right address?

I hunger to accept and to be accepted. “If fear keeps our lives small, does a life that receives all of God in this moment grow large too?” the writer of One Thousand Gifts and I ponder together. New voices—those of Brené, John, and Ann—crowd out the old voices that demand, pressure, and accuse…from within. Truth, love and grace invite me to stretch beyond self-limiting fear. There’s a bit more wriggle room…perhaps room to grow. It’s time.

I listen intently for the invitation, the love tap. The power of one word persists, cares, beckons, and…loves. I trace the root word back to God, the giver of His Word—which is love—to me, for this very year, the Year of Pursue. I am pursued; I am loved. He pursues me, I receive Him. He receives me; I accept me. I can genuinely love because He first loved me. Shift happens.

I have donned avoidant behaviors like defensive armor—and sometimes hostile armor—that can constrict the wearer and bruise the outsider. Pursue is shedding the armor. Pursue is vulnerability. Pursue welcomes instead of repels. Pursue reaches out instead of retreating within. Pursue advances through fear instead of hiding out with cowardly lions. Pursue is strength. Pursue is love. Pursue is a grace-gift sent from God.

Tugging at my big girl pjs, I cross the room cutting a wake through fear and vulnerability…toward love and grace.